The Joy of Gospel Preaching
Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes? (Matthew 22:12)
After two Schools of Evangelism in Arua, Uganda the week of May 21, our team travelled to the local prison which houses seven hundred and fifty men. Some are in for what they call ‘defilement’, various sex crimes. One man we met, age twenty-four, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for having sexual relations with a seventeen year old girl. He was converted a year ago and now heads up the ministry to prisoners. He told us that he knows God sent him there to preach the gospel and he will joyfully stay the rest of his sentence, another eleven years. Others are there for murder, theft, and terrorism. We only had about thirty minutes with them on Friday and as I preached we had to translate into two different languages. I told them they have cobra hearts. I told them they were born as rebels who hate God and love their sin; that they have filthy pasts of guilt and shame and that God consequently will judge them by sending them to hell when they die. I also told them they have poisonous lives, that everything they do brings destruction to all around them. I told them from John 8 that they will die in their sins, that it may come tomorrow, next week, or forty years from now. I then told them of the mercy and grace of Christ who alone can take away their cobra hearts by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus alone can wash away their filthy pasts by his precious, undefiled blood, that only Jesus can make them just and righteous before God by his justifying grace. And I told them that only Jesus can take away their poisonous lives, giving them his holiness so that they can live in obedience to God. At least two hundred men were listening. We told them we would come back on Sunday afternoon and speak for a longer time.
We came back at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and after thirty minutes of wonderful singing, the crowd, now around three hundred, gathered under and around a large tree as I told the parable of the wedding clothes from Matthew 22, pointing out that the king, who loved his son, had his slaves go out and invite people to the wedding feast of his son. When the people refused, giving lame excuses of needing to attend to their own business, and after they beat and killed several of the king’s servants, the king then sent his army to destroy the people with fire. And then the king had his servants go out into the highways and bid all kinds of people, good and evil, to come to the wedding feast. When a large group gathered the king noticed one without the wedding clothes. When asked why he did not have on wedding clothes, the man was speechless. He was thrown into outer darkness. I asked, ‘Does this sound too harsh? After all, isn’t God in the forgiveness business?’ I then explained the holiness and justice of God in light of their own sin and that he cannot and will not allow the guilty to go unpunished (Nahum 1:2-3). I told them the wedding feast described in the parable is the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8), that Jesus is the groom and the church is his bride. I told them that indifference, ambivalence toward the free offer of salvation in Christ can and will send them to hell. I urged them to repent and believe on Christ. I told them that God can take away their cobra hearts that love sin and hate God, replacing them with the heart of Jesus that loves God and hates sin (Ezek. 36:25, John 3:3-6, Titus 3:5). I told them that God promises to wash away their sin, to remove the wrath of God, to reconcile them to God, and to give them the very righteousness of Jesus (Isa. 1:18, Rom. 3:25-26, Col. 1:21-22, 2 Cor. 5:21). And then I told them that only Jesus can make them holy (1 Cor. 1:30), that only Jesus can give them the ability to walk in newness of life, to put off their old way of living and to live in obedience (2 Pet. 1:3-4, Rom. 6:1ff). I said, ‘None of you needs to go to hell. Though you may be in this prison for many years, though you may never be released, you can be free. You can know the love and mercy of God.’ They began to clap when I said that. Then I said, ‘What must you do? You must repent of your sins, turn from the judgment of God, and run to Jesus for refuge. You must believe on Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners, trusting him only for his new heart, his righteousness, and his holiness.’
The outward response was amazing. They listened so carefully. At least two hundred of them said they wanted Christ. Now I am not suggesting that all of them were truly converted. I always tell people in those situations that they are hopeful converts, that time will tell whether or not God granted them new life in Christ; but what a joy to preach Jesus to these men. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). These men have nothing. They are the lowest of the low and they know it. Most in the west, however, who have their education, money, and accomplishments are too proud to acknowledge their need for Christ. And it is certainly true that the cultured despisers of Christ crucified continue to mock the simple preaching of the cross.
What shall we do then? Shall we accommodate the culture by watering down the message? Shall we omit the ‘S’ word, the ‘H’ word from our preaching? Shall we give them a pantheistic god, a gnostic Christ who welcomes everyone to nirvana or whatever pleasant idea people have of what comes after death? Shall we tell them that God is perfectly pleased with them, that all they need to do to go to heaven is to live a pretty good life, to be a good neighbour? The world has always mocked the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18), however Paul determined to preach nothing but Christ crucified – a God exalting, man debasing, Christ exalting message that is a savour of life unto life for those who believe and a savour of death unto death for those who reject it. There is nothing more glorious, my friends, than to preach the cross of Christ to sinners, to see the Holy Spirit break down their rebellion, to see them humble themselves and call upon God for mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. We must not retreat from this message. We must go forward with the glorious preaching of the cross.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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