Bitter judgment

We have raised a root vegetable at Khulna Bible College this season with which I was previously unfamiliar.  Called “ohl” here, it is somewhat similar to the casaba.

The crop was gathered a few days ago, and when I went into the kitchen one day there was a pile of the roots on the floor.  As one was cut open, and a tiny flake of it was mostly detached, I removed and tasted it. It was very pleasant and sweet and I thought,  “what a good vegetable it will be for us to have here.”

I walked out of the kitchen and to another part of the campus. Two or three minutes later my mouth began to dry out and sting and burn. As good as it tasted, I now discovered that there were after-effects of the ohl which were much different. The cooks later told me that this vegetable can be somewhat toxic when raw; it can only be eaten cooked.

Many things have multiple effects. Even some very good things can be unpleasant or dangerous if misused. Sometimes one does a good thing in the only way available, and suffers harm because of it.

I helped put out a pasture fire for a neighbor several years ago. Another man was also helping and burned his hands rather severely. His good deed was “sweet in the mouth,” but his injuries were less pleasant, lying “bitter in the stomach.”

John the Apostle was given wonderful visions of Christian victory in Revelation (Revelation 10:9-10) . He was commissioned to tell others what he saw. Yet the Spirit warned him; though the message was from God and therefore true and sweet, yet prophesying God’s judgment to a lost sinful world would have its bitter effects.

No loving faithful preacher gets joy from preaching about sin and punishment. There is no pleasure in telling the lost, “God is going to get you for that.” The horrors of Hell, or even the tragic effects of sin upon one’s life and health, are bitter messages indeed. We weep when we contemplate the fate of the unrepentant.

Yet we still have a burning desire to preach God’s Word. No occupation is so significant. No purpose in life is so fulfilling. Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Again he proclaimed, “As much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15).

To have the opportunity to serve God who made us and his son who died for us is sweet, and like honey in the mouth, even when the message we preach means the eternal destruction of unbelievers.

The knowledge of their destiny is bitter within us. But it is offset by the sweetness of seeing sinners come to obedient faith in Jesus, being assured of God’s acceptance of them.

The next verse in Revelation 10, contains a very important little word. There John is told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (Revelation 10:11).

Notice the word “must.” John is not invited, or given the opportunity, to prophesy. He is commanded to do so. There is no choice for him. Prophesying was an absolute necessity.

And so it also is for every Christian. We are “compelled by the love of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14) to be his ambassadors, proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation to a loving God. We are compelled by our  love for our fellowmen to lead them to salvation.

We are compelled by Jesus’ wonderful gift of grace on the cross to share that gift with those who also need it. And we are compelled by the vision of the Lake of Fire which will burn forever, causing indescribable torment for all who have been cast into it, to put out danger signals that it may be avoided.

The bitter taste of the ohl plant can be avoided by proper handling. The bitter aspects of God’s message of judgment are likewise offset by his love and grace, and by the opportunity we have of sharing that message so that all who believe will be saved (Romans 10:13).

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