It is a sad but very real ability of my sinful nature to turn any task – no matter how gracious a privilege it is – into a grievous burden. My life is littered with examples in each of my God-given callings. But perhaps nowhere is that gospel-joy-distorting ability more dangerous to myself and others than in how I treat the public ministry privilege of being a mouthpiece of God’s saving glory. When I treat that task as a burden, I endanger the souls before me since that heart problem can distort what I’m communicating in more ways than I realize. I endanger my own soul since I am treating with faith-dulling contempt the only message that saves my soul!
These next ten days that challenge may be especially intense for you as Holy Week comes your way. When the demands of our public ministry become that intense, it is particularly easy to lose sight in the midst of it all that we are carrying out a wondrous privilege. We can lose sight that we are joining the disciples in Sunday’s gospel (Luke 18:28-40) in the privilege of lifting our voices to proclaim the wonders of God’s grace we have seen. We can treat as burden the privilege of being God’s tools to impact the eternity of the precious souls sitting before us.
And here is something else that escapes our notice at such times: our allotted time to open our mouths to proclaim the wonders to God’s present-day Jerusalem is fleeting! Even if enemies fail to silence our mouths – as they failed on Palm Sunday – there is a time rushing at us when our mouths will go silent.
My father once loved to preach, but it has been 35 years since he had the privilege to stand in a pulpit on Easter Day and announce: “This is the day the Lord has made!” Failing health robbed him of the ability to do what had so often been the joy of his ministry. And then fifteen years later, death ended completely his ability to sound God’s grace in this life.
Even though I have no doubt that his Easter celebrations since his going home have been far beyond anything I can imagine, this remains true: his fleeting opportunity to preach the gospel so that God’s people are empowered to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) has come and gone. Ended is the privilege to work while it is day to impact the eternity of those gathered before him. All that is left for this life of his ongoing proclamation is one stone that cries out. The headstone that sits on his and my mother’s grave bears this silent testimony: “In the cross of Christ I glory.” Yet beneath that headstone their lifeless bodies also bear witness to the reality of the next line of that hymn stanza: we all die and prove ourselves sinful parts of the “wrecks of time” over which that cross towers (CW 345:1).
I am sobered by that reality as this Holy Week dawns since, for only the second time in 35 years, God will not be giving me the privilege of standing in a pulpit and proclaiming the wonders God has done. And it has not escaped me that, as my sojourn on earth soon reaches 60 years, that my fleeting moment is fast drawing to a close when I will have the privilege of standing in pulpit (or classroom) to make an eternal impact on precious souls before me. I will not regret that reality in heaven, but now it provides a useful vantage point from which to view this privilege of ministry!
So, my brothers, what does that have to say to the many of you for whom this Holy Week may leave you longing for some quiet time?
These next ten days may indeed leave you exhausted, but at the same time may your dear Lord Jesus give you the wisdom to treasure the fleeting privilege of grace that has been given to you! And for the sake first for your own soul – and then for the souls who will gather before you – may he accomplish that in the same way he opened the mouths of the disciples that first Palm Sunday. May he delight your hearts and then open your mouths because of the glorious things you have seen!
May the journey ahead captivate you anew
by the Savior’s love that rode into town for you.
May his New Covenant feast fill you with wonder
as bread and wine carry what feeds your soul’s hunger!
May the Crucified’s cry of salvation complete
win you to lay every heart’s burden at his feet.
Most wondrous, may you hear the voice of the risen One
proclaim ev’ry enemy of God’s love undone!
So, my dear brothers, may he who “gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29) grant you just such an extra measure of strength and stamina for all that may be coming your way these next ten days.
And even if this upcoming week tires you – and Jesus never said ministry would not – may his grace remind you that you still have a cause for thanksgiving. You are still among those enjoying the fleeting privilege to let your voice echo through Jerusalem!