April 14, 2009

The devil is a preacher. From the third chapter of the Bible onward, he is opening up God’s word to people, seeking to interpret it, to apply it, to offer an invitation.

So the old Serpent of Eden comes to the primeval woman not with a Black Mass and occult symbols, but with the Word she’d received from her God—with the snake’s peculiar spin on it. Throughout the rest of the canon he does the same, implicitly or explicitly.

Throughout the Old Testament, he preaches peace—just like the angels of Bethlehem do—except he does so when there is no peace. He points God’s people to the particulars of worship commanded by God—sacrifices and offerings and feast-days—just without the preeminent mandates of love, justice, and mercy. Satan even preaches to God—about the proper motives needed for godly discipleship on the part of God’s servants.

In the New Testament, the satanic deception leads the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees to pore endlessly over biblical texts, just missing the point of Christ Jesus therein. They come to conclusions that have partially biblical foundations—the devil’s messages are always expository—they just intentionally avoid Jesus.

So, the scoffers feel quite comfortable asking how a man from Nazareth could be Messiah when the coming King is of Bethlehem. They find themselves wondering how the Son of Man can be crucified when the Bible says he lives forever. When Jesus says those who follow him should eat his flesh and drink his blood, there’s little doubt that the Adversary was there to point the crowds to Leviticus’ forbidding of the consumption of human blood. When the satanically inspired crowds crucified Jesus, they did so pointing to biblical texts that called for the execution of blasphemers and insurrectionists (Deut 21).

When the early church rockets out of the upper room in Jerusalem, Satan is there, with false teachers, to preach all kinds of things that seem to be straight from God’s word—from libertinism to legalism to hyper-spirituality to carnality. He never stops preaching.

But the devil is boring.

That seems like exactly the opposite of what would be true of Satan. We think of the Tempter—and his temptations—as darkly exciting, tantalizing, seemingly irresistible.

But that’s not at all the case. False teaching in the Scripture—and in the ages of the church ever since—is boring. Read the expositions of Job’s counselors—and compare them to the proclamation of God at the end of the book of Job. Read what Balaam was paid to preach compared to what he announced through the power of the Spirit.

Satanic preaching is boring because the goal isn’t to engage people with preaching. It’s to leave the “desires of the flesh” alone, so that the hearers may continue in their captivity to the prince of the power of this air.

For some, dull sermons are themselves a sign of godliness.

After all, doesn’t the Apostle warn us against “lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Cor 2:1)? But the kind of rhetoric Paul is railing against here isn’t exciting—it’s typical in an era in which Greek rhetoric is everywhere. Paul doesn’t contrast engaging speech with dull speech, but the demonstration of human craft with the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:5). Indeed, Paul says his message is a “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor 2:7), the unveiling of an ancient mystery that unlocks the meaning of everything.

Jesus was often poorly received—but he never bored. When he preached, demons shrieked, crowds gasped, and services sometimes ended with attempted executions rather than altar calls. The prophets before him and the apostles after him were just like that too. They provoked shouts of happiness or warrants for arrest but they never prompted yawns.

If lost people don’t like your message because they’re hostile to the gospel, you’re in good company. But if you’re boring the people of God with the Word of God, something has gone seriously awry. It may be that you preach just like the devil, and that you don’t even know it.