LECTURE 3 ON SERMON PREPARATION The Message

With regard to the message, Broadus emphasizes the importance of using the Bible. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many sermons I have heard that pay lip service to the Bible but do not really explore its depths or properly explain its content. He emphasizes a number of advantages. Among the most important in my mind is variety. If you are searching for topics they tend to reflect your prejudices, but if you follow Scripture you must deal with everything. And when you use the Bible to deal with difficult subjects it is a defense for you. If people do not agree, you just point out that God said it, and you were only echoing his Word. Preachers should never apologize for treating difficult subjects because, when they do that, they are apologizing for the Word of God. In fact, it is the preacher’s job to show how that difficult subject is vital to everyone in his listening audience. A Scriptural approach also gives people an anchor so that they can go back to the text and examine it themselves.


In procedure make sure that you are not more literal than the Bible itself, which can easily occur when you lift things out of context. You need to observe the immediate and larger context and the background. This brings me to a major defect in modern preaching. You need both Biblical theology which is progressive, and Systematic theology which is comprehensive to interpret the text properly. I like Haselden’s reference to the fact that Christianity is a dogmatic religion and it requires the preacher to put his exposition in the context of his own doctrinal position as determined by his allegiances. To do otherwise means that his messages are detached from the overall message of the Bible. And Clowney emphasizes the importance of Biblical Theology and of accepting Biblical presuppositions and rejecting the anti-supernaturalistic critics. The point here is that God’s revelation is given in the course of history which means that any text that you preach on must be seen in the light of this progressive revelation. He defines the Kerygma as that which God has revealed and is to be passed on by us. It is not a mystical experience of divine impartation apart from the very words of Scripture. In fact, people who put thoughts in a sermon just because God brought them to mind during their study, end up disorganized  and confusing their listeners.


J.I.Packer reminds us that there is much non-preaching in our pulpits. Thus, he gives us the antidote. Make the content God’s message, make the purpose to inform, persuade, and apply, and preach with authority. I also have a hard time with preachers who make apologies in the pulpit, either with respect to their preparation, or with respect to the content. If you are not sure that is what God says, do not say it. The glorious God has revealed himself in the Bible to lost men with a promise of unchanging salvation through Christ, and the preacher’s job is to persuade people in spite of Satan’s opposition and because of God’s sovereign command. He should not weaken the message.


One way to do this according to Haselden is that all good messages must be eschatological. By that he means that they first must warn of the impending doom. It’s not I’m OK, you are OK. It’s not our job to threaten people, but we must announce the consequences. Secondly the promise of Grace is vital as Jesus reminds us in John 10:10, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Grace must be presented in a way that it is not perceived as a panacea for every problem. Problems remain, but they are cast in a different context by Romans 8:28. Thirdly, we must join the warning of condemnation with the promise of grace by pointing out that Jesus Christ has born our punishment and made peace with God’s holiness and we must state on the basis of Scripture that He is the only way. Obviously this will offend many.   What has become a major issue for us in recent years is the post-modernist viewpoint that the audacious claim that Jesus is the only way is out of place in our enlightened society. This goes directly counter to the whole message of the Bible, and ought not to be entertained for one minute.


In our readings we have come across those who blame the church school for seducing people into believing that their children are already Christians on the basis of Bushnell’s “Christian Nurture,” I do not know about Horace Bushnell, but I do know about Methodists and Presbyterians who baptize their children. Some misunderstand the practice and are like my Methodist pastor who told me when I reported my conversion at College, “Why, John, you’ve always been a Christian.” The proper understanding is that these baptized children are now members of the visible church. We must not assume they are converted, anymore than we should assume that their parents are. Even a profession of faith is no guarantee that the person is regenerate. Therefore the good preacher continues to challenge the congregation to repentance and true faith in the Lord Jesus. Surely Jonathan Edwards preached his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to a Christian congregation. Some, both baptized, and professing, may come later to a true and full understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

I would also emphasize that rhetorical excellence is no substitute for the genuine gospel. But the absence of rhetorical skills does not aid in communication. I had the opportunity to work with many men destined for the ministry because of the proximity of our Church in Lansdale, Pa to two theological seminaries. Though I had many suggestions about their preaching, one thing stands out in my mind. They spent way to much time on what to say, and way too little time on how to say it.


Finally, all opposition to propositional revelation must be rejected by the serious preacher. The whole structure of the New Testament rests on the proposition that it is a fulfillment of the words of the Old Testament as in Luke 24:25-27 and 44, He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself...He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” The preacher is the steward of the mysteries of God which means the Word of the Lord he bears is the same word that is the cause of both creation and redemption. God speaks and it is done as we read in Genesis 18:14, Is anything too hard for Jahweh? Paul says you are handling dynamite in Romans 1:16 and 17, I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”