Reality TV has now ventured into the job market. NBC offers “America’s Toughest Jobs” while the Discovery Channel shows “Dangerous Jobs.” While it would never make the list of scintillating entertainment, preaching certainly qualifies on the basis of difficulty.
Who would volunteer to speak to a church where the people ignore what you say? Who would candidate at a church where the congregational profile described the people as rebellious and callused? That was Isaiah’s job description (Isaiah 6:9-10). Who would sign up to pastor a church that was shrinking and dying before your very eyes? Who would willingly preach a message of doom and gloom week after week, sandwiched among all the funerals you would be called to perform? That was Jeremiah’s job description (Jeremiah 1:9-10). Sounds like worthy candidates for Tough & Dangerous Jobs to me.
There are times when preaching feels like a burden. Perhaps not in the Isaiah or Jeremiah sense, but a weighty responsibility nonetheless. Yesterday was one of those occasions for me.
Last week, I began preaching a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than rush through the Beatitudes, I decided to take one each week and unpack the meaning. Yesterday, in a message entitled, “Good grief!” we considered, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). I approached the message by trying to answer four questions: What is mourning? What are we to mourn? How is mourning beneficial? How are we to mourn?
As I discovered during my study, the key to understanding Matthew 5:3-4, (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”), is in understanding Isaiah 61:1-3 and 40:1-2.
At the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:16-20), Jesus stated that he came to fulfill Isaiah 61. The reason Israel was poor, brokenhearted, and mourning was because of the sin of the nation. Because they disobeyed God’s laws, he sent the nation into exile.
Thus, when Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” his listeners would understand he meant spiritually bankruptcy. When he said, “Blessed are those who mourn,” they would know he meant mourning for their sin. When Jesus promised comfort, the people of Israel would immediately think of Isaiah 40:1-2, where the comfort promised meant forgiveness.
As I put the message together, I came to the conclusion that I needed to challenge the congregation that we needed to mourn for our sin–personal sin, corporate sin, and national sin–because we could not truly experience the joy of salvation and forgiveness until we dealt with our sin.
All week long, that message felt like a millstone around my neck. I was antsy and restless on Saturday. I did not want to preach on sin. I did not want to confront those who wink at sin rather than deal with it. And yet I felt like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Whether or not I liked the message, that is what God had laid on my heart that this group of people needed to hear that week. And so I did my best to deliver that burden.