Preaching the Gospel from the Old Testament: A Homiletical Outline

This is the third part in my series on how to preach the gospel from the Old Testament (see part 1 and part 2). In this last post, we’re going to look at how to put it all together into a preaching (homiletical) outline. And once again, we’ll be using Jonah as our case study.

In creating a homilectical outline for a sermon on Jonah, I am proposing one that includes three elements: historical, practical, and redemptive. The difficulties for the inclusion of these three elements are “time” and “cohesion.”  Three goals means less time for each goal, as they have to be adequate expressed.  One does not want to have a sermon that ends with a one-liner about the redemptive aspect.  Sermons like this are very common since it’s easy to spend so much time on the historical and practical aspects of the sermon that the redemptive conclusion gets a mere sentence or two.

And we must realize that this story is ultimately looking at Christ, his death and resurrection. Jesus is the better Jonah. Let us pray.”

This might be technically redemptive, but lacks the power of redemption. In order to achieve all three of key elements, the central theme must be very tightly knit to first and third.

A Homiletical Outline of Jonah

What would this central theme look like in Jonah chapter one?  We might be tempted to choose: “God puts obstacles in our way when we choose to disobey the clear revealed will of God.”  This is a biblically faithful concept, but it does not reflect the redemptive truth found in Jonah. From the historical perspective, the great fish is an obstacle to be overcome. But viewed more broadly, the three days in the great fish is a story about redemption.

A better central theme would be: “God will go to great lengths to manifest his grace in the midst of a disobedient prophet and pagan people.” Such a central theme has built within it both the practicality of what we need to do, but also the greater divine response in light of our action.

This lengthy central theme now needs to be shortened in the sermon to something like “God’s Grace will not be denied.”

Based on this central theme, the sermon outline would look like the following:

  1. Historical Explanation: Here I would focus on Jonah chapter one with emphasis on the disobedience of Jonah, the evilness of Nineveh and the paganness of the sailors.

Transitional Question: What would God do in such a mess?

  1. Redemptive Explanation:  Now the sermons shifts to the three days in the fish.  I would take great care to explain the great fish from a historical to a redemptive plane: moving from the historical obstacle to the ultimate redemptive moment in Christ, his death and resurrection. I would summarize this point by noting that God will go to extraordinary lengths for Jonah, the sailors and Nineveh in the demonstration of his grace.  And then I would bring it all home by pointing out that even this extraordinary graciousness is topped by what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Transitional Question: What do we do in light of such extraordinary grace?

  1. Practical Explanation: It’s at this point that the sermon moves into a discussion of how all of this can and should shape our everyday lives. Here are a couple of possible applications:
    1. For followers of Christ: Be transformed by it, in our minds and our actions to those who we feel do not deserve grace. Who in our lives do we need to extend grace to? There can be specific action items here.
    2. For those who are not followers of Christ: Accept the grace.

Note that with such a sermon, the Gospel becomes powerful for the believer and unbeliever at the same time.  For the believer, we apply scripture to our lives, but it is not based upon moralism, legalism, or duty. It is founded upon the grace of God.  Gospel-centered transformation is clearly taught. The grace that saves us is the same grace that allows us to grow. For the unbeliever, they see the extent of the grace of God in light of the disobedience of all involved.

I’m sure there are other ways that you could tease out the redemptive themes of Jonah and apply them to the everyday lives of people in your congregation. Let’s just make sure that we’re doing it. The historical and practical aspects of a sermon are important. But without the redemptive, they fall far short of what a sermon must be.