1. God has a plan
2. God prepares the way
3. The person accepts the ministry out of obedience, although he is not qualified and does not know what he's supposed to do.
4. God gives the person what he needs to accomplish the ministry and lets the person know that God has a plan.



Text: Mark 1:2-11

[2] As it is written in the Prophets:

"Behold, I send My messenger
  before Your face,
who will prepare Your way
  before You.''

[3] "The voice of one crying in the
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.' ''

[4] John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. [5] And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. [6] Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. [7] And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. [8] "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.''

[9] It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. [11] Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.''

Mark 1:2-11 shows us about three ministries, how God works with ministers. First, God had a plan. I don't say 'God has a plan', because God had it planned long ago. God has a big plan and a bunch of smaller plans. We see here, for example, that Isaiah described God's plan for John's ministry and Jesus' ministry seven hundred years in advance. The third minister, well ... we'll get to him in a few minutes and talk about God's plan for him.

John didn't just fall into his ministry. God prepared the way. Luke tells us that an angel told Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.

God also made John's listeners receptive to his message -- baptism of repentance. Let's face it - with a lot of people, telling them "You need to repent" is like recommending root canal for their soul. You know you need it, but "can't we put it off just a little while? It's not hurting that bad." Then you bite into something you shouldn't oughtta bit into and suddenly it hurts real bad! When that happens, what do you say? ... "Oh my God, oh my God, oh God, oh God, oh God! Oh, Jesus! God, that hurts! Oh God, oh God, oh God!"

I never heard anybody call for Harry or Tom or Fred. Not even that third minister [calls for them]. I wonder why?

"Dentistry" on your spirit can be pretty painful -- sometimes there's just no easy way to do it. We all want that "quick fix". Folks are always looking for a "sin epidural". Some people look for spiritual novocain in a bottle, some in a needle, or a crack pipe or jumping from bed to bed. If you got something rotten, something has to come out. If you got a rotten tooth, putting junk in it ain't gonna fix it! If you got a rotten life, putting junk in it .... Hello?

Some folk think they can use a "junk Jesus" for a quick fix. When they bite into some sin that hurts, they want to run to the spiritual doctor, get a temporary filling, and run right back out and do what they were doing before! Amen? "Just give me a big shot o' Jesus and I'll be on my way! Put it on my tab."

Jesus ain't a flu shot! Repentance means to intentionally turn away from wrong and intentionally turn toward righteousness! That's what John was preaching!

The Jews of the time were church folk. Oh, they knew that Gentiles needed to be baptized, but they were God's chosen people. They even had it better than church folk today. You see, to be church folk today, you gotta show up at least two or three times a month. But the Jewish church folk John was preaching to ... they could just kill a lamb once a year, and they thought that was enough!

God prepared the way for John, giving him the Holy Spirit and his listeners receptive hearts. But John was a preparation, too. John was a preparation for Jesus. And, of course, Jesus is the preparation for the third minister.

But let's look at what John did. A lot of folks today, their idea of Christianity is "What stuff is God gonna give me?"

John's idea of "creature comforts" was ... eating bugs. The Bible says he ate locusts. We think that's gross, but apparently it kept him well-fed. John didn't wear a Rolex. Sure, he wore custom-made suits, but ... they were camel's hair!

John accepted his ministry obediently, on God's term. He didn't say "God, let's make a deal!" It wasn't "God, why don't we do it my way?"

John didn't take the glory for himself. He did his ministry in a Christ-like manner -- with boldness and meekness and humility. He told it like it was -- "You people need to repent! You think you're part of God's 'in' crowd. You wanna be God's roadie! 'Oh, yeah, hey -- I'm with the band. Yeah, me and God ... yeah, we're real tight. Hey, the Big Guy don't make a move without talking to me first!" John said "Hey, I'm just doing what God said to do. I'm not the guy. The real guy is coming after me." John knew he was the warm- up act. He was just the announcer -- he didn't try to be the star.

John had the Holy Ghost. You know the saying "When things get tough, the tough get going?" When things got tough, the Spirit in John just stood and told Herod "If it's wrong, it's wrong."

