A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

Seven Signs in John: 3 – The Man of Bethesda

Thirty-eight years is a long time to deal with one disease.  But that’s exactly what this individual had been doing.  He and countless others would gather themselves together beside the pool of Bethesda waiting for a miracle.  At this place, an angel would supposedly trouble the waters, causing a ripple.  We do not know who the angel is or whether they are a heavenly or demonic spirit. But, apparently, the first person into the water would be healed.

John 5:1-14

After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

What we see is that the man’s attempt to be made whole shows the man’s limits.  He can’t be healed unless someone helps us.  The same goes for us with our sin.  We are unable to be set free from sin unless someone else does so on our behalf.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for this person and us.

Healing without seeking.

Seemingly, for this miracle, Jesus targeted this man.  The man beside the water was laying there hoping for a miracle but was not actively seeking.  That’s when this man finds grace in the eyes of Jesus.  The Lord asks him, “Do you want to be made whole?  The man doesn’t say yes. Rather, he complains about how no one helps him into the water, and every year someone else beats him to the miraculous healing.  He did not even know that Jesus standing in front of him, could heal him in a word.

This man received grace when he wasn’t looking for it.  Jesus tells the man to get up, pick up his bed, and walk.  And, you know what?  It happened, immediately!  The man is still complaining when it seems like Jesus interrupted him and delivers the miracle he had been needing.  The man was not seeking his healing but received it anyway.  We may not have been looking for a Savior, but Jesus became ours when we weren’t looking.  As Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Meeting the miracle worker.

Jesus had slipped off in the crowd, who had no doubt taken notice of this man’s healing.  Later, Jesus finds this man and warns him that something worse than what he had experienced the previous 38 years would happen if he were to continue sinning.  Is Jesus concerned with your disability or disease?  Yes, he is, but he is without a doubt, more concerned with your holiness before God.  God just doesn’t perform random miracles of healing. When he does a miracle it is an act of grace to encourage our faith in God and our fight with sin.

 Miracles do happen, but not for just any reason.  They are for God’s glory and our holiness.  We must praise God whether he brings us healing or allows us to suffer.  He sees the end from the beginning, and he knows what He is doing. He is in control of our condition and guides us through it to places where we can praise Him loudest.  God also brings miracles to us not to make us feel good but so that we may also have greater victory over sin.  Why? It is because there is something far worse than our present conditions.

The beauty of praise

The scene is set in Heaven right now.  It establishes a precedent for the promise of the new Heaven to come.  The example we find teaches us valuable praise.  I am referring to the fourth and fifth chapter of The Revelation of Jesus Christ that was given to John on the Isle of Patmos.  These two chapters and the last three are my personal favorite found in this book.   Chapters four and five teach us about the beauty of praise: the glory of God, the victorious atmosphere, and the spontaneous responses.

The Glory of God (Rev. 4:1-7)

In John’s vision of the throne set in Heaven, he see’s one who is arrayed in glory.  The beauty that is described is given to the Lord of all.  There is power demonstrated by the lightning, thunder, and voices in verse five.  Nothing compares to the splendor that we find in God.  What we learn about praise is that God is worthy of our praise.  God’s  very nature draws out our praises.  The Lord is our Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.  We find all we need in Him.

The Victorious Atmosphere (Rev. 5:1-7)

Many people shudder at the thought of the book of Revelation.  The challenging nature of its symbols and the fear of end-time prophecies add to this pull-back when dealing with Revelation.  However, in my readings, I have come to the understanding that God is never nervous about the outcome.  No matter what is happening in the realm of man and spiritual wickedness, God is never wringing His hands or having a knee-jerk reaction.  Revelation 5:1-7 shows this clearly.  We can praise God, for when we are worried about situations in life (vs. 4), Jesus shows up on time to bring victory (vs.5-7).  Thank you, Lord!

The Spontaneous Responses (Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-13)

Our praise to God should not require us to work it up.  Instead, it should be an automatic and spontaneous response to God.  Beautiful praise is not forced or fake.  The pattern of praise we find in Heaven can be seen as the default activity of inhabitants before the throne (Rev. 4:8-11).  They are continuously centered around the Throne of God for worship.  It is their primary concern.  We also see praise as a response to the great things He has done (Rev. 5:8-13).  Thousands upon thousands freely join in the worship of the Lord when they see what He is able to do.