I grew up in the “dark ages” when the radio provided home entertainment. With sheet-covered head I chilled to Intersanctum’s creaking door. With beating heart I rode adventure trails with The Lone Ranger. With vivid imagination I knew each item that tumbled out of Fibber McGee’s closet. Sometimes static swallowed the signal just when the Gangbusters were about to bust the gang, and life came crashing down. It made no difference whether the transmitter stopped transmitting or my little receiver stopped receiving; it took both to communicate.
Preaching is like that. Sometimes preachers don’t transmit; sometimes hearers don’t receive. Jesus addressed the hearer’s responsibility in the equation when he proclaimed, “Take heed how ye hear.” He urged the hearer to examine the receiver for the static’s cause before blaming the transmitter.
Jesus’ words are jarring not only because we attach limited importance to hearing, but also because we consider hearing to be morally neutral -- no credit is given for listening; no blame attaches to turning a deaf ear. Whose concern is it if I give no thought to preparing my mind and heart for worship? What difference does it make if I make no effort to control and concentrate my mind when the word is preached? Jesus made it His concern.
Immediately prior to Jesus’ startling assertion, in the parable of the sower he had explained that the soil’s nature – more than either the quality or the sowing of the seed – determined the harvest. The soil’s produce flowed from its preparation. Preparation to receive the truth is the foundation of all improvement.
What preparation do we make to hear the word? Can we expect to be edified by the proclamation of the word if our hearts’ soil is not ready for the sowing? What can we do to prepare our hearts for the worship of God through proclamation of His word?
Prepare to receive the message. A farmer prepares the soil; an athlete prepares his body; the pianist prepares her concerto. The worshipper, having neither prayed nor studied the word all week, bolts out of breath into the building, plops onto the pew, and is amazed that the service seems “flat.” Both body and mind must be prepared for worship; the body by adequate rest; the mind by prayer and study of the word.
Concentrate on the message and not the messenger. If the preacher, like Paul, lacks eloquence (2 Cor. 2:1), does he preach the word faithfully? If his lessons don’t take “fresh” approaches, like Peter, can he not edify by reminding hearers of that which they already know (2 Pet. 2:12,13)?
Be grateful that the word is preached. Are eloquence and organization preferable to faithfulness to the word? Paul was able to overlook even evil motives for preaching as long as Christ was preached. Phil. 1:15-18
Glorify the word. When Paul and Barnabas turned from the Jews who had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life to preach to the Gentiles, the Gentiles rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord. Acts 13:48. Could it be otherwise? It is the word of life (John 6:68) from the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). It is able to build us up and to give us an inheritance among all them that are sanctified. Acts 20:32. It is the power of God unto salvation. Rom. 1:16. Does it lose its power because the preacher is not an Apollos? Acts 18:24
If a messenger brought us news that we were to receive unimagined wealth, would we reject it because he was not eloquent? Because he was not organized? Because his grammar was poor? Would a starving person refuse bread because it was made from wheat grown in a field with crooked rows? Can we not see the surpassing greatness of the power of God in spite of the earthen vessels? 2 Cor. 4:7.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)