The Hammer: Application in Preaching

You talk about something that hits hard–nothing hits harder than a well-placed sermon application.  Consider Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7.  The body of the sermon runs from v. 2 through v. 50.  It is an excellent recounting of Israel’s history.  Stephens also weaves in Scripture throughout his discourse.  It is a homiletic masterpiece.  Moreover, as Stephen waxes eloquent there isn’t much with which his audience disagreed.  Until v. 51.  This is when Stephen begins to “meddle.”  He says,

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, [53] you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).

The hammer came down.  The sermon hit people between the eyes.  Stephen didn’t even need a single stanza from “Just as I Am.”  The people responded.  Oh boy, did they ever respond.

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him . . . then they cast him out of the city and stoned him (Acts 7:54, 58a).

When I read this text it provided a powerful reminder of the importance of application in my sermons.  As a preacher, I have a responsibility to speak plainly and pertinently to my audience.  This is precisely what Stephen did.  His application hit his hearers like a hammer and evoked a response.  A pointed sermon application led to the first Christian martyr.  Let’s be faithful in proclaiming and applying the text to the lives of our hearers.


2 thoughts on “The Hammer: Application in Preaching

  1. Doug, I read this passage not 30 minutes ago and was struck by the exact same thing—that a seemingly placid sermon took an abrupt turn in v. 51. You could almost think it was unwise, but you read immediately of Stephen’s being filled with the Spirit. I wondered as I contemplated it what would make him speak so boldly—so dangerously and provocatively? Was he considering Peter’s example before the Sanhedrin? Did he think the church needed to be shaken up, as we see in 8:1-3? Did he anticipate the response the application received? It’s interesting to consider.

    So much for “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” 🙂

  2. Good words Chris. There is a striking parallel between Peter’s provocative words and Stephen’s. I also can’t help but wonder with you if this was a Holy Spirit prompted boldness coupled with a man who genuinely believed his message.

    Keep preaching the word my brother!

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