The School for Fantastical Interpretation

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
~ Isaiah 28:10

Limited time offer

Preacher, are you feeling blue? Do your sermons lack a certain spark? Are you preaching, but not wowing the crowds and holding them in awe? Are you passed over for the best spots at the conferences? Do the remarks you get after your sermons feel mostly like sympathy? Well, today is your day.

Announcing: The School for Fantastical Interpretation (TSFFI). We’ve all been there in the pew as the preacher read his text, which seemed to be a straightforward passage with nothing fresh or new in it. However, by the time he finished, the crowd was spellbound and afterward you could hear many exclamations of wonder at how a passage could have been read hundreds of times but those readers never saw what that preacher found in it. How did he do that? Is it a special gift only few are blessed with? Or, is it a skill that any preacher could learn?

You’ve seen a text become clay in the hands of a master sculptor and been amazed at what he could fashion from it. You’ve probably been exasperated after you’ve tried and failed to reproduce his effects. Now, for the first time ever, the curtain is being pulled back and preachers can learn the skills of fantastical interpretation of the Bible. I know the questions you have. How much? How long? And, where do I sign up? Patience, my friend. Remember that Isaiah said, “he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16). Everything is a hustle and bustle in the world today.

I’m willing to give away for free this preview of TSFFI. This is a sample of the valuable lessons you will receive. While I cannot guarantee individual results, I do guarantee you will be introduced to the tools you need. After that, it’s all up to you. Let’s listen in on a class already in progress. This class is Foundations for Fantastical Interpretation.

Be a Mentee

Extremely rare are the birds that can soar to the greatest heights apart from some help. Before the dove could pluck the olive branch and return to the ark, Noah had to open the window and let it out. Preachers need to learn at the feet of masters, especially when it comes to the skills of fantastical interpretation. Ideally, you will find a living master of the art who will take you as an apprentice and let you in on all his trade secrets. I have to admit this would be a rare opportunity and not one you can count on. What’s the next best option?

You can sit at the masters’ feet in different ways. For one, you need only to identify such a preacher and then listen to his sermons or read his writings repeatedly. After a while, you will pick up some clues as to how he does what he does. Obviously, taking this course will greatly aid you in this pursuit, but you also must not neglect the fantastical interpreters of yesterday. Read their writings and study their methods closely. You can learn much from them. For example, you can read the wealth of writings left behind by A. W. Pink, especially his earlier writings and the Gleanings series. He was peculiarly adept at finding types and figures under every rock and bush. Granted, you cannot expect to equal his effects, but imitation will bring you a long way.

Build Imagination

Many preachers fall into the trap of merely taking the text at what it says, as though the Bible were written to be sufficiently understandable. That is fine if you want to remain among the lower ranks who take the easier road of preaching, but if you want to ascend, you need to fuel your creative fires. For instance, if you assume the tree Elijah sat under merely refers to a particular type of tree with roots, trunk, branches, and leaves, you are not thinking fantastically. You need to let go and let your mind wander and see what you can come up with.

In fact, to stoke your imagination, you need to practice in passages that provide pluckable produce for fantastical interpretation. It’s harder going in some passages than others, so you want to focus on the easier places as you’re starting out. Parables are a productive playground for the imagination. The Old Testament stories and poetry sections are ready made for fantastical interpretation, and just wait until you get to the prophets.

Here’s an exercise to work on and turn in next class. Find a passage in the Bible that mentions something relevant to a wedding. It can be in the Old or New Testament. It can be an historical narrative or a parable or whatever you choose. Think about all the weddings you’ve been to or seen. Don’t be afraid to supplement your knowledge by learning about wedding customs in different cultures and times. Unleash your imagination and see what symbols, types, figures, and representations you can come up with. How many connections to various doctrines can you find?

Be Obsessive

You may struggle with that exercise because you’re not used to thinking that way. You read “stone” in the text and your mind thinks, “stone,” or “rock,” or some igneous mass. Don’t despair. You just need to train your mind in fantastical interpretation. You have to learn to be obsessive over particular points. If you get your mind always thinking about a few things, you will start seeing them everywhere. At first you will be seeing analogies, but stay at it and you will soon be seeing pictures, symbols, and types all over the Bible. The weeds around Jonah’s head will become a crown of thorns. The food and drink David gave the Egyptian in the field will become communion. The widow of Zarephath will become the faithful church in the last days.

