PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL: CHAPTER 6
Some things are beautiful in the sight of God, which to human eyes may not be beautiful at all. In fact, they may seem quite ugly. For example, in Isaiah the Lord says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isa 52:7). Beautiful feet? Most people would agree that a finely featured face can be noble and beautiful; hands can be expressive and beautiful; legs can be slender and beautiful, or muscular and beautiful; but feet? To me, feet are probably the least attractive aspect of human anatomy. Yet they can be beautiful in the sight of God. The feet that are beautiful to God are those that bring good news.
“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him … who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns”‘ (Isa 52:7). The feet of the bearer of good news, the publisher of salvation, are beautiful feet in the sight of God.
Clearly, God places great value on those who preach the message of salvation. And this means not only ministers or evangelists but ordinary people who have surrendered their lives to God and have committed themselves to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Proclaiming Life and Hope
We have seen that God’s purpose is served when individual believers are conformed to the life of Christ and when the love of God is manifest in the unity of the church. These two things alone would produce a great outpouring of God’s life and power in the world.
Yet God’s vision — the way in which he will be glorified on earth — involves more than just our personal relationship with him and with each other. God wants his people to take their love for him and for each other into the very heart of the darkness of this world. We are to boldly proclaim the message of life and hope in Christ, to glorify God in the sight of the nations.
From the moment Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and began his earthly ministry, he placed the highest priority on proclaiming the message of God. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” he said as he stood in the synagogue, “because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus had come to preach and proclaim the kingdom of God and to bring glory to the Father.
Nearing the end of his life on earth, Jesus knelt in prayer before the Father and said, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do… You did send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world“ (Jn 17:4,18).
Just before leaving the world, Jesus commanded all who had chosen to follow him to take the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth: “You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Make Him Known
Among many others in the early church, Paul was one who understood the Lord’s command to spread the gospel and publish the name of Jesus Christ. He knew that proclaiming the gospel would bring glory to God, that it was the only bridge between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God’s light.
Many churches today have lost sight of the work that God so highly values. Their vision consists of building a nice church fellowship, having nice homes and nice families, creating a situation on earth they can enjoy until Jesus comes to take them home. But I can’t think of a more frustrating way to pursue a life of knowing the Lord than to fail to make Him known to others.
The apostle Paul, along with thousands of other saints throughout the ages, ended his days on earth with the deep satisfaction that his life had been used to magnify Jesus and to publish his name throughout the world. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” he wrote to Timothy, “and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith,” (2 Tim 4:6-7). In another place, he said, “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).
What tremendous satisfaction Paul must have felt! His life and his words had brought many to know the great and mighty King of Kings. He had been consumed with a desire to make Jesus known to every creature, and he could leave this life, at peace with himself and with God. But Paul was not content to let this desire to preach Christ burn only in his heart. He imparted it to everyone he could — to men like Timothy, Titus, Silas, and many others who worked with him. They, too, caught the vision, and it set them on fire. In time, they passed it on to others until the early church was moving through the world in the power and love of Jesus.
Against the hostilities and barriers of their day, against the many political and economic hurdles, against every sort of circumstantial pressure, these men and women went forward with the gospel. They lived it, taught it, and preached it. They won others to Christ and gave up everything, even sacrificing their own lives for the privilege of spreading the message of Christ.
Tragically, many of us in the church today have lost this burning passion. We lack the total abandonment needed to spread the gospel. Instead, we hire others to preach the gospel for us, comfortably removing ourselves from any real involvement in the work of bringing Jesus to the world. If the proclamation of the gospel were somehow to grind to a halt, many of us would hardly be affected.
Yet Scripture makes it clear that the gospel must be preached to all nations before Jesus will return. How will this be accomplished? It won’t be done by a few trained professionals or by two or three large evangelistic organizations. Such a task will require the commitment and participation of every member of the body of Christ. It can and will be carried out only by the people of God, by a united body, totally committed to filling the earth with the name and story and deeds of Jesus Christ.
When faced with such an awesome, all-encompassing vision, the natural mind immediately falters. “How will we ever get it done? How will we break through the cultural barriers and language barriers? How can we possibly reach the whole world?”
At this point, the human mind will tend to play a subtle trick. “Well, we’ve got a church of 200,” a person might conclude. “If we can double its size, I think that’s our share.” Or, “My share of God’s vision is to reach my community. If everybody could just reach their community; then the whole world could be reached.”
But there is no such thing as “my share”. What generally happens, in fact, is that a person’s vision will shrink from “my city” to,’ my neighbourhood” to “my family” to “I need to get my own life together before I can tell anyone else about Jesus.” Eventually, God’s vision, which was meant to send us out as lights in the midst of darkness, is set aside, and our vision becomes self-focused again. Such thinking will never complete the work of God on earth.
