1. Christ-centered preaching is biblical.
This is the most important reason, so I’m going to begin with it. When we look at the pages of the New Testament, it’s clear that the early preaching of the church revolved around Jesus. Peter’s sermons in the book of Acts weren’t tips for better living, but demonstrations of how Jesus was the promised hope of the Old Testament (Ac. 2:14-40; 3:12-26).
The book of Hebrews, which many scholars believe is the manuscript of an ancient Christian exhortation, or sermon, focuses on the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The author shows us that Jesus is superior to the angels (1:5-14); Moses (3:1-6); the Old Covenant Sabbath (3:7-4:13); the Aaronic priesthood (7:11-28), with its high priest (8:1-6); and the Old Covenant sacrifices (9:11-14). This means that one of the earliest sermons we have on record is all about how Jesus is better than everything!
Preaching today should draw people to Christ by showing the world that Christ is better than the things we often place our hope in, whether they’re animal sacrifices, or annual salaries.
Jesus himself made it clear that the Scriptures were about him on two occasions. First, he told the religious leaders in John 5, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40) In the context, Jesus was referring to the Old Testament (he actually went on to say that Moses himself would accuse the priests for missing this). The Old Testament Scriptures are only life giving insofar as they lead us to Jesus, and the religious elite should have understood this.
On another occasion, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on their way to a place called Emmaus. They were confused about Christ’s crucifixion, so Jesus gave them a personal lesson, and opened their eyes to understand. He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44).
What’s noteworthy here is that Jesus is appealing to each of the major divisions of the Old Testament. The Law (sometimes called the Torah), referred to the first five books of the Old Testament. The prophets referred to the Nevi’im (the Hebrew word for “prophets”) and it didn’t only contain books like Isaiah and Joel, but also historical books, like Joshua, and Judges. The reference to the Psalms was a reference to the Ketuvim (the Hebrew word for “writings”). This section contained the wisdom literature of Scripture, along with books like Ezra, and Nehemiah. Together, the Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim referred to all of Old Testament Scriptures, and Jesus taught they pointed to him!
2. Christ-centered preaching is historical.
Throughout history, faithful Christians have recognized that all Scripture is meant to lead us to Christ. Swedish historian and theologian, Bengt Hägglund said that in Martin Luther’s theology,
Christ is the center of the Bible. “Scripture ought to be understood for Christ, not against Him; yes, if it does not refer to Him it is not true Scripture.” “Take Christ away from the Bible and what more do you find there?” … Luther believed that the Old Testament is a direct witness to Christ, and not simply that it contains some predictions about him. (History of Theology, 220 & 222)
Luther’s idea here wasn’t novel, either. According to another historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, the ancient church,
…had the conviction that the ‘writings of Moses are the words of Christ,’… On the basis of this conviction it was possible to read the Old Testament as a Christian book and to see “the words of Christ” not only in such passages as Psalm 22, as was explicitly warranted by the New Testament, but also in such books as the Song of Songs.” (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 61)
Perhaps even more to the point, early Christian expert J.N.D. Kelly wrote,
The importance of the Old Testament as a doctrinal norm in the primitive church cannot be exaggerated… three points only need to be established at this stage. First, the doctrinal authority ascribed to [the Old Testament] was based on the apparently unquestioning assumption that correctly interpreted, it was a Christian book, and that the prophets in particular were really testifying of Christ and his glory. Justin’s (Justin Martyr) insistence that the Jewish Scriptures did not belong to the Jews but to the Christians was universally shared. Second, this assumption was only rendered possible because Christians were using, consciously or unconsciously, a particular method of exegesis… Third, this principle of interpretation was no invention of the early second century. The apostles, as we shall see, had employed it, and there is every reason to suppose that our Lord Himself set the precedent – a fact which Justin explicitly acknowledges. (Early Christian Doctrines, pg. 32)
Not only has the church historically recognized that Christ is the substance of the Old and New Testaments, the early church believed this was how Jesus and the apostles had taught them to read Scripture!
3. Christ-centered preaching is practical.
Our lives aren’t changed by hearing powerful rhetoric, or repackaged self-help. True transformation comes when Jesus Christ is preached into our hearts by faithful pastors. If pastors aren’t willing to lead their people to Jesus through the Scriptures, then the sheep are forced to search for him on their own. Pastors should recognize that a list of do’s and don’ts isn’t ultimately what will nourish the sheep, and the sheep don’t need our clever words to woo them into leading more God-honoring lives (1 Cor. 2:4). The only thing that has the power to bring about the practical fruit we want is the crucified Christ placarded before us week-by-week (Gal. 3:1).
As the eyes of our heart grasp Jesus through the preached word, we are made to reflect Jesus in our lives (2 Cor. 3:18). This is not to say that our sermons shouldn’t also be filled with practical applications, but that the only hope for any practical change is Jesus. Practical applications, without Jesus, create legalists who are overly confident in their obedience, or depressed Christians who feel crushed by their failure to live up to the expressed standard.