Sunday, May 7

Giving Offense

The renowned English preacher of the last generation, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones once remarked, “The great effect of our Lord's preaching was to make everybody feel condemned, and nobody likes that.” On almost every page of the New Testament, we find Jesus offending someone. When He wasn't confronting the Scribes and the Pharisees, He was rebuking the promiscuous and the perverse. When He wasn't alienating the Saducees and the Herodians, He was reproving the tax-collectors and the prostitutes. He even had a knack for estranging His own disciples with His “hard sayings” (John 6:60) and “dark parables” (Matthew 13:11).

Jesus “meek and mild” was rarely meek or mild when it came to sin. He pulled no punches. At various times, and when the situation demanded, Jesus publicly denounced sinners as snakes, dogs, foxes, hypocrites, fouled tombs, and dirty dishes. He actually referred to one of His chief disciples as Satan. So that His hearers would not miss the point, He sometimes referred to the objects of his most intense ridicule both by name and by position, and often face to face. . . . Christ did not affirm sinners; He affirmed the repentant. Others He often addressed with the most withering invective. God incarnate did not avoid using words and tactics that His listeners found deeply offensive. He well understood that sometimes it is wrong to be nice. He was an equal opportunity offender.

Christ came into this world to call all humanity unto repentance. Thus His message stands out as an unflinching condemnation of the fallen estate of all humanity: the great and the small, the good and the bad, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor. It matters not who we may be or from whence we come, the Gospel is an affront to all that we have done and to all that we are: “There is none righteous, no not one.” Such a message was never intended to be popular; it was intended to be true. There is no justice in a killing kindness; it may be attained only in the brutal apprehension of our dire need of Christ. We all desperately need Good News, not nice news. And that is simply not a popular notion. Not now. Not ever. Thus, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).

We don't want to hear that our hearts are “deceitful and wicked above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). We don't want to hear that “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) or that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We don't want to hear that our corrupt lives have resulted in a corrupt culture where the innocent are exploited, the helpless are despoiled, and the downtrodden are utterly forgotten. We don't want to hear that there are very real and tangible consequences to our sin that ultimately must be dealt with. We would much rather find a series of steps that would “enable” us, “empower” us, or help us to “recover,” than we would to hear the clear message of grace, “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

According to Lloyd-Jones, “If Christ had come and told us that the way of salvation was to consider a great, noble, and wonderful teaching and then to set out and do it, why, we would have liked it. Thoughts of imitating Christ always please mankind, because they flatter us. They tell us that if we only use our wills we can do almost anything. . . . The world today in its state of trouble is very ready to listen to sermons that tell it somehow or another about the application of Christian principles. No one is annoyed at them. 'What wonderful thoughts' people say. 'What a wonderful conception.' But the message of the Gospel is that, 'The world is as it is because you are as you are. You are in trouble and confusion because you are not honoring God; because you are rebelling against Him; because of your self-will, your arrogance, and your pride. You are reaping,' says the Gospel, 'what you have sown.'. . . We all dislike that, and yet it is always the message of Christ--He called upon men and women to repent, to acknowledge their sin with shame and to turn back to God in Him, but the message of repentance always has been and still is a cause of offense.”


Lawrence Underwood said...

Well, this is eerie. In essence this is my sermon from this morning. Well, actually it was yesterday morning. Typical Lord's day evening insomnia going on tonight.

Jared said...

This is something I've really struggled with as I've been preaching through the book of Proverbs. God's book of wisdom is, I'm convinced, geared toward helping God's people stir Christ into all of life, but it doesn't so much focus on the offense of the gospel (it's there, but just not all the time).

Some Sundays I feel like I ought to be giving more "gospel offense," but then I realize that I'd be dishonest with the text if I use a wisdom vs. foolishness passage to slam home salvation vs. self-righteousness. So I've come to the conclusion that preaching wisdom and application needs to be contextualized properly, put in the right order. If I preach obedience without grace, woe to me, right? Thus, I operate by assuming that most of Proverbs assumes a position of grace-ful salvation rather than self-righteousness (hence the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom and also the beginning of salvation).

Anyway, now I'm rambling. Any thoughts on how Lloyd-Jones' comments apply to preaching passages that seem - at least at first glance - to give a "five-step method to Christlike friendships"?