“What shall I preach Sunday?”
“What text can I use this week?”
“What need must I meet in my next sermon?”
These questions disturb and harrass every conscientious and sincere preacher as Sundays and Wednesdays come with frightening regularity. Time is never sufficient, it seems, for the essentials of sermon preparation: prayer, meditation, Bible study, reading, and homiletical organization. Laboring under crushing loads, even diligent ministers are tempted to neglect the feeding of God’s people. Some pastors even turn to plagiarism as a means of securing sermon food for their sheep.
Those preachers who succeed in their desire to feed the children of God nourishing spiritual food, do so because they are willing to pay the price. They refuse to accept a philosophy of despair or a practice of plagiarism for their pulpit ministry. They organize and discipline their time. They learn to live with the Word in such a relationship that it nourishes their souls and because they are living with the Word, they are thus able to distribute that Word to the waiting children of God.
Every minister knows the feeling of despair that comes when the pulpit ministry is neglected or abused. At the same time every minister knows those electric moments when he stands before his congregation with a Word from the Lord. It is these vital spiritual moments that call again and again to his soul: “Speak again the true Word of the Lord.” It is those life-giving moments with the Word, the Lord, and the people that make a man preach with power and cause him to know, better than at any other time, that he is a true prophet of the Lord. Such moments haunt the lazy preacher, convict the plagiarizing preacher, prod the careless preacher, and bless the true preacher of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let the minister who would preach in a way to honor the Word, satisfy the people, and glorify God learn to be a careful homiletical craftsman. He must see sermons in all events that rush and brush by his life; he must be alert to record his impressions of these moments of inspiration; he must pray, meditate, study the Word, read books, and work at the task of sermon preparation. The gospel of Mark offers the minister a rich source of such disciplined study.
The best approach to and method of dealing with the broad subject “Preaching Values in Mark’s Gospel” probably should be suggestive rather than exhaustive. Therefore, sermon ideas, scriptural arrangements, and brief notes on selected texts are set forth for the purpose of stimulating you to prepare vital sermons for your people. Invariably the best sermons are “born” and not “adopted” or “stolen.” Perhaps a word, a phrase, a sentence, an illustration, a text, a grouping of texts, or a suggested theme will start the “homiletical fires” burning in your soul and cause you to prepare a sermon which will bless your people.
October is the ideal time for you to begin your preparation to preach from Mark next January. There are many values that come to the diligent preacher who makes an early start in his sermon preparation. By starting early you can make sufficient use of the principles of mental and spiritual growth. Adequate time for study is provided by beginning three months in advance. Ideas tend to gravitate to “sermon seeds” planted early. If a bountiful sermon crop is desired in January, let the minister be diligent to plant well in October.
Begin your preparation for preaching from Mark by reading the Second Gospel straight through — if possible, at one sitting. Read the Second Synoptic with a pen or a pencil in hand. Let this reading be done slowly and carefully because it is impossible to see all that is there unless one reads each word. In modern days “rapid reading” is thought of as ideal, but this technique should not be used with the Bible. Taste each word. Mark’s Gospel is a gospel of action — condensed, dynamic action — and much drama will be missed if the skimming method of reading is used.
As you make a careful examination of the life of Christ as recorded by Mark, outline the book paragraph by paragraph. State in a sentence or phrase the essence of each paragraph. Also, note the emphasis of each section by classifying these paragraphs with one word or with several words if several ideas are involved. If the disciples are prominent, mark the paragraph “discipleship”; and if the Pharisees are also involved, note the section as one of “conflict.” If, as you read Mark, you will carefully classify all key persons, issues, subjects, themes, illustrations, objectives, and sermon ideas, you will have tenfold more material than you can use by the time you have finished examining this “Gospel of Action.”
Read Mark straight through in as many versions of the Bible as you can secure. No doubt you want to let the Bible speak directly to you through its own words rather than through the words of other men in their books. Now is a good time to do just that. Read and reread Mark and let him speak to you. Keep your pen in hand and add to your notes as additional ideas come. And come they will each time you take Mark’s guided and breath-taking tour of the places and events in the life of Christ.
Choose your favorite commentary on Mark and read it straight through. As you study this commentary, continue to take notes which will help you produce sermons. If you have time, read several commentaries straight through.
