There Are Only Two Kinds Of Sermons

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Chuck Collins:

I marvel when someone says, “I have no regrets.” That’s not me; I have plenty. Perhaps my biggest regret, outside of not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up and not discovering Irish whiskey sooner, is that for much of my 30 years of ordained ministry I have not preached “the gospel.” By-and-large I have been a nice man standing in front of nice people, telling them that God calls them to be nicer. And just about none of it was life-changing.

I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better messages. The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. Gospel preaching presupposes that, even though we deserve punishment for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered the punishment in our place on the cross. Get-better sermons, on the other hand, is moralistic advice in which a preacher mounts a pulpit to scold the people for not doing more or getting better (F Allison).

For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t measure up. Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).

My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual. I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son. Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will. It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves. He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins. He burst the bonds of death to give us new life. When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely – reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.

When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you. It’s self-help, not the gospel. Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.

The sum of gospel preaching

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“All revealed truth ought to be greatly valued, and received by faith; and, if properly used, may be subservient to the main subject and design of the gospel. But the special subject of the gospel is Christ; and preaching Christ, according to the light and direction of the Word of God, is preaching the gospel—to preach Christ the Savior and the Lord, is the sum of gospel preaching. To exhibit Him as a powerful Savior, not merely as to save us from our ignorance or our errors, as a prophet and teacher sent from God, or merely as a powerful Lord to protect us during our course of obedience to Him in our way through this world, and at last to raise us up by His power to eternal bliss; but in the most comprehensive sense to save us from our sins.”

— James Fraser A Treatise on Sanctification (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1992), 465

(HT: Of First Importance)

 

Rejoicing in the Preaching of the Gospel (Philippians 1:18)

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Matt Harmon:

In this context Paul’s joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel through the proclamation of Christ. In other words, it is a joy that is rooted in the gospel rather than his personal circumstances. As he sits in Rome under house arrest his personal circumstances are not favorable, but because his joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel it is impervious to the discomfort he is experiencing personally. The present tense of the verb translated rejoice likely portrays Paul joy as a continual experience.

What is our joy rooted in? If we are honest, we find ourselves looking often to our circumstances for joy. When things in our lives are favorable or going our way, we are joyful. But when life takes a turn we do not like, large or small, joy seems like a distant memory. But when our joy is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and its progress in the world, we have an anchor for our joy that will weather even the darkest storms of life. Only in the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us will we find the kind of lasting joy that God created us to experience. Everything else will at some point disappoint.

Paul also models for us a prioritization of the progress of the gospel. He is not blind to the selfish motives that some have in preaching the gospel, but he remains grateful that the gospel is still going forth. In this he is a model for us as we observe the advance of the gospel through ministries that we have reason to believe have suspect motives. We can rejoice that the message of the gospel is going forward, even while we retain serious concerns about those taking it forward. Notice that Paul does not say that the motives are unimportant! But he does indicate that he can find joy in the fact that people are hearing the gospel, even though the instrument is flawed. The challenge is learning to rejoice in the progress of the gospel without turning a blind eye to those preaching it for selfish motives.

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from Matt’s forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

Turn Your Back on Sterile Aberrations

J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:

packer“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’

The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.

The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

Top 10 Tips for Being Clearer

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Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake  (Kingsford NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013), 50–61:

  1. The more you say, the less people will remember. . . . “Biscuits and sermons are improved by shortening”. . . .
  2. Make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say. . . . That’s one of the best reasons to preach from a full script—you get to edit before you speak. . . . [From p. 64: “[I]t’s easier for your listeners to catch a baseball than a handful of sand.”]
  3. Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can. . . . The more complex your subject, the more helpful it is to describe it in ordinary words. . . .
  4. Use shorter sentences. . . . This isn’t about ‘dumbing down’ your content. It’s about communicating complex content clearly. (But keep in mind that alliteration is no longer considered tasteful.) More importantly, it’s about sounding like a normal, conversational you. . . .
  5. Forget everything your English teacher taught you. . . . [I]f you’re scripting a sermon you should expect it to read badly. It should break almost all the norms of good written expression and follow the rules of informal speech instead. . . .
  6. Am I repeating myself? . . . [A]s you’re introducing a new idea, it’s incredibly helpful to restate the first sentence three times, rephrasing it each time but adding no new information. . . . Avoid giving too much information and learn the difference between the pace of your speech (in ‘words per minute’) and the pace of information (in ‘ideas per minute’).
  7. Translate narratives into the present tense. . . . [This] makes a story seem real and immediate—it’s just like being there. . . .
  8. The six-million-dollar secret of illustrating. . . . Don’t sweat over illustrating the complicated stuff—just illustrate the obvious! . . . Illustrate the obvious, and the complex ideas will take care of themselves, because your listeners will be fresh and focused enough to stay with you. . . .
  9. People love to hear about people. . . . The journalist’s rule is this: if there are no people, there’s no story. . . .
  10. Work towards your key text. . . . When you’re quoting a verse, help out the listener by setting it up before you read it, rather than after. . . .

[M]ost natural communicators—whether scripted or not—tend to do most of these things by instinct.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

Preaching For Christ’s Sake

MCheyneJuly 8.  Since Tuesday have been laid up with illness. Set by once more for a season to feel my unprofitableness and cure my pride. When shall this self-choosing temper be healed? ‘Lord, I will preach, run, visit, wrestle,’ said I. ‘No, thou shalt lie in thy bed and suffer,’ said the Lord. Today missed some fine opportunities of speaking a word for Christ. The Lord saw I would have spoken as much for my own honour as His, and therefore shut my mouth. I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake—until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!

Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne

(HT: Joe Thorn)

7 Ways of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

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By Trevin Wax:

No pastor wants his preaching to be considered “Christ-less” or something other than “Christ-centered.” Still, it is sometimes difficult to understand what exactly is meant by this kind of terminology. Likewise, no pastor wants to “read into” the text something that is not there.

In the initial chapter of his book,Preaching Christ from Genesis,Sidney Griedanus lays out seven ways that a preacher can legitimately preach Christ from the Old Testament. I’ve adapted the examples for each category in order to keep the focus on how there are multiple ways to preach Christ from an Old Testament account (such as Noah).

1. Redemptive-Historical Progression

The redemptive-historical road to Christ is the “broadest and foundational path from an Old Testament text to Jesus Christ” (3). It takes into consideration the history of redemption which begins with the opening chapters of Genesis and culminates in the vision of a restored paradise in Revelation. This journey from creation to new creation takes us down a path of redemptive history in God’s acts in Israel, through Christ, and then through the church. We take into consideration the place we are in the biblical storyline and then look forward to the climax of Christ’s death and resurrection.

An example would be the story of Noah. More than a simple story of warning against judgment, it is also a continuation of the Genesis plotline, where the seed of the woman must avenge the heel of the serpent. God’s preservation of Noah is the way He keeps His promises, and we anticipate the coming of the Seed – Jesus Christ in His first coming and then His second.

2. Promise-Fulfillment

The “promise-fulfillment” motif is a direct road to Christ from an Old Testament text. The New Testament reveals hundreds of passages that promise the coming Messiah. A preacher who utilizes this approach will take a direct road from the Old Testament promise to the New Testament’s fulfillment.

An example is Genesis 3:15, where God promises that one of Eve’s offspring will crush the head of the serpent. Another example is Isaiah 9:6, where God promises that a virgin will bring forth a son whose name will be called Emmanuel. From the New Testament, we recognize this as being ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

3. Typology

Another way of preaching Christ from the Old Testament is through the careful use of typology, seeing Old Testament events, persons, or institutions as foreshadowing Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.

For example, one finds parallels with the story of Noah. Here, we have a righteous man whose family is saved due to his standing with God. In a similar manner, Jesus Christ is the righteous One whose family is saved due to His obedience.