You get the idea. Once your mind has been trained to obsess over a few things, you will be able to find proof texts and pictures where people never thought to look. As your skill increases, you will be able to do this in harder and more obscure passages. You will preach to much greater effect.

Build Reinforcement

Care must be taken lest some become skeptical. There are always naysayers who will object to fantastical interpretation. They see it as taking liberties and complain about white spaces and filling in the blanks. Sadly, you will never convince some and you don’t want to expend too much energy on the recalcitrant. It’s better to head off these kinds of objections and build reinforcements into your messages. How do you do that?

Don’t get lost in the pictures and symbols and such. You need to remind people often that you’re preaching the truth and preaching the Bible. A bold choice here is to tell them if they don’t like what you’re preaching, they can take it up with God because you didn’t write the Bible. Remind them fairly often that you are preaching like Isaiah said it must be done: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). It’s extremely important to talk about context often, not the actual context of the passage, but rather saying the word context often. You can change it up at times by referring to people critically who take things out of context.

Optionally, you can occasionally remind them they are hearing good preaching. But I must warn you: that is an extremely difficult move to pull off. Even the most generous crowd can easily interpret that move as self-serving on the part of the preacher. Yes, some few get away with it, but TSFFI thinks it’s best avoided.

Conclusion

Let me break back in now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this generous preview of TSFFI. Your appetite has been whetted. Your curiosity has been piqued. You have questions. How much? How long does it take? Where do I sign up? Friend, can you really put a price on learning skills generally seen only among the elite? Can you really measure time in months or years for acquiring abilities you never before thought possible? As far as signing up, as they say in the show business, stay tuned.

Preaching in the Can

Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear unto all.
~ 1 Timothy 4:15

Absolutely no selling involved …

What if I told you I could tell you how to turn $100 into $310,867.82? You might be suspicious. I assure you it can be done, and is done more often than you think. Yes, it is completely legal and ethical. It doesn’t even involve ocean front property or bridges. It’s actually pretty simple.

Interested? I have two words for you: compound interest. Simply put, compound interest is the way investments grow at an increasing rate. If you invest $100 every month for forty straight years at 8% interest compounded annually, you will have $310,867.82. However, if you bank $100 every month for 40 years in a standard savings account earning 2.25% interest, you will have $77,880.75. That’s a nice little sum. You will have put $48,000 of your own in during that time and received a profit of $29,880.75, but it is considerably less than the investments. If you stuff a Benjamin Franklin every month into a coffee can for forty straight years, you will only have $48,000. Forty-eight large is nothing to sneeze at, but that is a difference of $262,867.82 less than from investing, and that’s the beauty of compound interest. It multiplies your effort.

Preaching Investments

Paul told Timothy that his profit in the ministry should be obvious (1 Timothy 4:15). Paul wasn’t referring to his financial portfolio. Jesus used the pictures of financial investments and profits to portray the gains that should be made in service while we wait for the kingdom in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). Two servants invested wisely and made a profit (Luke 19:15-19). One servant followed the coffee can plan and offered back the original capital. He was chided for not at least putting the money in a savings account, or CD, and at least earning some return (Luke 19:20-23).

As preachers, our pulpit ministry, and all that is involved in it, is being invested in some way and our gains are made according to the method of investment. If your preaching is a scattershot, random string of one-off sermons, your profit will approximate the profit with the coffee can plan. Over 40 years of preaching, you will have preached a handful of sermons about angels, various sermons on prayer, recurring sermons on tithing and church attendance, some parables, some miracles, a bunch of the life of Bible character sermons, various doctrinal topics, a bunch of repeats, etc. You will have done some good for those you’ve ministered to and will have grown yourself in some small ways over such a length of time.

If your preaching follows a more topical expository method, your profit will be akin to the savings account or high-yield CD. Over 40 years you will have produced a sermon catalog of numerous series of expositions of lengthy passages. You will likely have preached through Genesis chapters 1-3, the ten commandments, the life of David, numerous Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, the Upper Room Discourse, some short books like Jonah and some epistles, chapter by chapter through Romans, etc. You will have covered an array of biblical doctrines and preached passages from different genres of Scripture. You will have done good for those you’ve preached to and you will have grown yourself from your studies all those years.

