3, No. 1
Expository Preaching: Part
2—How to Do It
George O. Wood, D.Th.P.
General Secretary, Assemblies of God
Now comes the critical question. How do you preach expository
me walk you through the process by taking Matthew 28:18-20,
one of the most familiar passages of the Bible. In fact,
this text is so familiar that many never preach from it at
topical preacher might use this text as a jumping off point
for a sermon on the need for evangelism or missions, and
simply take the one word Go.
textual preacher might just take one phrase, such as “Go
into all the world,” link it with Acts 1:8 and speak
of the three realms into which we are to go: home, the place
nearby and the uttermost parts of the world.
an expository preacher is required to include every single
word of the text in the sermon. Matthew 28:18-20 focuses
on matters more inclusive than that of going or where we
are to go.
the first question in preparing an expository message? What did the
text say? To answer this question we must do good exegesis.
Do not, however, begin your exegesis by flying to the commentaries.
An expository preacher should first study with nothing but
the Bible in hand.
by sizing up the text. What is it saying? How can the Holy
Spirit help you to understand it afresh? What parts seems
to jump out at you? What do you not understand? Where are
the nouns? Verbs? Adjectives? Adverbs? What is the passage’s
main thought? What are the sub-themes?
never hurts to write a paraphrase of the text. Imagine you
are going to preach this text to a mixed audience of 8-year-olds
and college professors. How would you phrase it so both groups
would clearly understand? Spend at least an hour on your
own with the text before you consult your Bible study resources.
If you know Greek or Hebrew, spend time in the original text
gaining the nuances from the biblical language.
is it important to “wrestle with the text” before
consulting outside helps? Because this passage must begin
to get into your own spirit. You can never successfully preach
expositorily if your messages sound like book reports. That
is what they will be if you fashion your sermon after studying
the commentaries. God’s Word must speak to you first
if it is to pass through you and speak to anyone else.
this time of initial direct encounter between you and the
text, ask yourself how to outline these verses. What title
pull out the helps such as Bible dictionaries, concordance,
interlinear translations, paraphrases and other versions,
word studies and commentaries. Don’t be sparse in your
repertoire of commentaries. Some make the mistake of relying
exclusively on one or two commentaries, and their sermons
simply become a rehash or restatement of what that learned
individual said. I try to use at least about eight commentaries
on any given passage. This ensures I am drawing from a wealth
of viewpoints although I will not agree with or be helped
by some. I need the multiplicity of input to understand the
text properly. I must resist the impulse to jump into the
application of the text without engaging in the thorough
process of examining it.
you careful mine the text of Matthew 28:18-20, you begin
to notice the major themes. In verse 18, Jesus makes a very
striking claim. In verses 19 and 20a, he gives an order.
In the last phrase of verse 20, he issues a promise.
expository sermon will build upon the text’s skeletal
structure. Always, the text itself must control your outline.
Expository preaching does not give you license to force your
ideas onto the text. The text must be allowed to speak for
you focus on the exegetical aspects of the text, begin to
notice some things that stand out. For example, take the
word all . In the King James text, the word all occurs
three times: all power, all nations, all things.
In the New International Version, all occurs only
twice: all power, all nations. But, in
the underlying Greek text, all [Greek root pas ]
actually occurs four times: all power, all nations, all things, all days.
note, “That’s an important repetition. That needs
to be included in the message. How shall I use that?”
exegesis also makes me focus on connectives. First, Jesus
claims authority. Then, he issues orders. Finally, he makes
a promise. Aren’t these connected? Doesn’t his
authority serve as the underpinning for the orders? Would
Jesus send us out on a mission that had no hope of success?
