Speaking the Gospel Before the Powerful

How would you speak the truth of the gospel if you knew you were in danger? What would you say if you stood before someone who could hurt you but who gave you an opportunity to share openly? Would you be careful not to offend?

The apostle Paul found himself in a very curious position in Acts 24. After being unfairly accused by the Jews, Paul stood before a Roman official, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla. Felix had the power to release Paul or to abuse him. Felix was a harsh ruler who was guilty of having a Jewish high priest put to death. And Felix was blamed by many for causing the Jewish war from AD 66-70.

Felix’s wife, Drusilla, was a woman who left her husband to marry Felix. She was ethnically Jewish, though she was now a part of the oppressive Roman community. Married to Felix, Drusilla was very dangerous.

One might think that Paul would want to be careful with such a couple. Let’s see what Paul chose to preach when they asked him to deliver a little sermon for them.

Acts 24:24-25 – 24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Paul delivered a sermon about faith in Christ. This is no surprise. It is never a surprise to see that a Christian might call on people around him to believe. That is common, and generally acceptable. People like to believe in believing in general. And had Paul stopped there, his message would have likely done him no harm. The Romans like believing in all sorts of deities. Adding one more, Jesus, to the mix should have been no problem.

But then note the three topics in Paul’s little message: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. These were dangerous. Righteousness is living rightly, guiltlessly, before the Lord. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 that there is no one righteous, not even one. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Did he look these two in the eye and tell them that they too needed a righteousness they personally lacked? That is a dangerous message.

Paul next talked about self-control. And Paul was standing before a murderous official with his adulteress wife. Righteousness would not have been a comfortable topic. Self-control would have been even worse. These two were guilty of great sin because they both lacked self-control.

Then Paul preached on the coming judgment. We know that Paul had a well-developed eschatology, even by this time in his ministry. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes clearly about Christ’s return, the blessing of God’s children, and the wrath of God on the wicked. Paul had to talk about the fact that Jesus would come back and judge. He had to talk about the fact that only those who are covered by Christ’s grace and righteousness will go to heaven. He must have talked about the fact that those who refuse Christ will stand before God and be found wanting for their lack of righteousness and self-control. This would lead back to the preaching of faith in Christ as the only way that any person can be forgiven for their wrong and granted by God the righteousness they need to enter his eternal kingdom.

So, when Paul stood before a dangerous ruler, what did he do? He preached the gospel. He held nothing back. He told an unrighteous man that he needed righteousness that he could never personally achieve. He told a woman without self-control that she was guilty before God. Paul told both that they faced a judgment to come that they could not survive without personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we be people who are bold enough to tell this kind of truth, in love, to all. May we never hold back just because we want to impress a government official. May we never hold back just because the person we preach to could do us harm. May we honor the Lord Jesus and let his gospel message do its work.

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Taking Warnings for a Joke

When God was about to rain judgment down on Sodom and Gomorrah, his angels told Lot to get out of the city. In kindness, the angels also told Lot to tell any of his loved ones, his daughters’ fiancés as an example, to leave the city too. The people of the cities had been wicked, and the wrath of God was on the way.

But when Lot warned people who mattered to him, they did not take him seriously.

Genesis 19:14 – So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Why did the young men not take Lot’s warnings to heart? We do not know what about their own lives was right or wrong. But we know that, when they heard the warning of the coming judgment of God, they assumed it to be a joke. They thought Lot was playing some sort of prank. They did not leave the city, though the warning was given. And they perished with the two evil cities.

In truth, it is hard for human beings to hear warnings, especially warnings of supernatural judgment, as real. Part of the sinful nature is to deny the existence of God. Though the Lord has made himself plain to all human beings, though all people have enough evidence of God’s presence as to be without excuse before him, we often fight against that with our hearts. People want to live in a world that is not influenced by God so long as things are going the way that they want. People who do not know God do not want to imagine the concept of God actually judging, at least not of him judging any but the worst of the worst. And even those who do know God can sometimes function as though we do not expect God to play a role in the world we live in. While we pray, read our Bibles, and attend church, many do not live on Monday through Saturday as if God is active.

We need to take a warning from the mistake of the young men in Genesis 19. They heard a warning of judgment from God. They assumed that there is just no way that could be serious. But it was. We live in a world that is far greater than the one we can see with our eyes. The God who made us is real, active, and glorious. God has promised us the return of Christ and real judgment. WE must not pretend such is far-fetched. We must not ignore God’s warnings. WE must become a people who understand that the God we cannot see with our eyes is more important than all the world that we can see. And one day, that God will make his presence visibly known as he judges this world and changes the universe forever.

Singing of Wrath

When we sing as believers, we sing of happy things most often. At least that is true in our modern culture. We like to sing of God’s grace. We like to sing of his faithfulness to us and his comforting love. Songs on Christian radio like to sing of the way that the writers assume God views us and to claim victories over all sorts of issues.

