21. The Primary Importance Of Preaching
We live in a world where “quiet desperation”, or aimless, pointless distraction, is the order of the day. We who have “known the truth” have the empowerment to live a life of purpose quite unknown to the experience of the unbelievers around us.
The Purpose Of Life
The first thing to get clear is that our lives are not a chance. By rejecting
chance-evolution and accepting the Biblical teaching of creation-with-a-purpose,
we sign ourselves up to living a purpose driven life. It has been
rightly observed that whilst there may be illegitimate parents,
there are never illegitimate children; for our existence is not
unplanned by God. Your race, the colour of your skin, your hair,
the genetic and social background which you had, all this was planned
and is usable by God. David marvelled that God had overseen his
formation, bit by bit, right from the womb (Ps. 139:15). God “will
fulfill his purpose for me” (Ps. 138:8). “You saw me before I was
born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe.
Each day was recorded in your book” (Ps. 139:16). Now if this is
the level of intention and planning which God put into us, we at
least can draw the conclusion safely and certainly: life is not
aimless. God has a purpose for us and we therefore ought to be living
a purposeful life, not just drifting from experience to experience
as in a half-conscious dream. God is focused upon us- “Long before
he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled
on us as the focus of his love” (Eph. 1:4). If we are the focus
of His love, God ought to be the focus of our lives. This is a simple
truth upon which to build and structure human life in practice.
This means that we will be more likely to be instantly obedient
to the Father’s principles; we will overcome the natural desire
to delay doing God’s work today, rendering obedience right now,
because we reason that we can do it later. The purpose driven life
wants to respond now rather than later.
The witness of the Gospel is within ourselves (1 Jn. 5:10) in the
sense that it is our Christ-like life which is the essential witness
to Him. Hence Peter says that a woman can win her husband to Christ
“without the word”, i.e. without formal, conscious preaching.
Paul parallels his preaching with God ‘revealing’ Jesus
through him (Gal. 1:9). Likewise Jn. 12:38 parallels our preaching
or “report” of the Gospel with the Lord Jesus, the “arm
of the Lord”, being ‘revealed’ through us. The
body of Christ thus witnesses to itself by simply being
Christ to this world. This is the essence of our calling and of
our lives- to manifest / reveal Christ. Indeed, our eternal future
will be about God’s glory being revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).
And yet we are even now partakers in that glory which shall be revealed
through us in the future (1 Pet. 5:1). In this we see the connection
between our present spirit of witness, and the eternal life. We
‘have’ eternal life in the sense that we live out now
the essence of the life we will eternally live. Our eternal future
will be all about revealing Christ, who is the glory of God; and
this therefore is to be the essence of our lives today. Which is
all why ‘preaching’ isn’t an optional extra to
the Christian life, something some are into but not others; the
essence of revealing / manifesting Christ is to be the essence of
our whole existence. And further, the fact we will do this to perfection
in God’s future Kingdom is seen by Paul as the ultimate encouragement
for us, on account of which we can count all the sufferings of this
life as nothing (Rom. 8:18).
The Focus Of Slavery
We are frequently spoken of as being slaves of God. At baptism, we changed masters (Rom. 6). Yet the implications of being a bond-slave are tremendous. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. And we cannot serve two masters. There’s a powerful, powerful logic here. We are either slaves of ourselves, or slaves of God. Ultimate freedom to do ‘what we want’ is actually not possible. So we may as well take the path of slavery to the Father and Son. Unless we firmly accept this, life will become motion without meaning, activity without direction, events without reason. And this exactly explains the trivial, petty, pointless life “under the sun” which is the experience of rich and poor alike in this sad world. Stand and watch a stream of people passing along a busy street. The eager young woman, the tired, worried business man, the young father, the old, sick man, the middle aged woman with the blank eyes...the greatest tragedy to me is not so much death, that one day relatively soon these faces will all be face down or face up in the dust of death, but rather....the tragedy is surely that they are living life without purpose. But for us, we recognize that God has a plan for us- and that plan is positive, to do us good and not harm in our latter end (Jer. 29:11). Nothing is insignificant in our lives. Even the smallest incidents have significance for our character development. No meeting with anyone is a chance; we have the power of eternal life in our clumsy hands, through knowing the Gospel of life. Whoever we meet we are surely intended to meet, and extend the hope of life to them. Having a sense of purpose simplifies life. There are less choices; we don’t over-extend ourselves trying to do too much, with all the stress and conflict which this results in. It is meaningless work rather than overwork that wears us down and robs us of our joy. To be zealously affected in a good thing is indeed a good thing, Paul says. Life is no longer lived unthinkingly, carelessly; for we are focused upon our aims (Eph. 5:17). Think of light. Diffused light, like diffused life, has little power or impact. But when the rays of light are focused through a magnifying glass, they can cause a flame of fire; and when focused as a laser beam, they can cut through steel. The implications of being God’s slave are radical when it comes to materialism. We cannot serve both God and money / mammon; where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. All self-serving is replaced by a total serving of the Father.
