Homiletical Points – Preaching the Living Word
HOMILETICAL POINTS – PREACHING THE LIVING WORD
Even now we see in our mind’s eye the apostle Paul preaching at Athens or at any number of other places the Living Word of God which is the very same Word which we possess. And as we picture the scene we thrill to consider the work of the Spirit through the all-powerful Scriptures. They are truly “living and active” as we read in Heb. 4:12 and “living and abiding” as we read in I Pet. l:23. We are to be artists portraying the truth of God’s Word to our hearers. Of course as artists first of all we want to be faithful to our subject and not paint a picture of what is not there. We want our hearers to see in their mind’s eye what the Word says.
For us to paint the picture with words we must live with the subject, that is we must be in the Word daily and in the specific text during that week before we are to preach it. We should want to live with the text throughout the week that when the Lord’s Day comes we are well-acquainted with the text. This means even to the point of knowing the text by heart and of not having to speak from a manuscript. Perhaps some notes or an outline can be used. But to live with the sermon we are to preach means to know it. Then we can concentrate on looking into the eyes of our people and speaking directly to them that message that is on our heart. I personally love to be in direct eye contact with the hearers, that is to speak directly to them. And this allows me to see their reaction to the Word.
In this study we go to the Source Book itself and see how it paints the beautiful pictures by the words employed by the Spirit to convey to man what God wants. There is a richness to Scripture that we finding no other book simply because the Bible is God’s Word. We will dwell on this wealth of word pictures viewing as follows: l) Our God, 2) Sin and Its Forgiveness, 3) the Old Testament, 4) Proverbial Pictures, 5) Trials in Life Sustained by Faith, 6) Our Great Teacher/Artist’s Word Picturing, 7)Examples Out of Life.
As we work on our talents to picture the Word, we remember that there is a paradox involved here. It is the Word that is alive and active. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the heart is moved. This in no way though lessens our responsibility to do all within our power to convey to the hearers what God’s Word says. We are in fact to do all within our power as if it depends upon us that the message gets across to the hearers, even knowing that it depends on God Himself causing it to accomplish what He desires.
l) Our God
This is the natural starting point in this brief survey of how the Word pictures for us what we are to preach. Consider Ps. 18:1-2 and its parallel in II Sam. 22:2-3. “I love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Over and over again David gives reference to his God on the personal level by saying ‘my.’ It is upon this relationship which God has demonstrated time and again that David writes. Whether hunted by King Saul or facing the rebellion of Absalom or in wars, David finds his strength in his God. “I love you Lord,” is the natural outgrowth of this relationship. This love is an ardent, heartfelt love and attachment. Do we convey this in our preaching that we have it too and would have the hearers have it also? Do you see the picture painted of the boy, the young man and the old man, changing as David does, but always with the unchanging God, whose power and strength do not wane as man’s does?
“My Strength”- This is the God in whom David could alone find strength. David strengthened himself in the Lord, his God. I Sam. 30:6 And when we are weak,
then we remember that we are strong in Him. He is ‘my’ strength. II Cor. 12:7
“My Rock” –Think of the place where David escaped from Saul. This was called in the Hebrew the ‘rock of escape.’ Our Lord is our rock upon whom we stand and prevail, upon whom we stand and escape destruction. The Israelite builders rejected the Lord, but He is precious to us upon whom we build. I Pet. 2:6-8
“My Fortress” –David was hunted and pursued by his numerous enemies over his life. But it was the Lord as a watchtower, a fortress, a citadel to whom David could go and in whom David could live and prevail. Think of a high fortress impregnable to a besieging army. From its battlements floats the ensign of the cross.
“My Deliverer”-Think of being surrounded by vicious enemies all craving your blood. Through them all comes one to deliver you. By Him you escape. Peter was led by the hand by an angel to safety. We escape led by the hand by the Angel of the Lord, the Christ who came to earth and died to save us. In II Sam. There is added wording of “for me.” This points out with repetition that it was for me He came. This is not to the exclusion of others. It focuses so much upon our strong deliverer coming that we see only Him coming directly for me.
“My God”- This is my own personal God. God is majestic. He is above all and knows everything. He created and sustains the world and everything in it, and yet He is my personal God knowing me by name and personality in my need.