If you are committed to expositional preaching through whole books of the Bible, your profit will be more like the compound interest from smart investing. If you are very disciplined, over 40 years of preaching at least twice every week and covering at least 7.5 verses per sermon, you could actually preach every verse in the Bible. That probably won’t be your approach, but you could certainly preach most of the books of the Bible in that time, as well as topical expository sermons on various doctrines, different series of studies, etc. You will have done much good for those under your ministry and you will have personally grown leaps and bounds in your understanding of Scripture as a whole. Your preaching will grow richer over time and the work you do in one book will pay dividends in other books afterward.

Anyone Can Do It

Do the math with a bunch of twenty-year-olds to show them how $100 can become over $300,000, and you have their attention. It is so simple that many might be skeptical, but they are the youngest and last of the millennials, so skepticism is to be expected along with snarky comments. You explain it really is that simple and assure them that anyone can do it. Compound interest is completely unbiased. But that does raise a question. If it’s so simple and anyone can truly do it, why doesn’t everyone do it? Why doesn’t everyone invest $100 a month for 40 years?

Factors vary from person to person, but we can generalize to four reasons why people don’t save and invest this way.

  1. Inability to think in a long-term perspective. Retirement is so far off and spending $4 every day at Starbucks is so much more enjoyable than brewing coffee at home and putting that $100 a month to work in investments. Besides, all that math is just too hard to figure out. Everybody told me I would never need algebra again after getting out of school anyway.
  2. Laziness. It takes hard work and discipline to do something consistently over such a long time period. The key to compound interest is not magic, but consistency over time. If you double the monthly amount to $200 but only invest it for 20 years, your return will be $109,828.71. That’s a lot of cabbage but less than half with the 40 year plan and only half the monthly amount. It also works the other way for you. If you work harder and are more disciplined to invest $400 a month for 40 years, your egg will be over $1.2 million. Everybody wants a million dollars but very few will be that consistent for that long to get it.
  3. Presuming Social Security and other government programs will be there in the future. Many see no need to deny themselves and work hard to save like that because they believe the government will be there to take care of them.
  4. Assuming they will always be healthy and energetic and able to work until they die. There is no need to plan for the future when the income will always come in from working. Many also assume they will have enough, though they do nothing to ensure that.

What about preaching? I am not here advocating the “one right way of preaching.” I am persuaded from Scripture and experience that the most profitable way of investing your ministry is in the committed exposition of books, just like the most profitable way of investing for retirement is consistently over a long time. Someone may submit Charles Spurgeon as a refutation of my contention, because he didn’t preach that way. Honesty requires me admit that Spurgeon didn’t preach expositionally through books and it’s hard to argue with his profit. If I am allowed a rejoinder, I submit that some people also win a million dollars by playing the lottery, but wisdom recognizes that is not a reasonable retirement plan or expectation.

If that is the most profitable way of pulpit ministry, why aren’t more preachers doing it? Once again, we can generalize to four reasons why preachers don’t preach expositionally through books.

  1. Inability to preach through books. Some who occupy pulpits lack the essential gifts for preaching and teaching in such an orderly and systematic way. I am not referring to those who have the necessary gifting but choose not to preach that way. I am referring to those who are not “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24), as Scripture requires.
  2. Laziness. Preaching expositionally through books is hard work and requires consistent, disciplined study over time to maintain. In short, it ain’t easy. Some preachers simply don’t want to work that hard at preaching. It’s easier to preach in the can and rehash old sermons, come up with three points of what you want to say and then find a verse for it, build a straw man you can burn up, etc.
  3. Presuming in the preacher’s authority. A preacher is given a deal of respect and credibility for occupying the pulpit. The preacher can trade on that by presuming his words carry the necessary authority for the people to believe him. They ought to believe it because I said it and I always preach the truth. They might also presume upon a legacy or tradition that preceded them.
  4. Assuming their congregation knows the Bible better than they really do. When a preacher assumes his people really know the Bible, he sees no need to do the hard work of exposition. He thinks he can merely read a text and make truth statements without actually showing how the text makes that truth statement. Even if the preacher’s statements are true, that’s not exposition. Exposition is simply exposing the meaning of the text. Exposition is explaining the meaning of the passage in its original context and then connecting that meaning to the reality of the text and applying it to your people.

