I am in the middle of writing a thesis-project on how to preach Revelation to a multiple end time view audience and it is becoming abundantly clear to me that no matter your interpretive scheme to this apocalyptic book (futuristic, preterits, idealistic, eclecticist) there is a common foundational truth to the visions of Revelations that weaves itself through these pictures that John sees no matter what your interpretive scheme. It is the task then of the preacher who is preaching to a multiple end time view audience to capture this foundational truth and emphasize this in their preaching and not their particular interpretation of the symbolism of Revelation.
For example this week I am preaching from Revelation 11. In a text like this it is so easy to get lost in the details of the text and not see the foundational truth in the vision of a temple, two witnesses, a beast, etc. For certain there is much of this passage that needs to be understood before you can preach the passage and to some extent explained to the audience (although you need to be careful with that – more on this in another post). At every turn there seems to be interpretive battles over the extent to which this vision finds its fulfillment in the future versus the past or present. Is the measuring of the temple to be understood as a vision of the restored Jewish people of God (Israel) in Jerusalem? Is the 3 1/2 years a literal 3 1/2 years of tribulation in the future? The questions go on and on. But when we are preaching the meaning of this text one can move away from the danger of promoting or even debating a particular interpretive view by capturing and emphasizing the big idea of the text. I would suggest that the big idea of the vision must be able to be equally applied to numerous interpretive schemes – i.e. whether this is a future fulfillment, present fulfillment, or even both there is a point that weaves itself through each of these. So instead of being concerned about all the interpretive conclusions of each of the details the preacher should present the idea behind the conclusions.
For Revelation 11 one such big idea could be “God uses a faithful witness to impact/change a hardened heart”. The interlude of Revelation 10 – 11 in the context of the trumpets would support such an idea. This is equally true if the witnesses are actually two people who show up in the future during a time period known as the Tribulation as much as saying that there is no future aspect to this text.
Try this on at text like Revelation 20 and the concept of a Millennium. What is the idea that is common to an a, post, or pre, millennial understanding of this text? Perhaps preaching this big idea will promote unity amidst all the diversity.
Sunday’s sermon was about the one thing that we, the church, are supposed to do. More fundamental than anything else we give God glory. This impacts how view our life scattered throughout the week in the workplace, at the arena coaching, and in our homes interacting with our children. It should dramatically impact our gatherings together on Sundays. Whether gathered or scattered to give God glory will necessitate an awareness on our part that glory is what God already possesses. He is glorious. There is no greater evidence of God’s glory than the grace he gives to us through Jesus Christ.
Being present in our awareness is not always that easy. We are easily distracted. So that is why I am challenging myself and all other pastors to give those who gather along with us on Sunday mornings a reason to give God glory. Many of us grow frustrated that those that stream into the auditorium on Sunday morning are not ready to fully engage in worship and give God glory. We wish parents of young children who have just experienced organized chaos in their home twenty minutes earlier and a sleepless previous eight hours were ready to shine the spotlight on God and express passion for God. We wish the doctor on call sitting fifteen rows back could get his mind off the patient he just left in the hospital and focus his attention on God. We hope that our co-workers can stop long enough on Sunday morning to think about God and not the person who needs something from them. We long for the Sunday when the sense of anticipation is “off the charts”.
It is incumbent on us that we orient one another to God’s glory so that all can respond and give Him glory. No more wimpy worship! Let us give those that gather a reason to respond right from the very beginning of our time together. Let us give them a glimpse of God in all of His glory. Let us give them something grander than our instruments or oratory skills. Let us show them the God of the Scriptures full of grace and truth. Let us not assume they will piece it all together. Let us boldly proclaim the greatness of God. Let us shine the spotlight on Him first and watch the hearts of others follow.
Recently I had a discussion with eight 30 something married men from my church about preaching. We eventually talked about what things they would like to see more of in sermons. One comment summed it all up for me, “we want sermons to be like Steve Jobs presentations”. Whereas my gold standard for preaching is men like Haddon Robinson these 30 something men had their own gold standard for communication, Steve Jobs.
So what do Haddon Robinson and Steve Jobs have in common? Should they have much in common? Should our sermons be more like Steve Jobs’ presentations?
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
I have recently been thinking about the nature of preaching and in particular the preaching of various scripture genres. I have been reading and listening to some who promote the theory that our philosophy and approach to preaching should be dictated by the literary genre of the biblical text. That when presenting biblical narrative we should present it as story and Paul’s epistles would necessarily have a different preaching style. This would mean that there are various right ways to present scripture as there are styles of biblical literature. Interesting that form criticism would have such far reaching impact.
If preaching, however, is primarily an act of taking the meaning, big idea of the text, and presenting this applicationally to the audience should not the listening needs of the audience be our primary concern in how we preach the meaning of the text?
If we live in a culture that best listens via story then perhaps we should be considering ways in which we can present all biblical genre as story. It is undertandable that in a culture that needs story that bibilcal narrative would be attractive. But instead of placing so much energy on how to present biblical narrative as story (which seems to almost be redundant now that I think of it) we should be "knocking our brains out" trying to figure out how to present the deep theology of Romans as story. If not we are destined to raise the next generation on biblical narrative and gospel literature and the epistles will fall by the wayside.
Sunday we began a series entitled "Follow Me" an examination of what it means to follow Jesus according to Luke’s gospel. The sermon on Sunday was an overview of where we are going for the next nine Sundays. My basic point was that when Jesus says "follow me" it is a call on our lives to "be like Jesus". Being a Christian = being a disciple/follower = someone committed to being like Jesus.
It seems that some are experiencing some tension in that formula. Many evangelicals have been conditioned to equate "Christian" with a person who has made a moment in time decision to "accept Jesus" or "ask him in their hearts". With that many have placed a great emphasis on whether someone is "in" or "out" and making an initial decision (praying the sinner’s prayer, etc). I certainly see value in a decision being made and the sinner’s prayer as being instrumental to many in leading them to follow Jesus and even the importance of talking about wanting to be in "heaven with God and not in hell without God" (although I prefer the New Heaven and New Earth imagery).
The problem is, however, when being a disciple is something that happens next but is not equal to, that somehow following Jesus is not an imperative. It is important just not essential to salvation. This is a total separation of Jesus as Saviour and Jesus as Lord (Zane Hodges all over again). And from my point of view unbiblical.
My point is simply Jesus’ point, "if you don’t leave everything you can’t follow me".
Salvation by God’s grace that demands total life change, complete obedience, and passion for Jesus’ ministry.