Listening to sermons as an act of worship
Most people probably listen to sermons in church the way they listen to a president’s State of the Union address or the evening news on television. First, they make assessments as to whether or not the sermon is interesting. Then, perhaps, is there humor? Are there stories the listener can relate to? Is the preacher nervous or relaxed? Does he make any mistakes in grammar? Is his tie straight and did it match his suit? When the sermon is finished, they ask the question, “What did I get out of that?” The interaction between sermon and congregant is often more inspection and scrutiny than worship.
This sort of analytical approach to listening to sermons was decidedly not the way righteous people in the Bible listened to the Word of God. During the reign of King Josiah in Judah, the temple underwent a massive restoration. In the process of repairing the temple the ancient Scriptures were found, perhaps in a jar in the corner of some forgotten room. The scroll was brought to Josiah and was read in his presence. “And it came about when the king heard the words of the book of the law, that he tore his clothes” (2 Kgs 22:11). Upon hearing the Word of God read, Josiah tore his clothes in shame and wept (2 Kgs 22:19). In response to Josiah’s reaction to God’s Word, the Lord heard and answered his prayers (2 Kgs 22:19,20).
After the people of Judah and Israel returned from a seventy year captivity in Babylon, Ezra helped restore worship among the remnant in Jerusalem. A certain day was set aside so the people could hear the Word of God read and explained (much like a modern-day sermon). A podium was constructed for the purpose of this special presentation (Neh 9:6). When Ezra opened the book in the sight of the people to read it “all the people stood up . . . And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground . . . all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law” (Neh 8:5,6,9). In Ezra 9:4, we read that when the people of Israel heard the Word of the Lord read and as they realized that they had been disobedient to its laws, they trembled.
These Biblical reactions to hearing the Bible read and explained are markedly different than the way most Christians respond to Sunday morning sermons in their churches. What we must learn to consider is that God is the One who watches and evaluates on Sunday mornings and that all members of a congregation, both preacher and listeners, are being assessed by the Almighty.
To listen to a sermon, no less than the preacher preaching it, is an act of worship. When we have a deep reverence for our God and a passionate love for Him, we cannot hear His eternal Word read and explained without a heartfelt response. Our hearts respond in shame, due to our sinfulness . . . and trembling, due to the majesty of God speaking . . . and thanksgiving at the wonder that the Creator would speak to us . . . and joy, due to the value and truth of what God declares.
To hear the Word of God declared and to respond with relative indifference is to proudly stand before the Ancient of Days in arrogance and self-satisfaction. In the parable of the Sower and the Seed in the gospels (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8), the only soil that can be praised is the fertile soil. “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20). The people of God are those in whose hearts the Word of God takes root and produces the fruit of righteousness. When told that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to see Him, Jesus responded by saying, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21).
It is not acceptable to the living God for a Christian to go to church on Sunday morning and simply evaluate the sermon without being conscious of the importance of letting the Word of God evaluate him/her. Listening to a sermon, rightly, is an act of worship. It is to hear in the sermon and to observe in the Scripture the supreme excellencies of the King of Kings and to rejoice over Him with pleasure. Repeatedly, in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2,3, the Lord calls out, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Let us come to church on Sundays not only to worship by the joy of our songs and by the thanksgiving of our offerings, but also by the delight in our souls inGod when we listen to the sermon.
When the disciples on the road to Emmaus heard the teaching of Christ they later recalled, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32). If our hearts do not burn when the Scriptures are explained to us, then whatever else we may have done, we have not worshiped the living God. Let us plead with God that there might be a trembling and an awe and a burning delight in our hearts at the Word of God, whether on Sunday morning in church or on Thursday morning in our living rooms. God clearly declares, “. . . to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2).
Rejoicing over God’s truth with you,