By Elizabeth Prata
On April 19, 2020, a Georgia pastor delivered a sermon about the COVID-19 issue, the biometric chip, mark of the beast, government conspiracy, vaccines, and Hegelian dialectic.
Many people lauded the sermon. It is getting a lot of play, re-postings, and comments in my area. Maybe because we’re fellow Georgians and his church isn’t that far. Maybe because not many other pastors have directly addressed these issues from the pulpit in this manner and people were hungry for some answers.
There’s a reason not many pastors have preached directly or solely on the pandemic. It is always wiser to preach Christ and Him crucified. Not that mentioning major events happening in the world that affect us or scare us isn’t warranted, but focusing an entire sermon on what amounts to speculations and conspiracy theories in my opinion isn’t the best way to do it.
Topical or thematic preaching can have a reverse effect where the text becomes a means to an end not the end itself. This becomes psychological and therapeutic support for the congregation as a whole because the messages are derived from social concerns and ills not from the whole counsel of the Bible. John W. Lewis, Insights From Charles Spurgeon’s Christ-Centered Preaching for a Changing Culture
In expository preaching, even if a pastor needs to address a certain topic,
“To expound scripture is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and His people obey Him.” ~John Stott
There’s a difference between mentioning a major event touching all of a local body and offering biblical Gospel hope from a text, and with focusing a sermon on a temporal event and delivering a gospel-less speech devoid of hope. The former is biblical exegesis and the latter is newspaper exegesis. There is a great gulf between them.
In October 19, 1856, 12,000 people jammed into London’s Surrey Gardens Music Hall, a venue that was rented to hold the ever increasing crowds excited to hear the young Charles Spurgeon. It was a fundraiser to build the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Seekers were crammed inside from floor to upper balcony. 10,000 more crowded close outside, wanting to hear. As the sermon was about to start, someone called out “fire!” and that the balcony was collapsing. There wasn’t, but the ensuing stampede killed 7 and direly injured 28 more. Spurgeon never recovered from the grief and resulting depression. He lay at home prostrate for two weeks, inconsolable and unable to study. But 2 weeks later he ascended the pulpit again. What was his topic? The Exaltation of Christ.
His text was Philippians 2:9-11. Spurgeon said, “This text has afforded sweet consolation to every heir of heaven“, and then went on with explaining it. He didn’t ignore the disaster that resonates to this day, but he exposited the Bible to help people work through the grief that the event had caused. The focus was Christ.
On January 17, 1994 in Northridge California, people were hurled out of their beds at 4:40 am by a devastating 6.7 magnitude earthquake. It caused 57 deaths and 8,700 injuries. Damage was assessed (in today’s dollars) at to $22–86 billion, making it one of the costliest disasters ever in US history. The epicenter was practically under Grace Community Church, where John MacArthur pastors. (7 miles away).
It was a major traumatizing event of high concern for all the people who attended that church. Six days after, MacArthur ascended the pulpit and gave a sermon entitled “Lessons from the earthquake“. His first point was “God is sovereign.”
He did the same after 9/11, an event that consumed every American’s attention as well as the world’s, with the sermon A Biblical Perspective on Death, Terrorism, and the Middle East, Pt 1 with the first point being, Romans 3:10- “Man is basically evil.”
Ladies, be careful of pursuing sermons or books that are focused on an event and go back to the Bible to cherry pick verses that match it. This is known as newspaper exegesis, or drawing meaning out of an event of the day and matching it to Bible prophecy. I used to do that a lot in the very early days of the blog but I’m grateful the Lord brought me out of that as my walk matured and my worldview shifted to Bible texts instead of current events. (In his very early days John MacArthur used to do that too, which I find funny. But that phase didn’t last long).
We all “want to know.” We all want to peek behind the curtain and follow people who think they have a corner on that peek. We’re all curious about prophecy, probably no one more than me! I named this blog The End Time to remind me and everyone who reads it that we are in the end time now and time is short. (The end time is spans between Jesus’ ascension and His return.)
We’re all anxious for clues as to where we are on the timeline of His great plan and yearn for the day when time shall be no more. Probably no one more than me! I think about the rapture very day and the moment when my body will be divested of sin and I can worship Jesus purely.
But as compelling as it is, there are dangers with newspaper exegesis.
1. Wonky interpretations. Newspaper exegesis sometimes forces an interpretation of a text that isn’t there or stretches too far. If we focus on Jesus and use proper interpretation methods, we will always stand on solid ground.
2. Fear mongering. It’s one thing to want to inform the people but it’s important to rein it in and soon get to preaching the word ASAP. We don’t see one sermon in the Bible where current events are the focus, and there were a lot of current events. When Jesus mentioned the Tower of Siloam collapse, He didn’t even need to explain or remind about it, it was apparently a huge event everyone knew about. Yet his focus wasn’t on what the tragedy meant in terms of cultural context or His prophetic plan, he focused on the certainty of death and the eternal hereafter. His point was “Repent or perish.” Dwelling on a tragic cultural event in place of the word only inflames fears and anxiety. Preaching the word of God calms fears because it gives us a good perspective, the eternal perspective.
3. Disappointment. Inevitably, when people preach current events and match them to prophecy, time goes on and as we move away from the event that caused so much interest, we get disappointed in prophecy. That is a shame. Prophecy is amazing. Biblical prophecy that is. It’s exciting enough on its own, don’t you think? Of the “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988” not one of them proved valid. We’re still here three decades later, right? Of all the blood moons, not one of them affected anything except photographers who got some good pictures. Is Planet Earth late, great yet? Headlines change, Jesus doesn’t. The only antidote for fear is to remind ourselves we are not citizens of this world and to point to Jesus. We are never disappointed in Jesus!
4. Preach the word. We read in scripture that those called to preach, must preach the word, in season and out of season. People enter the kingdom through the word heard, not newspaper events dissected.
As for me, I look at what I know, not what I think about things I can never prove or get to the bottom of. If a pandemic happened it was because Jesus wanted it to. If people died it was because Jesus wanted it to. It might even be a massive pushing forward of His prophetic plan. None of that changes what I do from day to day: study His word, share the Gospel and live a quiet life working with my hands and minding my business (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).