Every sermon ought to have a point – at least one. This is the message that we seek to discover in exegesis, but there only ought to be one message per sermon. Haddon Robinson reminds us that rhetoricians and experts on public speaking have been unanimous on the issue, public messages ought to focus on a single idea. “A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot,” Robinson says (Biblical Preaching, 35). If a preacher cannot articulate the big idea of a sermon in a single concise statement, there will likely be confusion in the pulpit. Careful construction of a theme statement will help to discipline the preacher’s thought and the sermon itself so that the listener will have no trouble discerning the central truth of the sermon and of the biblical text.
The big idea of the sermon ought to match closely with the big idea of the text. Steven Matthewson, in his book The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative, counsels a progression in thinking about the big idea, beginning with the exegetical idea, building toward a theological idea, and ultimately a preaching or homiletic idea.
Text: Exodus 33:12-34:17
Exegetical Idea: Although God is so powerful that Moses cannot handle a look at his presence, God is driven by compassion, grace, patience, love, and forgiveness.
Theological Idea: Although God is so powerful that a human being cannot handle a look at his presence, God is driven by compassion, grace, patience, love, and forgiveness!
Homiletical Idea: The God who has the power to fry you is incredibly good!
Or how about this one…
Text: Genesis 22:1-19
Exegetical Idea: Abraham put obedience to God first even though he faced the prospect of sacrificing his son Isaac.
Theological Idea: Faithful worshipers of God will put obedience to God first even when there is great cost involved.
Homiletic Idea: The greatest thing you can do for your kids is to worship God, not your kids!
You will notice that the “homiletic idea” is shorter and has some punch to it. I would suggest that the big idea of the sermon (the “theme statement”) ought to have the following components…
-It ought to be a complete declarative sentence so that it is something we can actually say in the sermon.
-It ought to be stated in twelve words or less, not that twelve is a magic number. It simply serves to keep the idea concise.
-No conjuntions (ands, ifs, buts, …) ought to be in the statement if we are trying to say one thing well.
-It ought to be image rich (visual) and suggestive to the listeners.
Some examples, then…
1 Kings 17: God stands behind his Word.
Matthew 16:24-26: In this life only the losers win.
James 2: Faith has no favorites.
1 John 1:5-7: God doesn’t hide in the dark.
Of course, some texts have multiple ideas. There might be a big idea, a bigger idea, and a biggest idea. One doesn’t have to preach the biggest idea every time, as long as what is preached remains faithful to the intent of the biblical passage.