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In this lesson, I'd like to talk to you about a familiar part of our worship service something that we do several times each week but we rarely discuss it. We never talk about it and that is the response. Do you know what I'm talking about? That moment at the end of the sermon when the preacher invites the listeners to come forward for various reasons.
Some people come to the front then they ask for prayers concerning various struggles in their lives. Others decide that they need to be baptized and they respond by coming forward and being immersed in that very moment that very day. Sometimes a person hears something in the lesson that touches their heart and they need to demonstrate their renewed commitment by coming forward to be restored. There's a situation where perhaps a person has been unfaithful to the church or guilty of an unchristian lifestyle or action that has affected others and needs to signal to God and to the church that they are back and they want to be faithful and fruitful again in the Lord. This is called a restoration. And people respond to this need by coming forward. And then there are Christians who are new to the area and the community and they want the church to know that they wish to be recognized as being part of the Christian family here at Choctaw and an expedient way of doing this is to come forward and allow the elders to recognize them and introduce them to the congregation. And then one more reason to respond is to share with the congregation one's gratitude and joy for various blessings that God may have given a member, perhaps acknowledge this by asking for a prayer to be made because of the joy of having a new baby or a good job or a prayer answered that that has been long standing in that person's heart.
Now I've heard some folks comment that coming forward or responding is simply a tradition or that it's not really something that's based in the Bible. People say things like, "why do we have to do that every time?" or "Why can't can't you finish the sermon in some other way." You know sometimes the sermon is not even about coming forward and a preacher finds a bridge to get himself to you know offer an invitation even on Wednesday we have some songs and you know we encourage people if they if they reply do we do that all the time. Well the idea that it's not Biblical, that itself is not accurate. Extending an invitation or calling on people to respond to God's word is a very biblical practice.
For example Matthew describes the outcome of John the Baptist's preaching:
1 Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!'"
4 Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
- Matthew 3:1-6
In other words they responded. It wasn't just I listened to John the Baptist and go, "yeah OK pretty good," little applause and then go back home. No. He was demanding that they deal with what he just said. And in this context the way to deal with that was to come forward and be baptized in preparation for the kingdom to come. That's what he was preaching. Then on Pentecost Sunday, Peter preaches the gospel of Christ for the first time. And what does he do? He finishes his sermon with an invitation to his hearers,
37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:37-41
What is it that we see here? We see the response. And we see Peter extending that invitation with many words with many words that he's already preached the sermon and then it says when many other words he continued to exhort them to be saved from this. Generation and The people responded. And 3,000 people came forward to be baptized. There's no passage in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt offer an invitation every time you preach." No. However, we see the Apostles and the disciples they teach, they preach and we observe that when they did so they made an appeal for their hearers to respond to their teaching.
For example, Paul when he was preaching to the to King Agrippa and Festus, these are kings. These were the important people of his time. And so when he preaches to them he urges them to become Christians at the conclusion of his lesson..
And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
- Acts 26:29
He's in front of these two kings. They have the power to release him. He's a prisoner. They can just say, "ok just let this guy go." And what does he do? He preaches to them. He convicts them of sin. He tells them, "you people are sinners you people are lost." "You need to respond." "You need to become Christians." Did they respond? Yeah. Sure they said, 'maybe some other time.' 'Maybe you know we'll think about it.' That was their response. We can't fault Paul. He made the invitation. And so to extend an invitation to respond in some way and to come forward as a result of that invitation follows the biblical example of preaching with a purpose. And listening with the desire to obey. So that's one of the big issues.
Are we preaching with the purpose of obedience. Are we teaching not just from the pulpit, but are we teaching the kids in second grade and third grade. Are we teaching them that God requires them to respond to Him. Isn't that what Jesus said teaching them to do what. To obey all things that I have commanded you, not teaching them to hear all things, teaching them to obey. What is it that we're supposed to be teaching or are we just supposed to be teaching the facts. No we're supposed to be teaching, you've got to obey. From cradle roll to the pulpit. We teach with a purpose. We preach with an objective and you brothers and sisters listen with the responsibility and the responsibility is to obey, not me, not the teachers, but to obey God's word.
