Preaching 101

Like any work, preaching is a craft that requires time and failure to get really good at. This thread will discuss what preaching is, what it ought to accomplish and how to develop it as a craft.

Of course, we turn to the Bible to discover what it is preachers are doing.

Nehemiah 8:1–8 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (ESV)

So how did it work? The preacher stood on a platform before both men and women. He read the word and the people of God listened attentively. The preacher gave the sense of the words and the people understood the words.

This is preaching in a nutshell. Read the text. Explain the text clearly and the audience receives understanding.

Now let’s move into the NT. Let’s look at the master preacher.

Luke 4:16–22 …[Jesus] stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. (ESV)

What pattern do we see in Luke 4? Jesus is handed the Scriptures from the attendant while standing. Jesus reads the Scripture. Jesus closes the book and hands it back to the attendant. Jesus sits down and begins to preach to them. At first they marvel but Jesus continues even thought he has already dazzled them. He isn’t satisfied with tickling their ears. He preaches the kingdom of God and repentance. Then we read,

Luke 4:28–29 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (ESV)

The main thing we need to notice in these examples is how the sermon worked. The Word would be read, and then the preacher would teach the sense of the words, and preach an exhortation based on them.

But notice that Jesus’ conclusion infuriated the crowd, and they sought to kill him. That is why preaching takes a ton of prayer for boldness and wisdom. If it takes no courage to preach then you are doing it wrong, because if you go to the front lines, you can’t be surprised when the enemy starts shooting back at you. Sermons ought to ruffle feathers and mess up hair, because the preacher is a weapon in the hand of God.

Likewise, at the conclusion of Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost, we read,

Acts 2:37–38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

Read the word. Give the sense or the meaning of the word directed toward understanding, so that the crowd responds.

R.L Dabney, in Evangelical Eloquence, says of preaching, “its design is to evoke an act.”

Reading the word of God. Explaining the word of God. Giving an understanding of the word of God. Acting on the word of God.

This is preaching 101.

Plowing In A Straight Line

Luke 9:57–62 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

These verses are the conclusion of Jesus’ lesson that takes place throughout chapter nine. In Luke 9:1-6, Jesus sends the twelve out on a mission after giving them very specific orders and encouragement. In Luke 10:1-12 Jesus sends out seventy-two on a mission. Jesus wants the disciples to lead His people. Jesus wants them to feed His sheep and be examples of good discipleship, but the Apostles are not yet fully committed. They are not “all in.”

Jesus needs them to learn about devotion and focused obedience. Jesus needs them to internalize this lesson. He needs them to plow in a straight line. The Christian life is a long obedience in the same direction, but there is a lot that can distract us from Jesus – a lot that can keep us from being faithful and fruitful farmers.

Jesus needs the disciples to comprehend this. So, throughout Luke 9 Jesus drives this point home using varied and stark examples.

Luke 9:2–3 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.

Jesus commands the apostles to go on a preaching tour and tells them not to worry about anything; not clothing or food or where they will lay their head. He tells them how to handle rejection.

They find immediate success but very quickly we see how distractible and unfocused they can be. Continue reading “Plowing In A Straight Line”

Spiritual leadership 

Being spiritual leaders can be very difficult. What does it look like? Consist of? How do we do it? What are some fundamental principles that constitute good biblical leadership?

The basic idea of discipling anyone, in the biblical model, is to explain and model proper behavior and then allow the student to attempt to imitate it, giving correction as needed.

If you were teaching your child how to throw a baseball, you would show them how to hold the ball and rotate the arm. Then you would have them demonstrate the proper technique. Once they tried it, you would praise proper throwing while instructing them in the details that need correction. Think about how you learned to drive. Learned to dance. Learn to read. It was always instruction, modeling and imitation followed by correction.

Spiritual leadership is the same. Let your wife and children see you reading the scriptures. Let them see you quoting it and discussing it. Let them see you praying. Let them see you giving thanks, singing, confessing, etc. Under duress let them see joy. Let them see virtue. Let them hear you speaking well of your wife, your masters and authorities. Let them hear you explain your fears. Let them hear you discussing the sermon from Sunday with your wife and asking your wife questions about what she is reading or listening to. When you watch a movie, let them hear you judge it.

Then have them imitate you. Have them read the bible aloud and say the family prayers. Let them repent and praise. Correct as they go. Let them comment on movies. Let them explain their fears, ask questions and judge.

Its ok to give a child feedback on their prayers – when is it OK to pray about the Seahawks and Christmas presents? Don’t teach them not to pray about the things that they are really concerned about, instead instruct them in how to do it properly in a Godly way.

