Preaching Jesus vs. Namedropping Jesus

by Cole Deike December 5, 2015

Urban Dictionary’s definition of "name dropper" is delightful mental furniture: “A usually vain person who is severely insecure about his/her popularity/image, and must resort to the inclusion of names of the opposite sex and/or popular people who have little/no relevance to the conversation topic in order to achieve a self-gratifying level of social acceptance and/or ego boost.”

You know namedroppers, and when you sit in the definition above, I’m moderately confident a few specific names and faces come together in your semantic web. But would you recognize the name dropper if it were you -- behind the pulpit? Yes, theologically we might be chomping at the bit to amen Paul’s gospel-centered sentiment: “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet, we know that the indwelling sin we wrestle with causes us to drift with occasion from preaching Jesus to namedropping Jesus. And yes, both our congregations and ourselves know there is a difference!

We, like the definition of a namedropper above, have the tendency to preach sermons with content that has very little relevance to the gospel. And to acquire social acceptance among our gospel-centered peers, we simply sprinkle the name of Jesus throughout the sermon (and by the name of Jesus, I mean the two syllables that form the English phonetic sound “Jesus” rather than the Biblical usage of “the name of Jesus” as his person, character, and works).

But what if our preaching publicly portrayed the details of Jesus’ life? Imagine the agony of Jesus in Luke 22, on the Mount of Olives, becoming visible to the eyes of our congregation. Imagine the agony written across his forehead in lines and wrinkles, weighing heavily on his eyebrows collapsing into a “v." Imagine the earnesty lodged in his voice- producing a quivering tone that reflects both the width of his intimacy with the Father above him and the depth of pain in processing the cup of wrath before him. Is Jesus a name scattered throughout your sermon, much in the same manner we pause with the filler “um”, or is he the person the sermon orbits itself around?

We, like the definition of a name dropper above, have the tendency to preach vain sermons of sparkling superficiality that exist as demonstrations of our rhetorical talent. And to juke the obvious self-gratification of our craft, we simply sprinkle the name of Jesus throughout the sermon. But what if our preaching publicly portrayed the painful death of our atonement substitute? Imagine seeing the cross, with all the beauty of the wood grain beams jarred violently into the surface of the earth, it’s razor-like splinters preying on the calloused flesh of Jesus’ back, casting a shadow that spells our names. Imagine seeing the cup of God’s wrath, it's vermilion color cascading from the Father above unto the Son below, knowing that the wrath of that flood was welled up by you. Is Jesus’ name like a cheap religious stamp of approval on your otherwise self-indulgent sermon, or is he the person the sermon orbits around?

We, like the definition of namedropper above, have the tendency to preach sermons that motivate us towards good works by appealing to the flesh. And to stiff-arm our moralistic therapeutic critics, we simply sprinkle the name of Jesus throughout our sermon. But what if our preaching publicly portrayed the active obedience of our righteousness imputer? Imagine hearing about the perfect prayer life of Jesus, never a moment too late and never a second too short, and knowing that his good works stamp a vibrant green A+ over the embarrassing F written in red across our spotty and inconsistent prayer lives. Or imagine hearing about the mountainous strength of Jesus’ will, the emptiness of his stomach still crying out in intelligible growls, as he stiff-armed Satan’s best efforts of temptation. Is Jesus the supporting actor in a sermon that casts the listeners as the lead actor, or is he the person the sermon orbits around?

I love John Calvin’s commentaries on the Bible. In particular, I love what he has to say about Paul’s words in Galatians 3: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” His remarks remind me that the preaching of Paul was not the kind of rhetoric that influences your eyes to roll when you hear insecure individuals securing their reputation by name dropping local celebrities into their stories and narratives. It was the kind of preaching that painted, the kind of preaching that made the invisible visible, the kind that didn’t simply mention but also portrayed Jesus. This is the conclusion that Calvin draws, and I’d like to leave us with three statements he makes that help us distinguish the chasm between preaching Jesus and namedropping Jesus:

“Such, he tells them, was the clearness of his doctrine, that it was not naked doctrine, but the express, living image of Christ. They had known Christ in such a manner, that they might be almost said to have seen him.”
“To shew how energetic his preaching was, Paul first compares it to a picture, which             exhibited to them, in a lively manner, the image of Christ.”
“(Therefore), the actual sight of Christ's death could not have affected them more powerfully than his own preaching.”