Previous | Next

October 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 4 · pp. 127–30 

The Preaching Lab

John Regehr

A sermon is deeply effective when the preacher speaks from deep personal experience. When the truth of the Word takes on meaning for the preacher because it relates closely to his own pain and/or victory, then the sermon may even be consistently low-key without losing its force. To turn up the volume in an effort to bolster a truth which does not involve the preacher profoundly, is to invite the audience to turn him off.

To illustrate my point, I am presenting the outline and excerpts from a sermon which was prepared as a class assignment at Mennonite Brethren Bible College and preached in a small-town Mennonite Church. The preacher is Ed. Enns.

The sermon stands out for several reasons:

  1. The introduction sets the context in terms the audience understands well.
  2. The preacher is able to make a biblical event contemporary in an easy, almost natural way. The disciples in their situation are merged with us in our situation.
  3. The Word of comfort from the Scriptures comes in a pleasingly conversational style and tone.
  4. The truth is brought within easy grasp of the hearer by means of short, simple thrusts of insight.
  5. The illustrations are vivid and simple. They a) add clarity and b) give immediacy to the big truth.
  6. The movement through the text is natural and easy to follow, yet has one or two significant surprise turns.
  7. The conclusion is deeply personal, and convincing. For that reason it is warm, and low-key.


Text: Mark 6:45-51


God tests people in many different ways. When he tests us who are Christians, he is actually displaying his mercy to us. By testing us, he leads us into a deeper understanding of Himself and a greater awareness of our own faith. Testing makes for growth.

Picture for yourselves our beautiful Manitoba countryside, with its rich farm lands, capable of yielding good crops. It had been a beautiful spring, warm windy weather had dried the land. Seeding was done early. Then came the rain and the warm summer weather. The crops have grown well, and you have great hopes for a bumper crop this year. Everything looks good. The grain will begin to ripen soon. Then, one day, storm clouds gather in the west, dark and threatening they approach and you watch helpless as the hail destroys your field of wheat.{128}

It had looked so good! That crop was to make your payments for this year! Total loss! Flattened right out! Your hopes are shattered!

Then comes the added blow. As you talk with your neighbors you discover that yours is the only crop that was destroyed! And you ask, “God, why? Why me? What have I done to deserve this? What have I done wrong?”

The questions keep coming. “I thought it was the Lord’s will that I be a farmer! I thought I was a faithful Christian! I’ve been doing as much as I can in church! I’ve been tithing for the Lord’s work! I thought I was in the Lord’s will!”

And you probably are. The disciples were when they got caught in a storm on the sea. They were there because Jesus sent them there.

Let’s read their story in Mark 6:45-51.

. . . (Another paragraph which gives the outline of the sermon, or rather, the movement)

A. Jesus Orders His Disciples into the Boat

. . . Sometimes we are tested because of our own stubborn self-will; God has to bend us back into shape. But this was not the case in the particular instance here. The disciples went out on the sea in obedience to a direct command of Christ. It is clear, then, that the Lord tests us when we are walking in His will. He does so to strengthen our faith and to increase our dependence on him. . . . (Reference to actual persons the congregation knows well).

So it was with the disciples. They were doing the will of their master. He put them into the situation in which he intended to test them. They went in faith, in obedience.

Here is a lesson we can learn: If we don’t step out in obedience and faith, Christ cannot really test us. (Consequently our Christian life becomes dull and uninteresting. It becomes a drag.)

. . . (Illustration of testing a car, and a new house being tested by a severe storm, a doctor toning up a muscle.)

B. Jesus Observes His Disciples in their Plight

. . . (Description of situation)

At times this is how we feel, especially when we are struggling with doubt. It almost seems as though Jesus is away out there someplace; he doesn’t really know what is happening to us; and perhaps in extreme doubt, we may even think he doesn’t care. It appears as though Jesus had forgotten his disciples.

But he hadn’t. We are told that He saw them. Jesus sees everything that goes on. He sees everything that happens to us.

C. Jesus Comes to His Disciples

. . . (Jesus sees the disciples. The lake is not wide.)

