“Speaking the Truth in Love to Others”; or
“Is there hope for evangelism?”
19 March 2000 Sermon
Texts: Psalm 50, John 5:19-30 & Hebrews 10: 19-25
We learn to speak the truth about God in worship. And in genuine worship, as we praise the perfect attributes of God as we proclaim His infinite mercy, wonderful forgiveness and the terror of His unimpeachable holiness, we re-learn a significant truth about ourselves: this praising and proclaiming is what we are made for. Does He not inhabit the praises of His people as it is written? Ps. 22:3: But thou art holy, O Lord who inhabiteth the praises of Israel. This, and not gossip (remember, as we have been defining it, gossip is talk about others rather than to others!), is what harnesses our souls to the dynamo, to the power plant which is wind of the Spirit! Praise Him and the wind, the breath of life will fill you up and empower and move you. The practice of praise and the practice of proclamation are vital spiritual disciplines. When we fail to praise Him, we wither spiritually and dry up—we lose direction, purpose and vitality. Indeed, most of the messes we end up in are directly attributable to spiritual neglect, to foolish faithlessness. And while that may sound a little abstract to some of you, I can assure you that the consequences of faithlessness with God are practical and concrete. Faithlessness with God leads directly to broken marriage vows, to lost integrity at home and at work, and to a tendency to give in to all manner of personal and corporate temptation. And sin results. BUT, faithful singing, worship the practice of constant praying, all manner of talking to God rather than about God, all listening and looking and believing with the elders together with all the saints, both here in the local church and in heaven (where the Twelve and all the saints are gathered with celestial beings around the Father’s and the Son’s thrones of Glory) will go far towards driving faithlessness from you! We dare not, given the dangers inherent in a life empty of praise and proclamation, absent ourselves from such worship. Worship is life and health to us; it is spiritual food, which sustains, protects and directs. Worship is what we were made for.
If we were to choose to neglect worship, we would knowingly subject ourselves again to the demonic, and to domination by the merely sensual, to that which is only visible to the physical eye. Life apart from God is a howlingly painful existence. The spiritually dead often live lives of empty despair, or of frantic materialism, and of unanswerable discontent—they are fearful, often brutal and cruel. Their lives lack purpose and direction except such as is supplied by greed, envy and accumulation of the most toys! Even those so driven typically satisfy themselves with just getting through another day. BUT “Whoso offereth praise glorieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)
In other words, the person who, by contrast to the spiritually negligent, lives worshipfully, that person walks by divine appointment—his or her steps are ordered by God. Jesus modeled this. We learn from Scripture that He only did what He saw His Father doing. He only did what His father would have Him do, what His Father willed. John 5:19:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself,
But what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these
Also doeth the Son likewise.
So when He healed the man crippled with palsy (Mark 2:1-12) whose sin had so bound him up that he required four men to carry him into the presence of Jesus physically. What a wonderful display of compassionate love was embodied by those four men! A love borne of faith is a love which Jesus would recognize as being of, or from the Father—even when it appears in ordinary folks like you and me. Of course Jesus affirmed it, honored it and rewarded it. Those four unnamed men were not only friends of the paralytic, they were publicly also friends of the King! They were walking by divine appointment. They were making visible the invisible attributes of God’s compassion, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus, of course, also made manifest the eternal and perfect nature of the Father. We can also do this! Ordinary people who are connected with an extraordinary God by worship will walk by divine appointment. And what was the result in the Capernaum healing? Division resulted as some present chose to blaspheme God, and others chose at the same time to worship God.
Verse 12 reads: And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We’ve never seen anything like this!
Let me underscore two words in the text for us: amazement and glorifying God. A worshipful heart is in a state of regular amazement and those who possess such a heart are always and everywhere glorifying God. A worshipful heart celebrates the awe which befits the God we praise. Glorifying God is what proclaiming and praising is all about!
