The Master Theme

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:17-18 rsv

Friends, this broadcast represents for me something of a milestone. I’ve been preaching the gospel on these programs week by week for almost 22 years. This is the last one I will be involved in producing as Words of HOPE’s president and radio minister. From now on, the voice you hear, along with that of Lee De Young, our announcer, will be that of the Rev. David Bast. Dave is already on board as my successor, and we’ve been doing a number of things together. This marks the end of that transition. By the time you hear Words of HOPE again, I will have officially retired.

Before today’s message, there are three things I want to say to you. First, a word about what it has meant to me to do this work. I feel privileged beyond words to have been allowed long ago to hear the good news myself and to have believed in Christ. That’s a wonderful miracle of God’s mercy. But then to be entrusted with the gospel and the joyous opportunity of proclaiming it, that’s grace upon grace. And more, to be allowed to do that by translation in some 40 languages now all around the world makes me feel supremely blessed. I thank God for enabling me to preach Christ through the medium of radio, and for whatever fruit has come from that proclamation. Thanks be to God!

Next, a word of thanks to you. It’s the nature of radio work that of the people who hear these broadcasts throughout the world, I have been able to meet personally only a tiny percentage. Most of you are friends I’ve never seen. But I feel like I know many of you through your letters – letters of appreciation, requests for prayer, expressions of pain and trouble, indications that you have trusted Christ, pledges of prayer support. For all the letters that you may have written to me through the years, for the encouragement you’ve given, and for all your trust and love and prayers, I say thanks. It has been a great joy to serve you the Bread of Life. Many, many thanks for listening and for the warmth of response I’ve known from many of you. I will miss deeply bringing God’s Word to you.

Next, I’d like to say something about my successor, David Bast. God has been preparing Dave in many ways through many years for leading this ministry. As you will soon discover, he is a remarkably gifted preacher of the Word. He’s a man of uncompromised integrity. He’s a resourceful and enthusiastic leader. Best of all, he’s a man called by God with a holy eagerness to preach the gospel as faithfully and widely as he can. I commend him to your love, support and prayer. I’m committing myself to pray regularly for him and his family. I hope that you will do the same, that you will care for him as you have for me.

Now for my message from God’s Word. I’m reading from 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 17 and 18. Listen:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Let me tell you a bit about my experience with these words of Scripture. For the first message I preached as pastor of the Second Reformed Church in Lodi, New Jersey, many years ago, this chapter, this passage was my text. When I came to preach my last sermon at that church some six years later, I mined again in the wealth of these verses. I did the same in my second church. Sermons on this text were the book ends of my ministry in Chicago at the First Reformed Church of Roseland.

That tells you something about me. Maybe it’s that I’m in a rut and I lack imagination! But at a deeper level, it says, I think, that I have in a special way found myself and the ministry to which I am called in this passage. It seems to me to stand right at the center. It lifts up the themes that have occupied me for a lifetime. I’m calling my message: “The Master Theme.”

The apostle Paul, author of this letter, is in some ways unique. He was a killer of Christians who later became a convert. It was given him to see on the road to Damascus the glory of the risen Christ. His ministry shook the world in which he lived and has shaped its history ever since. He towers like a giant among the servants of the Lord. Yet in many ways, and this is what I especially appreciate about Paul the apostle, he’s a model for all and especially for those of us who preach the gospel. I want to think with you today about Paul’s mission in life, about the message he proclaimed, about the manner in which he spoke and about the motive that always impelled him.


Paul was consumed with a sense of mission. Remember how he was arrested by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus? Blinded by a great light? Hurled prostrate in the sand? After inquiring who it was that had confronted him and upon hearing the words, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Paul said, “What shall I do, Lord?” The answer was, “Rise and go into Damascus and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do” (see Acts 9:5-6). Think of that! “All that is appointed for you to do.” God has for each of His servants a work to be done, a race to be run, a mission to be accomplished. He, the risen One, has ordained that for us. The great business of our lives lies in listening for that call and obeying it, fulfilling our God-given task.

Paul was not a volunteer, not a self-styled, self-promoting preacher. He had been commandeered. He knew that Christ had claimed Him for a mission. Now he sought to lay hold, to grasp the very thing for which the Lord had grasped him. Hear him in this passage: “Christ sent me . . . to preach the gospel.” Paul was a bondslave of Jesus Christ. He was a special messenger sent forth by Him. He knew what he was doing, knew what he was in the world for, knew the task for which he had been commissioned. Paul’s passion was to preach.

And that’s who we are at Words of HOPE. We’re a fellowship of people who know ourselves to be sent. Our mission centers in proclamation. Specifically we know ourselves called to preach by radio to the world’s unreached peoples. We can say it too. I can say it: Christ sent me to preach. What a marvelous blessing it has been for me to do that for fifty years, twenty-two of them at Words of HOPE.


