LECTURE 8 ON SERMON PREPARATION Arrangement and Discussion

The message of Clowney is clear. We must always preach Christ, but not as an add-on. I have heard so many sermons in which the preacher talks about salvation in Christ but does not connect it to the text and context. This is the wrong kind of discussion. A bad example may be found in the story of David and Goliath if not interpreted correctly. The preacher shows how David trusted in the Lord and overcame the Philistine giant. Then he says that you need to trust the Lord too, and the way to do that is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But do you see that this is totally missing the Biblical-theological context. We need to see that David is the chosen one because his heart is right with God. Although he trusts in the Lord, his trust is the result of God’s grace in fulfilling His covenant. If David does not go out against Goliath, then he is not fit to be the king or to become the ideal King who is the progenitor of Christ. The preacher must show how David’s victory here is not only a model for Christian behavior, but a pivotal point in the salvation God is bringing to the Jews and to the whole world. It predicts God’s victory over His enemies as well as Christ’s victory over sin and death. Another example is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. This presents all kinds of moral problems if we do not understand that the testing has nothing to do with Abraham’s morality. It has to do with God’s covenant promise. The thing that is being tested here is Abraham’s faith in the promise. But how can we understand his willingness to obey unless we also understand two things. First we must understand that Abraham believed that Isaac was the seed in whom all nations would be blessed according to God’s promise. And secondly, therefore, we read in Hebrews 11:17-19, By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.  He believed that God would honor His word even by raising Isaac from the dead, which is why Jesus says in John 8:5, Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad. There is a sense in which the promised seed is subjected to judgment here. This, in Biblical theology, means that the preacher should show how Jesus is the promised seed and is the sacrifice provided: Jehovah Jireh.

Clowney also reminds us that we need to pay attention to the position of the text in sacred history, as for example, Jonah. This is not just a story of a reluctant prophet. It is a message to Israel that Abraham’s promise will be fulfilled. God is having mercy on the Gentiles. He also emphasizes that as we look at the progress of revelation we must understand the former and latter days. The Old Testament is the former. The New Testament is the latter, and Augustine said, “ The NT is in the OT concealed, and the OT is in the NT revealed.” In dealing with symbolism, Clowney reminds us that this is an important element in preaching. He opposes a faux literalism and desires us to search for the meaning of the text in the broader scope of revelation. First he reminds us that every saving act in the Old Testament anticipates the climactic work of Christ. All accounts of salvation and judgment need to be related to the drama of redemption. Secondly, he reminds us that there must be a relation between the symbol and the reality, but we must be careful to avoid identity which can produce idolatry, as in the Roman Catholic Mass.  Thirdly, we must seek the significance of the symbol in context. For example, Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28) is a response to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Instead of men climbing up, God is coming down, which by the way, eliminates the Gospel song, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Clowney then classifies the symbols of Scripture. Some are direct, like Jacob’s ladder. Then there are institutional or cultic symbols such as circumcision, the Passover, and the tabernacle.  Then there are the prophetic symbols such as Hosea’s marriage to Gomer. Finally, there are historical symbols such as the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, and an example in the New Testament would be the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14. When discussing how to employ these truths, Clowney gives us a number of illustrative outlines to which I suggest you give careful attention. As for arrangement, Broadus emphasizes a plan that will appeal to the mind. This includes unity, order, proportion and progress. Under division he emphasizes the importance of the proposition. However, if you can summarize your theme in one sentence and stick to that, then the divisions should be derived from the theme and you will do well. They may be announced beforehand or even published in an outline in the church bulletin. I find there are many sermons in which there i no theme and the divisions are nothing more than a variety of ideas, without a common thread, found in the extended text.

Chapell’s emphasis in arrangement is on what he calls the Fallen Condition Focus. His guide is 1) What does the text say? 2) What issues or concerns did the text adress in its original context? 3) What does the audience have in common with either those to whom it was written or the one by whom it was written. He militates against sermons that are merely ethical or moral, as for example, this is what Abraham did, and so should you. No matter whether we are using the topical approach, or the textual or expository we need to pay attention to the progress of revelation and where this particular text fits into the overall plan, There should be no “Be like” messages, no “Be good messages,” and no “be disciplined” messages. All of these miss the power and glory of God’s revelation. And, these are questions we need to ask ourselves about our approach each time we preach. Capturing the redemptive flow means that every time we preach we are going to identify the fallen condition and then when we introduce Christ it must not be peripheral but central to the Biblical revelation. We must discern the redemptive process in order to place the text in its proper context. The procedure for Christ-centered exposition is 1) identify the redemptive principles inn the text, both Divine sufficiency and human need. 2) Determine how those principles apply to those to whom you are preaching. 3)Apply those principles to the present life of believers. Chapell suggests, correctly, that we need historic understanding, personal understanding, and formula understanding, which means that the congregation understands grace and its difference from works. Only then can they obtain the viewpoint that the motive and the means of change come exclusively from Christ. This is our job.


Sinclair Ferguson adds that we should preach exegetically and he does not mean  simply a sermon series or running commentary. His emphasis on exegetical preaching is: Selecting, and understanding. Selection has to do with sensitivity to the needs. Understanding has to do with seeing the Biblical theological significance. For example as Ferguson analyzes the parable of the prodigal son, it is neither an example of a returning sinner, nor is it merely an example of foolish pride. It is directed specifically to the Pharisees and scribes, the leaders of Israel who had missed a proper understanding of their Lord. They resembled both the prodigal son and the elder brother. One cannot believe he is accepted and the other does not understand what son-ship is. It is frequently the case when parables are seen in the light of the Biblical revelation, that they say much about Jesus judgment on His people. After understanding comes crystallizing. It  is the next stage and it means discerning the unity of the passage or text and moving from a general to a specific theme. This is followed by structure, which means that there must be an orderly way to reflect the text by restructuring the material.

Restructuring can only occur when the preacher has absorbed the Biblical-theological significance of the passage and he has digested it so that he can now  treat it with logic and order. Finally, it must be concretized, or made relevant to the present hearers, and then delivered in the best form we can. We have not made mention of hermeneutics, but they are essential to proper preaching. Hermeneutics is the study of methods of interpretation. For example Hendrik Krabbendam focuses on the fact that there is only a single meaning, and if you are preaching exegetically it is your job to discover that meaning. An example would be the objective-subjective schools of art, The objective asks, what did the artist intend to convey. The subjective asks what I see in it. Krabbendam is very restrictive in his methodology advising us to restrict the meaning of the text to its original context, but he makes clear that the context is very broad including the whole revelation of Scripture. He argues for the use of the redemptive historical method but actually advocates going beyond that to what he calls the covenantal  historical method. This method, or hermeneutic, is to look for the universal principles and patterns expressed in the text. A simple example would be Galatians 4:24 where Paul compares Hagar and Ishmael to the present city of Jerusalem as a symbol of law and Sarah and Isaac to the Jerusalem above as a symbol of grace. Macleod’s makes the important point that our theology governs our preaching. Now there are a lot of people who say that doctrine does not matter or is unimportant: what counts is obedience. But, theological preaching is extremely important in the education of the congregation in understanding what the Bible is saying. Rather than being a dry discourse on a point in theology it is a way of opening people’s understanding to the true nature of God’s revelation to us. The text then becomes a path to Christian growth and maturity regardless of the specificity of the topic or theme because it opens a window on God’s Word.