Constantinople was for 1,000 years the Byzantine capital of the eastern Roman empire with Christianity its religion from the fourth century In 1453 that all changed for the next nearly 500 years.
Muhammed II laid siege to the city to make it capital of the Ottoman empire which at its height stretched from the Danube to the Euphrates. That empire lasted until World War I. He climaxed the siege by taking his navy and enormous bronze cannons overland to bypass chains across the harbor mouth. He then shelled 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. A story from that time tells how Christian scholars in the besieged city (within days of becoming Muslim for the next 500 years!) were preoccupied with the following theological questions:
What color eyes had the virgin?
If a fly falls into holy water, is the water defiled or the fly sanctified?
Whether true or not, there's an unsettling parallel with our times. With the fabric of society tearing apart, many today seem preoccupied with similar debates. But we don't have to fall into that trap. We can be motivated by these dangerous times to get on with the job we've been given of preaching the gospel in all the world.
God's Church Always Involved in Promoting the Gospel
Recent home office news illustrates how we seem once again poised to grow. Treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick, commenting on the Church's income, said, "Our financial stability now gives us the ability to continue strongly fulfilling the commission of the Church." This is evidenced by requests for literature more than double last year. Some callers responding to the new radio broadcast ask, "Are you the same program as Herbert Armstrong?"
We indeed strive to continue the calling and commission of our recent past. It also parallels that given Jeremiah and Ezekiel. We can learn much about media challenges from what these two prophets were instructed by God.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel's Problems
Jeremiah was called to preach God's message in Jerusalem as Ezekiel was called, 700 miles away in Babylon. Jeremiah was told the problems he'd encounter and that, no matter, 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). He may have meant he was too young as a priest and felt inexperienced. Or it could have reflected his introspective nature and that he, by temperament, felt personal inadequacy. Paraphrasing God's response as it applies to us: "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).
We too can feel overwhelmed by God's calling and feel inadequate for the task. God anticipated negative reactions to preaching His truth. He told Jeremiah to not be dismayed about it. We get discouraged at the lack of seriousness from others when we speak on God's behalf. There was a personal warning too, that if Jeremiah allowed unresponsive attitudes to deter him from doing the job, God would trouble Jeremiah before his detractors (verse 17). God knew people would fight against him, but He assured Jeremiah they would not succeed because God would be with him (verse 19).
Now it seems Ezekiel had a different personality, but he faced the same problems. In graphic language God described his audience as a "rebellious house, impudent and stubborn" (Ezekiel 2:3-4). Whether they would listen, or whether they wouldn't (because after all "they are a rebellious house"), Ezekiel was to still take God's message to them (verse 5). God's purpose includes making sure our peoples will in the future come to know that a prophet has been among them. Much of our effort may not bear fruit until later. Understanding how His human instruments can become discouraged, God sympathetically outlined to Ezekiel the people's attitudes: though we may be hurt by resistance, and words and looks make us afraid, we are NOT to be deterred from the task. We are told the people's reaction to truth will be like briers, thorns and scorpions (verse 6). Thorns prick our skin and make us bleed. Scorpions sting with burning pain. In a similar way their words and looks can psychologically demoralize and weaken our resolve. God emphasizes that whether they hear or refuse, we are to still 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 that they will not listen to Him. They are unreceptive because their nature is "impudent and hardhearted" (Ezekiel 3:7-9). While preaching God's truth we must remember they 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 a natural result from a rebellious nation.
Relatives and Friends Can Discourage Too
Interestingly, even family may at times hinder the gospel. In Jeremiah's case close family, probably embarrassed before friends by what he was saying, enlisted others to deter his public preaching. God makes clear that Jeremiah was in danger of being deceived by family (Jeremiah 12:6).
Today we can have similar difficulty with unbelieving relatives. Strangely, too, some opposition to the gospel comes from within our Church family. Perhaps we err by a desire to placate others when we should step out in faith and stand for truth.
Yet, There Is Hope
God explains to Ezekiel that, even though they have eyes that can't see and ears that won't hear, he should still go ahead and preach as "it may be that they will consider" (Ezekiel 12:2-3). This is very comforting. It makes our efforts worthwhile when just one person responds to God's calling. Ezekiel would become a sign later when the people realized the words he had spoken had come to pass. God explains that a lack of response has to do with attitudes of people who conclude, "The vision is for many days, he prophesies of days far off" (verses 6, 25-27). Isn't this true in our history? What the Church has preached hasn't happened, so they put off involvement. The task of the prophets was to be accomplished whether people listened or not. They would at a later time come to know a prophet of God had been among them (Ezekiel 33:31-33).Yet, despite our knowing this, a lack of response can make us feel we aren't achieving much. Elijah felt this, which puts us in great company! It seems strange that after the triumph on Mount Carmel and the execution of the priests of Baal, he would throw in the towel just because of a death threat from Jezebel. She had been trying to kill him for years. But stress can become the last straw that breaks our emotional back and he fled.
God succored Elijah for a while, then informed him of something he didn't realize. There were 7,000 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 would have quietly hid themselves. This illustration of people who remain faithful to God's covenant was used by Paul about a remnant in Israel (Romans 11:1-5).
What of New Testament Times?
Although Justus, Crispus and many others believed and were baptized through Paul's preaching in Corinth, he became upset at stubborn attitudes against him. It deterred him enough to quit Corinth and plan to go elsewhere (Acts 18:6-11). Paul concluded his work there was over. But God knew better. Because Paul was determined to leave, God gave a vision one night 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 be so short-sighted and demoralized by resistance to our efforts.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, NIV). It was Paul's preference to sacrifice and from the heart see the gospel made available. He asked how can anyone hear the truth unless there are those who make it known (Romans 10:14-17)? If we sit back uninvolved, how will people who could have been reached by 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 ever rots around us. Can we afford to idly sit back and let darkness overtake us? Have the courage and heart for the gospel. Be involved in sowing the seed!