Trees, meet Forrest

We’ve all heard the warnings about losing the forest for the trees. The reason we hear this is because it often happens. If you’re planning to preach a series through all or part of a Gospel then there are a few things that deserve your attention that are easy to overlook.

Do I understand the structure of the Gospel I’m about to preach? Is there anything unique to the construction of the account (e.g., Matthew’s five sermons)? How does the writer use this structure to emphasize his overall theme? Are there any unique transitional sections between major blocks or portions of the account? Sometime this can be a word or a phrase or in the case of Matthew it can be an entire narrative pericope sandwiched between the five didactic portions (e.g., Matt. 8-9; 11-12).

One of the key questions we should constantly ask is “why is this here?” Why does Luke recount the episode about the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1-4 in between warnings about the scribes and Pharisees? Why does Matthew introduce the section on the parables with an overview of controversial run-ins between Jesus and the Jewish leadership? Ask “big picture” questions about the text.

We are often told to look for repeated words and phrases in the portion we are to preach. However, there are sometimes short phrases that tie together larger sections that at first glance do not seem to be related. Many times these phrases are not in the same preaching portion and can be many verses or paragraphs away from each other. (cf., “something greater is here” Matt. 12:6, 41, 42). Remember that those three verses you’re about to preach on Sunday have a context that is far greater and not incidental to the meaning of the text.

All of this underscores the value of keeping the big picture in focus when preparing to preach. The structure of the Gospel should help guide our understanding of the parts as we piece our way through these magnificent sections of Scripture.

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