17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
It’s interesting that the first message Jesus ever preached during His earthly ministry was about repentance. It was a sharp message, not the kind of topic you would want to talk about if you want to win friends and build a winsome reputation.
If you really think about it, preaching repentance can be offensive. It is built around the assumption that the people you are talking to are sinful people. Nobody wants to be thought of as sinful. We humans love to give the impression that we are good, at least to a certain extent. And even if we know fully well that whatever good is in us cannot offset our internal corruption, we still hope that people would just overlook our faults and focus on our merits. When we meet someone who insinuates that we are bad, we avoid that person.
But there was something attractive about the way Jesus preached repentance. Throughout His earthly ministry that was recorded in the four gospels, we see people gravitating towards Him despite His blunt pronouncements of their need to repent.
What was it that drew people to Him?
My best guess is grace. I believe that while He told them point blank that they were sinners and that they needed to repent, there was something graceful about the way He said it, probably the tone of voice, the facial expression, the gentleness in His countenance.
John 1:14 gives us a clue: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
See that last part? He is full of grace and truth. Grace first, then truth. That’s the style of Jesus. He doesn’t whip us with sharp truths and leave us bleeding and dying. Like a physician, he applies grace to our wounds first before He gives us a dose of truth.
Grace softens the sharp edges of truth. Grace makes hard truth palatable. Grace is the balm that soothes the sting and the pain that the truth brings. It is the ointment that makes the wound feel good. You know it hurts but you also know it’s better that way and that healing is on the way.
Grace is the difference between Jesus’ preaching and our feeble attempts to evangelize. Sometimes, in our rush to get a person saved, we tell them blunt truths, truths without grace. Then we wonder why it backfires on us. Instead of them listening to the gospel, we end up antagonizing them. Our preaching becomes nagging.
We are forgetting that before we can have the right to preach, we must showcase the grace of Christ first in our lives.