Sometimes you think you won’t make it through the week.
I mean that in a spiritual sense. The week seems so long. You battle the enemy, you travel up the hill. The enemy never relents. The incline of the hill never slackens but instead you keep going up, up, up. You wonder where Sunday is. You need it now more than ever. You feel worn out and tired. You just need to lay your burden aside, to close your eyes and let your mind rest a while from the troubles of the world.
And finally Sunday arrives. You reach the top of the hill that you’ve been climbing all week. You look down and see a beautiful valley full of waterfalls and pools, sweet grass and tall trees that shade you from the sun. You sit and you rest. You could almost close your eyes, so peaceful is the beauty that surrounds you. Then you hear His voice and it is sweeter than the grass that you smell and it shades you from the cruel glare of your sin more than the trees could ever shade you from the heat of the sun. What He has to say fills your soul and quiets you as he leads you by the still waters.
If only this was our response every Sunday. Yet our sinful natures make us incapable of always recognizing Sunday for what it really is. We don’t view it as rest for our souls, as a glimpse of what heaven will be. Instead we use it as another day to mentally and physically accomplish the things we didn’t take care of during the week. And it’s a shame that we do because we lose the advantage and beauty of the day.
The advantage of Sunday is found in the knowledge that it is a day of rest. The world plows through the day as if it were any other. They think that by doing so it will somehow redeem them, that if they have more time for themselves then at the end of their lives they can feel fulfilled. But fulfillment has never been found within the ego and the only result of self-fulfillment is self-destruction. The secret of the day lies within the words that are spoken over the pulpit. Preaching is the key to true rest for the believer who wearily travels as a pilgrim through this world.
We are particular about the sounds of preaching that come to us over the pulpit. Since it is the chief means of grace and since faith comes by hearing this word proclaimed the only thing we want to hear are the words of Christ Himself. Man’s opinion cannot save us and the advice of society can only leaves us frustrated as if there were no end to our misery. The comfort of salvation comes to us through the peace that Christ gives to us by the Spirit. He uses the preaching to show us the horrible condition of our sin, the dangerous state that we live in and the knowledge of the cross as being the act of God that will completely save us.
When Christ was on the earth He instructed the people in parables because in His wisdom He chose to make the simple things confound the wise and the Pharisees. By speaking in parables He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of Psalm 78: 2, “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.” The words and parables of Christ were so great that certain Greeks came to the feast to inquire of Jesus. John 12: 20 and 21 state, “And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast. The same came therefore to Philip…saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.”
It is no different for the child of God who sits in the pew in a church in America than it was for the child of God who lived at the time of Christ. We say to the minister every Sunday, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” We want to hear the mysteries of the kingdom revealed to us, explanations of the parables spoken by Christ. We need to hear how the prophecies of old were fulfilled by the child in a manger and how God used the history and the doings of the ancient world to bring this promise to fruition. We need to hear how the sufferings of His life afforded us salvation that was sealed eternally on the cross. We need to hear how He conquered death and left this world with the promise of the coming of His Spirit. We need to hear that Christ is coming again and how the signs of the time point to His return. We need to hear what He has to say to us because the sound of His voice is what pleases our regenerated hearts the most.
Sometimes we think that we don’t need to hear these things because we’ve heard them so many times before. But if you feel that way then you don’t know your old man of sin very well. He is so very crafty and persuasive – and above all persistent. He wants you to forget every doctrine that you know. Because if you don’t know anything about the teachings of Christ then he knows that you have nothing to fight him with. What do you say to him when you are tempted to gossip about someone? No, I can’t gossip about this person. It’s wrong. Then he’ll ask why. And what do you say? Because my minister said so. He’ll talk you out of it just like the serpent did in the Garden of Eden. The only thing that will defeat him is doctrine, the words and teachings of Christ Himself. Say to your old man, No, I can’t talk bad about this person because God commands me to love my neighbor as myself. He commands me of this because He first loved me. And if God so loved me then I ought also to love my brother. Try that with your old man of sin. The word of Christ will break him because the power of Christ’s word lives in you. They will break him because it is preordained that they should do such. It is a dark saying of old that God has spoken since forever. He will crush the enemy simply by the fulfillment of His spoken word.