In other words, if you went back in time and you listened to Jesus and the Apostles preach at some point in their lesson you would be encouraged to do or change something in your life in response to their teaching. The response therefore is an important and biblical part of our worship service. It's an individual's response to God's word. It is a time where the congregation ministers to its own. It is an opportunity to teach and encourage others by our example of courage, humility and willingness to confess our faith. I mean there is nothing more edifying than to see a young person come forward and give their lives to Christ. So encouraging. Those of us who are older, we're seeing this young person 12 years old 16 you know we see them and we're thinking oh. They have just saved themselves from so much heartache. They have just saved themselves period. They have just put themselves in a position where they will be able to know and serve the Lord for the majority of their lives and those of us who were baptized when we were 30 or 50 or 70 didn't have that chance. Or when we see an older saint come forward or put in a prayer request admitting fault. And humbling themselves before God before the brethren, how encouraging that is, how humbling for ourselves that is. Because this can be such a life changing moment.
There are always many obstacles that will stop a person from actually coming forward. The heart wants to but the feet remain nailed to the floor. I call these obstacles response killers. I'd like to talk about just a few of these response killers and hopefully find a way to overcome them. So here are a couple of response killers.
I don't mean stupidity, I mean ignorance. Some people just don't know the procedure. They may be new Christians or they are new to our congregation, not familiar on how things are done. Hopefully this lesson will help some to understand more clearly the purpose of the invitation and how it relates to them personally. For others, however, the ignorance is rooted in their lack of knowledge of self. They don't realize that the invitation is for them. And other is they always think the invitation is for somebody else. Never them.
Many times their ignorance of self is caused by the fact that they're not really listening. If you're not really paying attention, if you're not examining yourself in light of the word you're never going to feel the need to respond. How can somebody come to church for 40 years and never respond. How can that be? Ignorance is also the reason why people put off responding. They know and feel that they have to in some way but they keep putting it off until some other time in the future when they will be better or they'll be more ready to respond. How do you get more ready? Ignorance is a terrible response killer because the Lord says that no one knows the day or the hour of judgment (Matthew 24:36). He's either going to come at the end that it's all going to be over in the twinkling of an eye or He's going to come for you in a heart attack. Or he's going to come for you or I, through some driver that blasts through a red light and T-bones us one minute we're driving to the store to pick up some stuff at Wal-Mart and the next minute we're dead. We never expected, we never think it's going to happen. Even people who are this close to death. They just want one more breath. They don't think this is the breath that's going to be the last one. They think they're going to have one more breath. To risk eternal punishment simply because they want to put off their response to God to a more convenient day. This is ignorance indeed the.
Many people will not respond to the lesson because they're too proud they're too proud to admit fault or to admit when they're too proud to give in and obey God in the simple commands to repent and be baptized. They're too proud to acknowledge the fact that they are weak and need prayer and support. They're too proud to admit. I need the church. I need the Lord. I need to get rid of this burden of sin I need to throw off this guilt. I need to confess this and I need to stop the secret junk that I'm doing. I need to do it. When your heart or conscience is touched by God's word and you know you have to come to him somehow. But you do nothing. You just let the moment go by. Usually pride has had its victory not Jesus. Oh there'll be a lot of excuses and rationalizations to comfort you in the decision to not respond. But in the end it was foolish human pride that killed the flickering flame that was lit within you by God's word. You know brothers and sisters come into church, singing the songs, hearing the sermon. Yes it's supposed to make us feel good and encourage absolutely and assured of our things but it's also there to deal with our sinfulness. One other response killer: worldliness. Paul describes one of his former helpers Demas who became unfaithful and as far as we know was never restored. And he describes him in the following way. He said Demas having loved this present world has deserted me (II Timothy 4:10).
Can you imagine being Paul the Apostles assistant? You know when I was in college I admired great men that taught me and I still do. You know Dr. North who comes here on Wednesday night have such admiration for that brother, 86 years old traveling back and forth from Edmond teaching us on a Wednesday night, sharp as ever lucid mind, kind. I admire him. And I would do anything if he said Michael I need your help to do this. Boy I I'd be right on it. Can you imagine being Paul's assistant the Apostle witnessing the miracles and then just deserting him. What do you think is happening when a person would rather eat than be restored. Worldliness is happening. Well what do you think the problem is when someone refuses to respond to God with obedience in repentance and baptism because they don't want to change their lifestyle. What's causing that? Worldliness. Anytime we prefer our life here to the life that God has promised to those who respond to him with faith in Christ we are guilty of worldliness just like Demas. In the end what causes us to lose our souls is about 40 feet. And that's the distance between where you're sitting and the front of this auditorium.