Because he had the Holy Ghost, John knew that if he trusted in God, you could kill him, but you couldn't keep him killed! You see, the Old Testament said the Messiah would be cut off from the land of the living, but after the suffering of His soul He would again see the light of life. Do you know the pyramids were built as resurrection machines? Even before Abraham people knew that some day death would not be the end.

John obeyed unto death and is now enjoying his reward. He ain't dead, he's in heaven. And you can bet he's gonna be in the front lines when that Rider comes back on that white horse leading the armies of heaven. "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones, to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

John didn't have a preacher's license. He didn't have Doctor of Divinity, Reverend, magna cum laude diplomas and certificates hanging on the wall. But God gave him what he needed to do the ministry God planned for him -- the Holy Ghost to show him what to do. God put him in the right place -- among listeners with receptive hearts.

John's ministry was quite successful for awhile, but then he got arrested and ultimately had his head cut off. His disciples hung around for awhile but eventually faded away.

But I want you to know one more thing about John's ministry. Before it died out ... GOD showed up IN PERSON and said "Good job! --- I'LL TAKE IT FROM HERE!" God showed up -- Jesus Christ -- God in the flesh. God showed up and said "You can't handle it, BUT I CAN!" And He's been at it ever since!

I want you to understand that Jesus was fully human. Even He needed the Holy Spirit to do His ministry. Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit and was empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In our passage we see the same things with Jesus' ministry that we saw with John's. God planned the ministry, then He prepared the way. Jesus accepted the ministry obediently on God's terms even though He didn't know exactly what it would involve. It wasn't an easy ministry, but God didn't promise things would be easy, and Satan certainly didn't either! He showed up in both ministries! Only with Jesus, his "I'll just kill God's preacher!" tactic backfired big-time.

God planned the ministry, He prepared the way, the chosen minister accepted the ministry, and, once again, God gave the minister what He needed -- the Holy Spirit and people willing to accept Him -- a faithful remnant.

And one more time, when Jesus -- human Jesus -- had taken the ministry as far as He could, God showed up in person -- God the Holy Spirit -- and said "Good job! -- I'll take it from here!"

And who is that third minister? He's me. What? You don't see "Rick" in there anywhere? Okay, I lied. It's not a third minister. It's a third and a fourth, and a fifth, and a twenty-thousandth and a fifty- millionth minister. It's him and him and her. It's all of us -- every believer. We are all a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Spiritual sacrifices, ministry, are our acceptable sacrifice.

And God will make a way out of no way, for you. He planned a ministry for you. Do you know what it is? Ask Him. He has prepared the way for you; He didn't just throw His Son out and say "Here, You deal with it!" He gave Him the Holy Spirit. He sent a forerunner. You are His son, too! You are His daughter, too! He's prepared a way for you, too!

Now you have to accept your ministry -- obediently -- on God's terms. It's His plan, not yours. If it's your plan, you have to provide the reward! If it's His plan, He provides the reward! Do you think you can provide a better reward for yourself than God can? Are you gonna provide the Holy Spirit?

And when I've taken things as far as I can, there's one more thing I'm waiting to hear ...

"Thanks! I'LL TAKE IT FROM HERE. I'll take your burdens. I'll take your problems. I'll handle your failures. I'll set things right. I fixed it for Job. I brought Jesus back from the dead in a glorified body. I can handle your problems. I can deal with your troubles. I know a whole lot more folk than you do . . . I made 'em.

"I can handle it . . . .

"I'm God!"


There is a 'black' preaching style. Although some Anglo evangelical preachers have picked up the style, it was developed among American black preachers and is still predominantly seen in the black churches. Preaching in mainstream Anglo churches tends to be similar to a college lecture. It assumes that most of the audience is fairly well educated and familiar with the Bible.

On the other hand, the black preaching style developed at a time when the vast majority of American blacks could not read. It is more story oriented. The basic format is:

(1)  20-25 minutes maximum
(2)  a narrative (Bible story)
(3)  movements
(4)  leading 'upwards' and
(5)  ending in celebration.

Following is a fairly detailed analysis of why the Three Ministries sermon is good (even though it breaks a few of the 'black' preaching style rules).  This is the first sermon I ever wrote. Although, obviously, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is necessary for any sermon to be good, this sermon -- and my lack of experience -- shows that technique and style -- mechanical aspects that can be learned -- also play a vital role. I would estimate that about thirty to forty percent of what makes the sermon good is technique.

