How Jesus preached

How did Jesus PreachWe should all be interested in homiletics because what is preached to us is of great importance, and how it is preached affects how we comprehend what we hear.

Incidentally, if you would like to hear this post as spoken word, please scroll down to listen.

In a previous article,  I gave a very brief evaluation of the three main styles of preaching currently popular – narrative, expository, and topical. However, I didn’t deal with how Jesus preached. He is our model in all things and so in our appreciation of preaching we need to be guided by His methods and practices.

We all know that Jesus often used parables and in essence, a parable is a story and so we could think that Jesus was simply a narrative preacher. But He didn’t just tell stories, He also asked questions to lead into his subjects, on occasions He expounded Old Testament scriptures, and at other times He just addressed a topic in a straightforward manner. Jesus was a narrative preacher, an expository preacher, and a topical preacher. But here is the thing, each time He preached He chose the method best able to meet his objectives. For instance, in his well-known Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) He addressed topics and also expounded on Old Testament scriptures. (Other examples of topical and expository preaching are in Matthew chapters 11, 12, 23, and 24). What is more, when Jesus preached/taught in a style other than parables, He did so with authority and clarity. Matthew 7:29 notes that He taught ‘as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law’. The Pharisees derived their authority from what previous theologians had taught and Jesus criticised them for this when He quoted from Isaiah 29:13, ‘their teachings are but rules taught by men’. (Matthew 15:9). But when Jesus spoke He used words like “I tell you” and his interpretations and declarations were definitive.

Why then did Jesus speak in parables so frequently?

Man sowingThis question was obviously on his disciple’s minds for they asked him, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10-17). His answer was surprising and even shocking; “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them” And then Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 6:9-10, ‘though seeing they do not see; though hearing they do not hear or understand’. A parable is a story that can be understood at more than one level. At a superficial level it can, for instance, be a story about a farmer sowing seed in his field, but at a deeper level, it teaches important kingdom truth. Those antagonistic to him and his teachings would understand the story but not the underlying truth, but his disciples would have insight into the truth. The parable of the types of soil is a good example of this. After Jesus had told this parable to the crowds the disciples came to him and asked him why he spoke in parables. I have quoted his answer above, but then He added, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:” (Matthew 13:16-19). Jesus then went on to explain to his disciples the spiritual truth that the parable contained.

The purpose of the parables was not just to hide truth from the opponents of the Gospel, but also to present truth to disciples and genuine enquirers.

For the disciples, they form the rich soil for the seeds of revealed truth, and to the uneducated and uninformed they present a way to gradually and progressively comprehend. Often Jesus would conclude a parable with a clear statement of the main point (i.e Luke 12:40) but on other occasions, He would tell similar parables that when taken together would make it easier for an enquiring soul to comprehend the sub-surface truth. This revelational aspect of the parables is captured in Mark 4:33-34; ‘With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything’.

Today’s church preachers and teachers don’t often deal with hostile crowds of unbelievers, but we do have to allow for enquirers and believers who have little education or exposure to typical westernised teaching methods. Narrative preaching (story-telling) is most beneficial to such people, while on the other hand, when communicating with mature believers or well-educated folk it is probably better to use an expository style and reserve narrative for vivid illustrations within the sermon structure. This dual approach seems to be as close to Jesus’ example as we can get.

 

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4 Responses

  1. As always, thank you for this insightful article Chris.

    Having now utilised the narrative preaching approach for the last 13 weeks as we’ve gone through John’s gospel, I am still thinking through your assessment in the final paragraph; that the expository style is more beneficial for the mature believer, whilst the narrative is more beneficial for the ‘enquirer’ or less educated believers.

    I agree with you 100% that both styles have strengths, that one or other may be more appropriate depending on the setting, and that Jesus clearly used both. But what’s interesting is that majority of the positive feedback we’re receiving about the narrative preaching series is coming from the mature believers in the church family. They comment Sunday after Sunday on how this style is giving them new insights into who Jesus is, and why He did and said what He did. Perhaps there’s danger in relegating narrative preaching to a methodology for the less mature/educated. In fact, I am beginning to think that perhaps narrative preaching has potential to be more effective than the typical expository sermon, even in the case of mature believers.

    But obviously, as you say, a preacher needs to choose the best method to meet the objective. I think this might depend more on the text being preached though, than on the audience being addressed. Narrative text; I am slowly being convinced that narrative preaching is probably more effective, regardless of the audience. Didactic text; expository preaching is probably more effective, again, regardless of the audience.

    We’re obviously still in the early stages of trying this methodology on a regular basis, but those are my preliminary observations and thoughts. It’s been exciting (and fun!) to open up the Scriptures to the people in a new and fresh way.

    • Adam, thanks for your observations and views. As usual, we will probably find that a BOTH-AND approach is better than EITHER-OR. Jesus certainly exposed His disciples to his parables, but then explained(expounded) them afterwards; He also appears to have reserved his expositions for the disciples alone.

      In our context today I can’t see how we could effectively use a narrative style in presenting the doctrinal portions of scripture. So, perhaps the balance will be found in (a) including narrative where possible within the framework of expository sermons addressed to relatively mature believers (disciples), (b) from time to time using narrative style to present narrative texts when addressing mature believers, and (c) selecting narrative passages of scripture and using a narrative preaching style more frequently when addressing seekers or fairly uneducated believers.

      Another challenge for me is to try to ensure that the underlying learning points come across even when using a first-person narrative style.

      NOTE TO OTHERS READING THESE COMMENTS – Please join the discussion by posting your views as comments to this post; this is an important topic and very relevant to all preachers and those exposed to preaching.

  2. Martin loubser

    Hello Chris, as a relatively new born and baptized again Christian I must say that I find the narrative way of preaching most meaningful and appealing as it makes the topic/sermon come alive for me and I get emotionally involved. I feel part of it. Having said that and since I’ve been attending the church, I’ve found the preaching in whatever form to have been very illuminating and fulfilling. For instance your sermon on the supernatural being of God, Chris, was most informative and appealing. I love our church
    Warmest regards,
    Martin loubser

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