That Scriptures Might be Fulfilled: Perspective on Post-Preaching Feeling

My brother and I call it “Post-Preaching Feeling,” or PPF. It’s the Sunday, 12:30 p.m. feeling. A little bit wasted. A little bit reflective on the good and bad of the heavenly transaction that just took place between God, His Word, His people, and a preacher. Perhaps we preacher-types can be too contemplative and too self-aware, but that comes with the territory, and we swallow it because in 6 days and 23 hours we do it all over again. The great thing about preaching is that it’s so redemptive.

No preacher is made by one good sermon. Despite our confidence that if we were really in the “pulpit zone,” then we would make history, there is not a single historical precedent for this. The most famous sermon in American history is arguably Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But what would that sermon be without the ones that came before and after? What about the life well-lived that supported the sermon? This sermon was not great in a vacuum. It was great in a trajectory; the momentum of thousands of sermons. The other thousands we can’t remember are the ones that, well, aren’t memorable. And that’s the point.

When our attempts at communication are working, when we are most “dialed in,” we need to be reminded that grace is working in spite of us, not because of us. God can redeem us from our good sermons.

When our attempts at communication are working, when we are most “dialed in,” we need to be reminded that grace is working in spite of us, not because of us. God can redeem us from our good sermons.

Likewise, no preacher is ruined by one “off” sermon. PPF can often be unforgiving: Why did I blow that last point? Why was my timing so off? Why didn’t I see more response?  Therein is the sweet irony that the sting of bad preaching is eased by the fact that we live to preach another day and risk preaching another bad one.

When our attempts at communication don’t work, we need to be reminded that grace is working well when we aren’t. God can redeem us from our bad sermons.

God can redeem us from our bad sermons.

This past Sunday morning, I was sitting on the front pew and thinking about what I wasn’t. Then it struck me. If God wanted to make me more witty, or engaging, or thoughtful, or intellectual, or eloquent, He could have … but He didn’t, so I should get over myself and go preach. Those honest internal struggles expose a heart more concerned about a reputation than a commission.

And again, this is why preaching is so redemptive. It is not my word that is at stake; it is God’s. We are to be faithful to God’s Word.

This makes me think of another moment 2,000 years ago. The setting was not a pulpit, but a garden. This was the very gnarly bad before the very Good Friday: a greeting, a kiss, an arrest. As the soldiers were going for Jesus, a disciple took off a servant’s ear with a sword. Jesus rebuked him. Jesus did not rebuke him for lack of courage or for his swift mediation; He rebuked him for not allowing the Scriptures to be fulfilled (Matt. 26:53, 54).  Perhaps this is an allusion the suffering servant texts of Isaiah 42-53.

He then turns to those around and asked why they came with swords to arrest Him? After all, they could have taken Him at any moment in the open space. He explains to the crowds, however, that the reason it is happening this way is that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. (Matt. 26:56)

In other words, swords were not necessary for those taking Jesus or for those defending Jesus. The blades of steel wielded little power above the Word of God. There was not a sword that could bring it to fulfillment or one that could stop it. This is what Christ wants them to know: His commitment to the Word is more important than self-preservation.

The blades of steel wielded little power above the Word of God. There was not a sword that could bring it to fulfillment or one that could stop it.

And perhaps Matthew is telling us this is why it is happening. The events demonstrate what lengths Christ is willing to go to in order to fulfill His Father’s Word. He had already submitted to the Father’s will in this garden, and now He must face the sentence, the whip, the climb, and the cross. Jesus will not have it any other way, because all of this, down to the very means by which Christ will die, will fulfill the Word. He is not preaching a sermon in that moment; He is creating the message for all other sermons that will follow. Still, there is something instructive here for preaching. What Jesus was dying for was the ultimate completion of the will of the Father, which results in salvation. Jesus knew that if this last strategic step would not be taken, then all that was prophesied about Him would not be true. What Jesus was doing in that moment was faithfulness to Scripture.

This is why all the anxiety was on the front end of the cross. No regretful worries about His effectiveness because He had fulfilled His Father’s Word. Success, defined this way, is always possible for the preacher. The question is never, “Was I on?” but rather, “Was I faithful?”

We all have a keen sense of our own weaknesses. There will be a list of people, namely ourselves, that make sure we understand what we are not. However, may no one mistake our faithfulness to Scripture. And if we question our giftedness, we can ask ourselves, “Did I preach so that Scripture would be fulfilled?” If so, we can rest­—rest we need. For in the time taken to read this article, we are 10 minutes closer to doing it all over again.