Preaching God-Sized Sermons
When I accepted my very first pastorate, at the tender age of twenty-three, it didn’t take me long to understand the two words that are constantly on the mind of any pastor and that is, “Sunday’s coming.” It didn’t take me long to learn that study (and a lot of it) was going to be the life-blood to my preaching if I was going to have anything worth saying. I learned early on it is very dangerous to underestimate the importance of study. There are plenty of books, magazines, websites, and resources on how to study and how to prepare messages. In fact, the preacher, today, probably has more information and resources at his fingertips than any time in homiletical history.
You can do all the studying in the world. You can come up with great introductions, great applications, and great illustrations, but if you don’t have God in your sermons all of your study is for nothing. I heard about a visiting preacher who got through preaching one time in a church and a woman came up to him and said, “You were much better than the preacher we had last Sunday. He spoke for a solid hour and said nothing.” The man grinned real broadly and said, “Well thank you very much.” She said, “Yes, you were able to do it in 15 minutes.” All the study in the world, without God, will simply prepare you to say “nothing.” If we are going to be the preachers that God wants us to be, that the lost world needs us to be, and that a starving church hungers for us to be, there is one essential element, one indispensable ingredient, without which all the methods, all of the money, and all of the manpower of the church can muster will not matter and that is the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God.
Some of the greatest advice on what to preach and how to preach is found in five power-packed verses in the second chapter of I Corinthians. We have painted for us here the portrait of a powerful preacher. The way Paul approached preaching and what Paul did when he got up to preach is what we need to do in order to preach God-sized sermons.
There wasn’t a lot of flash and dash to Paul. He never drove a Mercedes chariot, didn’t wear Gucci sandals, and didn’t have a Rolex sundial around his neck, but when Paul opened his mouth to deliver God’s message something happened. Something happened that could only be explained by the presence of God in his life. I unashamedly tell you that every time I preach I want something to happen and I want it to be because of God and not because of me.
I am not against education. I am not against preparation. I am not against articulation and I am not against alliteration, but when we preach it should be in such a fashion that even a little child can understand us and the most hardened sinner can clearly see that God loves him. That is why Paul said in verse 2,
The ironic thing is that Paul would probably have never been invited to preach at a conference like this. He didn’t have the eloquence of Apollos, the dynamic personality of Peter, or the magnetism of John. In fact, listen to what the Corinthians, themselves, said about him,
“He sounds big, but it’s all noise. When he gets here you will see that there is nothing great about him, and you have never heard a worse preacher!” (2 Corinthians 10:10, LB)
In my opinion, we’ve got churches today in many cases, filled with prepared preachers, popular preachers, and polished preachers, but there is a sore absence of powerful preachers. One key facet of powerful preaching is that we must dedicate ourselves to preaching to the Son of God.
Preaching to the Son
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1, NIV)
Paul was in a city that was very comfortable with intellectual and philosophical brilliance. Great orators, spellbinding speakers, and brilliant philosophers were a dime a dozen. Paul knew if you fight this world on this battleground you will lose every time. You are not going to argue a sinner or debate a skeptic into the Kingdom of God. Paul knew that he would be preaching to PhDs as well as to children, but he made a very wise decision. He decided that instead of trying to impress the PhD’s he would try to preach in such a way as to impress the children. We ought to do the very same thing.
Jesus did not say that a child would have to become like a PhD to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He said the PhD would have to become like a child if you wanted to get into the Kingdom of God. Paul begins by saying something very simple and that is everything he said was very simple. The first advice I would give you to preach a God-sized sermon is just that–keep it simple. Great preaching does not complicate the simple, but it simplifies the complicated.
Don’t misunderstand. I am not against studying. I am not against going deep. I am not against preaching good theology and I am not against using great illustrations and I am not against packaging a message with as tight a logic as is possible. But, I agree with the old man who was talking to a young preacher one time. He said, “I would rather hear a man say, ‘I seen’ when he has seen somethin’ than to say, ‘I have seen’ when he ain’t seen nothin’!”
Let me remind all of us of something–we have been called to feed sheep, not giraffes. Put all of your cookies on the lower shelf so that everyone can reach them. It is not our job to gear our preaching to the scholar, but we are to gear our preaching to the sinner. I heard about a pastor that inscribed this on the front of his pulpit every time he got up to preach, “Yesterday I preached my scholarship and all the scholars came up and praised me. Today, I preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified and all the sinners came up and thanked me.”
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV)
There were two things that Paul could never get away from – the cross and the Christ. I know some are telling us today that the church needs to catch up to the world. I am more concerned that the church catches up to The Word. I heard about a general and his flag-bearer, out on the battlefield, and they had gotten way out in front of the troops. The flag-bearer said, “General, do you think we ought to bring the flag back to the regiment?” The general said, “No, let’s get the regiment up to the flag.”
We don’t need to try to out-humanize the humanists, or out feminize the feminists, or out liberalize the liberal. We simply need to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified, because i still believe the hope for every heart and the healing for every hurt is found at the cross of Jesus Christ. If there is one topic I don’t think we can ever preach too much on it is Jesus. I just don’t believe you can give people too much of Jesus. While I am on this subject, the only celebrity in the church we ought to be starry-eyed over is Jesus. I don’t care how big your ministry is, because without Jesus you don’t have a ministry. I don’t care how great your message is, because without Jesus you don’t have a message.
Several years ago I lost one of the dearest men I ever knew, 53 years old, to cancer. His name was Joe. I went to see Joe just a couple of weeks before he died. He was struggling mightily with the effects of cancer. He was at home, in his bed, being ministered to by hospice. He had been in and out most of the day, but when I walked into the room he rallied. We spent about twenty minutes together and in that twenty minutes all Joe wanted to talk about and all Joe wanted to hear about was Jesus. He is the one person we can never get enough of, never speak enough of and in which we can never preach enough of. We must dedicate our preaching to the Son of God.
Author: Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church and host of Touching Lives