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john tucker – sub-christian sermons

Do you ever go to your sermon file looking for an old message to rework and preach again? My experience is that it can be a little depressing. Invariably, I come across some old manuscript and think to myself, ‘Did I really write this? Did I really preach that?!’

Some years ago I preached on the David and Goliath story from 1 Samuel 17. I presented David as a fine example of courage in the face of fear. The story became a lesson on how we can defeat the giants in our life. There were three main points, three secrets to courage: (a) Look at your giants from God’s perspective (vv. 24-26); (b) Trust God with the smaller everyday challenges (vv. 34-37); and (c) Choose to seek God’s honour above all else (vv. 45-47).

A bit painful really. In retrospect, I don’t think I mentioned Jesus once. Not once. Was this a Christian sermon? Was there anything distinctively Christian about it? As I reflect back on ten years of preaching, I realise that many of my sermons have probably focused more on what we must do, than on what Christ has done. They’ve exhorted people to try harder, rather than to trust Christ.

The problem, I think, has been that in my preparation I have looked up (to God in prayerful dependence on the Spirit), I’ve looked down (at the text, with a sincere desire to be faithful to the passage). But I haven’t often looked back (to preceding chapters in the biblical story) and forwards (to subsequent chapters). Yes, I’ve tried to locate my text in its literary and historical context. But I haven’t been as intent on locating each passage in its broader theological context – understanding where it fits in the larger flow of the biblical storyline.

One way to do this, of course, is to identify the big unifying themes of the Bible’s story-line, and ask how any given passage intersects with those themes. One such theme, for example, is the search for a true king who will rescue God’s people from their enemies. It colours much of Israel’s history. The constant failures of the nation and its leaders point to their need for a different kind of king, a king that God promises to one day provide (2 Samuel 7). David, as Israel’s model king, is meant to point us towards the fulfilment of that promise, towards this future King.

So, if I were to ever again preach this story of David and Goliath – and I’d like to! – I’d insert it into that larger story. As a representative of his people, David fights Goliath on Israel’s behalf. If he loses, they lose. But he wins. And his victory is imputed to them, even though they didn’t go out and fight. Clearly, this foreshadows Christ’s victory over sin and death on the cross, where David’s greater Son took down the only giants that can destroy us. If we will believe that, if we live as if those giants really have been defeated for us, then our lesser giants – like fear or suffering – are much less likely to hold sway over us. A very different approach.

As you reflect on your old sermons, what has made you think, ‘Did I really preach that?’ What would you do differently if you could start over? And what have you found helpful in regards to preaching canonically? How do you get to Christ when preaching from the Old Testament? I’d love to know!

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John Tucker serves as the Director of Ministry Training at Carey Baptist College, where he is also involved in the teaching of preaching. He has recently completed a PhD on Baptist engagement in social issues in New Zealand.


  1. Robyn Mellar-Smith says:

    Thanks John for your thoughtful post.
    I am just about to start a series in Isaiah so this has given me food for thought.

    I remember doing exegesis with Jonny Weir during my training. Instead of making observations, I kept making applications and he kept calling me back to observing the text. Pastors can go so quickly to application when actually I believe the average congregation can easily draw their own application from a sermon that is well grounded biblically & theologically.

  2. […] john tucker – sub-christian sermons « kiwi-made preaching […]

    1. John Tucker says:

      Hi Robyn,

      I agree. It’s such a danger to get to application too soon. Not only do we run the risk of distorting the text’s message, but application-heavy sermons tend to be heavy and legalistic. I’ve preached my fair share of those, sadly.

      I’d be interested to hear how your series in Isaiah goes. Some great material to work with there!

      All the best

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