One of the ways I seek to develop my preaching is by listening to sermons from a wide variety of preaching styles. I usually listen to brothers within my theological family such as Tim Keller, Eric Mason, Ligon Duncan, and Russ Whitfield, but I am also beginning to listen to preaching from popular mega-church preachers such as TD Jakes and Steven Furtick. I want to glean from their obvious gifting and communication techniques. Listening to these men encourages me to become a better communicator.
But in the process of learning, I can’t help but be deeply grieved. Yesterday, I listened to TD Jakes preach on the story of Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9. You may remember that God took the kingdom away from King Saul because of his disobedience. Then Saul became the sworn enemy of God’s anointed successor, David. Eventually, Saul and his sons were killed, and David ascended to the throne. But David, a man after God’s own heart, wanted to show kindness to one of Saul’s remaining descendants. So he brought Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson who was “crippled in his feet,” into the palace to “eat at the king’s table like one of the king’s sons.”
Jakes opened the sermon with a very powerful illustration. He asked the audience if anyone had a $100 bill. A lady quickly came down and Jakes exchanged it for $20s. But he only gave her $60. In the awkward moment that followed, he began to explain that she had been “shortchanged.” Jakes then preached for 55 minutes about how people are shortchanged in life because of neglect and abuse, poverty and sickness. He compared this to how Mephibosheth lost the kingdom and how he was dropped as a baby, none of which was his own doing. Jakes said, “You’ve been shortchanged, but God’s going to put you on somebody’s mind who is in a position to restore what you lost!” Jakes closed the sermon by paying back the lady from the crowd and giving her even more cash than she started with. You could feel how this resonated with the crowd. It was a powerful rhetorical moment.
But here’s the problem. People walk away from that message feeling like they are victims that have been shortchanged, and worse, that God owes them something. This entitlement attitude is the essence of what is often called the “prosperity gospel.” But the true gospel is just the opposite. God doesn’t owe us anything. We are the ones who owe a debt to God because of our sins, and it is a debt we can never pay. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are not just innocent victims who’ve been shortchanged in life. We are God’s enemies who deserve death. The true gospel is the message that God shows kindness to his enemies, like David did to Mephibosheth. By his grace, God forgives our debt because Jesus gave his life as full payment. Like King David, God not only forgives us, but brings us into a place of honor. We are seated with Mephibosheth at the King’s table, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s bountiful grace!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think TD Jakes is trying to help people, and I have mad respect for his leadership and oratory skills, but getting the gospel right is a matter of eternal life or death.
“For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23