I like to tell jokes, but I definitely am not a story-teller. I got the techniques of narrative story, movements/flow, suspense/confusion, and celebration from the preaching class, and the Principle of the Norm from a book on theology.  Other than that, all the techniques described are from non-religious sources, mainly from books and articles on how to present a legal case to a jury. (Both preachers and trial lawyers are advocates.)


This sermon barely avoids 'by the skin of its teeth' a major error in preaching. Obviously, the passage is not about ministry. Obviously, the passage is about repentance and the difference between water baptism and baptism with the Holy Spirit. The problem is that that really isn't 'preaching material'.  There's no story. We were assigned this text. I included enough about baptism of repentance to avoid totally misrepresenting the text, but I spoke about the patterns illustrated because it made a good sermon.

Good preaching should usually be a narrative, based around a story.

That is why we see a lot of preaching from the Gospels and the Old Testament but very little from the Prophets and the Epistles of Paul. Paul was not a good preacher.  On one occasion, he was so boring that someone literally fell asleep, fell out a third-story window and died. Taking it in stride, however, Paul simply went over to the corpse, prayed, and brought him back from the dead! ("And these signs shall follow those who believe . . .")

Note that the narrative basis of the sermon requires a fairly short passage. The listener can't relate to a three-page story.

This is not a fun text to preach from! I only used it because it was assigned. There really isn't a story -- it's more like a report. This is not the story of John the Baptist. Luke has that story. To a certain extent, I cheated -- a lot of what is discussed in the sermon is really based on Luke. All the material on 'church-folk' is based on Luke.

Use of analogy

I have repeatedly heard Bible-study teachers say "Jesus taught in parables because it was prophesied that the Messiah would do that."  Baloney!  Jesus taught in parables because it is a very effective teaching method. Aesop's 'parables' are called 'fables'.  Lawyers use the same technique and call it 'analogies' or 'hypotheticals'.

A lawyer talking to a jury and a preacher preaching a sermon have the exact same task: How do I take this information, that my listeners don't understand and don't relate to and put it in terms they can understand and can relate to? Your success as a preacher (or trial lawyer!) will be directly proportional to how well you do that!  It can take months to come up with a single good analogy.

Several good analogies in this sermon are:

  • "spiritual root canal"

  • "biting into something you shouldn't oughtta bit into"

  • You wanna be God's roadie!

The 'Principle of the Norm'

Each major principle in Scripture has one section that has the most complete exposition. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the 'home' of the Rapture; not 1 Corinthians 15:51 et seq. Very few Biblical concepts are only discussed once. Examining related passages helps add 'color' and 'depth' to the story. In this case, a relatively bland report in Mark takes on 'texture' by including details from a parallel passage in Luke.


A good sermon should cover several related thoughts.  There should be obvious movement from one section to the next. To keep interest there should be at least two movements (3 sections). To avoid confusion, there should be no more than five movements (6 sections). Generally, there should be 3-4 movements.


"Rick, how the heck do you see three ministries in that passage ???" There's 1) John the Baptist, and 2) Jesus, and . . .  that's it! How do you see three ministries? What the heck are you talking about ???"

This is thrown in to create a little suspense. Note that this is a fairly advanced technique that can easily bomb!

The professor mentioned that in one of his sermons he suddenly stopped and said "Did anyone hear that flute?" Then he continued.  A few minutes later he said "I know you must have heard the flute that time!" When he mentioned it a third time, people were looking at him like he was crazy. Then he explained: "In old times when there was a plague [I don't recall exactly where he said this was done], when somebody died they used to play a flute to notify people to pick up the body.  Listen.  Somebody's kid just got killed in a drive-by.  There it is again.  Somebody just died of an overdose. There it is again.  Somebody's marriage just died." etc., etc.

Avoid a 'String of Pearls'

Avoid a 'string of pearls': four or five great unrelated topics. This confuses listeners and they can't remember the point of the sermon.


It is unrealistic to expect people to remember a concept after hearing it only once or twice. Repetition helps learning. However, to keep the listener interested the same material must be re-presented in different ways. In the celebration part this is especially common.  Use a thesaurus to find other words with the same meaning. This sermon repeats the steps in ministry three times, to help the listener remember.


