A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


8. The Hopefulness Of The Preacher

8. The Hopefulness Of The Preacher || 8-1 A Positive Spirit In Preaching

9. Christians Unlimited

9-1 Christians Unlimited  || 9-2 Limiting God || 9-3 The Power Of Preaching || 9-4 God Chooses To Depend Upon Us || 9-5 Fulfilling The Sufferings Of Jesus || 9-6 Bringing People To Faith || 9-7 The Limitations Of Pastoral Work || 9-8 The Unlimited Christian Potential


8. The Hopefulness Of The Preacher

When David wrote that “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Ps. 51:13), he was paralleling his teaching with others’ conversion- in a way that suggests he was so confident that his preaching would certainly bring forth conversion. Yet distribution of leaflets, countless conversations, piles of correspondence course students...all these preaching activities are inevitably repetitious, and so few respond that we can lose our basic love for our fellow man, and lose the hopeful spirit which pervades throughout the self-revelation of our Heavenly Father. Israel never really wholeheartedly committed themselves to Yahweh, and yet 2 Chron. 20:33 positively and hopefully says: " As yet the people had not prepared their hearts unto the God of their fathers" . They never did. Especially in the preaching of the word of salvation to those who they knew wouldn’t respond, the Father and Son show their hopeful spirit. Having explained “how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom”, the Lord went on to comment: “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mk. 10:25,27). It is impossible for a rich man to be saved, He seems to be saying. And as we seek to convert the rich and self-satisfied in the societies in which we live, this does indeed seem the case. But although on one hand it is an impossibility, yet not with God: for He desires to seek and save the rich too. And indeed He does, achieving what with men is impossible. And the Father seeks to impress His positive attitude upon us. The disciples were so slow to perceive. And yet the Lord could (perhaps gently and smilingly) tell them: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Mt. 13:16). Yet He later reprimanded them for being so slow of heart to perceive… Surely He was speaking of the potential which He recognized in them; a potential which He rejoiced to see. And this is why we are to patiently correct and instruct those who contradict themselves, “in the hope that” God will grant them repentance “unto the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25 RV with NIV).

Elijah, as many an isolated preacher, felt that he alone was faithful. Yet he was reminded that Yahweh had left Himself 7,000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal. It is easy to assume that this means that those 7,000 were out there in Israel but unknown to Elijah. However it is possible to read the Hebrew text as meaning ‘I have marked off 7,000 potentially, now Elijah, stop moaning, go out there and find them and convert them’. This would be why Elijah prayed that the people would see that God had already turned their heart back (1 Kings 18:37)- He had potentially enabled their conversion. Something similar may be hinted at in Jn. 1:7, where we read that all of Israel could have believed due to the work of John. It was potentially possible. The events recorded in Gen. 24 concerning a wife being sought for Isaac are all capable of symbolic interpretation; the steward [= the ministry of the preacher] is sent to seek a wife [= the bride of Christ, the ecclesia] for Isaac [cp. Jesus], and told not to bring Isaac back- i.e., they had to succeed in their search, and they would. Yet there was the recognition that she may not be found (Gen. 24:41 RV “if they give her not…”); and yet the response to the question ‘Peradventure the woman will not follow me?’ was that the Lord would prosper the way “and thou shalt take a wife for my son” (:40). This wasn’t blind optimism. The possibility of failure was entertained. But there was a positivism that Yahweh’s intention would be carried out. The Lord Himself marvelled at the unbelief of men (Mk. 6:6), despite knowing what was in man. Surely He could only have genuinely felt such marvel because He began with such an essentially positive spirit.

Jesus And The Jews

God is in search of man, and so is His Son. We surely all at times get depressed, feeling we are nothing and nobody, just used rather than needed. But just as we have our need to be needed, so does God, seeing we are made in His image and likeness. We see it all worked out visually when the Lord Jesus was starving hungry (Gk.), and saw a fig tree far away. He walked towards it, fixing His mind upon the tree. It wasn't the time for figs, but the tree had leaves, and He was so hungry, He'd have been been prepared to eat the most immature, unripe figs (Mk. 11:12,13). This is an acted parable, of His search for man, for fruit upon us. The same imagery of a fig tree bearing fruit is used by the Lord in Lk. 13:6 to speak of His hope of spiritual fruit from
Israel. But when the Lord finally arrived at the leafy fig tree, He found no fruit at all, and so He cursed it, and it withered. The same word is used about the withering of those rejected at the last day by the Lord Jesus- they will be withered, and then gathered up and burnt (Jn. 15:6). So as the Lord Jesus strode the long way towards the fig tree, focused upon it with all the focus and hope of a hungry man, so eager and hopeful to find fruit... so He is striding towards us with the same hope in us, of finding at least something, however immature, however unripe. But at least something.

