By Mike Mazyck
I was sitting in my living room, watching the recording of a twenty-year-old sermon, when I heard those ten unforgettable words. I could not believe my ears. In an instant, I was glued to the screen. And even though I wasn’t physically in the room with them, I saw the countenance of the entire audience shift. Tension filled the atmosphere!
At a 2002 youth conference, a man steps up to the pulpit, preparing to preach to an eager audience of over five thousand teens. He opens up his message with great boldness and delivers a stinging rebuke of the lukewarm version of Christianity being walked out in America. Immediately, the entire room erupts in applause, giving their enthusiastic approval of his admonition. But then, as the applause finally subsides and the room gets quiet, something else happens. The preacher looks down for a moment in silence. Taking a somber step forward, he slowly raises his head, looks out into the audience, and then, pointing his finger at them, he delivered ten of the most sobering words those youth had ever heard; “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE CLAPPING; I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU!”
As if a bucket of ice water had been thrown in their faces, thousands of youth were instantly jarred awake from a sleep they had no idea they were in. But they weren’t the only ones. Because sitting there, alone on my couch — twenty years later — those ten words shifted the atmosphere in my house, too. That stinging cold water had just jolted me from my own apathetic slumber as well.
There was no more applause for the remainder of that 57-minute sermon. Not one clap. Only deafening silence as Paul Washer delivered one of the most powerful sermons I have ever heard preached. That sermon is now widely known throughout evangelical Christianity as “The Shocking Message.” It has amassed millions of views on YouTube and has had a profound impact on not only my own life but the countless others who have heard it as well.
I would argue though, that if it had not been for those ten courageous words he was willing to speak, this sermon — like many in America today — would have fallen on deaf ears. The audience would have listened, applauded, and amened his message without ever truly hearing it! Those ten bold words infused his sermon with power. Those ten words caused five thousand teenagers to look in the mirror! (James 1:22-25)
Sadly, I am noticing a peculiar sort of preaching in many churches today. I see a seemingly sincere preacher. He’s a graduate of the right seminary. He’s read all the right books. He is, for the most part, doctrinally sound. His theology is solid. His church is growing. Every Sunday morning, he steps up to the pulpit and says all the right things. He talks about the broken and lukewarm state of the church. He may even be so bold as to use that “offensive” and forgotten word repentance. He undoubtedly speaks of reformation and revival. Yet, in the midst of all the words coming out of his mouth, he somehow manages to say nothing at all. His sermons bring about applause and amens each week, but his words are impotent. They lack any power to bring about the very repentance and revival of which he speaks.
Why is this? Why are his heartfelt words so powerless?
His message is powerless because the people in the pews — just like those deceived youth from twenty years ago — don’t actually believe that he is speaking to them. They envision someone else. A different church. Some other Christians. This preaching — if it can be called that — is quite possibly some of the most dangerous. Why? Because it affirms what we know to be true within us while never turning the mirror fully toward us. This weak preaching is only another form of the “tickling the ears” that the Apostle Paul warned young Timothy about. (2 Timothy 4:3). It comes from shepherds who lack the courage to do what true love requires; to be direct with their sheep. They sacrifice boldness to fill more seats and then justify it to themselves in the name of “gentleness.”
The result of this has been catastrophic! Every Sunday morning, in churches across America, we hear amens and applause break out. Preachers finish sermons to standing ovations from the audience. Meanwhile, a lukewarm church is getting ready to be spit out of His mouth. (Revelation 3:16) Countless numbers of professing Christians — totally deceived — are clapping their way to eternal damnation because their shepherd doesn’t have the grit to speak to them like a man! Those listening to this sort of preaching become like one of those foolish and proud NFL players whose team is down by 40 points, and yet he does an endzone dance after finally scoring a touchdown! Is he blind? Does he not see the scoreboard?
My friend, now is not the time for applause. Now is a time for silence and reflection. Now is a time for self-examination. Are we looking at the scoreboard? The church in America is losing! This version of Christianity is broken! It does not line up with the Word of God. It does not line up with the version that was practiced in past generations. It is a slap in the face to the countless numbers of martyrs who have shed their blood over the last two thousand years. It is a slap in the face to our Savior Himself. It makes Him nauseous (Revelation 3:16). We must look in the mirror before it is too late!
Approximately three years ago, God handed me a mirror and forced me to look squarely into it. It was a dark and difficult season of self-examination. As I wrestled with what His Word really said, I did not like the reflection looking back at me. As your brother in Christ, who has had to repent myself, may I ask you some questions?
Is it at all possible that the version of Christianity that you have bought into is not the real one?
Is there a part of you – even a tiny one – that knows this version of Christianity in America doesn’t seem quite right?
Is it at all possible that you could be deceived as to what it really means to be a Christian?
Is there even a hint of you that wonders… Am I truly saved?
If you have answered yes to any of those questions, I invite you — no, I beg you — please go listen to The Shocking Message by Paul Washer. It is quite possibly the most powerful sermon I have ever heard. It is not just for youth. It is for every man and woman in America, professing the name of Jesus Christ in 2023. It is a mirror! Please, I beg you, take this mirror and prayerfully examine the reflection. Watch this sermon, and by all means, share it with those you love!