Isn’t our responsibility, therefore, linked to the
success of his mission? Unless he has authority, we have
no responsibility. Are we sent forth to do his work on our
own? No! With the commission comes also an assurance. He
will be with us.
you see what we are doing here? We are working on the “connectives.” Sometimes
a sermon simply contains a bare-bones outline: points
one, two and three. Yet, the preacher never connects the
points. How does point one relate to point two? Point three?
can usually tell if you are connecting your points if you
will insert therefore or because between
them. For example, in this text, Jesus has authority. Therefore,
we have responsibility. Because we have responsibility, we
need his presence if we are to accomplish what he has asked.
to follow the logical flow of the text itself. When God speaks,
He does not stutter. Words are not given in random order,
but in proper sequence. There is a purpose and method within
God’s revelation. Seek to see it, and proclaim it!
are still working on the exegesis, “What did the text
say?” I began to notice in my study that four verbs
dominate the middle of Matthew 28:18-20. In English, two
of the verbs–go and make disciples–are
imperatives or command. Two are participles: baptizing and teaching .
At first, that means nothing to my sermon development. I
simply take note of it. As I consult the Greek text, I discover
only one verb in the imperative: make disciples.
The other verbs are all participles, going or as
you go or having gone, baptizing and teaching.
have no ideas as to what to do with this discovery. I will
have to think on it awhile and do further work in the commentaries.
Often you will experience this phenomenon in preparation.
Something will strike your attention, but you initially will
be clueless as to how you can develop the observation.
the while I am studying, I am making notes. By now, I have
pages of notes. My exegetical study ends. I think I have
an accurate understanding of the meaning of the words. Now,
it’s time to build the sermon and begin to answer the
second question, “What does the text say?” How
do I take these verses and have them leap off the page into
the hearts of people to whom I minister?
is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is my work. Such effort
cannot be successful without prayer. Thus, underlying all
study is the act and attitude of praying: “Lord, teach
me first what this passage is saying to me, and then open
it to the hearts of my people.”
Pentecostals, we do far more than preach to inform. We preach
to persuade. We want persons to do something after we preach.
We are looking for a response. Dry cold sermons produce dry
cold people. We want our sermon to be a live coal from God’s
altar. It cannot light a fire in our people if it does not
first light a spark in our heart. My goal, therefore, in
building the sermon is to apply the text to the persons to
whom I preach, beginning with myself.
I see the sermon like a house with a front porch, main rooms
and a back porch. Let the front porch be a welcome center
for the sermon. Don’t keep your guest forever on that
front porch with a long rambling introduction. Keep it to
the point and welcome the guest to the main rooms of the
house or the major themes of the message. When the sermon
is done, I think of exiting my guest through the back porch.
That porch also is smaller than the main house just as the
sermon’s conclusion should not be greater than its
body. Endlessly extending the conclusion is like never releasing
people off the back porch to get back into the landscape
of the everyday. Come to the point and provide opportunity
for decision or response.
exegesis, the three things that require the most work in
sermon preparation are: (1) the title and introduction to
the message [front porch], (2) the proposition [main rooms]
and (3) the conclusion [back porch].
preachers differ on which of the above will concern them
first in the preparation process. Some prefer to begin like
a lawyer, crafting their summation or conclusion. Others
give first attention to the introduction, treating it as
the headwaters for the flow of the sermon–believing
that the rest of the message will follow the channel begun
in the opening words. Usually, I concentrate first on building
the proposition and outline.
course, the congregation never hears me say, “Now,
the proposition of my message is...” The proposition
is for my benefit and, if I build it well, the congregation
will retain what is preached. Simply put, the proposition
is a one-sentence summary of your entire message. It will
include your main points. If you cannot reduce your sermon
to a one-sentence, clearly articulated summary it is not
ready to preach.
to building my proposition, I am constructing the outline
of the message because the two go together. Within that process,
or at the conclusion of it, I seek to crystallize the message
with an appropriate title.
example, it’s hard to title Matthew 28:18-20 as anything
other than, “The Great Commission.” That’s
the name given it over the course of Christian history. Perhaps,
for effect, you might try a variation, “The Great Co-Mission.” You
might choose a more creative or contemporary title. However,
avoid titles that promise more then they can deliver, mislead
or misrepresent the content of the text.
Great Commission” as title, I asked myself, “What’s
so great about the Great Commission?” Great does
not appear within the text itself. Why has it been inserted?