By this time several days and perhaps weeks will have gone by, and you will have a voluminous collection of ideas which should produce an adequate supply of sermons for January. You may be tempted to use Mark for all of 1959, but resist the temptation. Four, or eight, or twelve effective messages from Mark during January should be sufficient.
Arrange the various ideas on discipleship, faith, Lordship of Jesus, miracles, parables, conflicts, vital questions, and other key themes with a view to using them either in a series or in a sermon course. From these groupings, select the texts which you believe will prove most profitable to your people. Even though you pull out certain ideas, themes, and texts for immediate use, do not discard the other materials. They should be stored for future use, and if properly stored, they too will produce sermons.
Set up one folder for each idea, or theme, or text which is to be turned into a sermon for January. Put into the proper folder each facet of truth and every scrap of information which throws light on the idea to be used. Keep these folders readily available as you study and go about your daily tasks. Now, examine ideas for sermon series and for a sermon course.
Suggestions for Sermon Series from Mark’s Gospel
The personal interest of the preacher in using sermon series, congregational needs to be met, the nature of recent sermons preached, the preacher’s personal knowledge of the material to be used, the preacher’s creativity in finding a variety of ideas within a larger theme, and the preacher’s ability to maintain interest in one series over a period of three or four weeks will determine the nature of the series to be used. As a rule, a series of four to six sermons is sufficiently long.
The variations and combinations for using series from Mark during January are almost endless: a Sunday morning series only; a morning and evening series; morning, evening, and prayer meeting series; the use of great texts to meet specific needs with either four or eight or twelve sermons being preached; or other approaches which will suggest themselves to the diligent pastor.
There are more than forty paragraphs in Mark in which the disciples or discipleship are directly or indirectly involved. One possible series, then, is “Dimensions of Discipleship.” In John the Baptist one can see “The True Witness” (1:4-8). “Willing Discipleship” is taught in Mark 1:16-20. Jesus shows proper “Demeanor for Disciples” in Mark 2:18-22. Other discipleship themes are “Divine Basis of the Ministry” (3:13-19), “The Measure of the Ministry” (4:21-25), “Fearful Disciples” (4:35- 41), “Sublime Discipleship” (8:27-30), “Depth Discipleship” (8:31-9:1), “The Door of Faith” (9:14-29), “Reluctant Discipleship” (10:17-22), “Rewards of True Discipleship” (10:28- 31), “Greed for Greatness” (10:35-45), “Discipleship through Total Stewardship” (12:41-44), “Devoted Discipleship” (14:3- 9), “Deceiving Discipleship” (14:10-11), “Self-sufficient Discipleship” (14:27-31), “Sleeping Discipleship” (14:32-42), and “Denial of Discipleship” (14:53-72).
The eighteen miracles found in Mark, which form a vital and dynamic portion of the marvelous deeds of our Lord, afford an interesting group of scriptures for a series. There are twelve healing miracles: the man with the unclean spirit (1:21- 28) ; Simon’s mother-in-law (1:29-31) ; a leper crying, “If thou SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY 67 will” (1:40-45); the man with palsy borne of four (2:1-12); the man with the withered hand (3:1-6); the man with the unclean spirit (5:1-20); the woman with the issue of blood (5:25-34); the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (7:24- 30); the deaf and dumb man (7:31-37); the blind man (8:22- 26) ; the boy with the dumb spirit (9:14-29) ; and Bartimaeus (10:46-52). In addition to the twelve healing miracles Mark records the facts concerning the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (5:21-24, 35-43). This “Gospel of Action” presents five other miracles of Jesus: stilling the sea (4:35-41), feeding the five thousand (6:30-44), walking on the sea (6:45- 52), feeding of the four thousand (8:1-9), and the withering of the fig tree (11:12-14, 20-26).
Four types of testimonies concerning the Lordship or Sonship or Deity of Jesus in more than twenty separate statements or incidents are recorded in Mark’s Gospel. Three times unclean spirits recognize Jesus as Lord: 1:21-28; 3:7-12; 5:1-20. Twice there is a voice from heaven giving testimony concerning Christ: 1:9-11; 9:2-8. Four men on four occasions reveal their concept of the Divinity of Jesus: Peter (8:27-30), the High Priest (15:22-32), the centurian by the cross (15:33-39), and Bartimaeus (10:46-52). Finally, there are numerous references by Jesus himself to his Deity or Lordship: 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 12:6, 35-37; 13:24-32; 14:21, 41, 61-62.
