One of the most fiery (read: harshest) sermons ever preached in the Bible came from the mouth of John the Baptist. In Luke 3, he called the crowd who followed him a “brood of vipers” without even batting an eyelash. I may not be a preacher but one thing I’m sure of is that John’s sermon style was definitely not the normal way to attract a following. Church growth gurus and Toast Masters trained speakers today would cringe at the thought of using such offensive language when speaking in front of a crowd you are trying to reach.
But John the Baptist was no speakers’ club member. He didn’t seek to build a religion either. He was simply a man who was sent to announce the coming of the Messiah and he had to do it within a limited time frame. Remember that he and Jesus were born just a few months apart? That means that his message was time sensitive. The Messiah he was to announce was just around the corner. He didn’t have the time to play religious games with the Jews.
That explains the sharp words he used in his preaching. He spoke of a gospel of repentance and forgiveness without apologies. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” he barked at the Jews who came out to hear him. The power and conviction that came with his preaching were so great that people didn’t have the time to grumble about preaching ethics and political correctness. On different occasions, they asked him what they were supposed to do and for each question, he gave practical, straightforward answers: Give away clothes, share your food, stop extortion, be contented with your salary! I could almost hear the people gasp when they heard these heavy demands of the faith. John’s message was outrageous, but the results were enough to confound modern day church growth experts. Mark 1: 5 reported:
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Sadly, we no longer hear these kinds of sermons today. Instead of straightforward gospel, we now hear great tips on how to be successful, how to use faith to get what we want, and how to have a love affair with God. We ask our preachers to tone down their volume, speak slowly like they’re just having a conversation, and present a seeker-sensitive gospel. We’re not comfortable when sins are blatantly spoken in the pulpit. We’d rather be told of how good God is, how much He promised to bless us, and how He loves us no matter what.
No wonder we no longer see this kind of massive public conversions in our preachings today. How sad…