The more I reflected on this question (and good sermon preparation
requires that you do considerable prayer, meditation and
reflection), I realized the text itself answered the question.
The great commission is great because it contains a great
claim, a great responsibility and a great assurance! There
is both my proposition and outline in one sentence. I can
employ it throughout the sermon!
the introduction, I can ask why we call these words of Jesus, “The
Great Commission?” The main body of the sermon answers
that question. First, it makes a great claim: “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Second,
it carries a great responsibility: “make
disciples.” Third, it conveys a great assurance: “And
surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”
the conclusion, I return to those themes. Have you accepted
the claim of Jesus? Have you acted on the responsibility
given? Are you filled with the assurance he has promised?
me, the title, proposition and conclusion serve somewhat
like the design on a coloring book. I can’t begin to
color unless I know what I am filling in.
and methodically, I begin to craft my notes for the message.
At the top of the page, I write the title, “The Great
Commission.” Then comes a paragraph called, “Introduction.” In
expository preaching, the goal for all introductions is to
get the text into the people and the people into the text.
A simple way to sum up an introduction to the Great Commission
is to note that these are Jesus’ last words, in the
Gospel of Matthew, to His disciples and they are His last
words for us. It was their commissioning message and ours.
If the last words of a dying loved one are important, how
much more so the last words of the Risen Christ!
there, the first main emphasis–the great claim–unfolds.
If you have done your exegetical homework in the greater
context of Matthew’s Gospel, you will be drawn to Matthew
4:8,9 where Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry turned
down the devil’s offer of “all the kingdoms of
the world and their splendor.” You will want to drive
home the application that Jesus could not have made the claim
at the end if he had bitten on the temptation in the beginning.
It is the same way in our lives. Power with God comes through
the pathway of obedience and resisting the enemy’s
will also want to emphasize the universal claim of Jesus.
His authority extends to heaven (something the devil could
not offer since he is not in heaven and has no authority
there) and earth. Jesus is telling us that in that day we
will not answer to Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius or any other
person. We will answer to Him.
could not have reached the above insight without connecting
the immediate text to the whole text. Expository preaching
requires you to develop a passage within its context: immediate
(chapter and book of the Bible) and general (the whole of
Scriptures). Only as I did concordance work on the word all in
the Gospel of Matthew did the observation come to me that
I should connect Matthew 4:8,9 with Matthew 28:18-20.
each point of your sermon, employ an apt illustration, if
possible. A sermon without illustrations is like a house
without windows. In declaring Jesus’ great claim, I
reflect that some in my audience may have problems with that
statement. “If he has all authority, as the preacher
says, then why do we see so much that is out of control?
Why does evil win so frequently? Why am I having difficulty?”
is important, therefore, to note that what Jesus is talking
about is final authority: the decisions that relate to heaven
or hell, forgiveness of sins, eternal life and ultimate realities.
The illustration I used to overcome this silent objection
is one from my personal experience. I had a friend who, as
a young man, had an opportunity to buy SONY stock when it
was only $0.10 a share. Had he known what would happen with
SONY, he would have sold everything he had to buy as much
stock as he could. Jesus’ words let us know outcomes.
How is my behavior today affected by what I know about the
future he holds securely? If I am persuaded that he is victor,
I will invest everything I am in his cause today!
focusing on the great claim, a moment of transition comes.
Every expository sermon needs to navigate carefully the transitions.
What connection does point one have to point two?
this case, the great responsibility (point two) flows out
of the great claim (point one). Jesus’ connective word
is therefore . Thus, our responsibility flows out
of the power claimed by Christ. He would never send us on
a mission that had little or no hope of success.
the transition comments flow into the development of the
core of our responsibility. Remember, we discovered in exegesis
that three of the verbs are participles and one is imperative.
