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Expository Preaching Is the Biblical Pattern

Tom Pennington Selected Scriptures


This morning I want us to continue our look at those truths that have largely been forgotten. I'm enjoying our summer study, but I have to tell you honestly, I'm looking forward to getting back into Romans as well come the fall. But it's important that we look at these things because they have been forgotten in today's world.

In 2009, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay interviewed Andy Stanley. Andy Stanley is, of course, the son of Charles Stanley. He's also the pastor of a megachurch, a church known for it's hipster, seeker-sensitive style. And Stanley had just written a book on preaching. That interview is obviously now more than five years old, and so in that sense it's dated. But his controversial comments about preaching continue to make the rounds on social medial. Stetzer asked Stanley this question,

"What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?" Andy Stanley's response was shocking. This is what he said, "Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible—that's just cheating. It's cheating because that would be easy, first of all." [Now, I have to tell you, only someone who's never done it would ever say that. Then he added this audacious, theological assertion. He said of sequential exposition (that is, preaching verse-by-verse through the Scripture),] "It isn't how you grow people."

He was essentially saying that is a human method that isn't effective. Is he right? Is verse-by-verse exposition of books of Scripture a man-made method that we can either use or ignore at our own discretion? Is it a dated, spiritually useless approach? Sadly, tragically, much of the professing evangelical church has concluded exactly that.

You know this is true. But I just wanted to confirm it in my own mind, so this week I looked at the websites of the largest churches in our immediate area. So far this year, not one of them has done anything that closely resembles expository preaching. In fact, at the large charismatic church down the street, there were messages on listening to the voice of God outside of the Scripture. And right now, at the large seeker-sensitive church in our area, there is a series entitled "At the Movies." The pastor actually plays a movie clip and then reveals quote (and this is from the church's website) "God's transformational truth woven through today's biggest blockbuster movies." Now, I've seen a few movies (not a lot), but I haven't seen much transformational truth.

Now, let me say, that there are good churches. I don't want you to think that I or the elders have a sort of Elijah syndrome, that, you know, we only are left, and they seek our life to take it away. That's not where we are. There are good churches around the Metroplex, around the country, around the world. But I think we could agree; however, that there are too few of them, and they are becoming increasingly hard to find. Why is that? Because one of the truths that the church has largely forgotten is this, expository preaching is the biblical pattern of preaching.

Now, some of you are relatively new to our church. You've just been coming a year or two. And if you look back on your own spiritual journey, you've never really sat under expository preaching before. You're obviously willing to tolerate it, or you wouldn't still be here. And maybe you actually enjoy it. But you're not sure why. Or maybe you grew up in the church, in this church or a church like it, and frankly this is all you've ever known. So, you've never really thought deeply about it. This is just how it's done.

Or maybe you sought out this church, because you are committed to expository preaching. You drive (as some do to our church) 30 minutes or an hour, even an hour and a half, to be here for that very reason, because both in the pulpit and in the classes the Scripture is approached in this way. But let me ask you a question as you sit here this morning. Do you know why? Do you understand why this is biblically expected of us? Could you defend expository preaching and its significance to anyone who challenged you, like Andy Stanley did Ed Stetzer in that interview?

You know, if we're going to commit to this approach to teaching, and if we as individual Christians are going to search out and belong to churches that are known for this, then we have to understand the arguments for sequential, expository preaching. This is a truth that has been largely forgotten in today's church, and yet if you go back, this truth has been foundational in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. So, I want us to look at it together, I don't want to start with the arguments. I want to start, as we've done in several cases this summer, with the definition. Let's look at a definition of expository preaching just so we're clear what we're talking about.

I like the way Mark Dever defines it in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and on his website. He says this: "An expository sermon takes the main point of a passage of Scripture, makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to today." That's a very simple but straightforward definition. An expository sermon takes the main point of a passage of Scripture, makes it the main point of the sermon, and applies it to today. Now, I would define it similarly but slightly differently. I would say an expository sermon is one in which the preacher reads the text, explains the text in its context, and applies the text.

Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4: 2. He contrasts adulterating the Word of God—have you ever thought about that? You can adulterate the Word of God. That's what Paul says was happening even in Corinth. There were those who were adulterating the Word of God. But he contrasts that with making a manifestation of the truth. The word "manifestation," the Greek word means "a display, a disclosure." That's what expository preaching is. It is a display of the truth of a passage. It is a disclosure of the truth that is in a given text of Scripture.

Now, expository preaching is also almost always—and you'll hear me use these words interchangeably this morning—systematic, consecutive, or sequential. All I mean by that is it is verse-by-verse through the flow of a book of the Bible. That is expository preaching. It is reading the text, explaining the text, and applying the text, and then next week going on to the next verse or passage in that book. So, those are definitions that help us understand what we're talking about this morning.

Let's move on where I want to spend most of our time, and that is, secondly, with the arguments for expository preaching. The arguments for expository preaching. There are several categories—in fact, there are four basic categories of arguments for what we do as a church, what I do from the pulpit, what our teachers do in our Sunday school classes, and what the church has historically done. Let's look at these categories of supporting arguments for expository preaching.

First of all, there are practical arguments. Now, let me just say to you, these are not clearly biblical. I can't take you to a passage and show you these. But when people try to defend expository preaching, this is often one of the first places they go. And it's helpful as far as it goes, but they are just pragmatic arguments for benefits that come from verse-by-verse teaching. Let me just review them with you briefly. I'm not going to spend a lot of time here. But it's still true nonetheless.

First of all, expository preaching ensures a completely Bible-centered ministry. If I am reading a text, and explaining that text in its context, and applying that text, and then next week I'm doing the same thing from the next passage, it ensures that the ministry is not going to be just Tom's ideas. It's going to be the Scripture. It's going to be a Bible-centered ministry.

Number two, expository preaching allows those who listen to such a sermon to grasp the logical development of the Word of God as the Spirit inspired it. You see, as I am teaching you, you're getting to see the mind of the Spirit unfold in the very line of argument, in the very flow of thought that He inspired it.

Thirdly, expository preaching ultimately addresses all the major themes of Scripture. If you go verse-by-verse, section-by-section, paragraph-by-paragraph, through books of the Bible, you are going to touch on all the major themes of Scripture. I could show you how just in Romans 1, for example, a number of the great doctrines of the Bible are addressed. And we addressed them as we walked through it.

There is no number four.

Number five, it forces us to deal with all Scripture, including difficult passages. If you've been in churches where all the pastor does is just sort of choose his little pet texts, then he gets to skip those really hard sections, and you never heard about them. But if you're preaching through Romans, and you come to Romans 9, and you come to sovereign election, you can't just skip that. You're not going to let me do that. You have to deal with it.

Number six, there's a very practical benefit to expository preaching. It teaches us all how to read and study the Bible systematically, contextually, for ourselves. You see, when I teach every week (as we're working through Romans, for example) you're not simply getting the truth of that passage, you're getting a model for how to approach the Scripture yourself, in your own time, in your own study of the Word of God. You're seeing how to take it apart and how to see how it connects to the larger flow of that book and all of Scripture.

Number seven, it best promotes our spiritual growth. Remember, Jesus prayed in John 17:17, "Sanctify them [by] … the truth; Your Word is truth." It is by the truth of God's Word that we are sanctified. And what better way to pursue the truth of God's Word than to pursue it as the mind of the Spirit unfolded it, in the very form and flow that He revealed.

And this isn't a very important one for you, but it's very helpful for me. It aids in sermon selection. One of the hardest things I do is choose what I'm going to preach on when nobody tells me what I'm going to preach on. Because everything's important. I mean, how do you say, this is more important? But when I'm just following verse-by-verse, it's simple. I love it, because I just have to study the next passage.

Those are practical reasons. Now, what's the problem with those? They're true, but they're all pragmatic. At this point, our whole basis for expository preaching is built on pragmatics, the same thing that churches down the road are basing their approach to Scripture on. So, this is not a good place to stop.

So, let's go to argument number two, a theological argument. Now, there multiple theological arguments, but in the interest of time I'm just going to give you one, consecutive exposition flows naturally from the biblical doctrine of inspiration.

