20. The Urgency of Our Task
20-1 The Urgency Of The Preacher
The crying out of wisdom in Proverbs is alluded to by the Lord
as the pattern for our appealing to men and women. A feast is prepared
by wisdom, and she sends out people to invite others to come in
to it (Prov. 9:1-3)- clearly the basis for the Lord's parable about
the King's feast. Those who reject these invitations sin against
their own souls (Prov. 8:36)- just as those who reject our witness
reject the appeal of God against themselves (Lk. 7:30). Wisdom appeals
to people "where the paths meet" (Prov. 8:2 RV), just
as the Lord taught that our witness to people places them at a 'crossroad',
whereby they have to decide for or against their God. In this context
my point is that the appeal of "wisdom" in Proverbs is
in a spirit of urgency- an urgency inspired by the ultimate
seriousness of the message, and the fact that there are only two
paths in Proverbs which men can chose. It's either eternal life
or eternal death, the way of wisdom or folly, obedience to the call
of the woman wisdom or to the call of the harlot. There's no third
way- and this should be the spirit of our witness. Insofar as we
appreciate the ultimate eternity of the issues we're preaching about,
so we will find a power of urgency that somehow appeals to people
and compels them.
In a preaching context, Paul tells us to “redeem the time”, or
“be buying up the opportunity” (Col. 4:5 RVmg.); we are to urgently
snap up every opportunity to preach. As we read the preaching of
Jesus, one cannot but be impressed by the gravity of His message.
He never spoke of His message, of His person and His Kingdom, in
a take-it-or-leave-it way, as thought it didn’t matter how His hearers
responded. And we ought to preach as He preached. He realized that
how His hearers responded would determine the structure of their
whole lives and what their eternal destiny would be. He urged His
preachers to exchange no greetings on the road as they pressed on
to take His Gospel to others (Lk. 10:4). This would have been seen
as most unusual and even offensive in first century Palestine. The
people would have had their attention arrested by this- these preachers
of the man from Nazareth had an urgency about them, a sense of utmost
priority in the work they were about. They were to be known as men
in an urgent hurry. “Leave the dead to bury their dead; but as for
you, go and proclaim the Kingdom” (Lk. 9:60) would have been more
shocking to first century ears than it is even to ours. For to bury
his father was the most elemental duty of a Jewish son- “in Jewish
custom it came before other fundamental religious responsibilities
like reciting the Shema” (1). And the
urgency about the preacher was to elicit a like urgency in the response
of their hearers.
The Lord taught us that we should have a sense of urgency in our response to others. The Lord showed by His example that it is better to meet the hunger of human need than to keep the letter of Sabbath rules (Mk. 2:25,26). His urgency, God’s urgency, our consequent urgency…all means that when even Divine principles appear to come into conflict, we are to be influenced above all by the urgency of others’ need. " Which of you shall have a son fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up?" (Lk. 14:5 RV). Wells weren’t that wide. Only a small child would fall down one. We can imagine the tragic situation in the home. " Benny’s fallen down the well!" . And everyone would go running. They wouldn’t wait until the Saturday evening. Nor would they worry the slightest about infringing the letter of the law. And so, the Lord explained, that little boy was like the sick men and women, sick both physically and spiritually, whom He saw around Him. There was an urgency which He felt about them. And so there should be with us too. We can realize that this world is evil and vain; and yet we can still fail to perceive the tragedy of it all, and the urgency of our task to save at least some. The Father of the prodigal told the servants: " Bring forth quickly the best robe" (Lk. 15:22 RV). The indebted man was told to sit down quickly and have his debt reduced (Lk. 16:6). There is an urgency in the mediation of mercy towards others. Because this world cannot hear without a preacher, we must “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1 RSV). I take this to mean that whether or not we feel like it, whether or not an opportunity seems to have arisen to witness, there should be a compelling urgency which leads us to make the openings and pique interest in our message. The salvation of others is in our hands. Any laziness in this work is effectively an act of selfishness and a statement that we are willing to see the eternal loss of others- because we couldn’t be bothered. In this spirit Prov. 18:9 RV warns: “He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer”.
The accounts of the Lord’s resurrection and the imparting of that good news to others are studded with the idea of speedy response. “Go quickly and tell his disciples…and they departed quickly…and did run to bring his disciples word” (Mt. 28:7,8). The accounts show how Mary “quickly” told the disciples, the women did likewise, the two on the way to Emmaus ran back to town and urgently told the others that the Lord had risen…and then the record climaxes in bidding us take that very same good news of the resurrection to the whole world. But the implication from the context is that it is to be done with the same spirit of urgency. We are merely continuing in the spirit of those who first spread that good news.
