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What Makes a Great Sermon?

  • October 2015 Issue
Today with Paul Nyquist

The first real sermon I preached was on my first Sunday as the senior pastor of a church in Omaha, Nebraska. Quite frankly, it was very, very forgettable.

I was preaching on 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, and between my inexperience and my high level of nervousness, when I finished I was sure I was going to have the shortest pastoral tenure in history! Fortunately, the congregation was patient with me, and I enjoyed thirteen more wonderful years at that church.

Having been trained at Dallas Theological Seminary, I had the privilege to sit under some giants in the homiletics world. The ones I remember the most are Dr. Haddon Robinson and Dr. Donald Sunukjian. They are five-star chefs when it comes to creating and serving tasty theological morsels to hungry, needy audiences.

Some preachers are fiery and others are quiet. Some are great storytellers and others favor a more direct exposition of Scripture. But no matter what the style or ability of the preacher, God can work through sermons to transform people’s lives.

I consider a great sermon one that is true to God’s Word, relevant to contemporary needs and delivered in such a way that it inspires believers to make life changes in response. A great sermon also begins with prayer. Most pastors will agree that God must speak to them before He can speak through them. As John Stott said,“I have always found it helpful to do as much of my sermon preparation as possible on my knees, with the Bible open before me, in prayerful study.”

The Bible is filled with examples of great, life-changing sermons. From the moment when the heavens themselves declared “the glory of God” (Psalm 19) to Jesus’ hillside delivery of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7), we are able to witness God’s eternal truth being communicated in ways that our limited human minds are able to comprehend.

In the great sermons recorded in God’s Word, we see His truth being communicated to believers and to the lost. We hear the prophets warning the people to follow God, and we encounter the Apostles encouraging and admonishing the early church.

These sermons are still applicable to us today because God’s Word is never outdated. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.”

When we encounter these great biblical sermons, may we do so prayerfully—on our knees—asking God to use His Word to speak directly into our lives. These are the greatest teachings ever given to humanity, with the power to bring about authentic transformation in our lives in response to God’s leading.

BY Dr. Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute

Dr. Paul Nyquist is the ninth president of Moody Bible Institute and featured speaker on Moody Radio’s program “Moody Presents.” With his theological training, pastoral heart and global focus, Nyquist is leading Moody to go across the globe, cultures and generations to equip people with the truth of God’s Word, using new technology, in an agile and innovative community. He and his wife, Cheryl, have been married for 30 years, have four grown children, and are proud grandparents of three grandchildren.

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