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Pandora, Preaching, and the Glory of Expositional Preparation

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I truly love Pandora.  If you’re not familiar with this site, it’s basically a radio station of sorts based on your favorite artists or genres.  Right now, as I type, I’m listening to a station called “Jazz Holidays.”  But I have also developed a Bluegrass station, Dave Brubeck, Classical Christmas, and a slew of other types over the years.

One of the truly interesting aspects of Pandora is that they somehow have it programmed what song or artist is coming up–but I have no idea what it would be.  If I like it, I can give it a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’–the latter being that I will not hear that song again in the rotation.

Expositional preaching prevents the Pandora effect.  How?

  1. If you preach expositionally, you won’t question at all what’s coming up.  In your preparation, you have committed to preaching the whole counsel of God, and therefore you know that God placed that text in the order its in for a sovereign and providential purpose.
  2. As an expositor, you may choose what book or genre to preach from, but you do not have the option of a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down.’  You know that all Scripture is inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore will engage in a Spirit-prompted mining of that text to find the gospel-gripped profit of that text.   
  3. The free edition of Pandora has ads that come across every five or six songs or so, in order to pay for the service and keep it free.  The message that comes from Scripture, with no ads at all–because that message has been sealed and authorized by One who has already paid for our sins and secured eternal life for us.  

While I am grateful for Pandora, this service reminds me of the glory of expositional preparation and preaching.  I know what’s coming, that it’s all profitable to make us mature and equipped for every good work.  And I’m so very grateful for what God has provided in Christ and His Word.

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The Key Component to Exposition: Jesus as the Centerpiece of Scripture

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In order to understand the priority Jesus placed on the Scriptures, the student must understand the priority the Scriptures put on Jesus: he is the centerpiece of God’s entire written revelation. In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus brought out the true meaning of what God spoke through the Old Testament prophets. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Jesus placed ultimate value on the primacy of Scripture, and on the intention of his ministry with regard to Scripture: Jesus Christ came to accomplish and to teach his disciples the entirety of what God put forth in the Old Testament. Following his statements of intent (Matt 5:17-18), Jesus taught on a number of Old Testament commands, and then crystallized them in a very alarming way. He gave teachings dealing with anger (5:21-26), lust (5:27-30), marriage and divorce (5:31-32), oaths (5:33-37), retaliation (5:38-42), and loving one’s enemies (5:43-48)—matters confused by the teaching of the Scribes. He gave the commandment or teaching, followed with, “But I say to you. . . .” Jesus gave a clear understanding of the intentions behind the command that God gave and thus demonstrated clearly his authority in regards to the Law. The Pharisees believed they were justified before God based on their external righteousness, believing that the way to be righteous before God is exclusively behavioral. Yet Jesus obliterated this false understanding of salvation when he addressed their internal rebellious condition.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19-20)

The word ‘righteousness’ is defined as “integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting.”[1] Yet, this word in a broader sense also means “the condition acceptable to God.”[2] The Pharisees were seen as righteous, in that they taught (and supposedly demonstrated) that obtaining God’s approval could only be found through strict, external obedience to the Law. Yet, Jesus informed his listeners that they must surpass the Pharisees’ type of righteousness. The kingdom message he preached was that he came to fulfill the Scriptures that pointed to an internal righteousness (Matt 5:19-20)—a righteousness supplied by Christ and his atoning work on the cross. Edmund Clowney elaborates on this understanding of righteousness:

Christ does not just bear the punishment we deserve. He also keeps the law in our place. Christ, our sin-bearer, gives to us the perfect robe of His righteousness. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21, NIV). . . . What we receive in Christ is His righteousness; we are adopted into perfect sonship of the second Adam and the true Israel.[3]

How would a superior level of righteousness be possible if they could not attain even the level of the Pharisees’ righteousness? If Jesus came to preach the Good News, where is this Good News found?

Dennis E. Johnson explains how this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is indeed good news in the context of the cross.

