My highlight? This Sunday?
My pointless sermon.
If you ask around CCB you’ll get a range of views on my preaching. That’s to be expected. And I’m OK with it. And ‘he preaches pointless sermons’ may reflect the views of the majority. I don’t think they’d say that. But I’m willing to accept that I’m hopelessly deceived. But, even if they’re right, I can at least argue in my defence that this week it was deliberate. I preached a pointless sermon. It’s true. I meant to. Pointless in the sense that I had no points (though there was a point to the sermon). Nothing appeared on the power point. I don’t normally do that. My modus operandi veers towards the predictable. This wasn’t. And I was genuinely excited about how that might help people to listen to God’s word.
We were in Acts 12. It’s the account of Herod’s execution of the Apostle James and his detention of the Apostle Peter. It’s the account where the angel of the Lord drops into prison like some sort of divine Navy SEAL and extracts Peter from under the noses of his captors. It’s the story where Herod travels to Caesarea, refuses to repudiate the idolatrous worship of the crowd and gets eaten by worms. And it’s the story that concludes with Luke’s observation that ‘the word of God continued to spread and flourish’.
There’s a wonderful shape to the narrative. It has the characteristic fourfold shape of any ripping yarn; introduction, tension, resolution and conclusion. The introduction depicts an incarcerated Peter awaiting his imminent death. Luke then introduces tension into the narrative as he shifts our attention from the prison to the prayer meeting. From this point on we’re asking the question ‘who wins?’ Will evil King Herod get his way and political power prove to be the ultimate authority. Or will the Lord save his Apostle, the servant of the gospel word He wants to see taken to the ends of the earth? The resolution of that conflict unravels throughout the rest of the narrative. Somewhat unexpectedly, Peter is saved by an angel. And the initiative is very clearly the Lord’s. He’s the only one who seems to be aware of what’s going on. Peter is led like a teenager woken before midday until he finally comes to his sense and can make sense of what’s just happened. And the church refuses to believe Rhoda’s testimony that Peter was standing on the doorstep wanting to be let in. It concludes with Herod’s death. But the gospel lives on.
I was persuaded that Luke’s central thrust was that it’s impossible to stop the progress of the gospel. If the Lord has in mind places to which the gospel should go then not even political power can obstruct the word of God. I tried to express that in somewhat more engaging language. I suggested that the whole essence of the passage could be summarised in this one proposition; ‘trying to restrict and restrain the gospel is like trying to nail jelly to the wall’.
The one thing that struck me in my preparation was something that should have been obvious to me all along in the book of Acts. Luke constantly presents us with propositional truth. And in preparation and preaching I usually try to identify that proposition, explain it and apply it to our congregations. But Luke doesn’t do that so much. He illustrates it. That’s why he gives us narrative. stories we see the truth. In epistles we get the truth explained. But in narrative it’s experienced. And in Acts 12 we experience a story in which the gospel cannot be contained despite the ‘best’ efforts of a very powerful man.
I have no idea whether it was a great sermon. I’m not sure I even know what that means. And I’m not sure anyone else does either. But I really appreciated the chance to be more creative than I often am in my attempt to impress the truth of God upon the heart of the hearers. Time will tell whether the Lord was able to use it for the edification of our church.