“And They Shall Be a Sign”

This very interesting phrase comes from Deuteronomy 28:46:

“And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever” (Deut 28:46).

When God would bring His judgment on His disobedient children, it would serve as a sign to succeeding generations of His children—being those who would choose to heed that sign.

So spoke Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:11, using the synonymous word “example” rather than “sign”, and yet picking up the word “forever” from Deuteronomy 28:46:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11).

Most interesting in this application of the example of the people of Israel, is that Paul applied it to Christians in general, and therefore also to Gentiles. Paul used the plural of the possessive, “our”, writing “for our admonition.”

Paul clearly wrote in 1 Cor 1:24, “but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

So, we upon whom “the end of the ages” has come must receive the lesson to be included in the citation.

So in this very interesting phrase, “And they shall be a sign,” not only did Paul use the concept of example, but perhaps picking up on the phrase “end of the ages,” he included heeding Gentiles as those who receive the example. And when he did this, Gentiles were included in the phrase, “on your descendants.” Gentile Christians as descendants of the Jews! Gentile Christians as descendants of Abraham!

Praise the Lord, Gentiles were grafted into the vine through the New Covenant by the blood of Christ! And this grafting in hinges on their taking heed to the judgment of God, as was exemplified through the past example of its coming upon the Jews.

So the question becomes, have you allowed sure God’s judgment of disobedience and sin, as exemplified by His judgment of the people of Israel, to bring you to repentance and faith in Christ? If so, you are included as a descendant of Israel:

“And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever” (Deut 28:46).

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When Man Usurps God’s Role as Judge

Recently members of the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) aka. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) have been uploading YouTube videos of the beheading of Westerners. The have attacked, ransacked, and killed Ancient Christians living in Mosul, also destroying their churches. They do these things in order to obey their God.

Does not Deuteronomy 28 speak of such actions as part of the judgment of God?

“Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it; your donkey shall be violently taken away from before you, and shall not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you shall have no one to rescue them. Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, and your eyes shall look and fail with longing for them all day long; and there shall be no strength in your hand. A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually” (Deut 28:31-33).

However, is man ever justified in taking the place of God and in executing His curses and judgments on other people?

When handwriting Deuteronomy 28:31-33, I was reminded of the ill-treatment endured by the Cathar Christians in Southern France in the 12th and 13th Centuries, by the Hussites in Bohemia in the 15th Century, by the Anabaptists in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as the Huguenots in France in the 16th and 17th Centuries. How can it be that God would allow His people, the Bride of Christ, to be so treated?

How can it be that God would allow His people, the Bride of Christ, to be so treated?

Perhaps the question should be rephrased: how can it be that any man considers himself so highly that he usurps God’s judgment of sin, and takes it upon himself to judge men’s consciences?

Interestingly, Jesus predicted this type of occurrence almost 2000 years ago:

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:1-3).

Man’s ill treatment of the church does not come without apt warning from Jesus. In Matthew 10, when Jesus first sent out His twelve disciples to evangelize, He told them to expect persecution. So it should be no surprise to any Christian when persecuted for the gospel.

More difficult to take, perhaps, is that in bearing that prophesied persecution, the Christian is also bearing some of the curses of Deuteronomy 28. Could it have been this realization that led the Apostle Paul to pen the following words?

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God” (Col 1:24-25).

For, just as Christ was made a curse for us, so Paul also endured reproach for the gospel. For example, notice the following trio of curses due to a lack of thanksgiving in Deuteronomy 28:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you (Deut 28:47-48).

Paul listed this same trio of sufferings in the same order, as applying to him!

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless” (1 Cor 4:11).

“In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor 11:27).

Was it because Paul was not thankful or was it because Paul was propagating the gospel of Jesus that he faced these sufferings? It was the latter, not the former!

Paul wrote of the ultimate blessings that come from suffering for the gospel:

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

So, when man usurps the judgment of God, and punishes the Christian for worshiping according to his conscience, what should be his response?

  1. When politically possible, Christians should allow all men to worship God according to their own conscience, as is found in the 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments of the United States Constitution;
  2. When not politically possible, or if we are the ones facing persecution for the gospel, we should accept it as a blessing from God, as an opportunity for the love of God to be poured out into our hearts.

When all is said and done, we humbly bow the knee to Christ, accepting God’s sovereign will in all things, good and bad!

 

Reverse Servant Evangelism?

Matthew 10 is a very enigmatic passage. It consists the longest evangelism training session of Jesus to His disciples. The entire context of this account begins in Matt 9:35 and ends in Matt 11:1. In my experience, Matthew 10 is not often considered in evangelism training today.

Several years ago I came to the realization that Matthew 10 did not have much prominence in my 1,100 pages of notes on evangelism. It was disconcerting. So, I made the Final Exam of my Basic Evangelism class a comparison-contrast of my notes with the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 10. I told my students that Jesus always trumps me—I like it when Jesus proves me wrong!

I told my students that Jesus always trumps me—I like it when Jesus proves me wrong!

The students grappled with the Final Exam, because the teachings of Jesus have a strong focus on persecution and rejection for the gospel. In the U.S., because of our First Amendment, we do not encounter persecution for the gospel in the same way as today’s Christians in Iraq or North Korea.