The single-most thing that makes this a good sermon is word-pictures.In this sermon, everyone can see themself biting into an apple or a steak and suddenly feeling a horrible shooting pain.  Everyone can see themself shouting 'Oh, my God ...'. Everyone can see themself hearing the dentist say "I'm going to have to do a root canal." Everyone can see themself saying "Can't we put it off a little longer?"

(Yes, when I wrote this I had a broken tooth and had been told that I need root canal.)

Toward the end is one of my favorite word-pictures, Jude 14-15. ("See, the Lord is coming ...") This is combined with a reference to Revelation, with Jesus leading the saints at the Second Coming. For some strange reason, I just have this mental picture from the perspective of someone on Earth: Suddenly there is a huge thunderclap and the sky splits open from East to West! Thousands upon thousands of people on flying horses are coming out of the split. I can just picture the person looking up and thinking "Oh, *%@$# !!!"

Odd phrases

People remember the unusual, the oddball. That is the reason for using phrases like "you couldn't keep him killed!"  The subconscious response is "Wait a minute . . ."

Sound bites

Like it or not, we need to face the fact that most people don't remember much of what they see or hear. In most cases, the most we can hope for is that the person will remember one or two particularly memorable concepts or a particularly catchy phrase. This sermon is deliberately filled with sound bites:

  • "If he trusted in God, you could kill him, but you couldn't keep him killed."

  • "Telling them 'You need to repent' is like recommending root canal for their soul."

  • Bite into it and "Oh my God, oh my God, oh God, oh God, oh God! Oh, Jesus! God, that hurts! Oh God, oh God, oh God!"

  • Dentistry on your spirit

  • Spiritual novocain (a particular favorite!)

  • Sin epidural (another favorite)

  • "If you got a rotten tooth, puttin' junk in it ain't gonna fix it!  If you got a rotten life, ..."

  • "Use a 'junk Jesus' for quick fix"

  • "Just give me a big shot o' Jesus and I'll be on my way!"

  • "Put it on my tab."

  • Jesus ain't a flu shot! (another particular favorite!)

  • The Jews were churchfolk!

  • He didn't say 'God, let's make a deal'.

  • You wanna be God's roadie!

  • Yeah, me and God ... yeah, we're real tight. Hey, the Big Guy don't make a move without talking to me first!" (This is particularly aimed at the people who go around claiming everything they say is rubber-stamped by the Holy Spirit.)

  • God saying "Good job, I'll take it from here!"

Language level

I'm a lawyer and I frequently get comments from non-lawyers about how easy it is to understand my writings! Years ago I learned a great technique for effective writing and speaking: Write for an intelligent adult with a ninth-grade education. You may be thinking, "Yes, . . . but a lot of my listeners or readers are college graduates." Look over this paragraph. It's clear, concise, and easy to understand, isn't it? Does it sound like I'm 'talking down' to you? Do you think an intelligent adult with a ninth-grade education would understand it? To someone with more education it doesn't come across as 'simplistic', it comes across as clear and easy to understand.

According to the translators, the NIV Bible is written for a seventh-grade reading level.

Flow: Incline

A sermon should 'flow' 'upwards'. The various movements should build to a . . .


The Gospel is the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ! It is hope for the downtrodden, a light to those in darkness, salvation for the damned. A sermon should build to a climactic celebration.


Following are some attributes of this sermon that are based on my personal style:

Lots of theology

I personally think there is not enough emphasis on doctrine, theology, and apologetics at the general congregation level in CME churches (and many other denominations).  This sermon has lots of theology squeezed in, without getting obnoxious or confusing.

Important note: Although I intentionally added a number of theology points (Jesus was fully human, the Resurrection was prophesied), even I was amazed at how theology-packed this sermon is. I didn't realize it until I started putting together this list. If I had intentionally tried to put that much in, it would have come off like a rambling, boring 'string of pearls' lecture on theology.