There are at least ten paragraphs in which faith is an item of major importance. See the leper being healed by faith (1:40- 45) and the “Faith of Four,” aiding the man with the palsy (2:1-12). Notice faith enjoined as Christ proves he is “The Silencer of the Seas” (4:35-41). Observe the timid woman made well by faith (5:25-34) and the child given back alive to loving parents (5:21-24, 35-43). Witness the “Perplexing Problem of Unbelief” in Mark 6:1-6, and feel the gloom in the presence of the Christ whose power has been stayed. Watch faith cross racial and national boundaries and bring health to a beloved and wanted child (7:24-30). Stand in humility at “The Door of Faith” (9:14-29) and observe the disciples, the father, the son, and our Lord. Rejoice with Bartimaeus as faith makes him well (10:46-52). Observe the lesson on faith given through a withered fig tree (11:12-14, 20-26). “Fruitful Faith” would prevent, said Christ, similar tragedy from befalling them.
People and action always give life and meaning to sermons. Let the twenty or so personalities, both major and minor, help you present the drama of Christ’s life to your people. In examining these personalities determine that Christ shall have the chief role. Each person chosen for a message must be presented in his proper perspective as a subordinate character in the drama of the life of Christ. Prospects for biographical sketches are “The Marys of Mark”: Mary, the mother of Jesus (6:3); Mary Magdalene (15:40, 47; 16:1, 9); Mary, the mother of James and Joses (15:40, 47; 16:1). Other interesting persons available for biographical sermons are: John the Baptist (1:4-8, 9-11, 14; 2:18-22; 6:14-29; 11:27-33); John the Disciple (1:19- 20, 29-31; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2-8, 38-50; 10:35-45; 13:3-37; 14:32- 42); Simon Peter (1:16-20, 29-31, 36; 3:16; 5:37; 8:27-30; 8:31-9:1, 2-8, 9-13; 10:23-31; 11:21; 13:3-37; 14:27-31, 32-42, 54, 66-72; 16:7); Andrew (1:16-20, 29-31; 3:18; 13:3-37); James (1:16-20, 29-31; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2-8, 9-13; 10:35-45; 13:3- 37; 14:32-42); Judas (3:19; 14:10-11, 43-50); Bartimaeus (10:46-52); Simon the Leper (14:3-9); the rich young ruler (10:17-22); the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30); the widow who gave two mites (12:41-44); the father of the son with dumb spirit (9:14-29); Jairus (5:21-24, 35-43); Pilate (15:1- 15, 42-47); Simon the cross-bearer (15:21); Joseph of Arimathaea (15:42-47); the centurian by the cross (15:39); Barabbas (15:6-15); the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20); the woman with the issue of blood (5:25-34); and the woman who anointed Christ (14:3-9).
Great events in the ministry of Jesus can be arranged into a spiritually profitable series. Use the baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), the temptation experiences (1:12-13), the transfiguration (9:2-8), the eighteen miracles, the parables, the cross (15:21-47), the resurrection (16:1-8), and the ascension (16:19- 20).
As a variation in sermon type consider using the wonderful figures of speech in Mark. These figures are at least twelve in number: “on making a straight road for the Lord” (1:3), “fishers of men” (1:16-20), “the sower” (4:1-20), “the lamp” (4:21-25), “the seed sown” (4:26-29), “the mustard seed” (4:30-32), “the leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod (8:14-21), “the sign” the Pharisees seek (8:11-12), “the cup and baptism” of Jesus (10:35-45), “the vineyard” (12:1-2), “wine skins and cloth” (2:18-22), and “the strong man” (3:20-30).
On several occasions Jesus made use of object lessons in his teaching and preaching. He used a child to teach the disciples about true greatness (9:33-37; 10:13-16). A fig tree was destroyed as a result of barrenness and is a lesson in faith (11:12-14, 20-26). Standing over against the temple, Jesus used that magnificent structure to give an extended discourse on “last things” (13:3-37). A coin (12:13-17) was used to teach the dual lesson of proper obedience to God and to Caesar. And finally, Jesus used bread and wine to symbolize the glorious event of his death for us.
