Sermon Illustrations

When I first came to Reno to start a church, now about 22 years ago, my church planting advisors pointed me toward two men, two pastors who had had an extremely positive and successful experience in their church planting experiences. They had both planted churches in the past decade which had already exploded into megachurches. I think one in the Chicago area had already reached the 10,000 attender mark; the other was more recently planted in Southern California and consisted of 3,000 and was growing by leaps abounds bounds and would eventually become more than 10,000 as well.

Both of these church planters promoted a ministry philosophy that was called being seeker-sensitive. The idea was to avoid unnecessarily offending unchurched people with typical things churches and pastors tend to do. And it had a lot to commend it; I bought it.

And included in that was something called encouraging preaching, an idea promoted by the church planting pastor in Southern California. Since the Bible says we’re to encourage each other in Hebrews 10:24-25 and other places, it sounded good to me. So I tried it. I began ordering the tapes of this pastor’s sermons and using them as a model for mine, and it worked. My church began to grow. People were impressed.

But a problem began to develop for me. The more I followed this philosophy, the more embarrassed I became about some portions of Scripture. The more I felt like I couldn’t preach certain portions of Scripture and be encouraging at the same time. And then there came a day when I listened to one of this man’s sermon and it stopped me cold.

You see, I had been preaching through the book of James. And the series had gone great, especially with this pastor’s help through his tapes. But one day we came to James 5. James’ tone changes here. He’s suddenly preaching at least in part to unbelievers. And he begins berating the portion of these unbelievers who were rich, and were in the habit of robbing their poor laborers of their wages and living in luxury at their expense. He threatens them that they and their stuff would rot in hell as a result.

And the first thing I notice is the tape doesn’t sound like the others. As I think about it, it seems that the message is not spoken in a large auditorium or gym like the others. It sounds like its in a smaller room with a smaller audience. And then, the pastor departs from his custom. He doesn’t preach from the Word of God, He doesn’t preach from the advertised passage. Instead, he immediately dismisses it as one of the most negative passages in the Bible. And instead of preaching on this passage, which again is about hell and against great sinners, he substitutes his own subject. And his own subject was how to manage your finances. Not a word about hell, or impending judgment for those who cheat others out of their wages.

I suddenly understood what this now famous preacher meant by encouraging preaching. Don’t preach about anything negative. Don’t preach about hell and damnation, even when it is what God is saying in His Holy Scriptures.

I suddenly realized why I was feeling embarrassed about what God had to say for Himself. I suddenly realized I could follow this pastor’s philosophy and preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I suddenly realized that this man was substituting his own wisdom for God’s wisdom, and who was he, or for that me, to think we knew better than God.

And so this morning we come to one of the most negative passages in all of Scripture. And we are going preach for all it’s worth. Because it’s something you need to know about. God said so. And I believe Him.

It’s Revelation 16. It’s about God’s Judgment upon Mankind and the Nations of the Earth. It’s about what’s going to happen in the end to those who reject God’s kindness and grace and determine to follow Satan way and their own rebellious ways. It’s also about what’s going happen to us if we reject God’s mercy shown through Christ and go our own way. And it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t good, and it isn’t comfortable, but it may encourage you in some way today to something you might not do under any other circumstances.

And along these lines two verses occurred to me this week which justify a message like this: First, Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. What is it that motivates us to follow God at first? It’s fear. Fear of God. Fear of God is a wise and good thing. It certainly motivated me at the first to seek to be right God. It may be an uncomfortable, but it is a good thing. People who despise wisdom and instruction being made uncomfortable may actually be the very fools this verse is talking about.

And second, an obscure verse found at Romans 11:22. “Behold, the kindness and severity of God.” The context is about what happened to Jews who rejected Christ, and what happens to Gentiles, who in their place received Christ as their Messiah and Savior. The Jews who rejected Christ, they will and have experienced the severity of God’s justice. The Gentiles, who in their place, believed and trusted in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, they received the kindness of God. But I want us to focus on that first word. Do you know what “Behold” means? It’s a command, and it means to look at this. Examine this. In this case, examine also the Severity of God. God is here saying that He not only wants you to look at the kindness of God. But he wants you to take a careful look at the severity of God for those who reject his Son. He wants you took at God’s Justice, and His Wrath, and He wants you to consider just happens to those who blow of Jesus Christ. He wants you to see the big picture and before you take Christ and God Almighty lightly, to know what happens to those who do.

And so if you are inclined to blow off God, this morning, think twice. Behold the severity of God before you dare to blow Him or His Son off.

And we see the severity in Revelation 16. The time for Judgment of the nations of the earth, and especially those who have taken the mark of the Antichrist and follow Him, has finally come.

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