You climb into the pulpit, weary after a year of ministering under duress: COVID, racial tension, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, and a bitterly divisive election. People are divided and nervous and afraid and mad. How do you preach in a world so confused, so torn? Is anyone even listening to preachers preaching anymore?
But you stand in that pulpit because . . . well, you really believe that 2,000 years ago, in a land and among a people so jaded and weary, this man from Nazareth shook off the pangs of death and walked out of an empty tomb. Because Jesus Christ rose from the grave, you, like Thomas upon seeing those nail scars, believe he is both Lord and God (John 20:28). You believe Easter is the death of death, the beginning of something new, eternal life for those who believe, the restoration of a broken world.
Sometimes pastoring is lonely. Those thoughts arise: Is anyone even getting this? Does anyone care? Would anyone even convert to Christianity after hearing my sermon? But, this is what you need to hear: God uses flawed, faithful preachers as a way of delivering the gospel to those who believe. And he isn’t just doing it in the past, he is doing it today. The same Spirit that fell on God’s people at Pentecost is blowing today. It may seem the church is lethargic, that our movement is sideways and confused, but the good news is that Jesus still saves.
Consider Peter who stood before the throngs and delivered words of life that day. Less than two months earlier he was the one slinking away from a darkened courtyard, humiliated by his inability to be there for Jesus. Even after the resurrection, after he’d felt those folded grave clothes and knew that Christ had risen, he wasn’t certain what form his life would take. But there was Jesus that day on the beach, summoning the same elements of creation to perform the same miracle and issue the same summons to service. Yes, the flawed fisherman was still wanted by Jesus to preach the Word of God.
You are not Peter. We are not Apostles. But we are called to share this good news, some 2,000 years later. Paul reminds us that in the strange providence of God, the Spirit of God uses flawed messengers to deliver a life-saving message. “How will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). For the people in front of you, for those who stumble in on Sunday, you are that preacher.
And you don’t know who is listening. An unremarkable, halting preacher’s faithful exposition of a text in Isaiah was the spark God used to ignite something in a young British man’s heart. Spurgeon was converted when he slipped into a church service one evening in London. A shoe salesman was the heavenly messenger who patiently shared the gospel with an aimless employee named D.L. Moody. A couple of high-school jocks had the temerity to approach a young freshman and point him to the Scriptures—the beginning of R.C. Sproul’s journey toward saving faith.
The work of the Spirit, of course, isn’t an excuse for sloppiness or lack of excellence. Pastors should work hard on their craft. But at the end of the day, even at our best, God uses a method and a messenger the world often sees as foolish (1 Corinthians 1:21).
You don’t know who is listening to your words. You don’t know how the gospel will move off of your lips and into the hearts of those who attend your Easter service or who watch online or who catch the podcast later. But I want to assure you that your faithfulness in upholding the incomparable beauty of Christ’s death and resurrection will not return void. It will not be in vain. It will do its work.
I think of an arena in Chicago in 1971. A young man in his twenties attended a Billy Graham crusade with his mother. Raised nominally Christian but without much church attendance, my father walked forward that night and committed his life to Christ. He married a Jewish girl, my mother, who became a Christian. Together they reversed a family beset by brokenness and despair. I’m writing this, eager to worship Christ on Easter, in part because Billy Graham was faithful to preach Christ that night in Chicago.
You may not have thousands in your audience. You may have less than you can count on both hands. But if you are faithful to preach the gospel, if your feet carry the good news that Christ is saving sinners, your words will bear fruit.
You don’t know who is listening this Easter.
Daniel Darling is the Senior Vice President of Communications for NRB: An Association of Christian Communicators, and he is the author of several books, including The Characters of Easter.
In The Characters of Easter, you’ll become acquainted with the unlikely collection of ordinary people who witnessed the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. Enter their stories and ultimately draw closer to Christ himself as you encounter his Passion through their experiences. Take a journey back to first-century Palestine and walk in the shoes of legendary people like Simon Peter, Judas, Pilate, John, Mary Magdalene, and others. This book provides a fresh approach to the Lenten season and can be used as a devotional or study for both individuals and groups.