Over spiritualizing our spiritual life leads to hypocrisy. God is concerned with the care of sparrows, how much more the free safety on the Seahawks D? And if that is what your son is concerned with, how should they pray about it? How might God be using a pulled hamstring? or the Second string guy? Don’t tell your children not to pray about the things that matter to them, even if those things don’t seem very spiritual – teach them how!!  If your daughter is concerned about what she is dreaming about, then let that be on the agenda. What causes bad dreams? What does praying for the protection of her imagination sound like?

Never turn your kids down when they request you to pray. Never. When you hear a siren, pray for the first responders and person who summoned the sirens – God knows the details even if you don’t – this encourages your children in their trust over His overwhelming sovereignty. When you see a policeman, pray for him. Let your children hear you giving thanks to God for them in prayer.

In homes where male leadership is emphasized, the overreaction is that the man does everything, or sons do everything. And sometimes we fail to lead because it’s a lot to do all by ourselves.  But how will your wife know how to lead the children in prayer when you’re not there? How do you know she is doing it right? Or how will your daughter lead her children, if she doesn’t start to see how a mommy or even Christians, for that matter, pray regularly?

If your children are not participating in their own faith at 8, they won’t at 18. Leading is not micromanaging. Continue reading “Spiritual leadership “

A Love Story

One of the central truths about the Christian life is that it consists of people who are of the Word, the book; the story. This requires us, then, to be people of words, books and stories. Stories shape our affections. This is why worldviews are always narratives. Darwin tells a tale of a “nobody,” pile of goo becoming, through resilience and self-will, something nearly divine. Marx tells a story of a garden of Eden lost to the greed and lies of the bourgeoise who must be brutally overthrown by the hapless proletariat to return the world to equitable safety and comfort.  C.S. Lewis said, “story always wins.”

This is why the stories we consume are so important. The stories we read, shape us. They inform our imagination, our intellect and our affections. In our hearts and minds; story always wins.

1 Thessalonians 1:6“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

You became an imitator of the Apostles and the Lord when you were converted. What were you imitators of before that?

Ephesians 2:1–3And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following thecourseof this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Sons of disobedience imitate the prince of the power of the air and the spirit of the age. As sons of obedience you are called to imitate Christ; to be Holy as He is Holy; to love as He loved.

To aid in this endeavor, Jesus provided His life to imitate, as well as, apostles and church officers to imitate. Paul says, “Be imitators of me…” 1 Cor. 4:16, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” Ephesians 5:1.  Paul says to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7.

But to the point, the Apostle John says in 3 John 11“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.”

Taking all this together, we need to place before our eyes stories and biographies full of goodness, worthy of imitation. Good stories are soul food. And for our lack of appetites and for our gluttony for junk food, we need to do a lot of repenting. Continue reading “A Love Story”

Serving Like the Servant King

Mark 1:30–31 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

There is no other remedy like this one. Without a doubt, in emergencies the means God has provided should be pursued; doctors in times of sickness, lawyers in legal disputes, the help of friends and family. But the first thing and throughout, we should be crying out to the Lord. No one can heal us as effectually as Jesus can. None are as compassionate or ready to aid and relieve us.

Philippians 4:4–6 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

When Jacob was in need, he first turned to his God (Genesis 32:11). Hezekiah knew the only one capable to aid Israel, so he spread the letter of Sennacherib before the Lord (2 Kings 19:19). As soon as Lazarus fell ill, his sisters sent immediately to Jesus (John 11:2). This is the response of faith. When troubling circumstances befall us or our loved ones, turn to the one who has the compassion and authority to respond.

1 Peter 5:6–9 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

We are sinners and sufferers. The days of darkness are many and the valley of the shadow of death is long. Its no prophesying to say that our tears and doubts will be many before we die. But we are armed against despair before the day of trouble comes. Remember that in sickness, bereavement, loss or disappointment oppresses us that the deliver is at hand. Before the crown is the cross and we follow the Lord of Life, the nourishment of heaven; our daily bread.

Let us respond as the believers in Simon’s house at Capernaum, let us tell Jesus at once. Continue reading “Serving Like the Servant King”

Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live

John 12:24- 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Luke 9:51 “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and didn’t look back. He went towards danger. Towards loss and affliction, persecution and pain. He knew the only way to return to the Father was through death. He couldn’t return to heaven and leave the mission undone. He knew the only way to provide eternal life to His brothers and sisters was going towards the danger – towards death.

On D-day, as the men came off the boats they were ripped up with machine gun fire. Their only option was to press forward and keep moving – toward the machine guns. There was nothing behind them but the sea.

They could run back to the sea and drown or run towards the machine guns and maybe… live. It was counterintuitive to every self-preserving cell in their bodies but the twisted logic was run toward the guns to live. Run toward the impregnable defenses.