Before You Know It

Retirement will be here before you know it. When it comes is not the time to prepare for it. It’s too late by then. It can be hard to get twenty-year-olds to see that, but that doesn’t change it. Likewise, preachers all have a day coming when their ministries will be over. Age, health, or something will take us out of the pulpit. If nothing else, the grave will end our work (Ecclesiastes 9:10). A day of reckoning is coming. The foundation has been laid and preachers are required to build on it. Paul said we can build on it with “wood, hay, stubble,” or with “gold, silver, precious stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12). We are going to be tried and receive reward or suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Of course, you can preach in the can if you want to, but remember the servant and his napkin (Luke 19:24).

*Be advised: This post is for illustration purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice, nor any reasonable facsimile thereof. ShortPosts.com is neither endorsed nor acknowledged by the FCC, FTC, SEC, FDIC, BBB, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, or any other letters of greater or lesser significance. Please read responsibly.

 

Never Trust “An Old Preacher”

He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.
~ 1 Kings 13:18

I heard an old preacher say …

Illustrations can be fun, illuminating, interesting, inspiring, and memorable. People will remember a really good illustration long after they’ve forgotten the sermon. I guess good illustrations are like grandma’s homemade meatloaf; it’ll stick to your ribs. It’s no wonder preachers love to get a hold of a really good illustration.

But, what about when illustrations go wrong? Or, how can illustrations go wrong? I can think of a few ways I’ve seen illustrations bite the hand that feeds them. It’s a problem when an illustration takes prominence over the exposition. When an illustration becomes the main point of the sermon, the cat is serving its owner. Illustrations are problematic when preachers spend more time searching for illustrations than searching the Scriptures for understanding of what God has actually said. But, I want to focus on perhaps the most crucial way an illustration can go wrong.

Prepare to be Shocked

When a preacher preaches to a congregation, they generally expect him to be telling the truth and take what he says to be the truth. In other words, a preacher usually gets the benefit of the doubt. One of the worst train wrecks of illustrations is when they are not true. I realize illustrations will sometimes come from fictional stories to illustrate a point. Generally, that is fine as long as the preacher is not trying to pass it off as some true account. I’m thinking, here, more along the lines of semi-biographical stories that happened to you or someone you heard about. I am also thinking about illustrations from history. Let me illustrate.

Several years ago I was listening to a sermon online and the sermon crescendoed with an illustration drawn from the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. It was a remarkable story well-delivered. It’s funny that I don’t remember what the sermon was about, but I do remember this illustration. The preacher stressed certain details, as they were important to the point he was making. I listened with great interest, though I must confess it was more historical interest than biblical interest. I was only vaguely familiar with the history of this battle and the story was fascinating.

Whenever I hear a story like this, I immediately wonder if it’s true. As frequently happens to me, I was plunged into a lot of reading about the Alamo to understand the history. The key details and, in fact, the crux of his illustration are unconfirmed historically. There were very, very few survivors from within the Alamo, so establishing exactly what happened there was difficult. Though some of the details he shared were new to me, I discovered they are a part of the common mythos of the battle. So he didn’t just make stuff up, but was likely retelling what he had heard or read somewhere. Even though it was likely unintentional, he repeated a story that was untrue, or at least suspect and unconfirmed.

This may seem a minor point. Some would say it’s no problem since the point he was making with the illustration was true. We have to have a higher standard for the pulpit than that. I would hope preachers would never want to lie intentionally, but I equally hope they do not want to lie unintentionally either. If we play fast and loose with the facts of a historical account, how can we be trusted with the facts of Scripture? You will lose credibility by stretching the truth with illustrations.

Let’s Have Tall Standards Not Tales

I recently listened to another sermon online featuring a powerful illustration. In fact, it became apparent early on that the entire sermon was built around this particular illustration. The illustration was also a historical event, though not as well known as the Alamo. He started the illustration by saying he heard this story from an old preacher.

Like I often do in such situations, I listened to the account with interest and immediately wondered if it was true. I had never heard of it before, so I searched to see what I could find. Immediately, I saw that this illustration had been used by a wide variety of preachers for a number of years. I found it used in articles and devotions online. This fact tells us a couple of things right away. First, if the illustration has been used a lot in sermons, it’s probably best not to use it. At the least, it makes your sermon stale and it could be worse. Second, if the illustration has been used extensively by unorthodox preachers, you will be associating yourself with them in some ways. That would be undesirable.

