Taking a deep steadying breath, he began his impassioned message. Elderly eyes watched in mild amusement as the boy carefully stated what he was going to share that night to properly prepare everyone for what was to come. The pastor beamed with approval as this young member of his church took such an enormous step forward in his spiritual life. The other teenagers sat with eyes fixed on one of their own trying to be supportive and yet still revealing their immaturity and lack of respect.
The foolishness of preaching was at its apex that night as the sermon fell on deaf ears. They were mostly polite ears, but less than being ears that were truly open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures, illustrations, explanations, and applications woven into the twenty-minute oration lived for a moment and then simply died as the cushioned pews absorbed the last remnants of the sound waves floating through the air followed by polite statements of having been well done.
Over forty years later, a much older and somewhat wiser man each Sunday steps up to deliver a message week after week. Having studied the science of hermeneutics (interpreting what has been written) and the art of exegesis (correct application of hermeneutics) he brings to the sermon a life of experiences and hard won understanding of God’s Word. A mostly polite congregation is listening as he speaks . . .
What makes the difference between a good sermon and a great one? Is it the amount of study and research that goes in to its creation? Does greatness occur when the preacher uses only the best illustrations? Should it be short or long, loud or soft, intellectual or easily understood by all? Will the sermon be made better when delivered by a guest speaker or maybe with a cool accent?
In his book “The Faith” author Chuck Colson offers this understanding of sermonology “But the truth is that the Gospel should be radiating out from our churches, the messages in the pulpit translated by those in the pew.” How profound, simple, and dramatically obvious. What elevates a sermon to greatness is not the speaker but the listeners. A message given no matter how eloquent and well thought out it may be will only become great when it is translated by those in the pew and then radiates out into their world.
When God’s people seize on to an idea that is extrapolated from scripture, let it sink into their heart, and express it in their lives it becomes great. When a church family lives out the messages shared week after week by their pastor his hard work only then pays off. The best or worst sermon becomes great when our lives become the living exegesis of the text and all other sermons will ring hollow and become useless noise.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.