Picture of True Preaching

Here's a re-post from 2009 to kick off 2013. It's the second most read post on this blog (and far more interesting than the most read post!) Re-posted exactly as written.

I came across a picture this week which fascinates me. It was painted by Lucas Cranach, a Reformation era German painter. Cranach knew Luther, and indeed painted the famous picture by which Luther's face is best known. But Cranach did not only paint what he saw. He also had a habit of expressing theology through painting. Often these theological paintings were for the decoration of Lutheran churches. The one I noticed this week was for the altar in St Mary's Church in Wittenberg (home town of the Reformation).

This Cranach painting is in many ways quite simple. It consists of a large stone room. At one end, Martin Luther stands in the pulpit, looking straight ahead, with one hand pointing to the open Bible and the other hand pointing straight ahead.
At the other end of the room are the congregation. They are listening to Luther's preaching and looking forwards.

However, they are not looking at Luther. And Luther, well, he's not pointing at the congregation. You see, in the empty space between Luther and the congregation stands the Cross. (In fact, as the Lutheran's take rather a different view on the second commandment, Cranach had no problem in painting Christ on the Cross, which is why I give you a link to the whole painting rather than reproducing the whole.)

Cranach has painted true preaching. Luther (the preacher) points to the Scriptures and thus points to Christ crucified. The congregation look to the Cross rather than the preacher. True preaching sets Christ before the people. And to do that means expounding the Scriptures and so preaching the Cross. As Cranach shows in his painting, the goal of the sermon is to preach Christ in all the Scriptures.

The congregation Cranach has painted also has a story to tell. Here we see young and old, men and women. By preaching Christ in all the Scriptures the preacher is relevant to all, not just a particular group with its own particular 'felt needs'.

Perhaps, however, you've noticed that not all the faces are looking forward. There are a few in the congregation who deliberately look away . While Luther's preaching turns the eyes of most of the people to the Cross, a few refuse and look away; they too are convicted by Luther's preaching, but fail to look to Cross for grace.

There is also a third type of person in the picture. One lady seems oblivious as to what is going on, apparently more interested at looking out of the painting at the viewer rather than looking to the Cross. She misses what is happening by not paying attention to the sermon. She seems to be at church to see and be seen, rather than to hear God's Word of grace in the Gospel.

Cranach paints theology in this painting. He shows what true preaching is and how it affects its hearers. Those who have ears to hear are impacted and react, either by looking to Christ for grace, or by turning away from Christ and His Cross. Those who do not hear, are not impacted. After all, 'faith comes by hearing'.

True preaching is just what Cranach has shown; in it the preacher points the congregation to Christ crucified through the exposition of the Scriptures, and the goal is that the people look to Christ and His Cross.