The good shepherd searches for the sheep until He finds it. John 10 is full of reference to Ezekiel 34, which describes God’s people as perishing on the mountains, eaten by wolves. But the Lord Jesus set Himself to do that which was impossible- to search until He found, even though He knew that some were already lost. Our attitude to those lost from the ecclesia and to those yet out in the world must be similar. In studying the attitude of the Lord towards the Jews there lies endless inspiration for a thoroughly hopeful spirit in our preaching:

- The Lord knew there would not be repentance by Israel. But He went to the fig tree seeking fruit, even though it wasn’t the time for fruit (Mk. 11:13). He hoped against hope that there would be at least something, even though all of OT prophecy and precedent was dead against it.

- He saw the crowds who wanted only loaves and fishes as a great harvest (Mt. 9:37). He saw the potential... Note how the phrase “the harvest is plenteous” uses the word usually translated “great” in describing the “great multitudes” that flocked to the Lord (Mt. 4:25; 8:1,16,18; 12:15; 13:2; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2; 20:29) . Those crowds were seen by Him as a harvest.

- He asked His men whether they were really able to drink of His cup, referring to the crucifixion. ‘Yes!’ they immediately replied. If we were Jesus, we would likely have indignantly replied: ‘Oh no you won’t! You’ll run away!’. Considering the pain of His cross, both physically and mentally, the sheer trauma of it all, it was an essay in gracious positivism that the Lord replied: ‘OK, you will share my cross…’. It is so gracious of Him to be willing to consider our light afflictions as a genuine participation in His cross, which thereby warrants our resurrection with Him.

- “Are you also yet without understanding?” (Mt. 15:16), the Lord asked the disciples; as if to say that He was surprised the disciples still hadn’t come to the understanding which He hoped the Pharisees soon would.

- He saw Simon the proud Pharisee as having been forgiven a little, and as loving Him a little (Lk. 7:44-48). This isn’t how we would have seen that man. This is surely something more than generosity of spirit, even though the Lord certainly had this. His attitude reflects a hopefulness for Simon, an earnest desire for his salvation that only saw and imagined the best.

- He cured the man sick of a palsy that the onlooking, cynical Scribes might know that He had power to forgive sins (Mk. 2:10). He didn’t only reward the faith of the man’s friends; His motive for the miracle was to seek to teach those Scribes. Our tendency surely would have been to ignore them, to be angry that in the face of grace they could be so legalistic and petty and so far, far from God...and get on and heal the sick man who believed. But the Lord’s picture of human salvation was far wider and more inclusive and more hopeful than that.

- In the parable of Lk. 13:8,9, the Lord portrays Himself as even reasoning with God, who had decreed the Jewish tree be cut down in the third year of His ministry. He as it were persuades God to allow His efforts to continue for another six months, in desperate hope against hope that there would be some fruit of repentance. We, to a man and to a woman, would have given up on Israel, and would have somehow been gratified that the Father wanted to treat them like this. I would have turned to the Gentiles a long time before the Lord and Paul did. And consider too how Peter’s speech of Acts 2 was made in response to a mocker’s comment that the speaking in tongues was a result of alcohol abuse (Acts 2:13,14). We would likely have told those men not to be so blasphemous, or just walked away from them. But Peter responds to them with a speech so powerful that men turned round and repented and were baptized on the spot.