Turn to 1 Corinthians 2. Paul here is talking about his ministry of the Word, his preaching-teaching ministry. Notice in verse 1 of chapter 2, "… I came … proclaiming to you the testimony of God." [I was preaching, verse 2] "… Christ, and Him crucified." Verse 4, "… my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." [How does this happen? Well, it's because his preaching was based on the Scripture, on what God had revealed.]

Go down to verse 10, "For … God [has] revealed" [all these things we could never have imagined, He has] "revealed them" [to us] "through the Spirit." We're talking about God's revelation in the Bible. And how exactly did God reveal this to us? Verse 13, these things that God has given us, that He's revealed, Paul says, "which things we" [that is, the apostles] "also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in" [words] … "taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual" [revelation or the] "thoughts" [of God] "with spiritual words." [given by the Spirit of God.]

So, he's saying, God reveals His truth, and He reveals it through what we would call inspiration. He gave the writers of Scripture the very words to use to record it. Now, if that's true, if what you have (let's say here in the Book of First Corinthians) is the very revelation of God through a human instrument down to the very words that are given here, down to the order of those words, then what better way to study the Word of God than in the way the Spirit gave it to us. So, you can see that the doctrine of inspiration informs the practice of consecutive, expository preaching. Preaching the text as God revealed it: reading it, explaining it, applying it; reading it, explaining it, applying it.

Now, don't misunderstand. This doesn't meant that there is never a place for a topical sermon. I'm not talking about those kind, where a couple of verses are strung together with no relationship to the context. I'm talking about a sermon, even like the one I'm doing today, where we're going to look at a number of texts, but we're going to read the text, explain the text in its context, and apply the text. There's a place for that kind of topical preaching. But—listen carefully—the church best reflects divine revelation and inspiration when the consistent pattern of our preaching follows the flow of the divinely inspired text. What better way to get the mind of the Spirit than to follow the way the Spirit Himself inspired it and gave it to us.

Now, there are other issues we could talk about when it comes to theological arguments. But again, I want to get to the biblical arguments.

So let's go to a third argument. And I'm just going to touch on this one, the historical argument. There's a historical argument, and I have on my computer, literally, a twenty-page defense, quotes from church history, defending this. I'm not going to do that to you today. But a brief survey of church history reveals that expository preaching has been the church's consistent pattern and commitment. You go back, and you slice church history wherever you want, and you will find that there have been those who have been faithful to do exactly what we're talking about. And taking church history, as a whole, this has been the primary approach.

Let's go back to the very beginning. Outside of Scripture, the very first record we have of a Christian church service comes to us from the mid-second century and the writings of a man named Justin Martyr, a man who was discipled by the apostles. Listen to what he writes. Again, the first Christian worship service description outside of Scripture itself.

"On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gathered together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles" [that's the New Testament] "or the writings of the prophets" [that's the Old Testament] "are read as long as time permits. Then when the reader has ceased, the president" [that is, the one presiding] "verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things."

Do you hear what Justin Martyr described? He described a Christian service in which they read the text of Scripture, they explained the meaning of the text of Scripture, and then applied its truth to the lives of those who were there.

Now sadly, many of the early church fathers strayed from this pattern. But even so, there were a number of bright lights along the way. I wish I had time to illustrate to you from the sermons, for example, of Augustine, who was an expositor. We wouldn't always agree with his conclusions, but his approach to the Scripture was often this way. In the Patristic Era (sort of after the earliest of the church fathers) there was John Chrysostom, whose name you maybe never have heard, but he was an exceptional example of a faithful expositor of Scripture.

I have in my library several volumes from Hughes Oliphant Old's magisterial, seven-volume set entitled The Reading and the Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. All he's doing is giving a historical survey of preaching throughout the history of the church. You probably don't want to buy all seven volumes. But listen to what he says about Chrysostom:

By far the largest number of John Chrysostom's sermons were expository sermons. On occasion his series would be interrupted when he decided it would be necessary preach on some other subject. In principle, however, he preached the "lectio continua;" that is, beginning each sermon where he had left off the sermon before.

