The message was preached by a man with good evangelical bona fides. He was said to have set the standard for exegetical preaching. And he did a good job of explaining the passage to which he was referring. His topic was moral courage and he used the example of the prophet Micaiah.
Four hundred prophets told Ahab to go to battle with the blessing, they said, of the Lord. Micaiah was the lone voice in opposition. His message from God was twofold. First, the battle would leave Israel without a king. That meant Ahab would be killed. The second part of the message was that the means through which Ahab would make the wrong decision about the battle was that a lying spirit was put into the four hundred prophets. Obviously, it took moral courage for Micaiah to give this message.
The preacher concluded his sermon by saying that we need preachers today who have that kind of moral courage. I would not disagree.
However, I came away from listening to that message with some questions. Was his message any different than what a good orthodox Jewish rabbi would have preached from the same passage? Was it any different than even a Mormon speaker would have said? In both cases, I would have to say it was not different than what they could have presented. Which made me think that we should carefully evaluate how we use the scriptures.
We must be faithful to give the whole counsel of God. The Old Testament scriptures are foundational to our faith. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). There is much to be learned through these scriptures and the object is to produce hope. And what is our hope? “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 6:19, 20). The hope that the scriptures give us is Jesus.
As I listened to that message (and I did so twice), I did not hear Jesus mentioned. The Holy Spirit’s power was not referred to. The emphasis was to follow the example of Micaiah, who gave God’s word without compromise in his day. But we are not in his day. We live on this side of the cross. Since that is the case, God has “made us able ministers of the new testament” (2 Cor. 2:6a).
Peter wrote that if any man speak, he should speak as the oracles of God. God has given us a new message in the New Covenant. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1, 2a). If we are to be faithful to the message, we must minister the new testament.
Peter was jailed for speaking about Jesus. He could have likely been unscathed had he merely told Old Testament stories and given good morals from them. But he preached that Jesus was the Son of God whom the prophets foretold and who the people with wicked hands had killed. Peter had the moral courage to give the message of God to the people. Part of that message was that the law could not save them. Only Jesus could. “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).
Micaiah had moral courage. He spoke the word of God in his day. He did it despite the opposition of four hundred prophets and a king who disliked him. We live in a day when speaking with moral courage means speaking the whole counsel of God. That means that we speak about God’s law being broken, but that can only take people to the place where they see they are sinners. The law cannot save. We must go on and speak about Jesus, the savior.
In considering that message that I listened to, I wondered how it could be turned into a message that would minister the new testament. The disciples in the early church were threatened because they preached Jesus. What did they do? They prayed. “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29). The answer to their prayers was that they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and “they spake the word of God with boldness” (v. 31). New testament boldness comes when believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. Now it is not only the special people called prophets who can have Micaiah-like moral courage. All believers can be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak God’s message with boldness.
What does it mean to be a minister of the new testament? It means we must center our message on Christ, for “he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). Jesus is the mediator of the new testament. To bring us together with God, Jesus died for us, was buried and rose again. He is the reason we can be reconciled with God. He is the help that we can have to make our lives pleasing to the heavenly Father.
Our message must be centered on Christ and the gospel. If we focus on old covenant morals to get people to live right, we will fail. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). No amount of old testament moralizing will make people holy. It is only in Christ and what He has done that there is power.
It is very possible to attend Bible-preaching, Bible-believing churches and not hear the gospel for weeks and even months. There may be a brief reference here and there, however the focus is not on the gospel but on other things. There are many sermons that can be preached from the Bible without making any reference to the gospel. The message I heard that I mentioned above is one of them. But how is preaching like that being faithful to the new testament? Real moral courage in this day is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16)
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)