Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďTHE HEARTíS PREPARATIONĒ

Acts 16.29-30

Please set your Bible aside so I can chat with you for a few minutes before this morningís sermon. I want to discuss some things that are of vital importance to our church and to you personally. I want to describe to you what our church used to be like, what we have been moving away from for almost twenty years, and what most other churches are like that preach the gospel. I am confining my description to very conservative Baptist churches, since that is the only type of church I have had any intimate experience with over the course of the last thirty five years. The churches I am describing are those I feel are among the very best churches in America today. Specifically, I want to describe to you the typical church service, the church service to which church members typically bring their unchurched friends in the hopes that they will be saved. If you have any background in independent fundamental Baptist churches, I think you will admit at the end of this review that I have provided a general and fair description of the components that go into a typical Sunday morning service at such Baptist churches, and many other types of conservative churches.

First, THE PEOPLE. In most churches people are happy, very happy. Let us admit that church is the ultimate democracy, with people voting for church each and every time they walk through the front door, while those who stay at home are voting against the church, while those who attend somewhere else are voting for that other church. Other factors aside, people go to church because they want to, because they enjoy it, because they like most of the people there, and because they at least have a tolerance for the pastor. At most gospel preaching Baptist churches most of the people love going to church and greatly look forward to seeing and conversing with their friends when they get there. If the church is a really good church, there will be prayer meetings. Sometimes a Saturday night prayer meeting, or prayer after the midweek service, and frequently a prayer meeting by the more committed church members early Sunday morning before the main Sunday morning service. At those various prayer meetings God will be petitioned to work in peopleís lives and save lost souls through faith in Christ, as well as meet other important needs. Especially at those churches with an early Sunday morning praying time for the preacher and the members, prayers will be offered up for lost sinners to come to Christ. Then, after the prayer meeting, folks will get up from their knees and will begin to prepare themselves to welcome the other church members who will arrive for Bible study, and later to welcome the members who do not attend Sunday School and the visitors who will arrive to attend the main preaching service. As they are waiting for things to get started, and while they are awaiting the arrival of other family members and other church members, most of those who attended the prayer meeting, and most of those who arrive early enough to have a cup of coffee and a doughnut, will start talking. They will talk and talk and talk, about their favorite subjects; about their new car, about their new house, about their new job, about their new baby, about their new computer hard drive, or about a sporting event. Then Sunday School begins, the adult Bible class, during which time most folks are pretty silent and attentive. When the Sunday School hour is over, and when the adult Bible class has ended, the socializing begins anew. Then, in walk the visitors to a room full of people who are preparing to worship the one true and living God . . . by laughing and joking and talking about iPhones or the football game yesterday. Let me get this straight. In most churches where the gospel is preached, just before the service the people are preparing to worship the God Who is terrible in majesty, the One Who is high and lifted up, the One whose glory is proclaimed by the heavens, by having their minds occupied with piddling nonsense and trivia, or at least by matters infinitely less important, that can easily be tended to later. Does it appear that there is an incongruity here, an inconsistency, an ignorance of proportion and propriety?

Next, THE PROGRAM. Let us say it is Friend Day, and we are happy that our friends are here, helping us to win the contest for who has the most friends in attendance. So, one at a time, folks stand up and introduce their friends, one after another. On and on it goes until every friend has been introduced and everyone has gotten to know each other, and all the prizes have been awarded. This, of course, will be done before we worship the God of majesty and might. Or perhaps the Sunday service is not a special day. I am not saying churches should not have special days and celebrations of Godís goodness and blessings. However, let me describe a typical Sunday morning in a gospel preaching church. There will be choir music. There will be congregational music. There will be, in those churches with singing talent and musical talent, specials sung and performed. The songs will almost always make everyone happy, will lift their spirits, will announce to them cause for rejoicing, will extol the virtues of God and Jesus Christ, and will leave everyone in an upbeat frame of mind as they await the next act designed to entertain them, which will be introduced as the next humble servant who intends to minister to them. Understand, some churches are better at all this than others. Some musicians and singers are obviously more spiritual and keenly interested in glorifying God than are others. However, generally speaking, I have just described the program that is put on by about 95% of the gospel preaching churches in the United States of America. The other 5% will do the same thing, adding to it a drama skit by amateur actors that are directed by someone who could not possibly land a job in either Hollywood or on Broadway.

