The Danger of a Sensational Gospel
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…”
Matthew 4:6a ESV
P.T. Barnum was described as the greatest showman on earth. His ability to promote his enterprises and draw
crowds was legendary. He understood that in people’s ordinary lives there was a desire to see and experience something extraordinary; something spectacular. The likes of Tiny Tim, the Bearded Lady and Jumbo were just a few of Barnum’s gifts to the world. The longing to see something amazing is in us all, and yet, that very desire can be a stumbling block for the Christian.
In the second temptation of Jesus, Satan makes an interesting suggestion. He sets Christ on the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and tells Him to cast Himself down. Surely the angels will catch Him just in time, as promised in the Psalm that Satan quoted. (Psalm 91:11,12) This high place was at the corner of the Temple mount and dropped some four-hundred feet into the Kidron Valley below. What was the devil suggesting? He was trying to get Jesus to draw men to Himself by means of providing a spectacular feat. If you will amaze the crowds in Jerusalem with this extraordinary act, then men will recognize your Messiahship. Use your power, Jesus, to profound their senses and startle their minds and you will have them eating out of your hand. Become the Greatest Showman of Earth and tickets will sell like hotcakes.
Thankfully, Jesus rejected the offer and continued on His path to the Cross. He knew that whatever “show” He offered would require a bigger show the next time the crowd gathered. He also understood that men needed a Savoir, not a showman. Men needed to understand how sin had crippled them and what Christ could do in their lives.
The temptations of Christ are recorded in scripture for the purpose of our knowing how we will be tempted as believers. Church history reveals that these three lures still plague us today. So how does this second temptation of creating a spectacle manifest itself in the church? I would suggest just a few of the many ways this trick of the devil confronts us today. First, when we preachers try to amaze men with our oratory skills. Next, when our churches attempt to impress the crowd with theatrical stage productions. Finally, when we teachers offer spectacular teachings that have no ground in truth. These are just three; there are many more. Any attempt to sensationalize the rugged truth of the gospel is a candidate for this type of foolishness. The attention must be on Christ, not us.
The timeless and tough the words of Oswald Chamber still ring true today. “The Church always faces the danger of going into show business.” Whether that involves glamorous stage productions or showy solos, the pitfalls involve more than just bad taste; they are distractions away from the gospel itself. A word of encouragement to my fellow preachers; stick with the gospel and that alone. Leave the results to God. In the end we will be judged, not by how big a crowd we drew, but by how faithful we were with preaching Christ alone.