This is the approach he took. And again, there were others, other examples to which Old points in his seven volumes to which I could take you. But let's skip to the Reformation.

Clearly, the reformers argued for and displayed by example the consistent practice of sequential, expository preaching. This was true of Martin Luther. John Calvin preached verse-by-verse, book-after-book, to his people there in Geneva. Zwingli took the same approach. He preached from a copy of the Greek text sitting on his pulpit, verse-by-verse. The Puritans followed the same practice. J.I. Packer, writing in his book on the Puritans, says, "They were devotees of continuous exposition, and have left behind the magnificent sets of commentary sermons on complete chapters and books of the Bible."

All I want you to see with that really brief overview is that there is clear historical precedent for consecutive, expository preaching. The men on whose shoulders we stand today believed and practiced this approach to the Scripture. Now, historical consensus alone is obviously not indisputable evidence. But, the fact that so many of the highest and greatest minds in the history of the church believed that consecutive exposition best honors God's Word and best equips God's people, that is an argument that we cannot ignore. But it doesn't seal the deal.

So, let's move on to where I really want us to go, and that is to the biblical arguments. What are the biblical arguments for consecutive, verse-by-verse exposition? Well, Andy Stanley, in that interview I mentioned earlier, made his most serious charge against expository, verse-by-verse preaching this way. Listen to what he said, "No one in the Scripture modeled that. There's not one example."

We must be prepared to defend this approach to the Scripture from the Scripture itself. Is Stanley right? Absolutely not! I want you to see this. I want you to see the biblical arguments.

First of all, the first biblical argument comes from the ministry of Moses. The first clear example of sequential exposition in Scripture comes from the ministry of the man who gave us the first written text of Scripture under the inspiration of the Spirit. Now, the foundation for this was laid back in Exodus 24. They're at Mount Sinai. Exodus 24:3 says this, "… Moses came" [he came out from the presence of God] "and" [he] "recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people" [listened] "with one voice and said, "'All the words which the L, has spoken we will do!'"

Now here, Moses is simply taking what God had told him, and he is recounting it from memory. At this point, not an inspired text, but rather a verbal recollection. And he is explaining that to the people, and they listen. Verse 4 of Exodus 24 says, he then "wrote down all the words of the Lord." Now we're to inscripturated, inspired text. The very first. And verse 7 of Exodus 24 says this.

Moses then took that book, where he had written everything down—this is the inspired text now. "… he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!'" Now folks, it is impossible to overstate the importance of what just happened there in Exodus 24:7. Because from the very first time that God revealed Himself in written form, the consecutive reading of His Word became an essential part of the worship of His people. Moses there laid a foundation by reading God's Word consecutively to the people at the foot of Mount Sinai.

But he established a clear pattern for consecutive exposition of God's Word 40 years later in Deuteronomy. Turn to Deuteronomy 1. He read the Word consecutively at Sinai. And I think there's evidence that he explained it as well, although it doesn't say so in as much words. But here in Deuteronomy it does. Deuteronomy 1:1, "These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness."

So, it's 40 years after Sinai, approximately, and he's now preparing the people to enter the land of promise. Now notice that the contents of this book are explained to us down in verse 5, "Across the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook" [notice what it says] "to expound" [God's] "… law." "Deuteronomy" means "the second law, the second giving of the law." That really is a misnomer. That's not what it is. Instead, this is an exposition of God's law.

He is, in the Book of Deuteronomy, giving us a series of sermons. The first series of sermons ever recorded, Deuteronomy. Moses set out not only to read the law, as he had done at Sinai, but to expound it, to explain it. So, these then, in the Book of Deuteronomy are Moses' inspired sermons on God's Law. Now this is a remarkable thing, because Moses was not only God's instrument to initiate written revelation, but, he also becomes the pattern for all future biblical preaching. He read the text, and he explained, expounded the text. This is the pattern that becomes the biblical pattern.

