My Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew

Beginning June 30, 2013, I entered the world of Matthew’s Gospel at Kosmosdale Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. I completed the exposition of the book on April 10, 2016, in a total of 123 sermons. The number of weeks between those dates doesn’t match the 123 sermons because I took brief breaks between chunks of the book.

In June 2013, I started with Matthew 3 for a couple of reasons:

  1. I had just completed an exposition of Malachi and so moved immediately from the promise of the future Elijah (Mal. 4:4-6) to his arrival in John the Baptist (Matt. 3).
  2. I wanted to save Matthew 1-2 for later that year as an Advent series.

Throughout my many months in the First Gospel, several passages stand out in my memory as especially edifying to my soul as I studied for them and preach them:

  1. Jesus’ words about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:16-18)
  2. Jesus’ cleansing of a leper (Matt. 8:1-4)
  3. Jesus’ pronouncement of woes on unrepentant regions (Matt. 11:20-24)
  4. Jesus’ rejection at his hometown synagogue (Matt. 13:53-58)
  5. Jesus’ walk upon the water (Matt. 14:22-33)
  6. Jesus’ second explicit teaching about his death and resurrection (Matt. 17:22-23)
  7. Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35)
  8. Jesus’ healing of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34)
  9. Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:31-46)
  10. Jesus’ betrayal and arrest (Matt. 26:47-56)
  11. Jesus’ Jewish trial (Matt. 26:57-68)
  12. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-61)
  13. Jesus’ great commission to his disciples (Matt. 28:16-20)

Having preached lengthy series before during my time in pastoral ministry–such as John, Acts, and Romans–the series in Matthew was my longest exposition thus far. Throughout 123 sermons, I was continually reminded of the benefits of book exposition. Here are three:

  1. The congregation becoming intimately acquainted with a book of the Bible, especially one the size of Matthew
  2. The congregation beholding the intertextual connections and unfolding arrangement of a book of the Bible
  3. The congregation hearing passages that may otherwise not be preached, such as the opening genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17), divorce and remarriage (5:31-32; 19:1-12), fasting (6:16-18), the temple tax (17:24-27), the cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), and the suicide of Judas (27:3-10)

I loved preaching through Matthew’s Gospel for many reasons. Here are ten, in no particular order:

  1. It’s the doorway into the New Testament canon
  2. It’s the First of the Four Gospels
  3. Its various and frequent uses of the Old Testament through quotation, allusion, and echo
  4. Its wonderful mixture of narrative sequences and lengthy teaching discourses
  5. Its many parables
  6. Its lengthy narration of Passion Week (Matt. 21-28)
  7. Its lengthy Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25)
  8. Its overlap with Mark’s Gospel is so strong that preaching through Matthew is like preaching through Mark as well (approximately 90% of Mark is in Matthew)
  9. Its unique stories among the Gospels, such as the visit of the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12)
  10. Its literary artistry–and time would fail me in this post to reflect on the many examples of this Gospel’s beauty, cohesion, and inner-connections

I profited so much from New Testament scholars, especially the commentaries by:

  1. R. T. France
  2. Grant Osborne
  3. Leon Morris
  4. John Nolland
  5. [Jonathan Pennington–his name would certainly go here, but his commentary isn’t available yet! :) ]

By God’s grace, I never felt weary preaching so many sermons from Matthew’s Gospel. And again by God’s grace, the congregation was continually receptive and encouraging, month after month. We anticipated the completion of the Gospel together.

This past Sunday, as soon as I preached the last sermon in Matthew 28, one of our deacons came up and asked me what I was preaching the following Sunday. “Will you be going to Mark 1?” he asked (with perhaps a hint of concern in his voice, though I wasn’t sure). Now canonically, of course, Mark 1 follows Matthew 28, but I answered “No” with a smile.

Praise God for the Gospel of Matthew! Our Savior is Jesus, who is Immanuel, Son of David, Son of Abraham, the Seed of the Woman, the one greater than the temple, the one greater than Solomon, the longed-for prophet like Moses, the Suffering Servant, the Christ, the righteous sufferer, the final sacrifice, the ultimate temple, the perfect high priest, the last Adam, and the firstfruits of resurrection.

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“Prayer and the Pastor’s Heart”

Today on Dan Dumas’ blog, I had the privilege of contributing a post on “Prayer for the Pastor’s Heart.”

The beginning:

Listening to sermons each Lord’s Day, while important and necessary, comes with a danger that must be faced and overcome by God’s grace. We already know that pews fill up with some people who may not respond to the sermon in a way that honors God, people who may be hearers only, and not doers, of the preached word (see James 1:22-24). But the pastor must keep in mind his own temptation during the sermon time. Because he is a herald of God’s word, he is also a hearer of it, yet he may leave the service a hearer only. Pastors face the weekly danger of not sitting under their own sermons.

