God shaped my life as a teen with preaching that was loving and compassionate but also tough and uncompromising. It was the kind of preaching that generated conviction of sin. My sense is that such preaching results from a combination of the content, forged from rich immersion in scripture, along with a high dependence on God, generated through prayer, along with the force of a life that clearly embodies text.
In the early part of my ministry, I became enamored with a kind of preaching that was a bit light by contrast. I’m embarrassed by some of the messages I preached that largely spoke only of the benefits of a relationship with God and obscured the challenges and costs. I pray that my preaching now more closely reflects the balance the Bible strikes.
This is on my mind because of a curious phrase in my text for Sunday. Mark 6:14-29 records how John the Baptist loses his head, literally. Jesus is the main subject of the gospels but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate the incident. Herod Antipas had married Herodias, who was his brother Phillip’s wife. That had to make family gatherings awkward! John challenged Herod about this, telling him it was against God’s law. Herodias hated John for this and literally wanted to kill him. But Herod’s reaction was more complicated. He arrested John, but then the text says:
Mark 6:20 (ESV) 20 . . . Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
What's going on here? What I think is happening to Herod is the conviction of sin. Herod shows its possible to be intrigued and moved by preaching, but still not be made right with God. John preached God’s word in such a way that it did what Hebrews 4:12 would later explain that it does: it divides and purifies and disturbs and troubles. But this affect can’t be taken for granted. We can’t see all that God is doing in people’s hearts as they hear God’s word. We get supernatural insight through scripture as to what’s going on in Herod. I think we can be sure of this: John was not a smug individual, sitting back hypocritically throwing verbal rocks at people he didn’t like. Herod could have easily dismissed such a person. Rather John was consumed with the truth and consumed with a passion for God that led him to speak the truth in such a way that got him arrested. But even after he arrested John, Herod went to see him often because listening to John challenged him to his core. May God grant that our preaching, teaching, and even conversations have such an impact. Why? Because being confronted with the character of God is the most important and necessary thing that can happen to a person.
From this text, I will speak Sunday about the end of casual Christianity.