Before we begin, I have a news report regarding one of our sister-churches:
RUSSELLVILLE, AR—Roughly half of the churchgoers at First Baptist Church Russellville died of starvation Sunday after the pastor tragically went 15 minutes over his standard sermon time, local sources confirmed.
“We don’t know if the pastor simply lost track of time due to passion while preaching the word of God, or if something more nefarious was going on,” police chief Dwayne Carroll told reporters Monday morning.
“It’s hard to imagine that Pastor Frank did not notice the panicked glances at phones and watches, along with the thunderous stomach growls and moans of agony reverberating throughout the sanctuary within minutes after he began to breach his normal closing time,” the chief continued. “Whatever the case, he went well over his standard allotted time for delivering his message, and roughly 75 people in attendance simply could not hold out, succumbing to their hunger before the the end of the church service.”
Thankfully, the other half of the congregation was able to make a speedy exit as soon as they were dismissed, frantically rushing out the doors and flooding all local restaurants for emergency sustenance.
“Pastor Frank should have known the dire consequences of a church service going even a minute past its normal ending time,” one survivor noted to reporters. “I mean, people have to eat.”
Police Chief Carroll confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.1
This news article is satire, which means it is not a true accounting and it is meant for humor. It was published by a Christian satire company called the Babylon Bee. While the news article is satirical, it does speak to the spiritual maturity of today’s church. There are 168 hours in the week. We reserve 30-40 for work. We reserve, on average, 56 hours for sleep. Students reserve 30 hours for school. We devote time to rest and to spend with family and friends. And, for those who actually attend church to offer praise to God and to learn from His Word, we dedicate a generous 3 hours of our week.
Our time in church is not the only time that we spend with God, but still, it is not hard to see where our priorities are as a western culture, and for most, God is not a high priority on that list. The western church loves God so much, that its people are willing to give God 1.79% of their time, and that is only if they go to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.
Even though our time with the church body is not the only time that we spend with God, it is the most important time that we spend with God because we are in the context of God’s forever family.
Hebrews 10:24-25- “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Matthew 18:28- “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (Refers to accountability in context).
Colossians 3:16- “Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God” (The Christian life cannot be lived outside of the context of meeting as the church).
Acts 2:42- “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Church is a matter of devotion to one another and being together).
I have to wonder what we insinuate about the God we serve when we give Him so little? What do we reveal about our own trust in God’s Word when we spend so little time together learning from it and applying it to our lives?
John 12:37-50 HCSB
Even though He had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him. But this was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet, who said:
Lord, who has believed our message?
And who has the arm of the Lord
been revealed to?
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 be converted,
and I would heal them.
Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke about Him.
Nevertheless, many did believe in Him even among the rulers, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, so they would not be banned from the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
A Summary of Jesus’ Mission
Then Jesus cried out, “The one who believes in Me believes not in Me, but in Him who sent Me. And the one who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me would not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects Me and doesn’t accept My sayings has this as his judge: The word I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on My own, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what I should say and what I should speak. I know that His command is eternal life. So the things that I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”
Signs do not save
Here, we see that even though Christ was performing signs, many, many people were not believing in Him. John mentions something very interesting in this part of the text. He mentions that the unbelief of people was to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 6. In Isaiah 53, Isaiah predicts that the Messiah would be rejected and would be pierced for our transgressions. In Isaiah 53 we read that the one who would be the Messiah would have to die, bearing the sickness of the world. Here, John writes that the reason people rejected Christ, even though He was performing great signs, was to lead to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah.
Isaiah 6 contains the call from God on Isaiah’s life to prophesy or to declare the word of the Lord. It is not much different than the call placed on the life of a pastor or elder today, though Isaiah lived in a different context and was given a very specific, prophetic message. In verses 9-10, God commands Isaiah, “Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.”
It seems as though the Israelites during Isaiah’s day and the Jews in the first century had a tendency to listen habitually, but not let the words impact their very hearts, minds and souls. I see the same sort of tendency today in the church and in popular western Christianity overall. We have become guilty of listening habitually, without seeking to grow as a result of the word being declared. Because most church people only listen habitually, there is no longer passion in the western church.
I read recently on Nik Ripkin’s2 blog about the passion of the African church:
Typical Christian worship in these small, rural churches was at least a four-hour affair. They were so thrilled to meet us, especially our boys. Our three sons had their white skin pinched and their blonde hair rubbed repeatedly by village children. I sometimes envied our sons their freedom to run through the village with other kids as we sat for hours as honored guests in every church or home we visited.