There is so much is this account of a man’s healing we can only just touch on today. There’s courage and determination. The faithful four won’t allow any impediment stand in their way—not the press of the crowd, not even a stupid obstruction like the roof of Jesus’ house. The force of the Greek here is what we would express by saying, “Jesus was at home.” The clear implication is that Jesus owned property—a fact that astounds some people no doubt. Be that as it may, these four men were enacting their manhood; they were bringing their buddy, their comrade in need to Jesus. They were walking by divine appointment, operating in confidence with boldness. Jesus, I think, likes this a lot. They were acting just like Him. They were fulfilling their purpose and it is the purpose of man to make visible the invisible attributes of our God! That’s our purpose, too!
Sadly some of those present were not walking by divine appointment. They had other things on their mind. Not being worshipful, other preoccupations that led them to suspect Jesus of blasphemies. Their hearts were full of unbelief and, therefore, accusation. Their walking was by demonic appointment; they represent God’s opposition. They, being dead to worship, would not accept the truth about Jesus, nor would they accept the truth of what was unfolding in front of their very eyes (a demonstration of the mercy, and power of the God they should have recognized!) and, as a result, the faithless condition of their hearts caused them “to reason within their hearts.” Their faithlessness bore fruit in lies and accusation. What accusation? Calling the speech of Jesus blasphemy. What lies? Lies about the divine nature of the Messiah.
John 5:1-18 recounts yet another divine appointment of healing. Yes, it is also a matter of deliverance from superstition and folklore as the impotent people waited upon the stirring of the waters in the pool by Bethesda and liberation from the nonsense that the Jews had made of “keeping the Sabbath.” Nay, it was more than a deliverance; it was a pronouncement of divine judgment against the ways that seem right unto man that reverberate unto this very day and even forever more—for the testimonies of the Lord are everlasting! The words of Jesus to this paralytic are astoundingly similar to those He spoke earlier in Capernaum: “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” (Verse 8). And, once again, the paralysis was caused by unforgiven sin. We must ask ourselves, “Oh, God, in your infinite wisdom and through your penetrating light, pierce me now—search out and annihilate any wicked ways in me, your servant. Lord, for the sake of your holiness, have no mercy on any fault, besetting sin that may have enthroned itself in my heart. Arose, oh, Lord, and demolish my pride. I may not know everything, but I know that the only worthiness I might have is sheer gift from you! I know your magnificence, Lord. You are splendid beyond speaking. Victoriously captivate my heart! Seek my wandering heart in both your hands and place me before you that I may see, and hear and breathe your presence. For I am utterly convinced that being in a right relationship to God is wholeness; it is health to my bones, to my whole person: spirit, mind, body and soul. And I do proclaim that Jesus is Lord of all we are and He is completely able to heal each and every part.
Jesus’ response to the persecuting Jews in John 5 is pointed: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (Verse 17) Yes, Jesus’ steps were ordered from on high, and ours can be, too! He walked by divine appointment everywhere He went. Please note that this blessed paralytic, this unnamed man, by grace made right with God went straight to the temple. He was no ungrateful leper! It was the Sabbath, and so we may infer, that he went, on his own two feet, to worship the mighty God who is able to heal someone disabled for 38 years. What is 38 years to God? Hear me, those of you who believe that you are afflicted, handicapped by your past! See how the Lord is mighty to heal ancient wounds! Were you abused? So was He. Were you wounded? So was He. God the Father spared not His own Son suffering and woundings. The cross is about rejection and abandonment, and it is about divine chastisement driven by love. Put your eyes upon Him today and see what will live, and what will die. His arm is not too short. He can snuff out self-pity and pride just like that. If you will yield it up, it is gone. Bitterness, resentment, revenge . . .put them on the altar, offer them up and they will be taken from you. Surely, it is a little thing to an almighty God but an exceedingly great thing to those needing healing that God should make a man walk who has lain paralyzed for almost a lifetime. It is the same for all those who have been healed, preserved, shaped and chastened. This we need to proclaim as we praise the God of our salvation!
