Photo credit to Advancing Native Missions.
“The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Matthew 4:16, Isaiah 9:2
It’s so easy to always think the story is about someone else. David thought so. Nathan went to David with a story about two men, a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had many flocks and herds and the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb that he loved. A traveler comes to visit the rich man and instead of using his own flock, he takes the poor man’s lamb, kills it and prepares it for the food for the traveler. The story infuriated David. How could someone do something like that? He should be punished greatly. And then Nathan points the finger of God right at David. “You are that man, David.” And David realized he was that man. And though he had chosen to walk himself right into darkness, through true repentance, light sprang up again.
It’s so easy to point fingers at other people. It’s so hard to face the truth in our own lives and hearts. It’s so easy to sit in darkness and choose to stay there where we think we’re comfortable. It’s so easy to play in the shadow of death. I mean, after all, this is life and we get used to living in the shadow of the distress that comes with it. Walking through life means walking through a hard place and heading to an eventual place I know nothing about, you know, that place called death.
David thought about it. That’s why he wrote Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” David wasn’t just focussed on death. And he wasn’t just focussed on the thick darkness of life circumstances that could surround him. He thought about Sheol. He knew deep distress, or he would know it soon enough. He could visualize it as a shepherd thinking back to the times when he had walked the “deep ravines, darkened by over-hanging briars,” leading and driving his sheep to new and better pasture. And just as he had brought his sheep safely through, so the Lord would bring him through. And so the Lord will bring us through.
Now, back to what was going on with You, Jesus. John the Baptist, who had been preaching You, proclaiming You in the wilderness, has just been arrested and imprisoned. It’s time for Your preaching to begin. It’s time for Your light to shine in the darkness. So what do You do? What is the first thing You began to preach? Here are Your words, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I think I really need to think about this and to meditate on it. Because maybe this is what preaching is all about. Maybe this is what I ought to be concerned with proclaiming. And maybe my proclaiming ought to line up with Your proclaiming.
It’s so easy to think that preaching is done by a preacher. But the more I read Your Word, the more I see how that is not Your design. It’s so easy to think that preaching is all about the Gospel, the good news of You, Jesus, and about winning souls to You. And it’s not that it’s not about that, but that’s not all of it. I mean, think about it. How did You lead into preaching? “Repent.” The kingdom of heaven is at hand, but to enter, you must understand repentance. Why “Repent” first? Why not “Believe”? Maybe we can’t really believe until we repent of our old ways of thinking and acting first. Maybe we have to realize that there is a better way, that there is an only way, and it’s not our way.
Paul understood what preaching was. He urged Timothy to “preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, warn, encourage with all long-suffering and teaching.” That wasn’t just about salvation. Paul was urging Timothy to teach the people how to obey the word of God from the Old Testament on. Timothy was learning and teaching others to obey the will of God, to be changed and transformed by His Word. The more deeply I know Your Word, the more I will see a need to repent and conform to Your Word. It’s so easy to fall into this dark valley where I think I get it all and I start going my own way instead of Yours. And then there I am all wrapped up in briars and lost in the dark of night.
Repentance comes with correction. I need exhortation. I need to be taught. It’s not natural for my earthly thinking to understand the ways of God. Days change. Circumstances change. I have to be urged to stay faithful. Sometimes I have to be reproved. Sometimes I have to be warned. Sometimes I don’t heed. So I need more reproof and more warning. Sometimes I need encouragement. And I need so much long-suffering on God’s behalf and others around me, because sometimes I’m just hard-headed and slow to understand or slow to submit. And the minute I ease up on listening and searching out sound teaching, is the minute I make that wrong turn again. Yes, this is true preaching. It gets down and dirty. It tells me things I don’t want to hear about myself, but I must. But it doesn’t leave me on my own. It doesn’t leave me beaten and battered. It walks through it all with me. It leads me and protects me as it shepherds me. Preaching of anyone who is really preaching leads me into a deeper understanding of You and Your word.
