My second article for Christ in the Wild Ministries.
Preaching the word of God in the open air is biblical and effective, as I established last week. Today, I want to look at exactly what it means to preach. A good place to start is by defining the term.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
κηρύσσωc: kerysso; to publicly announce religious truths and principles while urging acceptance and compliance—‘to preach.’
The first public proclamation of the gospel is by Jesus himself. Yes, it was also proclaimed by the triune God in Genesis 3:15, but it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see a clear explication of exactly what this gospel is. And, moreover, it is not until Christ’s public ministry that we see this gospel preached, as opposed to some other form of communication.
Christ’s way is not complicated; it is not fancy; it is straight-forward gospel preaching. Notice it is public, and the word emphasizes a demand to comply with what is being proclaimed. As preachers of the gospel, we are not offering an option to people, but a command to believe the message. The gospel is not meant to “improve people’s lives,” but rather to save souls from the judgment to come. The reason it is a command, not an option, is because it comes from the King of kings and the Creator of the universe. As creatures, we have an obligation to submit to this God and to do what he says. The fact that it is preached further emphasizes the urgency to obey. Paul states in Acts 17:30, “God now commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Jesus’ example provides us with all we need to know about what to do as preachers, but we see many other examples throughout the Scriptures. To deny the reality and necessity of biblical, open-air preaching is to deny the truths of Almighty God and his prescribed way of getting his message to the masses.
Repentance, Grace and the Kingdom of God
As theologian Leon Morris explains, an emphasis on repentance and grace in our open-air preaching is also imperative.
Not only did Jesus begin to preach, but Matthew mentions two topics of his preaching: repentance and the coming of the kingdom. Jesus began with the same emphasis as John the Baptist. This makes sense, because repentance and the Kingdom of God go together: if the kingdom of God is near, then clearly people cannot be complacent. They must prepare for that kingdom, and that means repenting of their sins. Jesus, like John the Baptist, calls on the people to realize they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven and to repent accordingly. Such preaching is a clarion call to action, not a recipe for slothful complacency. We should not overlook the importance of this call to repentance at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, since everything else follows from that. Matthew has often been seen as one who stresses the importance of good works, which is true. But this must not be held in such a form that his emphasis on grace is missed. From the beginning, Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly his first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness he came to bring.
Question 76 of The Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is repentance unto life?” Answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.”
This is why repentance unto life must be preached. John Newton summarizes, “My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”
As open-air preachers, we have a message from the King, and we must go proclaim it. There is no further justification necessary. I will deal with the how-to of open air preaching in future articles, but let us pray that God opens our eyes to the glory of the simple proclamation of his gospel to sinners.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? – Romans 10:14
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 416.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 83.