This week I am preaching on Jesus' statements of judgment towards the cities that had not repented of their ways, even though they had seen many miracles in their midst. In the process of studying this text from Matthew 11:20-24, I came across a very helpful word from Frederick Dale Bruner in his commentary, The Christbook. Preachers need to hear and learn from this. I need to hear and learn from this.
"This needs to be stressed because the message of Judge Jesus is not ordinarily for the contrite, the brokenhearted, or the repentant. What they need--and what they fully get in the next story--is the grace of Jesus. The last thing the brokenhearted need from Jesus is scolding--their own consciences do that. The occupational hazard of pulpits is scolding. Pastors, little Amoses, can be driven into berating their congregations Sunday after Sunday, thinking thereby to be faithful preachers of the gospel or, at least, of the gospel's message of judgment. But the unrelieved message of judgment--scolding--only depresses sensitive Christians; by itself, judgment is no help at all. Therefore it needs to be stressed that Jesus is Judge Jesus only for those who in his presence are not making any decision to repent, to be changing their whole way of living.
The familiar saying that preaching is 'to afflict the comfortable, and to comfort the afflicted' is exactly the meaning--and in that order--of the Judge Jesus and Savior Jesus stories that conclude Matt 11. In these two stories Jesus is preached as judge only to the unrepentant, as savior only to the heavy-laden. The art of the Christian pastor and teacher is to distinguish who's who, or (better) to preach Scripture's whole counsel so fully that the Spirit will make the distinctions and applications. To scold the repentant and to comfort the unrepentant is perverse. The good pastor will so faithfully minister the whole counsel of God, law and gospel, that the unrepentant will be convicted and the repentant comforted." (522)Law to the proud. Grace to the humble. I wonder if the problem is that we are not involved in the lives of our people enough to know which is which.