I spent this past weekend in Howell, New Jersey, where we held an Expositors Collective training weekend at Cornerstone Calvary Chapel. My wife came with me, which was fun. It was only our second time taking a trip without our kids, and we got to spend time serving together, visiting friends, and going to the beach at the glorious Jersey shore!
During our time in Howell, we heard a great message on Mark 6:1-6 from our friend David Guzik, who is part of the Expositors Collective team.
If you haven’t heard of David before, check out his website: enduringword.com. Part of David’s life-work has been the creation of a great resource, a free online commentary of the whole Bible, which is now being translated into many languages. His ministry Enduring Word also provides audio messages, podcasts, videos, and books to help equip people with an understanding of God’s Word.
“Many who heard him were impressed”
In Mark 6, we read about how Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, where his mother and (half)siblings still lived, and preached in the synagogue there. It says there in verse that “many who heard him were impressed”.
Think about that for a second… These people got to see Jesus himself open up the Scriptures and teach. His words were the very words of God! What an absolutely epic experience!
You would assume that EVERYONE who heard him teach would have been impressed, their lives irreversibly changed as a result. And yet, it says that ”MANY” were impressed; in other words, SOME people were not impressed! Some people heard Jesus teach, and were like, “Meh.” 🤷♂️
As a preacher, I find it strangely comforting to know that there were people who heard Jesus preach, who weren’t impressed. I shouldn’t be surprised; it is well within our human nature to be cynical and critical of even the most beautiful, true, and life-giving words.
May we who speak and teach God’s Word never do so out of an insecure, desperate need for human accolades and approval, but out of a love for God and love for people that leads us to lovingly present the truth of God’s words for them.
They thought they knew him, but they didn’t
Many were surprised because they thought they knew Jesus, and they were realizing that, in fact, they didn’t actually know him.
In verses 2-3, we are told that the people said: ‘What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”
The people of Nazareth thought they knew who Jesus was. They saw him growing up. They knew him as the carpenter. But they were coming to realize that although they thought they knew who Jesus was, they did not in fact know him.
The reality is that there are many people, even today, who are in this same situation; they assume that they know who Jesus is and what he is all about, while in fact they do not really know him. I came to a similar realization as a young man: through the help of a friend, I came to realize that I did not actually know Jesus, though I thought I had it all pegged.
It is a good day in a person’s life when they come to realize that Jesus is much more than they ever thought him to be previously. If that hasn’t happened for you yet, I pray it will; that you will see him for who he fully is, and respond appropriately.
The Expositors Collective is a growing network of pastors, leaders, and laypeople which exists to equip, encourage, and mentor the next generation of Christ-centered preachers through two-day interactive training seminars, a weekly podcast, and ongoing mentoring relationships.
If you can’t make it to Howell in September, considering joining us at one of our events in 2020:
February 21-22, 2020 – Las Vegas, Nevada
May 8-9, 2020 – Seattle, Washington
October 2020 – Honolulu, Hawaii
These 2-day interactive seminars are for young men and women ages 18-34 who feel called to teach God’s Word and would like to receive instruction and ongoing mentorship in this area. If that’s you, then you won’t want to miss this – or if you know someone else who would benefit from this, send them our way!
For more information and to sign up, go to: expositorscollective.com
On the website you can see a list of some of the Bible teachers who will be coming to the event to serve as group leaders and speakers.
Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?
This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.
Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.
Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth
It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”
This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame
Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?
Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?
As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.
This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Childand Eternity in Their Hearts.
In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:
I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”
What does all this mean for us?
It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.
If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!
The message was on the topic of homiletics, which is the art of preaching well.
In the talk I described why it is that someone can present a message which is accurate and true, and yet so crushingly boring that it makes you want to cry. I also give some instruction on how not to do that, and how to teach and preach well by tapping into the power of narrative. Finally I give a few very practical tips about structure, illustrations and preparation.
In my last post, I shared some thoughts from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the topic of expository preaching, and why expository preaching is more than simply going through a passage verse-by-verse and giving a “running commentary” of disconnected thoughts, but that an expository sermon is to have a structure similar to how a piece of music or a building has structure.
Here are some further thoughts from him on how to do that:
Distilling the Message of the Text
The burden of your message arises from understanding the passage. If you have truly understood the verse or passage, you will arrive at a particular doctrine, which is a part of the whole message of the Bible. It is your business to search for this and to seek it diligently. You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question— What is this saying?What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon nothing is more important than that.
To do this, I often tell people to boil down their entire message into one sentence. I do the same for every sermon I write.
Showing People Why it Matters to Them
You then proceed to consider the relevance of this particular doctrine to the people who are listening to you. This question of relevance must never be forgotten.
This is an important point that is often missed by preachers and teachers. I once heard someone ask the question: “Have you ever heard a sermon that was doctrinally accurate, but it was so boring it made you want to cry?”
I have. You probably have too. Why was that? This person argued that the reason was because: although what the person said was true, you didn’t understand why it mattered to you.
This isn’t about trying to “tickle people’s ears,” or “trying to make the Bible more interesting.” The fact is: the Bible is interesting. It is compelling. But if we are not helping people see why it is so very interesting and compelling, then we are failing them in our role as Bible teachers.