One must take care to not flatten the Old Testament stories that foreshadow Christ by making all details align. But there are indeed hints and foretastes of Christ in the Old Testament, and a wise preacher will make use of them in his preaching. (Here are some examples of how famous Southern Baptist pastor W. A. Criswell and others have done this with the story of Joseph.)

4. Analogy

Another road to Christ from the Old Testament is by analogy. According to Griedanus, “analogy exposes parallels between what God taught Israel and what Christ teaches the church; what God promised Israel and what Christ promises the church; what God demanded of Israel (the law) and what Christ demands of his church” (5).

This approach uses God’s interactions in the Old Testament as a picture that has further application for us today. Jesus used this method when He told the story of Noah as an analogy (Matthew 24:37-41), urging people to repent and thereby escape the coming judgment.

5. Longitudinal Themes

A fifth road to Christ from the Old Testament is similar to the “redemptive-historical” method, but it focuses mainly on the development of theological ideas. These are “longitudinal themes” because they can be traced throughout the biblical storyline, and they develop over time as they culminate in Christ.

Examples of these themes would be God’s kingdom (brought ultimately by Jesus Christ the King), God’s presence (foreshadowed in the Temple but fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation), and God’s judgment (seen in God’s actions against sin, but also His willingness to bring salvation through judgment).

Returning to the story of Noah, we can trace the theme of God’s judgment, understanding that the judgment that falls on the wicked (the flood) is the means of salvation for Noah and his family (1 Peter 3:21). This theme is most clearly seen in the cross, when salvation comes to us through the judgment of God that falls upon Christ.

6. New Testament references

Another road to Christ is found in New Testament references or allusions from the Old Testament. Most often, these references can be used as further evidence of the other ways of pointing to Christ.

Going back to the story of Noah, we could see an allusion to Noah’s faith as referenced inHebrews 11:7. This reference gives us insight into the nature of true faith in the face of judgment, reminding us of the faith we are to have in Christ for salvation.

7. Contrast

The last road in Griedanus’ taxonomy of ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament is the way of contrast. There are aspects of biblical teaching that are quite different today as a result of Christ’s coming. Griedanus uses the example of circumcision. In the Old Testament, circumcision was required of every adult male. In the New Testament, baptism has become the sign of covenant membership. What is now required is “circumcision of the heart” which is brought about through Christ’s death and resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Only the Gospel

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Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

“When the church preaches the gospel as the power of God, as spiritual dynamic that can operate in men and change them, it is THEN that she deals with the social problem; not when she is talking about the social problem, and giving statistics and making moral appeals. That is a waste of time, and we must reject it as atemptation from the devil! I do not hesitate to say so. The devil is perfectly satisfied as long as the church is just reading, Sunday by Sunday, little moral essays, trying to give a little moral uplift, and making an appeal to people to be decent. I am certain that at such times the devil rejoices, because he knows that his kingdom will not be affected.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (Ephesians – Darkness And Light)

8 Advantages of Heart-changing, Expository Preaching

Andy Naselli:

Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake   (Kingsford NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013), 40–41:

Expository preaching:

  1. does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through his word to change people’s lives—as it ‘uncages the lion’ and allows God’s word to speak.saving
  2. acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.
  3. minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.
  4. minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.
  5. removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times, of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its colour and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.
  6. encourages humility in those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.
  7. helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter the God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.
  8. drives us to preaching the gospel. As we’ll see in more detail in chapter 5, expository preaching is also uniquely valuable in that it persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel—that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.

14-page sample PDF

What preaching is meant to do

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Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.  1 Thessalonians 1:5

“Paul knew he was clothed with power and authority.  How does one know it?  It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through the whole of your being, and an indescribable sense of joy. . . .

What about the people?  They sense it at once; they can tell the difference immediately.  They are gripped, they become serious, they are convicted, they are moved, they are humbled.  Some are convicted of sin, others are lifted up to the heavens, anything may happen to any one of them.  They know at once that something quite unusual and exceptional is happening. . . .