“My Rock, in whom I take refuge” – Here is another word for ‘rock.’ God is an immovable rock in whom I can always find safety. He is the shelter for me when I am assailed from all sides. I confide in Him. I trust in Him. When I am weak and trembling, He is firm as a rock. My knees may shake and fear may convulse me. It is then I can take refuge in Him, trusting that nothing can move Him from protecting me just as He has saved me.
“My Shield” – My God is not a small shield to protect only a part of me. Far from it. He is a surrounding shield to protect the whole of me. This does not happen to the unrighteous, those not covered by the blood of the Lamb. His blood having cleansed me, He becomes my protector to keep evil from me or to turn it into good for me.
“the Horn of my salvation” – The horn was a symbol of victorious and defiant power. Notice that it is not David who is the ‘horn’, but God. It was by the power of God that death, sin, hell and satan were conquered. Because of Him we can challenge, “Come disaster, scorn and pain, in Thy service pain is pleasure, with Thy favor loss is gain.” The tables have been turned completely by My God. Falling seven times, I rise again while the wicked are overthrown. All because of Him.
“My Stronghold” – Here is another word similar to another and yet different to describe our God, to paint the picture of THE Lord my God. He is the high place above all the turmoil and disturbances of life. He is that steep height upon which I may repose and where my enemies cannot come.
In II Sam. 22:3-“My Refuge” – Yet another word is used to heap up the words to remind in great measure that He is THE One to whom I should go always and at any time. He is my escape and refuge in storms, the sanctuary when pursued by foes, the only One who can protect me.
In II Sam. 22:3 – “My Savior” – Ah, this word we know well, for it is “my Savior who sinners doth receive.” I am a sinner who has been saved from judgment and set free to enter heaven’s gate. I well deserve the punishment that was heaped upon my Jesus, but I don’t get it by the grace of my God. It fell with all its dreadful fury on Him designated the sacrifice to atone for all my sins.
In these personal references we have life with God pictured over Andover again in all its many facets always culminating in Him, who does so perfectly well by His followers. Throughout we have My God in all His beauty and majesty painted on the canvas of the believer’s life. A hymnwriter goes on to add the personal, LH #399 St. 1 “Thee will I love my strength, my tower…my hope, my joy.” St. 2 “…my life, my Savior” St. 6 “…my crown of gladness, my God and Lord.” This then is THE One we want to portray to our hearers in our preaching .Let us do all within our power to let the people ‘see’ THE One I love who is “My…” By digging into Scripture we can do this, by mining the treasure words of God we can convey the precious picture to our hearers that they can
2)Sin and Its Forgiveness
There is a problem. Sin. Scripture gives its description in graphic detain and the solution in even more graphic but beautiful detail. In our preaching we want to rightly handle God’s Word by preaching both the Law to convict of sin and the Gospel to convince of salvation. If we neglect either of these we are not true Lutheran preachers giving our people the whole counsel of God.
The Word goes to the heart of the matter. Listen – Ecc.9:3 “…the hearts of men are full of evil…” Jer. 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Mk. 7:21-22 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. ”Do you get the picture? Sin is my internal problem. I cannot point the finger at someone else and say, ‘There is the problem.’
In Ecc. the picture is of a fullness. Think of a ready to burst picture. The fullness is to the crowding out of what is or could be good. In Jer. 17:9 the sin is so deep within that the bottom of this wickedness cannot be comprehended. In Mar, our Lord describes how the evil flows out of the heart as vile filth does out of an overflowing cistern.
