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.