The Consequences of Biblical Preaching

So, we’ve seen the call and the content of Biblical preaching.  Now lastly, I want to end by looking at the consequences of Biblical preaching in 8:9-12, “Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions, and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”

Here in this last section we find the glorious results of true Biblical preaching.  When these people had just experienced a horrible tragedy that lasted for many years, they knew what they needed, so they asked for it.  Ezra preached it and what happened?  The people wept because they saw how far short they came from God’s standards.  But Ezra spoke further from the Word in the midst of their sin, and told them to rejoice and not be grieved because the joy of the Lord is their strength.  So all the people went away to eat, drink, and celebrate because (this is key) they understood the words that had been made known to them.

So Church, how will you respond when tragedy strikes and/or questions come either from non-Christians or from your own heart?  Will you respond how Israel responded here and ask someone to “BRING THE BOOK?”  I pray you would.  Moses said it clearly in Deuteronomy 32:46-47, “Take to heart all the words which I am saying to today, for this word is no vain or idle word for you, it is your life.”

The Content of Biblical Preaching

…continued from yesterday’s post.

c) Preaching should be from the Word only. I’m not concerned with style here guys, this has nothing to do with style, rather it has everything to do with how we choose to say what we’ll say.  This type of preaching tests the preacher’s heart because it believes that what God has said in His book is more important for the Church than some new idea coming out of my head, no matter how good my ideas may be.  Therefore, preaching that does not linger over the Word is not Biblical preaching.  No wonder people think preaching is so boring in our day, because all they see is people getting up before them giving them motivational selp-help messages that are loosely tied to some passage in the Bible, if at all!  The people in Ezra’s day knew that they needed someone called by God to open God’s book and proclaim it to them in power.  They asked for it, and that’s what the Church must ask for today!  We don’t need preaching that’ll increase our self-esteem or preaching that’ll make us feel good and comfortable.  We need Bible-saturated, God-centered, risk-encouraging, missions-motivating, Christ-exalting, worship-inducing preaching!

d) Preaching should be from the Word only. 1 Pet. 1:23, “…for you have been born again not of seed that is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring Word of God.”  This means that God has made it so that His Word goes out, people are re-born.  When the Word of man go out, people may indeed be changed.  But is the change taking place the change God intends?  No.

e) Preaching should be from the Word only. 2 Tim. 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training, in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  When God’s Word leaves a pastor’s mouth, believers will be equipped for good works.  Works that Eph. 2:10 says were prepared in advance for us to do, and works that Matt. 5:16 says are to be public so people will glorify God because of seeing them.

f) Because preaching should be from the Word only, we can now tell the difference between faithful and unfaithful preaching.  Faithful preaching is the faithful explanation and application of the Bible where the text of Scripture provides the content of the message.  Unfaithful preaching is when the preacher uses the text of Scripture as an occasion for his own message.  Do you see the difference here?  Faithful preaching seeks to set the Bible and its agenda before you, while unfaithful preaching seeks to use the Bible as a launching point for the preacher’s own ideas.  Faithful preachers seek to show God to their people, while unfaithful preachers seek to use God and His Word as a platform to show themselves to their people.  Faithful preaching is praiseworthy, unfaithful preaching is blameworthy.  This is really, really, important to me, because I think one of the big reasons Adam Powers exists is to not only preach like this, but call pastors to preach like this. 

Preaching is no neutral event.  Listen to how John Piper describes this: God reveals Himself to us through His Word, and when we see God revealed in all His glory through the gospel of Jesus given to us in the Word, we are changed and we become more like Him and less like us.  So every time a preacher stands before you, God’s glory is at stake, and if glory is at stake, why would any preacher withhold that glory from you by not preaching from God’s Word?  If you don’t see God’s glory revealed through His Word here in the pulpit week in and week out where else are you going to see His glory?!  VEGGIE TALES?  NO WAY!”

Bottom line?  It’s all about the Word, get in it, ask for it, soak it up.  It is light for a thousand dark nights.  It is healing for a thousand hurts.

The Content of Biblical Preaching

So we’ve seen the call for Biblical preaching, now let’s turn secondly to the content of Biblical preaching in Nehemiah 8:2-8:

“Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. 

In this second chunk of our passage we see what makes up the content of Biblical preaching, and it all centers around how Ezra and the Levites worked with the Word.  Notice that in 8:1 Ezra was asked to “bring the book” and now in 8:2 it says he “brought the book.”  In 8:3, “Ezra read from the book.”  Later in 8:3. “…the people were attentive to the book.”  8:5, “Ezra opened the book.”  Later in 8:5, “…when Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up.”  8:6, “The people responded to the book by worshiping and calling out ‘Amen!’  ‘Amen!’”  8:8, “the Levites translated, or explained the book to give the sense of it so the people could understand.”  Everything in this middle chunk revolves around the Book.  Everything in this whole event revolves around God speaking to His people through His Word and His people speaking back to Him.  This is why we should plan worship services around the call and response between God and us.  But let’s ask a question since we’re talking about preaching.  How does this section’s focus on the Book, the WORD, affect how preachers are supposed to preach?  This passage’s focus on the Word clearly gives us our answer:

a) Preaching should be from the Word only. They asked Ezra to bring a specific document to the pulpit, the Word.  This means that Scripture should be the only thing that determines what we say in our sermons.  The point of the text should be the point of the sermon.  Ezra had authority here at this post-captivity event only because he preached the Word, and preacher’s today only have authority if they do the same thing.  The closer the preacher sticks to the text, the more authority he has to speak into your life; the farther away he moves from the text, the less authority he has.

