How to Preach the Gospel: Learning From the Prophet in Judges 6:7-11Thursday, February 24, 2005
Last nite during our Wednesday evening Bible study series (on Rediscovering Biblical Worship), we continued to work through Judges 6 and God's encounter with Gideon. As is often the case throughout Judges, and the Christian life, for that matter, God must first wait until we are weighed down by the oppression caused by our sinfulness before He comes to deliver us. And at just the right time, He sent His prophet to do something difficult yet merciful - to add insult to injury!
There they were - those poor, selfish, idol-loving Israelites - suffering beneath the load of consequences which they had brought upon themselves in their sin. Verse 6 tells us that they were brought very low by the hand of the Midians, and out of this suffering they cried out to the Lord for help. In verse 7, "When the people cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel" (vv. 7-8a). God does not answer them by immediately delivering them. No, He answers them first by sending a prophet. And since there was no official office of prophet at this point in Israel's history, this was nothing more than a preacher from among their own number, a fellow Israelite.
And what did this prophet do? He preached the OT gospel to them, in verses 8-10. Now do not miss the context here. The context is rebuke and correction. So in the very least, applying principles from this narrative must be done in such a way that at least matches a similar circumstance in which we are dealing as preachers. In other words, this is a wonderful text to use when the need arises to rebuke or correct a brother or sister personally, or a congregation corporately. Notice several things about this text.
1. What the Prophet Said.
First, he referenced the source from which his message came. "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel." Where did this authority come from, though? There was no office of prophet yet in Israel. Was this a self-proclaimed, self-anointed prophet? No, he was simply one from among his own people. And his authority came from the Torah, the only part of the Scriptures Israel had at that point. How do we know that's where his authority came from?
Because second, he referenced events which were recorded there. "I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land" (vv. 8b-9). These were events to which the Israelites of the prophet's day had not witnessed. However, they were commanded in Joshua 1:8 not to let the book of the Law depart from their mouths. For that was the book in which these events were recorded, the book which was to remind them where they came from, and more importantly what Divine and sovereign power brought them where they came from. But they failed to do this. "And I said to you, 'I am the Lord your God; y ushall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.' But you have not obeyed my voice" (v. 10).
2. The Essence of What the Prophet Said.
This leads us to the essence of what the prophet was saying in his message. While the message of his rebuke came from the Scriptures, the essence of that message of rebuke was in the promises inseparably tied to what I like to call their 'redemption event.' For Israel, their redemption event was the deliverance from Egypt out of ten plagues, the passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. All of it, in its entirety, was the most awesome and magnificent display of God's saving power in the Old Testament.
As important as the saving act itself, inherent in this redemption event were promises. If God could mercifully deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians, mercilessly killing Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, would He not also provide for them in every other way? And if could so powerfully deliver them from the hands of their enemies during wartime in the promised land, should He not also powerfully satisfy them in their souls during peacetime? This is what they had forgotten, and this is what the prophet was pointing toward.
3. The Intended Effect of the Prophet's Message.
What was the prophet hoping to affect in the Israelites who heard his very short sermon so very many times? The intended effect of his rebuke was three-fold.
First, the rebuke was intended to convict of sin. That is the more obvious point. God used this man to speak to His people to point out to them that they had sinned by forsaking their covenant God.
Second, and not so obvious, is the fact that the rebuke was intended to make the inseparable connection of their sin back to their redemption event. In other words, they had sinned because they had forgotten and neglected their redemption event.
Third, forgetting and neglecting the redemption event led them to seek satisfaction elsewhere, such as in Baals and Asherahs (drunkenness, sex orgies, etc.). And they sought this satisfaction elsewhere because they had forgotten the promises inherent in the redemption event. Forgetting and neglecting the promises led to disbelief in those promises which promoted belief in a lie.
These three points lead us to apply to our preaching and teaching what the prophet said in his own preaching.
1. What We Should Say.
First, we must not be afraid of pointing out and rebuking sin. That is all too common today among churches hold to the attitude that it is not loving to point out sin. Yet pointing out sin is part of the very mercy of God. It is unmerciful to not point out sin, for it leaves them in it, and in their consequent misery and suffering and bondage and oppression.
Second, when we as preachers rebuke persons personally or corporately, we must not fail to immediately connect their sin to the big picture, to our redemption event. For Israel that was the Red Sea. For us this is the cross. It is a neglect of the cross that leads to sin. We must not, we cannot lose that big picture. For if we do, whether it be with our kids everyday, or our flock, or our wives, or our neighbors, or our golfing buddies, or whoever, failing to make the connection between the sin and the redemption event is to do several things.
First, it is to name the sin without naming its source. Yet how can the sin be conquered if we do not know where it comes from or how it gets its power? Second, that necessarily leads to frustration. I've seen it time and again with my own kids! Where there is no cross in the big picture, there is only self-powered struggling with it which only leads to further frustration, discouragement, depression and eventually despondency. Third, without the cross as the background, we lose the proper perspective on our sin. Sin becomes nothing more than something we feel bad about, something our consciences prick us about, something that makes us feel unhappy or miserable. That inevitably leads to a lifestyle that lives only to escape guilt and pangs of conscience. That is borderline legalism.