Not only did a search find numerous retellings of this particular story, but comparing them yielded widely varying details of the story. This is a red flag for the veracity of an account. Searching also revealed that quite a number of people had obviously been trying to verify this story, another bad sign. I searched around for a while and could not find any substantial verification for this story. I didn’t find it on Snopes, but my initial conclusion would be this story is a cultic urban legend. It probably has some kernels of truth it began with, but has been so exaggerated and embellished that it hardly bares any resemblance to the original.

Once again, the preacher has lied to people, though it was probably unintentional. With the technology we have today, there is really no excuse for not verifying your illustrations from history. If you are going to use an illustration from history, at least make sure it is a reliable account. More could be said about this instance, but it teaches us another valuable lesson. Just because you heard an older preacher tell a story, don’t assume it’s true and use it in your own sermon. If it’s a story that’s supposed to be true, you need to verify it before using it or don’t use it. Again, we have to have a higher standard for the pulpit than a motivational speaker who doesn’t much care about the truthfulness of their illustrations. They’re only interested in the effect.

Der Über Prediger

There is no new thing under the sun.
~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

The Superman character first appeared in the early 1930s and went through a number of iterations before coming out of that decade as something recognizable today. While the canonical history of the iconic character is a diverting and fascinating study, accounts of the concept and development of the famous costume are tenuous. You know, the cape and boots and all that.

The cape can be easily accounted for, given that Superman is not gravity-bound, but rather flies through the air. The fittedness of the costume, I suppose, is necessary for good aerodynamics. Bright red boots seem inadvisable, but to each his own and all. The strongly curious choice is the briefs over the leg wear. Why is that?

Again, canonical history doesn’t give us much to go on. I have heard one apocryphal account of it. Lore has it that once upon a time Superman challenged Mr. Chuck Norris to a fight. Allegedly, Norris agreed to the contest on the terms that the loser had to wear his underwear on the outside of his pants. We will have to await critical scholarship to affirm.

In the meantime, something is off in Superman’s wardrobe. We might as easily think that he was in a hurry and got the order of things wrong. I’m unfamiliar with the strictures of wardrobe education on Krypton, but in America we recognize a certain order present in the inherent meanings of the terms underwear and outerwear. I suppose someone from another planet, who is also a fictional character, is allowed certain liberties in the dress code inaccessible to us humans.

Preachers are not Supermen

It wouldn’t make much sense to ask Superman how he runs faster than a speeding bullet, or leaps tall buildings in a single bound. It would be like asking a dog how it barks. It just does. He just does. There is no formula or step-by-step process. He just jumps over the building. You might call it a gift, or an ability, but we would usually call it a superpower.

Preachers are just ordinary Christians and ordinary men. They are to be exemplary ordinary Christians, but still, just ordinary Christians. There are only two requirements in the Bible that distinguish them. They must not be novices (1 Timothy 3:6) and they must have a gift for teaching (1 Timothy 3:2). The word for “novice” means newly come and it isn’t a blanket restriction against being young. It means they cannot be an immature, new convert. They cannot be unknowledgeable in the Scripture.

Being “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) means being skilled in teaching. It refers to a man’s ability to understand the Word of God and explain and apply it to others in order that they understand it. Paul describes it in Titus 1:9 as holding to faithful teaching, and teaching faithful truth to exhort and convince those who contradict sound teaching. Paul also described aptness to teach in his second letter to Timothy as meekly and patiently giving instruction (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Is this gifting a skill or a superpower? That may seem a strange question to ask, but let me explain. A skill is an aptitude or an ability that can be used, trained, and grown. A superpower is a supernatural endowment. Superman has superhuman strength. He sees a bus full of passengers teetering on the edge of a cliff and he simply swoops down, picks up the bus, and sets it down on level ground safely. That’s a power not a skill. Let me illustrate it another way. If a person has aptitude in math, that means they have the ability to understand and learn difficult concepts and then apply them. Having honed their skill in math, they could be presented with a complex problem and use their skill to work through it and solve it. Contrast this with a supposed math superpower. The superpower would mean that the problem would be solved instantly just by looking at it.

The difference should be obvious. A teaching gift is not a superpower. A preacher does not just walk up to the pulpit, grab a Bible, and then deliver an excellent sermon. The root of the word for “apt to teach” is related to words that mean orderly, or systematic, instruction. Implicit in the word is the idea of labor in preparation. Paul describes this work in 1 Timothy 4 as requiring all of a man’s energies where he toils to the point of exhaustion. He instructed churches to give double pay to those who especially labored hard in this work (1 Timothy 5:17). Simply put, preaching is hard work, really hard work. Preachers are not supermen.

