Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gospel Content

Good Evening. A Puritan’s Mind brings you the old time radio program The Wild Boar News Podcast from Sunny South Florida. Welcome, I’m Dr. Matthew McMahon.

“Jesus is coming soon.” This was the information given on a sign that women held in the middle of the street on Sunday afternoon. I applaud her desire to glorify the living Christ, and I applaud her desire to, what modern Christians refer to as “evangelism.” However, I do not applaud her Gospel content. Men cannot be saved without knowledge. How can men enter the Kingdom of God by anything but “spiritual perceptions” of the truth? (John 3:3) This woman was holding a sign up devoid of meaning. It could be that the sign meant something to her. But the most recent traveler from China may have never heard about “Jesus”, or even about God. This sign was more akin to a weak attempt at general revelation, rather than a biblical picture of special revelation. It had no substance to it.

General Revelation will only make men sensible of their creatureliness and will, in cases when men actually sit down and think through metaphysics, supply them with the information that God is the Judge of universe and they are found wanting because they are not perfect. It will not, however, supply them with a Savior; only the possibility or need of one. Special Revelation supplies them with the distinct and purposeful plan of God, and the ultimate fulfillment of that plan in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Only special Revelation is adequate to free men from spiritual bondage. Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father.”” The Spirit of Adoption refers to the application of the work of Jesus Christ on the souls of His elect through the power of the Spirit who ministers the reality of that adoption to us. A clear statement of this contrast between general and special revelation can be seen in the first line of The Westminster Confession on the Holy Scriptures, “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:19-20; 1:32-2:1; 2:14-15; Psa. 19:1-4)

Let me set the stage for an inquiry here. Let us say you are a minister of the Gospel and desire to preach to the “Hitchiwatchi” Indians in the Amazon jungle. These people have been unaffected by technology and have, for all intents and purposes, been unaffected in the manner in which they have lived for over 1000 years. They are lost, depraved souls who need the Gospel preached to them. Let us imagine that by some “providential appointment” you gain a crude understanding of their pictorial writings. Let us imagine you learn their language. Let us imagine you have funding for the trip out there, and to stay among them for a whole year. All of the typical side issues are dealt with and you come face to face with the Hitchiwacthi Indians. What do you say to them? What is the Gospel message you will bring to them? What would you not say to them? Would you simply hold up a sign that says “Jesus is coming soon?”

Here you are ready to preach to the Hitchiwatchi Indians. Where do you open your Bible? Let us imagine you turn to Genesis 11:29, where the text reads, “And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.” Now, it is with all certainly that this passage is the Word of God. It is inspired, and it is without error. However, it is not the Gospel. There are no Gospel elements to this portion of Scripture. The preacher of God would not be able to stand on top of a log and preach this verse to the Hitchiwatchi Indians expecting them to come to faith in believing on Jesus Christ the Son of God. Let us imagine that you as the preacher then decided this text was not working after reading it, so you turned to 1 Chronicles 7:1 and read, “Now the sons of Issachar were, Tola, and Puah, Jashub, and Shimron, four.” Unfortunately, the Hitchiwatchi Indians simply look on with a puzzled face. In knowing that these people still seemed a bit disoriented by your choice of texts, you turn to Esther 5:1-5 and read it. “Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, across from the king's house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house. So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter. And the king said to her, "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you -- up to half the kingdom!" So Esther answered, "If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him." Then the king said, "Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said." So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.” It is a nice little passage and the Hitchiwatchi Indians seem to like the idea of a king and queen, even eating at a banquet. But again, there is no Gospel message here. In desperation you turn to the New Testament hoping you will have better “luck” there. You turn to the historical narrative of Acts 28:3-6 where Luke records for us, “But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live." But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” The Indians seem to respond in amazement. They know of the sting of vipers, snakes, asps, and the like. Could it be that the thunder god they worship in their back tent could be this “Paul” of the text? Should they bow down and pray to Paul? In seeing their amazement, you quickly turn back to the Gospels to John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” The Hitchiwatchi Indians stop shuffling. Jesus is said to have wept. He cried. But who is he? No mention of how he is related to Abraham. Esther had not mentioned him. Chronicles did not name him. The text from the book of Acts did not say anything about him – there was just a “Paul” in that text. So, who is this Jesus? Is it then enough to hold up a sign that says, “Jesus is coming soon?”

I hope it is obvious that the good news of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not apparent in any of the texts mentioned. Simply reading those texts would not convert a single soul. The Hitchiwatchi Indians may be wiser to certain portions of the biblical record and the Word of God, but they are not wiser to the Gospel than the day you arrived. Christianity is a rational biblical faith that believes certain propositions of the bible that describe Gospel content – it is not by divine osmosis that the Word of the Gospel is channeled through a few words in a text. The Gospel is much more than that. Holding up a sign that says “Jesus is coming soon” is as biblically effective for the regeneration of a soul as is “Ham and Eggs special $2.99”. And no doubt people will understand the latter far more quickly than the former.

This is Dr. Matthew McMahon signing off.

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