The image of slavery suggests a total devotion of life to our Lord’s cause. Just as every part of the animal had to be offered, so we as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1) cannot just offer certain aspects of our lives to the Lord. The life in Christ affects every part of human existence. Thus Psalm 37 parallels those who have faith, who do good (:3), who hope (:9), who are meek (:11), pure (:18), generous (:22), just (:28), wise, speakers of truth (:29), waiting for the Lord (:34), peacemakers (:37). It’s not that some of us have faith and another, e.g., is generous. We may be better at some aspects of the Christ-life than others, but our model is Him, as a total person.
The Kingdom Perspective
Paul was a fine example: “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing...looking forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). Or again in Phil. 3:15: “Let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us”. The Kingdom ahead not only motivates us, but also provides perspective. From a child I have sought to imagine eternity as an infinitely long line, with this life just a few millimetres at the start. Quite simply, we should live today knowing that our eternal future is in that eternity. It will not revolve around many of the things which currently fill our minds. We should be minimalists in relation to the things of this life. If we can have this perspective of eternity before us, it changes our attitude to things. We won’t spend eternity making money, buying nice things, following fashions, watching telly...we will spend it being the servants whom God intended us to be. Every act of our present lives ought to strike some chord that will vibrate in eternity. Our focus needs to be on relationships and character rather than present fun, achievements etc.
The Love Of Christ
But not only do we have the Kingdom ahead of us as a motivating factor. We have the love of Christ behind us; the fact He lived and died and resurrected for us as He did means that our lives are purpose driven. We can no longer live lives of passive, drifting indifference. The blood of Christ redeemed us from the vain way of life we received by tradition from our fathers / the world around us (1 Pet. 1:18); “I once thought all these things were very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done” (Phil. 3:7). Paul again reveals his heart to us in Phil. 3:10: “My determined purpose is that I may know Him- that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of his person more strongly and more clearly”. His life sought to be focused upon the Man Christ Jesus. We have each been entrusted by Him with talents- our energy, intelligence, opportunities, relationships, resources...have all been given to us to see how we are going to use them. And a day of answerability is surely coming. God “delights in every detail of their lives” (Ps. 37:23); and the more we perceive that interest, the more we will live the purpose driven life. Yet the tendency is to just assume these gifts from God as what we have almost by right, and that He is willing for us to live the life He has given us without deeply analyzing our choices and decisions; that our talents are things we can use as we wish because they are what life dished up to us. But they have been granted by an eager Father, anxiously watching how we will use them in His service, not our own. Life is a test, a trust, rather than a few decades pursuing our own happiness. We have been made unique, with unique thumbprints, eyes, voices, and each heart beats to a different pattern. And of course all this is reflected in our unique emotional makeups. All these things are given us to fulfill our unique role in the body of Christ- a part only we can play. We have a huge personal responsibility to use our lives for the God who gave them to us. What is made in His image- i.e. our bodies- must be given back to Him.
The Psalms make it clear enough that another defining aim in life is to “worship him continually...from sunrise to sunset”. “More than anything else, however, we want to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Likewise Paul and David speak of constantly praying to God. Yet how is this possible in our busy daily lives? Perhaps one way is to make it your way of thinking to recite one phrase prayers or verses in the daily round of life: “For me to live is Christ...You will never leave nor forsake me...You are my God, will seek you”. It’s too bad that memorizing Scripture is going out of fashion. It shouldn’t be. Set your watch to chime each hour. Bring yourself back to the Father and Son each half hour. These are the nuts and bolts things of daily spiritual life which may determine our eternal destiny. Whatever we do, doing all to the glory / praise of God, working for human masters as if we are serving the Lord Christ. But a word of caution must be sounded here. “If thou canst become free, use it rather” (1 Cor. 7:21 RV), Paul wrote to slaves. We are inevitably tied down with the things of this life; but if we can be made free, to serve God directly, as usefully as possible, then surely we should seek to do this. Take early retirement. You can chose to remain at work, and of course, you can glorify God. But you can devote your life and free time to the work of the Gospel, and bring dozens to the knowledge of Christ who wouldn’t otherwise have had it. I’d say, and I interpret Paul to say likewise: “If you may be made free, then use it rather”. We should aim to “surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps. 37:7).
