May 28, 2014

This Church Father Could Preach

Stephen Nichols
This Church Father Could Preach


On this episode, we’re going to be traveling back in time to the early church and we’re going to spend some time with John Chrysostom. Now it’s also pronounced ‘Chris-istom,” and he was born in 347 and he died in 407. He was born in the city of Antioch, and we know the importance of that city. It was there at Antioch that the Christ-followers were first called “Christians.” And this was his home. He initially studied rhetoric and literature and it looked like he was headed for a career as a rhetorician, as a great speaker. But instead he became enthralled by theology and he began to study divinity and theology, and he began on a path to the ministry.

He was ordained as a deacon, and then he was ordained as a presbyter, or as a preacher. He even for a short time lived, essentially, the life of a hermit. And for a few years he simply fully committed himself to studying and memorizing as much Scripture as he possible could. As we see in his life and his ministry ahead, he comes to draw upon that foundation of simply being immersed in the text for the rest of his life. Well he served for about 10 years as a presbyter there in Antioch, and he began to get a great reputation as a speaker. In fact, the name Chrysostom, means “golden mouthed,” and it wasn’t the name his parents gave him. They didn’t look down at this little infant and say, “O, let’s call you John the golden mouth.” It was a title that was given to him because of his abilities to speak. And it wasn’t just that he was sophisticated or could impress you with his rhetoric, it was that he was very clear; he was very compelling. He knew the Word of God, and he knew how to bring the Word of God before his congregation—to speak it with power, and to speak it with clarity.

Well, all this attracted the attention of those in Constantinople and they invited him to come to Constantinople to be Archbishop. And so he’s installed as Archbishop at Constantinople in 397. And in his preaching he had a way of, again, speaking the truth. And sometimes we don’t like to hear the truth, do we? And one of those in the congregation who did not like to hear the truth that he preached was Eudoxia.

Now she was not just any person in the congregation. She was the wife of the Emperor. And so she had a lot of power, and she was very offended by some of the things that John Chrysostom was saying. And in some ways he was challenging her and challenging some of her policies. She seemed to like wealth, and she seemed to like to gather as much of her wealth as she could, and to keep it. And she was not known as being a gracious person, or one who would help serve others, but instead as one who was given to a life of extravagance and flamboyance. And so Chrysostom would preach against this at times, and she took this very personally and she was very offended by it. And since she was the wife of the Emperor she simply had him banished. And so from 404 until 407, John the golden mouth preacher was banished.

If we go back to one of his sermons, one of the sermons of his that I just love, is a sermon that comes from Christmas time. It’s called, “On the Nativity,” and let me just read a portion of that for you. Here’s what Chrysostom says:

How shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity now lies subject to the hands of men. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His goodness.
Let me commend to you the sermons of John Chrysostom. In them we see one who spoke the truth, who spoke it compellingly, and spoke it persuasively. We see the sermons of John the golden mouth.