But a look at Scripture tells us that the people of God often sin about things that might not make the pop station very popular. God’s word includes songs of sorrow and lament. God’s word includes songs of imprecation, of crying out for God to judge the wicked and oppressor. And God’s word includes many a song that declares that God is right in all his actions.

Revelation 15:1–4 – 15 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,

O Lord God the Almighty!

Just and true are your ways,

O King of the nations!

4 Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

and worship you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In Revelation 15, we see a gathering of the saints of God. This chapter opens by declaring to us that God is about to pour out his wrath on the world for its evil. And we see that the people of God, forgiven in Christ, are set apart from that fury of god. And as the people of God are set apart, witnessing what the Lord will do, they sing.

Note the point of the song. Without a full exposition, I think we can see the truth that feels so strange to our minds. They see the judgment of god coming, and they declare that God is absolutely good and right and holy in all his ways. These people are not giving themselves the right of judgment over God. They are not declaring that God owes them an explanation for his actions. They are not faulting God for not doing things in the way that they expect. They just see who God is, what God is doing, and they know that all that the Lord is and does is right.

I am surely not suggesting that Christians become morbidly obsessed with wrath, judgment, and death. We are a people called by God to communicate the good news of his grace and to make disciples of all nations. We do not find joy in the death of the wicked. But, we also must be a people who are not somehow different than the saints that we see in Revelation 15. We will pray God’s mercy over the lost world. But we will also sing of the holiness of God when his judgment comes. Our God is perfect and right. That must be our first assumption. The God who has revealed himself in Scripture is our Maker, our Master, and our Judge. May we worship him, singing of his grace and his judgment with equal awe.

The World Changes Faster Than You Think

One of the mistakes that we can make, a mistake that can keep us from realistic thinking, is the belief that the world will continue to be as things are right now. We live in an age of change. In truth, the world has always been able to change in a moment. There are events, big and significant happenings, that lead to reshaping nations. And when we do not remember that, in the hands of the Lord, nations rise and fall, we fail to remember how great and sovereign is our God.

Here is what I mean. We think, as Americans, that we live in a nation that will stand in the future as she has for the past nearly 242 years. We think that we will always be in a nation that is the dominant power, or one of the dominant powers in the world. But we forget that the US has not been a superpower for nearly as long as we think. It is only after World War II that our nation rose to its position of international prominence. It has been less than a century that our nation’s thoughts and actions have been supposedly important on the global scene. And we would be foolish to think that such power and influence and success is our national birthright, a privilege that cannot be lost.

Think how often in history that the entire course of the world has changed in a moment. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand started a war that covered the globe and rewrote the maps. World War I led quickly to World War II. Had these wars not happened, consider the strength we might see in nations like Japan and Germany. With one political move in the second decade of the 20th century, the world moved to bring nations like the United States and the Soviet Union to power as they turned to massively change the fortunes of the Empire of Japan, Germany, and Italy. The world changes, and it does so quickly.

In case you are curious, this is all on my mind from a daily Bible reading in 2 Kings 9-11. There we see an event that changes the structure of two nations for years to come.

2 Kings 9:21 – Joram said, “Make ready.” And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and went to meet Jehu, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite.

That encounter did not go well for the two kings. Jehu shot Joram with an arrow and his men took down Ahaziah. In one day, two kings fell and their nations were changed. This led to Jehu destroying the temple of Baal and the prophets of Baal in the northern kingdom. Later, the same would happen in the south. And the world was different, vastly different. And The Bible tells us that this was according to the plan and power of God.

God changes the world, and sometimes he does so faster than we might expect. God brings down kingdoms we thought would stand forever. God brings down religions that believed they could stand against him forever. God changes the map. God brings forth nations we thought were long gone (Israel in 1948 as an example). God pulls down nations that we thought would always be superpowers (the Soviet Union in 1991 as an example).

Now, here is the thinking point for us. Why would we think that we stand on any soil more firm than did people of the past? The same God who establishes and who destroys nations is still God over all. In a day he can change the world. IN a moment he can topple a superpower. IN a moment he can bring a godless nation to repentance (Nineveh after Jonah). In a day, he can redraw the map.

Friends, we must remember that the true King of kings is in heaven. We do not have the power to force or stay his hand. Our borders mean nothing to him. Our military might is nothing when compared to the Almighty. Our young nation, less than two-and-a-half centuries old, is not impressive to the Lord. We are as subject to his power as were the Kings of Israel and Judah.

So may we be humble. May we seek the Lord. May we realize that we must have the grace of God if our nation is to stand. May we repent. May we plead with the Lord for mercy. We have sinned against God as a people in countless ways. We need to bow to him and pray for pardon. And we need to know that God can change our nation. He can change us to honor him in obedience. He can change us by judging and destroying us, which is also to his honor. Let us remember that the Lord, he is God, and he is above all kings and all nations forever.