Great parts of the earth’s population have never heard the gospel message. More than a thousand tribes, representing millions of people, have never heard the name of Jesus, not even once.
A little later in Isaiah, we are given a glimpse of the great scope of the vision Paul was speaking about. “The Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations; that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10). All the ends of the earth shall one day see the salvation of our God magnificently shining through the church.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Mat 24:14). After nearly 2,000 years, the church has yet to see this vision fulfilled. Occasionally a group has arisen which saw the challenge of this great vision and God would display a true movement of his Spirit through them. But, for the most part, Christians have settled for visions much smaller than the great vision of God. Today, God is still waiting for a people, a godly nation, who will lay aside their own survival visions in order to commit themselves whole-heartedly to his great and all-encompassing plan.
By “survival vision” I mean any vision smaller or less than God’s all-encompassing vision which involves being conformed to Christ, being united in love with all God’s people, and spreading the good news of Jesus to every person on earth. If my goal is simply to survive, I will do only what is necessary to get along in this world. For some, this might mean a little shack in the mountains and enough food to eat. For others, it might mean having a lot of money, many possessions, and real social status. Whatever the specifics, the people with survival vision have placed their own needs and desires above every other concern in life. They do not see or submit to God’s higher vision.
If God’s work on earth is going to be accomplished we must reject any temptation to hold to such a selfish perception of life. We must join the ranks of those saints of old who gave up their status, their possessions, and their security and future for the simple privilege of taking Jesus into the world.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, sell our possessions, and leave for the mission field. What I’m talking about is making a commitment to God that says, “Almighty Father, I want to see your glory spread across the face of the earth. I want to see the good news of Jesus spoken to every nation. I want to see the sick healed and the captives set free. Find a place for me, Father, in your great harvest.”
“How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?” Paul asked. “And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Paul goes on to quote Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15).
For too many people, Christian living consists merely of attending church once a week. For too many church leaders, the sole object of their ministry is to create activities designed to keep people interested in the Lord and in coming to church. Part of the problem stems from the fact that many church leaders are job-oriented, instead of vision-oriented. They view their ministry as a career and their activities as normal pastoral duties. But a church leader must be a “vision maker”. He must give God’s people vision, lifting their eyes to see the fields all ready for harvest. Then he must challenge them to action.
Too often the message of God’s Word has been presented as a divine strategy for “getting it all together,” for building a better life. But God isn’t primarily concerned that we have better lives. In fact, if we dedicate ourselves to preaching the gospel, our lives might get worse. We might be persecuted or killed.
God wants to fill us with the love of Christ so that one desire will dominate our thinking and our goals — to take the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every person on earth and to make disciples in all nations. It wouldn’t be hard for the diligent Christian to create a nice little haven here on earth. The principles of God’s Word produce results. We could use them to amass great personal wealth or build a church with activities that would draw thousands of people. We could even dilute the gospel message so that more people could “relate to it”. And only the “right” kind of people would be welcome in our congregation — people who are competent and successful. Those from lower rungs on the social ladder would be sent to rescue missions and to other churches where they would “fit in more easily”. Before long, we would have a very impressive congregation, a haven of religious success.
But in our honest moments, we would also be filled with anguish — the anguish of never seeing anybody saved, of seeing homes are broken and marriages ruined, of watching children grow up without God and hating the church, of never experiencing the joy of leading men and women to surrender their self-centered, self- directed living in order to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Capture a Vision
My prayer is that God will renew his vision in the hearts and minds of his people everywhere; a vision of the church filled with people ready and willing to sacrifice their lives for the privilege of taking the good news to every nation on earth; a vision of the sick being healed, the lame walking, the dead raised, and the glory given to Jesus; a vision of men and women like Daniel, Joseph, and Esther, being raised by God to places of influence among the leaders of the nations; a vision of a united church filled with young, old, black, yellow, red, white, and brown people, educated, illiterate, wealthy, and poor people, overflowing with the love of Jesus Christ for one another; a vision of the great harvest of God coming to a triumphant end; a vision of the Lord Jesus returning to the earth in power and glory
Right now, as you read this, I urge you to commit your life to God’s vision, to sharing with others the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you feel inadequate. You may think you have too many problems or that it would be too hard for you. But God can use you, and he wants to use you. The first and most important step is that you surrender your energy, time, money, and talents — your whole life — to him.
For Reflection and Discussion
- Why does it seem so common that individual Christians and whole churches lose sight of this third aspect of God’s vision to proclaim the gospel in the whole world?
- Discuss the idea of “survival vision”. How much is the vision for your life influenced by a survival vision?