So, let's look then, at a second biblical argument. Having seen it in the ministry of Moses, I want you to see that this is the same pattern in all of Old Testament corporate worship. It's the consistent practice in preaching throughout the Old Testament. In fact, Christian worship finds its roots in the rich soil of the worship of Israel, and the worship of Israel centered in the reading and preaching of God's word. Now maybe you're not aware of that. Because if I say "tabernacle" and "temple," what first comes to your mind? The sacrifices, the sacrificial system. And clearly both of those places were designed for that, but they were more than that. They're also called houses of prayer. Jesus Himself called the temple a house of prayer. But they were also houses of preaching.

You see, God demanded that His Word be taught at both the tabernacle and the temple. And He assigned this responsibility to one group, the descendants of Levi. Listen to Deuteronomy 33:10 (speaking to the tribe of Levi), "They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, And Your law to Israel." You see, a crucial part of the Levite's job description, according to Deuteronomy 33:10, included teaching the people the Word of God. This is, in part, why later in Joshua 21, the Levites were spread out across the land of Israel.

If their only job was serving the sacrificial system, why weren't they right there in Jerusalem, or wherever the altar was at that moment in Israel's history? Well, because that wasn't their primary duty. Their primary purpose implied in that was that they were not to administer the sacrificial system, but rather, their primary duty was to teach the people the Word on the weekly Sabbath. So, they were spread out across the land.

Now, we learn the importance of this priestly responsibility of teaching God's people in the Book of Chronicles. Turn over to 2 Chronicles. And what I want you to see is that the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 15) the writer of Chronicles blames the decline of the true worship of Yahweh—listen carefully, because this is absolutely appropriate to our day—he blames the decline of the true worship of Yahweh on the priests' failure to teach the people the Word of God. Look at verse 3 of 2 Chronicles 15, "For many days Israel was without the true God." [How did that happen? Because they were] "… without a teaching priest and without law." They weren't into the Word of God, and the teachers assigned that responsibility weren't teaching them the Word of God.

Folks, this is the way it always happens. When those whom God has assigned the responsibility to teach His Word start talking about movies instead, God's people drift from God's Word, and ultimately from God Himself.

In fact, it got so bad that Jehoshaphat had to initiate reforms. One of the good kings of Israel had to initiate reforms on this front. Turn over to 17:7,

In the third of his reign he sent his officials … to teach in the cities of Judah; and with them the Levites … and with them … the priests. They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.

You see, what's happening here is Jehoshaphat was forced to institute this reform because the priests, the Levites, had not done what God had commanded them back in Deuteronomy. And, as a result, the people didn't know God's Word, and the people weren't worshiping the true God. So, as part of his reforms, he sent some of his own officials (we learn here), some Levites, and among the Levites one special group of Levites, the priests.

You see, the priests were not only descendants of Levi, the tribe of Levi, but they were also specifically from Aaron, Moses' brother. They served in the sacrificial system, but they also, the priests were also responsible to teach the people the law of God. Leviticus 10:11 gives them this assignment, they are "to teach the sons of Israel all the statues which the LORD [had] … spoken to them through Moses." This was the job description of the priests: teach the people God's Word.

Now, some of the Levites and some of the Levitical priests were also scribes; that is, those who were responsible to archive and to copy the Law. Who was the most famous scribe in the Old Testament? Ezra. Ezra was a priest. He was also a scribe. And his ministry provides a model for the proper use of the Word of God in worship. In Ezra 7:10, we read, "… Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel."

Listen, if you have a desire to move toward the ministry, Ezra 7:10 is the framework for your life. Set your heart to study the law of the Lord, to practice it, and to teach His statues and ordinances in Israel.

Now, the record of how Ezra fleshed that out and his reform is in Nehemiah 8. Turn there with me. Nehemiah 8. Here's what Nehemiah did. Verse 1. This is after the return from the Babylonian captivity. Ezra is trying to get the people back to understanding God's Word, to worshiping God. Verse 1 says,

All the people gathered as one man at the square which [is] … in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. [And others] beside him. [And verse 5] Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

Now what's remarkable about this passage (500 years or so before our Lord) is that several common practices of the church today trace back to what happened on that very day. You'll notice in what I just read, Ezra stood on a raised platform, at a wooden podium so that the people could see and understand. But the platform (according to verse 5) wasn't simply elevated in order to help them see better, but there was also a picture in the elevated platform. That picture was that the teachers were not speaking from their own mind. They were, instead, speaking on God's behalf to the people, and therefore it was elevated. Do you see that our platform and our pulpits as Christians trace back to that day 2,500 years ago? And although, thankfully, you don't have to stand throughout my entire sermon, throughout church history, Christians have stood, as we did this morning, for the reading of God's Word. Why? It traces back to this day. It's a respect for the Word of God.

