Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are We Advocates For or Witnesses Of Christ?

I have often been rather astonished by the casual manner in which many Christians talk about Jesus Christ, especially some preachers. I don't quite understand how one could be confronted with the disgusting wretchedness of their sin and then be shown the great grace and glory of God in the forgiveness of those sins and not be completely undone by a barrage of both sorrow and joy.

How could one possibly handle the weighty reality of unmerited favor shown to us through the crucifixion of the One in whom "the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form" (Col 2:9) in the same way one might handle the daily newspaper? In fact it seems that many people recount a story from the daily paper with more passion than some pastors or Christians declare the good news of Jesus.

I have long had a hunch that underlying this whole problem for many Christians, and perhaps many pastors, is that either they are not truly witnesses to the great grace of Jesus Christ in their lives, or they have forgotten that their call is to preach and not to act as a defense attorney on behalf of the living God who needs no defense. In his book "Preaching and Preachers," Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones very well explains the essential nature of zeal in preaching (which I think is necessary even in everyday conversation regarding Jesus, not just in the pulpit):

"A preacher must always convey the impression that he himself has been gripped by what he is saying. If he has not been gripped nobody else will be. So this is absolutely essential. He must impress the people by the fact that he is taken up and absorbed by what he is doing. He is full of matter, and he is anxious to impart this. He is so moved and thrilled by it himself that he wants everybody else to share in this. He is concerned about them; that is why he is preaching to them. He is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God. So he does it with energy, with zeal, and with this obvious concern for people. In other words a preacher who seems to be detached from the Truth, and who is just saying a number of things which may be very good and true and excellent in themselves, is not a preacher at all.

Let me put it this way. I remember reading years ago an account by a well-known journalist in Scotland of a meeting which he had attended. He used a phrase which I have never forgotten; it has often upbraided me and often condemned me. He had been listening to two speakers speaking on the same subject. He went on to say that they were both very able and learned men. Then came the devastating phrase, 'The difference between the two speakers was this; the first spoke as an advocate, the second as a witness.' That crystallises this point perfectly. The preacher is never just an advocate. The task, the business of the advocate, the attorney, is to represent somebody in the Court of Law. He is not interested in this person, may not even know him, and has no personal interest in him; but he has been handed what we call a brief concerning this man's case. The brief has been prepared for him, all the facts and the details, the legal points and the salient matters in this particular case. He is handed his brief and what he does is to speak to his brief. He is not involved personally, he is not really concerned. He is in a position of detachment handling a matter right outside himself.

Now that must never be true of a preacher [or of any of us when we speak about Jesus for that matter]. This is, again, one of the differences between the preacher and the lecturer. The preacher is involved all along, and that is why there must be this element of zeal. He is not just 'handling' a case. To do that is one of the greatest temptations of many preachers, and especially those of us who are combative by nature. We have an incomparable case, as we have seen; we have our systematic theology and this knowledge of the Truth. What a wonderful opportunity for arguing, reasoning, demonstrating and proving the case and refuting all objections and counterarguments. But if the preacher gives the impression that he is only an advocate presenting a case he has failed completely. The preacher is a witness. That is the very word used by our Lord Himself, 'Ye shall be witnesses unto me'; and this is what the preacher must always be at all times. Nothing is so fatal in a preacher as that he should fail to give the impression of personal involvement."

This truth is applicable to more than just the man who stands behind the pulpit on Sunday morning. To share the gospel is to talk about eternal life in Jesus Christ. In John 17:3 Jesus states that eternal life is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom this one true God sent. If you are preaching a good news about knowing God and you yourself are no firsthand witness to the saving and reconciling work of Jesus in your life, nor do you truly know God, then you will no doubt become a mere advocate defending a case.

Witnesses to the 9-11 tragedy no doubt speak about the incident with a tear that still pools up in the corner of their eye, whereas I (not a firsthand witness) may recount the story with eyes dryer than the Sahara. What's the difference? One has seen the horror, been covered by the ash, heard the screams and ran for their lives, the other has not.

Are you a mere advocate for Jesus Christ? Or have you seen the horror of your sin nailed to the bloody tree at calavary, seen the sky go dark and felt the earth and yourself shake as you hear your Savior cry out "It is finished." If you have seen the empty grave with your own two eyes (figuratively of course) then let it show in your voice and demeanor as you tell the world "He is risen!"