3, No. 1
Releasing the Power of the Text:
An Attempt at Illustration
L. Dresselhaus, D.Min.
Adjunct Professor, Assemblies
of God Theological Seminary
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Haddon W. Robinson, in Biblical Preaching:
the Development and Delivery of Expository Messages,
makes this convicting and sad observation: “In many
sermons the Biblical passage read to the congregation resembles
the national anthem played at a football game—it
gets things started but is not heard again during the afternoon.”1
Instead, the text should lay down the goal lines, the hash
marks, the boundaries and the rules by which the task of
biblical preaching is executed. Too much contemporary preaching
is out of bounds and in violation of sound principles of
solid expository preaching.
Wait! Let’s back up a bit. This in no way diminishes
the credibility of stylistic variety in the preaching enterprise.
The appeal, instead, is that the fruit of solid exegetical
preparation must undergird and dominate in the utilization
of any style.
Let me illustrate. Narrative (storytelling) preaching is
much in vogue in today’s pulpits across America. To
postmodern ears, this style is deemed more acceptably credible
and appropriate. Imaginative excursions of creative thought
are encouraged, and many find that environment most friendly.
The question is simply this: Whose story is it? Whether
by proposition or by narrative, the answer must be the same:
his story, the story of the text. For that story to ring
with clarity and accuracy, it must be lifted from the text—in
tone, spirit, content and application. Style must bow to
this unalterable principle. Only then may the preacher feel
confident that the word preached is the Lord’s.
Before inviting you to review an abbreviated sermon manuscript
taken from a series of messages from Paul’s letter
to the Romans (likely a most inadequate illustration), it
will be helpful to set in place those markers that will help
to indicate points of interest and assessment as the sermon
- The selected text should stand as a manageable
unit of biblical narrative—not so long as to be
cumbersome nor so brief as to be skimpy in content.
- The title should accurately reflect the
core and essence of the passage under consideration. Accuracy
and understandability are key.
- The main points should be like “beacon
lights” to guide both preacher and listener through
the unfolding message of the text. Symmetry, parallelism
and balance will help to make the journey smooth, adventuresome
and filled with Spirit-inspired fascination.
- The text should be treated comprehensively;
that is, even what might be thought trivial at first glance
can become glistening jewels that add color and intrigue
as the message unfolds.
- The emotional tenor and mood of the message
when preached must be set by those very qualities as
they have been discovered in the text. The blend of preacher
and text in this regard becomes the essence of preaching
with true integrity.
- Illustrations and life experiences must be
subservient to the text in content, placement and application.
Sometimes preachers bend the text to fit the story. (“This
story is so good I must find a place for it in the sermon.”)
The text must reach through the preacher in order to glean
appropriate material from life’s experiences, which
will provide illustration and practical application of
Perhaps it would be appropriate now to invite you to consider
the following sermon manuscript as an illustration of the
six principles outlined above. Obviously, it is only partially
adequate for the task.
A Special Kind of Righteousness
is one essential—to be in right relationship with God!
This must be the single passion of our lives. My wife, Elnora,
and I have a question we often direct toward each another: “Everything
OK?” That simple question, with proper response, establishes
the righteousness of our relationship. The adjective righteous describes
the act of making something right, while the noun righteousness describes
the state of being right. So that we who believe are made “righteous” by
the gift of God’s “righteousness.” It all
has to do with our “okayness” with God.
when we are OK with God, we are also OK with people. But
when we are out of sorts with God, we will also be out of
sorts with people.
relational problem in life is directly traceable to a relational
problem with God. Are you not getting along well with your
spouse, your friends, your family, your church? Well, that
is because you are not getting along with God. Of course,
some relationships can actually be impossible because of
sinful ways, but even that relational challenge is impacted
for good when all is OK with God.
text for today is about “getting it right” with
God and then “getting it right” with people.
in Its Origin
righteousness from God” (Rom 3:21).
a child, I enjoyed spinning tops. Every good top has a sharp
point on which it spins. The
four words of this part of the text collectively form the
point on which all Christian doctrine and life spin—the
being OK (righteous) with God. That is His doing, not ours.
major religions of the world, save authentic Christianity,
have this wrong. According to their systems of things, being
OK with God is the byproduct of human endeavor. Favor with
God is to be earned, merited or otherwise deserved. No!
God initiates the OK. It is his gift. Period!
so? No matter how hard I try to “get it right” with
God, I am doomed to failure. God’s impeccable purity
against my obnoxious impurity creates a chasm I can never
bridge. My only hope is that God will come and get me. This
is precisely what John 3:16 is all about. It describes a
God who has come to make it right with me and give me the
priceless gift of acceptance, rightness or righteousness.
The songwriter caught the significance of this provision: “I
was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very
deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master
of the sea heard my despairing cry. From the water lifted
me, now safe am I.” God’s
initiative. He journeyed across the great chasm and rescued
me. It was his doing completely. Rightness with him was his
gift. The relationship becomes OK because of his profound
work of redeeming grace.
in Its Transmission
righteousness…comes through faith in Jesus Christ” (Rom
does it work? By what means does “everything OK” become
a reality? How is so great a provision transmitted to us?
