The Fresh Air of Biblical Exposition

January 3, 2007

Is it just me, or does expositional preaching take a back seat over Christmas? I know it shouldn’t. Anyone who loves Scripture and gospel and Christ will try to prevent it. But during Advent, the pressures to abort exposition are intense.


The logic is that Christmas is a tremendous evangelistic opportunity. It is. Perhaps more unchurched people darken our doors than at any other time of year. But for this same reason, we’re told that people can’t handle Scripture being explained at length.

So, the pressure on pastors increases to do less exposition, preach less lengthily, whilst at the same time skim more over the text. Caving in to at least some of the pressure, many of us will have succumbed to the “wee word” – as they say in Scotland – at the end of the service.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, steeping into January feels like a breath of fresh air. Constrictions lifted, we preachers have more time and space to do biblical texts the justice they deserve.

For example, along with the Senior Pastor in my church, I’ll be sharing the preaching through Jeremiah in the mornings and Luke’s gospel in the evenings.

The prospect is mouth watering.

The funny thing is, no one expects you to deal adequately with Jeremiah in twenty minutes: “that’s impossible.”

But for the incarnation?

“Ten’ll do!”



  1. Some observations which could lead to useful discussions …

    1. Your point proves too much. “The Incarnation: forty minutes will do?” Or how about, “No one expects you to deal adequately with Jeremiah in 2000 minutes.”

    If, in fact, no Biblical text can be *adequately* dealt with in *any* sermon length you care to name, then any preacher is going to select from the text before him (whether a couple of verses or a whole chapter) and develop a sermon on whatever his selection turns out to be.

    Consequently, the more useful issues you’ve skirted go something like this:

    a. What is an optimal length for a sermon?

    b. How does the overall order of service affect the answer to this question of optimal sermon length?

    c. What is the purpose of the sermon in the context of whatever the order of service happens to be?

    This last issue easily generates additional issues worthy of discussion:

    d. Is an exposition of a portion of Scripture delivered as a sermon different from an exposition of the same Scripture delivered in in a week-night Bible class?

    e. To what degree and in what ways does the spiritual complexion of the audience affect how an expositor develops his sermon?

    f. What are the pros and cons of following a standard lectionary for preaching texts?

    Running off on a slightly different topic, have you considered how the liturgical calendar might have an effect on a pastor’s sermonic output? Christmas and Easter — the two poles between which a pulpit ministry occilates — are typically times of “high density” with respect to worship services. Holy Week in particular can be very demanding. Perhaps a “sermonic thinness” at Christmas relates more to demands on a pastor’s time and resources than anything else. This isn’t to say that thinness is desirable, of course. But, sermonic thinness that is regularly associated with the same season of the year may suggest a good reason for the thinness, a reason other than what you suggested (which, after all, may actually obtain in this or that situation).

    As to this last point, somewhere recently (in this blog??) I noted a blogger commenting on how challenging it is to follow a lectionary for pulpit texts, because the gospel texts for the Christmas season are relatively few and, therefore, one is called upon to preach the same texts year after year. This problem would be acute for a pastor whose tenture in a pulpit extended for a few decades.

  2. Jeremiah and Luke! That is exciting. What a glorious opportunity. Your desire to let the text roar and not be hindered by “holiday expectations” is refreshing. I understand. Christmas sermons could take a lesson from Jeremiah many times: “You have healed the wound of my people lightly…”(6:14).

    I look forward to hearing the sermons on Jeremiah and Luke. May God be glorified through the preaching of His Word.

  3. The past two years for Advent I preached Luke chapters 1:5-2:20 (2005) and selected passages from Isaiah that tied in with Christ’s first and second coming (2006). The selection of appropriate passages is a great help in staying expositional. I don’t consider myself a great expositionist (you may judge for yourself on the church’s website) but I do find that text selection makes a difference in how thorough I am in bringing out the meaning of the passage. This year I’m looking at Matthew and trying to resist the temptation of stealing Steve Weaver’s material 🙂

  4. I love to preach expositorily through a book and am currently working my way through Ephesians, though not at D. M. Lloyd-Jones’ pace! However, I did break it up to do an expository sermon on Luc 2:1-7 on Dec. 24. I think that it depends on how you look at it. Is it not a great opportunity to expound on the true meaning of Christmas? If the Church doesn’t speak to the issue, who will? Should we not always be ready to explain the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15)? Surely hearts are receptive to hear messages concerning Christ’s coming, His suffering and His resurrection at these special times of the year. Let’s not be so intent to raise the dead that we can’t slow down to minister to those on the way who are bleeding (a bit of allegory! – Mt. 9:18-26).

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