Category Archives: Sermon

Responding to Gospel-Responses

In one sense of the word, there will be as many types of responses as there are people to respond. No two people are affected by the gospel in the exact same way and so no two people will respond in the exact same way. However, there are categories that one can attribute responses to: 1) hardness, 2) indifference, 3) neglect, 4) misunderstanding, 5) fear, 6) excitement, 7) devotion.

Hardness

In Isaiah 6:8-10, God asked whom it was he could send to the people of Israel.  Isaiah responded that he would go. The message that God gave must have been devastating. “And he replied: Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Make the minds of these people dull; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,” (CSB). The people of Judah had long-forgotten God, lived as they pleased and not as was pleasing to God. Isaiah’s message to the people would cause the hearts to grow dull, their eyes to grow even dimmer, and their ears to be deafened. His message would simply harden them against hearing from God. This is what John spoke of in the twelfth chapter of his gospel account. “This is why they were unable to believe, because Isaiah also said: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they would not see with their eyes or understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them,” (vv. 39-40, CSB). What must never happen is the evangelizer to allow the hardness of the sinner’s heart to harden his/her own. As Spurgeon wrote, “If we are to be a blessing to them, they must lie in our hearts,–they must be our daily and nightly charge.”[1] If they are so dead, as all humanity is, then the one who speaks God’s message must pray all the more. for them.

Indifference

Other’s will not harden their hearts so much as respond indifferently. They do not see the urgency. They do not understand the warning. They do not care if they are in sin. At the moment, they enjoy life just as it is. One can read about this type of response in Matthew 7:24-27. This is the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house upon the rock and was ready for the judgment. The foolish man was by no means ready. He thought his structure was sound enough and did not care to listen to the words of Jesus. “But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. the rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash,” (Matthew 7:26-27, CSB). This sand was not the sand one might think of as that which is seen on a beach. That sand is loose and washes away easily. This sand that Jesus referred to was more like hardened sand. It was the sand of a wadi. A wadi is a dried up river. In the dry season, it dries hard as a rock (but it is not a rock). In the rainy season, it is a river once again. It fills with water, the sand is softened as the water penetrates through the cracks. The foolish man does not realize that what he built his house upon was a mirage. It seems stable enough and therefore is indifferent to the truth of its instability and his need for a true and lasting rock.

Once again, prayer is necessary. The evangelizer is unable to change a fool into sage. He cannot remove folly and replace it with wisdom. Only God can do that. “Such prayer will often be made its own answer; for God may, while you are pouring out your soul, make your prayer to be a hammer to break the heart which mere addresses had never touched.”[2] With much prayer can come much work as the evangelizer takes the pick-ax of the gospel and starts chipping away at the foundation of the fool. Soon, with God’s mercy and grace, the fool will see how unsteady his foundation is, and move his house to the rock.

Neglect

Still others will answer with neglect. They hear the word, but do nothing about it. It isn’t apathy or indifference, it is simply neglect. Jesus spoke of the four soils and the first of which he spoke of is that of the road. “As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. . . Some are like the word sown on the path. When they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them,” (Mark 4:4, 15, CSB). This reminds me of Screwtape’s letter to his nephew Wormwood. He wrote of an experience he had with an atheist, who while reading began to have a thought toward God. The “enemy” was at his side in a moment to lead him to deeper thoughts and so Screwtape had to think quickly. “I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. . . .by the time I added, ‘Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,’” he was already halfway to the door.”[3] Due to neglect, the man never thought on the matter again. The battle had been won.

One must pray for this person to have an undistracted moment, a moment where Satan is hindered from swooping down and taking away the seed so that it may be implanted in their very souls. It must also be that the seed would need to be thrown time and again if one hopes it to take root at some point. Thus, keeping the gospel ever before the lost soul is necessary.

Misunderstanding

Still others will respond in misunderstanding. In Matthew 7:21-23, these types of responses are seen.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers,” (CSB).

These people say the right things and they even “do” the right things. Like the rich young ruler who had obeyed all the commandments since he was a child, these people lack one thing: they did not actually believe in Christ. It is abundantly clear that they trusted in their own works. Look at all they had done. Not once did they say, “Lord, Lord, we trusted you with our very souls.” They simply trusted in working their way to heaven. This response is a typical response. One’s good outweighs their bad. A person’s acts of kindness and thoughtfulness will merit God’s acceptance. It is a complete misunderstanding of the gospel.

Thus, the evangelizer must prayerfully show that all the righteous deeds of any person is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6) and that there is no one good, not even one (Romans 3:12). Show them that it is only trusting in Christ’s righteousness that we can become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Fear

Others will respond in fear. Rejection is a scary thing for humans. Humanity was, by creation, meant to be in community. Rejection from a community was used, even by God, as a motivator to stay on the straight and narrow. “Yeast must not be found in your houses for seven days. If anyone eats something leavened, that person, whether resident alien or native of the land, must be cut off from the community of Israel,” (Exodus 12:19, CSB). The fear of being cut off, of being rejected is a good thing at times. At other times, it is sinful. As Paul wrote, “For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ,” (Galatians 1:10, CSB). One cannot allow the fear of losing a person’s acceptance to bring about the loss of God’s. This was the case of some of the rulers of the Jews in John 12. “Nevertheless, many did believe in him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, so that they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God,” (vv. 42-43, CSB). Again, many will risk alienating themselves from those who have cared for them, loved them, accepted them, treated them as their own flesh and blood. That is a serious concern. Some will fear being rejected and scoffed, losing notoriety and fame.

To these, the evangelizer must be able to pray with them that they would be strong and bold. He must remind that person the words exchanged between Peter and Jesus.

