Erwin Lutzer, long-time pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, sometimes taught homiletics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He used to take his preaching students on a little field trip to a cemetery over in Deerfield. He’d gather his perplexed class around a grave and then tell some startled student, “Sam, preach the gospel to Mr. Reed here!” Then he’d remind them that preaching to the lost is preaching to the dead, and only the Holy Spirit can bring them to life.
There are likely some walking dead entering your church on Sunday mornings, people who only profess Christ but have no new life. Thus we are always preaching to some dry bones dependent upon the breath of God. But a larger group in the churches we serve are believers meandering in a kind of spiritual no-man’s-land, lethargic and short-winded.
The sermon we know as the Book of Hebrews pursues such people with the rod of stern warnings and the staff of loving appeals. Hebrews gives us a homiletical blueprint for our preaching no matter what text of Scripture lies open before us. We cannot browbeat people back to faithfulness. Guilt trips only muffle the message of grace. Rather, every week preachers are dispatched to lay before our people the vast and extraordinary benefits given us in Christ spread through all the pages of the Bible. Even when their pulse is weak, regenerated hearts beat faster when we preach the Christ-life. Here are some cues from Hebrews.
Marvel at Jesus Christ: Most preachers identify with Moses in being stammerers and slow of speech. Yet we must try to declare the glories of Christ gloriously! The Hebrews preacher drew on high language and an array of potent Scripture verses and images. In whatever form the Triune God appears in your text, it is your duty to study, pray, and ponder till your heart is stirred by that noble theme and your tongue becomes the pen of a skillful writer. Marvel aloud and your flock, both those safe and those wandering, will be drawn to what has moved your heart even if your words are plain.
Go Back When You Must to the Milk Diet: It’s frustrating, but when our people demonstrate only a grade-school grasp of righteousness and perseverance take them back again to their A-B-Cs, laying again the foundation of repentance, faith in God, baptism, calling, resurrection, and eternal judgment because these are the essential building blocks. Preach like your mom when she gripped your cheeks, pulled your face to hers, and whispered for all to hear, “Listen to me!”
Feed the Mature ‘the Solid Food of Righteousness’: Solid food isn’t just lectures in systematic theology or three years in Romans. Solid food is all that nourishes righteousness—holiness—in believers. Righteous Christians grow when Scripture is counseled, expounded, and exemplified. They wear thin the carpet to the throne of grace. They come to embody meaty teaching by drawing near to God, by holding unswervingly to our hope, and by spurring one another on to love and good deeds.
Give Them Heroes: We preach the heroes of Scripture so our people see how God “rewards those who earnestly seek him;” so they see how to stand fearlessly against the world; so they see how to set their sights and hopes on the rock-solid homeland God has promised; so they witness bravery, miracles, endurance, and sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Only the Spirit of God can raise the dead who sit among us but by loving, biblical shepherding, we can help resuscitate the faint.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.