By J. Aaron White
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember a dear friend, one to whom countless children owe a debt of gratitude. Dr. Seuss’ pithy writing and oddball characters helped many of us learn to read. Moreover, Dr. Seuss helped many of us learn to enjoy reading. For that, my friends, we are all indebted greatly. May he rest in peace, and may he feast upon green eggs and ham for all eternity. Now, let us bow our heads, or make our beds, or find our socks, or play with blocks.
With the recent uproar (on both sides of the increasingly polarized political fence) over the removal of certain Dr. Seuss books, Christians find themselves holding a hand grenade in an antique store. What I mean is this—we are called to proclaim an exclusive gospel in an inclusive age. From Dr. Seuss’ censorship to the hypersensitive atmosphere that permeates much of social (and national) media, one is left with a sense that paralysis is safest, not speaking or moving is best and wisest. But as people who love Christ and ache to see his name glorified, immobility and mute tongues are simply not biblical options. We must pull the pin on our gospel grenade.
Into this nail-biting milieu of fear, our Lord speaks with sober words of encouragement and clarity: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10-11). Jesus’ instructions to his disciples are pregnant with implications for us today. With the threat of being cancelled (i.e., ostracized, labeled as intolerant, unfriended from social media, etc.) hovering over our heads like a proverbial guillotine, we need to think carefully about the Master’s words:
They persecuted the prophets – Why were men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist persecuted? Were they arrogant jerks who spitefully goaded others into a fight? No, not at all. They suffered because they spoke inconvenient truth into the ears of comfort-idolizing and self-centered people. They humbly yet boldly declared God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and the need for repentance and faith—all things that faithful gospel witness demands of us today.
They do it because of Christ – Getting cancelled because we spoke with graceless animosity is one thing; getting cancelled for speaking the truth of God’s Word in love is quite another. Jesus makes it clear that the blessedness he promises is for those who are persecuted “on my [his] account.” A culture that sneers at any claim to transcendent, binding truth has little patience for the man from Nazareth who uttered these shockingly authoritative words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
They will revile and persecute you – Christ’s words seem to indicate that we will be cancelled by way of being insulted directly and indirectly. When we speak the truth of God’s Word, we will incur face-to-face conflict as well as poisonous gossip behind our backs, a fate often more painful than bodily harm. Jesus was cancelled by the intellectual elites of his day; they called him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19).
Faithfulness to the gospel has always been an invitation to get cancelled. The author of Hebrews gives us a vivid snapshot of life for the early Christians: “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Heb. 10:32-33). So, how should we fight for joy amid a censorious culture? How can we effectively preach to our own faltering souls? We remind ourselves that the only cancellation that truly matters took place on Calvary: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14, emphasis added).
As Christians, we’ve been gloriously cancelled. Every sin committed against an infinitely holy God has been publicly forgiven on the cross. The debt we owed for our treason against the King has been forgiven, cancelled by the Lamb of God. Following him and speaking on his behalf will undoubtedly draw the ire and venom of the culture, but our lives are hidden in him. He is our treasure. In Christ, blessed are the cancelled.