The solution is in Ez. 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”
Sin is a weighty problem. Ps. 38:4b, (my iniquities) “they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.” We are hunched down under the terrible burden of our wickedness. It becomes more and more oppressive on us and cannot be removed from us by our own means. Its weight increases because I sin daily and much. The solution is “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” II Cor. 5:21Our Lord bore our load so much so that in looking at Him He was sin, so covered over was He with our weight. And then upon Him in that state “was the chastisement that made us whole.” Is. 53:5b
Sin is a continuous problem with mankind and me individually. In Gen. 6:5 before the flood we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth , and that the imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” After the greatest judgment the world will see before the last day man had not changed. God said again, “…for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” Gen. 8:21 We see sin as a habit that cannot be broken, as something habitually happening with us. The solution is to have sin atoned for, “…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I Jn. l:7 This cleansing has residual effects even though He died only once. It is like a fountain, a fountain ever flowing to cleanse. Zech. 13:1 “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”
Sin is not only ugly but vile in God’s eyes and must be removed. The solution pictured in Old Testament times was clearly seen on the great Day of Atonement. The goat of the sin offering was slain and in a double way also a scapegoat was sent away after the sins of the people were confessed over its head. Lev. 16 The Day of Atonement is yom kippur, the day of covering. We have that covering. Is. 61:10 “…for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Notice how the Word pictures sin as not just ‘doing wrong’ but as that which is continuous, weighing down on us, within us to such a deep degree and showing itself as it overflows from us. The solution is not just ‘you are forgiven’ but that Christ covered Himself with the burden that now we have a robe of righteousness and a fountain ever flowing with cleansing. This is that living Word that pictures for our mind’s eye the problem and the solution. But to use these pictures from Scripture we must be in the Scriptures daily and mining these words.
3)The Old Testament Gospel
There are those who say that the Old Testament does not have the Gospel or much less of it than the New Testament. If you had only the Old Testament, you would have forgiveness of sins just as surely as if you had also the New Testament to search. To help develop our artist’s skill with the Old Testament consider these striking Gospel pictures in the Old Testament. There is a technique that we notice in these examples from the Old Testament which is called Hebrew parallelism. A matter is stated in one way and then in another way to zero in on the point of consideration. This helps to get a good understanding. Sometimes we say something to a person and see he is not getting it. So we say it again in a different way to get the point across. Hebrew parallelism is this fine literary method for better understanding.
Micah 7:19 “He will again have compassion upon us, He will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. ”The problem is “…my iniquities have gone over my head…” Ps. 34:4 It is beyond my control. God does what I could not possibly do. He sinks them into the depths of the sea, never to accuse me on the last day and stand as evidence against me that I deserve punishment in hell. First in Micah we have the trampling of the iniquities under foot. Out on a road something could be gotten rid of by throwing it out there to be trodden down until it is nothing but dust. In the second part we have the iniquities cast out of view and covered over never to be seen. There is a completeness to God’s work of forgiving us “into the depths of the sea.”
Is. l:18 “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” In Isaiah we read of judgments to fall on various nations and we read of recalcitrant people who don’t listen to God’s prophet, that is God’s own people. Yet at the very beginning of the book is this Gospel promise of free grace, so undeserved, but given so indelibly. Red is the color of sin and white the color for forgiveness. What an exchange is made! And if you did not understand the first time, it is said again.
Ps. 103:11-12 “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Could there ever be an end to His love for us? Look up. Can you see an end to the heavens? Can my transgressions comeback to haunt me, especially on the last day? Will my transgressions follow me like a vicious beast to grab hold of me? Look to the east and then look to the west for your answer. These are opposite directions that go away from you back to back. So your sins are removed.
Is. 38:17 “…but thou hast held back my life from the pit of destruction, for thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” We know how sometimes people are saying ‘I forgive you’ but later reminding us of our sins done against them. There are people who are afraid that some punishment will fall on them even though they have been freed. Our God is not like people. God has spared us from punishment by punishing His Son. Would He look at your sins and reconsider? No. He places your sins out of His view.
So do you see the finger of God in these Old Testament Gospel passages pointing? It does to colors – red and white, to directions – east and west, skywards, behind His back, to geography –the road, the sea. The pictures of sin vanquished are clear and unmistakable and varied. How is our preaching of the Gospel?
4) Proverbial Pictures
Why is it that we can remember proverbs so well? It is because they are picturesque, giving us a scene that can be remembered. It is a scene also out of life itself. The Living Word pictures life. Look at just a few of these.
1l:22 “Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” Solomon could have said to be careful of judging by outward appearances of being dazzled by that. Instead we have a ring in a pig’s nose. Graphic and easily remembered.