After hours of worship one day, I was happy to announce that our mission board back home in the States had granted the churches of our host country $10,000 to provide Bibles, train leaders, and start Bible studies in homes. Our sponsoring churches would not feel the loss of this amount of money, and perhaps that contributed to my slightly cavalier presentation.
But I have no excuse. I should have known better. We knew that most of our audience made only one dollar per day — if they had a paying job. For them, $10,000 was a staggering amount of money. And in the context of apartheid, this sum was overshadowed by the fact that white Christians cared enough to give black Christians a significant gift. Given this context, $10,000 seemed like a massively sacrificial gift. Because I had placed my cultural awareness in neutral, I was not prepared for what happened following my almost throwaway announcement.
A spontaneous offering broke out — and it lasted over three hours.
The whole church began to clap and sing, with the women making a trilling sound with their tongues (called “ululation”) that I have been unable to emulate for 32 years. They began to dance in groups of four to six. With mesmerizing grace, they would dance toward the handmade altar-table at the front of the church. They would sway together in rhythm, two steps forward and one step back, slowly making their way toward the front. Moving in harmony before the offering table, hiding money in their hands, they would mimic placing their money on the table and pull it away until, at a moment known only to them, they’d slap their money on the table. It was worship at its best. There was a joy of giving that was immeasurable.
Kids began to beg money from adults. They would take whatever change they received, run to the tiny store next door, and exchange their money for even smaller coins, so that they could dance to the altar with their coins multiple times.3
This is a total of at least seven hours for one service because the people were responding to God in a very real way. God was real to them. Praise was real to them. They were growing as a result of the teaching because they were open for God to actually work in them. They were not habitual, passive listeners like we are in the western church today. As I think about this, I am reminded of the words of Christ in Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Time, for us, is such a treasure. We are limited in the amount of time we have in this world. We use time to build relationships, to earn a living, to be with family, to create and maintain a good home environment, and more. The African church we read about treasures Christ, treasures time of praise, and treasures learning from God. We can tell because that is where they spend their time. The western world treasures money, comfort, and entertainment. We can tell because that is where we spend our time. The western church today does not treasure learning from God’s word. We can tell because, in most churches, we have limited the teaching of God’s word to a 20 minute time slot, which does not serve the seriousness and the importance of God’s eternal Word in our lives. This is so shallow when it comes to learning from the words that the God of the universe has given us for direction of our entire lives. By giving less than 2% of our time we simply cannot be rightly prepared to live during the other 98% of our lives. If God’s Word is limited to a twenty-minute time slot, then we only devote less than 1% of our time to the declaration of God’s Word, and less than 1/3 of a percent if we only preach for 20 minutes on Sunday morning.
When I served on a grocery stock crew, we would spend half of the night organizing and preparing before unloading boxes onto the shelves so that we could be efficient. We spend an hour or two preparing a meal so that it can be eaten in a matter of minutes. According to several studies compiled by MSN:4
- People spend an average of three years of their lives doing laundry.
- People spend about seven years cumulatively lying awake in bed.
- People spend an average of four years talking on the phone at work.
- People sleep for an average cumulation of 26 years.
- People will, on average, spend 11 years of their lives watching television.
- People will work for an average of 10.3 years.
- People will spend four months of their lives shaving (I save that time!)
- People will spend an average of 4.4 years eating, and more than eight years shopping.
- Yet if someone were to live to be seventy-five years of age, he or she will have spent less than one and a half years in church and less than one-third of a year learning and applying the text of Scripture. This is only if he or she attended a church where Scripture is seriously taught. That number is reduced to one-ninth of a year for those who only attend on Sunday morning.
This is where our priorities are in western society. Sadly, it is why most people who claim to be followers of Christ have such a shallow faith. When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he had this to say on the subject:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves” (2 Timothy 3:16-4:3a HCSB).
I assure you, brothers and sisters, that we are in a time when we would rather have teachers according to our own desires than teachers who care enough to actually exposit and deliver the Word of God in a manner that the Scriptures can actually be delivered well. We live in a time when most western people care more about length and methodology than about grasping the truth of the text for their lives.