Plain White Cotton

Why make a point of all this? Though it may seem unnecessary, I have seen much confusion on this issue. Some people have the idea a preacher goes into the study like Moses ascending the mountain, only to emerge in like manner, not with stone tablets but with a three-point alliterated sermon, likewise written by the finger of God and given to the preacher. I’m almost convinced some preachers think that’s what is happening as well.

Sermons are not just handed to preachers for them to deliver. That would not be a teaching gift, but rather a gift of revelation. That is a crucial distinction to realize. If God is simply giving a message to a preacher to deliver, that is not a preaching gift, but it is revelation. The preacher then is a prophet delivering a “Thus saith the Lord” to the people just like Isaiah when he received special revelation to give to Ahaz. Preachers do not receive special revelation (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), but rather are tasked with expounding the complete revelation that has already been given (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-5).

Preachers perpetuate this confusion when they say things like, “God gave me this message.” If by that you mean that you have received special revelation, then do not speak it because you have immediately contradicted God’s Word. If you do not mean that you have received special revelation, then stop saying that you have. If a preacher says he had a message and only needed to find a text to preach it from, then you better check his trousers to ensure they are thoroughly on the outside. I realize some preachers are kind of like Superman in that they have the power to leap over a text in a single bound without touching it. However, if a preacher unbuttons his shirt, the only thing you should see is plain white cotton.

Was Jesus an Expositor?

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
~ Luke 4:17-19

One of the key expectations for the Messiah when he came, was that he would be a preacher. The prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 foretold the anointed Servant of Yahweh would “preach good tidings,” “proclaim liberty,” and “proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth in the early part of his Galilean ministry, he read those words from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-19), and then sat down and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). He made an open declaration he was the anointed Servant of Yahweh who was sent to preach God’s word to Israel.

Jesus’ ministry clearly focused on preaching. Mark introduced Jesus’ Galilean ministry with, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). Jesus had drawn large crowds early on as people were astounded with the authority of his preaching and words (Mark 1:22, 27). The crowds wanted him to stay in Capernaum, but Jesus told his disciples, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth” (Mark 1:38). Jesus also performed many miracles, but he said those signs were a confirmation of his preaching (John 10:37-38). Preaching was the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry throughout. On the eve of his crucifixion he taught his disciples in the upper room. The Upper Room Discourse is recorded in John 13-16, and is one the lengthiest passages of Jesus’ preaching, along with the Sermon on the Mount. He preached to his disciples that night, and would then be arrested, tried, and killed the next day.

There can be no question that Jesus preached, and preached a lot. So, the question we do have is: What type of preacher was Jesus? I have seen various attempts to categorize Jesus’ preaching. Some say he was a storyteller and point to his parables and illustrations. Some say he was a polemical preacher and point to his interactions with, and denunciations of, the Pharisees. Some have even attempted to make the case Jesus was a humorist in his preaching. What kind of preacher was he?

What all kinds of preaching are there?

A. J. Kirkland in his brief little book, Methods in Sermonizing, listed seven different types of sermons: topical expository, persuasive, question, analogy, synthesis, analysis, and commentary. Other homiletic books refer to three types of sermons: expository, textual, and topical. Others have different categories. Categorizing sermons could go on indefinitely, but a study of history reveals the idea of different “types” of sermons as relatively recent.

John Broadus wrote about a text, meaning a passage of Scripture as the material preached, in his book on preaching, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons.

The history of the word [text], like that of homiletics, points back to the fact, which is also well known otherwise, that preaching was originally expository. The early Christian preachers commonly spoke upon passages of considerable length, and occupied themselves largely with exposition. 1

J. W. Alexander likewise points out preaching historically was the expounding of a passage of Scripture. He notes it was from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century that preaching from shorter, isolated passages developed, and also the practice of preaching on subjects without any text. 2 It is interesting that this development coincided with the dividing of Scripture books into chapters (1227) and verses (1551).

John Broadus went on to explain the meaning of taking a text to preach.

