I Heard It—Did You?

A rare thing happened the other day—I heard a good sermon. Let me briefly analyze it for you, noting some of the factors that made it good.

First, it was preaching; it was not a string of stories or a stodgy lecture. By that I mean, from start to finish, the sermon was directed to us. We were involved from the outset. The truth of the passage was presented as God’s message to us, not only to the members of a church long ago and far away in biblical times. God came alive to us as someone living, ruling, caring now—for us. The preacher made us concerned, and kept us concerned, about our families, our church, our community.

Next, what I heard was biblical preaching. What he preached was not an essay on some truth, not the ideas of politicians, media personalities, philosophers, theologians, or his own opinions, but what God said to us in Paul’s letter. Not only did he tell us what the preaching portion means, but he even showed us just how every point that he made comes from the passage. Because he did so, we were able to evaluate for ourselves whether the preacher’s conclusions about the text were accurate. Significantly, it was apparent that he had done his homework and that what he told us made sense. And, I believe others in the congregation, if asked, would agree with me that what he said about the text was accurate. He satisfied us that he was preaching what Paul had said. We went away understanding the passage and how everything in the sermon flowed from it. Consequently, we listened to his exhortations about our lives, not as the opinions of a man, but as a word from God to us. He preached, and his preaching was received, with an authority appropriate to the sort of message that it was. We left knowing that we had heard a proclamation from God.

Again, the sermon was interesting. The preacher did not cook the juice out of the passage, leaving hard, dry, burned-over abstract teaching. Nor did he serve it to us as a raw, bloody, uncooked chunk of meat. Like a fine chef, he knew just how to handle the passage, cooking it to a turn, garnishing and accenting it so that what he served was the text in full flavor. Its own nutritious juices were preserved, and where delicate nuances otherwise might be missed, he seasoned it with illustrations that brought them out. As he delivered it, the sermon sizzled!

Moreover, the sermon was well organized. There were points, sturdy as steel, under girding the whole, arranged in logical order. But the points did not protrude; he did not bore us with unnecessary firstlies, secondlies and thirdlies, he avoided details that added nothing to the central idea of the message, and—believe it or not—he did not bother us with distracting, forced alliteration. His entire focus in the sermon was on the intent of the Holy Spirit in the text. He kept moving ahead, avoiding all meaningless prefacing and repetition, instead skillfully thrusting each point straight into our hearts!

Now, I know that you will find it difficult to believe me when I tell you that, on top of everything else, that sermon was practical. Yes, it really was! It was carefully adapted to the particular congregation to which it was preached. And the preacher persisted in telling us not only what to do but how to do it. And sometimes, like his Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, he also told us how not to do it. It was plain that he had spent time thinking about what biblical principles mean in everyday living and had worked out biblically derived applications and implementations of each one.

What a sermon it was! You don’t hear many like it today. Indeed, because of this fact, you may wonder where it was preached and who preached it. You may ask, “Are cassette tapes available?” The answer is no. But I can tell you where I heard it—it was in a reverie while sitting in the Montreal airport that I heard that sermon, and the only record of it is the one that I am now sketching for you enroute to Moncton. But, is it doomed to remain merely a bare record, hidden away from the people of God in a pastoral journal sitting on your shelf? Why should it? Why don’t you bring it to life? Why don’t you preach it this Sunday to your congregation? Then, if you and scores of other preachers with you do so, thousands of people throughout the land will truly be able to say, “I heard a good sermon today!”—J.E.A.

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