Is there any hope for hypocritical pharisees who honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him? Is there any hope for those who are blind or hopelessly asleep? Isaiah 29 gives us the answer – Yes! But only by the power of the cross of Christ. In Isaiah 29 we encounter both the disease (v9-13) and the cure (v14). This reality should cause us to ask: “Am I a fake? Is my faith real? When I speak, do I speak out of the genuineness of my heart toward the Lord, or simply putting on airs? When I talk about the Bible is it because I love God and the person I am talking to or is it just a game I play? When I pray, is it to demonstrate my righteousness or am I really talking to God?” These are the questions that are addressed in Isaiah 29:1-14. This chapter brings to the second of six woes that are declared in Isaiah 28-33. It is a text on true and false worship and how God judges a nation on the basis of it. What Isaiah speaks in v.13, is the heart of true Christianity that is explained from Genesis to Revelation. He speaks of our greatest danger: to have hearts distant from God while involved in religious activity, “Therefore the Lord said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.’” – Isaiah 29:13. The very next verse reveals that God will unleash a power strong enough to rescue such a person – the cross. God will send His Son to suffer and die and rise again unleashing what the apostle Paul calls, “the power of God unto salvation.”
One of the greatest joys of my life is to preach the Word of God in the church. Scripture is true treasure. It reveals a beautiful Savior and a wonderful life. I am so very thankful for the privilege to preach. I usually spend 10-20 hours on a sermon per week. This might sound contradictory, but while I am grateful and happy to preach and I love the beneficial nature of it, I must admit that it has always been taxing, terrifying and humiliating to prepare sermons. Here are the basic elements of my sermon research process:
Sermon Research Process:
I. Study the text
1. Read the text ten times, listen to it ten times on audio and prayerfully meditate on it before extensive study begins.
2. Identify who is speaking and who is being spoken to.
3. Outline the text. In expository preaching one of the primary objectives is for the sermon to derive its outline, emphasis and message from the text itself.
4. Identify important words in the text, and document where else these words are used and their lexical meaning.
5. Explain the historical locations mentioned in the passage by identifying where they are on the map, where they are referred to in other places in Scripture and why they are mentioned in this particular text.
6. Explain the identity of the people mentioned in the text, where they are found elsewhere in Scripture, and why they are mentioned in this particular text.
7. List the images and metaphors mentioned in the text. (more…)
What should Christians do when all is collapsing around them? Isaiah 26:1-11 provides the answer. This section is the first part of a song of praise for the strong city of God. This chapter continues the testimony of praise from the previous chapter where it is affirmed that the Lord is a shelter in the storm. In chapter 26 the Lord gives His people a song to help them through the upcoming times of trial. When they see the walls collapsing around them they will have a song that will remind them that God has not abandoned them, but that He has a city with strong walls and bulwarks that will never be shaken. The city of man will be shaken, but the city of God will never be shaken. How are God’s people supposed to respond? Simply to keep their minds “stayed upon Jehovah.” We will sing accordingly as we lift up our voices in singing “Like a River Glorious.”
Hidden in the hollow of his blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest,
Finding, as he promised, Perfect peace and rest.
One of the most difficult challenges human beings face is to have a right understanding of divine judgment. There are many practical problems that result from this, and one of them is that if you don’t have a right view of judgment, you cannot understand truth and love very well. In our Scripture passage this week (Isaiah 24:13-23) Isaiah continues his explanation of divine judgment upon the whole world. It speaks of how God will break the bondage of the world to the forces of darkness; how He will heal a broken world; how He will turn the land that is mourning in to a land of joy; how He will cleanse the land that has been defiled.
If you take a step back and read the whole section as a unified whole, that includes Isaiah 24-27, you see immediately that the whole context is really a Song of praise for the relief God brings to the world through judgment of the wicked. In this sermon, we continue to explain the characteristics of the judgment of God. We have covered the first ten characteristics that appear in verses 1-12. Now, in verses 13-23 we all observe the next five characteristics.
Prayer is essential to the Christian life. There are those however who may cry out to God and yet worship themselves.
