By Dave Earley
Few persons have ever preached with the transforming power and practicality of John the Baptizer. When he preached, lives were changed. From the sample sermon described in Luke 3:7–9 we can learn six significant aspects of teaching the Word with practicality and power.
- Listen Attentively to the Word of God. Before John could give the powerful message recorded in Luke 3:7–9, he had to get the message from somewhere. This section begins with the words, “The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:2 NIV). John had great power in his preaching because he got his message from God. Never underestimate the power of a God-given message. Nothing gives a preacher more God-based confidence and Spirit-anointed boldness than knowing that he has a message from God for his church. John got his life-changing message from God. Without the Word of the Lord, he did not have anything to say—and neither do we.
- Clarify Memorably the Main Truth. He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. . . . He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, . . . “Produce fruit consistent with repentance.” (Luke 3:3,7–8) John’s message was very simple. Repent! His sermon had one main point—repent; one big idea—repent; and one primary point of application—repent. It does not get any clearer, simpler, and more powerful than that. Never underestimate the power of simplicity.
- Question Convincingly. In his high-impact sermon on repentance, John knifed through the religious clutter in his hearers’ lives by asking several convicting, convincing questions. “What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment?” and “What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming?” God used these probing questions to deeply convict the crowds of their sin and prompt them to action. Never underestimate the impact of a well-phrased, well-timed question.
- Challenge Directly. John gave his audience a direct challenge. He said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 NIV). In other words, “Words won’t cut it anymore. You say that you are real God-fearers, prove it.” In other words, “Put up or shut up.” This is what separates a sermon from a lecture and a powerful communicator from a boring professor. In the message on prayer that I mentioned above, I actually stopped at one point, asked the audience to one by one look me in the eye and say, “I am challenged to pray more the rest of this year than I ever have in my life.” Never underestimate the power of a direct challenge.
- Apply Specifically. John’s message went from really good to great after his challenge. This is because he not only told them what God said—repent; what to do—prove they have repented; he told them how to do it. He gave them very specific application. Every passage of Scripture has one primary interpretation, yet many applications. Sermons also should have one main point of truth leading to one clear challenge that naturally leads to several points of application. Effective preaching evokes change in the hearer. It is more than giving information. It is a means of transformation. Transformation never occurs without application.
- Always Ultimately Point to Jesus. John’s ministry was primarily about preparing the way of the Lord (Luke 3:4). The bottom line in all gospel-centered preaching is exalting Jesus and pointing people to Him. In fact, at the end of his message, John explicitly and intentionally pointed the crowd back to Jesus, saying, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals” (Luke 3:16). Never underestimate the power of Jesus.
You and I can’t save a soul. We can’t change a life. We can’t heal a broken heart. We can’t fix a marriage. We can’t deliver someone out of addiction.
But Jesus can.
Powerful, life-changing, high-impact communication is preaching that points people to Jesus.