Throughout the Gospels and, also other Old and New Testament narrative sections, look for phrases that add to your congregants’ understanding of saving faith. These phrases provide an opportunity to explore what saving faith is and what it does. Like a cut diamond, saving faith and genuine Christianity contain many facets.
For instance, in Luke 20:27-40 Sadducees approach Jesus to ask Him about what life is like “in the resurrection” (a concept they don’t believe in). In the middle of Jesus’ answer, He states, “but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead…” (v. 35).
That phrase is one way to describe a genuine Believer or follower of Christ. This is what genuine saving faith creates: a person who is “considered worthy to attain to that age…” Saving faith takes people “of this age” (v. 34) and transforms them into those “considered worthy to attain to that age…”
It is tempting to spend the majority of sermon time on Jesus’ cryptic description of life in the resurrection. It demands much attention because any exposition has to come to grips with the revelation Jesus provides in vv. 35-36. Jesus corrects the Sadducees’ understanding. He wants them to know that “the dead are raised” (v. 37) and that God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living…” (v. 38).
Leave room, though, to answer the question Jesus doesn’t answer: How does a person become “considered worthy to attain to…the resurrection from the dead…”? That question inevitably delves into what saving faith is and does.
Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion contains any phrases that explain a facet of genuine faith and Christianity. Over time, the cumulative effect of this kind of exegesis will help limit the number of surprises at the Judgment.
Preach well so God receives glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).
One of the things that makes preaching at Christmas time difficult for me is that the early sections of Luke’s Gospel contain a mixture of narrative and poetry. Whenever genres converge, hermeneutics gets a bit messy. In this case, while the narrative highlights the birth of our Lord, Gabriel’s speech and Mary’s song contain the theology. So much of our salvation is unpacked in these narratives: all the magnificent titles (“Son of the Most High” in Luke 1:32) and all the descriptions of what Jesus came to do (“he will reign…” Luke 1:33). Mary’s Magnificat contains eight “he has” sayings which tell what God has done in bringing Jesus to Mary and our world (Luke 1:46-55).
One of the key applications is to follow Mary’s faith. She says in Luke 1:38 “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And in the Magnificat? Believers say the same things that Mary said. Of course, in order to say the same things Mary said, we have to experience the same thing Mary experienced. Not the giving birth to Jesus part, of course. But the dying with Jesus part (“I am crucified with Christ…”). Certainly “the humble estate” part (cf. Luke 1:48, 52) and “those who fear him” part (cf. Luke 1:50). Like Mary, Christians magnify the Lord. We praise Him because of His greatness and for all the reasons given in her famous song. So, instead of asking professing Believers, Do you have a Magnificat?, it might be more accurate to ask them if they are experiencing the grace and mercy of God that causes one to sing such a song.
Luke’s careful research into the life of Jesus is designed to help us be sure our faith is well-placed and well-executed. Anyone that has placed genuine trust in Jesus has experienced what Mary said. Their well-executed faith includes the consistent desire and capacity to “magnify the Lord” (cf. Luke 1:46).
If you read some of my earlier blogs covering the book of Isaiah or Joshua, you may have noticed that my approach has been different in Luke’s Gospel. Because many preaching portions in Luke are straightforward, I’ve been trying to point out hermeneutical issues that can be applied to many sermons on many Texts. One of those issues is explaining why salvation by faith includes obedience. Or, to put it another way, why does Jesus require obedience when we’re saved by faith?
For instance, in Luke 8:21 Jesus teaches, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” That sure sounds like obedience is a condition for salvation. Jesus doesn’t explain His insistence on obedience. I believe this is another example of needing to add theological thinking to our exegesis/exposition.
Throughout the Gospels, I find myself getting uncomfortable with Jesus’ discipleship demands. I anticipate the reaction of some of my listeners who can’t reconcile anything that even smells like works in a saved-by-faith system. Of course, that’s a sign that they misunderstand saving faith and the Gospel. That’s why we need to continually explain the theology of Jesus in a Text like Luke 8:21. Whenever you encounter Jesus’ discipleship demands (or the many imperatives in the NT epistles, for that matter), plan on taking a moment to explain why salvation by faith includes obedience. It’s a great opportunity to explain how salvation includes new desires and capacities that prove that the presence of LifePlus. I came up with the following summary/explanation: When Jesus died for sinners, sinners who die with Jesus die to sin. I’m sure you can think of other ways to put it, but the important thing is actually putting it out there so we can better understand the Gospel and be sure we’re living it out. Evidently, Jesus didn’t want any confusion about who’s in and who’s not in the Kingdom of God.
Luke 8:4-15 contains Jesus’ parable of the four soils. It explains what happens every Sunday during the teaching time. Every congregant, including us pastors, are represented by one of the parable’s four scenarios. You know that the parable is designed to move us all in the direction of being the good soil. Here are two ways to do that.
First, attack the second and third scenarios head-on. In the second scenario in v. 13, “they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Each Sunday we’re preaching to parishioners experiencing trying times. We serve them well by urging them to continue to believe. In the third scenario, “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (v. 14). We serve them well by urging them away from these dreadful distractions. In each case we’re attempting to preserve faith which, in turn, buys time for fruit to emerge and grow.
Second, each sermon is an opportunity to encourage everyone to find themselves in the good soil depicted in v. 15, “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Notice, again, the time element involved. Over time, due to ongoing faith and obedience, fruit appears. You may have realized that there is never a time in this life when any listener ever escapes the temptations of the second and third scenario. That means no listeners, ourselves included, can ever say, “I’ve moved into the category of the good soil for good.” No, that will depend on how we hear and respond to God’s Word each Sunday.
Since preaching this parable last month, I have been more aware of it being played out each Sunday. This, in turn, guides me in the study and during the sermon.
I just recently completed preaching through Isaiah. Before beginning another through-the-Book study, I am spending several weekends on God and the Life He Gives. The short series will highlight key characteristics of God and also key aspects of living the Christian life. A proper study of the Christian life involves studying the God who grants it. At times, we struggle with God’s kind of life because we do not understand Him and His character.
Take, for instance, God’s difficult instructions to Hagar in Genesis 16:9. Why would God tell Hagar to return and submit to a woman, Sarai, who was dealing harshly with her (cf. Genesis 16:6). What kind of God would instruct a female servant to return to an abusive mistress? The answer is a God who has determined to save the powerless and afflicted. This concept applies equally to instructions in 1 Peter 2:13-14. See also 1 Peter 2:18 and 1 Peter 3:1. God is a God who saves those who depend on Him or rely on Him alone.
Another angle on this is to ask what it is about the nature of our salvation that would warrant such an instruction. In this case of Hagar submitting to Sarai, salvation, by nature, involves being delivered in the midst of a terrible environment (as opposed to being delivered out of a terrible situation). Saving faith involves dependence upon God, the opposite of taking matters into one’s own hand (in this case, taking matters into her own hands would be Hagar not returning and submitting to Sarai).
You might find yourself in conversations where someone asks, “Should so-and-so submit to that?!?” In other words, the particular circumstance seemingly cancels out the biblical instruction. Before you attempt to answer that specific scenario, try taking the person through these two angles: (1)What is it about God that He would require such actions? (2) What is it about the nature of salvation that would require such actions?