b) Preaching should be from the Word only. In Isaiah 55:10-11 God says, “Just as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, making it bear seed to the sower and food to the eater, so will My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.”  This implies two things: God’s Word never comes back void when it goes out the pulpit; and that man’s word always comes back void when it goes out from the pulpit.  What is the implied conclusion from this?  Preach the Word, not the Word of man.  The Word of God will always fulfill it’s purpose, while the word of man will always fall short.  We should say we need to be careful here.  I know and have heard pastors very sneakily use a text of Scripture to open a sermon and then shoot off into whatever direction they so desire, is this really preaching from the Word?  No.  We must never use the Word to say what we want to say, ever.

to be continued…

The Call of Biblical Preaching

Preaching, as listed by Mark Dever in his book “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” is the number one Mark defining the health of a Church.

Can see you why this is so?  It is in preaching that one guides, directs, leads, and informs the congregation to certain things and away from other things.  It is in preaching that one puts the doctrines of the particular church on display for all to see.  Those doctrines put forth during preaching show where the church lines up on a multitude of issues.  Where they line on up issues will usually determine where someone goes to church, after all no one is going to stay in a place for very long which goes against the flow of their belief system.  So it is preaching where we see much of a particular local church state who they are and what they’re about.  But, the question I want to ask is this.  The above sentences answer the “why is preaching first on the list question” but what I want to know is has God instructed us how to preach?  Yes.

I want you to see that it is no small thing that God has decided to preserve His Church throughout the ages of history, with a book.  Because He’s done this, we ought to make every effort we can muster to know this book, love this book, and treasure this book immensely, because it’s no ordinary book – we don’t interact with a fictional author in this book, we meet God Himself in this book!  God chases us down through this book!  And God gives us Himself in all His glorious, majestic, joyful, overflowing fullness through this book!  BUT, I don’t just want you to take my word for it on this one, I want to show you, from the Bible, preaching in action.  I want you to understand what pastors are to give themselves to, and what you, as the congregation, ought to demand from your pastors.  So, let’s get to the text.  It’s Nehemiah 8:1-12.

First, we see the call of Biblical preaching in Nehemiah 8:1 which says, “And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.”

I say we find the call of Biblical preaching in this first verse because that’s what we see.  At this time the Israelites had just returned from captivity in Babylon living under the reign of Cyrus, and because God stirred Cyrus’ heart to do so, Cyrus allowed any Israelite who wanted to, to go back home to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and worship God.  So, a large number of Israelites (commentators say around 42, 000) returned to Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah, and though they’d still be under Babylonian rule, they returned home to rebuild the temple and live as they used to live before the captivity began.  Then we see it…the people of Israel who chose to return home gathered themselves together as one man in the center of Jerusalem, and collectively they begin calling out to Ezra the prophet in 8:1 saying, “BRING THE BOOK!”  Pause here:  these people were conquered by another nation, ripped away from their homes, forced to leave the promise land that God had given to them, and taken away to live as aliens in a foreign land; this was a horrible ordeal.  They had been in captivity for years and years and haven’t read or heard God’s Word preached in ages, so when they came back home, and rebuilt the temple, all of the people old enough to understand the message gathered and begged for preaching!

Now comes the challenging part for us in our day.  If these suffering exiles and alienated people yearned for the preaching of God’s Word so much when they came home that they all came together and begged Ezra to preach saying, “Bring the book!”, why do so many of us seem so unmoved when we gather together for worship here, as if the sermon is the part of the worship service where worship stops and mere talking begins?  Too often there seems to be a great ocean between the truths that we believe to be true and the passions of our heart!  White hot, affectionate worship indeed continues when a preacher opens the Word, not because of the Word itself, but because through the Word we come face to face its author – God.

The people cried out to Ezra, “BRING THE BOOK!” and the crazy thing about it is……WE HAVE THE BOOK!”  This means that we can read the book wherever and whenever we desire to.  This also means that when anyone steps before you to preach, we must hold them to this standard.  If they begin to move away from the text and start talking about something unbiblical or unrelated…it’s our job to call to them like the people called to Ezra, “BRING THE BOOK pastor, BRING THE BOOK youth pastor, BRING THE BOOK asst. pastor, BRING THE BOOK guest speaker!  We don’t want anything but the book!”  When a preacher steps up here and does BRING THE BOOK, thank and glorify God that He has given you a man who loves the Word and wants to get the Word out to His people.  That’s what I want, that’s what a good pastor wants.  We know that what we need most is found in the Bible, so why in our preaching would we give anyone anything else?!  This was Ezra’s calling, and this is today the pastors calling.   The people of Israel called on Ezra to do this directly after a nationwide tragedy, and this is what you, Church, must call and demand from us as well.