Finally, THERE IS THE PREACHING. You might be able to call what the pastor is doing preaching, but in an increasing number of churches the pastor is very obviously devoting the vast majority of his time before the people explaining a portion of scripture that hopes to impact Christian living. Fewer and fewer pastors are devoting their energies and efforts to preaching evangelistic sermons to the lost among their people or to lost visitors, following the examples set for them by the late Jack Hyles and the still living John MacArthur, among many others, neither of whom preach gospel sermons in their churches. In one of his books, the late Jack Hyles actually discouraged preaching gospel sermons.[1] Instead of gospel preaching, more and more pastors are engaged in some type of Bible exposition, and their people are eagerly anticipating their opportunity to learn some new insight, principle, or truth from Godís Word. Or, they may be anticipating their awe and surprise as they behold some new graphic display sent from the pastorís laptop computer to the expensive overhead projector screen. So, as they are looking back and forth between the screen and the pastor, and while they are looking at animated color pictures and morphing visuals, and while they are learning the supposed distinction between agaph and jilew, two Greek words for love that are in reality almost always synonymous, the visitor next to them is doing his best to appear interested. Let no one think the visitor has been forgotten. Not at all. He is just being ignored. At the conclusion of the sermon to Christians, at least two or three minutes will be devoted exclusively to reminding him of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his need to be saved. He may even be invited to trust Christ on the spot. However, it is more likely that he will be asked to sign a card asking for a visit in his home by the pastor, or possibly to sign a card indicating that he has committed his life to Christ. That is just the half of the Baptist churches where the pastor delivers expository sermons. What about the other half, where the pastor actually works up a sweat and raises his voice, where the pastor is a real live preacher? What about the churches whose pastors preach against sin and urge sinners to come to Christ in sermons they devote to reaching the lost? Are there such preachers anymore? Or are there preachers who preach gospel truths, interspersed with jokes and funny stories, that break the tension and distract the mind, or preachers who use sentimental illustrations of personal or family tragedies that are designed to evoke emotional responses?

Do you see the common problem that exists in most independent Baptist churches, whether they be regressive or progressive, whether they think of themselves as Bible teaching centers or gospel preaching centers? At both extremes, the assumption is made that sinners can quickly shift gears in their hearts and minds. Almost all pastors these days assume that a mental transition, from laughing at the preacherís joke on one hand, or being interested in the teacherís comment about filew on the other hand, to fleeing Godís wrath by embracing Jesus Christ, can be accomplished in the span of a couple of minutes. All pastors assume, and all youth workers assume, that people can laugh one minute at some frivolity or silliness, and then in a few moments come under deep Holy Spirit conviction and be converted, or that people can have their cerebrum stimulated with information one minute and then shift gears away from some semantical or lexical lesson to a contemplation of their soulís destiny in two or three minutes, assuming the Holy Spirit is always standing by, waiting for His call to create conviction so the sinner will be converted.

At both extremes the assumption is made that the Holy Spirit does not plow deeply, does not plow over an extended period of time, does not plow intensely, or that distractions and frivolity taking place nearby has absolutely no impact on how receptive that man or woman may be to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Whether with the expositor or the preacher, whether he be a declarer or an explainer, he leads the people to conduct themselves in such a way before and during church, he allows a program to be developed leading up to his preaching to the lost, and he has so prepared either his lesson or his sermon, that implicit in his approach to dealing with the lost is the assumption that a sinner can almost instantaneously be convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit and will in dramatically rapid fashion close with Christ. You and I both know that justification by faith is not a process, but an event, and that the precise moment a sinner embraces Jesus Christ as his savior he is accounted righteous in the sight of God and his soul is safe and secure for ever more. However, let us understand that although justification is an event and occurs at a moment in time, conviction, the reproving ministry of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares the sinnerís heart to believe unto righteousness, is not an event, but is a process. Though you can change your mind quickly, on what basis is it concluded that the affections and desires of the heart can change as quickly as the mind?

