So, I have a confession–I often wonder why I’m writing this blog. This blog. I’m a Christian writing very Christian articles in a very post-Christian world at a research (read: post-Christian) university where most students are not Christians. Seriously. Like, did I listen at all in writing class when they talked about the importance of knowing one’s audience? Or of maintaining relevancy with that audience? What am I thinking? Though I post it with the hope that all of my friends, no matter their beliefs, will read it, the few people who regularly read this blog are, in all likelihood, Christians (hopefully it’s because you know me or you’ve been encouraged by what God’s doing in my life). But–let’s be real–it’s not like even they couldn’t get this kind of stuff about our faith from someone funnier and with way more knowledge and expertise. And Lord knows I have opinions about other things that I could write about besides Jesus. So what am I doing, writing this? What’s the point?
The other day, God showed me that this question is actually not the first question I need to answer. The first question is much, much bigger because, not only does it get at the reason I write the blog, but it gets at the reason behind that reason (it’s reason-ception!). In other words: I started writing the blog in order to talk about Jesus. But–why do I even need to talk about Jesus the first place? And why should I, especially when so few care to hear?
I want to start answering this question with an exploration of Isaiah 6.
I have read the first eight verses of this chapter in countless Bible studies since becoming a Christian. Perhaps people refer to them so often because it’s one of the places where we most clearly see the foreshadowing of God’s new plan for saving His people–using people as His ambassadors on earth, charging them to spread the message of salvation by grace, not by works. In other words, it foreshadows the Great Commission–Jesus’ command to all believers to share the Gospel with non-believers and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). This chapter describes a vision that its author, Isaiah, had in 740 B.C. He stands before God, who asks whom He should send to tell Israel of His new plan for their redemption (as if God didn’t see Isaiah, waiting awkwardly over there in the corner!). Of course, Isaiah volunteers to be God’s messenger, saying, “‘Here I am! Send me!'” in verse eight.
Without fail, every single one of my studies of Isaiah 6 would end right there, with Isaiah jumping up and down at the chance to share the news of God’s grace with others. And that makes sense! Evangelism is awesome for us and for other people. Why?
1. It’s our duty to love others by being witnesses and sharing the Gospel with them. It’s one of our most important duties as Christians! While following Jesus is indeed a personal matter–how could it not be, it’s your relationship with God–it’s definitely not a private matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, for a Christian, a private faith isn’t real faith at all–it’s disobedience. There’s a reason it’s called the Great Commission and not the “Great Suggestion.” Jesus commanded us to share our faith! And besides, if you truly believe that following Jesus is the only way to God and to eternal life, why on earth wouldn’t you want to tell everyone about Him? It would be hateful not to tell people.
2. It’s a privilege to be involved in His plan. But not only is evangelism our duty as followers of Christ, but it is also a divine privilege. After all, He doesn’t need us to make Himself known. He could write the Truth in the sky, if He wanted to. He could make the very rocks cry out in worship (Luke 19:40)! No–His “plan A” when it comes to telling people about Jesus is other people. Isn’t it awesome that He wants to include us in His plan to one day make every person on earth and all of creation bow down to Jesus (Revelation 5:13)? So, my logical conclusion from those eight verses of Isaiah is that he reacted as he should have done. Evangelism is something to be excited about.
I admit, though–my reactions to evangelism in real life don’t always look like Isaiah’s. A lot of the time, when my studies of Isaiah 6:1-8 would end, I would feel like I often do at the end of a rom-com. You know, the kind that ends in a wedding but never shows the actual hard work and conflict and commitment of a marriage (a.k.a. practically all of them). My inner cynic’s reaction to these and to Isaiah 6:1-8 is the same. Okay, you’re all excited and bubbly with joy now. But that will all die down after real life hits you like a train. So, stop making it look so easy, because it’s not. And when I start to think that way, evangelism becomes much more intimidating and much more of a chore. Especially when–shocker!–not everyone around you is receptive to what you believe. Or if they’re downright hostile. Or if it gets you into situations where you feel uncomfortable. So, while Isaiah 6:1-8 is a fantastic picture of what our reaction to evangelism should look like, it feels incomplete to me because he has no idea how hard that task actually is to carry out.
But–here’s where I’ve been going with this all along–Isaiah 6 doesn’t end there. There’s five more verses! And it wasn’t until last August that anyone ever bothered to make me pause and study them. You see, after God tells Isaiah to go, their conversation gets a bit dramatic. And because I am a theatre person and can’t resist, here is my dramatized dialogue of Isaiah 6:9-13.
God: “Isaiah, you’re going to go tell this group of people about Jesus–“
Isaiah: [Claps his hands together and begins practically skipping around the room] “Yes!! Okay!! Okay, I’m excited. It’s gonna be great, God!! I’ll have them singing songs, waving their hands up and down for You, dancing like maniacs–“
God: “–but none of them will ever believe a thing you say.”
Isaiah: “They’ll be all like, Hallelu–[Stops skipping, trips.] Wait. What?”
God: [Quietly.] “They will hear, but they won’t understand. They’ll see you, but they won’t perceive My presence. You are to go to them and preach to them. Your every word will harden their hearts to Me.”
