As preachers, we are called and equipped to declare the unchanging Word of God. What an amazing calling! But when it comes to selecting a book of the Bible to preach through, there is a section of Scripture that's getting little airtime. That would be the Minor Prophets. These twelve prophets sit inconspicuously at the end of the Old Testament. We read through them when we read through our Bibles. But when sermon series decision time comes, we often just don't go there. Let's explore how we can preach the Minor Prophets without a major meltdown.
Don't be afraid
I know that you are not afraid because "perfect love casts out fear." But some of the struggle with preaching the Minor Prophets is that people seldom preach the Minor Prophets. Logically, we reason that if wiser and more seasoned pastors avoid them, then we probably should as well. This also stems from the fact that aside from a few choice verses, these books don't contain the "go to" verses of our faith. These books can actually seem foreign and a bit extreme.
When we realize that God's judgment is an essential part of God's perfection then we will not shy away from the theme of judgment as it is sounded in the Minor Prophets.
I remember the first time I was going to teach the Minor Prophets. Our first child was born and we named him Obadiah. I know, I know, the coolest name for a son. But I felt that I should preach the book of Obadiah. As I started reading it and trying to outline it, it was scary. I was in uncharted territory as a preacher. But God was faithful and the series was well received. Something else surprising happened as well. Although Obadiah had presented a greater challenge than other more common passages of Scripture, after doing that series, I felt more confident in my understanding of God's Word.
As I examine the fruit of that series, I realize that these twelve prophets are speaking the Word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired these texts. They are in the cannon of Scripture because God wants them there. Their message for the child of God is important. So don't be afraid, my friends, to break these texts open for your people.
God still cares how we live
These prophets seem hysterical at times. They are obsessed about injustice and hypocrisy. Something that seems minor, they make into a major issue. And almost all of these books involve God's judgment. As we read the Minor Prophets, we should ask: Why are they so aggressive? Passionate? Upset? The answer is that God cares about how we live.
When the people of God are not acting like his children ought to act, God loves them enough to confront their rebellion. For the Minor Prophets, God was raising up a challenge to the status quo of how the people were living. The prophetic witness says, "Repent." This also happens to be the first word of the gospel—that we need to turn from our rebellion and turn to the Lord. That is the message of the Minor Prophets, over and over again. We need to change the way we are living in light of who God is. That is a message as relevant for us today as it was for their generation.
Judgment is part of God's perfection
For many of us preachers, we worry that passages on God's judgment won't play well with the present-day audience. We feel the image of a wrathful God is off-putting to contemporary ears. We also have the unfortunate stereotype of the blood-shot eyed preacher whose personal anger seethes through a message as he rejoices in God sending rebels to hell. But here's the thing, our Bibles clearly teach that God will judge all the earth. Not only that, but God's judgment is an essential attribute of God's perfection. If God will not judge sin as sin then God is not just. If God is not just then God is not perfect. If God is not perfect then God is not … God. When we realize that God's judgment is an essential part of God's perfection then we will not shy away from the theme of judgment as it is sounded in the Minor Prophets.
The Minor Prophets may make us uneasy by their unabashed declaration of impending judgment. But remember that it is the perfect and holy God declaring that reality. And this is the same God who inspired the Scriptures. So we must not shrink back from declaring God's judgment. What is even wilder is that contemporary people are really not against a God who is just. People really hate injustice and find themselves scandalized when a wrong is committed without proper reprisal. So God bringing justice in the face of hypocrisy is a surprisingly refreshing message—especially in a world that has played an unwitting part in the death of equity in our own society.
They point to the Cross
The beauty of preaching the Minor Prophets is that they ultimately point us to the finished work of Jesus. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day, "You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have life. But these are those which testify of me." (John 5:39). And Jesus wasn't lying about that. The Minor Prophets testify of Jesus. Why? Because over and over again, the people of God fail at living up to God's righteous standard. Even when they believe, they still fail. That is exactly why Jesus came to live a perfect life, to die on the Cross, to be resurrected from the dead, and to ascend to heaven to pour forth the Holy Spirit. Jesus did all that because humans are fatally flawed.
When we preach the Minor Prophets we find our status quo questioned and we are driven into the arms of our Savior, Jesus. We must never miss this! When God is declaring judgment on people for their sin, we are being pointed to Jesus. Jesus received the just punishment for our sin. God crucified his Son in our place. The Minor Prophets set the stage that displays the glorious picture of God's radical grace.
Apply it to our present issues
Finally, all of the injustices protested in the writings of the Minor Prophets are issues that are alive and well today within the people of God. Sure, the circumstances and details may have changed, but the underlying heart conditions are still the same. Whether it is Jonah's hatred of a people group and his even greater hatred of God's radical desire to bring forgiveness to that people group; or Haggai's message that people are neglecting the house and people of God while they live in luxury, these situations still exist today. Can anyone deny that, like Hosea, we still have a "spiritual adultery problem"?
The Minor Prophets are all asking people to be transformed and to change their ways. This is still the message that we preach today. So a key to preaching the Minor Prophets is to explain the issues in their local context to the prophet and then translate that into its modern-day version. By bringing whatever the issue is to the present day in personal application, we can create the bridge that allows the message of the Minor Prophets to cross over to our congregation, providing the groundwork of repentance so we can see the people grow deeper into God's grace by understanding our need for forgiveness.
Recently at Crossroads Community Church, I felt a strong leading to do a series on the Book of Jonah. Now I know that out of all the Minor Prophets, Jonah seems to be the most accessible. I called the series "Rebel." On first glance, it would seem that Jonah is the rebel. But on successive readings of Jonah, I realized that the real Rebel is the Lord himself. Jonah flees to Tarshish because Jonah knew that God's mercy was great. Any other king would have just wiped out the Ninevites for their oppression and brutality. But not the God of the Bible. Jonah knew that God was full of grace, even for the archenemies of the children of Israel.
I also spent a lot of time showing how Jonah's anger at God's great mercy is a picture of the church's anger against people who do horrible things. With the atrocities of ISIS splashed all over the news outlets, I was able to compare Jonah's calling to minister to the Ninevites with the Lord calling his church today to minister to the Muslims. Many a Christian, like Jonah, would flee in the opposite direction if God called them to preach to ISIS. And many a Christian would be mad, like Jonah, to see God's forgiveness and grace lavished upon people who are every bit as brutal as the people of Nineveh. So when we teach a book like Jonah, we get to deal with these types of issues that are still very prevalent in our world today. And all of a sudden this ancient book becomes very contemporary!
Brothers and sisters, the Minor Prophets are a gift from God. All of these things have been written for our admonition. Let us choose to preach the good news of Jesus from every book in our Bibles. Let us no longer avoid the Minor Prophets. But let us shout aloud the heart of God through the mouths of these anointed men from our pulpits for the glory of God.
Daniel Fusco is the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, WA.