The Forest, The Trees And The Sermon

Some love the forest, others prefer the trees.

What I mean is that some preachers gravitate towards the “bigger picture” (the forest) and others love the details of the text (the trees). One expositor delights in “setting the passage in the wider sweep of biblical theology” (forest). Another revels in the joys of unpacking a critical point of grammar, or in explaining the precise meaning of a Hebrew verb (trees).

Doubtless, both are important. The Scriptures are meant to be understood in their breadth and depth. If man is to live on ‘every word’ that proceeds from God’s mouth, then not even the smallest details of the text are insignificant.  On the other hand, if all Scripture is God breathed, and is shown by Jesus (Luke 24: 27) and the Apostles (Acts 2:16-38) to interrelate in profound ways, then we will want to showcase those connections in our preaching.

The challenge is keeping the forest and the trees in proper balance. Let me give you an example of some of the forest and trees that I included in yesterday’s sermon. The story was the raising of the widow’s son from 1 Kings 17 v 17 -24.

The trees

There are a lot of fascinating details in this story:

  • the baffling sequence of blessing followed by tragedy.
  • the widow’s theory that suffering results from specific sins.
  • the two references to ‘man of God’ at the beginning and end of the story (the death of the widow’s son has called into question Elijah’s validity as a man of God).
  • the significance of Elijah stretching himself out on the boy three times.
  • the clever argumentation of Elijah’s prayer (‘O LORD’… ‘my God’…’the widow’…’whom I am staying with’).
  • the focus of the widow’s words in response to the miracle:  she affirms Elijah as a man of God and confesses that his words are the truth.

The forest

But what of the bigger picture?

  • This story is an implicit rebuke to apostate Israel. At a time when Israel is rejecting Elijah’s words, a Gentile widow living in Baal-country embraces his words as “truth.”
  • The miracle also shows us Yahweh’s supremacy to Baal (the fertility god). Yahweh is the true God of life. Baal was said to bow his knee to death, but death bows the knee to Yahweh. This miracle is a kick in Baal’s teeth.
  • In the broadest sense, this story addresses the problem of death, a death which has reigned since the Fall.
  • This is the first resurrection miracle in the Old Testament (there are only a total of 3 in the OT)
  • A token of the new creation, and a preview of the ministry of Christ (eg. Jesus and the widow’s son)

There was quite a lot of forest and trees that, for the sake of time, I had to miss out. We always have to cut down lots of foliage to make a sermon!







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