How do we receive this rightness (righteousness) that is
sourced in God?
voices and power flow into our home through a variety of
lines. While located underground, they provide the linkup
between our home and utility and communication companies.
is that linkup with God and, fortunately, he strings the
lines so that only response rests with us. As such, it
is the response of simple trust that begins the life-giving
flow. His righteousness courses through the trust linkup
so we may now have an OK, right or righteous relationship.
faith or trust activates the flow—in that order. Some
want to demand the receiving ahead of the trusting (i.e.,
if God wants me to believe, just let him get my attention).
No! He wants our attention (trust), and then the flow of
his righteousness begins.
is an amazing transmission. Some speak of it as “amazing
grace,” and rightly so. It is amazing that God should
outsource this special righteousness into our very lives.
I can ask God, “Everything OK?” and confidently
know that it is so.
it is a transmitted righteousness—a gift from God,
and God alone. He strings the lines of connection, and all
that is left to us is trust, reliance and abandon to so great
in Its Demonstration
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through
faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice” (Rom
you imagine how such a thought would have sounded in the
ears of the religious Jews? How can God who is perfect acquit
a person who is guilty? Or, how can God make a relationship
OK, right, without the payment of consequences?
the zealous Jew, one thing was needful and required—to
demonstrate obedience to the law. A sinner declared innocent
was an absurdity. A contradiction. A gross miscarriage of
justice. He would be quick to ask: “Where is justice?”
had it straight: the Cross is God’s answer. It demonstrates
in dramatic ways the full satisfaction of the justice of
God. It was there, when God the Father delivered his Son
as a perfect sacrifice for sin. God’s soul was satisfied,
and righteousness transmitted to sinners who could do nothing
to save themselves.
Cross is never far away in Pauline theology. Why? Because
the Cross is the substance of grace. Without the Cross, there
is no right relationship with God. Without the Cross, justice
would be trivialized into absurdity. Without the Cross, atonement
would remain only a proposed remedy for man’s alienation
from God. Without the Cross, pardon is but a dream and there
is no good news for man.
have suggested that had Jesus not died for our sins then
we would need to each die for our own sins. No! Our deaths,
no matter how agonizing, could never provide payment and
materialize atonement. The Cross alone is able to pay the
price for our sins and satisfy the call of God for justice.
This took the sacrifice of the incarnate God—Jesus
Christ, our Lord.
further thought. No matter who you are and how difficult
the circumstances of your life, the work of Jesus at Calvary
provides enough to meet your need. Enough payment. Enough
satisfaction. Enough grace. Enough mercy. Enough power. Enough
rightness. So you can confidently ask, “God, everything
OK?” and know His answer will be an unqualified “Yes!”
Cross is God’s showcase of love. It is there that we
see, in bold relief, the depths of divine love. This love
brings us into a glorious relationship of righteousness with
our God. It assures us of an “okayness” with
God. This is the answer to the most important question of
life: “How can I be in right relationship with God?”
practical and devotional implications of this truth are profound.
Look at your job, marriage, work, church life, insecurities,
pain and sorrow against the backdrop of Calvary. This perspective
will provide the understanding and power to face all of the
harsh realities of life. What
a dramatic demonstration of the enabling agency by which
righteousness has become a reality for the follower of Jesus
in Its Application
then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On
that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith" (Rom
is the argument. If righteousness comes as a result of man’s
efforts, this then is an understandable cause for boasting.
But if righteousness is of God, there is no room at all for
boasting. Boasting is excluded. “For it is by
grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is
not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works,
so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8,9).
undergraduate studies were at a Midwestern Lutheran college.
Well do I remember the strong lessons I learned about Luther’s
definition of good works. He rightly argued that while man
may please man with his benevolent activities, he cannot
please God. The only work that gains God’s approval
is work done in Jesus’ name. Boasting is, therefore,
completely excluded! It has no defense.
there is a boasting that is appropriate. As the people of
God, we find our boast in Christ alone. Only the rightness
of God, demonstrated in Christ, is worthy of our boast. In
fact, worship is just that–an expression of our boast
in the Lord.
Psalmist cried out: “My soul will boast in the Lord” (Ps
34:2). “In God we make our boast all day long” (Ps
44:8). Paul added: “May I never boast except in the
cross” (Gal 6:14).
the prophet made the point powerfully in poetic verse. “Let
not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast
of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but
let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands
and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jer
is right to boast, not in what comes from men, but in what
is comes from God. May this truth find an anchor in our hearts.
Boasting in the righteousness of God, generously gifted to
us by grace, must be the very vocation of our lives.
questions rise out of the text: One, is everything OK between
you and God? Have you received this gift of rightness? Do
you know for a certainty that there is nothing separating
you from God?
is everything OK between you and others? Your spouse? Your
family? Your work partners? Your fellow worshippers? Everyone
who is part of your relational world? If not, let the rightness
you have with God find its expression in the relational life
you have with others.
Paul speaks in these verses of a very special kind of righteousness–the
gift of right standing with God. What a gift!
W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development
and Delivery of Expository Messages (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 1980), 20.
Friday, July 14, 2006 3:25 PM