16 Books on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry

This last weekend marked 16 years since I’ve been preaching, and I’ve been encouraged by many helpful resources along the way. Here’s a list of 16 books on preaching and pastoral ministry. I commend them to you, in no particular order:

(1) Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

(2) The Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

(3) Lectures to My Students, by Charles Spurgeon

(4) Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

(5) Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, by Eugene Peterson

(6) Spirit-Led Preaching, by Greg Heisler

(7) Why Johnny Can’t Preach, by T. David Gordon

(8) Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chappell

(9) Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, by Thabiti Anyabwile

(10) The Pastor’s Ministry, by Brian Croft

(11) Why We Love the Church, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

(12) The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, by Jonathan Leeman

(13) The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper

(14) Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, by John Piper

(15) Dangerous Calling, by Paul Tripp

(16) The Shepherd Leader, by Timothy Witmer

The Unusual and the Unexpected: 15 Short Stories from 15 Years of Preaching

On April 18, 1999 I preached my first sermon, and this means last month marked 15 years of preaching God’s word. It is a great joy to prepare and preach a sermon, and over the years there have been many strange and memorable and unexpected events related to these opportunities. Here, in no chronological order, are 15 vignettes.

1. During one of the summer weeks of my college years, I was vacationing at a beach house with my future in-laws. On the Sunday morning of that week, at an hour so early that everyone was still asleep, I received a phone call from a church where I’d preached a few times. Their scheduled preacher had to cancel, and they needed a replacement. They didn’t know I was at a beach house, but I knew that I was within driving distance of the church service start-time. “I’ll be there,” I told them. I grabbed my Bible, pen, and paper, and went on my way, alone. For the first and last time, I put a piece of paper against the steering wheel as I drove and wrote out a sermon outline while my Bible lay open on the console.

2. I once filled in at a church whose interim pastor was away for the week. He kindly allowed me to fill his pulpit but neglected to tell me how long he usually preached. A staff member told me, “You’ll have about 15 minutes for the sermon.” I don’t remember how long my sermon was, but it definitely ended before half an hour was up. Still, I’ve never been asked back.

3. From what I can recall, I’ve only used a movie clip once. It was many years ago, during a Disciple Now. I chose a clip from Superman Returns (the Brandon Routh one) to illustrate some point about death and resurrection. In hindsight, the clip didn’t add to the message and I deemed it ultimately unnecessary. Should’ve went with Christopher Reeve.

4. Disclaimer: my wife Stacie is a huge supporter and encourager of my preaching. With that said, once after preaching at a youth lock-in, she told me to never preach my message that way again. “That was boring, you went on too long, and you tried to pack too many things into the message.” She was right. I put that sermon in the Whoops drawer.

5. While nearly running late for a church service where I was scheduled to preach, I compensated by speeding. As you might expect, I soon saw red and blue lights flashing behind me. “Where are you heading so fast?” the cop asked. Of course I told him. “To preach at a church.” My response was not greeted with sympathy–instead I received a ticket. I still made it to the service on time, accompanied by a fresh illustration.

6. I can only recall one sermon where I thought I might actually pass out because I felt bad. I persevered because it was a Christmas Eve service, though the sermon was definitely shorter than it would have been! Never had I felt so awful while preaching. I remember thinking, Lord, please keep me from throwing up. There are visitors. I guess I thought the members could handle it.

7. One evening during a mission to Cameroon, there was a spontaneous and eager gathering of people in the large house where we were staying. One of the mission leaders told me, “We’ve decided to have a worship service for them in 10 minutes. I want you to preach, so get a sermon ready.” I’d recently been studying Acts 3, so that’s the text I chose.

8. I once had to stop in the middle of my sermon to correct one of my children. My wife was out of the sanctuary at the moment, and my 5-year-old was acting up in the pew. I tried giving him some stern stares while I was preaching, but the people who didn’t see him probably just thought I was angry about what I was teaching. He was distracting me, and I could tell from people nearby that he was distracting some of them too. So I stopped and said, “Jensen.” He sat upright in shock. “I want you to settle down and sit still, now.” He came to his senses, and I continued with the message.

9. When I was on the phone with a church leader who was scheduling me to preach for their congregation, he said, “You’ll be preaching in front of cameras because the sermons are broadcast to local TV stations.” Boy was that nerve-racking! I had to be overly concerned about timing and length. Needless to say, the people watching from home probably saw me check the clock a lot.

10. While I pastored a church in Texas, I preached a message that I knew would probably go a little longer than usual. But I didn’t know how long until 12:30 pm arrived and I was only halfway through my notes. I decided I’d gone long enough, so the next Sunday I picked up where I left off. The nursery workers were glad I divided the message into two weeks.

11. When I was in college, my maternal grandfather attended a Sunday evening service where I was preaching. That was the only time he heard one of my sermons, and it was also the only time I’d ever seen him in a church.

