David Murray – Rehearsal for Calvary

murray__005_400x400David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary.  He is also pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church.  David is the author of Christian Get Depressed Too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page (USA Link).  You can read his blog, HeadHeartHand or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray.  David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 1 to 18 years old.  I am thankful to David for contibuting to our Incarnation Series marking the release of Pleased to Dwell. Here, David takes us back to the book of Judges and points our hearts to Christ:


Judges chapter thirteen opens with the nation of Israel suffering under the reign of the Philistines. In the middle of this a woman is suffering under her own personal grief: she is barren.

Into this national and personal sorrow the Son of God appears as the angel (literally “messenger”) of the Lord appears to this woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine occupation. His appearance is such that she describes him as a man of God with a very awesome appearance, like the angel of the Lord. Neither the woman nor her husband yet realize that this is more than a man.

Manoah, her husband, prays that the messenger might return to give them more instruction on how to raise this promised son. God listens to Manoah’s prayer and the messenger returns to give them further instruction. During this second encounter, Manoah offers a meal to their guest, not yet knowing exactly who their guest is. The angel of the Lord refuses to eat, but tells Manoah to make an offering to the Lord.

A Wonderful Name

When Manoah asks the visitor for his name, he receives this enigmatic response: “Why do you ask My Name, seeing it is wonderful?” or beyond comprehension?

What a puzzling response. What sort of man claims that his name is beyond comprehension? Remember that throughout the Old Testament, names are very significant indicators of character. There is something special about this man with a wonderful name.

A Wonderful Act

As the flames begin to consume the sacrificed goat, Manoah and his wife are amazed to see the messenger step into the flames and rise up to heaven!

What was he doing?

As the pre-incarnate Son of God we may say that He was “practicing” or “rehearsing” His future sacrifice of himself, when in real human nature he would ascend heavenwards.

They immediately fall on their faces for they realized that this had been THE Angel of the Lord. As is often the case, this recognition often comes only after the Angel has departed.

A Wonderful Faith

Although a great fear takes hold of Manoah because he knows that no one can see God and live, his more believing wife comforts him with this thought: If God had really intended to kill them, he would not have accepted their offering nor given them the great promises he had.

It’s amazing to think about the Son of God’s ascension in the flame of this sacrifice as a picture of his ultimate sacrifice at Calvary. We often read in the Bible of God’s delight in the sweet smell of sacrifices to him. How sweet must Christ’s ultimate sacrifice have been: the perfect, spotless lamb. And yet how horrific the experience for Christ himself.

There He stepped not into the flames of a burning goat, but into the flames of an angry God. He did not just rise heavenwards in a few brief moments, but stayed in the fire until the divine flames burned themselves out on Him.

A Wonderful Question

No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, His name shall be called Wonderful. Who can fully comprehend the mystery of God manifest in the flesh, and sacrificed in flames? Yet, let us keep asking Him, “What is your name? Tell us more about yourself, that we may honor you.”

Does Stance Just Happen?

There are central issues in preaching – interpreting the Scriptures, applying with relevance, relationship with God and with listeners.  But there are plenty of other factors worthy of our consideration.  Not central, but worth considering since our goal is effective communication.  One of these is stance.

The visual presentation of a speaker is a complex series of issues – dress, body language, facial expression, proxemics, etc.  One element is stance.  How we stand communicates.  I am not advocating a one-size fits all approach.  There is no such solution.  Consider the following:

The setting – is the occasion for preaching more formal or informal.  A casual approach at a funeral tends to backfire!  What kind of church is it?  What is he tone of the service?  Who are the people in the congregation?  Since every preaching context is different, there is no one-size fits all approach.

The message – there needs to be consistency between what is being communicated and how.  A super-somber convicting moment presenting the most important thing they will ever hear generally does not work well with hands in pockets, leaning against the side of the pulpit.  On the other hand, perhaps in some settings, with some messages, having you sit on a high stool in a relaxed manner would work wonders.

The options – while many rightly resist the notion that anyone can prescribe the right stance for every preacher on every preaching occasion, we naturally fall into the inconsistent position of haing a default stance that we use whatever the situation (thereby functioning as if there is a one-size fits all after all!)  Take some time to think through your options.  Behind a podium/pulpit, coming out from behind it, removing it, leaning forward with more urgency, leaning back against something, sitting on a stool, moving to different areas of the platform, standing still, etc.  The deliberate move from behind a desk to standing in front and leaning on it helped to transform a president who was an ineffective communicator into a likeable and more effective leader. 

Sometimes small things do matter.  Anything that will remove a communication hindrance or inconsistency from our preaching of the gospel is worthy of some attention.  Take a few moments to think through stance, our communication is no less important than the president of a superpower!