Archive for April, 2008

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise

The first step in preparing a biblical message is to study the passage.

from Donald R. Sunukjian’s Invitation to Biblical Preaching, 19.

When in danger . . .

Some preachers find themselves in interesting places of danger from time to time. When I was serving at Grace Community Church in CA, there was a now famous incident where a man found his way into John MacArthur’s study on an early Easter morning. As John walked into the room from a back door he noticed that the man was sitting in front of his desk wearing a Roman helmet and holding a large spear. The man said, “I have come to teach you about the sovereignty of God.” John quickly replied, “I think there are some other men who would like to hear about this as well so he got up and found some “other men.”

I was reminded of this while reading from J. Manton Smith’s old children’s biography of Spurgeon entitled The Essex Lad (1892). He reports the following:

A madman one day, having by some means gained admittance to the Tabernacle, walked straight into the vestry where Mr. Spurgeon sat all alone. Closing the door behind him, he looked at the pastor with a wild glare in his eye, and said:–

“I have come to cut your throat.”

“Have you?” said Spurgeon quickly. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you; see what a mess it would make on the carpet.”

“I never thought of that,” he answered; and instantly became so subdued, that he allowed himself to be led from the room like a little child.

Preaching is hard!

It’s the hardest. for it will take the most rigorous mental ability and discipline God has given us. We will find ourselves tempted to do anything but the hard study required–we’ll schedule meetings, arrange counseling appointments, tackle administrative tasks, clean our fingernails, find a sermon on the Internet, or settle for some superficial approach to our passage–anything to avoid the sheer labor required.

from Donald Sunukjian’s Invitation to Biblical Preaching, 15

Why parables: “result” or “purpose”?

Jesus gives the reason for His speaking in parables in Matthew 13:10-15; Mark 4:11-12; and Luke 8:10. An interesting thing happens in Matthew and Mark’s passages. Each one quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 which highlights the consequences of divine judgment. However each one uses a different conjunction when quoting the same thing. Matthew uses hoti which carries the idea of result and is translated as “because” while Mark uses hina which carries the idea of purpose and is translated “so that”. The differences can be seen in the following:

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because [hoti] while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear. (Matthew 13:13)

To you has been given the mystery of the kindgom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that [hina] while seeing they may see and not perceive. (Mark 4:11-12)

So why parables? There seem to be two very different answers here which yield differing theological conclusions. Matthew attributes Jesus’ use of parables because of Israel’s hardness of heart. However Mark attributes the parables to the Lord’s judgment. I think finding answers to this problem, as some have done, in the Aramaic Targums and Hebrew idioms is wrongheaded. What we have here is an example of the gospel writers referring to the same thing yet both with a different emphasis. Matthew emphasizes that Jesus used parables as a result of Israel’s hardness and Mark shows us that they were also for the purpose of withholding certain truths from those hardened. Matthew shows us “heads” and Mark shows us “tails” but they are the same coin.

What does this mean for our preaching? Without getting into a lengthy discussion on the proper use of cross references, I would say that this illustrates why it is important to let each Gospel writer speak to his own context. For example, if we import Mark’s design and purpose onto Matthew then we lose the nuances that Matthew wanted to bring to his audience. Lastly, this also shows us that it is not necessary to embrace critical views of Scripture which see such passages as contradictions rather than compliments to one another.

Beautiful at the start, dead before the finish

I am preaching through the parables of Matthew 13. This last Sunday was the parable of the four soils. One of our church members sent a picture she took which illustrates Matthew 13:5 in a modern context.

“Others fell on rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.”

Thinking in Parables

It can be a great and rewarding challenge to preach the parables of Christ. I am currently preaching through Matthew 13 at my church so I hope to offer a few scattered thoughts on this subject over the next few weeks.

Parables can be defined in many ways but for now I would offer the simple definition that a parable is an extended figure of speech presented as a story with a spiritual point. There is a lot of debate as to whether there is one point or many points to be found in parables. Generally, I fall to the side that less is better. When every detail is pressed like wine grapes for spiritual significance then missing the intended point becomes inevitable. There has been a great amount of hermeneutical hopscotch over the last two thousand years which can only be characterized as “inventive” and that’s not a complement.

There are real challenges to be faced in interpreting the parables but a careful examination of the context will payback the expositor a hundredfold. In many cases Jesus will come right out and say “here’s what it means” (e.g., Matt. 13:18-23). Other times the key to interpretation will be found in the prologue to a specific parable (e.g., Luke 18:1, 9; 19:11). Likewise, the epilogue will often yield the meaning and purpose of a parable (e.g., Matt. 25:13; Luke 16:9). Some have even noted that both the prologue and epilogue construct interpretive bookends for some of the parables (e.g., Matt. 18:23-24, 35; Luke 12:16-21). I would agree with Bailey who noted that “before one should seek to understand the significance of the parables for one’s own situation today, one should seek the original meaning of the parables and their application for Jesus’ audience in the first century” [BibSac 155:617 (Jan 98) 31].

For those who want to develop a good grasp of what the parables are all about I would highly recommend Mark Bailey’s eight-part series which I quoted above, “The Kingdom in the Parables of Matthew 13” which began to appear in Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (Jan 98).

A Gift to ET’s Readership


I have in my possession one paid admission to T4G. A friend who had signed-up and paid was called away on business and is not able to go. His loss is your gain. I am giving his seat away to the conference FREE (got permission from SGM to do this) to the first [correction] second person to respond to this post. I thought about having a contest but I don’t have time to judge, nor do I really care to.

The caveat(s): You’ll have to go as him, they cannot change the name-tag at this point. You’ll have to provide your own transportation to the event and you’ll need to find a place to stay. Sharing my bed is NOT an option. I’ll email you his name and info so that you can get access to the event.

Let me close with this. I would like to give this away especially to an expositor who lives close to the event, who is not in a financial position to go. My friend really wants this to go to someone who will be blessed by it, who normally can’t attend these events. So please be judicious in your response.

God bless!

Rich Ryan

New book on preaching and significance of Lloyd-Jones

My friend Martin Downes alerted me to a new book by Iain Murray on Martyn Lloyd-Jones which will explore his preaching and significance for today. Be sure to visit Martin’s blog for a brief glimpse at the details.

Boorstin on New England Puritan Sermons

For New England Puritans, the sermon had, of course, additional drawing-power because of the scarcity of other amusements. It offfered an occasion to meet distant neighbors, to exchange news and gossip. Without the sermon, the early New Englander would have had few occasions of public drama. He had no newspapers, no theater, no movies, no radio, no television. The lack of these gave the minister a special opportunity to make his preaching fill the attention of his listeners.

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience, p. 15

Exegetical Question about Romans

Several years ago I was listening to a preacher expound Romans 1:16-17 and explain how these verses set forth the theme of the entirety of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. As I listened, I had my Greek NT open in my lap, and I got to wondering about the gar [“for”] at the beginning of Romans 1:18. If you’ve studied Greek, you know that the conjunction gar most commonly introduces either a reason for what precedes or a further explanation of what precedes. So my question is this: Could it be that the gar at the beginning of Romans 1:18 serves to introduce the remainder of Romans as an explanation of Romans 1:16-17? I’ve never heard anyone say this, but if so, it would certainly support this idea that Romans 1:16-17 is indeed the theme of the entire letter. What do you think?

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