The year is almost gone; 2015 is nearly a footnote, and a new chapter in world history will begin on 1 January 2016. What lies before us? We can speculate on the economy, we can plan our diaries, we can set our goals, and we can pursue their accomplishment. And this is fine. But with all our activities, with all of our “doing,” I want to encourage you to make 2016 a year of listening.
I recently read the very helpful, illuminating and convicting little book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, by T. David Gordon. His premise is that most pastors are woeful preachers fundamentally because we fail to listen to the text of Scripture, with the result that, in the end, we fail to fill our sermons with the Lord Jesus Christ. The congregation suffers from malnourishment because of pastoral malpractice. At the end of the day, though the sermon may accomplish many things, it has failed if it does not point the congregation to our all sufficient Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those entrusted with the shepherding of God’s flock are responsible to the congregation, and ultimately to God, to feed them on Christ. The congregation is to be so pointed to Jesus Christ that it sees Him as all sufficient to justify us from our sins and to sanctify us from them as well. For this to happen, shepherds must learn to listen to the text of Scripture, and the congregation must learn to listen to those preaching the text of Scripture. The congregation must listen to the shepherds.
Luke 2:17–18 provides a wonderful illustration of this point: “Now when [the shepherds] had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Of course, these were ordinary Palestinian shepherds who, having been informed by angelic messengers of the birth of the Lord Jesus, did the unusual thing of leaving the flocks entrusted to them in order to go and see the “Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11).
They made haste and arrived at the stable, where they found “a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths.” There was nothing unusual about this, so was this “the sign” which the angels had told them about (v. 12)? No. The “sign” was that this baby would be found lying in a manger; that is, in a feeding trough. Now indeed, that is unusual. And yet considering who the baby was, it was not unusual at all. After all, where else might one find a Lamb (John 1:29; Revelation 13:8) but in a stable, lying down near a place of feeding?
Once they had “seen Him,” they told others what the angelic choir had revealed to them. The result was that those who listened marvelled at what they had heard from the mouths of these shepherds; shepherds who had been eyewitnesses.
Those entrusted to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28) have the same responsibility as these shepherds so long ago. Elders/pastors are to make known to all who will listen the glory of the Saviour, Christ Jesus the Lord. This creates at least three duties—two for the shepherds and one for the flock.
The shepherds, first of all, must themselves be eyewitnesses to the glory of the incarnate Lord. Pastors who do not know and adore the Lord will have little to say to cause others to marvel at the grace and glory of God. Just as these shepherds paid attention to the heaven-sent revelation of the birth of Jesus Christ, so a church’s shepherds must pay heed to the revelation of Jesus in the Word of God. This Word is just as heavenly as were those angelic messengers millennia ago. As the new year begins, won’t you please pray that your shepherds will listen better this year to the announcements in God’s Word concerning the Lord Jesus Christ? Please pray that we will not only listen but that, like these shepherds, we will also go and see. Pray that we will behold God’s Son and increasingly exalt in His glory.
But the church’s shepherds also have another duty. Once we listen and see, we must go and tell. Just as these shepherds “made widely known” the message about Jesus Christ, likewise this is the primary duty of your shepherds. We have one message, and that is “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Pray that we will be both faithful to do so as well as increasingly skilled in doing so. Again, this requires that we shepherds learn to listen well.
Finally, there is a duty for the flock of God as well. As shepherds listen to the Chief Shepherd (and as we listen concerning Him), our goal is that you will listen to what we are learning about Him. This is fundamentally what it means to feed the flock of God. We listen, we bring the meal, and we ask you to open your mouths wide as we aim to fill it! Or, in keeping with our metaphor, we deliver the message from God and we humbly ask you to hear us.
Practically speaking, this means that the flock must gather to hear the shepherds, in such settings as Family Bible Hour, the regular services on the Lord’s Day, as well as in counselling sessions and in other informal gatherings, including Grace Groups. The leaders of these Groups also function in a shepherding capacity, and the material that we discuss in these gatherings arises from shepherds who are seeking to hear the voice of the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).
The goal of all of this listening, both of the shepherds and of the sheep (which, of course, shepherds also are), is that together we will marvel at those things we hear about our Saviour. May God grace us in 2016 with such ears to hear.