I preached my first sermon when I was a teenager. It was probably too early for my own good.
In the late 1990s I found confidence to trust in Christ through the preaching of a famous apologist and immediately wanted to model myself after him.
I followed one preacher after another, looking for leaders to follow, like an orphan searching for a father.
Then a preacher I was following took a theological turn I could not accept. I was confused. Whom would I follow next?
I discovered Tim Keller’s podcast and found it so compelling that he planted a church in Manhattan. He preached without applying any theological makeup to the Bible.
I loved listening to him. His sermons fed the mind and warmed the heart. He was pastoral, winsome, and reasonable.
In 2012, my wife and I went to New York City and I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church eager to hear Tim Keller preach. But he was preaching at another congregation.
I have never been more disappointed to hear God’s Word. I came to hear it from Keller, not from anyone else.
The next Sunday we returned and, to my great relief, he stood behind the pulpit. I felt like I was watching Sting, live in concert; tempted to hold up a light and sway it from one side to another as he preached.
After the service, my wife and I went up to the large room where people gathered after the service to meet one another. I marched straight towards Keller but he was talking with someone. I waited anxiously while my wife was patiently bearing with me.
When he was free I rushed towards him but someone on the welcoming team cut me off. Her face was glowing with warmth and my face fell to the floor.
We made polite conversation with her as I saw Keller walking away and watched my opportunity for a “glory moment” with him slip away.
A few years later at a church planter’s training program in Hong Kong, I saw the “source code” for Keller’s preaching. Our trainers showed us the architecture of Keller’s “gospel-centered” sermons.
I began to see how his final word was the crowning glory of every sermon. He has been preaching the same sermon for decades. He preaches Christ every time.
I felt like I had a new way of listening to Keller’s sermons, now being more fascinated with Christ than with Keller. Jesus was becoming greater, Keller was becoming smaller.
My heart was repentant. I realised I was not just listening to Keller, I was using him. The glory of God was less visible to me than the glory of man. I was trying to cover my shame with another man’s glory.
My heart was believing. God was opening my eyes to see the Man who covered my shame to clothe me in his glory. Now Jesus was using Keller and opened my ears to hear the gospel more clearly.
When you feel like you do not have a name for yourself, you tend to beg, borrow, and steal it from someone else’s name. This is what the Corinthians were infamous for doing—turning men into monuments.
Reading Paul’s words to them melted the Corinthian instinct in my own heart, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-22).
What I wanted from Keller, I already had in Christ.
My heart’s eyes opened to see the God who delights in me. What person could give me what I already have in Christ? Is there a greater name I can make for myself than what I have already received by grace? What greater glory can be sought than what is forever mine through Christ?
I never have to stand in line to meet with Jesus.
Years later, I had a chance to meet Keller and tell him this story. It felt less like meeting a famous preacher and more like speaking with a brother, a father, and a co-labourer in Christ.
Only the gospel can save a preacher of the gospel from depending on preaching the gospel more than desiring to love Jesus.
The gospel showed me that before I stand in front of anyone, I need to know where I am seated.
God has raised us up with Christ, clothed us in the glory of his Son, and seated us with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
There is no greater honour.