The Holy Spiritís preparation of the sinnerís heart takes time. Sometimes less time and sometimes more time, but it always takes some time. Let us not, therefore, treat sinners in such a fashion that suggests we think the preparation of the heart takes no time, or that the preparation of the heart is not something that can only be done by the Holy Spirit according to His Own schedule.

SERMON:

Turn in your Bible to Acts 16.29-30 and stand, please, for the reading of Godís Word: ďThen he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?Ē Luke focuses his readerís attention on the jailor in the city of Philippi. Paul and Silas had earlier, according to Acts 16.22-24, been stripped, beaten, and cast into prison, where this same jailor may have ordered them placed into the inner prison, the dungeon, and also had their feet fastened to stocks. What happened from the time of their incarceration until midnight we do not know. The whereabouts of the jailor from the time of their incarceration until midnight we do not know. There is no reason to think there was any communication between the jailor and the preachers during this approximately six hour period of time. We do know the preachers sang and praised God while in the inner prison. We do know that God severely rocked the entire city with an earthquake that jarred the prison doors open. We also know that the jailor was on the verge of suicide when Paul cried out, ďDo thyself no harm: for we are all here.Ē Much is made, when this portion of scripture is preached, of the manís question, ďSirs, What must I do to be saved?Ē This is only right and proper, for no man will find the right answer unless he first asks the right question. This is the right question for a sinner to ask. As well, much is made, when this portion of scripture is preached, of the preachersí answer, ďBelieve on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.Ē Again, this is only right and proper, for when Silas and Paul went with the man to his house ďAnd they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house,Ē all that was said to them was for the purpose of bringing that jailor and his family to a crisis of conversion, at which point in time they did ďbelieve on the Lord Jesus ChristĒ and were saved.

There is, however, very little attention paid concerning something that should receive much more attention than is usually the case. This oversight is directly related to the common mistake I spoke of earlier, the tendency on the part of contemporary Christians, and preachers, to overlook the nature of the Holy Spiritís convicting ministry of preparing a sinnerís heart for Christ, or to make unwarranted assumptions about the Spiritís work of preparing a sinnerís heart for Christ. We do not, in our text, see the process of the Holy Spirit reproving of sin and thereby preparing the jailorís heart to receive the gospel. Neither do we see, later in the evening, the rest of his household being prepared to meet Christ. However, in our text, Acts 16.29-30, we do see evidence that his heart was so prepared. The preparation of this manís heart is the subject of my sermon this morning.

First, THE FACT OF THE HEARTíS PREPARATION

Please notice that the man came in trembling. Notice, also, that the man fell down before Paul and Silas. This man was a Roman soldier, not one prone to being frightened by any man, or likely by an earthquake. However, his trembling does signal to us that he is in fear. He is terribly afraid. He is also humble, or else he would never have fallen to the feet of his two prisoners. From what we find in Godís Word, the fact that this manís heart has been prepared for Christ is established. Let me show you:

Psalm 99.1 reads ďThe LORD reigneth; let the people tremble.Ē Even men who are very courageous begin to tremble when they come to realize the implications associated with a recognition that the LORD reigns, as this man came to realize after who knows how many years of indifference or idolatry? David wrote, in Psalm 119.120, ďMy flesh trembleth for fear of thee.Ē So, trembling in this fashion is evidence of fear, and fear means a sinner has begun to be wise, since the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

ďWhat do tears mean, Pastor?Ē Tears may mean nothing at all. Tears are frequently evidence of self pity and frustration, and are no certain guarantee of a sinnerís heart being prepared by the Spirit of God. So, when someone is crying it does not necessarily mean the Spirit of God is at work. Jeremiah 5.22: ďFear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence?Ē We do not always find tears being shed in the Bible when men are awakened to fear God, but trembling commonly occurs. So I place little stock in tears. Unless there is revival, tears mean nothing as a necessary indication of godly sorrow for sin, or as a necessary indication of the fear of God. But trembling!