Now watch what happens in verse 6, "Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, 'Amen, Amen!' while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." And then in verse 7, these men, these Levites explain "the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the Book, from the Law of God, translating or explaining to give the sense so that they understood the reading."

They read; they translated. Now, "translated" there in verse 8 could mean that they translated the Scripture from Hebrew, a language many of these people didn't speak any longer, to Aramaic, which is the language they spoke. More likely, as verse 7 implies, we're talking about them explaining the meaning of what was read. Regardless, verse 7 does say that's what they did, because that's what God had called them to do.

So, understand then, that Ezra and the Levites here are following a pattern established by Moses, and continuing to set a pattern for the corporate worship of God's people. They read the text. Yhey explained the text. They applied the text. The verses that follow, they talk about how to apply what they have studied together.

Now let's move on to a third argument. I've called it a biblical argument, because it's touched on in the Scriptures. But it lays the foundation for a fourth argument.

Argument number three, biblical argument number three. Let's look at the Jewish synagogue worship. Worship in the first century Jewish synagogues followed this same pattern. Local synagogues probably began during the Babylonian exile, made necessary, by the destruction of the temple and by the distance from the land of Israel. Jewish tradition identifies Ezra as the one who founded the synagogue. And in the first century in the time of our Lord, the synagogue, Sabbath service centered on reading and explaining the text of Scripture.

James, the half-brother of our Lord, describes it this way in Acts 15:21, "Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath." So, he says OK, in the synagogues (and this has happened a long time) the Law is read and then preached. It's read and explained. It's read and interpreted. Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Christ (not a believer but a Jewish man), describes the typical, weekly, synagogue worship in this way,

"They come to the holy places call synagogues according to their age and order. The young men sit under the elders at their feet, and with a decent composure attend to the hearing when one taking the book reads, and another one of the most skillful explains what is not known."

So, the synagogue during the time of Christ, the text would be read, and then the most skillful teachers would explain that portion of Scripture. So, the typical synagogue service in the first century included readings from the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the Prophets, the rest of the Old Testament. And then a sermon was connected to the reading of the day. And the reading was typically, intentionally consecutive. Week after week the teacher read the next portion of Scripture and explained it. Why?

It goes back to Moses. It goes back to Ezra. You see this pattern. Now, at times the leader of synagogue may have given a teacher liberty to choose a passage to be read, but ordinarily, first century synagogues followed a systematic, consecutive reading of the Scripture from the Law and then from the Prophets. And then a sermon explained that day's reading. Normal synagogue sermons then, were consecutive expositions of Scripture.

Now, I'm not saying that the content was model. In fact, Jesus often corrected the content of the rabbi's sermons. But He never disparaged, in fact He followed, the pattern of consecutive exposition just as they did. The teacher read the next passage beyond where they ended the previous week and then explained it. This was the pattern of synagogue worship. And it is crucial to the next biblical argument.

Number four, our Lord's teaching ministry. Do you understand that our Lord, His primary ministry was not miracles? His primary ministry on the earth was teaching and preaching the Scripture? And a crucial part of Jesus' preaching ministry was in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Matthew 4:23 records that "Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…." In John 18:20, Jesus told Pilate, "I have spoken openly to the world;" Listen to how He describes His ministry. "I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together…."

I want you to see just how important this was. Turn to Luke 4. Luke 4:14. This is as Jesus begins His ministry. His temptation, the temptation of Christ has just finished, those extraordinary series of tests over 40 days. Verse 14 says, "… Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district." Now notice verse 15 explains the focus of Jesus' ministry, "… He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all." And this was true all around Galilee. Now in the next verse, verse 16, Jesus returns to His hometown and to the synagogue there. Verse 16,

… He came to Nazareth, where [He'd] … been brought up; [now notice this] and as was His custom [this was His practice], He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. … [He took] the book of the prophet Isaiah [that] was handed to him.

