I think I’ve learned most of what I know (or think I know) about sermon introductions from Mark Dever. Dever has a mysterious and effective way of weaving the main points of his sermon into his introduction, sometimes just under the listener’s nose. For an example, visit Josh Harris’ blog in which he is posting the pdf’s of Dever’s (and other’s) sermon notes. Dever preaches longer than I do, so his introductions are much longer (maybe 10-15 minutes!) and more involved. However, despite the length of a sermon, I’m convinced that we ought to begin with more than…”The sermon text today is…”
I’m tossing around the idea of posting the introductions to my sermons here and inviting others to send me theirs as well. Below is my introduction for my sermon Sunday on Acts 2:37-41 entitled “How Can I Be Saved?”
Imagine if you could make it rain. Think of all the problems across the globe that could be solved. Drought, disease, crop increases…Well, as many of you know scientists have discovered a way to make it rain. “A chemical [called] silver iodide or dry ice is used in seeding clouds to make rain.” One expert has noted that “seeding appears to contribute to what he calls ‘gentle, wide-spread and longer-lasting rains.’” However, as you’ve probably guessed, there are some side effects. One expert has warned that “the chemicals used in the production of artificial rain could affect climatic patterns, ecosystem, water sources and the soil…” One scientist even saw a correlation in China with bird flu…that killed both human beings and birds. So, what seemed to be a way to improve on God’s design, even when done with the purest and best of motives, has turned out to backfire in a major way.
Imagine if you could do more than make it rain. Imagine that you could actually cause people to be born again. You could, with your oratory ability and convincing arguments and tone of voice, bring sinners to the point of submission to Christ, even if your motives are pure and right (to see people saved). Charles Finney was born in Connecticut in 1792—he is known by some as the greatest “revival” preacher ever. He was converted and then trained by a Presbyterian minister named George Gale. Finney spoke of Gale as holding to the “old school doctrine of original sin, or that the human constitution was morally depraved…eventually Finney said that he could not receive these doctrines…of atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, and the slavery of the will or any of the kindred doctrines.” Finney departed from his teacher (and these doctrines) to begin a career as a revival preacher. He was quoted as saying that he “wanted make regeneration so easy that men may not be discouraged from attempting to do it—this was delivered in his sermon entitled ‘Make Yourself a New Heart’.” Finney is the earliest proponent of the “invitation system,” or calling people to the front of the auditorium at the conclusion of a sermon, who are professing Christ. He is famous for the term “the anxious seat,” in which people were experiencing great conviction until they stood up and came forward. Finney said that Christians were to be blamed if there was no revival…you don’t have a revival only because you do not want one.” Clearly his belief about conversion dictated the way in which he lived and ministered. This understanding gained a great following and is flourishing today. But what are the effects? What are the results of doing evangelism like this for so long? How can we be saved?
We live in a time of confusion about this question. We mentioned last week the pushback from an exclusive faith in Jesus Christ alone. However we also live in a time when the majority of people in our midst claim to be Christians…and in many cases they have had Christian “experiences,” but cannot tell you what it means to be a Christians, or what it means to be saved…or what we are being saved from. We have a need to be able to think clearly about the gospel and salvation ourselves and then to humbly (yet boldly) seek to call others to biblical conversion. As we study the book of Acts, we will come upon multiple occasions of the gospel being preached and people responding to it…this is our first situation… A sermon has been preached about Jesus, to non-Christians and now it is time for a response to the questions…what shall we do to be saved? Our text this morning is Peter’s answer to that question…
Stay tuned for more sermon introductions…
Revival and Revivalism, by Ian Murray, pages 256ff.