“But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.”
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God loves preaching. In fact, He invented it. It was God who called Noah to preach to his generation about the coming judgment. It was God who sent the prophets to preach to Israel. And so it should be no surprise, that when God became man, what do we find Him doing? Preaching, of course! "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom… (Matthew 4:23)." Preaching is God’s idea. But as with every good idea of God, sinful man has found a way to corrupt it and misuse it.
What is the preaching that God loves? What sort of preaching pleases God? Is it the preaching that typically fills our sanctuaries today? Oh my soul, listen to our text this day and see in the Lord’s commission to Ezekiel the type of preaching approved by God.
1. First, God-pleasing preaching is a response to the command of God, not conditioned by the response of man. True preaching does not begin with what I want to hear. A preacher must come to terms with this as he constructs every sermon. “What is my first priority – pleasing God or pleasing man?” Ezekiel was told, basically, to forget about results. “He who hears, let him hear, and he who refuses, let him refuse.” The duty of the God-pleasing preacher is faithfulness to the message of God, and only such preaching truly cares for the souls of men. Paul says in Galatians "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ (Galatians 1:10)."
Too much modern preaching is constructed to please and flatter men. Never offend! That is the slogan of the church today. Preaching seems to be driven by the consumer in a sort of sermon-by-survey approach. If flashy video and casual chats are more comfortable, then that is what the leadership of the modern church provides. But such methods are man’s methods and not God’s. The Lord told Ezekiel to preach and not to worry about the results. If they will hear, let them hear. If they refuse, let them refuse. God doesn’t adjust the message to make the truth more pleasing to fallen men. The Lord said to Ezekiel “I will open your mouth.” God-pleasing preaching flows from the mouths of men content to be the messengers of God. A preacher is, in some respects, God’s puppet. And the problem with much of modern preaching is that it has removed the arm of Almighty God and replaced it with the feeble hand of man.
2. Second, God-pleasing preaching demands serious attention to the words of God. “But when I speak to you…” No man can faithfully proclaim the word of God who is not carefully and humbly listening to the voice of God. This demands study. Preaching and teaching God’s word requires the labor and diligence of carefully examining the Scriptures. “Study” said Paul to Timothy “to show yourself approved unto God.” Too much preaching today sounds like it flows from studying the newspapers, the TV shows, or the bestselling novels rather than a diligent and painstaking study of the living Word of God. How many hours are spent anymore weighing carefully the words of preachers and commentators in previous generations? How much time is spent interacting with the original text to be sure that God’s main point in any verse or passage is actually our main point as well? How much time is spent to ensure the sermon is balanced with proper amounts of “doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” How much time is spent weeping over the text so that a man can say, without hesitation, "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)." Ezekiel was to pay close attention to what God said. Iain Murray put it this way “Sermons will not be marked by authority and power unless they are marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honor. The word of God is to be exegeted and explained. That has to be the heart of the sermon.”
Preaching that fails to give serious weight and attention to God’s Word never gives true glory to God’s Son. The reason is simple. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)." To play loose with God’s Word will always result in playing loose with God’s Son. It was His Son with whom God was perfectly pleased. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And God-pleasing preaching will always pay close attention to the Scriptures through which His Son is made known to us. Isaac said to him whom he would bless “make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me…”(Genesis 27:4)." Dear preacher, that is what the Lord is saying to you every week as you prepare your sermons: “Make me savory food, such as I love!” And the Holy Spirit only blesses those sermons that are sliced and seasoned with ingredients from the holy pantry of His inspired Word.
3. Third, God-pleasing preaching demands communicating God’s Word with God’s authority. “Thus says the Lord.” Away with your own thoughts, your own opinions, and your own perspectives! Keep your suggestions to yourself! Give us the Word of God, tell us what God has said, and declare with humble dignity the eternal truth for our eternal souls. “Thus says the Lord!” No man truly preaches with authority that is not sure his words are grounded in the Word of God. So says Peter “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” So it was with the teaching of Jesus Christ. He taught, and “they were astonished at His teaching (Mark 1:22).” Why? “For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Charles Spurgeon put it this way “The clearness of the testimony is spoiled when doubtful voices are scattered among the people, and those who ought to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, are telling out for doctrines the imaginations of men, and the inventions of the age.”
The sort of preaching sought out today carries no authority with it. The whole atmosphere of modern worship is designed to downplay the importance and place of truth. I heard a sermon online recently preached by a man who, after a nice musical piece had finished, apologized to the congregation that they now had to “put up with his babbling.” This sort of false humility tends to demean and diminish the authority of God in preaching. John Gerstner put it well when he said “If preachers insist on competing with psychiatrists as counselors, with physicians as healers, with politicians as statesmen and with philosophers as speculators, then these specialists have every right to tell them how to preach. If a minister’s message is not based on “Thus saith the Lord,” then as a sermon it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of the specialists in the department with which it deals.”
Dear reader: Do you love preaching? Do you love the kind of preaching that God loves? Are you hearing it? If not, why not? How long can a child of God endure what their heavenly Father cannot enjoy? In the words of Isaiah "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance (Isaiah 55:2)." Are you afraid that maybe - just maybe - more serious preaching might demand of you more serious living? Have you grown comfortable with sermons that pat you on the back rather than poke you in the eye? I plead with you to carefully consider these things, as one who cares for your soul.
And you, O my soul, if you hear this sort of God-pleasing preaching…are you listening? Am I doing what I hear? Am I obeying the voice of the Lord? How many souls have soothed themselves to sleep simply because they sit under faithful preaching and think, therefore, that all is well? Hearing will not save you. Many heard the very sermons of Christ on earth who now hear nothing but cries of anguish in hell. Have you closed with Christ? Have you embraced by faith Him whom every God-pleasing sermon seeks to exalt? Oh be careful how you hear! "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:17)."