Few, if any, would disagree that one has ever felt prepared to preach what every preacher would consider their hardest sermons. So often we go through preaching classes and read books on how to hone the preaching craft and never think about those sermons that we will have to preach that will be the most challenging on so many levels. Pastors are never prepared for the first and hardly feel more prepared for each subsequent one.
Death. It befalls us all whether we see it around the corner or it comes to us unexpectedly. Every preacher will have their share of sermons tied to death through community tragedy, the death of an unborn or young child, death by suicide, death by tragic circumstances or death by sudden or prolonged natural causes. Though no funeral is easy to preach some are harder than others due to the nature of the circumstances and every preacher hopes he can receive help and guidance on how to preach his first and many more after.
Perhaps the first of its kind, Bryan Chapell has brought together some of the hardest sermons ever preached on a wide variety of topics. The Hardest Sermons You'll Ever Have to Preach is a compilation of sermons by well-known pastors like Mark Dever, John Piper, Bryan Chapell, Tim Keller and Michael Horton. In the introduction, Chapell points out that all of the preachers featured in this book are from "the Reformed theological perspective, believing in the sovereign control of God over all things" (p. 12).
This sovereign control of God over all things is one of the defining and unifying features of this collection of sermons. Each pastor believes that God is not hands off in the midst of tragedy but is sovereignly working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). At the same time, these pastors realize that as finite creatures we cannot comprehend all the workings of God and that God ash seen fit not to reveal to us here on earth the reasoning and wisdom of everything he does and allows. Thus, there is always mystery in tragedy. Yet, within the mystery of God's sovereign control amidst tragedy is a message of hope - the message of the cross. It is only because of the cross and Christ's redemptive work on it that we can have any hope amidst tragedy. "The cross of Christ is the warrant for confidence in God's promises of ultimate good, despite great heartache" (p. 15).Though the believer grieves in the death of others, we can come out of it with the hope that Christ has died to death for those who put their faith in Him as the only salvation from the penalty of death for their sins. Further, though He has died to death on our behalf He has risen to life and thus conquered death. It is because of the resurrection that our hope is secure and that one day "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things has passed away" (Rev. 21:4, ESV).
It is these truths, the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that runs deeply through each sermon in this book. Each sermon is drenched in the hope offering message of the gospel. Though the circumstances of each death and funeral are different, the ever applicable message of the cross is the same. This is the unifying and underlying thread that runs through each sermon presented here. There are times in reading through a sermon that you will be so emotionally drawn into the situation and the joyfulness of the hope of the gospel that you will be brought to tears.
The book is broken into five parts and each has sermons dealing with preaching in response to tragedy like 9/11, after the loss of a child like a miscarriage, at funerals with difficult circumstances like premature death, after the death of a public figure like a celebrity and after a suicide like that of a friend.
The setting in which the sermon was preached is explained followed by any concerns the preacher had to take into consideration while preparing for and preaching the message. This part is very helpful because it allows you to see by example the kinds of things preachers in these circumstances need to be sensitive to. The wisdom and carefulness of though in this section of each chapter is outstanding. In light of the concerns for each situation, the following approach each pastor takes in delivering the message is explained. This is equally full of wisdom as the aim of each sermon is discussed and the pastor looks at the situation of the death and those to whom he will be speaking.
Sermon after sermon, The Hardest Sermons You'll Ever Have to Preach is a goldmine of pastoral wisdom and gospel truth applied to preaching the hardest sermons a pastor will ever have to preach. This is the kind of book that should have been written years ago and I hope it is one of the top books on preaching for generations of preachers to come. Every man preparing for the ministry and every pastor in the ministry needs to have this book on their shelf!