We see in this passage that this Roman soldier, this warrior, knows such fear as he has never before known in his life. He fears not men, for he is a Roman soldier, and a jailor besides. He fears not death, for he was about to take his life when Paul stopped him. Do you suppose he feared the earthquake? Read the context again. There is only one object this man could fear enough to cause him to tremble, since he could escape his superiors by committing suicide. He feared God. He trembled for fear of God. That is what caused him to fall down before those he knew to be men of God, which shows us also his humility. Therefore, the fact of his heartís preparation is established.

Next, THE MEANS OF THE HEARTíS PREPARATION

By what means was the jailorís heart prepared, so that one so normally fearless would actually tremble for fear of God? Let us consider several known truths and then conclude:

First, consider that it is the Holy Spiritís designated ministry to deal with sinnerís hearts. In John 16.8, the Savior predicted the role the Holy Spirit would play in the lives of the lost. He said, ďAnd when he is come (referring to the Holy Spirit), he will reprove the world of sin.Ē Therefore, it is the Holy Spiritís function to persuade, to convince, to convict you of your sinfulness. It is the Holy Spiritís ministry to make you miserable in your sins and fearful of God. So, what do preachers do who distract sinners from fearing God by telling jokes? What do youth workers do who distract young sinners from fearing God by playing silly games and using gross humor to entertain them? How does explaining the word filew partner with the Holy Spirit to make a sinner more aware of his sin and Godís wrath? Yet these are common patterns exhibited in ministry to the lost these days, are they not?

Next, consider that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin using Godís Law. In Romans 3.20, Paul declared that ďby the law is the knowledge of sin.Ē No sinner will have an awareness of sinfulness in the sight of God unless and until he has been exposed, somehow and in some way, to the righteous demands of Godís Law. Therefore, a preacher who does not preach Law will have little success preaching the gospel, for it is only when a man knows himself to be a sinner, condemned by Godís holy Law, and fully deserving Godís wrath, that he will see reason to fear God, to tremble before Him. Some sinner will say to himself, ďI donít like that church, the preacher made me feel bad.Ē Do you not see? The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to make you feel bad for your sins. Lost friend, the Holy Spirit does no work in a service where you are always and forever happy and content. You need to feel the hammer blows of Godís Law. You need to know that your ugly sin of unbelief is an offense to God and that He will someday judge your secret sins. You need to be alarmed by the danger you find yourself in. That will only come as a result of you being willing to sit under the preaching of a man used by the Holy Spirit of God who preaches to you Godís Law before he preaches to you Godís grace. Galatians 3.24: ďWherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.Ē Would you be pointed to Christ, my friend? Then you must sit under the tutelage of the Law, where sin is shown to be exceedingly sinful. Strong medicine, to be sure, but effective to those who will hold their noses and take it.

To conclude this second point of my sermon: We cannot be sure precisely how this jailor was exposed to the Law of God. Had he heard Paul preach in the city? Was he somehow aware that Paul had cast the demon out of the slave girl? Was Lydia, Paulís first convert in the city, known to him? Had some member of his family attended a gathering where Paul preached and then rehearsed the message to him at home? Let us not discount completely the effect of the earthquake, since God certainly does use lifeís circumstances to underline and emphasize spiritual realities that sinners are contemplating. Though we do not know the precise means by which the Holy Spirit worked in this manís life and dealt with his heart, it had to involve exposure to Godís Law (since it is by the Law that man has knowledge of sin). That lets us know something else, my friend. It lets us know that there was a time element, since roughly six hours had passed from their incarceration to the earthquake at midnight and the jailorís question, ďSirs, what must I do to be saved?Ē Time. Time for the Holy Spirit to deal with his heart. Time for him to ponder, consider, and reflect. Time for the blade of the Spiritís plow to dig deep. Time for reflection and consideration of what little truth he knew. Time, since conviction is a process. Time, since the preparation of the sinnerís heart takes time. How much time? No man knows for sure. This is Godís doing. Some sinnerís hearts take much time, while other sinnerís hearts take less time. However, all sinnerís hearts take some time to prepare, because it takes time for a man to count the cost. It takes time for God to reason with a man, Isaiah 1.18. If there is no time set aside for the heartís preparation (either because of stupidity on the part of the preacher who laughs and jokes and lets his people behave mindlessly before the service, thus distracting the sinners, or distractions brought on by the enemy), then it is likely there will be fewer conversions.

