The open-air preacher’s toolbox has many options. Unfortunately, many men only use the hammer. The blunt object of God’s law is their only tool. These preachers use it appropriately for the self-righteous, but they also wield it on the spiritually weary. They fail to pull out the cloth of Jesus’ love to wipe away the tears of the broken-hearted. As preachers, we must understand our audience. Many people need to stare at God’s law and see their guilt. While others feel the burden of their sin and need to be comforted with the compassion of a Savior who died as a curse on the cross.
This article is a call for open-air preachers to expand their toolbox. Do not only preach sermons about God’s wrath and the condemnation to come. Brother, please add to your repertoire sermons aimed at the broken-hearted. Here are two reasons from the Scriptures.
1. Jesus calls the broken-hearted to come to Him.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives a call to the weary. In the previous paragraph, he has pronounced a woe onto the cities for rejecting Him. Then, He thanks the Father for concealing this truth and only revealing it to His children. Then, Jesus shows His compassion.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
Jesus reveals four things about Himself which will comfort the heart of the down-trodden. First, He will give them rest. Jesus is the only one who can give spiritual rest. He is the rock in which to find rest. Those who are weary from works-based religion can find relief in Jesus. Those who are tired of their bondage to their addictions can be freed.
Second, Jesus is gentle. He is the perfect gentleman. Oh how many women have been betrayed and abused by a man. Yet Jesus is tender. He is the almighty God, but He controls His power by being gentle with the hurting.
Third, Jesus is lowly. He is humble. He is not prideful or arrogant. There is a beauty to Jesus’ demeanor which is comforting to the hurting.
Fourth, His yoke is light. He will not burden a person with the works of the law. He will not force them into the bondage of religious works and self-righteousness. Instead, He calls them to come to Him. Trust in Christ’s righteousness. The burden of your sinful past is wiped clean through His atonement on the cross. The broken-hearted can be a new creature in Christ by faith in Him.
Besides Jesus’ example, Charles Spurgeon exhorted men to preach on the love of Christ Jesus. He gives caution to balance it with the justice of God. We do not preach Christ’s love in isolation, but this should not stop us from preaching about His love.
"Preach earnestly the love of God in Christ Jesus, and magnify the abounding mercy of the Lord; but always preach it in connection with his justice. Do not extol the single attribute of love in the method too generally followed, but regard love in the high theological sense, in which, like a golden circle, it holds within itself all the divine attributes: for God were not love if he were not just, and did not hate every unholy thing. Never exalt one attribute at the expense of another. Let boundless mercy be seen in calm consistency with stern justice and unlimited sovereignty. The true character of God is fitted to awe, impress, and humble the sinner: be careful not to misrepresent your Lord. All these truths and others which complete the evangelical system are calculated to lead men to faith; therefore make them the staple of your teaching" (Lectures to my Students, pg. 361)
Do not make a false dichotomy in your mind. Preaching on Christ’s love does not mean you have forsaken God’s wrath. Instead, it magnifies the great love of our Savior to die under God’s wrath. It shows the seriousness of our sin and our need for a surety. We can preach the love of Christ to the broken-hearted and still call them to repent.
2. Jesus is the physician for souls.
In Matthew 9:9-12, Jesus compares Himself to a physician. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees came to accuse Jesus. If He was a true prophet, then He would not fellowship with the unclean. Jesus responded by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)
A physician goes to the sick to treat them. He does not go to the healthy. In the same way, the soul physician goes to the ones who know that they are sinners. The self-righteous do not see their need for a Savior. He has an attitude of mercy for these sinners to minister to them.
If you are an open-air preacher, then you are a soul physician. You must consider the different souls who are walking by you on the street corner. Many people will be like the Pharisees. They are self-righteous and see no need for a Savior. This is why we preach the law to reveal their wickedness. At the same time, there is another group of people who know that they are sinners. They need the pure ointment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to heal their soul. They are broken and depressed. They have hit rock bottom and realize their hopelessness. We must preach to these people too.
Here are categories of broken people who walk by our preaching.
A man has received news that his wife is filing for divorce.
A wife is grieving the death of her husband.
A couple is estranged from their son and do not know where he is living.
A married couple has broken off communication with the wife’s parents.
A woman finds out that she is pregnant and is not married.
A runaway teenage girl feels the guilt for disobeying her parents.
A man has been fired. He does not know how he will support his family.
A woman did not receive a promotion in her company.
A middle aged man had a job related accident. He can no longer work.
A middle aged woman has started a new job and does not know if she can learn the required computer skills to keep it.
A doctor told a man that he has cancer. He only has 6 months to live.
An older man has to give up driving since he can no longer see.
A son has been involved in a car accident and is now paralyzed.
A couple has discovered their newborn is blind.
A man has become an alcoholic since his girlfriend broke up with him.
A teenager has turned to drugs to bury the pain of a fatherless home.
A woman is cutting herself since she hates her body.
A man has become a workaholic to forget the memories of being sexually molested as a boy.
A recently released convict knows that he is going to hell for his crimes.
The Catholic man is weary from doing good works and not having peace of salvation.
The Muslim is afraid that his good works will not outweigh his bad.
A young man feels like no one cares about him. He is considering suicide.
A college girl is broken after being drugged and raped.
Remember preachers that your audience is a mixed crowd. Many people need to feel the hammer of the law upon their soul. However, there are some who need a tender and gentle prescription of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.