12. One time the power to the sanctuary went out during my sermon. Since we could still see everyone, even if only dimly, I said, “Everyone stay seated. I’ll keep going.” They did, and I did.

13. I once prepared a sermon from Colossians about worshiping God through singing. The week before the message, I decided that we should flip the service order. We opened the service with the sermon and then had a time of singing after I finished. Instead of the congregation hearing “Let’s open our hymnals,” they heard “Let’s open to today’s sermon text.” After the sermon, though, the cluster of songs turned out to be a wonderful way to respond to a message about singing!

14. During my college years, I once got a call from a church in Texas that wanted a praise band and a preacher for an upcoming event. I agreed to preach. After the event was over, the person who invited me held out an envelope and said, “Split this with the band.” When I was alone I opened the envelope and pulled out the single check. I spent the next minutes trying to figure out how to split $100 among six people.

15. After a few years of preaching, I got connected with a church who needed pulpit supply for one Sunday. Turns out they needed much more than that. During the service, I led the singing from the piano, took up the offering, and preached the sermon.

I would love to hear your stories about what unusual or unexpected things may have happened before, during, or after you preached. Do share!

A Brief Interview About Expository Preaching

I recently had the privilege of answering a series of questions about expository preaching, an interview which is featured on Dan Dumas’ excellent blog.

The questions were:

  1. Why is expository preaching so important?
  2. What does your sermon preparation routine look like?
  3. What is the most common difficulty you experience as a preacher?
  4. How do you stay fresh in your preaching?

What a joy to preach God’s Word!

My 2013 List of 10 Favorite Books

End-of-year lists are as expected as holiday leftovers, so I’m entering the fray with one too. Below are books in my Top 10 this year, though they weren’t necessarily published in 2013, nor are they in a particular order. If you click on the book’s title, you’ll be taken to its Amazon page.

(1) Jesus On Every Page by David Murray. We should read the Old Testament in light of the Person and Work of Jesus, and Murray is a helpful guide in this task. He unpacks ten ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament. I loved this book and reviewed it here.

(2) What Is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton. This is an introduction to a crucial subject, and Hamilton compellingly and clearly provides the answer to the title. Bible-readers should aim to understand (and, yes, imitate) the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. I reviewed his book here.

(3) Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer. If I taught a class on preaching, this would be required reading. It is packed full of biblical insight, and in half of the book Meyer traces the stewardship of the word through the Old and New Testaments in a riveting way. Pastors, in particular, should get it for their 2014 reading.

(4) Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler. When I read this book back in January, I knew immediately it would be on my end-of-year list. Concise, powerful, and memorable, Mohler’s book on leadership is my number one recommendation on the subject. I reviewed it here.

(5) Father Hunger by Doug Wilson. As a dad, I find books on fatherhood to be a helpful and necessary addition to an annual reading regimen. Because of what I’ve read before from Wilson, I had high expectations for this book and was not disappointed. His substance and style is tremendous, refreshing, and a word for our times. Fathers, take up and read.

(6) Kingdom Come by Samuel Storms. For many years now I’ve loved reading books on eschatology, and I looked forward to the release of this one. As with any book on end-times issues, I don’t agree with every conclusion therein, but I enjoyed the journey through the subjects he evokes.

(7) The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson. In this important book for pastors, Jared Wilson (a pastor himself) talks about ministry in light of the Gospel. In a meaningful and carefully crafted exposition of 1 Peter 5 and the Five Solas of the Reformation, Wilson shows that the Good News is for ministers.

(8) Death By Living by N. D. Wilson. Like others who enjoyed Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, I wondered if I’d enjoy Wilson’s newest non-fiction book even more. And I did. His writing is a delight to read. It’s the kind of prose you swim in and climb out revived.

(9) When Shall These Things Be? edited by Keith Mathison. This book is a critique of an eschatological view called Hyper-Preterism. The line-up of authors consists of Doug Wilson, Ken Gentry, Keith Mathison, Charles Hill, Richard Pratt, Simon Kistemaker, and Robert Strimple. Again, I don’t affirm every sentence they write, but the book is a thoughtful and fascinating read (and, I hasten to add, a devastating and successful critique) of a very problematic eschatological perspective.

(10) Finally Free by Heath Lambert. Jesus promised that the pure in heart shall see God, and Lambert is honest with his readers that purity is warfare. Many snares await disciples, hoping to seize them and enslave them with images and habits that deaden their love for God and neighbor. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful, and it’s the only power that can set the captive free. Lambert’s book is full of Gospel-saturated wisdom and strength.

Observations about this list: There are (1) two books on reading the Bible, (2) three books by guys with the last name Wilson, (3) two books on end-times stuff, (4) three authors associated with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, (5) two books especially helpful to pastors, and (6) two books whose titles ask a question.

Have you read any of these books? Would they make your end-of-year list?