Revelation | Inspiration | Illumination
The Need for Transparent Preaching
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.[i]
Teach and preach these principles. If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.[ii]
Early in my training to be a pastor, I was introduced to preaching that inspired me. There were preachers who used spell-binding illustrations, stories really, that kept me wanting to hear more. I could not wait to get behind the pulpit and captivate a congregation like they did.
But when I arrived at my first assignment, it seemed the people were anything but captivated. I soon realized I would never reach the stature of these gifted story tellers. In fact, sermon preparation became a nightmare. I knew what I wanted to say, but to come up with cleaver illustrations and generate the drama was beyond my ability.
When I was asked to candidate to be the pastor of a large church with an attendance of fifteen hundred people, I turned them down. No way could I see myself in that situation. I have a haunting memory drilled into my skull countless times by my homiletics professor:
Little ships need to stay near the shore
lest they become wrecked on the lake.
Through the years, my burden to properly exegete and expound the Scriptures has grown. Looking back, I can almost remember hearing some good stories but cannot remember any Bible text they were meant to illustrate. Illustrations are meant to be “windows to let in light.” Many times, upon arriving home after hearing a stirring message, I could remember the illustration but could not reproduce the teaching of the actual scripture references.
Of the three concepts of preaching, revelation, inspiration, and illumination, the most important is illumination.
First, revelation ceased. All God intended to be communicated to man has been revealed:
"But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase."[iii]
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.[iv]
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.[v]
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.[vi]
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.[vii]
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.[viii]
The second term, inspiration, in its true meaning, is something that touches the emotions and draws attention to itself as in, “that was an inspiring message,” or “that song really inspired me.”
Psalm 19 is often quoted s a text regarding inspiration:
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.[ix]
There are many things that can inspire, even things that can be very destructive. I remember running to the edge of Kiger Gorge in the Steens Mountains in eastern Oregon. What inspiration! It made me want to jump off and fly through air. But to do so would have been fatal.
King David was not lauding a beautiful landscape in Psalm 19. Just the opposite. He was contrasting inspiration with illumination:
The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.[x]
The third term is Illumination. There is enough in creation under the sun to inspires. What we really need is illumination. This is why John begins his gospel account of Jesus in the prologue with:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.[xi]
Preachers need to remember that they are called to be illuminators, not inspirers. Illustrations are important if one has the talent to present them, but only if they are windows to let in The Light of the World.
The apostle John was careful to explain to his followers, speaking of the Baptist:
There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light.[xii]
It is Christ who is The Word, The Son of God, God, The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, who was and is “The True Light which, Coming into the world, enlightens every man.”[xiii]
Jesus, in His ministry, stated:
"It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.[xiv]
"Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. "Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves.[xv]
Jesus, speaking of His humanity, said:
"While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."[xvi]
We do not need prophets pretending to add to the message of the Bible. Let those with a gift at being able to inspire, inspire. But let them be careful. There is a small step from God’s doctrine to man’s doctrine which is mere Gnosticism regardless of the garb in which it is presented. Like Kiger Gorge, Gnosticism inspires, but it also destroys those who are led into it. What the church needs today are illuminators.
The ministry of illumination takes study coupled with a maturity that only comes through a Holy Spirit-disciplined mind. Praise the Lord for those who fill this vital need in such a tumultuous time. They are truly God’s gift to the church.
[i] 2 Tim 4:1-4.
[ii] 1 Tim 6:2-5.
[iii] Dan 12:4.
[iv] Rev 22:18-19.
[v] 1 Cor 13:8-10.
[vi] Heb 1:1-4.
[vii] Heb 2:1-4.
[viii] 2 Peter 1:2-4.
[ix] Ps 19:1-6.
[x] Ps 19:7-14.
[xi] John 1:4-5.
[xii] John 1:6-8.
[xiii] John 1:9.
[xiv] John 6:45-47.
[xv] John 14:9-11.
[xvi] John 9:5.