Like most Christians, I have heard many sermons in my life, sermons in church and sermons on the radio. Some of what I've heard has been very good scriptural, warm, compelling, clear. But much, if not most, modern preaching is marred by several major defects. Preachers often talk too loud and too fast, and many use anecdotes and jokes that detract from the force of their messages. Some preachers vigorously gesticulate, presumably to emphasize their points. Others sound as though they are speaking to a tribunal of adversaries who are unlikely to believe anything they hear. Still others sound so casual that one might think they are conveying nothing more essential than instructions on maintaining a golf course.
It is profitable for all elders who preach to consider how to do it best, with the aim of achieving all possible success in declaring the gospel. For it is "through the foolishness of preaching" that God has elected "to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). What a mighty prospect, what a glorious opportunity, what a solemn responsibility this sets before all who preach pastors, elders, and other leaders in the church.
Based on what the gospels reveal, I would venture to say that Christ's method of preaching was radically different from the modern homiletical styles and techniques. Jesus is the example believers are to follow, and in both the matter and manner of preaching; His example should be regarded as normative and supreme. What were some of the qualities of Christ's preaching that led the common people to hear Him gladly and compelled His opponents to say, "Never a man spoke like this man"?
1 He spoke graciously (Luke 4:22). The word "gracious" as used here (charis, in Greek) implies not only a heavenly anointing but a kind, pleasant, and cheerful manner. His from-the-heart warmth was captivating and opened the way for ears to listen with intimate attentiveness.
2 He spoke very calmly and in a wellmodulated voice. One of the characteristics prophesied of the Messiah was that "He shall not strive nor cry" (Matt. 12:19; Isaiah 42:2). The word in Matthew, translated "cry" (krauge) means "to shout." Yet it is equally clear that Jesus had excellent voice projection that enabled large audiences to hear Him easily.
While He did not speak in an apologetic, beg-your-pardon way, He did not have a confrontational manner. When it was necessary for Jesus to publicly rebuke sin (as in Matthew 23), we may be sure that He did it with all the anguish and grief of infinite love. His voice, while it rang with holy indignation, wasn't throttled with harshness, resentment, or any indication of personal annoyance.
3 He spoke with authority, always giving sound doctrine (Matt. 7:28, 29). What added to the authority of His preaching was that Christ embodied and exemplified the heavenly truths that He taught. He was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). As His representatives, our preaching should also be done with authority rooted not in the force of our opinions or self-assured style of speaking but in the power of God's Word (2 Tim. 2:15), taken to heart in our own life practice and set before the people with respect, clarity, and conviction. Jesus didn't hover around the edges of His subject but always got to the core of the matter and held it up for consideration. This was equally true of His personal conversations and His preaching. (For examples, see Matthew 19-21.) It is evident that His manner in public and in private was consistent.
4 He did not pace about or gesticulate. He gave the Sermon on the Mount from a fixed position (Matt. 5:1). On another occasion, He addressed a large crowd by the Sea of Galilee while sitting in a fishing boat anchored a little distance from the shore (Matt. 13:1-3). Had Jesus engaged in much body motion, the boat would have swayed from side to side, and the people would have focused more on His acrobatics than on His words.
5 He spoke with a simplicity that held the attention of the most unlearned of His listeners, and yet with a profundity that challenged the thinking of the most intellectually exacting of scholastics and sages. "The common people heard Him gladly" (Mark 12:37), while the learned doctors of the law marveled at His incisive treatment of Scripture (John 7:14-17). His teaching in parables largely contributed to His effectiveness in reaching every class of mind and society. His parables worked their way into the depths of the human heart, like seed in the soil, germinating and bringing forth fruit in season. He relied on prayer and communion with His Father to give a soul-magnetizing effect to His Word.
6 He spoke with dignity, free from \J extraneous anecdotes and jokes. Like the Apostle Paul, He did not "use lightness" when among the people (2 Cor. 1:17). He came to save and heal people, not dazzle and entertain them with oratory, theatrics, or ostentation. His words, bathed as they were in the love of God, imparted holy cheer but never prompted a giddy laugh. He did not clothe His body or His thoughts in finery. Simplicity and naturalness marked everything He did. Thus His hearers were able to focus on the substance of what He taught and were not distracted by oddities of manner or method.
7 He spoke with the assurance that / His Word would not return to Him void. Jesus realized that His words would have a soul-saving effect on the lives of all who were responsive to God's call. Thus the tenor of His teachings and the timbre of His voice conveyed that assurance and implanted hope, rather than despair and doubt, in His hearers. In other words, despite the stubborn resistance of many to the truth, He addressed people as His friends rather than as skeptics and hopeless rebels (see John 7:37-40; 8:25-32; 12:20-36). If we follow in the same spirit, our listeners will hear us sympathetically, rather than with their guard up, and they will gladly accept the best that we have to give them in our efforts to preach the gospel.
A final thought
Not with outward show, not with sound and fury, not with clever theatrics, not with smooth marketing techniques of the latest devising, but in the fullness of the baptism of the Holy Spirit we are bidden to declare the Word of God. Such preaching will anchor our listeners in the unshakable realities of the eternal gospel, and lift them to the heights of heavenly hope that will be woven right into their daily experience. And "in the days of famine, they shall be satisfied" "as with marrow and fatness" (Psalm 37:19; 63:5).
-Adapted from The Watchman Examiner, Feb. 25, 1960.
Pastor Brian D. Jones, Mountain View