“Because We Need Him:” Historical Sermon Illustrations from Matthew 9:12

“But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” – Matthew 9:12 (NASB)

 

“I try to be as good as I can”

From Charles H. Spurgeon’s “The Great Physician and His Patients,” 1865

A minister, when he had done preaching in a country village, said to a farm-labourer who had been listening to him, “Do you think Jesus Christ died to save good people, or bad people?” “Well, sir,” said the man, “I should say he died to save good people.” “But did he die to save bad people?” “No, sir; no, certainly not, sir.” “Well, then, what will become of you and me?” “Well, sir, I do not know. I dare say you be pretty good, sir; and I try to be as good as I can.” That is just the common doctrine; and after all, though we think it has died out among us, that is the religion of ninety-nine English people out of every hundred who know nothing of divine grace: we are to be as good as we can; we are to go to church or to chapel, and do all that we can, and then Jesus Christ died for us, and we shall be saved. Whereas the gospel is, that he did not do anything at all for people who can rely on themselves, but gave himself for lost and ruined ones. He did not come into the world to save self-righteous people; on their own showing, they do not want to be saved. He comes because we need him.[1]

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History: Our How-To Guide to Grief

As humans, we learn to encounter our own grief as a natural part of life. As a pastor, one must also learn to encounter the grief of others as a natural part of the role of caretaker and shepherd. Recently, after officiating a funeral, talking to someone else about their grief, and preparing to attend another funeral within a short period, I was quietly reminded of the timeless nature of our struggle with loss. I am regularly struck by our incapacity to fully immunize ourselves against grief’s contagious efforts to redesign our own life experiences. Many of us know how faith has shaped our own responses in this area, but I believe we are missing out on history as another great teacher if we fail to savor the sorrow together with those who have gone (long) before us. Continue reading “History: Our How-To Guide to Grief”

“Should I read historical theologians?”

I write today to answer a common question:

Should I read historical theologians in my personal discipleship time?”

Of course, any writer at historicaltheology.org will answer with a resounding “yes!” Yet, the vast majority of Christians never consider the 2000 years of thoughts and scriptural reflections from those saints, hermits, and religious vagabonds who went before them. Many scholars of the Protestant Reformation did champion going back to the sources with the Latin phrase ad fontes, literally meaning “to the fountains.” However, these reformers were talking about getting back to the ultimate source of their information about God: the Bible.

Certainly, our faith is nothing if cut off from this original wellspring. Yet, it is helpful to understand through which territories this fountain has traveled on its way to us moderns. Indeed, these paths were often wastelands where the stream of the true faith all but trickled through deserts. Other times, it raged in torrents as the floodgates upstream released a torrent as happened in the Reformation movements. Could we not learn from these times of drought and plenty alike? How did others see the Bible before us? What did they learn from it, and how did they apply its teachings to everyday life?

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Salt & Light: Historical Sermon Illustrations from Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – -Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

To this day, I remember a well-meaning college student teaching on this passage at an event when I was part of a youth group. With all the wisdom of a church father, they read the passage and then waded into interpretation by saying: “Christians are here to give flavor to the world” as they attempted to explain the meaning of “you are the salt of the earth.” I remember how strange and unhelpful that was for years to come. However, for all the weird and uninformed hermeneutics available, there are some great historical examples of references to this passage that will be sure to add flavor to any sermon or Bible study.  Continue reading “Salt & Light: Historical Sermon Illustrations from Matthew 5:13-16”

D. L. Moody & the Art of Using a Story to Get to THE Story

Methods of using stories in sermons have long been debated. Typically, evaluation is given to their quality, length, and volume. One great example of how this can be done effectively is in a particularly powerful sermon by D. L. Moody (1837-1899) that was so riddled with testimonies of God’s work in the lives of famous theological figures that one could criticize the good evangelist for excess if one dares censure the portly statesmen of the faith. Regardless, from Moody’s example the modern pastor can learn better the craft of weaving in the real-life testimonies of saints past and contemporary without distracting from the narrative of the Gospel in their own sermons.

For this task, we will consider the singular revival sermon entitled “Sowing and Reaping.”[1]In a brilliant set up to his stories that come later in the message, Moody reflects on both Christ’s and Paul’s use of “teaching from analogy.” Moody allows this subtle reference to percolate in the mind of the audience; full of foreshadowing but without any awkward reference to the fact that he would be employing the same didactic method later in his own discourse. Continue reading “D. L. Moody & the Art of Using a Story to Get to THE Story”

From Mediators to Shepherds

The years following the Protestant Reformation were a time of great transition in Christian theology. However, a transition in the practice and role of local church leadership also redefined centuries-old views on the alleged special access the clergy had to God. Church historian Winthrop S. Hudson (1911-2001) wrote that for all the changes in thinking that occurred in this first century after the beginning of the Reformation “nowhere can this [change] be seen more clearly than in the altered view of the clergy.” Continue reading “From Mediators to Shepherds”

Gateway to Paradise: Medieval and Renaissance Views of Baptism

The transition between the Medieval and Renaissance eras was volatile for the disciplines of theology and philosophy with the events of the Protestant Reformation contributing to the debate from a parallel plain as well. On the eve of this season of change, it is not surprising to see Catholic theology and the highest form of art mingling into one – especially in the city of Florence, Italy. It was there that in 1425, sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) began a 27-year-long endeavor to craft the “Gates of Paradise.” Completed in 1452, the enormous work was created specifically to become the monumental doors of the Florentine Baptistery. While the doors themselves are a magnificent bronze casting containing ten panels that depict various characters and scenes from the Old Testament, the work is widely hailed as a revolution in visual perspective leavng behind the flat, two-dimensional medieval style in favor of robust realism. However, what it did not leave behind was the equally robust doctrine of the supremacy of baptism in the Medieval Era.

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