In your preaching, how many times have you tried to communicate an amazing exegetical insight, only to watch the eyes of your audience steadily glaze over? You thought you had them, but you lost them.
We have all been there, more often than we’ll admit.
The solution is not more illustrations and less exegesis, at least not if we believe there are treasures buried in the depths of Scripture. However, when I do the five things below, I usually have a generally more interested audience.
1. Pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate your listeners’ minds
This one is first for a reason. If the Spirit is not working in our hearers, the most articulate explanations of the text will fall on spiritually deaf ears (1 Corinthians 2:13). Pray for the Spirit to awaken the minds of your audience.
2. Set up your exegetical observation by pointing out a difficulty in the text
I have found that pointing out an interpretive problem is a great way to garner attention. Ask few rhetorical questions that put the biblical author on the hot seat. Are there two things juxtaposed that don’t obviously go together? Is there something that seems contradictory?
I think of Moses telling the Israelites, “do not fear…that the fear of him may be before you,” in Exodus 20:20.
So do we fear or not?
And now you’ve got them.
3. Limit your discussion to what’s on the surface of the text
If they can’t see in their Bible what you are trying to explain, they are likely to check out. There are times when you have to break this rule, but generally speaking, stick to what’s on the page.
I bet most of the time you can get the point of your passage across without digressing about second temple Judaism, The Epic of Gilgamesh, or the details of patron-client relationships.
A great example of this is Carson’s Gospel Coalition message on Melchizadek.
4. Show how this exegetical nugget is relevant to the point you’re making
Use your interpretive explanations to prove the point that you are arguing for. If they don’t see the relevance of what you are saying, they’ll check out.
The corollary to this point is not to dive into irrelevant exegetical discussions. I find that most of the cool stuff I read in my sermon preparation won’t fit into my sermon. That’s okay because it feeds me and makes me a better scholar. I’ll also be prepared to answer more detailed questions about the passage if someone asks me afterward.
5. Relate the exegesis of the “back then” to today with either comparisons or contrasts
We learn new things based on the categories that already exist in our mind. Leverage these categories to help your exegesis land. If there is something comparable in the text to today, bring that out so that your people can connect better to the ancient text. But if there is not much similar, then show how what you are explaining is different than today.
We rely on the Spirit to speak to our people. God speaks through his word and through us (isn’t that amazing?). But we sure can muddy up the message if we are not clear. These five habits help me get the exegesis across clearly. I hope that they will help you, too.