The Glorious Subject of All True Preaching

“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they
ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
-Acts 5:42

“Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed to them the Christ.”
-Acts 8:5

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this
Scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
-Acts 8:35

“And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues,
saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”
Acts 9:20

“…but we preach Christ crucified…”
-1 Corinthians 1:23

“For I decided to know nothing among you except
Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
-1 Corinthians 2:2

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves,
but Jesus Christ as Lord…”
-2 Corinthians 4:5

Him [Jesus] we proclaim…”
-Colossians 1:28

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints,
this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ…”
-Ephesians 3:8

Hearing and Learning but Never Responding

To stand before the people of God with the book of God in order to communicate the will of God is a very dangerous thing. James, the half-brother of Jesus, who had become a pillar in the early church, wrote in the third chapter of his letter,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

It’s no small thing to handle the truth of God, seeing that those who do so will be judged with greater strictness.

At the same time, it’s no small thing for people to hear the truth of God. In Micah 6:8, the prophet said,

[God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah understood that when God speaks, man is obligated to respond appropriately. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, after God lays down His law the second time, Moses says to the people,

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?

In other words, “Israel, now that God has spoken, now that you know what He requires, you’re required to act and respond to Him accordingly.” When God speaks, and you hear, you become responsible and accountable. Our Lord Jesus taught this same principle. He said,

And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

Knowledge without appropriate action is a serious thing:

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

This has massive implications for you and I. What are you doing with what you hear and learn as you sit under the preaching of God’s Word? You may sit and take notes during the sermon, but is the truth ever written upon your heart, to the point that it overflows through your life? Do you sit before the teaching of the Word of God the same way you sit before the television or a musical performance, just to be entertained for a bit? It seems that what happened in Ezekiel’s day is happening in our day, and has actually become the normal church experience for thousands of people. God said to Ezekiel,

As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. (Ezekiel 33:30–32)

God help us from falling into this deadly snare of hearing and learning but never responding!

Questions to Ask Before Assembling Under the Word

These are some questions to ask yourself before assembling with the people of God under the preaching of the Word of God:

1. Did I come to hear something new and trendy, or did I come to hear ancient truth that transcends time and transforms souls?

2. Did I come to hear newly discovered insights from the Bible, or did I come to hear the Christ-centered message of the Old and New Testament, the very message that every faithful pastor has preached for 2,000 years of church history?

3. Did I come simply to have my head puffed up with more knowledge, or did I come to have my heart revived, my soul replenished, my mind renewed, my strength restored, and my eyes refocused by the Word of God as it’s applied to my life by the Holy Spirit?

4. Do I consider the preaching of God’s Word a “common” thing to be taken for granted, or do I regard it as the greatest of all privileges on this side of eternity?

5. Did I come to stare at the familiar meal that God places before me, or did I come to eat, drink, and be satisfied by the faithful God who promises to fill the wide-open mouths of His hungry people?

6. Did I come to be entertained for an hour, or did I come to be equipped for the great commission?

7. Did I come to have my ears scratched, or did I come to be equipped by the Spirit of God to take the gospel of Christ to the nations in my home, workplace, school, city, and world?

8. Am I praying with the psalmist,

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

9. Have I taught my children about the sobering and blessed privilege of sitting before the preached Word, or does my lack of reverence and respect for this experience show them that it’s no different than sitting before the television or some other form of entertainment?

10. Do I plan on speaking to my children about the sermon, to ensure that they’ve understood the main point(s) of the sermon?

11. Have I prayed earnestly for the Lord’s servant who’ll be preaching, that the Chief Shepherd would speak clearly and mightily through him?

12. Am I more concerned with the preacher being culturally relevant, or do I desire and pray that he remains faithful and clear in his delivery of the Word of God?

13. Am I willing to lovingly overlook the weaknesses of the preacher in order to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church, or will I focus on what I don’t like about God’s servant and fail to receive God’s Word?

14. Am I prepared to be a “doer” of the Word, or will I content myself in being a mere “hearer” of it, and so deceive myself?

15. Have I confessed and dealt with known sin in my life in order to receive the Word with all meekness and humility, or will I foolishly sit under the exposition of God’s Word with a clouded mind, an uncultivated heart, and a partially seared conscience?

16. In light of the parable of the sower, will I hear God’s Word with an impenetrable heart, a shallow heart, a distracted heart, or a well-prepared and softened heart?

