Series: “A Time to Keep Silent, a Time to Speak Up, and a Time to Suffer”
Today’s Message: “A Time to Keep Silent”
September 13, 2015
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Intro: Did you feel the earthquake this summer? It happened on June 26th. What, you don’t remember the ground shaking? Well it did- violently- and the epicenter was in Washington D.C., at the Supreme Court Building. For the court’s decree legalizing same-sex marriages was an act of high treason against God, nature and history. The court claiming for itself the right to define marriage and to define what men and women are, and what they are for. But God never gave them that authority, and neither did the US constitution. So what they did on June 26, 2015 was like an earthquake that has and will cause massive destruction upon our nation and our culture.
So how are believers in Jesus Christ to respond to this, and to other recent actions by our government that are turning biblical values upside down?
For the next four Sundays, I would like us to consider our response to all the changes going on in our country. I want each of you to think about what a godly, Biblical response might be in light of the rapid changes in our culture’s morality, especially in the areas of sexuality, marriage, life, and religious freedom.
Part of the reason for this brief series of sermons is to provide a context for some of the changes and additions to our church’s by-laws and policies, which we will look at next Sunday at our informal congregational meeting. But the bigger reason is to help equip each of us to be better prepared to live as Christ’s ambassadors in a culture that is becoming more hostile to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My sermons will fall along three lines:
First, when should you keep silent? Second, when should you speak up? Third, when should you be willing to suffer?
A Time to Keep Silent
There are many occasions when it would be wrong and unfaithful to keep silent, especially when a situation calls for verbal praise to God or for a vocal defense on behalf of the needy or a clear witness for the Lord as His ambassadors.
Yet there are times when God calls us to be silent before we speak. God may call us to shut our mouths, open our eyes, and ponder a situation carefully and wisely before we open our mouths.
In the Scriptures we see that there are two main situations in which we should keep silent: the first is in awe before the Lord, and the second is in self-control before other people.
1. Silence in Awe Before the Lord (a Sanctified Silence)
Ex. 14: 13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” The ESV has “to be silent.”
As the Israelites seem trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s soldiers, they were terrified and were crying out to the Lord: “What have you done to us?” “It would have been better to be slaves to the Egyptians than to die out here!’
But Moses exhorts them to be silent and to stand still before the Lord, for He and he alone, will save them. This was a time when there was nothing you could do or say; everything depended on the Lord alone. So, keep silent and watch what He will do! This is like our salvation in Christ by grace alone. There may also be times when we are being persecuted that the only thing we can do is to keep silent, to stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord at work.
Leviticus 10:1-3 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.
2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ” ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored (or “glorified”.’)
And what was Aaron’s response? “Aaron remained silent. ESV: “And Aaron held his peace.”
Aaron has just watched two of his sons put to death by the Lord for their arrogant usurping of a sacred action, but he keeps silent. Can you imagine his emotions? He had to be in a state of shock, yet he knew that what his sons had done was wrong. His silence here indicates his humble acceptance of God’s will, even when it is hard.
I think of Abraham’s words in Genesis 18:25, when he struggles with the fate of the righteous, if the Lord destroys Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Or as David wrote in Psalm 39:9 “I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the One who has done this.” David wrestled with God’s seeming severe discipline, upon people so frail, but that concern would be answered when the Word became flesh and suffered and died for us.
Yes, there are times when we need to keep silent and see the salvation or the judgement of the Lord. Listen to Job, after the Lord shows him how little he knows and how powerless he is:
Job 40:3-5 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.5 I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”
We might say that there are times when we are to be silent and SEE the WORKS of the Lord, and other times when we are to be silent and HEAR the WORDS of the Lord. There are times when God wants us to keep silent and ponder something that He is saying to us, or something that He’s doing. If we keep on talking, we’ll miss it, so we need to be silent and listen; we need to keep quiet and mediate on God and His Glory:
Deut. 27:1, 8-10 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today…..8 And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.” 9 Then Moses and the priests, who are Levites, said to all Israel, “Be silent, O Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the LORD your God. 10 Obey the LORD your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”
The Lord, though Moses, is about to come to the conclusion and application of his message to Israel, and how they respond will determine whether they receive the covenant curses or covenant blessings. It’s very serious, and therefore they need to pay attention and not talk.
This exhortation to be silent is common at the climax of a sacred liturgy.
Application at the end of a sermon: Do you talk, or listen and ponder?
This is true not only as a congregation, but also individually. Consider Psalm 4:3– “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. 4 In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Not only in a congregation, but also by ourselves, we are to make time to be silent before the Lord.
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46 is well-known as a triumphant song declaring the Lord as our refuge and strength; a mighty fortress; and the One who rules sovereignly over all nations and all nature. So it is no surprise that near the end of the Psalm, we are told to “be still! Keep silent!” and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations.
We see similar instructions in passages such as:
Zeph. 1:7 “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord! For the day of the Lord is near…”
Zech. 2:13 “Be silent, all flesh, before the lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.’
Habukkuk 2:20 “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
Recall that the book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet questioning the Lord: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” But when the Lord gives his answer, there is nothing more to say. In the words of Rom. 3:19, “every mouth is stopped” when God give his judgement. We might say that the proper response to our litany of woes is to stop striving and to submit yourself silently to the Lord.
God was telling his prophet that he should stop striving and searching for an answer to his dilemma and questions. This was one of those times to be silent. To say anymore, in light of God’s clear answer, would be to follow the way of the pagans, who, in their prayers, multiply words to God, hoping that he will hear them. (Mt. 6:7)
There is also an interesting contrast here between the living God and the idols of the nation:
Lifeless idols, approached with many supplications and chants, are silent, while the living God, approached in silence and in awe, speaks clearly to his people, even becoming the Word made flesh! (John 1) We even hear the “sounds of silence” in heaven: Rev. 8:1 “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour.”
2. Silence in self-control before other people.
James 3 tells us that our tongues are a deadly poison and very difficult to control or to tame. When we are attacked or persecuted or maligned, our tendency is to lash out or to use our tongues to get back, to defend ourselves, etc. But God cautions us to hold our tongues, to exercise self-control, before we say anything to others.
James 1:19-20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Proverbs 17:27-28 “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. 28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
Job 13:1-5 “My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. 2 What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. 3 But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. 4 You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! 5 If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.”
Let us all ask God for greater self-control of our tongues, and that control starts with our hearts!
3. The Silence of Our Savior
Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
No self-defense or protest comes from his mouth. Jesus was silent before Pilate. (Also 1 Pet. 2:20-24) The Messiah’s silence reflects his voluntary submission to the Father’s will. He choose not to fight back. “His death was not a capitulation to weakness, but an exercise of deliberate control.” Though of all people He did not deserve to die, he was willing to do so.
I leave you with two pictures: one is of a lamb, representing the silent Christ, bound for the slaughter. The other is of the 21 Egyptian martyrs, slaughtered in Libya, who, though silent in their beheadings, now speak loudly to the world, of the Savior and Lord they loved and died for.