This may be a tough message for some. I know because I shared with one I care a lot about and she pushed back with tears. I will explain later, but for now, let’s enter into a message Alister Begg gave some time ago.
The cross is where reconciliation is provided and the church is where reconciliation is proclaimed. It is to be declared in the church. We are ambassadors of Christ.
Is our church seeing the relevance of the gospel and are we sharing that reconciliation? Have we lost confidence in that truth?
Someone asked William Booth (the founder of the Salvation Army) as he was nearing the end of his life “What do you see as one of the great dangers of the church in the twentieth century?” Understand this was about 1911. He said, “In answering your inquiry, I consider the chief dangers when confronting the current century are religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without hell.” The very things that he warned of became the mantra for the collapse of what the Salvation Army had been. By in large, it is now an agency that deals with things more so than salvation.
This should wake us up to what Paul said in the New Testament: be reconciled to God and then teach reconciliation. Teach it to your children and to those that you meet. You could use ART as an acronym of what Paul is teaching:
- A. Alienation
- R. Reconciliation
- T. Transformation (conversion or justification)
Isn’t this what the Bible teaches? We all have come to Jesus alienated and have been reconciled to Jesus and then transformed into the likeness of Jesus. If we are to be like Jesus, doesn’t that mean we, like Him, have as our principal purpose in life to help save others or to be catalysts for the Holy Spirit?
George Smeaton, from the 19th century in a book called The Atonement , said, “ To convert one sinner from the error of his way is an event of greater significance than the deliverance of an entire kingdom from temporal evil.” Would Booth have agreed with Smeton? Yes, even though Booth was the founder of giving stuff to the poor. Booth said, “ To get a man soundly saved, it is not enough to put on a new pair of pants or find him work or even to give him a university education. These things are all outside a man. And if the inside remains unchanged, you have wasted your labor.”
The modern church sends so many people on one to two-week mission trips to build wells and orphanages. They send young people to the inner city to pass out water bottles. What does all of this have to do with the gospel? Being nice does nothing for the cause of the gospel. (It was at this point in my sharing with my dear friend that she pushed back on me and said that she will not stop being nice and giving to others. She said that it is in her heart to give and listen and to love. So in her mind spreading the Gospel was important but so was the giving to others in love).
I understand that charity to others is part of the gospel. In fact, I believe that this type of kindness may be the taste of the Gospel that warms a heart to the real food of the Gospel. Kindness does not discount the most important purpose of all Christians. The apostles’ words to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was not possible when they lived. It is now our duty to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The promise of God is that He will be with us because God reconciles sinners to himself. But He uses us to move the message to others.
Jesus is the Son of God. That is the message Paul learned and that message was what turned the head of Paul away from persecuting Christians to spreading the message of the Christians. This is the view of Jesus that is our mantra our hope and our message. Have we lost the message by our “niceness” and our attempt to be accepted and comfortable? Paul was shown mercy and he understood that and knew the power of it. By nature, Paul was a proud Jew, but he changed with the power of his reconciliation. It wasn’t because he was nice or intelligent or accepted. It was God’s mercy that made him a powerhouse for the message of the gospel, the message of Jesus on the cross, and the message of salvation.
Alister Begg tells this story: “Professor Murrey of Westminster seminary on one occasion was riding in a car in Scotland with a book publisher that is well known in Scotland called Willie McKenzie. Murrey who liked to play with the minds of people, said to Willie, ‘What do you think of the difference is between a lecture and the preaching of the Bible?’ McKenzie tried his best to give various answers. And Murrey said, “You didn’t get it at all.” So eventually McKenzie gave up. Murrey said, ‘Preaching is a personal, passionate plea.’ Mckenzie said, ‘In what sense?’ And Murrey said, ‘In the Pauline sense. We beseech you by the mercies of God be… reconciled… to… God.’”
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Queen speaks to Polonius after he speaks on and on, she says to him with kindness, “More matter with less art.” Alister Begg comments on this quote, “More art with less vague, accommodating, useless, unhelpful nonsense. We are not anthropologists. We are not pragmatists. We are ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us.”
What a wonder. What a responsibility. What an immense privilege.
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