I received this question in an email today regarding my Mid-Week Memo from last night:
Curious about your opening paragraph. Why would you not choose to preach on this type of passage normally?
If you have the same question, here was my answer:
There are three approaches to preaching: topical, expository, and lectionary.
The topical approach asks questions like "what does the church need" and "what will be a good series to help our folks invite their friends." The series are usually highly relevant in that they speak to everyday life in a way that shows that Bible speaks to our everyday lives.
Expository follows along in a book or section of a book. The lectionary approach uses a book that pays close attention to the Christian year and gives an OT, Psalm and NT passage for that week. With expository and lectionary, choosing the passage is to some degree out of your control.
There's a lot to commend topical approach and we have used it in the past [and will continue to from time to time], but I've never seen anyone who follows this approach actually choose a passage like the one from last week. Only exception might be a series called "the hard sayings of Jesus." It's very confrontative. It lacks what people today would consider appealing. It requires a lot of explanation (topical series don't usually major on actually teaching the text but on application of the text with minimal teaching). It requires much more than a quick reading to find the message of grace that permeates it. It doesn't seem "relevant" to everyday life. [I'll just add here: It may not seem relevant but there is nothing more relevant than a passage like this one.]
From a more personal standpoint, it was daunting to figure out how to communicate the message in a way that held the passage together and didn't lose attention. And my personal preference is a passage like the one this week where Jesus is very compassionate. Doesn't feel too compassionate when Jesus says, "Yeah, 18 people died in that accident and you will suffer similarly if you don't repent."
If you have time, check out John Piper's blog post on the night of the I35 bridge collapse. Fascinating. He's the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, in case you don't know. But he was heavily criticized for writing what he wrote and most people don't think this deeply (or want to) about our sin and culpability before a God who judges.
So, that's why I wrote what I wrote. Thanks for asking.