The Explicit Gospel. I discuss God’s sovereignty, our sin, the work of Christ on the cross, and what our response should be to all of this. I am going to be honest; I really wrestled with whether or not I should have this as my first lesson in my new church. We talk about sin and hell a lot. I discuss the idea that ultimately God doesn’t need our worship or even us, and we need to humble ourselves from being the center of our universes. I discuss that while God doesn’t need us, he wants us; but because of our sin we deserve conscious, eternal torment in Hell administered by God’s wrath. Yeah… it is heavy. I go on to talk about the good news that Jesus absorbs the wrath of God for us by taking the punishment we deserve; that when we say we are “saved;” we are saved from the wrath of God being poured out on us. I discuss that if Grace is getting the opposite of what we deserve, then Jesus got the opposite of what he deserved by being crushed by the Father for our redemption. Tomorrow I am going to talk about how there are only two ways to respond to hearing a message like this: Either repent and believe and be a follower of Jesus; or, be dense towards the truth, reject God’s free gift, and continue being an enemy of God sprinting to Hell. Though I 100% believe everything I just said, there is still a small amount of fear that comes up in my heart, because teaching on Hell and God’s wrath isn’t a good way to pump up numbers in a youth ministry. We are told to teach the heavier things in small groups, where it can be controlled and people can push back without feeling awkward. But, talking to students about the reality of Hell, sin, and how we deserve God’s righteous wrath right out the gate in this new ministry position? I second-guessed myself. Do students need to hear this? Right now? What if they leave before giving me a chance because of my message? What if they don’t find me funny or relatable? What if my ministry wont grow because of this? Do I want to be characterized as the angry Cuban guy with the beard that talks about Hell? These questions were real and I thought about them. But then I read Acts 2:14-36. Let’s just say this isn’t Peter’s most seeker-sensitive sermon. He unapologetically discusses that Jesus is God (verse 22). He points out that the crushing of Jesus is by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (verse 23). And not once, but twice he mentions that they crucified him (verse 23 & 36). This sermon by Peter is rich with theology and is heavy on conviction. So how did the people react to such a heavy sermon?
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41 ESV)It cut the hearts of those who heard and they were told to “repent and believe”. The good news about preaching the Gospel, whether it is to students or to adults, is that it is God who changes the hearts of men, not how articulate you are or how careful you are with your words. The truth is what will change the heart of our students. And as for my fear about the youth group not growing after these messages: According to Peter’s sermon, “3,000 souls” were saved that day. I am not saying my youth group will multiply to that number, but I am confident that the Gospel saves people and if the Lord saw fit to grow my ministry, it can grow through the preaching of the Gospel and not by my awesomeness. Be bold tomorrow, or this weekend, or whenever you meet with your students. Don’t shy away from the heavy stuff. Contextualize the message to reach the students but be consistent with the truth. Students want authenticity and honesty. They may reject the message, but don’t take it personally. That is a battle between their souls and Jesus. Don’t give up. Keep dishing the out the meat. If the Lord sees fit to soften their hearts, they will appreciate your diligence to not watering it down for them.