It is manifest that to take a text gives a tone of sacredness to the discourse. But more than this is true. The primary idea is that the discourse is a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings. 3

Broadus wrote that preaching from a text was “a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings.” Writing this, he described expository preaching. This does not mean a subject can’t be preached, but it does mean the subject must be preached from the text in its contextual meaning. Broadus went on to write about preaching subjects.

Our business is to teach God’s word. And although we may often discuss subjects, and aspects of subjects, which are not presented in precisely that form by any passage of Scripture, yet the fundamental conception should be habitually retained, that we are about to set forth what the text contains. When circumstances determine the subject to be treated, and we have to look for a text, one can almost always be found which will have some real, though it be a general relation to the subject. If there be rare cases in which it is otherwise, it will then be better to have no text than one with which the subject has only a fanciful or forced connection. 4

I agree with Broadus’ conclusion that it would be better for a preacher to take no text than to take one and give a talk with only a “fanciful or forced connection” with the text. Broadus described the essence of expository preaching, which was historically the only kind of preaching there was. So, having said that, was Jesus an expositor, or expository preacher?

The preaching of Jesus

I’m tempted to rest my whole case on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus upbraided the two on the road for being slow to believe the prophets, i.e., the Scriptures, he preached to them: “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus expounded the Scriptures. The word for expounded is a form of the Greek word, diermēneuō, which means to clarify something so as to make it understandable, explain, interpret (BDAG). We get our English word hermeneutics from the root of that Greek compound.

Jesus explained the meaning of the Scriptures and did not give a talk based on the Scriptures with “only a fanciful or forced connection.” The two later said Jesus “opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). The word there is dianoigō, which similarly means to explain, interpret (BDAG). Again, the Scriptures were the matter opened, explained, and interpreted.

Jesus’ manner of preaching on the road to Emmaus was not an isolated incident. He was continually explaining the meaning of Scripture.

  • Seven times he asked, “Have ye not read?”
  • 29 times he made reference to what was “written”
  • twelve times he specifically mentioned “scripture,” or “scriptures”
  • He quoted from 19 different Old Testament books
  • Jesus told Satan in the wilderness that man is to live “by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)
  • The last bodily appearance we have of him is in Revelation 1:17-18 and 3:7, where he quotes from Isaiah 44:6 and 22:22

Some may object: But what about the parables? Parables are one of the forms of prophetic judgment ministry with precedents in the ministry of the prophets. Parables themselves are spoken revelation from God. Jesus described his ministry of parables in these terms: “And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:10-12). Jesus’ parables were a special revelation from God that simultaneously concealed and revealed new covenant truth concerning the kingdom of God. Furthermore, Jesus spoke the parables without explanation to the general crowd, but “expounded” them privately to his disciples (Mark 4:33-34). So Jesus spoke revelation they did not have and then expounded the revelation to his disciples.

Jesus himself was the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14). Through him was given the final revelation of God to men (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus clearly explained the words he spoke were not his own, but his father’s words (John 8:26, 28, 38, 40, 43, 47; 12:49; 14:10, 24). At the end of his ministry, Jesus said he had faithfully given the Father’s words (John 17:8, 14). This is the preacher’s job as well, give the words of God to the people. We do not have new revelation to give, so that means we must take the closed-canon of Scripture and preach that Scripture by developing, explaining, illustrating, and applying its contextual meaning. That is expository preaching.

Conclusion

 
Given all we have looked at thus far: Was Jesus an expositor? I would have to say, No. No he was not an expositor, he was The Expositor. Jesus is the embodiment of the revealed Word of God. He said to know him and see him was to know and see the Father (John 14:7, 9). Jesus continually explained the meaning of God’s Word and that is the task given to all God-gifted preachers (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; 4:2; Titus 1:9).

Notes:

  1. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 367-369). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Alexander, J. W. Thoughts on Preaching. pp 228-234.)
  3. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 379-380). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Broadus, John. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Kindle Locations 380-385). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Just Jerry

Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.
~ Jeremiah 14:14

And how to not be Just Jerry

Every preacher has heard excuses from people for not coming to church. Some are comical and some are just sad. I recently heard one where a person said they didn’t like coming to church on Sunday because Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and it’s not very restful if they have to get up and come to church. You know the proper response to that excuse, right? The proper response is, “Purple polka-spotted brontosauricorns,” or some approximation thereof. As long as we are going to be arbitrary and just start making stuff up, my response makes as much sense as your excuse. Though we preachers have heard a lot, we occasionally hear a new one.