Perhaps for variety the “conflicts” of Christ can be used as a series to teach great spiritual truths to the waiting people. Notice the following clashes: with Satan (1:12-13), with the scribes over healing and forgiving (2:1-12), with the scribes and Pharisees over eating with publicans and sinners (2:15-17), with Pharisees and John’s disciples over not being serious enough (2:18-22), with the Pharisees over plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath (2:23-28), with the Pharisees over healing the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (3:1-6), with the scribes concerning Beelzebub (3:22-30), with the scribes and Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands (7:1-23), with the Pharisees seeking a sign (8:11-13), with the Pharisees over marriage (10:2-12), with the chief priests and scribes concerning his authority (11:27-33), with the Pharisees and Herodians concerning Caesar (12:13-17), with the Sadducees concerning marriage and resurrection (12:18-27), and with the scribes concerning the first and greatest commandment (12:28-34).
Other interesting aspects of Mark that the diligent preacher can investigate and use with profit are the significant places mentioned in the Gospel, the questions asked about Jesus, the questions asked of Jesus, the questions Jesus asked, the failures recorded in Mark, the misunderstandings and misconceptions along with the corrections supplied by Christ, the progressive methods of teaching used by Jesus, and the great affirmations of Mark.
Suggestions for a Sermon Course from Mark’s Gospel
A sermon series is the consecutive treatment of individual aspects of a larger theme, while a sermon course is the consecutive treatment of a section of scripture without regard to a unity of theme. Thus the preacher who preaches from Mark each Sunday in January by using selected great texts without regard to unity of theme is using a sermon course. Usually a sermon course is built around the basic needs of the congregation as they can be seen in a book of the Bible such as Mark.
There are six basic areas of need in every congregation, and by finding these the pastor finds his objectives or goals for preaching. Unless the pastor meets these spiritual needs of his people as he speaks in the pulpit he can hardly be said to be preaching in the true sense of the word. These six basic areas of need which constitute the objectives or goals for the preacher are ethical (that men because of their true relationship to the Lord will have a right relationship to other men), supportive, or pastoral (that men in need of comfort find grace and strength in the Lord), devotional (that men love, reverence, and worship God with the totality of their being), doctrinal (that men understand God’s truth), actional (that men be dedicated to and serve the Lord with total personalities, time, and resources), and evangelistic (that lost men trust Jesus as Saviour).
Among the numerous choice ethical themes and texts from Mark available for the pastor these are illustrations: “Christ’s Method of Dealing with Other Races” (7:24-30), “The Home Made By God” (10:2-12; 12:18-27), “Greed for Greatness” (10:35-45) and “In Addition to Caesar” (12:13-17). “The Genesis of Life’s Actions” based on Mark 7:1-23 shows the contrasts between the selfish, legalistic, narrow, prejudicial, and bigoted interpretation of a person’s attitudes and actions by the scribes and the Pharisees as over against the internal, whole, ethical, and spiritual interpretation of a person’s attitudes and actions by Christ. As God’s son, Christ was adequately able to make clear “The Genesis of Life’s Actions.” “Living in Totality” is another suggested ethical theme based on Mark 12:28-34. When man comes to the point of being right with God, his fellow man, and himself — Christ said man is to love all three — he will be in a position to cope with any moral problem he encounters. Such relationships would lead America to a conquest of the problem of alcohol, would divorce “delinquency” from “Juvenile,” would destroy divorce, and would lead out of the wilderness of racial ignorance, misunderstanding, and hatred.
If America is characterized by anything more than its tensions, it is its frustrations. Devastating emotional problems are opportunities for the alert pastor who is qualified to deal with them. The pastor can receive much guidance and help as he watches Christ deal with the fears of his followers (4:35-41; 6:45-52), provide food for the hungry (6:30-44; 8:1-9), raise the dead (5:21-24, 35-43), restore battered, bruised, and broken bodies to health and wholeness (see passages on the twelve healing miracles), demonstrate the conquest of temptation (1:12-13), and provide a natural and normal approach to issues which are often destructive to the human personality: money (7:1-23; 10:17-27; 12:13-17, 41-44), marriage (10:2-12; 12:18- 27), inner motives (7:1-23), and the use of the Sabbath (1:21- 28, 29-31, 32-34; 2:23-28; 3:1-6). In the sermon “From the Bottom of the Pit,” based on Mark 5:1-20, the pastor has an opportunity to show what Christ does for all men in dire distress. Mark 4:35-41 (“The Silencer of the Seas”) shows the Lord teaching his disciples that the storms of the soul are harder to deal with than the physical raging of a sea. Then, as always, Jesus was able to quiet a sea easier than the fears of his followers. His admonitation is ever in order: “Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith.”
