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What to expect when we preach the gospel

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In modern times, we tend to look at the world around us and say, if only we were X—whether X is hip, trendy, socially active, or whatever—then we’d win the culture to Christ. We act as though there’s some magic formula to this. That somehow we can make everything go exactly our way if we could just unlock the secret.

Now, imagine having these sorts of aspirations—of winning your people with your powerful and prophetic preaching—and rather than turning to God in repentance, they turn on you with murder in their eyes. That those plotting your demise are not strangers, but your childhood friends.

And not your friends only, but your family: your parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles…

They all want you dead.

What would you do?

Jeremiah, often described as the weeping prophet, didn’t need to imagine this, for it was his experience. He wrote in chapter 11 of his book of their scheming. For he heard them say,”Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more,” not knowing that “it was against me they devised schemes” (Jeremiah 11:19).

How would you respond to opposition of this degree? Would you flee? Would you be tempted to retract your message? Or would you turn to the Lord to defend your cause as he did, pleading, “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause”? (Jeremiah 11:20)

While many around the world don’t have to wonder, for it is their daily reality, I hope none of us here in North America will ever have to experience exactly what Jeremiah did. None of us should ever desire persecution of this nature, or actively pursue it. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember as we consider the experiences of Jeremiah, the Apostles, the Reformers, and so many others right up to our own day is that the gospel is offensive. If we preach the truth—if we preach that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died for our sins on the cross and rose again on the third day—we are preaching “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8).

The gospel shows us as we truly are—lost, depraved, unable to save ourselves no matter how good and moral we attempt to be. Thus, it confronts us with uncomfortable realities. We know we can never be good enough (even by our own standards, to say nothing of God’s). We know the deeds and thoughts done in private. The gospel shatters our self-image, and so we are left with two options: repent or retaliate.

And that’s the hard thing for so many to get, I fear: generally speaking, we’re not going to win any popularity contests when we’re preaching the gospel in a culture that runs contrary to it. The hard-hearted Israelites to whom Jeremiah preached would not hear him, and in their rebellion sought his death. Today, we’re called bigots for upholding biblical truths and not being able to bless actions that run contrary to them. We’re called intolerant for our exclusive claims. Even when people think we, individually, are very nice, collectively, Christians are personae non gratae.

This is what we should expect when we represent Christ, no matter how well we represent him. Some will be drawn closer, but others—many others, perhaps—will be repelled. That’s what we should expect, because it is what we’re told will happen. So do not lose heart if social action doesn’t win the affections of the lost, or being culturally relevant still results in us being left out in the cold. Give thanks to God and carry on.

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