There’s a story that I had heard before but read again last week in preparation for this past Sunday’s sermon. I shared it with our congregation, and I think it provides us with an important reminder. The story is of a man named Peter Cartwright who was a great circuit-riding Methodist preacher in Illinois. He was an uncompromising man who went north from Tennessee because of his opposition to slavery. One Sunday morning when he was scheduled to preach, his deacons told him that President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation. They knew Cartwright was used to saying whatever he felt God wanted him to say, regardless of how people might react. So, they felt they should warn him not to say anything that would offend the President.
Cartwright heard their concern, but stood up that morning to preach and said, “I understand President Andrew Jackson is here. I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he does not repent.” As you can imagine, the congregation was shocked. They wondered how the President would respond to this. But after the service he told Cartwright, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”
When I think about this story, I cannot help but see the sharp contrast between it and the sermon Dr. Robert Jeffress preached to President Trump, Vice-President Pence, and their families on the day of the inauguration. You can find the text of the sermon here.
It’s not surprising that Dr. Jeffress was asked to preach the sermon for this private church service on the morning of the inauguration. Neither is it surprising that he took his text from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a wonderful book that has been used many time by preachers seeking to talk about leadership. Much of what Dr. Jeffress said was true, and might be found in a sermon you or I would preach from Nehemiah.
But there was something strangely missing from Dr. Jeffress’ sermon. Not one time did he mention Jesus. The sermon had three points. The final point was “Nehemiah Sought God’s Help To Empower Him.” It was meant as an important encouragement to President Trump to seek God’s help throughout his presidency. That’s certainly a good admonition. But it was also a perfect opportunity to point President Trump to Jesus. The first step to being empowered by God is to repent and believe.
The truth is that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That is true for Dr. Jeffress. That is true for you and me. And it is true for President Trump. Regardless of how you feel about President Trump as our 45th President, as believers we should long for his salvation. We should pray that he would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, even suggesting that our new president isn’t a Christian is heresy to some. But all we need to do is take him at his word and it’s clear that he is not. He has said that he has no need for forgiveness. There has been no public profession of faith in Christ. The person who supposedly led him to Christ is a prosperity gospel heretic. There is no fruit giving evidence of repentance of sin and faith in Jesus.
I don’t necessarily wish that Dr. Jeffress had channeled his inner Cartwright and said, “President-elect Trump will go to hell if he does not repent.” But I do wish He had preached the gospel. I do wish he had shared with President Trump the hope that is only found in the Lord Jesus. There’s no doubt that it was a missed opportunity.
But what about us? It’s easy to beat up on Dr. Jeffress. It’s easy to point out the things that he could have and should have said. But what about our own commitment to preach Christ no matter where we are or who we are speaking to?
I find it very easy to stand in my pulpit on Sunday mornings and boldly proclaim the gospel. I find it much more difficult to turn a conversation about the weather with my neighbor into an opportunity to share Jesus with him.
Oh to God that He would raise up for Himself within our convention an army of people who will commit themselves to boldly speak the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at school, at work, in the grocery store, at the park, in our homes, and wherever we may go to whomever we may come in contact with. It is only then that we will begin to see lostness pushed back and people coming to faith in Jesus.
Could it be that the reason we are not bold in the gospel is because we do not really believe that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus? Could it be that we do not really believe that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved? Could it be that we don’t really believe that our neighbor who is a nice person will go to hell if she does not repent of her sin and believe on the Lord Jesus?
Oh sure, we confess this truth with our mouths. We would never say openly that Jesus was wrong when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
But why the disconnect? Why doesn’t our belief in that truth affect our actions? Why doesn’t it propel us to open our mouths and share the gospel with our lost family members? Why doesn’t it propel you to pray and weep for your lost neighbor, and then walk across the street and share Jesus with him? Why are we content to keep the gospel to ourselves if we really believe that people all around us will die and go to hell if they do not repent of their sin and believe on the Lord Jesus?
May our God give us boldness in the gospel, and may it start with me.