- In those last six months, the Scribes and Pharisees repeatedly tried to trick the Lord. But He took the time to answer their questions, seeking to lead them to understanding and repentance- and His denunciations of them were probably softly and imploringly spoken, still seeking for the inevitability of future judgment to lead them to repentance. As the Son of God, walking freely in His Father’s house, Jesus didn’t have to pay the temple tax (Mt. 17:26,27). He could have insisted that He didn’t need to pay it, He could have stood up for what was right and true. But doing this can often be selfish, a defence of self rather than a seeking for the Father’s glory. And so He told Peter that “lest we should offend them”, He would pay it. He was so hopeful for their salvation one day that He was worried about offending these wretched men, who weren’t fit to breathe the same air that He did. We would have given up with them; but He worried about offending what potential faith they might have. Even at the end of His ministry, He still sought to convert them. He reasoned with them, using carefully prepared Old Testament allusions in the hope they would understand them, when we would almost certainly either have given up, or would just be gritting our teeth, trying to be patient with them because we didn’t want to sin…but He was full of a genuine, unpretended desire for their salvation. And earlier in His ministry, He had told the cured leper to tell no other man but go and offer for his cleansing, in order to make a witness to the priests. All three synoptics record this, as if it made a special impression on everyone (Mt. 8:4; Mk. 1:44; Lk. 5:14). It could be that the Lord is using an idiom when He told the leper to tell nobody: ‘Go and make a witness first and foremost to the priests as opposed to anybody else’. Such was His zeal for their salvation. And the fact that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7) shows how this apparently hope-against-hope desire of the Lord for the conversion of His enemies somehow came true.

- After Jesus had commanded the disciples to sail to the other side of the lake, a scribe came to Him. By talking to this man, who likely was just asking the Lord trick questions and trying to catch Him out, the Lord delayed their departure; with the result that they nearly lost their lives in the storm that came (Mt. 8:18-23). The disciples must have many times during that storm reflected with bitter annoyance how the Lord has gotten them in to this problem all because He had been wasting time with that Scribe. But the Lord had such a hopefulness and a spirit of passionate concern for the salvation of the individual, however arrogant and conceited they seemed to be, that He would risk danger in order to spend time with such a person. I find this an amazing example, surrounded as we are by a majority of people who appear like that Scribe.

- The Lord said that the Jews were evil, and therefore good things could not come from them (Mt. 12:34; 7:17-20). And yet He also said, presumably with the same audience in mind, that although they were evil, they potentially knew how to give good things, e.g. to their children; and therefore how much could God give them good things if they repented (Mt. 7:11).

- 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.

- The Lord sort to inculcate in His followers His same positive spirit. We must love our enemies “and lend [in whatever way] never despairing” (Lk. 6:35 RV). To never give up with people, for all the losses, the casualties, the hurt…never despairing of humanity. This was and is the spirit of Jesus.

And to some extent, the Lord’s hopefulness for Israel paid off. Many of the Scribes were later obedient to the Faith of Christ. In Jn. 12:39-42 we find John quoting the words of Isaiah about how Israel would not believe the message of Jesus: “Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes…nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him” (RV). “Nevertheless” shows the wonder of it all; despite clear prophecy that they would not believe, some of them did. The Lord’s hopefulness paid off. And so can ours. The Father Himself had this same spirit of hopefulness for Israel. “Surely they will reverence my Son” is the thought imputed to Almighty God in the parable, as He sends His only Son to seek for spiritual response in Israel (Mk. 12:6). The parable frames God as almost naive in believing that although Israel had killed the prophets, they would reverence the Word made flesh, and the speaking of God to them in Him. Yet of course God knew what would happen; but in order to express the extraordinary, unenterable extent of His hopefulness, He is framed in this way. Just as the Father thought that His people “surely” would reverence His Son, so He was ‘certain’ that if His people went to Babylon in captivity, “surely then shalt thou be ashamed… for all thy wickedness” (Jer. 22:22). But the reality was that they grew to like the soft life of Babylon and refused to obey the command to return to God’s land. Such was and is the hopefulness of God.

The Father had the same attitude to Israel in Old Testament times: “I thought that after she had done all this, she would return to me, but she did not” (Jer. 3:7 NIV). The Lord Jesus reflected the Father’s positive spirit in the way He framed the parable of the prodigal son to feature the Heavenly Father as running out to meet the returning son, falling on his neck and kissing him…in exactly the language of Gen. 33:4 about Esau doing this to Jacob. The connection can’t be denied; but what was the Lord’s point? Surely He was willing to see something positive in the otherwise fleshly Esau at that time, He as it were took a snapshot of Esau at that moment…and applied it to God Himself, in His extravagant grace towards an unworthy Jacob. This was how positive minded the Lord was in His reading of even the darkest characters.