As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… God making his appeal through us: we implore you on behalf of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11, 20)
You are setting out to influence these people and the whole of their lives and outlook. Obviously, therefore, you have got to show the relevance of all this. You are not an antiquary lecturing on ancient history or on ancient civilisations, or something like that. The preacher is speaking to people who are alive today and confronted by the problems of life, and therefore you have to show that this is not some academic or theoretical matter… but that this message is vitally important for them, and that they must listen with the whole of their being, because this really is going to help them.
Structure: Progressively Building a Towards a Conclusion
You now come to the division of this matter into propositions or headings, or heads—whatever you may like to call them. The object of these headings or divisions is to make clear this central doctrine or proposition.
The arrangement of these propositions or heads is a very important matter. You have a doctrine, an argument, a case which you want to argue out, and to reason, and to develop with the people. So, obviously, you must arrange your headings and your divisions in such a way that point number one leads to point number two, and point number two leads to point number three, etc.
Each one should lead to the next, and work ultimately to a definite conclusion. Everything is to be so arranged as to bring out the main thrust of this particular doctrine. The point I am emphasising is that there must be progression in the thought, that each one of these points is not independent, and is not, in a sense, of equal value with all the others. Each is a part of the whole, and in each you must be advancing and taking the matter further on. You are not simply saying the same thing a number of times, you are aiming at an ultimate conclusion.
You must end on a climax, and everything should lead up to it in such a way that the great truth stands out dominating everything that has been said, and the listeners go away with this in their minds.
Making Application Along the Way and at the End
It is important that you should have been applying what you have been saying as you go along. There are many ways of doing this. You can do so by asking questions and answering them, or in various other ways; but you must apply the message as you go along.
This again shows that you are not just lecturing, that you are not dealing with an abstract or academic or theoretical matter; but that this is a living matter which is of real concern to the people in the whole of their life and being. So you must keep on applying what you are saying.
Then to make absolutely certain of this, when you have ended the reason and the argument, and have arrived at this climax, you apply it all again perhaps with an exhortation, a series of questions or a series of terse statements. But it is vital to the sermon that it should always end on this note of application or of exhortation.
(All quotations taken from Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers, pp. 86-88)
The approach to preaching that we champion at White Fields is called “expository preaching.” I’m also involved with a movement called the Expositors Collective – which will have its next event in Bradenton, Florida on Nov 30-Dec 1, and which has a great podcast you should check out!
What is Expository Preaching?
The root word of “expository” is “expose” – and expository preaching is all about exposing the meaning of the text, as opposed to imposing a meaning upon the text.
The goal of expository preaching is to let the Bible speak for itself, rather than using it as a “prooftext” to validate what we already think or what we really want to say. As opposed to coming to the Scriptures with a pre-conceived notion or goal and then looking for verses which back that up, expository preaching/teaching is focused on coming to the Bible and understanding what it has to say to us.
For this reason, we usually teach and preach through the Bible in a verse-by-verse fashion, but expository preaching can be done when addressing topics as well.
However, just teaching verse-by verse does not necessarily equal expository preaching. An expository sermon aims to expose as clearly as possible the meaning of the text, which means that it will have an effective structure for doing so, and will bring in other biblical texts to reach that goal.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Expository Sermons vs. Running Commentary
Consider these words from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic: Preaching and Preachers
A sermon should always be expository. But, immediately, that leads me to say something which I regard as very important indeed in this whole matter. A sermon is not a running commentary on, or a mere exposition of, the meaning of a verse or a passage or a paragraph.
I emphasise this because there are many today who have become interested in what they regard as expository preaching but who show very clearly that they do not know what is meant by expository preaching. They think that it just means making a series of comments, or a running commentary on a paragraph or a passage or a statement. They take a passage verse by verse; and they make their comments on the first, then they go on to the next verse, and do the same with that, then the next, and so on. When they have gone through the passage in this way they imagine they have preached a sermon. But they have not; all they have done is to make a series of comments on a passage.
I would suggest that far from having preached a sermon such preachers have only preached the introduction to a sermon! This, in other words, raises the whole question of the relationship of exposition to the sermon. My basic contention is that the essential characteristic of a sermon is that it has a definite form, and that it is this form that makes it a sermon. It is based upon exposition, but it is this exposition turned or moulded into a message which has this characteristic form.
A phrase that helps to bring out this point is one which is to be found in the Old Testament in the Prophets where we read about ‘the burden of the Lord’. The message has come to the prophet as a burden, it has come to him as an entire message, and he delivers this. That is something, I argue, which is not true of a mere series of comments upon a number of verses.
I maintain that a sermon should have form in the sense that a musical symphony has form. A symphony always has form, it has its parts and its portions. The divisions are clear, and are recognised, and can be described; and yet a symphony is a whole. You can divide it into parts, and yet you always realise that they are parts of a whole, and that the whole is more than the mere summation or aggregate of the parts.
One should always think of a sermon as a construction, a work which is in that way comparable to a symphony. In other words a sermon is not a mere meandering through a number of verses; it is not a mere collection or series of excellent and true statements and remarks. All those should be found in the sermon, but they do not constitute a sermon. What makes a sermon a sermon is that it has this particular ‘form’ which differentiates it from everything else.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers (pp. 82-84). Zondervan
He then goes on to make the point that “Spirit-led” does not mean structureless. We must not assume that structure and organization is at odds with being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The ultimate goal of expository preaching is to let God’s Word speak and be understood as clearly, and with appropriate force upon the life of the hearers, that they might know God’s Word to them.