Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Should We Preach Judgement or Should We Preach Mercy? The Answer is Yes.

There is an ongoing debate on Christianity regarding the emphasis of fire and brimstone or the emphasis of the love of Christ.  Sometimes in an argument, both sides can be right.  This is one of those cases.  When asked if a preacher should preach fire and brimstone or preach mercy, the answer is "Yes."  Here is the central text for today's lesson.
And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling [them] out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.  Jude 1:22-23 NKJV
There is no one formula for reaching everyone with the Gospel.  Some respond to the love of Jesus and some respond to the fear of judgement.  I do think it is superior for one to come to Christ drawn by His love, but that is not always the case. Some churches reach out only with love and avoid if at all possible any talk of sin and the eternal fire that awaits those who do not come to Jesus.  When they do refer to judgement, they usually call it "eternal separation" instead of being cast into eternal pain and torment "where their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:44 NKJV).  Other churches take out the sin hammer and beat away week after week.  Both of these approaches are unbalanced and fail to share the whole counsel of God.  We must reach out with the love of Christ and with the fear of impending judgement. 

The reason why both must be preached (beyond the Bible telling us so) is that they do go hand-in-hand.  Mercy is irrelevant with out the fear of judgement and the fear of judgement is hopeless with the mercy of Christ.  One can not exist without the other.  How can you teach the love of Jesus in dying for our sins without giving an open and honest reason as to why that was even necessary?  How can you share the judgement of God in the context of the Gospel without giving the hope that is in Jesus through His mercy and love?  The fact is that you can't.  Both must be preached and balanced against one another.  Anything less leaves some out of hearing the word that will reach them.  Let us look at an example of each in God's word.

The first example is reaching through fear of judgement.  We find our text in Acts chapter 2.  It is rather lengthy so I will not republish the whole sermon, but needless to say it cut to the core.  Peter shows how Jesus was Messiah and here is how he ends it.
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard [this], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men [and] brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them].  Acts 2:33-31 NKJV
Basically what Peter does is shows how Jesus was Messiah and reminds them that it was them who called out for His crucifixion.  He then reminded them how God would make the enemies of Jesus (ie. those who called for His death) His footstool.  They were cut to the heart at the realization of what they had done. Surely they did not want to perish.  Surely then did not want to be enemies of God and in fear of that impending judgement, they asked Peter what they should do.  Peter then shares the Gospel and thousands were saved.

On the other hand, here is an example of reaching out in love.
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, [here is] water. What hinders me from being baptized?"  Acts 8::26-36 NKJV
In this example we see Phillip coming along side this Egyptian Eunuch and shared with him from Scripture the love of Jesus.  We also see that God was already working in his heart as he was reading some of Isaiah's prophesy regarding Jesus.  Phillip reached out in love to this stranger and led him to the Lord.  The eunuch was not reading a scripture regarding any coming judgement, but was reading about God's mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus. 

Perhaps the greatest example of balancing judgement and Mercy is our Lord.  It was the same Jesus who said.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 NKJV
That also said:
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Matthew 13:41-42 NKJV
Jesus used both the hope of salvation through Him and the terror of eternal judgement for those outside of Him in his preaching. We must follow that same example.  We must follow the example of our Lord and be balanced in our message. 

There are so many cut-and-paste or "signature" Gospel messages we either learn or develop on our own.  We can not assume that the same presentation will have the same effect from one person to another.  People are individuals and we have to treat them as such.  I am not talking about changing the Gospel message.  That is entirely wrong and comes with grave warning in Scripture.  I am only talking about how we present that message.  We must take into account personal life experiences and cultural backgrounds when presenting the Gospel.  What may be a compliment to one person may be an insult to another.  While one may be reached with the warm embrace of God's eternal love, some will not be reached without the terror of God's eternal judgement.  The best presentations are ones that take both of those realities into consideration.  In fact, that is what I think to be the only way to accurately present the Gospel.  As I stated in the beginning, the love and mercy of God are meaningless when not presented in the context of God's judgement.  How can you call out for a savior if you do not know you need one?  What can mercy mean to someone when there is no expectation in judgement?  On the other hand, if you preach only judgement, where is the hope in that?  You can not force someone to come to Christ by scaring them half to death with the thoughts of eternal hellfire.  Coming to Jesus through compulsion does not create the loving relationship that God is seeking in us.  If you preach fire and brimstone, you must include the message of God's love.  You must preach not that just that you can come to Jesus to be saved from it, but that Jesus desires that from you.  In other words, you can not just teach that one can accept Jesus, but that Jesus loved that person so much that He died for them to make that even possible.  God deals with us as individuals and we must do the same in our outreach.
For though I am free from all [men], I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those [who are] under the law, as under the law, that I might win those [who are] under the law; to those [who are] without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those [who are] without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.  1 Corinthians 9:19-22 NKJV

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