John clarifies for us in verse 39, “This is why they were unable to believe.” If we listen only habitually, then we have believed in a time slot or a method instead of believing in the person of Christ, who does not depend on either of those things. God does not worship our attention span. He does not worship whether or not we are being entertained when a message is delivered from His Word. We do not worship a time slot reserved for praise or a time slot reserved for the declaration of God’s Word. We worship Christ and Christ alone. He is the object of our worship and He spent 1,500 years inspiring people to write His Words to us so that they can be delivered with power and with meaning. When we are hungry for Christ, we will always desire more of His word (not less). We must not listen habitually, brothers and sisters, for life is not found in our ability to hear, but in Christ’s ability to revive us.
John goes on to say that many of them, even the rulers, believed in Christ, but because there was so much opposition, they remained silent concerning their belief. The reason that they remained silent, then, according to John, was because they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. John issues two indictments here against the Jewish people. First, they listened habitually and did not actually care about what was being taught. It was a checklist to them. They listened, but did not understand. They were more concerned with doing what was expected than with actually engaging the Word and living according to it. Second, those who believed Christ remained silent because they feared what people would think. When we worry about what people will think about our confession of Christ, we are guilty of worshipping the approval of people rather than seeking to please the God in whom we claim to have placed our belief.
The Christian life has two components, then, that we must accept if we actually want to follow Christ well. First, we must engage the Word, genuinely looking for how it can be applied to our lives. Scripture does not prescribe for us a method or mode of delivery, and there have been many methods throughout the ages.
- Before the New Testament church, God’s word was delivered by prophets who would prophesy.
- After the prophets, there was a simple reading of the Scriptures, mostly without any explanation.
- These two methods continued until Christ came and delivered the Sermon on the Mount. This ‘sermon’ was not delivered like most modern day sermons. Jesus spoke (we don’t know how much time he took or if it was one sermon or many that Matthew chose to put together) and then left. There was no church music or a time of invitation (Matthew 6).
- The apostles would deliver a message and allow time for discussion (Acts 2-4).
- The early church would then read the letters of the apostles from a scroll, letting the text speak for itself.
- In fact, it was not until the reformation (1500’s A.D.), about 500 years ago, that modern preaching and exegesis began to be developed in response to Roman Catholic dogmatism, and even then it did not look as it does today.
God has been around forever. Before there was a Bible, people could know Him and He shared His Word. People began recording His Word during the time of Moses. The New Testament Church began about 2,000 years ago. It is only within the last 500 years that God’s Word began to be proclaimed from a pulpit in the manner of either exegetical or topical preaching. The method of delivery has changed constantly throughout time, but God and His Word have always been. What Scripture commands is that we confess. When we place our identity as a church in the method of presentation, we disgrace the holy God of the universe who has always been and who has always worked despite the methods that people have developed for themselves. No matter the method, our objective is to engage the Word. If we do not, we have not placed our belief in God, but instead in people.
The second component of the Christian life is confession. It is not enough to just live in a God-honoring way and hope that people will notice and turn to Christ. When we do not confess with our lips at every opportunity, we have placed our belief in the approval of people rather than in God’s approval.
John records some things that Jesus said about His own ministry while He was on this earth. In verses 48-49, Jesus Himself gives this warning for us: “The one who rejects Me and doesn’t accept My sayings has this as his judge: The word I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on My own, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what I should say and what I should speak.”
If we do not engage God’s Word, ,if we are not hungry for God’s Word, and if we do not seek to obey the prescriptions given to us in God’s Word, we will be judged by the Word. If we worship methodology, liturgy (order of service), style of music, style of teaching, or the time-slots that we have reserved, then we fail to worship Christ because we are the same type of habitual listeners that are indicted in this text. We are to be hungry for the Word of God. Our hunger for God’s Word is evidence of spiritual maturity. If we are not hungry, we have chosen to ignore God’s work in our lives, throughout our lives.
In verse 47, we receive some encouragement in the midst of this indictment. Jesus says, “If anyone hears My words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
There will come a day when Jesus Christ will sit as judge, but currently, He is saving people for Himself. If we hear the words, and we have been guilty of not engaging them or being hungry for them, Christ is still our deliverer if we have genuinely placed our faith in Him. He shows us so much grace, even when the church has only given Him 1.79%, and has devoted even less time to the proclamation of His Word. Praise God, that in our insufficiencies, He is all-sufficient, all-powerful, and all-knowing. We serve a great and wonderful God. Let us grow even more hungry for His Word, such that we are focussed intimately on studying and fulfilling His Word without distraction as we meet together!
2Nik Ripkin is a missionary and his ministry recently released a movie entitled “The Insanity of God.” I highly recommend this video and the book it is based on, but do not watch it or read the book unless you are ready for your life to be completely ruined concerning evangelism and the spread of the Gospel.