Let’s visit Psalm 50 by way of praise and proclamation. Our God is mighty. He has spoken to the whole earth and called it before Himself. Out of Zion and the perfection of beauty God has shined. (Verses 1-2) Can you see it? God is mighty, He can summon us all at once unto judgment and He is the perfection of beauty. All the attributes of God are perfect and beautiful—His truth, His holiness, His compassions and they all exist eternally in complete harmony. He can speak and not be silence. He is the Judge of the whole earth and He particularly judges His people. Why? He particularly judges His saints because they are bound by covenant to Him. He judges the saints in perfect righteousness. (Verses 4-6). And what is the occasion for this summoning and judgment? It is about their worship life. He isn’t faulting them for their performance of sacrifices. No, in v. 8 God relates that He has noted these well enough. But He wants the saints to know that their worship is about their needs and not His. He wasn’t robbing Israel when they make necessary sacrifices for sin. Still less will He rob us! And it is unthinkable that He who has dominion over all living things should want for anything, for flesh and blood to ingest. He wouldn’t ask man, or even notify mankind if He were hungry—which, of course, He is not. What God is rebuffing here is the tendency of man to make God man-sized, to transform God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Sustainer of all living things into a pitiful, mere consumer like the pagan deities whose worship surrounded Israel. God wants our worship to be characterized with thanksgiving and steadfastness. We are to be vow keepers, both before Him and between ourselves: “perform thy vows unto the most High” (Verse 14b) This demand is immediately sealed with a promise. Be grateful and faithful “and call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee.”
But to the wicked, to the ungrateful vow breakers among the saints who are hypocrites in worship, God says, “Don’t even start . . . it is an offense to Me that you should appear in the house of the Lord and read Scripture, “thou hateth instruction and casteth my words behind thee.” (Verse 17) He indites the saints for conspiring in thievery, for joining themselves in adulterous unions. He charges them with tongue sins: speaking evil, framing deceit, defaming others, and slandering even their own brothers. God allowed this to unfold: “I kept silent”—verse 21—and you vainly imagined that I was just like you. Now, God declares, I am setting the record straight. “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you to pieces, and there be none to deliver. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Verses 22-23)
How shall we order our conversation aright? By speaking the truth about God in worship. However, we live in a culture of abundance when it comes to talk. Talk has never, I think, been quite so cheap. Daily we are buried, if we are not careful; or if we foolishly allow it, in a veritable avalanche of talk . . . talk that is not rooted and ground in true worship! What is most troubling about this state of affairs is that cheap talk, gossip, has the real potential to become a habit of mind. We can become so accustomed to gossip and gossiping, so used to the trivialization of everything that we become trivializers ourselves.
How can the treasures of our faith—God and truth, faith, love and hope—survive in such a world? Well, the short answer is they can’t—not without the presence of the church as a worshipping, faithful, love filled and hope secured community. That community needs to attend to its internal growth as well as its external growth. In the church, we must build up our internal life by drawing near with full assurance of faith (worship) and we encourage each other in that practice. Secondly, we build our present choices upon the hope secured through Jesus of eternal life, resurrected life. And finally, we stir up consciousness of the love of God, love for the church, and for each other.
The gospel of God is an earth shattering proclamation. If you are a Christian, you know that! But gossip trivializes even sacred things.
Now, let’s suppose that you are convinced of the truth of the gospel and because you love some people, let’s call them Stan and Jan, you want them to be saved. Remember, the gospel staggers the imagination. But trust that declaring the greatness of God can penetrate the gossip of worldlings like Stan and Jan. Gossip is a verbal fog which daily envelops their waking moments. For many of us, it can inhibit and oppose gospel proclamation. Every inconvenience, rumor of wars, reports of natural disasters, every manner of trouble and affliction brought to us on the news brings its initial little bath of adrenaline overload and then quickly dissolves into gossip . . . into the blah, blah, blah of negativity.