17. What measures am I going to take to make sure that I don’t forget the main point of the sermon (which should be the main point of the passage of Scripture)?

18. Am I prepared to give God my best attention and to ensure that I get a good night’s rest on Saturday so that I can be attentive on Sunday morning, or will I go to bed late after hanging out with friends (“friends don’t let friends show up to church tired”), watching television, binging on Netflix, browsing the Internet, or scrolling on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and/or Instagram?

19. Do I approach this sacred experience with the sense of anticipation, expectation, and determination that we read about in Isaiah 2:3?

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. (Isaiah 2:3)

Note the expectation of the people: “that He may teach us His ways.” Note also their determination: “that we may walk in His paths.” It’s very clear that they ascend the mountain expecting something. Their minds are prepared. Their hearts are eager.

There is an expectation to hear from God and a determination to respond to God.

Though we may not adopt everything that came out of the Puritan era, we would do well to adopt their high view of the Word of God. A simple glance at this period of church history will reveal that Puritan preachers actually preached sermons on how to listen to sermons. Why? Because they understood something of the awesome weightiness of assembling under the Spirit-empowered preaching of God’s Word.

Along with Martin Luther, the Puritans viewed the pulpit as the throne of the Word of God. They believed that preaching was the primary means of unleashing the light and heat of God’s saving and sanctifying Word. To them, the pulpit was where the Good Shepherd fed His sheep, where the Captain of salvation armed His soldiers, where the Great Physician performed His operations, where the Head addressed the Body, where the Bridegroom smiled upon His Bride, and where King Jesus refreshed weary pilgrims as they journeyed to His Celestial City.

Yet, this awesome view of assembling under the preaching of the Word did not arise from themselves. Their basis for their high view of gathering under the preaching of God’s Word arose from the pages of the Word itself. They caught something of the significance of Isaiah 55:2-3:

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…

Our souls eat and find delight by listening to our God. We come to Him by inclining our ear to Him. We live and flourish when we hear Him speak. This does not mean that God speaks to His people solely through preaching. However, in light of the New Testament, the primary place of equipping, arming, nourishing, growing, maturing, edifying, unifying, instructing, and fortifying is in the context of the local church where faithful pastors and shepherds are faithfully preaching the Word of God. Therefore,

Take care then how you hear. (Luke 8:18)

Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured? . . . Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.

-George Whitefield

An Outline of John 17

As I make my way through John 17 on Sunday mornings, I thought I’d make my outline available for those who might be able to make use of it. If it’s helpful, use it. If not, that’s okay. I’ll be editing this outline here and there as I think and work my way through the text.

1. Jesus prays for Himself (vv. 1-5)

2. Jesus prays for those who followed Him in His day (vv. 6-19)

Why He prays for them (vv. 6-11)

1. They were the recipients of His saving revelation (v. 6)

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me…and they have kept your word.”

2. They were entrusted to His care (v. 6)

“…the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me…”

3. They were true disciples (vv. 6-8)

“…they have kept your wordthey know that everything that you have given me is from you…they have received [your words] and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

Keeping, knowing, receiving, believing. All those terms are used in John’s gospel to define true believers. Jesus defines true discipleship in John 8:31-32 in very similar terms: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

4. They were the special beneficiaries of His priestly ministry (vv. 9-10)

“I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me…I am glorified in them.”

5. They were about to be deprived of His physical presence (v. 11)

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”

What He prays for them (vv. 11-19)

1. Their preservation (v. 11)

“Holy Father, keep them in your name…”

2. Their union (v. 11)

“…that they may be one, even as we are one.”

3. Their protection (v. 15)

“…keep them from the evil one.”

4. Their sanctification (v. 17)

Sanctify them in the truth…”

3. Jesus prays for those who would follow Him in the future (vv. 20-26)

He prays for their blessedness in the world (v. 20-23)

This blessedness consists in an intimate union with the Triune God (v. 21, 23)

“…that they also may be in us…”

“…I in them…”

He prays for their blessedness in the world to come (v. 24-26)

That we would behold the glory of God (v. 24)

“Father, I desire that they…see my glory…”

That we would bask in the love of God (v. 26)

“…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them…”

That we would be bound to the Son of God (v. 24, 26)

“Father, I desire that they…may be with me where I am…”

“…that…I [may be] in them.”