It is the biggest temptation every preacher deals with. Every
preacher? Yes, every preacher; and if one ever tells you he or she has never experienced its power, do not buy a used computer from that preacher. What is it? Popularity!
Phillips Brooks, who gave the world his wonderful carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” knew popularity’s seductive powers. As a preacher, he experienced it firsthand and declared, “To set one’s heart on being popular is fatal to the preacher’s best growth. It is the worst and feeblest part of your congregation that makes itself heard in vociferous applause, and it applauds that in you which pleases it.”
Truth is that the love of popularity does not just seduce preachers. Everybody likes to be liked. For preachers, however, it is an especially deadly enticement. More than one unusually gifted preacher has been caught up in its grips and weakened, even destroyed, by its deadly power.
These days Jesus is literally everywhere. He is in newspapers and on the covers of magazines. He is on TV and radio.
You can find Him on football fields and on the tailgates of SUVs. He gets a mention in the great debates of the day—from Iraq to gay marriage, from evolution to the environment.
He is a celebrity unequalled in human history, this Jesus you and I are called to preach. My granddaughters might tell you, “He’s hot!” That’s right, He sizzles! Of course, it will not last, will it? Jesus will go out of fashion as quickly as He came in once the media tires of Him, don’t you agree? No? Me neither!
The fact is that Jesus Christ is gaining. He has more followers than ever before. Despite Newsweek
magazine’s recent lead story that Christianity is declining in America, the fact remains that Jesus is very popular. I have a feeling that Jesus does not read Newsweek
, not even online! Frankly, I am not sure that He really cares what Newsweek thinks, nor CBS, NBC, FOX and all the others. After all, He was here before they came into being, and He will still be here after they are gone. That is just who He is. He has been well-liked—actually, loved—for the better part of 2,000 years. He knows popularity very well.
Have you noticed lately the number of people who have acquired a tattooed likeness of Jesus on a bicep, leg or some other less-seen body part? A tattoo artist I met at a gas station not long ago told me he gets a lot of requests from people—men and women—who want Jesus’ picture on their torso. I guess it is hip to be seen with Jesus on your hip or to carry Him around on some body part that says you know who He is. “Why do you think that is?” I asked the skin painter. He smiled back, “He’s the Man!”
The press may not treat Him like “He’s the Man,” but the fact is that He is No. 1; the biggest One who ever walked on planet Earth. His poll numbers hold steady. Fully 80 percent of Americans believe He was and is the Son of God. Now that is a number any politician could live with! However, even if they could get 80 percent of the vote, politicians and presidents would still come and go; they rise and fall. Even earthly kings and queens live and die, but Jesus just will not go away.
And Jesus knows a bit about popularity. He had that great Sunday when the donkey carried Him through the streets of Jerusalem and the people lined the edge of every road waving branches and calling out, “Hosanna!” He understands better than anybody who ever lived that popularity is a very fleeting thing. Before that week had run its course, some of those same Hosanna-shouting voices screamed out, “Crucify Him!” They preferred a thug over the best person who ever lived! That’s popularity, for you! That’s what it does, and that’s how it “un-does”!
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4
Never confuse the will of the majority with the will of God, especially when you preach. Majorities have a way of evaporating in a hurry. More than one preacher has learned that. That is why smart preachers always preach for an audience of One!
You are not called to please the masses—just the One!