Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Boundless Riches of Christ?

You know the kind. They stand on the street corner holding a sign that says “Turn or Burn!” or they shout at concert goers through a megaphone about how the lines in hell are even longer. They call themselves evangelists, but is that really what they’re doing?

It’s true that some Christians feel that preaching the Gospel is primarily about informing people that they are going to burn in hell forever. This is usually defended as “telling people the truth” and in spite of all the spittle and phlegm they assure you that they’re doing it all in love.
Why this may technically be true, at least in part, I want to ask whether or not this is the way that the Apostles preached the Gospel message, according to the scriptures.
Leaving behind the debates about Hell, (and its duration and purpose), let’s stick to the evidence we have in scripture regarding the sermons that Jesus and the Apostle’s actually preached.

See, contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did NOT spend most of His time talking about Hell. He spent nearly every breath talking about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Yes, Jesus did make reference to the punishment that awaited those who chose not to follow Him, but He did so in the context of a larger conversation about the Kingdom of God.
I wonder what Paul focused on when he preached the Gospel?

“He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31)

And when Paul stood up to preach to those godless pagans in Athens, what did he focus on? Hell? Judgment? Damnation? Did Paul love them enough to tell them the truth about their eternal destination? Let’s see:
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him [Jesus] from the dead.” (ACTS 17:22-32)

Whoa! Where’s the fire and brimstone? First he compliments them on their spirituality, then he jumps right into telling them all about who God is, and how God wants to be found, and then he even quotes one of their pagan pop stars (or poets) and concludes that everyone one of us "are God's offspring".
Where’s all that love stuff about sinful abominations and eternal suffering in a lake of fire? Sure, he mentions that a day of judgment is coming, but he leaves out the fact that they are the ones who will end up getting the short end of that stick. I’m sure it wasn’t very effective. Right?
Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” (ACTS 17:34)

So, what Gospel did Peter preach? It was all about Jesus:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (ACTS 2:22-24)
I wonder how much more effective our street preachers today might be if they preached this same kind of Gospel as Peter preached? Instead of focusing on Hell, maybe we should be preaching about Jesus with the same intensity and passion as the Apostles did?

Peter continued by saying:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (ACTS 2:36-40)

Again, notice there’s no emphasis on eternal suffering here. Peter’s entire focus is on the person of Jesus. He’s our only hope. He’s the Messiah. He gave His life to save all of us because of His great love for us and those who receive Him will also receive many wonderful blessings as a result.
Given that Jesus, Peter, and Paul (not to mention the other Apostles) never made eternal suffering the theme of their Gospel presentations, I wonder why we don’t see more preachers and evangelists today proclaiming what they did?

Can I make a suggestion? I’d like to suggest that those who have a gift of evangelism try to focus their message on preaching what Jesus and the Apostles did; The Gospel of the Kingdom. Or, for variety’s sake, try simply lifting up the person of Jesus and sharing with everyone how wonderful it is to know Him and to love Him and to follow Him. Just imagine how great that could be, especially if people actually respond and decide they’d like to know more about Jesus.
You know, I’ve found that people really are interested in knowing about Jesus. They may not be very interested in Church, or in joining a Christian club, but they are interested in the person of Jesus. We should take advantage of that fact. We should do all we can to point people to Jesus and to invite them to follow Him in their daily lives. That’s sort of what the Great Commission was all about anyway.

As Paul said let us all, “…preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.” (Eph.3:8)
Maybe, just maybe, the world would respond to the message that God loves them and would rather die than live without them.

I think it’s worth a shot.

1 comment:

James Breiling said...

Yes, follow Jesus in thought and deed, beginning with the two great commandments, so that life here and now may be is in heaven.