Beloved preacher Wayne Smith tells about a reporter who went backstage at one of the famous passion plays in Europe. Surprised to find that the cross the actor carried weighed more than 100 pounds, the reporter inquired, “Why don’t you carry something a lot lighter?”
The actor replied, “If I didn’t feel the weight, I couldn’t play the part.”
The apostle Peter felt the weight of the cross. He said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Paul felt the weight of the cross. He said, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
(1 Corinthians 9:16).
The Great Assembly
David lived centuries before the cross, but he felt the weighty responsibility of proclaiming God’s truth. In Psalm 40 he prayed, “I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, lord. . . . I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly” (vv. 9, 10).
When David spoke about “the great assembly,” he pictured the Israelites gathering to worship in Jerusalem; but whenever we gather with other believers—no matter how large or small the gathering, whether it’s a house church or a megachurch—we’re part of “the great assembly.”
At first glance our congregations may not look like great assemblies. On the surface we’re a motley-looking crew, immature and unpolished. Most of us are not “wise by human standards” or “influential” or “of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). And yet we’re part of “the great assembly”—the family of God gathered to worship the Lord, learn the Word, and refresh one another before going back out to serve.
The Cleansing Grace
A great assembly deserves to hear a great message, and a great sermon arises out of the preacher’s own brokenness. David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:1, 2). Before a preacher goes to the sacred pulpit, he needs to go to the slimy pit. Before he stands on the rock, he needs to be down on his knees. When you know how it feels to be a muddy mess, you appreciate the cleansing grace that scrubs you up.
And a preacher should never leave the congregation wallowing in the mud. David testified, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (v. 3). No matter how muddy and muddled up our lives may be, Christ can clean us up and make us new creations with a new song in our mouths (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God’s wonders won’t all fit into a 30-minute sermon. David said, “Many, lord my God, are the wonders you have done. . . . were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare” (Psalm 40:5). But every sermon can highlight some of God’s wonders. Every sermon can point to the crucified and risen Lord who makes every church gathering a “great assembly.”
And that is a weighty responsibility indeed.
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of the Lookout.
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of THE LOOKOUT.
THE LOOKOUT’s Bible Reading Plan for February 19, 2012
Leviticus 14, 15
Leviticus 16, 17
1. Do you think of your church’s gatherings as “great assemblies”? Why, or why not?
2. When, and how, has the Lord lifted you out of the “miry clay”?