I was listening to John Lawson give a presentation about who the target audience is when a pastor gives a sermon. A point that really struck me was when Lawson stated, something to the effect that, the patient does not write the prescription (my paraphrase). Speaking in the form of an illustration, it was quite profound to hear in modern terms the fact that people will have itching ears. This is, of course, referring to that passage in Bible that says,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
– 2 Timothy 4:3
The relation of doctor to patient is quite interesting to me. The doctor is the professional that knows what’s wrong and the proper cure for what ails you. I’m not so sure how comforting it would be to have a “yes man” as a doctor. In other words, having a doctor who is only going to agree with or take his lead from his patients is dangerous. This hits home in the church when you hear ministers talking about everything under the sun except the real problem of sin and the wrath of God. Sin is hardly mentioned unless it’s brought up to make you feel guilty for why you’re not getting your prayers answered. Sermons are about the usual health, wealth, and happiness, and in our time even sex, and Christian sexuality. Good job in taking the lead from the world (sarcasm). I’m not saying that these are not topics of concerns for Christians, or even healthy topics for Christians, but they are not the primary message of the church, ever. To take the brief 2 hours of a week pastors have available to speak to the church and the un-churched, as an expert in their field about an eternal cure for sin we all have, and toss that time out the window to discuss what’s hip, popular, and tickles the ear is just irresponsible. It’s almost Sunday, and if you go to church, I wonder what message you will hear? Will Jesus be the focus of it? Will He even be mentioned at all?
The real, pressing, and eternal question is what can be done about sin, when facing a Holy God. If there is no answer to this problem then we all die without hope. Yet, if Jesus is that true substitute who takes my sin upon himself, and grants me His righteousness, then there is a sure and true hope to be had and talked about. A hope that is just as eternal as God is.
If you’ve had this problem answered in your life there will still be the everyday feelings of guilt, reminders of sins past, and new sins calling for more application of the same message. The victory and salvation of Christ is healing to the weary souls that have fought and failed so often in the previous days and weeks. Tell me again that my sins are atoned for and taken far from me. Tell me again about the love of God for me, that does not leave me naked and ashamed in sin. Tell me again that when I see and know my personal righteousness is nothing but filth that my hope and faith rests in Christ’s pure righteousness that exists outside of me, and is yet credited on my behalf. This is the role of the minister in his preaching. It is in this arena alone that he has the authority to speak and offer a prescription to all those that attend his service.
Beware of what you are hearing from your ministers. Even more, beware of what your sinful and deceptive heart tells you, you want or need to hear. If it is not of Christ in a role of prophet, priest, or king then I’d worry about what was being given to me as a prescription or cure for what ails me. We don’t tolerate a physician that tries to give engineering advice, or an engineer that wants to give us legal advice, or a lawyer that tries to offer medical advice. Yet churches tolerate every week pastors who will prescribe for the people whatever advice they want and long to hear, fearing that if he tells them the truth that they are a sinful bunch in need of pardon and confession they may go to another church.
We all have a particular message that we would like to hear, one that makes us feel good about ourselves, and one that will result in some key piece of knowledge that we can walk away with and dramatically transform our life, family, income, or happiness. Yet God chooses to work in the plain and seemingly non-dramatic means of preaching, and the eating of bread and drinking of wine. This seems silly to the outside world, and increasingly so within some churches, but through these things God says He will make use of them to transform lives in a way that has eternal ramifications.