In Nehemiah 8, the people of Jerusalem gathered in the square before the Water Gate and told Ezra the priest to bring the Book of the Law and read it to them (Nehemiah 8:1-2). There was one small problem. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew, which by this time, was an old language and not well understood, particularly by those who were speaking the more contemporary Aramaic. Fortunately, the Levites stepped in:
“The Levites helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:7-8)
So as Ezra read, the Levites translated and interpreted it throughout the crowd. “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Nehemiah 8:12)
“They understood the words that were declared to them.” I take this to mean that the words didn’t simply go in one ear and out the other. Rather, they went into the ear, to the brain, and brought about change in the heart. They understood the words and they were eager to apply them.
The desire to know God and know his Word is a fruit of true salvation. The natural man doesn’t get it and doesn’t understand. We need the Spirit to understand.
You can have a great meal in front of you and it can do you no good whatsoever. For that food in front of you to do any good, it has to go from in front of you to inside you. We call this eating. Anyone not familiar with how this works?
The picture is a helpful one and even potentially humorous. Imagine a table surrounded by kids who haven’t eaten all day. They are in desperate need of food. In front of them is a meal. It has everything their bodies need. Nutrients. Vitamins. Carbohydrates. Over here is a bowl full of peas. Over there is a plate of asparagus. In the middle is a big dish of something they are not sure about, but Mom said it was good for them. What can you see happening? The children are crinkling their noses and one of them asks, “Can I have a cookie?” What they really need to grow strong is right there in front of them. It may or may not be what they prefer, but it is most definitely what they need.
Biblical expository preaching is like that. Sometimes it’s meat and potatoes. Sometimes it’s peas and broccoli. Sometimes it’s salad. Sometimes it’s dessert. To get it from the table to the heart is the responsibility of the individual.
How to Eat a Sermon
Bring your utensils
The main utensil you need is a Bible. Some of you have gone digital and that’s okay, but what do you bring to math class? A math book. What do you bring to geography class? A geography book. What do you bring to a Bible-preaching worship service? I would suggest a Bible.
Further, do anything that will help you get everything out of it. I am a note taker. When I write things down it helps me and I can look at it again later. Sit in a spot in church that will minimize distractions. Whatever it might be, do whatever you can to put maximum biblical truth into your heart so that the Spirit can do his thing.
Savor every dish
All sermons are trying to say something. Listen for those things. Most will follow some kind of organization and flow from a central thought. If it’s preached well, you should pick up the central point pretty easily. If you listen well, you can also follow the thought and development.
By “savor every dish,” I mean that all of God’s Word is inspired including truths we don’t naturally like. Try them and savor them. Think of them as gifts to you. Swallow your peas. Eat your broccoli.
Listen as if your life depended on it. I have often thought of this when preparing to take off on a flight. They go through the same routine on all the flights. Flight attendants demonstrate how to put on the oxygen mask in case of emergency. How many people are actually listening? Hardly anybody. Why? Flying is so safe, we feel no urgency.
Many people listen to sermons like pre-flight announcements. It’s part of the routine we go through, but we don’t think our lives depend on them.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that he must watch his life and doctrine closely because if he does it will save himself as well as his hearers. In other words, sermons are part of how God keeps spiritual life alive in us. We should listen to them as if our spiritual lives depend on it.
“Steve, come on. I can miss a sermon and do okay.” Yeah, and you can miss a meal, but if you continue to miss a meal, what happens?
Lick the plate/take a doggy bag
“Lick the plate” means I am trying to get every last molecule out of it. That is not to suggest that everything that is said in a sermon is itself worthy of licking. Rather, it is the belief that God can use anything said to benefit us. Most pastors would tell you that what we consider our worst sermons often are the ones God uses the most. Lick the plate. Consider all of it.
Take a doggy bag. A good sermon will always have stuff to enjoy later. As you listen, write down, or at least consider, What am I taking with me into my week? What is my doggy bag? Write that takeaway down and put it somewhere for meditation. Listen to the sermon again on podcast or on video. Talk with family or friends about it later.
Over time, as the plate is licked and the doggy bag is enjoyed, God’s people become people of the book; learners who develop into competent theologians who love and enjoy God in everything.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2012 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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