The current state of the world and the nation, the gossips tell us, deflecting the gospel yet again, is but another occasion to question the love, goodness, greatness and/or competence of our God. The resulting culture has fostered a culture of wimps, whiners and complainers. It’s not merely that nothing’s ever good enough; now they have to question if anything is even good. The best talkers in politics and entertainment resemble nothing quite so well as gossips miffed at God because their precious little lives are not idyllic now! What this godless culture needs to hear is that our well being is not the infantile center of the universe! But that may be exactly where Stan and Jan are if they could stop gossiping long enough to be totally honest about themselves. It takes some listening to find out where they really are.
Is it possible any more to break through to the Stans and Jans of this generation?
I have to believe that it is. I have to believe that deep down they know that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . . it is shining like shook foil,” as Gerald Manley Hopkins sings. They must resist, on some level of their being, the reduction of everything to coffee klatch and idle chatter: “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo.” There’s more to Michelangelo than Ninja turtles and “rats’ feet on broken glass”—to quote T. S. Eliot again.
Stan and Jan are not the enemy. Gossip is. Gossip ignores the unique and glorious in other persons. It reduces others to something sub-human like sinners, or publicans. It monsterizes. It majors in anecdotes, cliches and stereotypes which are devoid of awe, love and grace. Gossip, talk about others, remember, is devoid of the very things that can humanize us! People can even, at the peril of their own souls, gossip about God. They can know all about God, without knowing God. So, they do not pray, or worship. Their knowledge of God is second-hand and derivative. They have anecdotes, to be sure, and theories and speculations, evasive hunches and, frankly, mouthfuls of slander fed to them by atheists and humanists. Academic gossips, who litter our colleges and universities, are guilty of reducing God to the terms of their culture, relevance, currency, and ideology . . . so celebrities replace saints, and image/appearance trumps substance. And Christians have played into all this debunking of the sacred with their dinky, plate crosses and trinkets and ceramic precious moments . . . a little adornment, a little body piercing, a little spiritual strip tease. For gossips nothing is to be taken seriously because the sacred has evaporated from their universe of understanding. In such a world, nobody has anything worthwhile to say.
Has such cheap talk become our little habitat for humanity? It has for Stan and Jan. I wonder do we really want so badly to rule ourselves and to save ourselves? Where is God? Is He but silent the while, waiting for the right moment to bring judgment? Some of us hearken to strange voices—to our bellies, our lusts, our fears and insecurities, to our ideologies and philosophies—longing to hear a voice we recognize that recognizes us! Righteousness cannot flourish among the distracted and the diverted. God in Christ alone rules and saves.
As a people, we so need to know ourselves better and to be genuinely broken before our unruliness, our rule defying independence, our failed projects of self-salvation.
Hear the word of the Lord! Most of what we have to deal with is invisible. Our unaided senses and our enhanced capabilities must all fail us . . . the great inaccessible is there ever beyond our reach, beyond all we think to manage, or hope to master. Molecules and quarks . . . black holes and galactic towers swirling in the immensities of space, ancestors and pre-histories, fossils and molecular designs, DNA and gene splicing alchemy, angels around us and the future all before us . . . all that we inhabit as human beings are part of these immense invisibles. As a noted astro-physicist wrote: “We cannot even account for 99% of the known mass of the universe . . . all we can calibrate may be less than 1%.
Hear the good news! It is the function of proper worship to orient us in these great invisibles! Psalms and Revelation abound in rigorous, robust words of worship . . . approaches to God, and visions of the yet unseen and the irreducible. You and I, we are formed by the Throne and the Lamb. Know that every word of Scripture exists to pull us into worship. It is both inspired and inspiring. In worship we invite each other into everything we were ever concerned with . . . So invite Stan and Jan to come and meet their truest, deepest longings. Bring them to worship and to be humanized.
In our worship we defeat defeat . . . we horsewhip hopelessness. We drown despair and demystify death. We raise up the ever and beyond, an anthem of praise to the God of our salvation. As we approach Him, we are met by life and live!