Lessons From the Prophets on Preaching the Gospel

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Lessons From the Prophets on Preaching the Gospel

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For 1,000 years Constantinople was the Byzantine capital of the Eastern Roman Empire with Christianity as the dominant religion from the fourth century onward. Beginning in 1453, all that changed for the next 500 years.

Mehmed II laid siege to the city in order to make it the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which at its height stretched from the Danube to the Euphrates Rivers. (The Ottoman Empire lasted until World War I.) Mehmed II ended the siege by taking his navy and enormous bronze cannons overland to bypass chains across the mouth of the city’s harbor. He then bombarded the city from the inner harbor. On May 29, 1453, the walls were breached and Ottoman soldiers poured into Constantinople, subjugating the local Christian and Jewish populations.

With the fabric of society tearing apart many seem occupied with myopic debates.

A story from that time tells how Christian scholars in the besieged city (within days of becoming Muslim) were preoccupied with the following theological questions:

* What color were the virgin Mary’s eyes?
* If a fly falls into holy water, is the water defiled or the fly sanctified?

Whether the story is apocryphal or not, it’s an unsettling parallel to our times. With the fabric of society tearing apart, many seem occupied with similarly myopic debates.

Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s common problems are ours too

Jeremiah was called to preach God’s message in Jerusalem, while Ezekiel, 700 miles away in Babylon, did likewise. Jeremiah was told of the problems he’d encounter and that no matter what, he was to fulfill his calling. His immediate response quite lacked enthusiasm. Like Moses, he pleaded inadequacy, saying he was too young (Jeremiah 1:6-9). He may have meant he was too young of a priest and felt inexperienced. Or it could have reflected his introspective nature and his feeling of personal inadequacy by temperament. God’s reply might be paraphrased, “Don’t you think I know what I’m doing in calling you? Don’t be afraid of the looks on their faces because I will give you the right words to say” (verses 7-8).

Although we are not called to be prophets, God does want us to be involved in and support His work. The main task Jesus has given His Church as a collective body is to proclaim to all nations that He will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to establish the literal Kingdom of God on earth and to explain how we may have a part in that Kingdom (Revelation 11:15; 17:14; 19:16).

And in that way, we, too, can feel overwhelmed by God’s calling and feel inadequate for the task of preaching the gospel. God anticipated negative reactions to preaching His truth. He told Jeremiah not to be dismayed about it. When we as a Church speak on God’s behalf, we can get discouraged at the lack of seriousness from others. Like Jeremiah, we, too, encounter people who say that the Church’s prophetic preaching has never yet come to pass (Jeremiah 20:10; 2 Peter 3:4).

Jeremiah experienced a personal warning too—if he allowed unresponsive attitudes to deter him from doing the job, God would trouble Jeremiah before his detractors. God knew people would “fight against you” but He assured Jeremiah they would not succeed because God would be with him (Jeremiah 1:19).

Ezekiel seemed to have a different personality, but he faced the same problems. In graphic language, God described his audience as a “rebellious nation…impudent and stubborn” (Ezekiel 2:3-4). Whether they would listen, or whether they wouldn’t (because, after all, they were a rebellious people), Ezekiel was still to take God’s message to them (verse 5). God’s goal is that people who hear the Church’s message will in the future come to know we were delivering God’s message. Much of our effort may not bear fruit until later.

Thorns prick our skin and make us bleed. Scorpions sting with burning pain. In the same way, people’s words and looks can demoralize us psychologically and weaken our resolve.

Understanding how His human instruments can become discouraged, God sympathetically outlined to Ezekiel the people’s attitudes. This encouraged him, and it encourages us that though we may be hurt by resistance, and words and looks can make us afraid, we are not to be deterred from supporting the Church. We are told the general reaction to truth will be as from “briers, thorns…[and] scorpions” (verse 6) Thorns prick our skin and make us bleed. Scorpions sting with burning pain. In the same way, people’s words and looks can demoralize us psychologically and weaken our resolve.

