Mark Dever and I are considering, someday, writing a book together about preaching. In one of the sections of this imagined book, there would be a transcript of one or two of Mark’s sermons punctuated by comments from him reflecting on the sermon. Why did you say that, Mark? What were you thinking when you did that? Was that in your notes, or was that just Dever unplugged?
That kind of “inside baseball” talk is common here at CHBC. We have a weekly review of the services, late on Sunday night, where we pick over Mark’s sermons in a good bit of detail, and those are exactly the kinds of questions Mark answers. To be perfectly honest, after knowing Mark for so many years, I can very often make a pretty good guess as to how he’s going to answer. Sometimes, though, I walk away with something that’s just pure gold.
Something like that happened last night as Mark was explaining why he began his sermon the way he did. He was preaching on Jesus’ teaching about hell in Mark 9, and he started the sermon with an introduction about how modern Americans absolutely hate to be motivated by fear. To be urged to do something out of fear of what might happen seems somehow beneath us, primal and primitive and not worthy of us. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—that’s become something of a national motto, and a prima facie justification for dismissing anything that presumes to warn anyone about anything.
And yet the fear of hell’s eternal torments is exactly what that passage in Mark 9 is about. We are supposed to shrink back from the thought of enduring God’s wrath, and that is supposed to motivate us to repent of sin and trust in Christ. No, the fear of hell isn’t the only motivation to that action, but it most certainly is one.
But how do you get people to listen to a point like that? How do you get that truth into someone’s heart who is predisposed from the very first word to dismiss you as a fear-monger? That’s why, Mark told us, he did the work in his introduction of shining light on this subconscious, total rejection of fear as a motivator, and then exploring the question, “But what if there really is something to be afraid of?” The point was to help people reexamine that knee-jerk rejection of any kind of fear, and perhaps crack the door open so they could hear Jesus’ warnings.
“I felt like I was having to be a master lock-pick,” he said, “to get in there and unlock that door so this truth could make it into the heart.”
I think that’s a great image, and it points to a very important job that we have as preachers of God’s word. Ask yourself this question as you prepare: What intellectual, emotional, or cultural strongholds are going to keep these people from hearing this truth I’m about to preach? What can I do to clear those obstacles out of the way? What locks stand between this truth and my hearers’ hearts? And what can I do to pick them?