We need each other. John so often drives home the basic point: that our attitude to our brethren is our attitude to our God. By walking in fellowship with each other we walk with God. James tells us to confess our sins one to another and pray for each other...and thus to have true fellowship requires that we are authentic, admitting who we really are, facing our fear of exposure, rejection and being hurt again, with all the risks these things involve. One of God’s purposes for us is that we should actively live within the community of believers. To ‘hold the truth’ in some kind of splendid isolation is not what we were called to. Personal Bible reading and prayer are not actually enough to bring us to the fellowship with God which He intends; He works through people. The body of Christ grows by that which every member supplies, and edifies itself in love. Active love of the brotherhood and allowing ourselves to receive from them is definitely part of the purpose-driven life. But let’s not confuse uniformity and unity; nor compatibility with community. We’re a diverse family, bound together by our common Father and Lord. Remember how the interlocking wheels of Ezekiel’s cherubim spun in different directions but moved overall in the same path, like a gyroscope. This is how we should be, as we manifest our part of the huge Angelic system above us. Our focus must not be on the quirks of others but rather upon how we can help them. Whatever we suffer is so that we might comfort others who go through the same things (2 Cor. 1:4). Fellowship with each other is therefore an obvious necessity. We should “look upon” the best interests of others (Phil. 2:4)- the Greek word skopos is the one used in “telescope” or “microscope”. Our focus must be upon what is their best interest spiritually. Not upon anything else. Condemning, belittling, comparing, labelling, insulting, condescending, being sarcastic...have absolutely no place in a life driven by this purpose.
Each Has A Calling
Each has his or her calling, and therefore we should each have a sense of authority because we realize this. We have a job to do, a mission to accomplish, and we have authority from the the Lord Himself. For the Son of man gives to each of His servants both " authority" and his or her specific work to do (Mk. 13:34). In another figure, we have each been given gifts, talents, to use until the Lord comes. And make no mistake, we will be judged as to how far we have used those talents. You have a unique place in the body of Christ. You aren’t just an attender at Bible Schools or breaking of bread meetings. You have something unique that you can contribute, that actually the rest of the body needs in order for it to fully grow. Yet we are all held back by our sense of inadequacy. But actually all God’s servants had this problem. Jacob was insecure, Leah unattractive, Samson a womanizer, Moses stuttered and had forgotten Egyptian, Rahab was immoral, David messed up, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was a manic depressive, John the Baptist was eccentric, Peter was hot-tempered, Martha was materialistic...and you and me sitting here tonight in Minsk, Manhattan, Mumbai, Manchester, Maputo are just as held back by our pasts and our dysfunction.
We read in 1 Jn. 2:20,27 that we have each been anointed. The idea of anointing was to signal the initiation of someone. I'd therefore be inclined to see 1 Jn. 2:20,27 as alluding to baptism; when we become in Christ, in the anointed, then as 2 Cor. 1:21 says, we too are anointed in a sense. We're given a specific mission and purpose. " The anointing that you received" would therefore refer to our commissioning at baptism. It seems to imply a one time act of being anointed / commissioned / inaugurated for service. Baptism isn't therefore merely an initiation into a community; it's a specific commissioning for active service, in ways which are unique to us. We do well to bring this point out to those we prepare for baptism. The words for 'anointing' are unique to 1 John but they occur in the LXX to describe the anointing / initiation of the priests, and of the tabernacle / dwelling place of God (e.g. Ex. 29:7; 35:14,28). John sees us as the dwelling place / tabernacle of the Father.