Run toward death to live.

But moving forward they could survive and liberate a continent. And the miracle was as each man ran toward death and did his part, Normandy was conquered by the allies.

We need this kind of example. The army has grown lazy and fat with inaction or it cowers in the trenches with now will to move forward.

But Jesus went ahead of us to show us how, to make it possible for us to follow.

By Laying down one’s life in obedience to the Father – dying for righteousness – is eternal life, glory and joy.

You know you lie. You know you covet. You know you curse. You know the loneliness of sin; the despair and the pain of sin.

You know that loving your wife as Christ loved the Church, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD, making disciples of the nations, being Holy as God is Holy – it’s an impregnatable fortress.

You can’t scale its high walls. You are too weak and feeble to claw that elevation.

Getting out of bed, going out the front door, facing your loved ones – it’s like a machine gun of failure and despair. Continue reading “Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live”

Jesus Thirsts for Wrath

John 19:28–30 “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Psalm 22:14–15 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

John 19:28-30 is a fulfillment directly of Psalm 22:15. Psalm 22 is the most quoted psalm in the NT.

This moment when he speaks of thirst, as in His whole earthly ministry, Jesus is profoundly misunderstood. Physically, at this point, salving his thirst prolongs his life which prolongs his agony and the roman soldiers were all too ready to oblige him.

But Jesus didn’t mean he thirsted for anything in this world, certainly not the cheap swill the soldiers kept there to stave off dehydration. Here at the height of agony, Jesus is resolved and prepared for that cup, which just a few hours before, He Had asked His father to remove in Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”Jesus, in the garden of gethsemane, said no father I am not thirsty, but I will drink if it you tell me to. We see here mere resignation.

But Jesus goes on to suffer and suffer, and it isn’t until he asks for the cup of wrath that His father gives it to Him. The Father withholds it. Jesus endures the wrath and condemnation of men and through suffering He is perfected. He thirsts for the end. He knows what is required and so He looks to the heavens and says, “I thirst.”

The cup of wrath and judgment for mankind is mentioned often in the OT.

Psalm 75:8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

Someone had to deal with this cup.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. (ESV)

Jesus was not forced to drink. His will was not violated. His will, which wavered under a load of dread and misery, came into full strength and utter submission to His Father’s will. Christ’s faith at this moment, asking for that which was His father’s desire but was contrary to every fleshly desire and comfort he knew – to this Jesus submitted willingly. He thirsted for it. He desired to be satiated with the wrath and condemnation of His father because that is what He was born to drink. It is His father’s will and His fathers will is His sustenance.

The psalms are the prayers of the Messiah. The messianic songbook.

Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Psalm 63:1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Jesus thirsted for the end of His earthly ministry which would be the death stroke of death, the destruction of Satan and the obliteration of sin. Jesus asks for that cup and after everything He had endured, His obedience and love for the Father overrules everything else and the cup He feared, that He dreaded, that He wanted to avoid, is lifted to his lips and He drank it off.

There on Calvary, especially there, He submits, and it is a long obedience in the same direction that prepared Him for that moment. Habit over momentary distress. Faithfulness over easy-safe-selfishness.

Christ thirsted for the cup of His calling as the suffering servant– His shame and terror and dread –and He drank it to the dregs because he needed an empty cup. He needed a cup with which to sprinkle cleansing water upon His bride; the living water of baptism. He needed a cup to fill with blessing, cleansing, and salvation.

There was a cup in the upper room in Jerusalem that Paul delighted to call “the cup of blessing which we bless” (1 Cor. 10:16). This is the cup the psalmist alluded to when he wrote, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation” (Ps. 116:13). Jesus was offering them this cup when He said, “Take, drink from it” (Matt. 26:27).

The Disciples too, misunderstood. There was a cup of wrath and judgment that was emptied by the thirsty Christ at Calvary.

By the time that cup is passed to us – all the terror and condemnation is gone. We find only life. Only favor. Only grace. Only the wine and water of the new covenant for the whole world. The cup of life and blessing.

Christ thirsted for the cup of judgment so that He could finish it. Drink it all down. Remove it. Washed, he offers the cup of His blood; His grace – to you.

Are you thirsty? We aren’t as thirsty for the cup of blessing as Christ was for the cup of woe. We are self-centered little wretches who mess about with drink and sex and self when limitless joy and goodness are offered to us.

1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Are we thirsty for the cup of blessing? Is the cup of hope and life our habit? Our Joy? Or have we satiated ourselves with the cup of distraction, disbelief and self-satisfaction? Are we as thirsty for the cup of life and Grace as Jesus was for the cup of Wrath and condemnation?