The people of the church need to hear the practical application of the word of God. But they can only know this by knowing the doctrines that define these applications. The two are interwoven. Doctrine means nothing if the people do not apply in to their lives (faith without works is dead). Yet the people are lost in the art of application if they do not understand why thy must do these things (Thy word is a lamp unto my feet).
Why does God command that we be holy? Because He is holy and dwells in perfect peace within the Trinity. Why must we love one another and strive to dwell in unity? Because God, the Son and Spirit dwell in unity and love in the Godhead. In His mercy He has brought us into the covenant and made us able to partake of His love and friendship. God could have demanded these things of us and given no explanation. And we would have had to obey them because He decreed them. But in His wisdom He made us rationale creatures capable of thinking, of processing thoughts and using reasoning to come to logical explanations. Why? So that every thought that you have, every idea that comes into your mind draws you to the conclusion that God is great and worthy of all praise.
So if you seek practical application in the preaching that you hear then you would be wise to look in a mirror. You are the practical application. As you hear the doctrine and parables revealed and explained to you Christ engrafts them into your heart through the working of the Spirit. Did you recently hear a sermon on the Trinity? Then remember it the next time you are watching the television or on the Internet. You will say to yourself, “I can’t watch this because I remember what the minister said about the triune nature of God. So beautiful is the love and unity that the Father, Son and Spirit dwell in that I cannot corrupt my mind by watching this filth.” This is what it means to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation has been given to you and by the power of Christ as He renews your heart you spread that salvation to cover every aspect of your life. The words that He speaks to you over the pulpit are the candles that light your way as you walk in a way pleasing to Him.
Guard the vessel that God has ordained to bring you His word. Do not attack the minister with the cruel expectations of your imagination. Sometimes we demand of others what we ourselves are incapable of achieving. But don’t let this be with your minister. Demand of him that you would see Jesus. You want to hear about the One you love the most. You don’t want the minister’s opinions. You can discuss those over coffee sometime if you wish. You don’t want anything watered down, nothing minced with pleasant empty words that are nothing more than nothingness. You want to hear the truth because you are sick. Deathly sick. And the Balm of Gilead is the only One that can heal you.
Remember to always do your minister a favor by remembering that he is only a man. Do not exalt him too high or criticize him too incessantly. These are the fruits of darkness. The devil would have us focus on man rather than God. He would also want us to criticize the means that God uses to speak to us. Even Aaron and Miriam complained about Moses because he married an Ethiopian woman. God gave leprosy to Miriam because they doubted the means that God had chosen to reveal Himself. It angers God when we critique the man rather than meditate on the message that God brought to us through that man. It is not given to us to judge who is worthy of being ordained. Rather it is commanded of us that we should pray diligently for these men who have been called to feed the flock of Jesus Christ.
Christ speaks to us in a loud voice or in gentle whisper. He speaks to us through ordained men in so many different ways. But it wasn’t how well the message was delivered and how hard the church shook from the power of the minister’s voice that matters. The exhibitions of men’s talents don’t delight the Lord. The outward show of our sacrifices don’t please Him. He isn’t deceived by the vanities of human talents. God looks at our hearts and we must always be mindful of that as we sit in the pew. Let the minister answer to God for any shortcomings he may have. He stands in the need of the cross just like any other child of God. But remember as you listen that God is looking at your heart to see. Here is the test, He says. Hear my words, my dark sayings of old. Now sacrifice your only child. Sacrifice the one thing you love the most: yourself. And listen. And then do. This is the test that is tied into every sermon that you hear. The searching and discerning eye of God to see if there be any wicked ways in you. He looks for the listening ear and the willing heart, for the seed that takes root to become the olive branches of His Zion.