Occasionally, I hear someone say, "I like preaching that is easy to understand, and, I'm sorry, but that was a little deep for me." Is this legitimate criticism? Well, perhaps.
If a speaker is inclined to use complicated, unfamiliar terms or is so tedious that things quickly become boring, then, yes, there is a problem—but not one of depth. Situations like these can be easily remedied with vocabulary or stylistic changes, and afterward, any murkiness introduced to a listener's mind should readily clear. However, a message brought forth in an appropriate manner may indeed prove too deep for some when a speaker does not consider that an audience of babes in Christ may not be mature enough for certain spiritual truths. In such an instance, then, yes, it is possible to bring a message that runs too deep, where truth meant for hearts instead sails over heads.
For proper understanding, biblical truth demands the illuminating, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. The unsaved may know some basic facts of the Word of God, but because the lost do not have the Spirit, they cannot understand spiritual realities of truth that relate to those facts. The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). As believers, we have the Spirit and must depend on Him to enlighten the eyes of our understanding even as Paul prayed for the faithful in Christ Jesus in Ephesians 1:18. This is critical. Regardless of our varying degrees of maturity, we all need the Spirit to open our eyes to understand any biblical truth.
Due to this common need for enlightenment, clear, biblical truth may strike some as deep, too deep, while others perceive the same matter as accessible and perfectly understandable. The difference lies in our dependence and the subsequent enlightening by the Spirit. There is a sense in which truth is deep; not intellectually but spiritually. As such, this requires the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our understanding to see the realities of truth that connect to biblical words. Until the Spirit moves, the truth seems deep. When He illumines, that same truth seems simple. I have experienced both the perplexing moments and those precious "light-bulb" moments on my journey. I'm sure you have too. While it is true the Holy Spirit works through our minds and not around them, the primary issue with spiritual truth is always spiritual (or better, Spirit-ual) understanding. Thankfully, those who have ears to hear and eyes to see are enabled by the Spirit to hear and see—regardless of their intellect or educational opportunities. I think sometimes preachers underestimate the power of the Spirit to illumine truth to the average mind.
A number of times in my meetings, I have heard a person comment, "That was so simple and on the bottom shelf that anyone could understand!" and another say regarding the very same message, "That was deep. I'll have to chew on that." The difference may be simply where the individuals are on their respective journeys toward understanding a particular truth, which is certainly fair. But in some cases, it could have more to do with one, and only one, longing to know truth and looking to the Spirit for illumination. Sometimes people become self-satisfied, therefore, self-sufficient and no longer hunger for understanding. Though acting like they see, these remain in spiritual blindness (John 9:40-41).
Beyond the universal need for the Spirit's illumination, there is yet a significant difference between milk and meat. Sometimes that which is perceived as deep is real meat, not just the dry bones of intellect. But note that on one occasion, Paul confronted the Corinthian believers for continuing to be immature when they should have moved on to maturity. Because of their stunted growth, he could only give them milk and not meat (1 Cor. 3:1-2). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews in chapters 5 and 6 chides his audience with being dull of hearing, marks that instead of being teachers these have need of milk, and not of strong meat, and ultimately exhorts them to go on unto perfection (maturity). Certainly, there is a time to lay out the milk of the Word, but to limit preaching and teaching to that which is never "deep" is to perpetuate immaturity—to cultivate perpetual milk-drinkers. There is a time to move on in spiritual growth to the meat of the Word, to matters like those which Peter acknowledges as things hard to be understood in Paul's epistles—which Peter also recognizes as wisdom given unto Paul as part of the scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).
While seeking to be relevant to our audience, we also should seek to bring our hearers along in the journey of maturity with the Lord. The Holy Spirit knows both the needs of an audience and just what a preacher ought to preach. Resting in this, we can look to the Spirit for guidance in both the preaching and the listening.
John Van Gelderen is an evangelist and the president of Revival Focus Ministries, an organization for the cause of revival in hearts, homes, churches, and beyond, and for evangelizing. He blogs on experiencing Jesus at http://revivalfocus.org