Isaiah: [Staring, openmouthed. He looks like he’s about to be sick. Licks his lips, which are now dry. His voice trembles with something. Fear? Anger? Pain? Resignation? It’s hard to tell.] “How long.”
God: [Pauses, takes a breath.] “Until this city is a wasteland, and all but a few are gone.”
The question I have for you, friends, is the very same one my Bible study leader asked me that hot August night–would you still share your faith with people even if God told you ahead of time that not a single person you ever talked to would ever know Christ?
Well, I can tell you my initial reaction: How pointless and unfair of God to ask that of me. To move across the world to preach to a people who wouldn’t even care. All of my hard work, for absolutely nothing. If the point of evangelism is to lead people to Jesus, but I can’t even do that, why even bother? Why should we continue to talk about Jesus to others when it gets ugly–when no one wants to listen to you? What good can come of that?
The other day, I was reading Matthew 13, in which Jesus references Isaiah 6 before He tells a bunch of parables to his disciples and the crowd about the kingdom of heaven–description of it, where it can be found, why it’s worth seeking after.
Now, according to my logic, if Jesus were to trying to pump up His disciples about the kingdom of heaven (and about telling others about it), He would have introduced the parables with the first eight verses of Isaiah 6. You know, the ones that talk about God’s glory and total holiness and the literal kingdom of heaven. The picture of a great God and His eager servant, ready to go share the Gospel and see the fruits of his labors in people’s changing hearts. That would surely make them excited to evangelize …But Jesus doesn’t use Erin logic. No–as usual, He does something totally unexpected and strange. Instead, He introduces the parables with the last five verses, the part where God asks Isaiah to do something unbearable. To spend his life sharing the Gospel with people who will never care, never understand, never take him seriously, never seek after the Kingdom in the first place. Why?
After poring over all of these parables that followed this strange reference to Isaiah, I began to realize how each of them shows why His command to Isaiah to go preach to a hardened people about the kingdom of heaven was the best thing God could possibly do to teach him about the true heart behind evangelism. So, here are five reasons why we need to share the Gospel, even (and especially) if no one seems to listen.
1. God changes people’s hearts, not us. Let me explain. The first parable in Matthew 13, the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9), uses the metaphor of a gardener sowing seeds to symbolize how followers of Jesus sow the “seeds” of the Gospel in other people’s lives by sharing it with them. The parable illustrates four reactions people could have to the news of Jesus. Some people hear it, but Satan’s power makes them not understand or desire it. Some people, at first, understand and receive the Gospel with joy–but when hard times come, their hearts are hardened to it and they fall away. Some people hear the Gospel and understand, but earthly distractions like material comforts or success often choke people in their faith. Finally, the last group of people are the ones who hear the Gospel, understand it, and allow it to transform them and bear spiritual fruit. So often I convince myself that I am the only gardener–that I am the one in charge of whether someone trusts in Jesus or not. That if someone does or doesn’t accept the Gospel when I share it with them, that it’s because of my efforts and skills, or lack thereof. It’s all up to me. This makes evangelism seem so intimidating, and really demotivates me, because what if I fail? But this thinking is a result of pride. How could I ever think that I have power enough to bring a person from death to life?! It’s so freeing to know that God is the one in charge of people’s salvation. Only He can transform their hearts. I can’t change rocky soil into fertile soil. I can’t prevent every bird from taking the seeds away. God is in charge. And all He asks me to do is to take a step of faith to be obedient to Him, and plant a seed, so that He can make it grow. And if they don’t listen, that’s okay, because God knows what He’s doing, and that step of faith has grown me closer to Him, anyway.
2. Sharing the Gospel is just as much for our good as it is for others’. The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) reminds us that God allows believers and non-believers to live together here on earth until the day of Judgment, which is when those who have put their faith in Jesus will be separated from those who haven’t (like how farmers separate wheat from weeds at harvest time). When you think about it, this is totally merciful and gracious of God–that instead of immediate punishment, He gives non-believers (those who continually deny His existence, rebel against Him, don’t care about Him, and are incapable of turning from sin) many years here on earth to experience a fraction of His goodness. And more than that, He creates and places followers of Jesus into these people’s lives to build relationships with them and to present them with multiple opportunities to make a decision to trust in Him. Even if they don’t listen, isn’t it awesome that we get to fulfill our purpose by loving them and sharing with them? I think so. Most of the time, when I step out in faith to share the Gospel, it just feels–right. I experience God and His goodness intimately. My confidence in Him increases exponentially. I have a clarity of purpose. It’s because I’m doing what I was made to do. The Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33) is also apropos here: Jesus talks about leaven that invisibly permeates flour until all of it is leavened, using it as a metaphor for the hidden spread of the kingdom within people’s hearts and the world. This was highly unusual in its time, as leaven had previously had negative connotations in Scripture. What I think this shows is that, A) God doesn’t work in the way we expect, B) that the Gospel will go forth and accomplish its purpose no matter what, permeating people’s hearts wherever it can, and C) even if sharing the Gospel with non-believers doesn’t result in heart change for them, it will result in heart change for us! Each time I’ve been a witness to others, I’ve been amazed at how God heightens my view of Him and uses those conversations to teach me in some way. The Gospel is transformative. Period.