WE TURN, FINALLY, TO THE NECESSITY OF THE HEARTíS PREPARATION

The necessity of the heartís preparation is almost lost on this generation of preachers. They have studied church growth principles taught by every Tom, Dick, and Harry coming down the pike, but they have not given themselves over to a serious study of the Spiritís work in a sinnerís heart to prepare him for Christ. Neither have you, my friend, though you may be quick to offer your opinion and disagree with me, though I am a student of such workings of the Spirit of God in a sinnerís heart. Listen to me, therefore, and I will show you why I know the jailorís heart was prepared by the Holy Spirit, using some human instrument to declare to that man the Law of God he had transgressed. His heart was prepared because it was necessary that his heart be prepared.

Necessary because a sinnerís heart is ignorant. Romans 3.11: ďThere is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.Ē You do not understand, my friend. You do not seek after God. Your heart, therefore, needs to be prepared, like the jailorís heart, to understand some important things about sin and salvation. To really understand, so you will seek after God by seeking Jesus.

Preparation is necessary because a sinnerís heart is rebellious. Listen to Jeremiah 5.23-24, and tell me if this does not sound like you: ďBut this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God.Ē It is a wise thing to fear God, but you refuse to acknowledge Godís attributes. You refuse to fear Him. This shows that your heart is rebellious.

Next, preparation is necessary because a sinnerís heart is deceitful. What could be more obvious than Jeremiah 17.9? ďThe heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.Ē Do not some deceive themselves into thinking they are converted when they are not? Perhaps you are one who deceives yourself into thinking you are not as evil and wicked in your heart as you are? On the other hand, maybe you simply turn away from the truth in the hopes that the problem of your sins will somehow just go away. Your heart needs to be prepared by the Holy Spirit to face the truth about yourself.

Finally, preparation is necessary because a sinnerís heart is depraved. This is the sum. This is the cumulative description of your heart, my lost friend. Your heart is depraved. And what is the result of your heartís depravity? Romans 3.19-20: ďNow we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.Ē You, sir, are guilty before God. And you, too, are guilty.

John Gill, the venerable English Baptist, wrote this about our Philippian jailor: He . . . ďcame trembling; . . . chiefly through the horror of his conscience, and the dreadful sense he had of himself as a sinner, and of his lost state and condition by nature; the law had entered into his conscience, and had worked wrath there; the Spirit of God had convinced him of his sin and misery, and there was a fearful looking for of fiery indignation in him.Ē[2] You will not come to Christ, you will not be converted, you will not be saved from your sins, until first your wicked heart is prepared by the Holy Spirit. He will use a man in some way, who will begin with Godís Law that you have broken, and which Law declares you guilty in Godís sight and deserving Hell.

Your heartís preparation to embrace Christ and be saved from your sins may take a long time or it may take a little time, but it does take some time. However, that is only if the Holy Spirit chooses to prepare your heart at all, since many a man lives and dies without ever having his heart prepared for the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Heart preparation, then, is a necessary and serious business. The Philippian jailorís heart was obviously prepared. The question is, has your heart been prepared? Is your heart being prepared? Are you concerned enough to want your heart prepared? If so, then you and I need to sit down and address this matter.



[1] Jack Hyles, Teaching On Preaching (1986)

[2] John Gill, The Baptist Commentary Series Volume I, John Gillís Exposition Of The Old And New Testaments, Vol 8 (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 2006), page 300.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org