The implication here is this was the text for that Sunday, for that Saturday, rather, for that Sabbath day. And it says then, "He opened the book and found the place where it" … [is] written." And of course this particular text was about Him. Notice verse 20: "He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant" [after He had read] "and sat down; and the eyes of all … the [congregation] … were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them."

Now, that expression "began to say" implies that Luke doesn't record for us here His entire sermon. This isn't all He said. But what I want you to see is that in His hometown synagogue Jesus did what was typically done in a synagogue, what He typically did in a synagogue, He read the text and explained the text. Jesus was an expository preacher.

Now after the people of Nazareth rejected Him, Jesus continued teaching and preaching in the synagogues of Galilee. Look down at verse 31, "He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath." Again, in the synagogue. This was just Jesus' regular practice. Look at verse 44, "He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea." This was the focus of Jesus' ministry not only in Galilee but also in Judea. (That may describe the southern area around Jerusalem. Sometimes Judea is used for the entire land of Israel.)

In chapter 6:6, Luke adds, "On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching." Luke (13:10) again says, "… He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath."

You get the impression of what's going on here? If you examine the ministry of Jesus Christ, you will find this pattern. By the way, I could show you the same thing in Mark's gospel. You will find this pattern. It is true that Jesus often taught during the week. And there are countless examples of His teaching from boats in the Sea of Galilee, or on large, open fields, or on the temple grounds in Jerusalem, and many other venues. But the primary focus of Jesus' teaching ministry, week in and week out, was preaching in the synagogues. And there He participated in the normal routine of synagogue worship, the consecutive reading and exposition of the Word of God. Jesus was a sequential expositor. That is what characterized His teaching ministry more than anything else.

Now that brings us to argument number five, the New Testament church. Here's another argument for exposition that is ordinarily sequential. From the very beginning we discover that the New Testament church's leaders were devoted to teaching, and Christians were devoted to hearing that teaching. In Acts 2:42, after the Day of Pentecost, we read that they were devoted to the apostle's teaching. In Acts 6, we learn that the apostles were devoted to their teaching. You remember they faced a distraction from the need to care for the widows, an important ministry.

But in Acts 6:3, they say, "… Brethren, select from among you seven men … whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to the ministry of the Word."

You see, the priority of Jesus became the priority of His apostles, and the priority of the apostles becomes the primary duty of the New Testament leaders of the church, the elders. What distinguishes elders from deacons is an ability to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2. And Paul describes those elders that the church should support financially, 1 Timothy 5:17, as those who labor at teaching and preaching, who give their lives to teaching and preaching.

Now, the priority of the ministry of the Word is clear not only in those examples, but also in the commands that are given to leaders in the New Testament. Paul insists that the Old Testament, and a growing body of New Testament inspired documents, should be read and explained and applied in the corporate worship of the church. Look at 1 Timothy, 1 Timothy 4. First Timothy 4, look at verse 13. Here's Paul talking to Timothy who was an elder-pastor, in the church at Ephesus. And he says here's what I want you to do. Verse 13, "Until I come," [I want you to] "give" [your full, your compete] "attention." [I want you to really give yourself, devote yourself to these things.] "To the public reading of [the] Scripture, to exhortation and teaching."

Now the order's slightly different, but the content is still there. It's the same. He says Timothy, I want you to devote yourself to reading the text, to teaching the text, that is, to explaining it; and to exhortation, to applying it. I want you read the text. I want you to explain the text. I want you to apply the text. And I want you to give yourself to this ministry.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, he says, "Preach the word; [and he says] be ready in season and out of season." Be ready to do this when it's in season and [when it's] out of season. [And boy are we out of season right now on this kind of teaching. But he says it doesn't matter. Do it anyway.] "… Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." Under the authority of Christ Himself, Paul demanded that New Testament elders and church leaders like Timothy preach the Scripture: read, explain, apply the Scripture.