The Nature Of The Gospel
The Greek word evangelion translated 'Gospel' means, strictly, 'good news that is being passed on'; for example, the good news of a victory was passed on by runners to the capital city (cp. the Hebrew association of carrying tidings, and good news: 2 Sam. 18:20). Once it had been spread around and everyone knew it, it ceased to be evangelion ; it was no longer news that needed to be passed on. But in that time when there was a joyful urgency to pass it on, it was evangelion. Notice, heralding is not the same as lecturing. Our community for far too long equated preaching , good newsing, with lecturing. Lecturing seeks no result; whereas the herald of God has an urgency and breathlessness about his message. There must be a passion and enthusiasm in us for the message of Christ and His Kingdom. More to be feared than over emotionalism is the dry, detached utterance of facts as a droning lecture, which has neither heart nor soul in it. Man’s peril, Christ’s salvation…these things cannot mean so little to us that we feel no warmth or passion rise within us as we speak about them. Remember how the early preachers were so enthusiastic in their witness that they were thought to be drunk. We are insistently pressing our good news upon others- evangelizing. And the Spirit has chosen this precise word to describe that understanding and hope which has been committed to our trust. If we have the Truth, the Gospel, it is of itself something that by its very nature must be passed on. For this is in fact what the evangelion is- good news in the process of being passed on.
You will recall the record of how the desperate, starving lepers found great treasure and went and hid it (2 Kings 7:8). The Lord used this as the basis for His parable about the man who finds the Gospel, as the treasure in a field, and hides it. But surely He intended us to think of what those men did afterwards. “They said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings [‘the Gospel’], and we hold our peace”. They even felt that woe would be unto them if they did not share the good news of what they had found. The same joyful urgency must be ours.
" God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself...and hath committed unto us the word (Gospel) of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech (men) by us...we then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted...behold, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 5:19-6:2). We are the means by which God is appealing to mankind; and we must do this while there is the opportunity for salvation. According to 2 Cor.5, in prospect, God reconciled the whole world to Himself on the cross, the devil was destroyed, all sin was overcome then, in prospect. In this sense Christ is the propitiation for our sins as much as He is for those of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). On the cross, He bore away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). So now we must spread this good news to the whole world, for all men’s' sins were conquered on the cross. God is eager that none should perish, but all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:8); and seeing that we preach “the Gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:2), the God who is “the saviour of all men”, we likewise must offer this Gospel to as many as possible. Again, the motivation for world-wide preaching did not change at the end of the first century. To limit our preaching is to limit God; and limit Him we can, seeing that His purpose works in harmony with human freewill decisions. The urgency which shines through Paul's thinking here is just as true today, if not more so. " The day of salvation" was not just in the first century; it is now as well.
God Himself has an urgency for human salvation; the Lord drew a parallel between the man who rushed out to save his animal on the Sabbath, and His waiving of the Sabbath rules in order to save others. Indeed, the way He did His miracles on the Sabbath rather than waiting shows His sense of urgency; not a day could be wasted for the sake of human scruples. And further, the Lord said that to refrain from saving a man when it was in your power to do so was effectively “to do evil…to destroy” (Lk. 6:9). This is how the Lord looks at our laziness and passivity- as active wrongdoing.
" Go out quickly "
The parable of the great supper chronicles the preaching of the Gospel over time. There were three stages of appeal: " To them that were bidden" (the Jews in Israel), to those in the streets and lanes of the city (the Jewish Diaspora), and finally, in a spirit of urgency, the preachers are commanded: " Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Lk. 14:16-23; the same spirit of urgency in witness is to be found in the Lord’s command to His preachers to cut the courtesy of prolonged greetings). Once the required number are in God's spiritual house, the feast will begin- and that feast represents eating bread in the Kingdom, at the second coming (Lk. 14:15). The language of 'going out' should be connected to the command to 'go and teach all nations'. The parable concerns the master of the house (God) commanding His servant (Christ); yet the connection with the preaching commission indicates that the commission given to Christ He fulfils through us, as demonstrated earlier in this study. The ever increasing sense of urgency in the appeal to 'come in' ought to be reflected in our preaching in these last days.
The tragedy of the fact that the Jews by and large rejected the invitation of God meant that the servants are asked to “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes…and bring in [any who will respond]” (Lk. 14:21). The ‘quickness’ of the preachers is matched by the ‘quickness’ of the response of those who heard them in the first century. Now what this means is that if we as preachers have an urgency about our approach and our presentation of the message, then people will respond quickly. If we present the urgent good news as a set of academic propositions to be studied at length in the comfort of an untroubled conscience, then those who respond [if they do at all] will do so with the same laid back, cool, calculating attitude. Peter preached on Pentecost with a fire and passion which came from realizing the urgency of human need and Christ’s salvation. And this is why, it seems to me, the people responded so quickly. They were baptized in a matter of hours after hearing the Gospel preached from his lips.
The way the Lord didn’t just ignore the Jewish leaders, as we might ignore trouble makers at a public meeting or correspondence course students who ask endless questions...this is really quite something. He grieved for the hardness of their hearts (Mk. 3:5), and finally broke down and wept over Jerusalem, in an agony of soul that they would not respond. The apparently foolish catch questions of Mk. 3:21-29 are answered in some depth by the Lord, and He concludes with pointing out that they are putting themselves “in danger of eternal damnation” (although, mark, not yet condemned). One senses the urgency with which He put it to them.
(1) James Dunn, Jesus’ Call To Discipleship
(Cambridge: C.U.P., 1999 ed.).