James reiterated this point. “For in every city from ancient generations Moses has those proclaiming him, having been read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21) Why would James care if Moses was being proclaimed? Shouldn’t Jesus be the one being preached? But when we teach what obedience to God looks like, what faithfulness resembles, what delighting in God looks like, by teaching His Word, aren’t we doing that? Isn’t that a precursor to being able to know Jesus?
Here’s James’s point. Proclaiming Jesus doesn’t open some door to license because of grace. Believers are connected to the truth of Jesus by the teachings of God’s Word. Jesus doesn’t usher in a chance for error because we aren’t to throw out the baby with the bath water. Loving and trusting Jesus means studying and obeying the Word of God. I am to be listening to and studying the Word. Those who are involved in preaching are to be fully explaining the relationship of God’s Law and Grace to me. I’m to be pursuing that understanding.
Let’s face it. Jesus’ words aren’t just the words He spoke in the New Testament. Jesus quoted so much from the Torah, or Old Testament as we call it. Even this verse that started today’s thinking was a reminder from Isaiah. Jesus wants us to know all of God’s word. I need to know. It was a part of being educated in godly living before Jesus, during Jesus, and now. Jesus didn’t change that. He came to show us how to live that and make a way for us to fulfil God’s desire for us to be His again and live out His image, to be His image bearers. Jesus came to make us able to be obedient to God and live according to His plan.
The truth is that I’m not transformed by some magical, mystical belief in Jesus. I am transformed by the renewing of my mind by the power of Christ through His resurrection and by the power of the truth in the words of God. There is so much I need to repent over. And it’s not just things I do. It’s repenting over the way I think. Yes, I must present my body a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God. That’s the least I ought to do. But I must also repent of where my mind goes. I must not conform to this world’s thinking. I am to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has made me able to be renewed. When I surrendered to Him as my Lord and Savior, He gave me a new heart, a heart of flesh instead of stone. He gave me the ability to think like Him, like God, because now I have the mind of Christ. Repentance is renewing my mind. It’s teaching my mind, moment after moment, day after day, year after year to approve that which is good by Your standards, God. It’s coming into full agreement with You. It’s accepting what You choose as acceptable. It’s only settling for Your character as my character. It’s doing whatever it takes to learn and live out Your will instead of mine.
So, who is a preacher. It’s the one who leads this way and teaches others how to get here. It’s a leader who plays by a different set of rules, by God’s rules. This preacher heralds God’s word for people to hear. Lots of these preachers don’t even have a degree. But they are called and they are gifted to proclaim the truth. They are compelled. They couldn’t stop if you tried to stop them.
They are the first to understand the value of repentance. It’s real. It’s necessary. It’s constantly there. And because they understand the value they know that it’s the “life-blood of a relationship with Jesus.” There’s never going to be a time when we outgrow it’s need. There’s never going to be a time when we need to stop proclaiming it. Before the lost can be found they need to hear the message of repentance. And the found should never stop remembering their own need for repentance.
And the truth is, it’s not just up to “preachers.” Paul wants every believer to share about repentance, redemption, and hope because we’ve all got a personal story to share of how we have encountered them in Christ. We don’t need a theological degree, we have something more. We have the Logos, the Word incarnate, demonstrated in our own lives. Let’s tell people what He has done for us. Let’s tell people how His word speaks to us. Let’s live like Jesus intended us to. Let’s obey Jesus like the demoniac who had no theological degree. Yet Jesus chose him to appoint him to “go home to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you, and has had compassion on you.” (Mark 5:19) And the demoniac did just that and more. He preached. Man did he preach. He left and began preaching, kerusso, proclaiming, publishing, in Decapolis, this major intersection of 10 cities, how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men marveled. So what’s my excuse? Maybe I need to consider repentance in my own life. After all, he or she who is forgiven little, loves little, right? But the one who realizes how much they’ve been forgiven and set free from, well they love back just as much, right? Where do I stand? I guess the evidence is in my preaching.