What Happened to Your Voice?
For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. - John 12:49
Let me play out a scenario for you. I was in my 30s and in a moderately popular band playing a festival in another state. The place we were playing had a stage that was about 5’ off the ground, and the area for the crowd was the size of a whole city block. More than 1,400 people were waiting to hear the band play, and we were about to go on. At that point, it hit me that I didn’t really have any fear. I knew my gear worked, I knew we’d rehearsed well and that we would be paid at the end of the night. I actually had confidence. It was a far cry from the young kid who played in the orchestra and was made the first chair first violin, watching the curtain part and show an audience hall that (gasp) held many people. As a child, I was excited, but nervous. The same as the adult musician I was at the festival, I had rehearsed well, I knew I was in tune, and I knew that I’d get through the night eventually. What was I leaning on in those instances? How was it that I was able to get over the stage fright I could have experienced as a child or as an adult? I started to wonder. What if my voice failed me, or all the sudden left me? What would I do then?
As a pastor who is also a performer, how do I go in front of other people and speak without freaking out? How do you push past the nerves and concern while preaching in a small church, let alone performing in front of a large audience? Simple. It starts by knowing where your voice came from.
We can struggle with how we push past the societal perception of Christianity so we can be bold in our proclamation of the gospel, and that’s natural. Preceding this passage from John, we learned about people who believed Christ but were silent because of their fear of the powerful Pharisees. They feared men instead of God.
The concept of fear to a Hebrew wasn’t just being afraid, but also having reverent respect. It wasn’t abject terror, it was actual knowledge of the fact that “He is God and I am not,” as Henry Blackorby stated in his book, “Experiencing God.” But these people didn’t revere God, they revered man. That’s kind of a no-no, if you recall the first of the Ten Commandements.
There’s this itinerant preacher from Galilee who is yelling at the top of his lungs about God.
There are times when we feel the tug on our heart of the Holy Spirit and step back from it, instead of stepping forward. Misplaced fear and reverence is often why. As a result, we just don’t speak up. We don’t act up. And I’m not talking about acting up in small ways, but in significant ways like Jesus was doing by yelling at the top of his lungs. Imagine you’re in a crowd of people and the emotion is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. There’s this itinerant preacher from Galilee who is yelling at the top of his lungs about God. He’s forceful, unapologetic, with a face set like flint towards the goal of loving every single one of these people so much that he would die for them.
Ring, Ring, Heaven Calling
Did you know that’s our call as well? In the very next chapter of John, Jesus gave us a new commandment. We are to love others as he has loved us. We’re called to do this. Noted atheist Penn Gilette told a story once about a man who came to his show for several performances and then met him backstage. This man knew Gilette didn’t believe in God but brought him a Bible. The reason behind it was because Gilette had shared his gift with him, he wanted to return the favor, sharing an important gift he had received. Gilette was touched by the gesture, and I would love to say he turned his life over to God, but that didn’t happen. What did happen was the master magician began to think, and what he concluded was quite remarkable, and kind of a smack in the face. He asked how much a person would have to hate someone to not to tell them about Jesus, if their savior meant so much to them. At first, I thought, “Wow, man. Harsh much?” But the more I thought about it, the more I feel what he said carries merit, especially in light of how far the love of Jesus went in our lives.
The fact remains, the same word which we are free to choose to proclaim or not to proclaim will be the same word we are measured against. What is true of Christ’s reason for proclaiming it is true for us. The word originated from God, and not from man. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command that we are expected to follow obediently.
What happens if we don’t? Will God toss us out of heaven for being afraid? Or for being too damaged to fully step into the role of evangelism just at that moment? No. When we don’t stack up, our salvation isn’t in jeopardy, but someone else’s might be. Are we willing to risk that? The lives of the kid at the grocery store, the person you bought your car from, the old friend from high school you ran into are all at risk. To clarify, we didn’t die on a cross for them so we can’t actually save them, but we darned sure can show them who Christ is and love them as he has loved us.
Jesus was in the trenches in this passage out of John. He was shouting at the top of his lungs. In John 2:17, we read the story about Jesus entering the temple and sending out the money lenders. He didn’t do this by peaceably asking them and calmly directing the crowd to the gate, but rather by flipping tables and grabbing a bunch of cords, turning them into a whip. John tells us that the disciples remembered the passage from Psalm 69:9, where David said “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Christ took this personally because, well, it was very personal for him. It was a family situation for him. The command in John 12:49 that Jesus spoke of was something he took seriously. The word that is used there for “will consume” in the gospel of John is katophagetai, and it means figuratively to devour, leaving nothing utterly. It means to consume something entirely and ravenously with an unbelievable appetite, leaving a person wholly ruined in the eyes of others and without hope of recovery. When Isaiah said to spend yourselves on behalf of the poor, Jesus was modeling that exact thing. He spent his personal reputation, his standing with the temple priesthood, and even his very life’s blood on a cross. He didn’t care how he looked in the eyes of others. He cared about how he looked in the eyes of God.
Full Sold Out
This is Jesus, utterly committed, standing for the commands of God to say what he was commanded to say regardless of the earthly consequences, counting God’s approval above that of men. It’s a stark comparison to those who were afraid of the Pharisees in the crowd and although they believed God, wilted. But Christ’s Spirit did not carry fear or timidity. While he died for our weakness, we know that the boldness of his Holy Spirit empowers us to do far more than we ever expected, something Jesus promised in John 14:12.