That now controls the development of this second point.
main responsibility is “to make disciples.” Jesus
is not content that we just get people to say the “sinner’s
prayer.” He is not primarily interested in head counts
of decisions made. Often, our focus on evangelism is to get
people ready for heaven, but discipleship impels us also
to focus on getting heaven into people. A Christian is a
follower of Jesus, who lives as his disciple.
participles define the process of making disciples. First,
there is going. No one can become a disciple unless someone
has gone to him or her.
the English text, our exclusive focus sometimes is on the
word go. However, that is not the focus of Jesus.
There is no explicit command in the Greek to “go.” Jesus
says, “As you go” or “having gone.” In
other words, he assumes we will go. However, going is not
the end of it. Going is just the start. The purpose of “going” is
to eventuate in “making disciples.”
many people are “taking trips” and assuming they
are a fulfillment of the Great Commission. Jesus says the
evangelism or missionary trip must have the purpose of making
is the second element in making disciples. Baptism is important
enough that Jesus included it in the great commission. But,
Jesus’ focus is not upon the outward ritual, but the
inward surrender. Jesus desires public and visible identification
with him through water baptism.
illustration I found helpful here was the post-apostolic
description of baptism in The Didache (The Teaching),
written in the late first century or early second century.
These early believers required baptism to be in running cold
water. Why running? To symbolize the carrying away of sins?
Why cold? To illustrate that the Christian life was one of
rigor, a “real shock to the system.” Living the
gospel is not a matter of convenience, but commitment. Jesus’ focus
is not on self-fulfillment, but self-denial; not on cross
avoidance, but cross bearing.
conundrum of expository preaching is that it requires you
to develop every word or phrase of the text before you while
not getting bogged down by overdeveloping a particular point.
For example, some commentaries devote page after page to
the words “baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You will see
long treatises on infant baptism versus believer baptism
and the mode of baptism: immersion, pouring or sprinkling.
Others focus on how this text refutes “Jesus Only” teaching.
I were preaching a sermon on water baptism, I would want
to deal with all these issues. However, I am not preaching
a water baptism sermon. I am preaching from a text on the
Great Commission. Therefore, I must not get lost in the forest
of baptismal topics. You must make similar judgment calls
as you work with the text before you. Your exegesis may tempt
you to spend more time than you should on developing a sub-theme
within the text. Don’t get distracted by making minor
details into major themes.
simply note that if you are a disciple of Jesus, you will
be baptized. The baptism is more than into water; it is into
the very Person of God. Name is a singular noun.
We are baptized into the One God who has revealed himself
as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In being baptized into that
name, I not only get wet. I am placed into a relationship
the third component within the text for making disciples
is “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded
is a curriculum in the lifelong course of discipleship. It’s
everything Jesus has commanded by personal example, discourses,
parables, precious sayings, promises, warnings, lessons on
hypocrisy, prayer, humility, trust, forgiveness, obedience,
marriage, discipleship, cross bearing and so on. Our Lord
never foresees a time or circumstance when any part of his
teaching will become antiquated or untrue, inappropriate
easy it is, as ministers, to preach some things and not others;
to preach “our things” rather than “everything” he
has ordered. How frequently we are tempted to ride themes
about which Jesus said absolutely nothing!
illustration here, I find a quote from Hugh Thomson Kerr
most helpful: “We are sent not to preach sociology
but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not reform but
redemption; not culture but conversion; not progress but
pardon; not a new social order but a new birth; not revolution
but regeneration; not a new organization but a new creation;
not democracy but the Gospel; not civilization but Christ
. . .”1
application, here is an excellent opportunity to underscore
the importance of personal Bible study, prayer, stewardship
of time and talents, obedience to Jesus and a host of other
issues that relate to learning to be a disciple.
this point in the sermon, I am still working my proposition.
For transition, I review where I am. The Great Commission
is great because: (1) it contains a great claim, (2) it gives
a great responsibility and, finally, (3) it conveys a great
more, exegesis helps builds the emphasis. In the Greek, the
literal translation is “I myself am with
you.” Jesus, in employing the reflexive pronoun, underscores
the surety of his presence.
sub-point “a” is easily stated. The great assurance
is (a) personal. “I myself am with you.” But,
it is also (b) an abiding assurance: “always.”
you have done the exegesis carefully on this text, you are
now ready to point out an exciting truth. In the Greek text,
the word all occurs four times in Matthew 28:18-20.
