If someone would ask us the two most challenging places for us to preach, many of us would list the seminary chapel and the congregation where we grew up. A key challenge in both places is that those listening to us might not see us first of all as preacher. At seminary, those listening are tempted to see only a student or classmate (whose foibles and failings they know quite well). In our home congregation, they see the little boy they saw grow up (perhaps with an embarrassing story they could tell about us).
In next Sunday’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6), we see just such a stumbling block impact the preaching ministry of Jesus. He comes to Nazareth and preaches in the synagogue where he has worshiped since childhood. As the preaching reviews come in, at first all seems to go well. “Where did this man get these things?” “What’s this wisdom that has been given him that he even does miracles?” But things degenerate quickly. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” All of this Satan happily uses to help trip them up and turn their hearts from Jesus’ powerful message. “And so they took offense at him.”
The application of this to our own preaching doesn’t cease even if we aren’t typically preaching where we used to gum Cheerios. The larger issue involved here is the offense people are still going to take from the humble clay jar that pours out the gospel treasure. If even the perfect God/man had to struggle with people taking offense at the humility of his servant’s form, where does that leave us who wear not just that servant’s form but that form marred by personal sin and our unique human weaknesses?
Sure, we talk about not putting barriers in the way of the gospel – and rightly so – but the bottom line is this: to a greater degree than we may realize we cannot escape it. Our sinful nature tags along with us every day of ministry – he’s even arrogant enough to accompany us into the pulpit! Our human weaknesses are forever on display, often far more than we realize!
But please don’t miss the importance of the ending of this Sunday’s gospel. “And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” The offense he knew could impact many in Nazareth hadn’t stopped him from preaching there – amazed as he would be by their unbelief! And the offense and unbelief of many in village after village also did not stop him from continuing to preach and teach. Until the offense finally lead them to nail him to his cross, he would not stop proclaiming because the message he had was the only one that could save them from their own stubborn hearts.
His refusal to grow silent in discouragement covers my sins of preacher discouragement! And at the very same time, that leads me to imitate him by refusing to go silent! Instead of despairing that many may take offense at a clay jar messenger, and instead of becoming paralyzed by the additional impact of our personal sinfulness and our human weaknesses, he calls us to follow him and just keep preaching. After all, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as [their] servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Co 4:5).
So we preach, knowing that offense and unbelief will never be far away from the proclamation of the gospel. At times, the tenacity of the stubborn human heart will amaze us too. Yet by such preaching of the gospel we know that God has ordained to save souls. And, he has called you, a forgiven sinner with all your weaknesses, to do just that.
The more we think about it, that is even more amazing!