Messengers of good

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘ Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7 NKJV).

One great blessing to the modern missionary (or any traveler to remote places) is the capability of immediate communication almost everywhere. Thirty years ago I might be able to contact my family at home one time in a month. Now I can call or email almost as frequently as I choose, from nearly anywhere I might be, and do so at a fraction of the previous cost.

It is a modern truism, considered vital to almost any endeavor, that information is power. People throughout the world seek up to date and reliable news reports. The emergence of the internet has made the job of the tyrant much more difficult since he can no longer completely control the flow of information to his people. It may or may not be true that “the people have a right to know;” it is certainly true that people everywhere have both the need and desire to know the truth regarding all things which affect them.

News may be good or bad, encouraging or depressing. Messengers often receive differing responses depending upon the nature of their proclamation. Good news is greeted with joy and honor; bad news may result in punishment or death to the one reporting it.

In the story of Absalom’s death during his revolt against David, a young man named Ahimaaz begged for the privilege of carrying the news of David’s army’s victory back to the King. Joab advised him, “You shall not take the news this day, for you shall take the news another day, but today you shall take no news, because the King’s son is dead” (2 Samuel 18:20). Joab understood that the messenger would receive no thanks from David for the report of his beloved son’s death. In fact, he might be in danger of dishonor, or even death.

Preachers struggle with the question of message and reception. Today it is often believed that “negative preaching” (usually meaning an emphasis on sin and punishment) is unwelcome and counter-productive. Many pulpits feature only feel good topics which are designed to encourage the listener and produce confidence in one’s spiritual condition. No one seems to want to hear any warnings against sinful behavior, much less any suggestion that he or she may not be in a good relationship with God.

Have we reached the time of which Paul prophesied, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Those words do seem to describe many audiences today, though the same may well be said about previous times also.

A friend once provided a better (more biblical) definition of negative preaching. He affirmed that it is not negative to proclaim “There is sin and therefore there will be punishment.” Rather it is negative when one says, “There is sin, you are guilty, and there is no way you can change it.” To urge people to recognize their need for forgiveness and to seek it is the very definition of Gospel preaching (as for example in Acts 2:22-39). If our audience has no guilt, why should we proclaim salvation?

The reality is that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The good news is that “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:9; 2:1).

Fear of criticism is no excuse for failing to teach the whole counsel of God, including that God is just and a punisher of those who do not know him nor obey his Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8). But let us never cease to proclaim the good tidings of great joy that he sent his son to save us from our own bad decisions.

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