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? ____________
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).
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:
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.
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.
“St Paul expected his hearers to be moved. He so believed in his preaching that he knew that it was “the power of God unto salvation” [Rom. 1:16]. This expectation is a very real part of the presentation of the Gospel. It is a form of faith. A mere preaching which is not accompanied by the expectation of faith, is not a true preaching of the Gospel, because faith is a part of the Gospel. Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the gospel. It is indeed a misrepresentation of the gospel. To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response.”
—Roland Allen, Missionary Methods—St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 74.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
I have been preaching Christ for nearly forty years, and in the contemplation of him I am more and more filled with wonder, admiration, and joy. Perhaps this may have given some new freshness, and power and unction to my preaching. ‘O, that I all but knew him!’ In Christ there is a beauty that is unspeakable; there are wonders which human language cannot describe. If I may say so, in Christ there is a an ocean of wonders. For, how wonderful, that he who was so rich, for our sakes became poor–so poor as to have no place to lay his head. How wonderful, that he who, in heaven, is the Savior of all, should for our sakes on earth, become a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief!…This has been the principal theme of all my sermons, and hence what some are pleased to call the ‘remarkable success’ which has crowned my preaching. And to God be all the praise!
Daniel Baker. Quoted in Douglas Kelley, Preachers With Power, p. 36
(HT: Justin Buzzard)
R.C. Sproul on the Difference Between Teaching and Preaching:
Like prose and poetry, these two terms are better understood as opposite ends of a spectrum, rather than raw opposites. When we write prose we are given to sundry poetic devices, word-plays, metaphors, etc. and when we write poetry we are communicating information. In like manner it is rather difficult if not impossible to teach without preaching to some degree, or to preach without some level of teaching.
One way to illustrate the distinction however is to note the difference between the indicative and the imperative. The former tells us what is, the latter tells us what we’re supposed to do. Teaching, obviously, tends toward the indicative while preaching tends toward the imperative. But what if we made the distinction absolute? Would not any teaching utterly bereft of any imperative cause us to yawn, to reply, “So what?” In like manner, were we to drain preaching of all indicative, and be left with only imperative, would we not have sermons that merely shout, “Do something!”? Would it not end up sound and fury, signifying nothing?
Which means, in the end, that these are each matters of degree. I am blessed to be able to teach at Reformation Bible College. Because my desire for my students is that they would grow in grace and wisdom it is not my design to merely download information from my brain to theirs. My classes therefore tend to follow a real, though unplanned pattern. It usually happens that I spend roughly two thirds of my class time giving and explaining information. Then, in the final third of class I tend to commence to preaching. I begin to exhort my students to live in light of what they have learned, to change their perspectives, and their lives. I begin to implore them to change their hearts.
I am blessed also, though not as often as I would like to be, to preach. Here I certainly have an obligation, as best as I am able, to explain the text. I seek to place the text in its historical context. I try to clear up any grammatical ambiguities, or translation issues. But, persuaded that the Bible is not some odd and mysterious book that isn’t eminently understandable, believing that our problems are more moral than intellectual, that we are more foolish than stupid, I exhort the congregation to believe, to trust, to rejoice, to give thanks, to love, to forgive. Every Sunday when I am blessed to preach I walk into the pulpit not only hoping to be true to the text, but hoping to encourage growth in godliness. I want the flock to go away persuaded that in Christ they are beloved of the Father, and that Jesus changes everything.
We who are Reformed tend to be stronger teachers than preachers. The non-Reformed tend to be stronger preachers than teachers. We agree with the Bible, but remain unmoved by it. They are quick to be moved, but not always by the Bible. The Bible is not just filled with truth. It is filled with truth that ought to change us. It isn’t enough that we are taught the Bible. We need the Bible preached.
“What a wonderful open door God has placed before the church of today. A pagan world, weary and sick, often distrusting its own modern gods. A saving gospel strangely entrusted to us unworthy messengers. A divine Book with unused resources of glory and power. Ah, what a marvelous opportunity, my brethren!”
