“They obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people did fear before the Lord” (Haggai 1:12).
THE word of the Cross is the power of God, and in this verse we have read about a powerful word, the result of which was: “they obeyed” and “they feared”. What was it they obeyed and feared? A powerful word from God. And what was that like? There were the words of the prophet, but there was something more — there was the voice of the Lord.
THE VOICE OF THE LORD
There is one verse in the tenth chapter of the Gospel by John which we all know by heart: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they, follow me” (verse 27). “I am the good shepherd … My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” Here again is a powerful word, and when we hear it we follow the Lord, for it is His voice.
There is a word in Isaiah 55 which we often use falsely. In past days, when I have given a very cheap and thin message, I have given myself this false comfort: ‘However, the word of the Lord shall not return void!’, but Isaiah does not give us that comfort at all. The Lord says: “My word that goeth forth out of my mouth shall not return unto me void” (verse 11), and the question is not whether the word went out from my mouth (it always does!) but — did it go out from the Lord’s mouth? If it only comes out of my mouth you only hear my voice, and therefore the sheep do not follow the Lord. My mouth can give no powerful word at all. But if the word comes out of the Lord’s mouth then the sheep hear His voice. Therefore always ask this question: ‘Did my word go out from the mouth of the Lord? Am I the mouthpiece of the Lord?’ Only He is capable of a powerful word, for He speaks in the spirit of the Cross. When in John 10:27 the Lord says: “My sheep hear my voice”, you cannot take that word out of its context. Four times before that verse He has said — in verses 11, 15, 17 and 18: “I give my life for the sheep … I lay down my life for the sheep … No one takes my life away from me … I lay it down of myself.” I give My life, and then I speak’ — and that is the voice of the Lord, that is the word of the Cross, and that is the word of His power. “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.” Therefore the Lord has a powerful word, and it is the word of the Cross.
THE MESSAGE AND THE MESSENGER
The Lord not only gave His message, but He gave Himself, and those two things always go together to make the word of the Cross. The messenger and the message are synonymous. That was the secret behind the power of the Apostle Paul. In Thessalonians he says: “We were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). That made it a very powerful word, and therefore he continues: “When ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Thessalonians heard the words of Paul and the voice of Jesus. They heard the word of the crucified One through one who was able to say not only: ‘I was crucified with Christ’, but “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). It is one thing to look back on the historic fact that the Lord Jesus took us with Him to His Cross and there we were crucified with Him, but it is another thing to be able to say in truth: ‘I am , while I speak to you, crucified with my Lord.’ How can you give the word of the Cross without being on the Cross as you speak? [7/8]
MINISTRY AND SERVICE
All this has to do with our conception of what ministry and service really are. What is service? It is not doing something for the Lord, but doing His will. Most Christians are ready to do something for the Lord, but I doubt whether we are all ready to do His will. The Lord Jesus has given us His own definition of ministry, of service, in John 12:26: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” That is all! Ministry, or service, is nothing other than obedience — and obedience might well cost you everything, even your own life. I am sure that our dear brother Abraham was willing to do anything for the Lord except bring his son to Mount Moriah! Abraham might easily have argued with the Lord and said: ‘I can serve You in many ways, Lord’, and the Lord would have answered: ‘There is only one way in which you can serve Me, and that is by doing what I tell you to do.’ Ministry, service, obedience and life are one and the same thing.
Here comes the word of His power. If Abraham had spoken a thousand words and preached wonderful sermons without going to Mount Moriah, then the people would have heard the words of Abraham but not the voice of the Lord. It would not have been the word of the Cross, and it would not have been a powerful word.
Here is the centre of things. The word of Abraham has power even today, and we can sense the voice of the Lord in it. That is because Abraham’s word went forth out of the mouth of the Lord, and it did not return void to the Lord. That is ministry, and that is why those who have ears that can hear can easily discern the voice of the Lord when they listen. Two men can speak and give almost the same message, and with one you sense the voice of the Lord, but with the other you hear only the words of the man. In my country people speak a lot about power in these days, and many use all the power of their voices and think: ‘Now my message is powerful!’ Abraham might have been able to cry out so loudly that they could have heard it back in Ur, but there would have been no power in that. When he went to Mount Moriah he did not even raise his voice, but the power of the living Lord, the power of the Cross, was there.
In Denmark we have a saying which goes like this: ‘Empty vessels make most noise!’
Are you full of the spirit of the Cross? That means: Have you followed Him? Then He Himself is speaking through you, and you are His mouthpiece.
I even know some dear Christian people who say: ‘If I obeyed the Lord I would have to leave my ministry, and therefore I cannot obey!’ They think they must be disobedient in order to serve the Lord! And I know many who have this idea: ‘If I did what the Lord tells me, I would lose everything’ — but may I ask you this question: Has the Lord ever told you to keep anything? Only by our losing everything through obedience can the Lord speak through us. He Himself was obedient right unto death. What could He say on that Cross? He had lost everything. Therefore He could say everything in the power of the Cross, and that was ministry. Here was the true Servant of the Lord, here was the voice of the Shepherd giving Himself without reserve, and therefore being the mouthpiece of the living God. There is no bypass to power, but just the one narrow way leading right unto power — the way of obedience, the way of following our Lord. He not only said: “If any man serve me, let him follow me”, but He went on to say: “And where I am, there shall also my servant be” (John 12:26). We like to put that into the future, but where is the Lord today? Is He in a very popular place? Is He recognised by the so-called Christian people? Where is He? He is outside — and “where I am, there shall also my servant be”. Outside! But it is only as you are outside that you are able to speak the word that penetrates everything.
The Lord’s ways are not ours. His ways of ministry are not ours. His thoughts are not ours. His ideas about ministry, service, are not ours. The Cross is, and remains, the centre of everything, even the centre of power, the centre of ministry, and so He says: ‘No man can serve Me as he is, and no man can speak for Me as he is in himself. No man can serve Me if he follows his own ways and ideas. Will any man serve Me? Then let him take up his cross daily and follow Me!’ If you do that, the Lord will privilege you with the word of the Cross, and no other word is the word from the Lord. No other word comes out of the mouth of the Lord.
We are so grateful for every occasion when we have listened and have been able to say: ‘This is the voice of the Lord!’ Let us not spoil that voice or that word. May the Lord give us grace to be obedient even unto death, and may He give us the word of His Cross! – P. M. [8/9]