One great responsibility of the pastor is to lead his people into a closer devotional relationship with the Lord. Notice these great devotional themes throughout Mark: “The Faith of Four” (2:1-12), “The Perplexing Problem of Unbelief” (6:1-6), “The Light of the Lord’s Glory” (9:2-8), “The Proper Use of the Lord’s House” (11:15-18), “Worship through Giving” (12:41-44), and “The Supper of the Lord” (14:12-25). “How to Use the Lord’s Day” from Mark 2:23-3:6 presents three lines of thought. The proper use of the Lord’s day as shown here reveals that man can provide for his basic needs, minister to others, and serve God. Another devotional message can carry out the prophesy of our Lord concerning the woman who anointed him. By using Mark 14:3-9, with the subject “Love for the Living Lord,” the pastor can stress those attitudes and actions which should characterize the Christian’s relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark contains sixteen chapters, 108 paragraphs, and 678 verses so that such units make available an unlimited number of choice passages for doctrinal sermons. Perhaps the major ones would be the baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), the temptation experiences (1:12-13), the discourse on last things (13:1-37), the person of Jesus (8:27-30), the transfiguration experience (9:2-8), the sin without forgiveness (3:20-30), the eighteen miracles, the parables, the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection, and the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The discipleship and biographical sections of Mark furnish almost unlimited possibilities for actional messages. “The Walk of the Pharisee” from the text Mark 7:1-23 enables the preacher to examine some negative and positive traits of a follower of the Lord. In the New Testament “walk” is used in the same sense as “a way of life.” Thus, after examining the picture Jesus presents of the Pharisees, one can see a graphic message on “The Walk of the Pharisee.” In the beginning of the Pharisaical movement the followers of that movement were the best people God had. They had come apart — separated themselves — from the world in order to be holy and to be wellpleasing to Jehovah. By the time Christ came these people had “walked” so far from true religion that they received the severest rebukes possible from Christ. They crowned their evil deeds (their “walk” through life) by helping to crucify the Son of God. We can learn how not to walk by learning from the Pharisees and how to walk by listening to Christ. A second actional approach is open to the preacher if he uses Mark 9:14-29. This scripture presents in graphic terms the failing and faltering faith of the impotent disciples, the pleading faith of the distraught father, the fainting faith of the helpless child, and the victorious faith of our Lord. A possible subject is “The Door of Faith.” The disciples stood without at the threshold and the Lord stood within.
Illustrative of the rich evangelistic content of Mark are these themes: “The Gospel that Saves” (1:1), “The Friend of Sinners” (2:15-17), “The Purpose of the Ministry of Jesus” (2:17), and “Classify Your Heart” (4:1-20). “The Perspective of the Cross” (Mark 8:31-9:1; 15:21-47) and “The First Morning of the Ages” (Mark 16:1-8) afford two final evangelistic themes. In Mark 8:31-9:1 two striking views are presented of the Cross: the human as represented by Peter and the divine as represented by Jesus. Simon saw the cross as a cruel instrument of torture, as an instrument of execution for vicious criminals (as the electric chair or gas chamber), as a symbol of the Kingdom in weakness and defeat. Jesus saw the cross as a place of suffering, a step in cooperation with God, as a means of salvation for men, and something always to be understood and interpreted in the light of the resurrection. The subject “The First Morning of the Ages” based on Mark 16:1-8 suggests that that glorious morning was first in importance in all of time. Surely, that morning was and is more meaningful for man than the first day of creation, more thrilling than the day God made Adam, yea, even more vital than the day Jesus died. The resurrection is the key to man’s redemption.
Time, study, good books, meditation, hard work, prayer, Bible reading, biblical exegesis, attention to congregational needs, and the leadership of the Holy Spirit will cause your ideas and texts to become sermons which will honor the Word, bless the people, and glorify God.