J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), page 154.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
“There is no inconsistency between believing that God has a special sovereign love before the foundation of the world that is efficacious and brings in all the Body of Christ and that there is too love for all men, and that no man knows to which of those loves he has been brought until he is converted. In other words, it is the love of God in Christ that is proclaimed. And theoretical problems about how is this consistent with that, and so on, are not really our concern. And ultimately, we don’t even know the answer to that. So, Robert Candlish (1806-1873), another Free Church divine, says, ‘We don’t preach a limited atonement or a universal atonement. We preach a saving Christ.’ And when people come to Christ, then they find they have been redeemed and his blood has been shed for them.”
Rev. Iain Murray, in a 9 Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
According to James Durham, in his Spurgeon-acclaimed work Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, Jesus stands in fourfold relation to preaching.
First, all preaching is to explain him. If it does not explain him, it falls short and “that preaching, which stands not in relation to him, is beside the text and mark.” (74)
Second, he is the foundation of all preaching and “preaching without him lacks a foundation, and is the building, as it were, of a castle in the air” (74).
Third, he is the great end of preaching. Durham states that hearers must “have him known in their judgments” and “have him high in their hearts and affections” (75).
Fourth and final, he stands in relation to preaching as its life and power. Without him, says Durham, “no preaching can be effectual, no soul can be captivated and brought to him.” (75)
(Durham, James. Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. Dallas: Napthali Press, 2007. Print.)
(HT: Jude St.John)
Probably the most important sermon on missions preached in years.
David Platt at Together for the Gospel last week:
Brethren, weigh your sermons. Do not retail them by the yard, but deal them out by the pound. Set no store by the quantity of words which you utter, but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter. It is foolish to be lavish in words and niggardly in truth. - C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 71
There is no intrinsic value in an overlong sermon. Nor is there anything to boast about that a congregation has become conditioned to endure them. What constitutes a long sermon is a relative term anyway, isn’t it? In any case, a long-winded preacher is just as capable of wispy words as a short-winded one. Likewise, a short sermon is just as capable of filling a room with hot air as is a long one. Twenty minutes of gospel power would do far more for a congregation than forty minutes of gospel lite. Likewise, forty minutes of Biblical exhortation would hold the attention of God’s people far more than twenty minutes of pointless patter.
Sometimes congregations expect preachers to keep it short, and those congregations need to be conditioned over time to allow longer expositions. But sometimes preachers value sermon length as an end in itself, and they may need to measure their sermons more by the pound than by the yard.
A final word from Spurgeon:
Do not overload a sermon with too much matter. All truth is not to be comprised in one discourse. Sermons are not to be bodies of divinity. There is such a thing as having too much to say, and saying it till hearers are sent home loathing rather than longing. An old minister walking with a young preacher, pointed to a cornfield, and observed, “Your last sermon had too much in it, and it was not clear enough, or sufficiently well-arranged; it was like that field of wheat, it contained much crude food, but none fit for use. You should make your sermons like a loaf of bread, fit for eating, and in convenient form.” - C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 77
“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”
– Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (p. 82).
(HT: Jared Wilson)
By Bobby Jamieson:
How do you try to fill up your church building? And what does that say about your belief in the Holy Spirit?
TWO WAYS TO FILL A CHURCH
Nineteenth-century Baptist Francis Wayland suggests that there are basically two ways to fill a church (Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, 43-47). One is to preach in a way that is agreeable and inoffensive to both believers and unbelievers. The other is to preach in a way that highlights the difference between true religion and mere profession, and thus creates a sharp contrast between the church and the world.
The first approach seems reasonable. After all, why would non-Christians come to hear sermons about things they’ve never experienced and can’t understand? Why would non-Christians come to a church that highlights the fact that they are outsiders?
Yet Wayland argues that the price of this approach is far too steep. In order for his preaching to equally please Christians and non-Christians, a minister must “talk of generalities that mean nothing, or the trumpet must give an uncertain sound, so that no one will prepare himself for battle.”
Anticipating the natural objection, Wayland writes, “But it will be said, Are we then to drive away all but the children of God?”
His response compresses volumes of biblical wisdom into a mere five words: “I reply, Is there any Holy Ghost?”
Wayland’s point is that this whole line of thinking assumes that it’s finally up to us to convert people. It’s up to us to get them into the church building. It’s up to us to stir up their interest in the sermon. And it’s up to us to change their hearts and get them to repent and believe the gospel.
Wayland cuts through all of that by asking just whose power we’re depending on for the success of our ministry—ours, or the Holy Spirit’s?
IS THERE A HOLY SPIRIT?