There are many ways to respond to the invitation.
The Bible shows us that John and Jesus and then the Apostles and early disciples appeal to their audiences for a response of some kind. The New Testament writers often describe the final results of the responses some repented some were repenting and being baptized or some were making a commitment to a certain ministry. What the Holy Spirit left out the manner in which many of these responses were made, this God leaves to each generation and culture to figure out. For example I've mentioned this before in Haiti during the invitation song the deacons and the elders go into the congregation and encourage individuals whom they have studied with or know to respond to the lesson. So you'll have a brother a deacon you know go out you know while we're seeing just and you know and then the deacons the elders go out and say well you know Billy you know don't you think you need to stop drinking and be time to come forward. I've spoken to the elders at our congregation about a change in that system but I for some reason or other they are hesitating. We don't want to start any fistfights in the church you know. Put it that way.
Of course we don't do that here. They're used to that. There they started doing it like that there. But we do have various ways that people in the assembly can respond to the invitation when it's made. They can come to the front during the scene of the invitation song and let the elders know what they need at that time. For example maybe they need to confess Jesus to be baptized or be rebaptized if they're not sure of their original baptism. Or they need to be restored to faithful service to the Lord or the church because of bad behavior or the neglect to attend worship over a long period of time. Some people come for prayers for illness or struggle with problems or sins and don't necessarily come to the front but they fill out that blue card. One of the elders will read the need that person has come forward has said I have a need. Others either come forward or put on prayer cards there need to be recognized as members of this congregation as we have seen this morning. Some need to give special thanks to the Lord again during our prayer time.
Coming to the front during worship is not the only way to respond. However. Remember our response is to God and His Word. And a public response is not always necessary. Sometimes a personal call or visit with an elder or minister is more appropriate for a particular need. Yeah I need to come forward but I need to talk somebody to somebody and it needs to go on for a long conversation. I need to study something I'm not sure about a certain decision whatever that is. And coming forward for five minutes is not appropriate. So maybe making an appointment or dropping in and visiting with with one of the ministers maybe that's the coming forward. During our worship services many people will fill out as I say a prayer card as a form of a response and this can be done at any service. And of course a personal and sincere encounter with God in private prayer is still an effective way to respond to what he has said to us in a public sermon. I personally have sat there and heard Marty and others preach and realize you know I that's he's touching an area I just need to think about a little bit more. And I add that to my personal prayers. That day and the day after because I've been shown a new way a better way of approaching something or weakness has been revealed that I need to work on. Well no need to make a public thing out of it but I do need to discuss this with the Lord in prayer. I'm not saying to you no I'm not saying all of this the sermon is not you know to up the total number of responses for selfish reasons we don't put a notch on the gun every time somebody comes you know we don't go out we don't get paid by responses. If he says Amen.
Responses are not about ego gratification from preachers. The response is for members not ministers. The lesson is given so that you will think differently about this important part of this worship program. And this lesson is given so that when you feel the need to respond you will not allow the response killers to destroy a legitimate and potentially life changing experience for you. Of course it is impossible to speak about the response portion of our worship service without referring to the invitation that all of us will have to answer one day. When Jesus returns Paul says that he will do so with a shout (I Thessalonians 4:16). I believe he will say to all the same thing he said to Lazarus who lay dead in his toe. He said Come forth. And Lazarus came forth. From the grave. This is the response that all will have to give. One day no matter who you are and what you believe Jesus is called to resurrect to come forth from the dead in order to be judged. I encourage all who are gathered here today to be ready for the final invitation by responding to this morning's invitation to prepare yourself for that day.
Examine your life and if you see that you need to respond to the invitation. Do not let the response killers of ignorance or pride or worldliness hold you back. Come right now. Don't delay. Not another moment. As we stand and as we sing our song of invitation.