Last week during the Bible study on Romans 15, Garry asked us the question ‘what is the point of preaching?’ We debated this for some time and I have been thinking about it ever since.

Last night I was reading a book on the life of David and I found this quote:
“This is what preachers are for, to bring us into focus in the story. The art of preaching is to somehow or other get around our third-person defences and compel a second-person recognition, which enables a first-person response.” (Eugene Peterson, ‘Leap Over A Wall’, P 185)

As a language teacher, this delighted me. I know all about third-person narratives (when we talk about he/ she, someone else) and second-person statements and questions (you) and first-person answers (I/ we). I’m always banging on about making verb endings match the person who is doing the action of the verb! And in the life of David, we hit the point where he sins drastically with Bathsheba and Uriah and it is left to Nathan the prophet and preacher to tell an apparently innocuous story which will awaken the king to his sin.

In 2 Samuel 12, we read that the Lord sent Nathan to David. David has been doing a lot of sending, sending for Bathsheba, sending for Uriah, sending conniving messages to Joab. Now it’s God’s turn to send a faithful preacher to the King. Nathan tells a story about a rich man who steals a poor man’s lamb. The story is in the third-person. It apparently has nothing to do with David’s situation and David’s defences are not up. He can see the unrighteousness in the story quite plainly and is angry with the man for taking advantage of the poor in this way.

It’s all very well to be angry about sin in general. But Nathan moves the narrative to the second-person by bluntly saying “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12:7). And David is moved to that moment of recognition. The rich man’s behaviour is exactly the same as his own behaviour. He is then moved to a first-person response: “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Sam 12:13)

That sums up the point of preaching. The seemingly unrelated and unconnected stories of Scripture are told to us in such a way that we relate to them, seeing the injustice, understanding the heartaches. And before we can rest on the impersonal responses of sympathy or self-righteousness, the preacher moves to the second-person and we realise we are not simply spectators; we are participants in this story. And we are moved to a first-person response. We too need to repent. We too can receive mercy and grace. We are involved.