Building Sermons: Pt. 3 From the Old Testament

The study of homiletics, or the construction of sermons, is an ancient discipline.

In the Roman era, scholars generally referred to public speaking as rhetoric, and it was one of the only areas of study open to Roman youths during their teenage years. The subject of homiletics fits into the larger field of composition. Today educators usually label that field as communication. Gospel preachers, then, will be wise to avail themselves of the vast amount of material and the most effective organizational methods that exist in that area.

Homiletics scholars speak generally of three types of sermons: the topical, the textual, and the expository. In building sermons from the Old Testament, a preacher may employ any of those. If he or she decides on a passage for a topical sermon, guidelines from the scholars require the preacher to support every main point by citing a specific passage of Scripture.

In the topical sermonic form, one may select both main and sub-points from anywhere in the Bible, whether from the Old or the New Testament. Indeed, he or she may draw part of the message from one testament and the rest from the other testament. In doing so, the preacher actually upholds the unity of the Book. While some tend to frown on topical preaching, a minister can share certain material only in that type of sermon. Perhaps the best way to make this fact clear is to demonstrate the process of building such a sermon. The remainder of this article attempts to do that with a subject that one can address only topically. It focuses on the biblical evidence of receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

All sermons, of course, begin with an introduction.

To introduce this sermon, one could mention the fact that a gradually increasing number among Pentecostals question the conclusion that speaking in tongues (hereinafter referred to as simply tongues) is the initial physical evidence of the Holy Spirit Baptism. Some teach that traditional Pentecostals are hermeneutically incorrect to glean that theological doctrine from the historical narrative of the Book of Acts, but Paul does much the same thing in Romans 4 where he draws the doctrine of justification by faith from the history of Genesis 15 and even the poetry of Psalm 32. Others say the ministries of Evangelicals who don't experience tongues are as productive as those of traditional Pentecostals; but Pentecostals counter by speculating how much more those Evangelicals could do with the fullness of the Spirit!

Immediately following its introduction, the second element of a sermon is the thesis or proposition.

In this sermon, the writer proposes that Pentecostals can stand confidently on this plank of their theological platform and lead men to experience tongues as evidence when they are baptized in the Spirit by following the examples of Scripture on the subject. According to the homiletical guidelines, this proposition contains the key word examples. It is "key" because it determines how each main point in the body of the sermon is selected and stated.

The first example comes from the time when the Spirit descended on Israel's seventy elders (Num. 11:24-29).

A type of initial, physical, vocal evidence convinced all that the elders had been anointed. The Spirit descended upon each one of the seventy (vv. 24-26). An audible, vocal, and visible response accompanied the coming of the Spirit. Every individual in the group prophesied. Some were disturbed that two of the elders, who were not at the tabernacle with the others that day, were also prophesying (vv. 27-28). Moses, however, was delighted and prayed that the experience might come to all of God's people (v. 29).

The second example promised that God would answer that prayer.

The prophet Joel announced that a physical, vocal phenomenon would accompany the great Last Day outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29). The prophet declared that the Spirit would fall on people of all nations; on both sexes, sons and daughters; on all ages, young and old; and on all social groups, even slaves. Joel declared that an audible, vocal, and visible response would accompany the coming of the Spirit. This would include dreams and visions, and even more importantly, prophecy.

Early in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came upon believers, He manifested Himself through prophecy. One example is Elizabeth in Luke 1:41-43. She was filled with the Spirit, and immediately His utterances flowed from her lips. One should note the reference to the raised voice that is characteristic of such experiences (v. 42a). Another person who received the Holy Spirit early in the New Testament narrative was Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, in Luke 1:67-71. When the Spirit came upon him, he immediately prophesied. His prophecy was in the form of Spirit-anointed praise.

A third scriptural example that supports the Pentecostal position on tongues and the Holy Spirit Baptism appears in the fact that Jesus said an unusual vocal sign would accompany those who believed (Mark 16:17-18).

His explanation included the fact that they would speak with new tongues. A preacher dare not spiritualize this to make it apply to cleaning up one's speech at conversion. In view of what went before in Scripture and what followed after, it is safe to conclude that Jesus here envisioned the Day of Pentecost and all that followed it; but then, He is the real source of the tongues-sign teaching, not Joel, nor Luke, nor those at the Topeka Bible school, nor Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God.

Of course, Jesus' words remained true to Joel's promise. Tongues and prophecy are but two sides of one coin. In prophecy one miraculously gives utterances of the Spirit in his or her vernacular or native language. In tongues the Spirit-filled person miraculously gives utterances in a language not known by that person. Thus, Joel and Jesus agree as to the initial physical evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They speak of one miracle in two forms.

The fourth series of examples that leads to the conclusion that tongues constitute the initial physical evidence of the Holy Spirit Baptism appears in the Book of Acts.

According to Acts 2:2-4, tongues of fire sat upon each of the believers; they were all filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance; this was a new thing in history. None had ever spoken in tongues before. There were no altar workers to coax anyone on how to do it. Jesus, the Baptizer, did not need to strain a muscle for every one of the 120 to speak. This passage, together with those already referenced in Numbers and Joel above, challenges anyone who tries to say that these signs are available to some but not all believers!

Such was the case at Cornelius' house (Acts 10:44-47). Again, the Spirit fell on all who were present (v. 44). Tongues provided the visible, physical, audible, vocal evidence that their experience was genuine (vv. 45-46). It followed the original pattern of Acts 2: They "received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (Acts 10:47). Of the experience at Cornelius' house, Peter later declared, "The Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15-17). The pattern had already been established!

Tongues provided the evidence of the Holy Spirit Baptism at Ephesus also (Acts 19:6-7). The text declares that they all spoke with tongues and prophesied. Once again there is the close association between tongues and prophecy as the double-barreled evidence of the Baptism in this passage. However, tongues became the only evidence to appear in every passage where believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

Finally, a sermon ends with a conclusion. That conclusion begins with a re-statement of the sermon's thesis.

In this case the preacher declares again, "Thus, Pentecostals can stand confidently on this plank of their theological platform and lead men into experiencing tongues as the evidence of the Holy Spirit Baptism by following the examples of the Scripture on the subject."

The examples above provide the pattern for all times. Historians draw conclusions on the basis of evidence in a similar way. Scientists do the same. Theologians do it also regarding all the doctrines of Scripture. Since the evidence establishes the fact that those who received the Spirit in the Bible did so with a vocal sign, to remain biblically accurate, preachers today must not substitute any other manifestations as evidence. Logic declares simply that if people now received what they did then, they will experience the same evidence of His coming into their lives.

About the Author

Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Profes­sor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as the Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years.
In addition to his duties as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in The Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and The Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books, What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure, as well as a commentary on Second Corinthians in The Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter, A Pentecostal Perspective.

Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.