Monday, April 23, 2007

Perfect Power in the Proclamation of God's Word

Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Jeremiah 36:2,3
We learn from Jeremiah the prophet that the Word of God is indispensable to bring sinners to repentance. It in itself, according to this passage, is the instrument by which hearts are changed. Nothing more. Nothing less. The Word of God is perfect in its power. God ordains here through Jeremiah what He would later confirm through His apostle Paul: that "faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)." There simply is no other way that faith or repentance can be created.

This is why it is so important that we must proclaim God's Word as it is, without any modifications or paraphrasing, in the Church today if we would continue to see sinners saved and sanctified (made more and more into the likeness of Christ). Baruch did nothing more than read the words of the LORD (v. 6, 8, 10, 15). And this was enough to produce trembling in those who heard. Is this not the type of people that we want to be in the Church? Is this not the type of people that we want to see filling pews in churches across America and throughout the world? It seems like these are the type of people that God wants to see, indeed the only ones to whom He will look: those who tremble at His word (Isaiah 66:2).

Do we in the American Church at large today believe that the words of the LORD in themselves have this kind of power to transform and produce trembling? Of course, for this question to even matter we have to desire to produce people in pews who tremble before the awesome holiness and majesty of the infinitely glorious God of the universe. I find it hard to believe that we do. Because if we did, I can't understand why pastors spend so little time reading the Word of God itself and so much time paraphrasing, telling stories, and tickling our fancies with humor, all with the intention of making the words of God reach us on our level so as to touch our hearts. This Scripture makes it plain that the Word of God will enter and transform our hearts the way they need to be transformed (with trembling) simply by being spoken as it is. In other words, "Thus saith the LORD" is completely sufficient.

We see in this passage that paraphrasing, as one example of what we might replace the spoken Word of God with, is not sufficient to bring about the necessary heart change. When Micaiah hears the words spoken by Baruch (the words of the LORD written by Jeremiah), he goes to tell the officials what he has heard (v. 13). There's no way Micaiah quotes to them verbatim what he has heard so we must conclude that he paraphrases for them what Baruch had said. And we have sufficient evidence for this in the fact that even still after the officials hear Micaiah rehash what Baruch had spoken, they send for Baruch to read the written words of the LORD in their hearing (v.14,15). And it isn't until they hear Baruch read the written words of the LORD that they tremble with fear (v.16). There simply is no substitute for the proclamation of the written Words of God. Now don't get me wrong. There is a place for paraphrasing but only as subordinate to the reading of the entirety of the Word itself. Paraphrasing should be done to synthesize what has already been read in its fullness or to introduce what will be read in its fullness. It should never be the substance.

And before we take this as a success-guaranteed method for "seeing results" so as to abandon it in favor of our preferred methods when it seems to not be bearing fruit, we must remember that the LORD determines who will respond, not our methods. This couldn't be more plain to see than in v.3 where the LORD tells Jeremiah that "it may be that the house of Judah will hear ... so that every one will turn from his evil way" and that He "may forgive their iniquity and their sin." This isn't a certainty. The LORD will be pleased to draw whom He draws through the faithful proclamation of His words so that He alone gets the glory and not the one speaking. For if the one speaking always obtained his intended result, we might somehow think that he is to get the glory for this. But God will not allow for us to make this mistake. He alone gets the glory. We see this when the very same words that produced trembling in the officials have no effect on the king and his servants when they are read in the king's presence (v.24).

The Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3:8). So let us tremble before God pleading with Him that He would be pleased to send His Spirit upon the faithful proclamation of His Word, which is perfect in its power. And let us not wander from the proclamation of the written Word of God in favor of more "relevant" methods, knowing that this is the only method that He is delighted to honor, if He so chooses. Soli Deo Gloria!
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching , but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:3,4
Father, the sad reality is that this day has come. Many of us in the Church today no longer desire to be a people who tremble at Your Word but instead desire to have our itching ears scratched. Forgive us. And forgive the so many of us who cease to proclaim Your Word in its entirety and in its preciseness simply because we have stopped believing in its perfect power. It was perfect in Jeremiah's day. And we declare that it is perfect today. So I pray Father that You would raise up faithful proclaimers of Your Word who aren't afraid to be criticized or have their attendance numbers go down as people go elsewhere so as to show that their greatest desire is to please the perfect God of glory and not sinful man. I pray that You would raise up faithful proclaimers of Your Word who aren't bent on seeing results Monday from Sunday's sermon because they trust that Your Word will never return to You empty. Raise up more John MacArthur's, James Montgomery Boice's, and John Piper's who will stand tall in their pulpits for multiple decades and unflinchingly declare the whole counsel of God so as to do away with any idea that the method must change with the times. You know all things Father, especially that this is our greatest need in the Church today. So I pray that You would be pleased to see revival spread throughout the land so that churches again become a place where people come to tremble at and be broken by Your Word instead of to feel good about themselves. Do this for Your Name's sake and for the sake of Your Son whom You love infinitely so that He might indeed receive a bride that is without blemish on that Day. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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