Today was the third funeral I have taken this year. The friend who passed away joined us when we tried a church plant in Irene/Centurion fourteen-odd years ago and was part of the Bible Study in Centurion for older folk. He died on 25 September after a very short illness … although by his own admission he was ready to die years ago. He never got over his wife’s death. He missed her and longed for her.
Well, his funeral was today. There were around 35 to 45 people in attendance. It was very strange to have everyone except the speakers wearing masks. As the person who took the service, I could not make out any expressions whatsoever! On top of that, the people were scattered all over the church. Having said that, the service went well with no hiccups … and the friend who passed away missed out on some very tasty refreshments afterwards.
I knew seven people present–the friend’s three children, his daughter-in-law, two friends of mine and Jenny. Any preacher will tell you that during the service, especially a wedding or funeral, you get a feel of the people. You are able to sense whether they are attentive, whether they are hearing with a critical spirit or whether they are absorbing the message. Today was very different. I felt the family were very involved in the message … but generally, because of the masks and being unable to read the faces, I got the feeling of spiritual resistance … and I’m not referring to the lady at the back who was on her cellphone all through the service.
When a preacher takes a service, he ought not to do so to perform, entertain … or for that matter to please anyone. His objective needs to be to “please” (honour) God … for it is God he is serving. Having said that however, he does get a sense of where the “audience” (the congregation) are as far as reception is concerned. I say the majority today were spiritually distant.
Why do I say this? Before giving the answer, I need to say that I knew my friend reasonably well, having counselled him many times. He had written a note on a half of an A5 paper giving his final instructions for his funeral. It read something like this … “No fuss, if someone wants to say something let them, no evangelism …” Well, I told the people I was going to disobey that (with the family’s permission)!
Back to the question … why do I say most were spiritually distant? Normally, I pray three times in a funeral service, then have the committal and benediction. The first two prayer times are when we start the service and then before I preach. To both these prayers, there was a general “Amen”. Once I had preached, there was no “Amen” heard by me. That is the reason I say there was a spiritual distance.
You see, when a preacher takes a wedding or funeral service, there are people present who never set their foot in a church. At most, some might attend weddings, funerals or Easter and Christmas services. Because of this, the preacher who is Gospel-focused will present the Gospel. That is, he will evangelize because he is aware that even if those who hear are offended or angry, they need to hear the Gospel. God expects us to dish out the Gospel so that the hearers are without any excuse when they stand before Him as the Judge of all the earth!
This is the reason I said preachers are not there to please, entertain or perform. We go into any pulpit with God standing next to us to serve Him. You see, He empowers us preachers to tell people what they need to hear … whether they like what they hear or not. The Gospel-preacher knows:
Ro 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
How I wish that all preachers will hear that verse in their souls! Yet, so many miss great opportunities to evangelize because they are ashamed of the Gospel. They fear man. They fear for their reputation. The true prophets of God in the Old Testament preached what God told them to say. More often than not, they were hated and ignored and rejected … but they were not ashamed of their God and His Word.
This is how the preacher today needs to be: unashamed! Why? Because the Gospel is not “a” power from God … it is the power of God. It is the only power from God for the salvation of everyone who believes!
“Everyone” includes those society rejects, provided they believe. In Jesus’ day, the immoral people who were rejected by the religious leaders and upper crust of society were being saved. Think of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. True, they used this incident to attempt catching Him out … but look how He handles the situation. The women is caught in the act of adultery … that is, she was doing the forbidden. They saw it. They want her stoned as per the Law, yet Jesus says that the one who is without sin needs to cast the first stone. One by one, they left with embarrassment on their faces because all sin.
John 8:10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
But even though “believe” includes the rejected for salvation, it also includes everyone from the most moral, wealthy, educated, powerful and beautiful down through all parts of society to the rejected. You see, whoever believes will be saved. The human heart is, by nature, rock hard. Nothing can penetrate or break its stubbornness. You must accept the Gospel because the Gospel is “the power of God for … salvation” that is, it breaks that stubborn, hard, resistant heart! Nothing else can change the heart … no man, no human message, no psychological persuasion … only the Gospel, because it is the power of God!
God spoke and creation came into existence out of nothing. That is the power of God speaking. He speaks the Gospel message through His human spokesmen, and that same message carries the same power of God to break stubborn hearts and save lost souls for eternity! Are you able to recall how the power of God’s Gospel, applied by the Holy Spirit, shattered that hard, stubborn heart of yours, saving your soul and giving your eternal life? Or has it not?
Dear God, Your grace is so amazing and so divine, so powerful and so irresistible that it caused my hardened heart to melt in submission to the Gospel. How I thank and praise You for my salvation and assurance of heaven! Please Lord, set Your Spirit free to work in preachers to proclaim and in hard hearts to submit to Jesus. Amen.