  • Isaiah described God's plan 700 years beforehand (See Isaiah 44:6-8 -- prophecy is the 'acid' test that only God can pass.)
  • God has a master plan
  • God has a plan for each of us
  • baptism of repentance - repentance explained (I had to mention the subject of the passage!)
  • Christ-like attributes: boldness, meekness, humility
  • The Spirit does the preaching.
  • The Spirit gives the person what to say.
  • The Spirit gives the person the boldness and courage to speak.
  • The way to obtain eternal life is to trust God.
  • It was prophesied that the Messiah would rise from the dead. (more apologetics)
  • Some Egyptian theology
    • I'm interested in Egyptology.
    • This is an interesting tid-bit I ran across.
    • Most people are interested in the pyramids.
    • The pyramids are a tie-in to African heritage.
  • There are moral absolutes.
  • There is a reward for obedience, even unto death.
  • Dead believers are still alive.
  • Jesus will return to judge sinners.
  • Jesus will return with the saints.
  • God prepares each person for that person's ministry.
  • Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.
  • Jesus Christ was fully human.
  • The human Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is God.
  • The Holy Spirit is still in the world.
  • Satan opposes God's ministers.
  • Those who accept God are a 'faithful remnant'.
  • The priesthood of all believers.
  • God will make a way out of no way.
  • God is our Father.
  • God can handle things no matter how bad they get -- Jesus was killed and He worked that out!

Check-mark flow

Generally, a sermon should build on a steady incline from the start to the celebration.  Instead, this sermon has a 'check-mark' flow.  The sermon is fairly flat, some humor, some interesting word-pictures, etc., then it nose-dives, crashes and burns: John gets his head cut off and his ministry dies out.

God, Rick! That's depressing!

BUT . . .

This sermon follows the comedy format called a 'saver': the comedian does the  joke 'setup' and tells the punch line . . . and the joke bombs! But, then he pulls out the saver! The real punch line was the second one!

This flow was intentional; I debated quite awhile about whether to omit the 'crash and burn' section. I left it in because the move to the celebration is that much more uplifting.

Here, God shows up and saves what seems like a hopeless waste and turns it into something worth celebrating.

Patterns, not words

Most Bible preachers and teachers are so hung up on the words of the Bible that they never talk about patterns in the Bible. This sermon is a perfect example of an important teaching in a pattern. This passage and the related passages don't talk about how God prepares ministries but they illustrate it.


Of course, no style is perfect. Here are some problems with the 'black' preaching style, in no particular order. (Keep in mind that the "Three Ministries" sermon breaks the style rules a bit here and there.)

Many topics don't lend themselves to a story format. Prophecy is almost never mentioned in black churches (and many mainstream churches, where this preaching style is not used).  Twenty-eight percent of the Bible is prophecy, including eighteen books that are almost totally prophecy. Apologetics, theology, and doctrine generally don't lend themselves to a story format.  This means that most of Paul's writings are rarely used for preaching in black churches.

The remaining material gets repetitious. If you don't preach on the 28 percent of the Bible that is prophecy, don't preach from the roughly one-half of the New Testament that explains theology, doctrine, etc., and leave out roughly 20 percent of history that has little value for preaching, it leaves a much smaller set of source material.

Anyone who has regularly attended services at black churches for more than two years has heard at least two or three sermons on "the woman with the issue of blood", at least ten sermons on gossiping and "church folk", etc. Those same people have probably never heard the details about "After You Die", for instance, which deals with prophecy.

Story sermons aren't analytical. The 'celebration' approach primarily appeals to emotions rather than logic, reasoning, etc. However, people also need to hear the logical, intellectual basis and aspects of Christianity, not just the emotional appeal. Church members routinely are encouraged to talk to others about Jesus, etc., but when people ask common questions such as "Yes, but how do we know the Bible is true?" or "Is the Book of Mormon also true?", the member hasn't been given the answer.  This style of preaching generally just declares "I know that I know that I know!", which leaves the listener unprepared for real-life evangelism situations.


On the one hand, constant 'inspirational' sermons can lead to a 'feel-good' approach to church participation. On the other hand, people need to understand that Christianity is not about in-depth understanding of complex principles and details -- it's about a relationship between the worshiper and God.

Another point to consider is that the church emphasizes self-study and group study, not just preaching. Every Christian preacher, regardless of color, heritage or denomination, encourages the listeners to study for themselves. Topics that don't lend themselves to a story format are taught in classes.

As in most things, when it comes to preaching, the best approach for the long term is to change styles, depending on the particular message God has given the preacher for that audience.


(c) 1999 Joseph "Rick" Reinckens
Used by permission