We weren’t dropped into a vacuum here. Hebrews 13:20-21 says May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ ... .” Oswald Chambers might have been thinking of this when he quoted Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He wasn’t talking about skilled workers, he was talking about men who used a drag-net for a living. That’s something that doesn’t require a lot of skill at all; the point, according to Chambers was that you don’t have to be superhuman, you just have to do as God says, and God provides the rest.
To give you an example, we are often in need at Peoria Rescue Ministries, and we do a lot of praying over those needs. God has always provided. When you look at the timeline of His provision, the beautiful thing is it often began before we even knew there was a need.
In our lives, before we learn that we need to say something to someone at someplace and some time, God was already crafting some kind of message that would flawlessly communicate His deepest heart’s desires for that person. We don’t have to be flowery writers, or skilled speakers or highly educated teachers to tell someone that God has been so, so good to us. In fact, it’s best if we’re not in a lot of instances because it comes off as real and relatable to the people God wants us to reach. All we have to do is be bold. That means bold enough to lean on God’s provision, whether we can see it or not. That’s why we talked about all that faith-development done by the Holy Spirit through practicing our spiritual disciplines. That’s why Jesus practiced his regularly. It made him powerful because he was closely I’m touch with God. That made him bold.
Here, Jesus was being very bold. This situation in John 12 happened at the height of Roman occupation of Jerusalem, right around 30AD, with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem right before Passover and right after raising Lazarus from the dead. He was on a roll with the people, and it scared the opposition leaders because they wanted to placate their Roman overlords and maintain their power base. Their interest was in making men happy. God? Not as much. Christ was the original fork in the road for them, as he is for us. They chose poorly.
We have the exact same choice every day.
Walking the Walk
We can either put up or shut up. Open our mouths and choose to serve God as His Holy Spirit directs, or cower at the back of the bus. Someone has got to be the first person out of the landing craft to storm the beach. The difference is, the body armor God issued us protects us perfectly when that front door drops and everything starts to go sideways. It was provided to us for our purpose before we even knew the purpose existed.
In this chapter, Christ spoke of why he came to this earth. Was he there to face opposition and then crumble? Or was he there for something else? Here in this moment in time, we find the precise reason Jesus came to that exact hour. He didn’t come here so that God could save Him, but rather that God could save others through him. Our savior boldly prophesied his own death, the kind of death it would be, and the impact it would have on the people of this earth. Lifted up, he would draw all men to him. And sure enough, he was lifted up on a cross, and as you can see above the altar behind me when I preach every Sunday, that cross is empty, because his purpose was fulfilled.
We were the cause of his needing to be lifted up in the first place. You, me, and everyone else. Our sinful nature, our separation from God, our rebelliousness, all that cut a chasm between God and us that we could never span ourselves. He was lifted up on a cross, and we lift a cross up in our sanctuary and everywhere else to honor that bridge. But do we honor him with our heart, letting that proclamation come forth? Are we bold presenters and proclaimers of the violent mercy Jesus suffered as a sacrifice for our sins? We certainly should be. And maybe we are in some instances. I think we can always strive to do better, though.
Counting the Cost of Quiet
When we look back, how many people in our lives did we neglect to tell the truth of Jesus? Did we show the truth through love? How many opportunities did we take to help those in need? Go and love as we have been loved as sinners who needed saving? This commandment is specifically what we were called to do, but not doing it carries a penalty that affects more than us.
Whatever it is we’re doing, we can and will do better. We grow. We have an example to follow. We have a man standing in a crowd of disbelief boldly proclaiming the word God gave him to speak out of obedience, even though it lead to his death. He loved us like that.
We must love others like that as well. Wildly and recklessly abandon our will to God’s Holy Spirit and follow his lead. Keep it real, keep it non-judgmental. After all, we were foreigners in our own kind of Egypt at one point, just like the Hebrew people in Exodus 22:21. That’s how we know we’re doing as God commanded us.
When I get to heaven, I would love it if I wasn’t surprised at the people I see when I get there. Instead, I know there are people I’m not going to see there, something Jesus knew, too. The difference is, I haven’t always been like Christ, zealously stating the exact words God gave me to say. Will I have blood on my hands because I didn’t say what I should have said when I was told to say it? Yes. The choice was mine to make. The cost I will face is mine. I will have blood on my hands. But I get to say that blood stops here, stops now and doesn’t go forward. I have chosen to find and use my voice as loudly as possible for Christ.
In the end, this is all about relationship. It’s all anything ever is when it comes to God. It boils down to nothing more and nothing less. D.T. Niles has a great quote. “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another where to find bread.” It’s as simple as using your voice.
It doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. It doesn’t have to be evangelism on a stage in front of half a million people. Good evangelism is strongest when it’s one-on-one. Billy Graham was a great example. He could turn a soundcheck into an opportunity to spread the gospel. When he would go on air, and they would check the mic, Billy Graham would recite John 3:16. Harold Myra recalled in the book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, “When I asked Mr. Graham why he does that, he replied, ‘Because that way, if I am not able to communicate the gospel clearly during the interview, at least the cameraman will have heard it.’” I don’t know about you, but I plan on living a life that leads the cameramen in it to Jesus. After that, it’s up to Christ. I choose to do my part because I know Jesus is committed and can take it from there.
How about you?
Roland Millington is a United Methodist Church pastor serving Brimfield United Methodist Church in Brimfield, IL. He's the author of two books available digitally through our store, or as hard copies through LuLu Publishing.