by Terry G. Carter, J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hays, adapted from their new edition of the classic textbook, Preaching God’s Word, Second Edition: A Hands-On Approach to Preparing, Developing, and Delivering the Sermon.
When you preach from the Gospels, you begin with textual material that is engaging by nature. As preachers, we pray that we don’t get in the way by making powerful, interesting stories anemic and boring. For your sermons to reflect the power and depth of the stories themselves, you need a closer look at how to cultivate the rich ground known as New Testament narrative.
The starting place when preaching New Testament narrative is to root your sermon in the historical-cultural context in such a way that your audience can connect personally with the biblical story. Your audience needs to experience by imagination the situation faced by the biblical audience. Consider the following example. After a full day of teaching the crowds and as the sun was setting, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side” (Mark 4:35). This simple phrase could easily be passed over, but it reveals much about the situation. By taking just a few moments in your sermon to unpack this statement, you will enliven your audience’s imagination and usher them into a personal experience of the story. “Let’s go over to the other side” involved the following for the disciples.
- They had to travel across the sea at night (consider the symbols of darkness and the “evil” sea in biblical history).
- They faced the frightening possibility of being on the sea at night during a storm (something professional fishermen would have been mindful of).
- The trip went from the safety of the western shore to the perils of the eastern side. You could emphasize the sociological implications of leaving the Jewish surroundings and going to a pagan area. The disciples knew the danger of going to unfamiliar, unsafe, unclean “Gentile country.”
- Shortly after they landed on the other side, their worst fears came true as they were met by the demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs. Most people can identify with Jesus leading them into situations in which they are afraid, inadequate, and uncomfortable. They will also be struck by Jesus’ motivation for leading us to such places: the priority of people in his ministry.
Perhaps even more lies behind the seemingly shallow expression “Let’s go over to the other side,” but you can see why it’s not something you should skip over. New Testament stories are connected to real places, real people, and real experiences. If you give time during your sermon (usually at the beginning) to helping your audience walk in the shoes of the biblical audience, the story will come alive for your hearers. A sermon is more than historical-cultural information, however, and this leads us to our next sermon key.
Second, take time in your sermon to develop the main characters. People identify with biblical characters—with their flaws, hopes, and struggles. The colorful characters of the Bible are one reason why people are attracted to the Bible. We don’t exaggerate when we say your sermon will be successful to the extent that you enable your audience to identify with the characters of the story. This calls for a “sanctified imagination” on your part as you study the context carefully and think through each of the standard story questions. Ask yourself how these people felt, what they thought, and so on. For instance, consider the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers in Luke 17:11–19.
Jesus and the foreign leper are the central characters in the story. As you enable your listeners to identify with the Gentile leper, help them to consider life from his perspective.
- Help them identify with the social, religious, emotional, and physical dimensions of this man’s lonely state of affairs. A leper in the ancient world lived in exile, and your audience needs to feel his pain.
- His hopelessness had driven him to Jesus. Help your audience relate to his weak, desperate faith.
- The tension this leper must have felt once healed was undoubtedly great. All ten were healed as they journeyed to meet the priests. Once healed, this one would have been tempted to run home and see his family again. His longing for a normal life likely stood in tension with his desire to return to Jesus and give thanks.
- Mention the physical manifestations of his faith: he went back, praised God loudly, and fell at Jesus’ feet. Confront your audience with the inevitable results of genuine faith.
- Explore the Jew-Gentile elements in the relationship between these main characters. Did this foreigner know that he would not be permitted to meet with the priests? Is that why he returned to Jesus? Why did he return to Jesus, since Jesus was a Jewish healer?
- Imagine how the man must have contemplated for some time Jesus’ final words: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
— Terry G. Carter, J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hays. Their new Preaching God’s Word, Second Edition will show you 4 more keys for crafting sermons on the Gospels, 6 keys for interpreting the Gospel text faithfully, and 4 things to avoid when preaching from the Gospels.
How to Use This Book
The brand-new Preaching God’s Word, Second Edition will help preachers understand their audience, develop powerful applications and life lessons, use illustrations for maximum impact, and deliver all-around effective sermons. Don’t miss the supplementary Preaching God’s Word Video Lectures which will help you get even more value out of this text.
Whether you’re new to preaching or a veteran, the book and video lectures will help you become a more effective preacher.