Previously I said we might be preaching the cross too much because the gospel is not just the cross. Propitiation isn’t the only aspect of the gospel. There are also other facets to God’s redemptive work including renewal, adoption and victory. In addition to “cross-centered” our gospel-centered sermons can be:
Today I want to look another way we can be gospel-centered without constraining ourselves to being only “cross-centered.”
Your gospel-centered sermon can be an “Unclean-Made-Clean-centered” sermon:
Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.
This passage obliterates the most important thing about uncleanliness – separation. As an unclean person, a leper was separated from the people of God and the temple of God:
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
As one author put it, this “is not simply the description of an illness. It is a sentence.” A sentence of banishment. Uncleanliness keeps us from God and it separates us from others. Just standing within 50 paces of a leper made one unclean.
And what does Jesus do? He didn’t just heal him. He touched the leper. Why?
It removes the social, physical, and spiritual separations prescribed by the Torah and custom alike. The touch of Jesus speaks more loudly than his words; and the words of Jesus touch the leper more deeply than any act of human love. Jesus is not only able but desirous: “I am willing,” he says, “be clean.” Unlike an ordinary rabbi, Jesus is not polluted by the leper’s disease; rather, the leper is cleansed and healed by Jesus’ contagious holiness.
James Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary
God came to this world to undo our uncleanliness so we could be received back into community with him. This is closely connected to two of the other facets of the gospel we discussed last time: propitiation and relationship.
Christ cleansing us of our uncleanness has a propitiatory dimension because our uncleanness is essentially a result of sin, either sexual, spiritual or other.
Christ’s cleansing work is also tied to the familial adoption/marriage language because it entails the restoration of relationship – the lifting of the banishment tied to our uncleanness.
Our Saviour sent him to the priest for the trial of his cure, and that he might not be cast out of the temple, but still be numbered with the people in prayer.
– Saint Chrysostom; quoted in Catena Aurea
What does this mean? Our gospel-centered sermons don’t need to always focus on propitiation. They can focus on the way Jesus removed our uncleanliness and lifted the sentence of banishment from God’s people and God himself.
Hermeneutic Principle: When we read a passage about God cleansing people of their shame – sexual, cultural, etc – they are shadows of Jesus’ greater cleansing and our gospel-centered connection should be to that theme.
Our gospel-centered sermons don’t always have to be “cross-centered.” They can be:
- “Empty-Tomb-centered” and focus on the life and liberation Jesus bought for us.
- “Renewal-of-All-Things-centered” and focus on the renewal of all things that God is accomplishing in Jesus.
- “Adoption-centered or Bridegroom-centered” and focus on the way Jesus changes our relationship with God.
- “Unclean-Made-Clean-centered” and focus on how Jesus turned our banishment into reconciliation.
What other ways can a sermon be gospel-centered?