He knows very well when we are troubled or discouraged. He sees us in our sickness. He feels with us when we have a death in our family. And he does care.

. . . (Example of Lazarus.)

But notice, he didn’t come right away. It was evening when he saw them in their distress, but he only came to them in the fourth watch, which is between 3 and 4 in the morning. You see, sometimes {129} the Lord waits, because at first, due to our human nature, we think, “Oh, it isn’t too bad yet. I’ll be able to make it alright.” Then, when the going gets tough, we begin to realize that maybe we can’t make it on our own after all. So Christ waits to let our dependence on him develop. And then he comes to our rescue.

If he had come right away we might not even have recognized that it was He who helped us. But when He waits until the time is ripe, there is no doubt left in our minds as to who it was who helped us. In the darkest hour, in their greatest need, and in a totally unexpected way, Jesus came to them, and thus He comes to us.

D. Jesus Tests His Disciples

. . . (Description: wind, waves, night, weariness, fear. Related to our experiences. Then Jesus comes!)

But now comes the biggest test of all. We may feel that since the disciples had already gone through so much, surely now, with Jesus on the scene, the trouble would be over quickly. But not just yet. Not quite. The story reads, “He meant to pass them by.” Did he really intend to walk by them and leave them in that situation? Why did he act as though he were going to pass them by?

Perhaps a clue to the explanation lies in the story where Jesus walks with the two men on the road to Emmaus. It was just shortly after he had arisen from the dead. When they drew near to the village where they were going, “Jesus made as if he would have gone further” that evening. But—and this is the clue—they restrained him.

The same thing happened here when Jesus walked out on the water. What did the disciples do? “They cried out.” The lesson is clear. The Lord wants us to confess our need of Him, and then he comes to our help.

The disciples at Emmaus had to persuade him to stay. In Genesis we read that Jacob first refused to let God go unless he would bless him first. We too must confess our need to the Lord and then he will come to our aid.

The Lord did not really intend to pass them by, because it was for them that he came out onto the water in the first place. He put them there to make them realize their need of him, and when they did cry out, he answered.

It may seem to us today that the Lord is passing us by. But if we cry out to him, if we confess our need to him, we will see that he does not pass by. He will answer when we stretch out our hand for help. Even though it is only a cry of fear, as was that of the disciples, it is enough to ensure an immediate response from Jesus.

E. Jesus Enters the Boat with the Disciples

Immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I, have no fear.” It is quiet reassurance, although the disciples are terrified. Though we are afraid at times about certain events that are happening, our Lord is calm, reassuring. He is in complete control of events and of situations.

We need no longer be afraid, we need no longer worry, even though we do not yet have an answer, even though the situation has not yet changed. Things were still the same for the disciples too. The wind was still blowing, and the waves were still beating against their boat. But {130} there was one big difference. Jesus was there. “It is I. Do not be afraid. I am here. Take heart! Put your trust in me. I’ll work things out for you. As a matter of fact, I am working them out already, trust me. For all things work together for the good for them that love the Lord.”

And as he comes into the boat the wind stops. It’s immediate. Instantly, when he comes into the boat of our life, into our heart, he stills the doubt there, and the fear. The turmoil in our hearts is calmed, just as the wind and the waves were calmed on the sea.

. . . (Illustration from an experience at a lake: beyond the sandbar, choppy; inside, calm.)

This is the way I picture the difference between the storm before Jesus came to the disciples and the calm after he got into the boat. And this is the way my personal anxieties and fears have been relieved when I’ve spent time at prayer with my Lord.


During the past years I’ve questioned God many times when He was testing me. I felt I was in his will. Yet why would he take two of our children and my business partner in death? Why were things so unenjoyable at school at times? No money to buy food and clothing, or to do some of the things we would have liked to do? Why was I in a spiritual slump when I wanted to be a joyous, happy Christian? Why did things go as they did?

And then Jesus came to me and he did as if he would pass me by, but as I cried out to him, he brought peace into my heart. And for this I thank him! And he will do it for you too. Amazing? The disciples were astounded too. But it happened! It does happen.

Previous | Next