There is some historical evidence that candidates for baptism in the early church were anointed with oil. References- uninspired of course, just for historical interest- are Tertullian, De Baptismo, 7.1,2; and various references in the 'Didascalia', the Acts of Judas Thomas, and the Pseudo-Clementine epistles. It could be that in the house ecclesias to whom John was writing, there was already this practice in place, and the initial readers would've understood this clearly. Paul, writing to a different audience, uses a different figure when he speaks of being " sealed with that holy spirit of promise" . We are after all baptized into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So the anointing which we've received would in my view refer back to our baptism. It was the initiation of us into service, just as the priests and tabernacle parts were anointed. The question we much each sort out is, what are our specific talents, our gifts, the potential uses for which the Father and Son intend us, the paths of service they potentially mapped out for us and initiated us for at our immersions?
The Disciples’ Example
I want to be bold enough to suggest that one of the most important and definite callings we each have received is to take the Gospel to others. For many years I felt that some were called to be preachers, whilst others were to focus upon other aspects of the Lord’s service. Whilst it is so that we each have different gifs and are different parts of the Lord’s body, it also stands that the very possession of the good news means that we’re all preachers- as outlined in earlier chapters. The very first disciples were called and told that they were to be made “fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17). Those men were surely intended as our prototypes. They were called with the explicit purpose of being prepared for preaching (Mt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:1-11). The Lord Jesus “putteth forth his own sheep by name” (Jn. 10:4); the same word is used by Him in Lk. 10:2 concerning how He sends forth workers to reap converts in preaching. Each of those He calls has a unique opportunity [“by name”] to gather others to Him. And notice that the Lord sent out novices on a preaching mission (Lk. 10:1)- reflective, surely, of how He perceived His calling of men to be a calling for them to preach on His behalf. When the lawyer asked Jesus what he must “do to inherit eternal life”, the Lord could have lectured him on salvation being by grace rather than works (Lk. 10:25). But He doesn’t; instead He tells the parable of the good Samaritan, running with the lawyer’s misunderstanding for a while [as His gracious manner was]. The essential basis of inheriting eternal life is of course faith, but the Lord’s answer to the question shows that we can safely conclude: ‘Faith must be shown in our care for the salvation of this world if it is real faith’.
It’s not that we have to master certain techniques in order to
preach well. The idea is surely that we must ourselves be mastered
by the convictions of the Gospel itself, the implications of the
doctrinal truth which we believe, and mastered by the conviction
that one essential purpose of the Gospel is to share it with others.
Focusing merely on technique will only make us good orators or talkers;
what we need is to be mastered by our convictions as to the priority
of preaching, and the methodology will just come naturally. The
Gospels, which were transcripts of the early preaching of the Gospel,
concluded with the command to go forth and preach to the world.
This is a solemn duty of each person who responds to the Gospel
through baptism. This command to go into all the world is framed
by the synoptic writers as the climax of their Gospel message. This
is the final and ultimate command of the Lord to those who would
follow Him. Acts 1:2 RV says that on the day the Lord was taken
up, “He had given commandments through the Holy Spirit unto the
apostles”. The day the Lord was taken up, He gave one commandment
to the apostles, related to their possession of the Holy Spirit:
to go into all the world with the Gospel. But why does Luke speak
in the plural, “commandments”? It could be that here we have one
of many examples of Hebrew idiom being used by the Jewish writers
of the New Testament, even though they wrote in Greek. There is
in Hebrew an ‘intensive plural’, whereby something is put in the
plural (e.g. “deaths” in Is. 53:9) to emphasize the greatness of
the one thing (e.g., the death, of Messiah). Could it not
be that here we have something similar? The one great commandment
is to go into all the world with the Gospel. We are the light of
this world. We, the candles, were lit so that we might give light
to others. Our duty is not merely to inform others of our doctrinal
position, but to gain, win or catch [as fishermen] our fellow men
For we are the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13). The Lord doesn’t say that we ought to be the salt of the earth, or should try to be. Salt with no flavour or influence is pointless, worthless, untrue to what it is intended to be, displeasing to its user, fit only to be thrown out; and so are we, if we fail to witness to others (Lk. 14:35). Likewise, we are the light of the world. By the very nature of who we are as in Christ, we are to influence the world around us. We don’t just hold the light in our hands; we are the light, our whole being, every moment we live. Preaching the light is not therefore something which we occasionally do. The Lord likens us all to labourers sent out [cp. The great commission to us all] to work in the vineyard in harvest time, gathering the plentiful harvest (Mt. 20:1). Elsewhere the Lord likens labourers to the preachers. He clearly saw a primary reason for our calling as to preach and help others to the harvest of the Kingdom. He called us in different ways to labour for and with Him in this work; not to merely passively hold various doctrinal truths in intellectual purity, or to dumbly attend church meetings of whatever sort.