2. How We Should Say It.
Perspective about sin is everything. David had it in Psalm 51:4. "Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight..." He had sinned against Bathesheba, Uriah, the servant who went to fetch Bathsheba, the commander to whom he gave the orders concerning Uriah, and to all Israel for that matter. Yet because he had the proper perspective on his sin, he knew his sin was primarily against God. How do we know this? Because in verse 1 he appeals to redemption. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions."
The fourth problem with not connecting our sin to a neglect of our redemption event is because it robs us of God's promises inherent in that redemption event. That was the prophet's goal in Judges 6. He anticipated, in pointing out that their sin was directly related to their neglect of their redemption event, that Israel would recall that event in their mind and eventually remember the promises built into it. In other words the prophet's rebuke showed them the source of their sin and reminded them of the promises of God. It reminded them of their sins, yet in the very reminder itself was were the promises of God teaching them how to get out of their sins.
That is how we as preachers must rebuke today. We must rebuke in such a way as to show the connection of the sin to the cross, that connection being the very means by which they recall the promises of God which flow from the cross. To do otherwise is to exacerbate sinfulness, frustration, and constant lack of victory in our daily lives.
3. Where We Should Say it From.
The prophet's message to Israel rebuked them for their sin. And contained in that rebuke was a correction and instruction in righteousness. It came from the Torah, where the redemption event and inherent promises were found. What is different for us today?
- We too, as preachers, must teach from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). What do we teach? We teach or acquaint our people with the wisdom that leads to salvation in Christ Jesus (v. 15). That wisdom is Jesus Christ who became for us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). We must teach His redemption event, unfolding it in all of its beauty, examining every splinter of the cross. And we must teach it all with all of its inherent promises, for these are the very lifeblood of the believer's salvation and sanctification.
- We too, as preachers, must rebuke and correct from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). This is clearly the connection to the mandate that followed in 4:1-5. But we must do so with great patience and more teaching (4:2), realizing that the sovereign Spirit of God must be the One to accompany our teaching, and until He does they will not embrace it. God will do so at just the right time, just as He did in the life of Israel in Judges 6. But in everything we say, we must not and we cannot fail in our rebuke and correction to make the inseparable connection between their sin and the cross. That is the very essence of the correction itself!
- Finally, we too as preachers must instruct in righteousness. That instruction comes again from the wisdom that leads to salvation in Christ Jesus. It instructs from the cross and empty grave. Otherwise it is instruction without merit, without source, without power, and without any real lasting effectiveness. It is human instruction. Instruction must be 'in righteousness,' that is, in Christ Jesus' righteousness, and not our own. It must be done in the righteousness He provided through the redemption event of the cross. That becomes the remedy to sin.
- But there's a bigger analogy at stake here. And it relates to the way believers communicate with each other. Each believer is to act as a figurative 'prophet' (whether they have the spiritual gift or not), by constantly reminding each other of our redemption event. These reminders are exhortations and encouragements. They exhort us to watch out for a neglect of redemption that leads to sin as well as remember the promises that keep us out of sin, and they encourage us in our successful endeavors to pay close attention to our redemption and believe in the promises. How do believers do this? Through the "one anothers."
- Speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19); all of which should encourage us to "be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (5:1). It is that "word of Christ" that must dwell richly within us so that we can sing and talk this way to each other (Col. 3:16-17).
- You are competent and able to admonish and counsel one another (Rom. 15:14). What is the message of our admonishing and counseling? "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope...I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Rom. 15:8-9).
- You must speak truthfully with one another (Eph. 4:25). And we are to speak that truth in love (4:15). To what end? so that we can "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped..."
- We must comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). What is the essence of those comforting words we must say? It is the promise found in verse 14. "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." If Jesus died and rose again, when we die we are promised to rise again too!
- We must encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), the message of that encouragement being to make sure we stay awake spiritually, always meditating on that breastplate of faith and helmet of salvation that protect us with the promise that "God has not destined us for wrath but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (vv. 8-10). Such encouragement is necessary to escape "an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ..." (Heb. 3:12-14a). And this can only be done with faithfulness if we are faithfully gather to meet together, "encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:25).
- Finally, we must pray for one another and confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). We do this to be healed from the sicknesses caused by our disobedience. And it happens by the prayers of the righteous brothers and sisters who pray for us. Those righteous brothers and sisters communicate the righteousness of Jesus Christ through their evident righteousness, which in itself is a healing and encouraging agent.In conclusion...
...the conviction of sin and the promises of God come from the Scriptures which the Spirit attends with His prophetic powers of exhortation and encouragement. These powers come from and flow back into the person and work of Christ, to which it is the Spirit's divine task to point. It is the neglect of our redemption event that leads us into sin. And any rebuke regarding sin must be immediately connected to the big picture perspective of the neglect and unbelief we have displayed toward our redemption event. And the rebuke itself must be done in such a way that the promises inherent in our redemption event are recalled, providing strength to conquer once more, as did Gideon and Israel. Let us preach the gospel to ourselves and to each other every day, as well as to our congregations when the time comes.