What then are we to do about this?  There is only one obvious conclusion.  Seek Him!  Seek Him!  What can we do without Him?  Seek Him!  Seek Him always.  But go beyond seeking Him; expect Him.  Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit?  Or do you just say to yourself, ‘Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not’?  Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone’s life?  Are you expecting anyone to have a climactic experience?  That is what preaching is meant to do.  That is what you find in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the church.  Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to Him.  Do not resist.  Forget all about your sermon if necessary.  Let Him loose you, let Him manifest His power in you and through you.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, 1971), pages 324-325.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Why Spurgeon Thought the Plain Preaching of the Gospel Was Sufficient to Grow a Church

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Spurgeon:

Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.

Brethren beloved, there are many things which I might allow to other worshippers which I have denied myself in conducting the worship of this congregation. I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!

In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves.

How is it that it does so little of its old conquering work? I will tell you. Do you see the scabbard of artistic work, so wonderfully elaborated? Full many keep the sword in this scabbard, and therefore its edge never gets to its work. Pull off that scabbard. Fling that fine sheath to Hades, and then see how, in the Lord’s hands, that glorious two-handed sword will mow down fields of men as mowers level the grass with their scythes.

There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563

(HT: Justin Taylor)

True Preaching

“God teaches both outwardly and inwardly at the same time.  Christ reserves his authority to himself and does not transfer it to any other, ‘so that he might stand idly by as a spectator while his ministers work.’  Yet when they do what their Lord commands, they may be said to open the kingdom to the obedient and shut it to the disobedient. . . .

Such a conjunction between the work of the Spirit and human ministry suggests how congregations should honor the latter.  ‘As we receive the true ministers of the Word of God as messengers and ambassadors of God, it is necessary to listen to them as to God himself’ (Genevan Confession 20).  The first chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession deals with Scripture as the true Word of God. . . . ‘When this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.’  As the sub-heading puts it, in a memorable phrase, ‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.’”

David F. Wright, “Word, Ministry and Congregation in the Reformation Confessions,” in Pulpit & People, edited by Nigel Cameron and Sinclair Ferguson (Edinburgh, 1986), page 48.  Italics original.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

What You Teach Really, Really Matters

John Bloom:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Do you have a communication gifting? Have others commented on how well you speak or write? Do you find yourself dreaming about using your gifts in ministry? Wonderful! We are praying for more herald-labors in the gospel harvest (Matthew 9:38). Consider it strongly.

But as you consider, consider this:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

When it comes to people being saved, it all hangs on what they believe. So when it comes to teaching, heaven and hell are in the balance. What you teach people really, really matters. You will be judged by what comes out of your mouth and your keyboard. And you will be judged more strictly than others.

Teaching is serious business. The Holy Spirit even limits his activity based on what teachers teach (or don’t teach). In Acts 19:1–7, Paul found a group of twelve Christians in Ephesus who had been presumably taught by Apollos before he had a correct understanding of baptism or the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When Paul asked them “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” they answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So he asked them, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” So Paul promptly taught them correctly, baptized them, and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit and “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.”

Teachers tremble: the Holy Spirit withheld blessing from these believers until they were taught correctly.

Why didn’t the sovereign Spirit simply overcome Apollos’s good intentioned but deficient teaching and fill these disciples right away? Because God’s design is that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Jesus is the Word (John 1:1) and the truth (John 14:6). The Spirit honors the word of Christ because he is the “Spirit of truth” (1 John 4:6). Like he did for Cornelius in Acts 10, the Spirit may draw or direct people to where they will hear the word of Christ, but he will wait for the word of Christ to be preached or taught (Romans 10:15) before he grants the blessing of it. To the degree the word of God is taught deficiently, the blessing of it is withheld. And the teachers will be held accountable for the blessing they withheld from their hearers.

