A sermon truly begins with the listener: Why should I listen to this man? He asks for my attention, why should I care? (Now, note, I am not saying that the Words of God should not be carefully attended to. That is unquestionably true.)
When one comes to a sermon, the preacher has the duty to presenting the great matter of eternity before him. Baxter rightly wrote, “I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.” But too often sermons which begin with cute, often funny stories, cannot command that sort of gravity. If the sermon merely begin a joke, how do we ever get to matters of eternal consequence?
This introduction by J.D. Jones certainly opens up a matter of profound gravity. He also immediately makes it to Scripture. He asks a question and answers with the Text. He also demonstrates by means of a contemporary reference (WWI), that the question is immediately relevant:
IF A MAN DIE—
THERE is no question to which the human soul more eagerly desires a clear and sure answer than this one: “If a man die, shall he live again?” It is an old, old question. Job asked it long ago in an agony. The one fact he could see, the one fact which admitted of no challenge or dispute, was the tragic fact of death. “Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the river decayeth and drieth up, so man lieth down and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep.” And yet, if the grave really was the end, if death was the very last word, it seemed to Job that life was just a tangled web of injustice and wrong, and that there could not be a wise and good God at the heart of things. That sorely-tried patriarch passionately desired an assurance that man should live again. He almost demanded a future life to rectify the wrongs and waste and distresses of this. There is entreaty, there is pathetic appeal, there is passion and desire in this question: “If a man die, shall he live again?”
Thousands and tens of thousands of people are asking that same question with a similar urgency in these days of ours. The awful harvest which death has been reaping in the Great War has made it the question of questions for a vast host of bereaved fathers and mothers and wives and lovers. They want to know—what of their beloved dead? Is a grave in France or Mesopotamia, or beneath the waters of the North Sea the end of them, or shall they live again?
J. D. Jones, If a Man Die (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918), 9–12.