One dimension of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 10 is what I call, “Reverse Servant Evangelism”:

“Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food” (Matt 10:9-10).

Servant Evangelism does have a place in the toolbox of an effective evangelistic church—it definitely provides proximity to lost people who need to hear the gospel.

But, in the case of Matthew 10, Jesus intentionally sent out his disciples without any money, without a change of clothes, and without any reserve of food. They had no resources for Servant Evangelism. These were counter-intuitive commands from Jesus as He commissioned His disciples to bear witness of Him in every city and town where He Himself was going to go.

They had no resources for Servant Evangelism.

At the end of their first day, someone, somewhere, from some unreached city would need to open their home to the disciples. Whether solo or two-by-two, they would need someplace to eat supper, someplace to sleep, someplace to wash their face, and have breakfast in the morning. It would not be long before they would need their clothes washed. Soon they would need a new pair of sandals and perhaps an outer garment for change of weather.

In other words, the people to whom they were sharing the gospel had to serve them—“Reverse Servant Evangelism”—much like Elijah relied on the widow of Zarephath.

Truly, the disciples would adopt indigenous practices very quickly. They would be eating local food and wearing the local clothing. Because in this context they were going only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” language would not be an obstacle.

In fact, Jesus pronounced a blessing on the households of those who took in these evangelists

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matt 10:40-42).

For the sake of proper interpretation, Jesus did alter two of His teachings in Matthew 10 later in His ministry:

  1. Jesus changed the restriction of preaching to Israel only in the Great Commission, where He said, “Go, make disciples of all nations” in Matt 28:19.
  2. Jesus also removed the command against taking a moneybag in Luke 22:36.

Yet, of interest is that in Matthew 10 Jesus required His disciples to rely solely on divine providence for their daily basic needs. Thereby His disciples experienced “Reverse Servant Evangelism”!

 

The Sinners’ Prayer—Again?

Several years ago I had an uncomfortable experience. I was doing door-to-door with a veteran student evangelist. He was doing a great job of sharing the gospel, but when it came to the point of calling for a decision that is where it became uncomfortable.

At this one particular door, we met the only really open person in our hour of evangelism. The teenager with whom we were talking was very open to the gospel. I could see it in his eyes and in his humble demeanor. It was also clear from the questions he was asking and from his responses to my partner’s question.

However, the conversation began to enter an interesting cycle. Because this youth did not know what to do with the conviction that he was under, my co-laboring partner evangelist started through the gospel again. He repeated the gospel presentation three times. At the end of the third gospel presentation he asked him if he would be home the next week, so that they could speak again. And we left and returned to the church.

I held my peace throughout the entire conversation for several reasons. (1) I have experienced being interrupted in the midst of sharing the gospel, and have not appreciated it. (2) I wanted to see and evaluate this evangelist’s approach to sharing the gospel in a real conversation. (3) My role in that conversation, as the evangelism partner was to pray. So I was praying for wisdom and conviction throughout the entire conversation.

Several years prior to that I had another experience with another veteran evangelist. Perhaps because he knew that I was a professor of evangelism, he wanted to showcase his methodology of evangelism to me. We were involved in street evangelism at the time. He went up to a young man and began asking him a series of questions. They were good questions.

However, by the end of a string of about 8-10 questions, this evangelist asked the individual if he wanted to receive Christ as his Savior. The entire series of questions and answers lasted about one or two minutes. The young man was receptive to the idea of receiving Christ, so he led him in a sinners’ prayer.

If my memory is correct, in this particular case, the person prayed to receive Christ without ever having heard the gospel (as I remember it), or even the mention of any Bible verses. It was very awkward for me to experience. The evangelist then turned to me and said, “There. That is how you do it!”

Clearly these real examples are two extremes as it relates to bringing a gospel conversion to a close, and as it relates to the use or non-use of the sinners’ prayer. Based on these experiences and others like it, may I share several points?

(1) Both evangelists had enough spiritual nerve that they were willing to be involved in initiative evangelism. They were not “speaking from the grandstands” of evangelism.

(2) Both evangelists believed in the Pauline gospel (1 Cor 15:1-5), salvation by grace through faith, and in the need to individually respond to the gospel.

(3) The differences in their approaches involved: (a) the need to definitively share the gospel before calling for a decision; (b) the need to sow the seed of the Word to allow the Holy Spirit to tenderize the heart for a spiritual decision; (c) the need to verbally ask the person to respond to the gospel through prayer; and (d) the role of providing the interested person a sample prayer of repentance and profession of faith.

That being said, allow me to share several other points:

(4) Sharing the gospel is always a spiritual battle, not only in the heart of the person hearing the gospel, but also in the heart of the person sharing it.

(5) God must lead his people to share as He has led them in their heart:

Rom 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

(6) God is at work in the hearts of His servants by His Holy Spirit in ways that we do not always perceive nor understand. We must watch lest we frustrate the work of God by imposing our personal predispositions on others.

In conclusion, I am all for a sinners’ prayer, if the gospel has been shared, if God’s Word has been used in the conversation, and if the person is clearly under conviction and willing to repent of their sin. However, after sharing why I have the convictions that I have, and why I evangelize the way I do, I back off and let God work in the hearts of my students according to His sovereign timing and will.