The opening verses of Matthew 3 record the preaching of John the Baptist. While reading this passage, what jumped out at me is what John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He called them a “brood of vipers” and he went on to critique their behavior.
I’m sure that the Pharisees and Sadducees bristled at what John said. Being called a snake is never a compliment so it is unlikely that they took it well.
As a result, this passage is not used as a positive example of a sermon in any seminary today. I have not encountered any book on sermon preparation that encourages the preacher to incorporate insults to the audience as part of the introduction to his sermon.
But the thought strikes me that we can be so concerned about offending our listeners that we tap dance around the central truth of their need of the gospel. We cannot allow our preaching to be all lollipops and rainbows devoid of a real assessment of man’s need of salvation.
This is not a plea to take up “hellfire and damnation” preaching. We are not called to scare people into the kingdom of Heaven. Fear is never a long term motivator and it is not our job to bring conviction to our listeners.
But the substance of John’s preaching should prompt us to be willing to say what needs to be said to get people to face the truth. Preaching needs to confront the reality that we are not morally neutral agents. Our primary need is not moral encouragement or spiritual reassurance. Our primary need is to face the reality of our sin and the provision that Jesus made to have our sin removed.
If one of the points in the “Seven ways to be a better father” sermon does not involve faith in Jesus Christ and repentance from sin, then an opportunity has been missed. The gospel must infuse every sermon.
Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and rebellion. But he often uses preaching to do so. Are we willing to say what needs to be said and follow the leading of the Spirit when we are called to confront our listeners?
I don’t like confrontation. I’m not one to get into other people’s business. So this whole subject comes with a lot of discomfort to me. But the preaching of John the Baptist reminds me that I am not called to be inoffensive. I am called to be truthful. Certainly the truth must be conveyed in a way that is tempered by love, but love cannot be used as an excuse to avoid speaking the truth.