I do not usually remember my dreams and I don’t usually put much stock in them but I had a dream the other night that was very vivid.
I was standing before a crowd of people and it obvious by their stance and facial expressions that I was being interviewed and evaluated by them. It had the feel of being a meeting to consider me a candidate as their pastor and the subject was my preaching. They were studying me carefully. Then one of the crowd, a spokesperson it seemed, looked at me very carefully and asked me a question: “Do you consider yourself a crowd pleaser?”
All the people turned their heads slightly to make sure they heard my answer.
My reply came right away, “Oh no,” I said, “I have crowds that will tell you that I did not please them at all.”
“Oh? Then what’s your preaching like?”
What surprised me as I reflected on the dream was the ease of my answer. It seemed so simple and matter of fact, “I preach Christ, and him crucified. That’s about it.”
Then a smile and a nod started to ripple around the people, toward me and toward each other. The spokesperson smiled, “Oh. That’s good!” And the crowd started to disperse here and there around me, most making eye contact and giving a small smile as they passed.
I awoke at that point.
The dream had me reflecting the next morning in my devotions while I was doing a close study of 2 Timothy 1.11-12a. There the Apostle Paul when describing the gospel ministry says: “…for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.”
What is the reason for this tension between pleasing the crowd and preaching the gospel? What is there about the gospel which people hate and oppose, and on account of which those who preach it have to chose between pleasing the crowd and Christ crucified?
Just this: God saves sinners in virtue of his own purpose and grace, and not in virtue of their good works. It is the undeserved freeness of the gospel which offends. The ‘natural’ or unregenerate person hates to have to admit the gravity of their sin and guilt, their complete helplessness to save themselves, the indispensable necessity of God’s grace and Christ’s sinbearing death to save them, and therefore their inescapable indebtedness to the cross. This is what Paul meant by ‘the stumbling block of the cross’.
Many preachers succumb to the temptation to mute it. They preach man and his merit to the crowd instead of Christ and his cross, and they substitute the one for the other ‘in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ’ (Galatians 6.12 & 5.11). No man can preach Christ crucified with faithfulness and escape opposition, even persecution.