God emphasizes that whether they hear or refuse, we as His Church are still to do the job and make sure we aren’t rebellious like them (Ezekiel 2:6-8). In comforting Ezekiel, God further explains the reason they won’t listen to us is because they will not listen to Him. They are unreceptive because their nature is “impudent and stubborn” (Ezekiel 3:4). While preaching God’s truth, we must remember that many others will not listen because of insolent, hard hearts. As with Jeremiah and Ezekiel, a lack of response shouldn’t put us off. Dirty looks and hurtful words are to be expected from a rebellious nation whose attitude is likened to “briers, thorns and scorpions.”

Sadly, even family may at times hinder our support of the Church as it preaches the gospel message. In Jeremiah’s case, close family, probably embarrassed before friends by what he was saying, enlisted others to deter his public preaching (Jeremiah 12:6). Today we can have similar difficulty with unbelieving relatives. Perhaps we err in fulfilling our mission by a desire to placate others when we should step out in faith and stand for truth.

Yet amidst a rebellious people there is hope

God explains to Ezekiel that many have eyes that can’t see and ears that won’t hear. Nevertheless, God tells him, he should go ahead and preach, as “it may be that they will consider” (Ezekiel 12:2-3, emphasis added). This is very comforting. It makes our efforts worthwhile when just one person responds to God’s calling. Ezekiel would become a “sign” later in captivity when they realized the words he had spoken had come to pass (verse 6). Only at a later time would they come to know a prophet of God had been among them (Ezekiel 33:31-33).

God says that a lack of response has to do with complacent attitudes and people thinking there is no urgency. They say, “The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off” (verses 25-27). The task of the prophets was to be accomplished whether people listened or not. We as well, as God’s people, have a collective responsibility to take God’s message to the world even if most ignore it.

Yet despite our knowing these things, a lack of growth in the Church can make us feel we aren’t achieving much. Elijah felt this, which puts us in great company! It seems strange that after spectacular miracles from God and the execution of the priests of Baal, Elijah would run away in fear after a death threat the next day from Jezebel (1 Kings 18-19). She had been trying to kill him for years. But stress can become the last straw that emotionally breaks our backs, and Elijah fled.

Perhaps we err in fulfilling our mission by a desire to placate others when we should step out in faith and stand for truth.

God then fed and strengthened him and informed him of something he didn’t realize. There were 7,000 others who had not bowed to Baal nor kissed the idol. Elijah probably didn’t know of these people. When the paganism of Ahab and Jezebel reigned supreme, God-fearing people quietly hid themselves from Baal worship. This expansive illustration of people who remain faithful to God’s covenant was used by Paul about a remnant in Israel in Romans 11:1-5. The lesson for us is that God is working in the lives of many more people than we are aware of.

What of New Testament times?

Although Justus, Crispus and many others believed and were baptized through Paul’s preaching in Corinth, Paul became discouraged at stubborn attitudes against him. It deterred him enough to plan to leave Corinth and go elsewhere (Acts 18:6-11). Paul concluded his work there was over. God knew better. Because Paul was determined to leave, God gave him a vision one night, essentially saying: “I have many people in this city. So don’t be afraid, no one will attack you, and I will be with you.” Paul obediently stayed another 18 months. We can likewise be shortsighted and demoralized by resistance to our efforts.

Society forever rots around us. Can we afford to idly sit back and let darkness overtake us?

As John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s first coming, so, too, Christ’s Church prepares the way for His second coming (Mark 1:2-4). We have a commission and obligation to preach the gospel. Paul expressed his role this way: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17, New International Version). Paul knew it was essential that the gospel be made available, and he was wholeheartedly committed to that task. He asked how anyone could hear the truth unless there are those who make it known (Romans 10:14-17).

If we sit back uninvolved, how will the people who could be reached through our efforts ever hear? Christ was busy with His Father’s work when He was on earth. He said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Society forever rots around us. Can we afford to idly sit back and let darkness overtake us? Obey God’s laws and practice God’s way of life as a light to your neighbors, friends and family. Pray for the work of the Church. Have the courage and heart for the gospel. Be involved in sowing the seed!