One comedian joked that as he grew up in the church, he knew that the stories the preacher included in his sermons were totally made-up. They were always the same nondescript kind of people doing things no that one really does. Why were the sermons so boring and predictable? After all, as the comedian humored, the preacher had a week to work with a book that’s 2,000 years old.
So what exactly is a sermon supposed to be? Is it a book report? Is it a bunch of good advice? Is it the declaration of the greatest truth in world history?
Book reports are boring, and good advice doesn’t pay the debt of sin. When you listen to a sermon, what are you listening for? We should’t be hyper-critical, but surely there is a purpose to listening to one man speak for 30 minutes. What exactly makes up the content of a sermon?
Kerygma. noun. The necessary components of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kēryssō, which gives us kerygma, is a Greek word from the New Testament itself that describes what people like John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul did as they proclaimed the good news. If you were to read the sections of the New Testament where that word is used to describe what they’re saying, you’ll come across a clear pattern of what preaching is supposed to be. Theologian Gregg Allison summarizes the five consistent themes in the New Testament kerygma:
You can find New Testament sermons in Matthew 5-7, Luke 4, Luke 24, Acts 2, Acts 7, Acts 8, Acts 17, as a few examples. Other places, such as 1 Timothy 4, gives some basic instruction on what is necessary in preaching. Those passages aren’t relevant only for preachers.
New Testament preachers realized that what they were preaching was simply the continuation and fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. So, they often followed an Old Testament pattern, which we get a glimpse of in Nehemiah 8:8, which says, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
When Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand in Matthew 4:17, Jesus is declaring that his presence is the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. It has begun, even if there is a consummation yet to come. That hope the Old Testament saints had believed in? We are witnesses to it.
The kingdom of heaven was inaugurated through the person and work of Christ. He taught what the kingdom was like in places such as the sermon on the mount, he died an obedient and substitutionary death on our behalf, and he was resurrected to be vindicated and receive all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ is the king of the cosmos.
The Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost, as promised by Christ before his ascension. The Spirit is the seal on the church and the guarantor of our inheritance. While the new covenant was instituted in Christ’s blood, the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to apply that redemption to us.
The second coming of Christ will be the end of the new covenant era and the beginning of the eternal state. Christ’s second coming will be public, every eye will see him, he will destroy the enemies of righteousness, and sin and death will no longer have any power.
Participation in the kingdom of God requires repentance from sin, belief in the one God has sent, and baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Predestination and election cannot be defined apart from this.
It may very well be that not every specific sermon has an entire section devoted to simply reviewing Christ’s ascension and session, but do some? Any? Do the sermons at least assume that truth?
And of course, sermons will have substantial points of application. James warns us about being the kind of people who look in a mirror, turn our head, and forget what we look like a moment later. But where does that application come from? The latest show the preacher binge-watched, or the clear implication of the gospel?
The point is that there is one gospel, and the church proclaims that one gospel in everything we do. We may say many things, but if they are removed from the central truth of Christ and him crucified, we have strayed from the kerygma.