25:19 “Trust in a faithless man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.” By giving us the ill result with the bad tooth or the slipping foot, we are by the comparison told not to rely on the unfaithful. And who of us cannot picture what he says?
25:25 “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Who does not appreciate a cold drink of water and especially when thirsty? Everyone is included in the understanding of this proverb. Good news from a far country is just as refreshing. Solomon moves from the concrete understanding to then explain in comparison something that is internally of the mind.
26:14 “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” We see the door turning so slowly. We see it every day. This is something out of our daily life. When we see the door turning we can think of the sluggard. It could have just been said, ‘Don’t be lazy.’ Yet it is more retained with the door picture.
26:27 “He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will comeback upon him who starts it rolling.” Here there is no lesson explained in other words, but we all get the picture don’t we?
30:17 “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.” Children when seeing the raven or vulture can remember the lesson of obeying the fourth commandment. Here again a truth is linked to daily life by examples or hooks onto which ideas can be hung.
How much of your sermon do people knowingly take home? Do they discuss what you said as they walk home and sit in the house? The Holy Spirit can bring to remembrance, yes, but that doesn’t release us from preaching for people to remember. We want them to hear and ‘see’, to have a picture to take home as if they had brought a camera along and took pictures to look at later.
5)Trials in Life, Sustained by Faith
The following selection of passages reminds us to preach so that the Living Word is used in daily life. These references from the Word live for us because they address us in our difficulties and we are sustained. The Word of God is not some dissertation in a solemn assembly to be heard and applauded for its eloquence. It is to be used in application each and every day of our journey to heaven. Application, application, application.
Hab.3:17-19 “Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on he vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Think of the worst disaster you could have and then double its impact or triple its results. What would you do? God’s Word graphically takes the disasters of life at that time and stacks them up against the spiritual treasure we have in God and weighs both. The result is joy and rejoicing. This is for everyday life. Our preaching of the Word should get down into the lives of people just as Habakkuk’s did.
II Cor. 4:7-11 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For While we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Here we have our Lord Jesus front and center as the one for whom we are living. And as we live note how it is not easy, but always victorious. We may be down but never out. Because the Lord is with us we overcome. In this scene by Paul of the Christian facing trouble after trouble he gives us the picture of ultimate victory by our Lord. Here we see also the Lord Jesus as the companion of life to guide us as the Good Shepherd.
Phil. 4:11-13 “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all thins in Him who strengthens me.” Right out of the tough life Paul paints the picture we all know very well. Paul paints the picture with the use of contrasts and how in each situation it is the Lord who is with us and gives the joy, not anything or anyone else.
Rom. 5:1-5 “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” It again all centers in Jesus and His accomplishments. And it is the abiding Word to be lived each day in the turmoil that so often is life, but a life that for us is victorious.
As I have gone through these four lengthy references, what have you been thinking? Have you been thinking how you would preach these to your people? If you have, then you show that the Word is truly living in your heart. The Word takes us –From Hopeless to Triumphant, that tells us we are Down but Never Out, that shows us that Complaints are Submerged in Contentment, that reminds us how Christ’s Love Transforms. And then application after application should follow. The Word is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. Are we sharpening our skills to communicate to our people His glorious message? Are we honing our words and taking our pictures out of life to convey the wonderful message to the people?
6) Our Great Teacher/Artist
It is of course the Master to whom we must turn if we would see how to preach. He communicated as no one else did or could. Think of how He used the figure of speech called a ‘metaphor’ as John records the great “I am”’s in his Gospel. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life(6:35)…the light of the world(8:12)…the door(10:7)…the good shepherd(10:11)…the resurrection and the life(14:25)…the way, the truth and the life(14:6)…the vine(15:1). Right out of life and situations in life Jesus takes these illustrations and applies them to Himself. Here is a richness not hidden in words but disclosed in words of who He is.