It is clear that the apostles gave priority to the ministry of preaching- Acts 6 makes it clear that they resisted the temptation to involve themselves in endless administration, but rather got on with the prayerful ministry of the word to others. This was their priority. The New Testament is essentially a missionary document. The whole account we have there of the believers revolves around missionary work. The letters reflect the needs of evangelism, instruction and worship which there were in the early community. Thus John’s Gospel and letters feature a defence of the Gospel against incipient Gnosticism and Judaism, which was an obstacle both to the spread of the Gospel and to spiritual development amongst the early converts.
Paul many times bids us follow him. The context of those invitations is very definitely that of preaching. It is of course true that not everyone can spend an itinerant life pushing back the frontiers of the truth [although more could perhaps rise up to this than do]. But the priority for preaching and helping those converted which was the essence of Paul must in principle motivate our lives likewise, in whatever life situation we find ourselves in. Paul certainly saw some kind of glory in the work of witnessing to God’s grace. He perceived that by preaching, we allow the word of God to run and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1).
Paul understood there to be a command from the
Lord Jesus that those who preach the Gospel should be supported
financially by their converts (1 Cor. 9:14 RSV). But Paul chose
to disobey what he calls a ‘command’ from the Lord- because he figured
that the purposes of the Gospel would be served better long term
if he in his case didn’t obey that command. Not only does this give
an insight into the nature of a man’s relationship with his Lord
when he knows Christ well enough; but it indicates the huge priority
placed by Paul upon the spreading of the Gospel. He would even relegate
a ‘command’ from the Lord Jesus beneath the overall aim of spreading
the Gospel. This is a line of reasoning which is of course dangerous
for us to adopt; but it indicates the priority given to preaching.
Actually one sees other examples of this in Paul- he observed Torah
amongst the Jews, but broke it amongst the Gentiles; he thus relativized
obedience to Divine law for the sake of the spreading of the Gospel
(1 Cor. 9:22). In fact all Paul’s decisions in controversial matters
seem to have been made based around the ultimate question: ‘What
would be best for spreading the Gospel?’. Perhaps the Lord was making
the same point when He told His preachers to stay in their converts’
homes and eat whatever was out before them (Lk. 9:1-5), i.e. without
insisting on eating kosher food. For the Pharisees insisted that
an observant Jew could not do what the Lord said- i.e. eat
‘whatever’ was set before them. But the Lord waived that commandment-
for the sake of spreading the Gospel. And we do well to get into
his spirit as we face the many calls we do in church life.
In Gal. 1:15,16, Paul speaks as if his calling to preach the Gospel and his conversion co-incided. He clearly understood that he had been called so as to spread the word to others. Paul uses the word kaleo to describe both our call to the Gospel, and the call to preach that Gospel (Gal. 1:15 cp. Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:9; 7:15; Gal. 1:6; 5:13; 2 Tim. 1:9). He doesn’t separate his call from that of ours; he speaks of how God called “us” (Rom. 9:24; 1 Thess. 4:7). We may not all be able to live the life of itinerant preaching and spreading the word geographically which Paul did. And yet clearly enough Paul sets himself up as our pattern in the context of his attitude to preaching. Our lamps were lit, in the Lord’s figure, so as to give light to others. We are mirrors, reflecting to others the glory of God as far as we ourselves behold it in the face of Jesus Christ.
Paul says that God’s grace to him “was not in vain”, in that he laboured more abundantly than any in preaching. Yet within the same chapter, Paul urges us his readers that our faith and labour is also “not in vain”; the connection seems to be that he responded to grace by labouring in preaching, and he speaks as if each of the Corinthians likewise will not labour in vain in this way (1 Cor. 15:2,10,58). He clearly sees himself as a pattern of responding to grace by preaching to others.
