This Sunday I begin a new adventure. I am starting a new sermon series preaching through the book of Ezekiel. You read that right! Ezekiel. Crazy, I know. I am committed to preaching through whole books of the Bible, and that includes the really hard and intimidating ones. This makes me think back a couple of years ago when I preached through 2 Samuel. I particularly remember preaching through 2 Samuel 11-13 because I was reminded of the challenge it is to systematically preach through whole books of the Bible in light of the painful content found there. And yet, in the midst of being reminded of these challenges, the reasons to continue to do so have been affirmed to me all over again as I prepare Ezekiel. These reasons apply just as much to the more difficult books of the Bible to understand, not just sections of difficult texts. Here are three reasons I remain committed to preaching through whole books of the Bible, even the really hard ones:
1) You cannot avoid the hard passages.
I remember clearly when I preached on David’s adultery and murder. I remember because it didn’t end there. Then, it moved to an interesting progression of rape, incest and murder among David’s children. Let’s just say, not what I would choose to preach if I was just picking a passage for the week. But our people need to hear these passages, and we as pastors need to wrestle with them to figure out what God desires for us to learn from them. Preach the hard passages and even the hard books. If your congregation sees you are not afraid to wrestle with them, then they are certain to grow less afraid also.
2) You understand the author’s intent better.
It amazes me how much better I feel I understand the writer’s intent because I have preached through the natural flow of his argument or narrative. When preaching through 2 Samuel, I linked David’s adultery back to David’s acceptance of a second wife in 1 Samuel. I did not read that in a commentary, but felt it was relevant as I saw it through the lens of the progression of the narrative as I preached through it. That is one of many examples of connections within the narrative I saw that I know I would not have unless I was pouring over the narrative myself week after week.
3) Our people learn how to read their own Bibles.
Pastors are teaching their people how to approach and understand their Bibles by whatever the steady, weekly preaching diet is in their church. When we commit ourselves to preach through books of the Bible and to understand and deal with all its content, we are teaching our people to do the same on their own. I am not at all against topical preaching. There is a place for it. But allow me to push a bit on what the steady diet of your congregation is and what the fruit of that diet is within it. Your people should be growing in their love and knowledge of God’s Word. They should be learning how to better read their own Bibles. As I continue to experience, they should grow less afraid of the hard, difficult passages nobody would choose to preach. I would say the same for hard, scary whole books in the Bible.
Ezekiel is a very scary book to most sitting in the pew. I’m a bit frightened myself. My hope is that my labor in this book will not just make them less afraid, but will make them more eager to worship the One True God portrayed in this amazing book, and that even the New Covenant we enjoy today because of Jesus will be more powerfully experienced. The valley of dry bones actually found in Ezekiel (chapter 37) reminds us that God breathes life into his people through his Word. That includes hard passages … even the hard books. Pastors, embrace them and model for your people why they should not be afraid of these books.