A couple of years ago I was reading an article where a writer attempted to answer an objection to attending preaching services. This excuse was a new one on me, so I was interested in it. In some ways, it is a more thoughtful objection than the typical dog-ate-my-homework type excuses we get most of the time. As I thought on it, I realized the objection does have some merit and thinking about it has something instructive for preachers. Let me paraphrase the objection.

Why should I go to church and listen to preaching. That’s just some guy named Jerry up there. He’s nothing special. He got beat up on the playground in elementary school. He couldn’t climb the rope in gym class. He barely passed algebra. He has worked at flipping burgers, selling mattresses, and now he’s doing this. Why should I listen to him?

The Point of Merit

As far as objections go, this one’s not all bad. The objection does raise a valid point. As long as a preacher is Just Jerry, there is no compelling reason to listen him. As long as a preacher is doing anything other than actually preaching the Bible, he is Just Jerry. If all a preacher does is tell stories, jokes, opinions, observations, random musings, give personal advice, helpful tips, or is ranting, airing grievances, grinding axes, riding hobby horses, etc., he is not preaching the Bible and he is Just Jerry. There is no more reason to listen to him than anyone else. If that’s the kind of preaching you’ve been invited to, you are better off not going to hear it.

The Point of Failure

The objection does have some problems and fails when the preacher is not Just Jerry. When a preacher preaches the word of God accurately and faithfully, he preaches with divine authority and all men everywhere should listen to him. Paul instructed Titus concerning the things of truth, the things of sound doctrine, that he was to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Titus was to command, as indicated by the word for authority, the people in all things in the Word of God. Paul likewise told Timothy to “command and teach” the same things (1 Timothy 4:11). After speaking of the “inspiration” and efficacy of “all scripture,” Paul charged Timothy to “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2).

Paul commanded these young preachers that they were to preach with authority by preaching the things Paul had written as well as all scripture. When we preach the Bible, we preach with authority. When we don’t preach the Bible, we don’t preach with authority. We are Just Jerry.

Preaching With Authority

How do we preach with divine authority such that the voice of God is heard in our preaching and all men are compelled to listen and will be called to account for what is preached? We might think the key is in boldness, so we must speak with boldness in order to preach with authority. Boldness would factor in our voice and presence as we preach. Boldness makes us think of fearlessness to say things that will be disliked and maybe even anger some. Preaching is to be with boldness (Ephesians 6:19-20), but that still doesn’t account for the authority of our words. I could be bold on a street corner to command people not to cross the street. Maybe some would listen, but I have no authority to give such a command and men are under no obligation to listen to it. They won’t be called before the magistrate to give an account of why they did not heed my command. Authority must go beyond the person of the preacher, or else the preacher is Just Jerry.

There are only two ways to preach with authority. First, to preach with authority we must receive a direct revelation from God and deliver that revelation as it was received. This would be like with the prophets of old who heard the voice of God and were tasked with telling the word received to the people. The prophet would often declare, “Thus saith the Lord.” God does not give us such direct revelation today because he gave us his final revelation in his Son and his apostles have written that down for us. So, we don’t preach with authority today by telling people what God spoke to us or revealed to us in a dream. We have only one way then to preach with authority.

The second way we preach with authority is by accurately explaining and applying the very words of God as they were given in his word, the Bible. As long as we are preaching the Bible, meaning we are explaining the contextual meaning of the word as given, we are preaching with authority. In Numbers 14:1-38, we read of Israel provoking God to anger by their refusal to hear his word through his servant Moses and their rebellion against him by their murmuring and desire to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. God promised and later brought his judgment on them because they would not hear his voice.

Centuries later, David referred to this incident in Numbers 14 when he wrote Psalm 95:1-11. He refers to it as an exhortation to Israel in his day and commanded them to hear the voice of God “today” (Psalm 95:7-8). Still many centuries later, the writer of Hebrews refers to the Psalm of David, which refers to Numbers 14, and exhorts those he was writing to to hear God’s voice “today” (Hebrews 3:7-19). To put it bluntly, both David and the writer of Hebrews used the words of Scripture to their contemporary audience and exhorted them to hear God’s voice. That is preaching with authority. That is preaching that must be heard and for which men will have to give account before God.

So, preach with authority. Preach the Bible. Don’t be Just Jerry with something to say.

Next Page »