What about Paul’s message? He sums it up this way: It’s the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul will explain later in this letter what that gospel is. Here’s his crisp summary of it in chapter 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (vv. 3-5).

The gospel, as Paul describes it, centers in Jesus Christ. He is the good news in His person, His life and ministry, His saving work.

The gospel consists, Paul says, of a number of events: Jesus died, He was buried, He arose again, He appeared to His followers. Two of those are secondary, two are primary. To say that He was buried underlines the fact that He truly died. And to say that He appeared to chosen witnesses is to emphasize the reality of His resurrection. The heart of the gospel lies in these two tremendous happenings at the center of world history: Jesus Christ was crucified and, three days later, raised from death to endless life. Everything turns on the events of Good Friday and Easter.

Paul further describes what he preaches as “the word of the cross.” It’s the message of the Crucifixion, along with its divinely given meaning. Jesus Christ died for our sins, in our place, on our behalf, bearing the judgment we deserve in order to bring us acceptance and new life. That’s the good news.

But aren’t we preachers of the Word of God, heirs to and expositors of the whole Bible? Yes, of course. But we do that most faithfully when we recognize that He, Jesus Christ, is its master theme.

Remember how Jesus, after His resurrection, opened the Scriptures to His disciples and showed them in the law, the prophets, and the psalms, “things concerning himself”? (Luke 24:27). Someone has said that from every passage of the Scripture, there’s a road that leads to Christ. We do not rightly understand or proclaim the Bible’s message unless we see its marvelous revelation of God climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That’s what we believe here at Words of HOPE. When our ministry was first established and chartered in 1945, the announced goal was to preach Jesus Christ by radio as the world’s one Savior. We’re still doing that. That’s our master theme: proclaiming Him, lifting Him up, offering Christ crucified and risen to the whole world.


Notice what the apostle says about his manner of presentation. It’s not with eloquent wisdom. The apostle knew that the Corinthians were accustomed to splendid oratory. They heard speakers who could charm and melt an audience, silver-tongued men of brilliant intellect. The temptation must have been strong to try to match the eloquence to which they were accustomed. But Paul steadfastly refused to make that effort.

Why? Because the message itself, the master theme, was so precious and important to him. He didn’t want their faith, as he said in chapter 2, to rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. After hearing him preach, he didn’t want them to go away saying, “Wasn’t he a marvelous public speaker? Didn’t he leave us spellbound with his eloquence? Wasn’t he tremendous?” From what we know of the apostle, I’m sure that he had the talent and the fire to impress anyone, if he had chosen to do so.

But no, he wanted the faith of his hearers to stand in the power of God. He wanted them to shake their heads in wonder, not over his giftedness but over the gospel, in all its purity and splendor. He wanted to placard Christ, to make Christ evident, faithfully point to Him, focus attention always on Him.

James Denney once said that it’s impossible for a preacher at one and the same time to give the impression that he is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save. None of us can do both. Paul chose the latter, and that has been our choice, too, at Words of HOPE. There has never been a cult of personality here. There are no stars. We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake. Our aim, God helping us, is never to strive for effect, never to project a glittering, unreal image, but simply to be a finger pointing, a voice proclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There He is, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you. Trust Him. Love Him. Follow Him.

In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle asks that others pray for him simply that he may make the message clear. That’s our prayer too, that we may so speak that Christ may be clearly seen.


Last, a word about the apostle’s motive. Why did he deliberately purpose to preach as he did? Because he knew that everything depended on his message getting through. The world, as he saw it, consists of two kinds of persons: the believing and the unbelieving, those who are perishing and those who are being saved. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is the great Continental Divide. What people do with Him determines their destiny, for good or ill.

This gospel means little to an unbelieving world. That was true in Paul’s day. “We preach Christ crucified,” he said, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). To hold up as Savior a man who had been crucified seemed an abomination to the Jewish people. They were accustomed to view a man hanging on a tree as accursed by God. The message of Christ crucified was a huge stumbling block for them.

To the Greeks, the message seemed ridiculous. Crucifixion was so feared and loathed by people in the ancient world that the word cross became a kind of obscenity. People in polite society would never even mention it. How could Greeks hail as Savior one who died such a terrible, ignominious death? And many of them scoffed also at the word that He was raised from the dead in bodily form.

But, Paul continues, “to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). He is God’s last, best word, God’s saving might in action.

Paul’s motive in preaching this message was plain for anyone to see. He passionately wanted people to be saved. He longed for his hearers to believe in Jesus Christ and find true life. He yearned for their salvation.

I say to that my heartfelt “Amen.” Let it be so, Lord. Let every person sharing this broadcast believe in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for him or for her. And may each of us, all our days, live for the gracious One who died for us.