Where is the good news [in the Sermon on the Mount]? The answer must be that the Sermon on the Mount can be read as good news only in the context of the whole story that Matthew has to tell, for in this larger context we see that Jesus came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets (5:17) not only in his filling out the implications of God’s ancient law but also in the beloved Son’s “fulfilling all righteousness” by identifying with sinners in a baptism of repentance (3:15), in his humility as the Servant (12:17-21) and meek entrance into Jerusalem (21:4-5), and preeminently in his sacrifice for sinners (20:28; 26:28). In the context of the cross, Jesus’ sermon is good news indeed; apart from it, Jesus’ revelation of the law’s depth and intensity drives us to despair.[4]

Johnson notes that the message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection liberates those who have ears to hear. Mark 1:14-15 says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” In Luke 4:42-45, Jesus told the people, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Greg Heisler offers some needed perspective to help us understand the redemptive work of Christ in preaching from both Old and New Testaments:

Christological preaching happens when we build the theological component of our message upon one significant question: How does this text testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ? Whether preaching from the Old Testament or in the New Testament, we should constantly seek to understand how Christ’s death, burial and resurrection fulfill the redemptive focus of the text that we are preaching.[5]

Heisler argues that expositional preaching is Christocentric preaching. Christ came to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15) and is thus the true fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (Matt 3:15; 5:17-18). In light of this understanding, expositional preaching entails preaching not just the content of the Law and the Prophets, but on the Christ and how the Father brought him along to fulfill them as well. With this perspective, we may preach expositionally with a Christ-centered, redemptive focus from every genre of Scripture.


[1]Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), quoted in BibleWorks. 7.0.012. [CD-ROM] (Norfolk, VA: Bibleworks, 2006).

[2]Ibid.

[3]Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1988), 104-05.

[4]Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 169. Johnson is a disciple of Edmund Clowney, who holds to a “Christ-centered, redemptive-historical” reading of Scripture.

[5]Greg Heisler, Spirit-Led Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007), 63-64.

For Such a Slime as This (Hershael York)

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Dr. Hershael York preaches from the Book of Esther in Southern Seminary Chapel recently.  He navigates through the passages that cause us trouble and connects it beautifully with the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  (Dr. York came recently to our Mile High Preaching Conference.  Here is a great example of how he put the lessons he taught into practice.)

D.A. Carson on the Benefits of Expositional Preaching

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Our aim as preachers is not to be the most erudite scholar of the age. Our aim is not to titillate and amuse. Our aim is not to build a big church. Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies.

Read the rest here

Four Benefits of Eye Contact in Preaching

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Brandon at ProPreacher gives preachers four benefits of eye contact in preaching

  1. Eye contact builds trust.
  2. Eye contact shows confidence.
  3. Eye contact helps engagement.
  4. Eye contact reads the audience.

It’s a great article, made even better when it ends like this:

“Just remember to be slow and take your time. If you do move too fast you will look like a hyperactive kid after three espresso shots.”

Worth the read!

(HT: Thom Rainer)

Impositional Preaching: When We the People Supplant He the Power

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Preachers struggle with the temptation to cultivate sermons according to the times rather than according to the text of Scripture.  This is nothing new.  In fact, even at the founding of our country, the politicians did not serve as the greatest influencers—the pastors and preachers did.  In their zeal to break away from the Crown of England and from King George II’s tyrannical rule, they saw that liberty and a democratic republic had to be God’s order to government.  Influenced by John Locke of the enlightenment philosophy, that reason could well rule the day rather than revelation from Scripture, this theistic rationalism  began to permeate the culture. 

One way it soaked in to the psyche of the colonial mind during the American Revolution and beyond was the organization of where the power behind our rulers came from.  Below is a quote from Gregg L. Frazer’s book The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution.  This serves as an example of how the ideas of the culture may skew our interpretation of Scripture to suit our own worldviews.

Another idea that the preachers clearly borrowed from liberal democratic theory rather than the Bible was the notion that rulers are accountable to their people.  The distinction is a function of the difference between popular sovereignty and the sovereignty of God. Biblically, rulers are accountable to God because they receive their authority and legitimacy from Him.  In contrast, the preachers adhered to the liberal democratic principle that rulers receive their authority and legitimacy from the people; consequently, it follows that they should be accountable to the people.  As Samuel Cooke put it, “Those in authority, in the whole of their public conduct, are accountable to the society which gave them their political existence.”  Similarly, Simeon Howard described the magistrate as “the trustee of the people” who received his power from them; so, “to them he ought to be accountable for the use he makes of this power.”  Samuel Langdon also drew the logical conclusion that, since, “every magistrate and officer” received his power from the people, “to the people all in authority are accountable.”

We must beware of impositional preaching: where we impose our ideas onto Scripture; where the current of the culture controls the current of the canon of Scripture, and not vice versa. 

In what ways do you see our culture influencing the pulpits of our day?