The Lord spoke of the spiritual harvest in 1st century Palestine as “plenteous” (Mt. 9:37). He uses the very same word translated “great” in the very frequent descriptions of the “great multitudes” of fascinated people who thronged Him (Mt. 12:15; 13:2; 14:14; 15:30; 19:2; 20:29). We would likely have been cynical of them and the depth of their interest. But if the Lord had had enough and strong enough [the Greek implies] labourers, those crowds would have been harvested as converts. Note too that the harvest is elsewhere the end of the world, and the workers who reap it are the Angels (Mt. 13:39). But in Mt. 9:37 and Jn. 4:35, the Lord says that the harvest was already ripe, and that the reapers are in fact us. Surely the point is that if we go out into this world with His hopefulness, aiming to reap in true converts, then we will be working with the Angels in this endeavour; and the point of conversion is in essence their entry into the things of the Kingdom. We too need to see the crowds of vaguely interested folks we deal with as a potential harvest for the Lord, their gathering into the garner dependent solely upon our working together with the Angels. And the Lord even saw the unconverted and the unreached as His potential sheep. He criticizes the “hireling” who has “no concern for the sheep” (Jn. 10:13) with the same expression as is used in Jn. 12:6 to describe how Judas was “not concerned for the poor”. He parallels “the sheep” with the “poor” whom He and His group sought to help materially as best they could; He saw those crowds, whom we would likely have dismissed as just of the “loaves and fishes” mentality, as potential sheep.


The Lord Jesus told Paul about the Jews: “...get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me” (Acts 22:18). And yet Paul always appealed first of all to the Jews, despite his emotional turning unto the Gentiles at one stage. Even by Acts 28:17, he started preaching “to those that were of the Jews first” (RVmg.). The principle of “to the Jews first” was paramount and universal in the thinking of Paul. And despite the Holy Spirit repeatedly warning him not to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22,23; 21:11), he went there. He hoped against hope that even in the light of the foreknowledge that Israel would reject the Gospel, somehow they might change.

Paul appropriates the words of Hab. 1:5 LXX to his work of preaching: “I work a work in your days, which ye will in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you”. And so when we read of the men Barnabas and Saul being sent out on the work of the first missionary journey, we are to see an allusion back to Heb. 1:5 (Acts 13:2; 14:26). And yet that passage went on to say that the work would not be believed. Yet hoping against hope, they embarked on the missionary journey. Cyprus didn’t respond, initially- as they had expected. But soon their positive spirit was rewarded, and converts were made, against all odds.

The Prophets

Likewise God told Ezekiel that Israel would not hear his preaching (Ez. 3:7); and yet Ezekiel repeatedly prefaced his preaching addresses with an appeal to please hear God’s word (Ez. 6:3; 13:2; 18:25; 20:47; 34:7; 36:1,4). He was hoping against hope; his preaching work was asking him to attempt the impossible. To make a nation hear who would not hear. Jeremiah likewise was told that Israel wouldn’t hear him (Jer. 7:27), but still he pleaded with them to hear (Jer. 9:20; 10:1; 11:6; 16:12; 17:24; 38:15); God’s hope was that perhaps they would hearken (26:3) although He had foretold they wouldn’t. Jeremiah was told not to pray for Israel (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11) and yet he did (Jer. 14:20; 42:2,4). And in similar vein, knowing the destruction that would come on all except Noah, God waited in the hope that more would be saved. He as it were hoped against His own foreknowledge that more would saved (1 Pet. 3:20). Hosea clearly knew that both Israel and Judah would fall together in condemnation for the same sins (Hos. 5:5; 6:4,10,11; 12:1,2); and yet Hosea appeals to Judah to not sin as Israel had so that they would avoid that same condemnation (Hos. 4:15; 11:12). The Lord Jesus saw the fields of Israel as white to the harvest, even though it was clear enough from Is. 53:1 and many other types that Messiah was to be rejected by Israel and crucified by them. The hopefulness of God through His prophets was no doubt partly because He perceived the power of the word they were preaching; and the more we perceive that, the higher will be our hopefulness, knowing that we do have as it were the real, genuine product which nobody else has on offer. There's an element of unreality in the parable of the mustard seed which highlights this point. A man sowed one grain of mustard seed, representing the word of the Kingdom (Mt. 13:31). He was so certain that it would germinate and grow into a tree. Typically one sows a number of seeds in the hope that one or two will "take". But the Lord Jesus was totally certain as to the power and ultimate success of the seed of the Gospel which He planted.