Paul makes a number of allusions to the great commission, in which he applies it to both himself and also to us all. The weak argument that it was ‘only for the disciples who heard it’ evaporates when it is accepted that Paul wasn’t one of the 12, and yet the commission applies to him. Consider Rom. 1:5 RV: “...through whom we have received grace and apostleship, for the obedience to the faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake”. These words are packed with allusion to the great commission. And Paul is not in the habit of using the ‘royal we’ to refer solely to himself. He clearly sees all his readers as sharing in just the same calling. The early preachers travelled around “for his name’s sake” (3 Jn. 7), even though they were not in the original band of disciples. Having alluded to the great commission, Paul goes on in that context to rejoice “that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:7 RV). He saw their example of faith in practice as being the witness that fulfilled the great commission; and goes on to speak of his sense of debt to spread the word to literally all men, hence his interest in preaching at Rome (Rom. 1:14,15). And here we have our example; “as much as in me is”, we should each say, we are ready to spread the Gospel as far as lies in our power to do so. Having spoken of how the faith of the Romans is spoken of throughout the “world”, Paul goes on to comment that the preaching of the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). The righteousness of God is surely revealed in human examples rather than in any amount of words. Could Paul not be meaning that the faith of one believer will induce faith in others, and in this sense the Gospel is a force that if properly believed ought to be spreading faith world-wide? This means that spreading our faith is part and parcel of believing the Gospel.
The obvious objection to the preceding paragraphs is that Paul was a “chosen vessel” to preach the Gospel. And indeed he was. But the above evidence demands, surely, the verdict- that he really is, all the same, our pattern as a preacher. Significantly, Paul describes us all as ‘vessels of election’ just as he was (Acts 9:15 RVmg. = Rom. 9:22,25).
The Purpose Of The Church
The whole purpose of the true church is to be a light to the world- “the only
cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of
its non-members”, as William Temple put it. The Lord will tell some
in the last day that He never knew them, He will deny them; and
yet He will deny those who never confessed Him before men (Mt. 8:23;
10:32,33). These people will have prophesied in His Name [i.e. preached
to the ecclesia], and done “mighty works” for Him; but the fact
they didn’t confess Him before men is seen as not knowing Him; for
to know Him is to perceive that we are intended to confess Him before
men. This, perhaps, is our greatest danger. The presence and witness
of God is no longer in a tent in the Sinai, nor in a Jerusalem temple.
God reveals Himself through the group of ordinary, mixed up folks
who comprise the ecclesias. For the watching world, we present proof
that Christ is indeed alive; we provide the visible shape of what
God and Jesus are really like. This is how vital is the matter of
witness. It is utterly fundamental to the whole purpose behind our
having been called. And especially in these last days are men and
women called to the Lord so that they might go out and witness to
Him; for the Gospel must go to all the world, and then the Lord
will come. In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, the
owner goes five times to search for workers. It is apparent that
the owner was in desperate need of workers; the only time labour
would be in such demand would be during the harvest. Is not this
parable implying that in the last days, men and women are called
to the Lord’s service in order to go out and gather the harvest?
For when the Lord elsewhere used that same figure, the harvest referred
to potential converts, and the labourers were figures of the preachers.
So you and me tonight, called as we were in the very last days,
were converted so that we might go out and bring in the harvest
for the Lord, and thus hasten His return.
That one purpose of our calling to the Gospel is to assist others
is brought out by the way John the Baptist prepared a highway in
the desert through baptizing repentant people (Mk. 1:3,4). This
highway was to be a path to Christ as well as the one He
would travel. And it's worth reflecting that Christ can only come
once the way for Him is prepared- as if His coming depends upon
a certain level of response to our preaching, especially to the
Jews of the very last days.
Many times we read of how those who hold God's word are to shine it out to others. The Old Testament tends to use a Hebrew word translated "warn" in speaking of how prophets like Ezekiel were to warn-out, or shine out, God's word to others (Ez. 3:17,18 etc.). Yet the same word occurs in Dan. 12:3 about how the preachers of God's word will "shine" eternally in His Kingdom. The connection is clear- how we shine forth God's word now, is how we will eternally shine it forth. Thus in the practice of preaching today, we are working out who and how we shall eternally be. The very concept of preaching is therefore partly designed by God for our benefit, to develop us into the persons we shall eternally be, by His grace. When we read that God will 'require the blood' of those to whom we fail to preach His word (Ez. 3:18), we may here have another reference to a 'going through' of our deeds at the day of judgment. There, perhaps, we will have to give an account, an explanation, of why our neighbours and workfellows lie eternally dead- because we were too shy, too weakly convinced of the eternal realities we knew, to tell them. For the Hebrew word translated "require" implies some kind of inquisition / explanation. Here we see the vital importance of witness.