- “All authority.” There is no power over which
Christ does not have control.
- “All nations.” No person of any color,
ethnicity or background is left out.
- “All things.” There is no precept
Jesus failed to teach us that is vital for our relationship
- “All times” [literally, “all the days”].
There is no period in our life as a disciple of Jesus when
he is not personally with us! “All the days” includes
days of strength and weakness, of success and failure,
joy and sorrow, youth and age, life and death.
the great assurance is not only (a) personal and (b) abiding,
it is (c) a victorious assurance: “to the very end
of the age.”
illustration on the great assurance, I found the story of
David Livingstone pertinent. He once said, “For would
you like me to tell you what supported me through all the
years of exile among people whose language I could not understand,
and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often
hostile? It was this, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even
unto the end of the world.’ On those words I staked
everything, and they never failed!” Livingstone said
of this phrase, “It is the word of a gentleman of the
most strict and sacred honour . . .”2
does not permit me here to re-tell the drama and pathos of
Livingstone’s story. You can find it in Frank William
Boreham’s sermon, “David Livingstone’s
Text,” as referenced above.]
this does raise a vital point for expository preaching. As
you near the conclusion of your message, you realize it must
not only touch the minds of your audience, but also their
hearts. Jesus understood this, and that is why he so often
told stories. You will never be effective as an expository
preacher, nor any other kind of preacher, unless you incorporate
material that moves your own heart and the hearts of persons
to whom you preach.
sermon quickly draws to a conclusion. Relying upon the Holy
Spirit, you seek to bring people to a response. Have they
accepted the claim of Jesus? Have they accepted the responsibility
he himself gave? Do they live in the assurance he has made?
is now time for the altar, a moment when people can respond
to what they have heard and make a personal commitment in
response to the preached Word.
purpose in walking you through the exercise of preaching
from Matthew 28:18-20 is simply to giving you a working model
for how to preach expositorily. The principles and insights
given will apply to any text in Scripture.
these easy steps:
- Take time to thoroughly read, meditate and pray over
the Scripture passage from which you will be preaching.
Do this with just the Bible and without the aid of any
outside studies. Take notes of the thoughts and questions
that come to you.
- Consult the commentaries. Use a wide selection of study
aids. Take copious notes.
- Develop your title, proposition and outline. Can you express
the entire message within a single declarative sentence?
Is your title true to the text and does it elicit interest?
- Think through your introduction (getting the people into
the text and the text into the people). Does it grab attention?
- Think through your conclusion. What appeal are
you making? What response are you seeking? What do you
want people to do with the message you have preached?
- Give your sermon windows. Do your illustrations fit,
or are they forced or far-fetched. Tell a story to make
a point, not just to tell the story.
- Pay attention to your connectives. Will the people be
able to follow your train of thought? Are you points connected
to each other? Do they flow out of your proposition? Have
you kept your main points succinct and memorable?
- Soak your message in prayer. Do you feel it is “fire
within your bones?” Do you have a sense that you fill
a prophetic role as you preach? Is what you proclaim indeed
God’s Word to your people for that occasion?
you begin to preach expositorily, don’t be surprised
if you struggle at first. I would not want to preach some
of my earliest expository sermons today. Like all disciplines,
expository preaching comes more readily as you practice it.
However, the dividends are worth it! Nothing will affect
your personal spiritual growth more dramatically than constant
absorption in expository preaching. You will take in far
more than you ever give out. Moreover, the people you preach
to will readily grow into spiritual maturity for you will
be putting God’s Word–not your ideas–into
in George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago:
Moody Press, 1972), 209.
W. Blackwood, comp., The Protestant Pulpit: An
Anthology of Master Sermons from the Reformation to Our Own
Day (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, Reprint
Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM