How many times have you heard someone say after church, “Boy, _______ should have been here to hear that!” Rarely was the sermon about mercy, forgiveness, or renewal. Rather, when someone opines that an acquaintance they know needed to hear a sermon it was usually about the consequences of unconfessed and unrepented sin (which, by the way, we are in dire need of today).
I suppose (since we’ve all done it) we should give ourselves the benefit of the doubt since we really are concerned about the spiritual well-being of those we know. However, in wishing the “right” person would have heard the Word and comprehended the will of God it is quite telling that it is never ourselves. “I sure enjoyed (but didn’t really need) that sermon.”
It makes me wonder if churchgoers ever really stop to consider to whom the books of the Bible were written in the first place. For instance, forty times in the book of Proverbs the “fool” is addressed. Do we think the “fool” was always a pagan Gentile? In 15:5 we read “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.” Surely, we don’t think that didn’t apply to a single Hebrew family, do we? It was for the Moabites and Edomites right? Only if you believe Solomon and the other authors of Proverbs were legitimately concerned about how parents in other nations were parenting. And that prodigal son parable Jesus told…I’m sure the Pharisees and Scribes walked away thinking “If only the prefect of Judea had been present to hear that!”
Then there is the rather rude ending of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus promised that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). To clarify who He meant He went on to say, “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man…” (7:26). The foolish man heard Jesus but did not act on His words. The warning of personal calamity was issued, not to the worshipers of Diana or Zeus or Caesar but to the ones familiar with what Jesus had said.
When are Christians ever going to figure out that the one(s) God wanted to hear the sermon is the one who heard the sermon? When will we begin to understand that the hard sayings in the New Testament were intended for Christian eyes to read? We may wish some “sinner” had heard the sermon or read the Scripture but it’s not who should have heard or read but who actually heard and read that’s going to be held accountable (Matt. 7:24-27).
Look at some key verses in the book of Romans. In 1:16 Paul writes the famous declaration “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” What was the context for writing that? To whom is it directed? Look at the verse that precedes it: “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:15). And who is the letter to the Romans addressed? “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). Paul wasn’t saying he wasn’t ashamed or afraid to preach the gospel to the pagan Romans. No, he was saying he wasn’t ashamed or afraid to preach the gospel to the church in Rome!
Do you think that’s outlandish? Then you must not have read Romans very closely. At the end of chapter one, he writes of those who “did not see fit to acknowledge God” (1:28). He went on to say “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness” (1:29) and then listed seventeen sins they had wrapped themselves in. Oh, those ungodly Roman pagans, right? Then why did he continue with “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (1:32)? Now, who exactly knows “God’s righteous decree”?
The first seven chapters of the book of Romans are a diatribe against Roman churchgoers and their knowledge of God but their seeming impotence to live holy and faithful lives! Yet all most Christians find in the book is the “Roman road to salvation.” Yes, and it begins with shaking the cobweb out of the heads of Christians by reminding them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
I am astonished that today’s Christian seems to think that “repent” is what someone else is supposed to do. Yet in the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Apostle John is directed to write seven letters to seven different Christian congregations. In six of those letters, the recipients are told to repent (only the Philadelphian church got a pass). Not the pagans in the towns that are named but the Christians in the churches.
Also in vogue today is the Second Chronicles 7:14 passage. I continually hear people quote that verse as if some great revival would break out if only the blasted sinners would get their act together and yield to God. It’s as if the real words “If my people who are called by my name…” were actually “If you people who I don’t claim yet…” Moreover, the whole context of that verse is the dedication of Solomon’s Temple with God telling Solomon what to do when He punishes the Hebrews for their future disobedience.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways…” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Do you know who God wishes had heard last Sunday’s sermon? The people who heard last Sunday’s sermon.