“Is there a Holy Spirit?” I can think of few better questions to ask in order to assess whether our ministry strategies are faithful to Scripture.
You could put it like this: if there were no Holy Spirit, would your ministry work just as well?
What are you trying to accomplish in your ministry? Is that goal something that can be attained without the Holy Spirit?
What means are you using to carry out your ministry? Are they strategies and techniques that sociology, psychology, and common sense can fully explain? Or would your ministry methods prove utterly futile if the Holy Spirit didn’t sovereignly decide to work in and through them?
It’s easy to see, for example, how the promise of wealth will draw a crowd and convert them to your team. Same thing for the promise of better relationships, fewer conflicts, lower stress, or a better self-image. It’s easy to see how consummate presentation, engrossing music, and pleading appeals can generate adherents to whatever cause you’re promoting.
But none of these things need the Holy Spirit to make them work. All those strategies and messages can get along just fine without him.
SPIRIT-DEPENDENT MINISTRY IS WORD-DRIVEN MINISTRY
But let’s put this positively. What does ministry that depends on the Holy Spirit look like?
It looks like preaching to dead people and praying that the Holy Spirit would give life as only he can (Eph. 2:1-3). It looks like shining the light of the gospel as brightly as you can, and praying that the Spirit would give people eyes to see it (2 Cor. 4:6). It looks like aiming for things only the Holy Spirit can give to people: new loves, new hearts, new lives, new selves.
What means does the Holy Spirit use to give new life? God’s Word.
Therefore, Spirit-dependent ministry is by definition Word-centered and Word-driven ministry. Ministry that believes in the Holy Spirit trusts the Spirit-inspired Word to do the work God has promised it will do.
And to return to Wayland, he argues that such Spirit-dependent, Word-driven ministry will in fact fill churches:
If we preach in such a manner that the disciples of Christ are separate from the world, prayerful, humble, earnest, self-denying, and laboring for the conversion of men, the Spirit of God will be in the midst of them, and souls will be converted. The thing will be noised abroad. There is never an empty house where the Spirit of God is present.
Is there a Holy Spirit? There is, and he speaks through the Word. And when he speaks, the dead hear and rise to new life.
(To think more about ministry that depends upon the Spirit to bring new life, check out the new 9Marks Journal on conversion, especially the articles by Jonathan Leeman, Jeramie Rinne, and Owen Strachan.)
Preaching is a strange business. It requires you to stand up and speak with authority and pointed passion to people who may well be your intellectual and spiritual betters. But a man who has confidence in the word of God has everything he needs for the task. Here’s how Herman Bavinck put it:
For if a minister is not convinced of the divine truth of the word he preaches, his preaching loses all authority, influence, and power. If he is not able to bring a message from God, who then gives him the right to act on behalf of people of like nature with himself? Who gives him the freedom to put himself in the pulpit [a few feet] above them, to speak to them about the highest interest of their soul and life and even to proclaim to them their eternal weal or woe? Who would dare, who would be able to do this, unless he has a word of God to proclaim?
– Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1 (p. 461)
Here are 10 instructions for hearing God’s Word preached on Sunday from Thomas Watson (found on pages 129-130 of Sola Scriptura).
1. When you come to God’s house to hear His Word, do not forget to prepare your soul with prayer.
2. Come with a holy appetite for the Word (1 Peter 2:2). A good appetite promotes good digestion.
3. Come with a tender, teachable heart, asking “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It is foolish to expect a blessing if you come with a hardened, worldly-minded heart.
4. Be attentive to the Word preached. Regard the sermon as it truly is–a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).
5. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word” (James 1:21). Meekness involves a submissive frame of heart, a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the Word.
6. Mingle the preached Word with faith (Heb. 4:2). Put on Christ as He is preached (Rom. 13:14); apply the promises as they are spoken.
7. Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Don’t let the sermon run through your mind like water through a strainer.
8. Practice what you have heard. “Live out” the sermons you hear. Be doers and not merely hearers (James 1:22).
9. Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessings of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). Without the Spirit, the medicine of the Word may be swallowed, but it will not result in healing.
10. Familiarize yourself with what you have heard. When you come home, speak to your loved ones about the sermon in an edifying manner. Remember each sermon as if it will be the last you ever hear, for that may be the case.
(HT: Justin Childers)