THE BEARABLE WORD OF GRACE
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched, and that burned with fire;
nor to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words,
such that those who heard begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.
Let every gospel preacher take note: Some words are unbearable, and in the secret places of their hearts, the people beg you to speak them no more.
Such was the case at Mt. Sinai, when, amidst a great show of darkness, smoke, fire, and cosmic trembling, God unveiled his Law. But it was not the special effects that terrified the people. No, it was the words themselves.
The people heard them audibly, or at least they started to. Rolling down the mountain like a flood, clapping like thunder, echoing all across the wilderness, these words struck terror in their hearts: “Thou shalt, thou shalt not; thou shalt, thou shalt not.” That was all they heard, and that was precisely what they could not bear.
Why? Because they spoke a death sentence over them. Instantaneously, the dreadful truth registered in their consciousness: they had to obey them, they could not obey them, they must die for disobeying them.
“Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin,” wrote the apostle–and also of man’s condemnation before a holy, sovereign, and altogether just God. The people could not bear to hear the Law because it brought them no hope, no life, and no joy–only a consciousness of a death, hinted at in the fire, tempest, and thick darkness of Sinai.
What, then, did the people do? They did what all sinners do: They rushed to a mediator. “You go and speak to him for us,” said the Israelites, pleading with Moses. “Perhaps he will send you back to us with words we can bear.” And Moses, prefiguring him who was yet to come, did that very thing.
As Christians, we know that our Lord Jesus Christ is Moses’ anti-type, the true Mediator between God and men. Having lived and died for his people, he has reconciled them to God and his Law. Therefore, as he comes down from Mt. Zion with unveiled face, radiant with joy, he brings us good news. He speaks bearable words to his people; words about God’s gift of grace; words that fill their heart with hope, life, and gladness. “The words I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life,” (John 6:63). This is why Jesus’ people can bear them, and this is why they beg to hear them over and over again.
I close as I began: Let every gospel preacher take note. Do you want the people to bear your words? Do you want them to beg you to speak them again and again? Then let your words–even the hard ones you know you must speak from time to time–be filled with grace, filled with Christ, filled with the glorious good news that “it is finished;” that through simple faith in our Mediator we are now accepted–and infinitely loved–in the Beloved.
Said Peter to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life?”
Man of God, if you will speak the bearable word of grace, so shall the people speak to you.