Peter began to tell him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children of fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” (Mark 10:28-31, CSB).

Even if one loses all, they shall receive so much more. God has not isolated anyone, but has given them a family: brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, children, and more. Though the biological family may reject, the Christian family will welcome with open arms.

Excitement

Still others will respond with excitement, but it will just about end there. They have a religious experience and it feels great, but in the end, they are not truly converted. Jesus spoke of these types of responses in his parable of the four soils. The middle two soils were rocky and thorny. “Other seed fell on the soil, and it grew up quickly, since the soil wasn’t deep. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed feel among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit,” (Mark 4:5-7, CSB). Jesus would later state that the sun represented trials, distress, and persecutions. The thorns represented the cares of the world like wealth and desires.

These types of responses seem genuine and perhaps were as far as they went. However, the idea of believing upon the Lord is one of a perpetual state of being, not a one-time act. Thus, the sun and thorns brought that person to a state of perpetual disbelief. As John stated, they went out from us because they were never really of us (1 John 2:19). These are the ones that bring both joy and heartbreak to the evangelizer. The gospel-carrier rejoice at the initial response and weeps at the ensuing life.

An evangelizer must never fail to disciple or find one who can if he is not around. He must continue to cultivate the ground and seek to remove the thorns if God wills. He must dig deeper so that the roots can expand, and if possible bear some the rays of the noon-day sun, bearing the burdens of the new-born baby. Perhaps, by God’s will, roots will grow deep and thorns will be dispelled and excitement turns to devotion.

Devotion

This leads us to and leaves us with a final response: devotion. This, of course, is found in the fourth of the four soils. “Still other seed fell on good ground and it grew up, producing fruit that increased thirty, sixty, and a hundred times. . .And those like seed sown on good ground hear the word, welcome it, and produce fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times what was sown,” (Mark 4:8, 20, CSB). This is what every gospel-sowing person desires from the one who hears. This is what he/she prays will happen. This response is sheer devotion. The hearer is devoted to the gospel, devoted to his/her Savior and Lord, and devoted to evangelism. May it be with us all.

[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1981), 151.

[2] Ibid., 153.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters,(New York: Touchstone, 1996), 20.

The Discouraged Pastor

I remember hearing in Bible college what many a student going into the ministry has heard. “Look around the room. In five years, half of you will quit the ministry; in 10 years 90% will have quit.” Why? Various reasons. Some would have moral failures. Some would realize that pastoring or the ministry wasn’t really what they were called to do. Some would either burn out or get so discouraged that they simply quit. As is often the case, many have come out of the seminary or Bible college gate running hard. Their plans, their hopes, their dreams, their conquering hell with the gospel spirit following fast behind. Soon though, reality happens. Ministry is hard, hard as a brick wall. People turn out to be stubborn–even Christian people! Preparing sermons week after week is more difficult than expected. Visitors come and go, never to return. Some come for a while, then disappear without a trace or explanation. Church members get angry and hurt. Soon those hopes and dreams turn to despair and discouragement. What does one do at that moment? In that moment, I would give the advice that the writer of Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith,” (13:7, ESV).

So let’s go back to certain leaders in the Bible. As I was studying Deuteronomy this past week, I was reminded about Moses’s not being allowed into the Promised Land. Except somehow I had missed this tiny bit of information: “And I pleaded with the LORD at that time saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon,'” (Deut. 3:23-25, ESV).  Moses pleaded with God to let him go into the Promised Land. How have I missed that!? He had spent 40+ years with the Israelites and wasn’t able to enter into the land with them. God refused his plea. In fact, God told him never to ask again. The case was settled. His ministry would not turn out the way he wanted or planned.

But it wasn’t just Moses. David also could not do what he so longed and hoped to do. What did he desire? To build God a house, to build Him a temple like no other. And here is the thing. He received encouragement from a godly man, a prophet named Nathan. “And Nathan said to David, ‘Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you,'” (1 Chron. 17:2, ESV). The problem is that Nathan spoke too soon. God was not with David in his plans. Nathan had to take a step back, going to the king with egg on his face so to speak. He had to report God’s message: “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever,” (1 Chron. 17:11-12, ESV). While God honored David’s plans, thus there was nothing wrong with them, David was not the one to fulfill that dream.

But there is more. Elijah, the greatest prophet outside of Moses, was anxious to see revival in the land of Israel. He had proven that God is God and that Baal was a figment of the people’s imagination. God had consumed the altar, burning even the dust beneath. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God,'” (1 Kings 18:39, ESV). Revival! Not so fast. Jezebel would have none of it. Her threats sent Elijah fleeing from the place, dejected and discouraged. Upon the Mt. Horeb (the very mountain Moses received the law), God came to Elijah displaying wind, fire, and an earthquake. This was a replication of Moses’s experience. Yet this time, God told him that He was not in those things. In other words, there would be no revival. My favorite sermon of all time is from Ligon Duncan on this passage. I am including it in this post. I would encourage you to watch it. If you’ve already watched or heard it before, watch it again.

Two of these men accepted what God had told them: Moses and David. Elijah did not. Moses continued on, though death was near to lead and to help Israel even though he could not take them all the way home. David continued, making plans for Solomon, leading the kingdom, and trusting in his God. Elijah was dejected and for all intents and purposes quit. Ministry is difficult. Yet, let us trust God and continue on. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his step,” (Prov. 16:9, ESV). It is good to plan within the ministry, but trust God to establish your ministry and plans as He sees fit. I do not pretend to never have been discouraged and downhearted. I absolutely have. I need to remember this just as much as anyone else.

Incidentally, this goes for life as well.

Ligon Duncan: 2012 Sermon from T4G.