3. Our humility gives Him glory. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) shows us that God uses the smallest things to work in huge ways for His kingdom. It takes a lot of humility and total dependence on God to share the Gospel with someone, especially when they continue to shut you down. I have to confess my pride when it comes to these kind of situations–so often I think, well, I already tried talking to them, and it didn’t work, so I’m not going to talk about Jesus again, because then they’ll just think I’m weird or annoying or that I have no interest in actually being friends with them. Pride tells me that my reputation and others’ perceptions of me are more important than someone else’s relationship with God and their eternal destiny. Which is a lie–and a deadly and pervasive one at that. Sharing the Gospel, no matter the result, humbles us before God, causing us to lay aside our rights to comfort, to social acceptance, to others’ approval, and even to physical safety. Instead of depending on ourselves or others, we depend utterly on God for those things, as Jesus did, from His birth to His ascension. And God is glorified because of it! He loves it when we lean on Him, when we admit that we have no righteousness besides His Spirit in us. When we become small, the Gospel becomes big.
4. God will hold us accountable as stewards of what (and who) He gave us. In the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), fish are sorted into good and bad once the net is full–the bad are thrown back into the sea while the good are kept by the fishermen. Matthew likens this to the end of the age, when Jesus will come back and God will judge the people of the earth. Those who received Christ’s forgiveness and are covered by His righteousness will go on to see glory in heaven, and those who refused Him and refused to accept His offer of forgiveness will suffer in hell. I realize that this is a hard saying. It’s difficult for me to think about as well. But God cannot allow unrepentant sinners (and everyone is an unrepentant sinner, see Romans 3:10-12) into heaven and still be perfectly just and holy. Some of you may ask–what about the people who never got a chance to hear about Him in the first place? Well, those people are exactly why evangelism is so incredibly urgent! God wants to use Christians to reach them, and when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, He will look at how well we stewarded the people and opportunities in our lives. To be a steward means that we are taking care of things that don’t belong to us: they are gifts from God. The non-believers. The time we had to share with them. All the opportunities for sharing the gospel. And we will be rewarded in heaven according to how we used them (of course, these rewards will be laid down again at the feet of Jesus, so it’s not like they bring us glory. It’s all about how much glory we bring to Him). So, you see, I don’t want to waste anything God gives me! When I finally look upon His face, I know that I want Him to tell me that I stewarded the people in my life, my time, my gifts, my resources, my conversations well. And that doesn’t mean that every person I talk to has to become a Christian for me to be a good steward (God doesn’t judge me based on the results of my evangelism, but on my identity in Christ). But, what it does mean for me is that I cannot give up so easily on people who initially reject the Gospel. Press on, friends!
5. Christ is worthy to be shared with others, regardless of the results. If anything should motivate you to be a witness, it is the very person of Christ Himself. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:44-45) are illustrations of people so convinced of the worth of the Gospel that they literally give up everything else that they have in order to lay claim to it. I admit that sometimes I get so caught up in these other reasons that I forget the goal of evangelism–to create worshippers of God. And worshippers of God are defined as people who believe in Him and acknowledge His great worth. His goodness. His grace. His justice. His sovereignty. His power. His total and utter holiness. Just for a minute, I want to go back to the first eight verses of Isaiah. In his prophetic vision, we see that God is so utterly glorious that the angels flying around Him repeat the word “holy” three times in a row, which almost never happens in the Bible. That’s how holy–how completely set apart and other–God is from any other creature. They cannot even look at Him–they have to cover their eyes in His presence, because to look fully upon Him in all His glory would kill anything less than God Himself. How could Isaiah not be compelled to tell everyone of the truth of God’s gloriousness? How could he be silent? How could he not be eager to be sent by God? When we look upon Jesus, we see God’s glory made manifest. He died for every single sin we ever committed so that we could be forgiven by God and spend eternity with Him as His children if we just believe. We don’t have to earn His love. We don’t have to strive to do good things or be good people. God knows it will never be enough if we rest on our own righteousness. All we have to do is believe in Jesus. That’s the Gospel. It is spectacularly breath-taking. And it is worth sharing with others, even if they don’t see its beauty at first. If you come away with one thing from this post, I hope it is this–that, despite how people might react to you telling them about Him, our number one reason for sharing the Gospel, especially when it gets hard, is that Christ. Is. Worthy.
So, friends, I come back to my original question: why am I writing this blog, telling people about Jesus? Why do I continue to talk about things the majority of people will never care about?
The answer God gave me concerned my audience.
You see, it turns out that I cannot (and should not) write this for the majority of people in the first place (even though I want them to hear the Gospel and believe). But neither can I or should I write it for the minority (even though I want my Christian readers to be encouraged and see how God has worked in my life). For this blog to do any of those things, I must first write for an audience of One.
One who is good. One who is glorious. One who is, above all, worthy to write about.
If no one else reads it, that would be enough for me.