By the way, this included not only the Hebrew Old Testament, but it also included Paul's own letters to the churches. In 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Paul says, "I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren." By apostolic command we are to read and explain and apply the New Testament documents as well as the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures.

And again, the clear implication is that Paul's letters were to be read in their entirety as he had written them, and explaining whatever is necessary, and applying it—just as the pattern had been from Moses, through Ezra, to our Lord, through the apostles, and now to the New Testament leaders of the church.

So then, the Word of God has always been central to the corporate worship of God's people. And listen carefully. The ministry of the Word has ordinarily consisted of the consecutive reading and explaining and applying of the text. This is what the church has always done. It's what we must do.

Now, what are the implications of this for you? You're not called to preach—most of you. What do we do with this? Let me give you the application. We've looked at the text of Scripture. We've read it. I've explained it to you. So, now let's apply it. What do we do with the implications of holding fast to this forgotten truth? Well, as God's people, first of all, we must make Scripture reading and study and meditation a priority in our own lives.

Listen, if it's true for the corporate worship, it's true for us individually as well. Do you really think you can stand before God, your Maker, your Creator, the One you claim as Redeemer, some day and say, "I love You, I belong to You, and oh by the way, I never really bothered to take Your Word seriously?" Just imagine how that will go. No, understanding what's supposed to happen to the Word of God in the corporate worship also shapes our approach to the Word privately and individually.

And that brings me to implication number two, approach Scripture carefully and systematically in your own reading and study. If this is how the preachers of God's Word are to do it, then it's how you ought to do it. Don't just pick a couple of verses that you happen to like. No, come to God's Word—He gave it to us in His books. Come to a book. Read it. Understand its theme. Understand how the sections fit together. Understand how the phrases and sentences fit together. This is what God intended you to do with the Scripture as well. Read it. Explain it, or let others explain it to you. And then apply it to yourself.

Number three, let this play out in the churches you choose. Choose only churches that take God's Word seriously, demonstrated by a pattern of sequential, expository preaching. If this was the pattern within the Scripture, if this is the pattern of church history, then for goodness sake choose a church that does this. There are other good churches that do this around the Metroplex. Or if the Lord moves you on, and you're some other place in the country (as a man in our church I talked to this week has to move to Ohio), listen, choose a church that does what the church has always done. For goodness sake, don't choose a church because it's the hip place. Don't choose a church because, "Well, I just like the sound of the music." That's ridiculous. Be committed to what the church has always been committed to.

And number four, apply to yourself the truth that's preached. Jesus said in John 10:27, "My sheep hear My voice…." He meant in the Scripture. And He didn't mean you just hear it and get it. "OK, well that was nice." And then you leave unchanged. He meant "My sheep hear My voice," and they really hear it. They attempt to do it. How do they hear the words of Jesus? How do we hear Jesus? His voice? Through the words of faithful ministers.

There's an interesting text in Luke 10:16. Jesus is talking to the 70. These are not the apostles. This is a group of 70 men He sent out to preach. And He says this, Luke 10:16, "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me…." Do you understand what Jesus is saying? He's saying that when a faithful minister reads the text, explains the text, applies the text, you are not just hearing from that minister, you are hearing from Christ Himself. That's why this is part of our worship.

It's not just music that's worship. The study of God's Word is worship. Why? Because we are all, as the text is read and explained, listening to the voice of Christ. And to hear that truth and accept it is to accept Him; to hear that truth and reject it is to reject Him. Listening to God's Word taught is as much an act of worship, or should be, as anything else we do when we gather, because it is Christ Himself speaking through His Word to us all. To me as well. I am merely a mouthpiece. We're all listening to the Word of God and responding. Beloved, hold fast to the truth that expository preaching is the biblical pattern.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for how clearly Your Word speaks. And thank You for the pattern that You've given us through the millennia of faithful men, including our Lord, who have read the text, explained the text, and applied the text.

Lord, help us to commit to doing that individually and personally, and to really receiving the Word of Christ as it's preached by faithful ministers. Lord, may we hear it as His Word. May it be an act of worship from our souls.

And Father, help us to be committed to what the church has always done as a church.

We pray in Jesus name, Amen.