28 August, 2014 Roger Carswell
Having opened the eyes of Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, Jesus then opened the Scriptures to them. Then, to all His disciples, He opened their understanding so that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Speaking only days after His crucifixion, burial and resurrection, He drove home the central, crucial raison d’être of the Gospel:
· Christ had to suffer.
· He rose from the dead.
· Repentance and remission of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.
· The Holy Spirit would empower them.
In so speaking, He was giving us the mission of the church. We are to proclaim His death and resurrection, urging people to repent so that they might receive forgiveness. Obedience to this is the only criterion against which to measure whether we are being faithful to His heart’s desire and agenda for the church. Some Christians, however, appear to have been distracted from this mission, as shown by the two examples below.
This relates to those ‘apologists’ who defend the faith, but fail to explain the meaning of the cross and power of the resurrection. When Peter wrote urging that we ‘give a reason for the hope that lies within us’, surely the reason is that Jesus suffered and died, and that He rose and can forgive sin. I don’t believe Peter is arguing that our proclamation is about quoting academics who spoke warmly of Christianity! Of course evidence is crucial, and needs to be taught, but we should be determined to know nothing in our proclamation but Christ and Him crucified.
2. Good deeds
It is noble and good to give porridge to the poor; to save the whale; for street pastors to provide flip-flops for drunken revellers; to teach agriculture and provide irrigation systems for the developing world; to be environmentally friendly and serve the community. Such endeavours may even be used to build a bridge to people so that we can tell them about Jesus – but these are not what Gospel ministry is about. Of course, kindness and good deeds will characterise the Christian. We want to do good – it comes naturally to the believer. But the great commission is to go and tell, to preach and proclaim, to warn and welcome sinners as we introduce them to Christ. What should always be at the very top of a church meeting’s agenda? Strategically reviewing, and planning how the church is going to fulfil Jesus’ words before His ascension.
My daily newspaper recently reported that churches in the last year have provided 10 million ‘man hours’ to local authorities to help them in times of financial cuts. If local councils ask us to run youth clubs and care for the needy, praise God – but only if they are happy for us to present the Gospel and speak about Jesus. I read recently, ‘Sometimes people talk as if by renovating a city park or turning a housing slum into affordable, liveable apartments, we are extending God’s reign over that park or that neighbourhood … but the Kingdom isn’t geographical. Rather, it is defined relationally and dynamically; it exists where knees and hearts bow to the King and submit to Him … Good deeds are good, but they don’t broaden the Kingdom of God.’ Eternal blessing – that which does extend the Kingdom – only comes when sinners renounce sin and trust the crucified Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Jesus went through the villages and towns to preach. Moved with compassion He healed people there, but that was never His mission – His prime motivation – in going to these places. The Book of Acts tells the wonderful story of the Gospel spreading from Jerusalem to Judea, then to Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. It does not speak of Christians working for the social betterment of Jerusalem and Antioch. Paul gave his life to the saving of the lost and the establishing of churches in good doctrine, so that they would continue the work of proclaiming the suffering, risen Jesus to people who would find forgiveness if they repented. Our mission is to proclaim what Jesus has accomplished.
The greatest act of friendship
The greatest act of friendship that we can show anyone is to introduce them to Jesus. The greatest act of tyranny is to ignore a person’s plight and not warn them of their desperate need to repent and find forgiveness from God.
Luke 24:49 is thoroughly Trinitarian: the Promise of the Father, the plan of the Son, the power of the Spirit. God’s power is promised as we proclaim the suffering Saviour. We must explain the hidden work of Christ as He bore our sin in His own body on the cross. Then we make known that Jesus is risen. The hearers’ part then is to repent, and God’s response is to give forgiveness of sin. What a message! There is nothing here to be ashamed about, nothing to brush under the carpet, nothing for which we should be embarrassed. It is the most glorious theme. Do we know of anything or anyone who is more worthy of being spoken about than Jesus? Is any remedy effective in dealing with people’s sins and self-destruction other than Jesus? Isn’t the greatest demonstration of love to others to tell them of God’s demonstration of love towards us? Who has the right to intimidate us into silence about the Gospel? So why are we so sidetracked from proclaiming Christ and Him crucified in our pulpits, to our friends, in our strategy of Christian work? Who has told preachers that they need to be positive-thinking, feel-good preachers, when people around them are perishing? The missionary hymn says it so well: ‘Every person in every nation, in each succeeding generation, has the right to hear the news that Christ can save’. This is the mission of the church.