Often we have thought and preached on these verses. Yet there is a great deal more that can be said about them. Notice especially the second verse—"a sound came from heaven." Unmistakably it was a divine sound and signal. Now the disciples were ready to speak their message. They were Spirit-filled and spoke in a different way. Just how different we do not know. Doubtless there were different intonations, different emphases, as well as a different approach. It was a new way of self-expression. Peter's remarks no longer hurt John, nor did James wound Andrew with his thoughtless, sharp words. They said the right things in the right way. How important that is! They spoke thus because they were Spirit directed.
The "sound came from heaven." That started things. It was a sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Everyone who was in the room was affected by it. Many of the sounds we hear, like the songs of birds, delight us. The sounds of nature often soothe us. But other sounds we hear are created by man. We have locomotives whistling and rattling as they rumble along. There are sounds of human voices, angry voices, arguing voices, discussing voices. If we could listen to some markets in the world—especially in the Orient where there is a good deal of haggling over prices—we would hear the seller demanding that the buyer pay more, and the buyer insisting on paying less. Then there are the world's alluring and enticing voices. But over it all there comes a sound from heaven that means so much to the children of God.
You will remember that when Jesus was baptized there was a sound from heaven, a voice saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Before His baptism He had not yet preached a sermon, nor had He healed any sick, as far as we know. The only indicating record we have of Him is that He was a carpenter's son, a carpenter pleasing God. On another occasion, He addressed the Father and asked that the Father glorify His name. A sound came saying, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." It was God's voice, but not all ears were attuned to understand it. Some said that it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken. It was a strange sound to them.
There are many other sounds to which the Bible refers. The Philistines were coming out against the Israelites. David marshaled Israel's armies against the enemy. The Lord said, "Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them." This meant more time, the use of more energy, seemingly useless motion. A direct frontal attack would seem to have been much more simple and easier. But "fetch a compass," the Lord said, "march around them and attack from the rear when I so indicate."
Some cynical people ask, "When was the Lord leading you—yesterday, when you voted thus, or today when you reversed your action?" For the man of faith the answer is simple—"Both yesterday and today." The cynic simply does not understand the technique of fetching a compass.
To David, God said, When you hear the "sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees," then bestir yourselves and go into battle. God guides in many ways, and in ways we cannot always explain. But He guides. In the midst of all earthly sounds there is a voice from heaven, the indication that comes from above. May it always make the impression intended. There is a danger —the danger that human devisings may take the place of God's plans, that human noises shall drown out the sound from heaven.
A traveler was once talking with a kulak in Russia. The farmer said, "In the old days we invited the priests [to them the servants of God] to bless the fields in the springtime that they might be fruitful. We do not need the priests any more. We have tractors now." That spirit is the most menacing to religion to be found in Russia or anywhere else. The idea is that if one has penicillin he does not need prayer. If he has psychology he does not need salvation. If he has science he does not need God. Earthly sounds may take the place of the indications that should come from heaven. As people are overwhelmed with earthly sounds they become less and less certain of the direction God indicates.
How characteristic this is of humanity today. Referring to our ancestors, one writer says: "In the last five centuries, probably twenty generations, 1,048,576 persons have contributed to your personality." He points out that all these have passed on something to you, some tendencies for good, but mostly for ill. We are enslaved to the weaknesses of our ancestors. Thus we need the direction of the Lord Jesus in our lives. To His voice and the divine indication from heaven we must listen more, for the sounds of the world would drown out the heavenly sound.
"Christ put the church in the world. Satan seeks to put the world in the church." The world gets into the church and the unguarded human heart.
It is becoming increasingly popular to be religious. According to many it is the thing to do. Only it must be geared to one's own way of living. I was impressed by something the other day in a restaurant. A little card on the table suggested that those who wish to pray might find an appropriate prayer on the card. There were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish prayers. Now in many ways this suggestion is good, especially for people who are not accustomed to saying grace at meals. And while we would encourage every effort leading people to prayer, we might wonder how truly effective this convenient method is. A plan of this kind may well suit people who believe in religion as long as it does not materially inconvenience them. Genuine religion on the other hand can become a very inconvenient thing at times, at least from a human point of view.
Emphasis on Spiritual Living
As leaders we have been called of God to lead a people into a deeper experience with the Lord. We must never fail of increasing our emphasis upon spiritual living. All of our problems must be looked at from that point of view.
What holds our denomination together? We cannot by force hold a single individual in the church. It is all voluntary. Our people are united because they believe in God's church and in the leadership, be it president or church pastor. We must retain this confidence by our example, by the life we live, the way we act, by what we say, and the way we say it. And remember what we say is always tempered by what we are. We must be one hundred per cent in our dedication to the cause of God. We must be earnest, but never extreme, neither fanatical nor overliberal.
It is a wonderful privilege to be a worker in God's cause. I am so grateful that in spite of all my wanderings and mistakes, God has watched over me patiently and led me along His way. And this morning, fellow workers, I would like to express to Him my deep gratitude. Perhaps others would like to express themselves in praise to our heavenly Father.
(The way was then opened for those present to bear their witness and give expression of their gratitude to God for the privilege of knowing the truth and of having a part in the great work of God. It was a moving meeting. All spoke expressing their deep appreciation for God's goodness and pledging themselves as workers to faithful and wholehearted service under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Several expressed their joy that such an important gathering as the Spring Council could open in such an atmosphere of prayer and reconsecration. Thus the foundations were laid for a deeply spiritual council.)