So if you want to be a teacher, wonderful! Teachers are precious gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11). But take Paul’s warning very seriously: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

What Did Jesus Come to Save Us From?

John Piper:

Let’s do this inductively. I ask. You answer.

John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

  • Why did God send his Son? _______________

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

  • Does not obeying the Son (e. g., when he commands us to trust him) bring us under God’s wrath or leave us under his wrath? _______________
  • So what did God send his Son to save us from? _______________
  • Is this a felt need among the unbelievers you know? _______________
  • What are the implications for the content of preaching and                             evangelism? ____________

Five Features of Preaching in the Book of Acts

Kevin DeYoung:

In his book on Acts, Alan Thompson notes five characteristics of apostolic evangelistic preaching (90-99). These five features serve as good models for all types of preaching, both then and now.

1. God-centered. The sermons in Acts begin with God. They announce the good news of what God has promised, what God has done, and what God will do. The preaching is not centered around the felt-needs of the audience, but around the mighty acts of God in history. The emphasis is on God’s initiative and how we are accountable to him.

2. Audience-conscious. While the preaching begins with God, it is not ignorant of those to whom the sermon is delivered. We see throughout Acts evidence of audience adaptation and sensitivity to what the audience already knows or doesn’t know. The sermons do not unfold as canned messages with a series of doctrinal propositions. The preaching is deeply theological, but not at the expense of be careful to communicate that theology in a way that is understandable. The core content stays the same, but the starting point and type of final appeal may change.

3. Christ-focused. Though God is often portrayed at the main actor in history, the preaching in Acts is relentlessly focused on Christ. The sermons highlight the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. They also explain the theological significance of these events. Christ is proclaimed as the climax of redemptive history and the good news for today’s sinners.

4. Response-oriented. The preaching in Acts is not response-driven. That is, we never see messages crafted or delivered in such a way as to manipulate a desired response. But the preaching always called for a response. This is often the difference between faithful teaching and anointed preaching. The apostles not only taught about God and Christ, they peppered their preaching with promises and warnings. Specifically, they called people to faith in Christ and repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

5. Boldness. The noun form of “boldness” is used five times in Acts and the verb form is used seven times (out of a total of nine in the NT). If there was one distinctive homiletical trademark of apostolic preaching it was boldness. In the context of much hostility, the apostles were often granted a unique freedom to preach Christ with exceptional clarity. In an age like ours with increasing opposition to Christianity and Christian claims, it is imperative that preachers reclaim this mantle of boldness. Preachers should not be obnoxious or obtuse, but we must question our approach to preaching if we are not willing “to be clear in the face of fear” (97).

Preaching at Frinton Mission 2012

If you’re interested, here are my sermons preached at Frinton Mission last week.

My theme was The Goal of the Gospel – what it is, how it works, and why it’s important:

Pastors: Recommit Yourselves to What You Were Ordained to Do

Justin Taylor:

In a day when many pastors are downplaying serious study of God’s word and the necessary time for their own sermon preparation, I found this quote from Andrew Perves bracing and prophetic:

To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ.

Get out of your offices and get into your studies.

Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians.

Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time.

Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.

Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.

So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts.

Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is.

Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people.

Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ.

Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church.

Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly.

Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in.

He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.

Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (IVP, 2007), 44-45.

Ten Reminders for Preachers

From Justin Childers:

Here is a post with some great quotes supporting these ten reminders:

1. Effective ministry consists not of fads or gimicks, but of faithfully preaching the truth.
2. Preaching is a far more serious task than most preachers realize.
3. Faithfulness in the pulpit begins with the pursuit of personal holiness.
4. Powerful preaching flows from powerful prayer.
5. Passionate preaching starts with one’s passion for Christ.
6. The preacher is a herald, not an innovator.
7. The faithful preacher stays focused on what matters.
8. The preacher’s task is to make the text come alive for his hearers.
9. The preacher is to be Christ-exalting, not self-promoting.
10. Faithful preaching requires great personal discipline and sacrifice.

Read the post here, including the quotations.