Hosea says, “They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds” (Hos. 7:14). Again he says, “Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him” (Hos. 11:7).
Then, in Matthew, we read, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8).
When we pray or live therefore, let us pray with our mouth and with our heart and worship the God of heaven.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
We live in an environment where many people really have no shepherds who know them personally. Here is an article that appeared on Pyromaniacs a while back that I felt identified some of the problems with this - Who is YOUR pastor? No, really…
[S]ome professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We’ve talked about that, and they aren’t our focus. But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach. But you know their heart belongs to another. Their real pastor isn’t you. It’s Dave Hunt. Or it’s John Piper. Or it’s John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it’s Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme, or J. Vernon McGee. And they’re such better pastors than you are! You know they are!
Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They’re never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.) They’ve never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word you can’t even pronounce. They don’t have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They’re available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention. What’s more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they’re saying! With footnotes! And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don’t want to hear something, they don’t press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball… nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever. Because they don’t know you from Adam.
Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, “John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn’t like that. Mahaney says that… Mohler says that… Lloyd-Jones said….”So, because it’s awkward for your pastor to say it to you — and because I’ve no church who’d suspect I’m talking to them, at the moment — I’ll just tell you plain:
Brother, sister: John Piper isn’t your pastor. John MacArthur knows nothing about you. Dave Hunt never got on his knees and prayed for you. Lloyd-Jones won’t come to your house when you’re recovering from surgery, or one of your children shatters your heart, or your marriage is shaking and rocking and barely hanging on. Charles Spurgeon won’t weep with you as you weep. You could buy or not buy _____’s next book, and he’d never know it. But if you’re in a manageable-size church with a caring pastor and you’re suddenly gone next Sunday, he’ll be concerned. He may call. He may ask if everything’s okay. God gave you the pastor He gave you. God told Paul to tell you:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
God told the writer to the Hebrews to tell you:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).
Your flesh-and-blood pastor can’t compete with these paper pastors for the same reason you can’t compete with paper women and paper men.
Because they’re not real
Ezekiel the prophet laments the often repeated condition in the church of singing lovely songs and playing well on instruments. However, they can be an abomination. This condition is repeated in modern churches where the songs are appealing and moving to the emotions, but the people remain worldly.
So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them (Ezek. 33:31-32).
We have been advocates of expository preaching and taking measures to teach the whole counsel of God in the church, rather than neglecting important and difficult parts. Here, D.A. Carson speaks about what Paul meant when he said that he did not neglect to preach the whole counsel of God in Ephesus.
The preacher must impersonate the gospel. Its divine, most distinctive features must be embodied in him. The constraining power of love must be in the preacher as a projecting, eccentric, an all-commanding, self-oblivious force. The energy of self-denial must be his being, his heart and blood and bones. He must go forth as a man among men, clothed with humility, abiding in meekness, wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove; the bonds of a servant with the spirit of a king, a king in high, royal, independent bearing, with the simplicity and sweetness of a child. The preacher must throw himself, with all the abandon of a perfect, self-emptying faith and a self-consuming zeal, into his work for the salvation of men. Hearty, heroic, compassionate, fearless martyrs must the men be who take hold of and shape a generation for God. If they be timid timeservers, place seekers, if they be men pleasers or men fearers, if their faith has a weak hold on God or his Word, if their denial be broken by any phase of self or the world, they cannot take hold of the Church nor the world for God.
