My Musings

A Polarizing Preacher

A Polarizing Preacher

Preaching was Jesus’ passion. “That is why I have come,” he said (Mark 1:38). He was also a miracle worker and healer, but that’s not what got him killed. His enemies resented the popularity that his healing ministry attracted but it was his preaching that exasperated his enemies. Jesus’ disciples inherited his passion for preaching and, for most of them, it took years off their lives too.

Jesus was a polarizing preacher, especially when telling parables. His stories had a way of making soft hearts softer and hard hearts harder. The one about tenant farmers (Mark 12) angered his enemies and left them looking for a chance to arrest Him. After telling a parable about two sons (intentions alone don’t cut it), Jesus told the local chief priests and elders that prostitutes and tax-collectors were entering the kingdom of heaven before them (Matthew 21:31). Ouch!

Jesus’ apocalyptic tale about sheep and goats (Matthew 25) pit two groups of people against another with eternal ramifications. His story of the rich man & Lazarus (Luke 16) pits a wealth man and a poor man against each other again with eternal consequences. His parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) represents two poles of people as “wheat” and “chaff.” Jesus related a polarizing tale about a prodigal son (Luke 125) who was lost and then found, dead and then alive. It featured contrasting attitudes between two brothers, one of whom was embittered by the happy ending. The parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25) pits those prepared against those who are not. His parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22) demanded an either-or decision–no three ways about it.

Jesus was a polarizing preacher even when not telling parables. He said,

  • “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23)
  • “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)
  • “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

It would be safe to keep my thoughts focused on the first century or to imply that Jesus’ outspoken courage applies only to paid preachers. Actually, all Christians are preachers. “Preach the gospel at all times,” said St. Francis of Assisi (182 – 1226), “If necessary, use words.”

In word and in deed, Jesus is our primary example. However, it won’t hurt (well, perhaps it will a little) to consider the wisdom and courage of some more recent men of God who shared Jesus’ passion for preaching:

  • “Don’t go out for popularity. Preach nothing down but the devil, nothing up but the Christ.” ~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).
  • “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” ~ George Whitefield (1714 – 1770).
  • “When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or they don’t like it, and get mad.” ~ Dwight L. Moddy, Ancedotes (1881).

Jesus could have lived to a ripe old age had he given up preaching about sin. To this day, preaching on the severity of sin and need to repent polarizes and alienates people. The good news of forgiveness gets polarizing when people figure out that it excludes the excuses we embrace for our most treasured sins. Woe to the honest Christian preacher who, like Jesus, makes that clear.

Staying safe is not a preacher’s prerogative. However it is a popular motive for many pretenders today. In his book, An Earnest Ministry, John Angell James (1785-1859), put his finger on the problem in words that resonate today:

  • “From the general strain of some men’s preaching, one would almost be ready to conclude that there were no sinners in their congregations to be converted.”
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About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

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