However, one of the two prominent thoughts that have become evident to us over these last two months is also amazing and missed. That is the importance and preciousness of the local church. While it is true that wherever we have been on Sunday mornings these past two months there has undoubtedly been a sense of the common bond of the Holy Spirit that unites the Church together through the Gospel, there has also been a realization of the preciousness of being a part of a local church together in Christ. The imagery used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 of the Body of Christ, no doubt, has a universal dimension to it. However, it seems best applied and intended in a local setting. I am not sure what part of the Body Holly and I are, but we at times feel like an arm or leg or toe or pinkie just laying somewhere on the ground, apart from the Body.
God is teaching us the preciousness of the local church--of being a part of a body of believers who have covenanted together for the cause of the Gospel locally and globally for the glory of God. Oh, how we miss the living out of the "one another's" of life in the local church. And so if you are a member of a local church somewhere, don't take it for granted. Cherish it and be amazed at the preciousness of it. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are one of those "believers" who thinks you can do just fine without being a member of a local church and being involved, Oh, how deceived and deprived you are. Join a sound local church of the Lord Jesus and be amazed at the preciousness of a local expression of the Body of Christ.
The other observation we have made in our two months of going from church to church is how little of the Gospel is preached in the pulpits of our churches. Now, don't get me wrong, we have heard good, solid exposition of the Scriptures each Sunday, wherever we have been. But for the most part, each Sunday, wherever we have been, we have left thinking, "That was a good exposition of the text, but something was missing. There was little to no Gospel."
Now, that is not to say that words such as "cross," "saved," "faith," and reference to Jesus' death and resurrection were not mentioned. They were. However, even when those words were mentioned they were not explained and very rarely was the Gospel skeleton of God, Sin, Christ, Response articulated in a way that a sinner could understand the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the remedy provided in the person and work of Christ, and the needed response of repentance from sin and faith towards Jesus Christ that leads to genuine conversion.
And I don't believe there has been one occasion of the application of the Gospel to the believer's life in any of those Sunday morning sermons. As C.J. Mahaney stresses over and over again in The Cross-Centered Life we never get over the Gospel and we never move on from the Gospel. As quoted in that book,
"The Gospel isn't one class among many that you'll attend during your life as a Christian, the Gospel is the whole building that all the classes take place in."
When was the last time, you heard a pastor apply the Gospel to your life and how you and I live day to day? Think about the passage your pastor preached from this past Sunday. Did your pastor make the Gospel clear from that passage? Did your pastor help both you and the unbeliever there see how to get to Calvary from that passage?
As J.I. Packer writes,
"The preacher's commission is to declare the whole counsel of God; but the cross is at the center of that counsel, and the puritans knew that the traveler through the biblical landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary."
In C.J. Mahaney's chapter in Preaching the Cross, he writes,
"In all our preaching, we must never lose sight of the hill called Calvary, where the Son of Man was killed in our place. Regardless of the text or topic at hand, there must be some view of Calvary in every sermon. Your congregation should experience the amazing and comforting sight of the crucified Savior each and every time you preach. They should anticipate the sight of Calvary in every sermon and rejoice when it comes into view, and all the more when the cross is not immediately obvious in the text. 'Where is the hill?' they should be asking. 'Where is that blessed hill on which our precious Savior died?' We should exalt Christ's finished work in our sermons so as to comfort the converted and convict the unbeliever."
I think that is the question we have been asking every Sunday after every sermon over these past two months, "Where is the hill?" "Where is Christ and the Cross?" "Where is the Gospel?" For instance, this past Sunday we heard a very good exposition of the passage in Luke 7 where Jesus visits the house of Simon and the sinful woman comes in and kisses Jesus' feet and washes his feet with her tears. The pastor made the point that Simon didn't notice this woman like he should have. He was too busy looking at the outward things in her life. He then went on to make the application that we too fail to see people around us and what God is doing in their lives.
Those were good points to make from the text, but they were made absent of the Gospel when it is the Gospel that is the foundation of those points. This woman's actions flowed from the Gospel--a realization of God's holiness, her sinfulness, Christ's person and work, and then the needed response of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. That's why she was acting the way she was acting. And the reason that Simon was acting the way he was acting, failing to see what the woman was doing, was because he failed to understand the Gospel--the holiness of God, his own sinfulness, Christ's person and work, and his needed response of repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
The application to the unbeliever is obvious. He/she is sinful and dirty just like this woman was in the eyes of a holy God. Their only hope is the same as hers--the person and work of Christ on the cross, dying for their sins, satisfying God's wrath agains their sin, and then repentance from sin and faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The application to the believer is just as centered on the Gospel as well. It is a true understanding of and appreciation for the Gospel that leads to the kind of response that we see in the life of this sinful woman towards Jesus. And it is a drifting away from the Gospel that leads to seeing this sinful woman and her actions as Simon saw them.
Now, I am sure that pastor would affirm everything I just mentioned concerning the Gospel in relation to this passage in Luke 7. But the point is that it is not enough to just affirm it and it is dangerous to assume those connections to the Gospel. The pastor must make the Gospel and its application to the unbeliever and believer clear. In our pulpits, the Gospel is at best assumed, rather than asserted with clarity and explanation and at worse, ignored rather than investigated with conviction and exultation.
We are praying everyday that we will soon be where God wants us to serve in ministry. And we pray that in the mean time, and each Sunday until then we will not leave another Sunday service asking the question, "Where was Calvary?" And I pray for forgiveness for all the times that church members may have walked away from a sermon I preached and asked, "Where was Calvary?" I pray that that question is asked less and less of me and of the pastors of our churches altogether.