EM Bounds, Power Through Prayer, 1907, p2-14
Last December, Tim Challies and David Murray interviewed Paul Washer. After conversing about family life and various personal matters of interest, David Murray asked one final question: “Paul, if you had two minutes of time with, with pastors, what would you say to them in terms of building positively for the future?” Paul then gave a threefold answer that identified the following issues: first, the importance of the sufficiency of Scripture; second, that simply reforming soteriology is not enough, but all of life must also be reformed according to Scripture; third, that we should simply quit trying to tweak unbiblical practices, and just quit doing them. Here is his answer:
Washer: I would say one of the most important things is this. If you believe in the inspiration, the inerrancy of Scripture, I applaud you for that. But that is only half the battle. If you do not believe the doctrine, the twin doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, then what you believe about its inerrancy will do you no good, and that is one of the great problems I see in the reformed movement and all these different hopes of reviving the Church. You see, we must not only recognize the Bible is inspired; we must recognize that it is sufficient – that we do not have to go outside of Scripture to know how to preach the Gospel, present the Gospel, build a, build a Gospel-centered Church. To do counseling or any other thing, I need the Scriptures. (more…)
The Centrality of the Gospel – All activities and messages of the church have their source in the Gospel of Christ, that sinners are justified by faith alone, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers by God’s decree alone, and that this righteousness is the only righteousness that justifies and that faith that is true faith is evidenced by works (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rev. 14:6-7).
Expository Preaching – We believe that a steady diet of expositional preaching is the most effective way to build up the body of Christ. Preaching and teaching through books of the Bible will be the primary emphasis of this ministry (Deut. 6:4-9; Ezra 7:10; Neh. 8:1-12; Matt. 4:4; 1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-4:5; Tit. 1:3, 9; Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:22-2:3).
Fervent Prayer – Every aspect of the church’s life and ministry ought to be undergirded with regular, fervent prayer. Elements of a godly prayer life (individually and corporately) include: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession (Neh. 1; Ps. 51; Matt. 6:5-15; Luke 19:46; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:3-12; Jas. 5:13-18). (more…)
Here is a good checklist giving greater clarity for those who preach the Word of God:
- The more you say, the less people will remember. . . . “Biscuits and sermons are improved by shortening”. . . .
- Make the ‘big idea’ shape everything you say. . . . That’s one of the best reasons to preach from a full script—you get to edit before you speak. . . . [From p. 64: "[I]t’s easier for your listeners to catch a baseball than a handful of sand.”]
- Choose the shortest, most ordinary words you can. . . . The more complex your subject, the more helpful it is to describe it in ordinary words. . . .
- Use shorter sentences. . . . This isn’t about ‘dumbing down’ your content. It’s about communicating complex content clearly. (But keep in mind that alliteration is no longer considered tasteful.) More importantly, it’s about sounding like a normal, conversational you. . . .
- Forget everything your English teacher taught you. . . . [I]f you’re scripting a sermon you should expect it to read badly. It should break almost all the norms of good written expression and follow the rules of informal speech instead. . . .
- Am I repeating myself? . . . [A]s you’re introducing a new idea, it’s incredibly helpful to restate the first sentence three times, rephrasing it each time but adding no new information. . . . Avoid giving too much information and learn the difference between the pace of your speech (in ‘words per minute’) and the pace of information (in ‘ideas per minute’).
- Translate narratives into the present tense. . . . [This] makes a story seem real and immediate—it’s just like being there. . . .
- The six-million-dollar secret of illustrating. . . . Don’t sweat over illustrating the complicated stuff—just illustrate the obvious! . . . Illustrate the obvious, and the complex ideas will take care of themselves, because your listeners will be fresh and focused enough to stay with you. . . .
- People love to hear about people. . . . The journalist’s rule is this: if there are no people, there’s no story. . . .
- Work towards your key text. . . . When you’re quoting a verse, help out the listener by setting it up before you read it, rather than after. . . .
[M]ost natural communicators—whether scripted or not—tend to do most of these things by instinct.
We always want our times of prayer together to be a mixture of praise towards God, thanksgiving, confession of sin and prayer for one another. But we also want to see that some of our time is taken up in offering prayers for others: friends, enemies, and those we know are facing challenges. God has been so clear in His communication with us that He desires that we offer our requests to Him. It is a good thing to bring them to Him and we are deprived of something very wonderful when we go through seasons of neglecting to ask.
It is interesting to notice that John Calvin’s Institutes longest section is on the subject of prayer. It is in this section that he makes it sure we know God’s desire for us is that we bring our requests:
Otherwise, to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him-this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him. (Book 3, Chapter 20, Section 1)
The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community… it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs.
– Jim Elliot
Elizabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1989), 138-139.