Herman Horne in his “Teaching Techniques of Jesus” has much to say about how our Master was the greatest teacher the world has every seen. We look at just two of Horne’s points, those of contrasts(pp.116-119) and the concrete(pp. 120-125). Jesus’ use of contrasts can also be used by us in our preaching. Horne gives several examples some of which follow. “Contrasts: The one lost sheep and the ninety and nine. The one lost coin… The one lost son and the elder brother…The two sons commanded to work in the vineyard. Matt. 21:23-32…Treasure on earth and in heaven. Mt.6:19-21…Wise and foolish virgins. Mt.25:1-13…The sheep and the goats. Mt. 25:30-40…The Priest, the Levite, and the Good Samaritan. Lk. 10:25-37…As used by Jesus the contrast is not introduced primarily for artistic purposes, but for didactic purposes. Still, its use so heightens the effect that artists readily spread such scenes on canvas, as say, the two men in the temple, or the Last Judgment.” With the use of contrast the picture is clear and as Horne says the artists have painted pictures from Jesus’ teaching because His words were so clear.
Jesus used concrete illustrations pictured by His words to convey ideas to the people. What follows is a list of the ‘concrete’ followed by the idea or ‘abstract’ from Horne’s study.
Consider the lilies Trust
The wind bloweth Trust
This little child True Greatness
This poor widow Genuine Benevolence
Show me a penny Civic Duty
Who is My mother? Spiritual Kinship
See this woman? True Hospitality
Two sparrows Providence
Hairs on your head Providence
Grapes and figs Fruitful Discipleship
Fishers of men Personal Work
What things seen and heard Data for John’s Judgment
Camel and needle’s eye Perils of Wealth
The cursed fig tree Penalty of Hypocrisy
Beam and splinter Large and Small Faults
Wolves in sheep’s clothing False Prophets
Cup of cold water Service
And there is more as this does not exhaust the list. With the use of the concrete what one knows is used to illustrate a truth or idea that may not be so well known or readily seen.
Jesus’ use of parables, a figure of speech that is an extended simile, was masterful. We have at least 39of His parables. Recorded in the Gospels. How many can you remember? All of them moved from the known to the unknown. They were taken right out of life. These things were what people saw and knew and could relate to as the story was taught. Here our Lord teaches us to go to where our people are at in their knowledge and understanding and then in our preaching move them to understand through that which they see the truths of His kingdom.
In our Lord’s longest recorded sermon found in Mt. 5-7 we see in each section the use of daily life to relate the truth to daily life. In chap. 5 we have: salt, a city set on a hill, a lamp under a bushel. In chap. 6 there is a moth and rust and thieves, lilies of the field and birds of the air. In chap. 7 we have a log and a speck, bread/stone, fish/serpent, wide and narrow ways, sheep’s clothing/ravenous wolves, a house on a rock and one on the sand. The people were astonished at such clear and unmistakable preaching. ”And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Mt. 7:28-29 It is little wonder that they were astonished. We too are grasped by His words yet today and moved to follow Him. He lives and abides with us as does His Word. How do people react when you preach? The question is a good one and not that we can do as our Lord did. The people knew the apostles were common, ordinary men, but could tell they had walked with Jesus by how they taught and preached. Can people tell things about you?
Out of Life
To conclude I give you three examples out of life related to the Word of God to convey the truth of the Word.
In India there is the bullock cart which always has the ox and then the cart. In Eph. 2:8-10we have faith and then works. The power is in the faith because it is in Jesus. Works then follow. So the illustration of the living ox pulling the cart that follows.
In Nigeria there is the tall palm fruit palm tree. It grows straight not like the coconut palm that can grow crooked or leaning over. The large cluster of palm fruit is highly prized because: it is used to cook with, can be sold and is used in soap and cosmetics. In Ps. 92:12we read, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree…” growing straight and true and producing.
In traveling through South Africa, Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania I have seen the Jacaranda tree with its profusion of purple flowers. This tree was spread far and wide and was blossoming as I traveled. We remember how the Word of the Lord grows.Acts.12:24 The Word is living and active and produces a beauty. As the Word spreads and triumphs so did the Jacaranda. But one day the blossoms will cease and so also now the Gospel is blooming in these areas but may not one day produce the profusion that it does now. Let us preach the living and abiding Word of God to the people appropriated to their situations relating it to the situations and sights they have that they may be reminded of the truth in their day to day affairs. Let us do all within our power to communicate God’s Word, yet remembering that it is His Word and will accomplish what He wills by His Spirit. To God alone goes all the glory.