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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Fool's Errand

It is quite clear from Scripture that Jesus gave His disciples a universal command.
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt 28:18-20).
It wasn't just for the Apostles. It was "to the end of the age". That's us. We call it "the Great Commission". We are to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). And so we must. But here's the thing. This is, on the biblical face of it, a fool's errand.

Consider what God's Word says about the message and the audience.

Paul said, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). That doesn't bode well. "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:22-24). We're thinking that if we present a pleasant message or a well-argued line of reasoning we can encourage them to faith and repentance. The Bible says that, to the world, Jesus is "a rock of offense" (1 Peter 2:8).

It only gets worse from there. The biblical description of the audience is daunting. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). Oh, boy ... blind. Then there is the sin condition. Human beings are classified biblically as "slaves of sin" (Rom 6:17). Worse yet, the unregenerate human being is "dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph 2:1-2). Oh, great, dead. But wait! It gets worse. "Natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor 2:14). Wow! Double whammy! There is "does not" and there is "cannot". Both a refusal and an inability.

So, we are commanded to preach the gospel and we are told that the message is foolishness and an offense to the hearers and the hearers are blind slaves, dead in sin and unwilling and unable to even comprehend. "There you go," Jesus says, "preach the gospel under those conditions."

This is why I dearly love the doctrine of God's Sovereignty. If we're relying on skills and talents, good arguments and good feelings, planning and wording, we can be relatively certain that we'll fail. But if we are relying on a Sovereign God, it's an entirely different story. We can know for certain that we are commanded and we can be quite sure that the message and the audience will not be positive, but we also know that it's not our work. It's God's. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (John 6:29). He assured us "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). Apparently the list of people He plans to save was written "before the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8; 17:8). He "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4), "predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself", and "predestined (us) to become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29).

We are commanded by the One who possesses all authority to preach the gospel, to make disciples. We are promised that the message would be viewed as foolish and offensive. We are told that the audience is deaf, blind, spiritually dead, and incapable of comprehending. Despite what appears to be an impossible task, we can be confident that we are not alone in it. It seems like a fool's errand, but our task is not to make converts. It is to preach the gospel and make disciples. The success of such a task is found in obeying. The results are found in the Sovereign hand of God. A fool's errand? Sure. "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:27). That works for me.

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