Many things grip us in life. It may be a football match, a tennis tournament or a tragic incident displayed on the television. We might be gripped by a song or a stunning building.
A proud mum and dad bring their newborn baby to church for the first time. It naturally grabs our attention.
Most of the sights and sounds that grip us are of passing interest. The gospel should grip us for life, but does it?
By ‘gospel’ I mean the good news concerning God’s gracious provision of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ, to unworthy sinners like us. What God has revealed in the gospel should, in the words of William Gadsby, claim ‘our supreme attention’.
It should move us every time we read and hear it. The gospel should be a constant theme in our prayers and frequently mentioned in our conversations. After all, we are referring to the most amazing happening in our world.
Here in the gospel we view our God. Just think of it, the true and living God has reached down to us in the person of his Son to rescue us from our sorry, sinful condition, to raise us up to be with him for ever.
The Son, Jesus Christ, lived on earth and went about doing good, befriending the outcasts and needy. By word and action he proclaimed that through him there is deliverance from the power of sin and Satan, a deliverance he affords to all who come to him in self-despairing trust.
It cost him his own life. He paid the ransom that set us sinners free. Jesus our Saviour experienced the hell that we deserve. He suffered that all who believe in him might be forgiven and accepted in him by God.
His resurrection from the dead guarantees that all who belong to him are right with God and will be raised bodily to participate in his new creation.
Man with a message
If preachers are gripped by this gospel they will preach it. I find it sad when congregations tell me they have not heard the gospel preached for some time.
What a dreadful state of affairs, when unconverted churchgoers and children do not hear the joyful sound. When they are never urged to repent and believe this astounding message!
How shameful, when believers do not hear that which should thrill their souls and be the mainspring of their work for Christ.
One perceptive newspaper reporter, hearing Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach for the first time, commented that the alleged apathy of people towards Christianity is greatly exaggerated. For ‘when there is a man with a message’, he said, they are ready to respond.
The gospel had gripped Lloyd-Jones. He was full of it, and he preached it with assurance and authority.
Afraid to challenge?
In this connection, there is a growing tendency, particularly in some Reformed circles, to partake of the Lord’s Supper on occasions other than the normal times for communal worship.
It is done with good intentions, to keep the unbeliever (or in some cases even believers) from sharing in this sacred family meal. ‘Fencing’ the table, as it is called, has come to mean hiding the table.
Are we too afraid to challenge people as to their Christian profession that we need to keep the communion service a secret? In our user-friendly society, are we ashamed to warn people of the danger of partaking in an unworthy way?
Like water baptism, the Lord’s Supper preaches the gospel. Concerning this fellowship meal, Paul states: ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Private communions, like private baptisms, are out of keeping with the message they seek to convey.
The interests of Christ
Word and symbol preach to believers and unbelievers of the centrality of the cross and its significance. Crosses, whether plain or ornate, are unnecessary if the whole service of worship, including the preaching, focuses on Jesus Christ and him crucified.
How can the preacher urge people to live the Christian life without reference to the good news? Sermons become moral and legalistic discourses. It is when congregations see themselves in the light of the cross that they will be truly humbled.
As God’s love in Christ is portrayed, the demand for total dedication to God’s service becomes inevitable. ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all’.
There is a general complaint that many Christians show little commitment to Christ, to his people and to the spread of the gospel. Again, it comes back to basics.
Are we gripped by the gospel? We find time for things that interest us. Then what about Christ’s interests? There is a sad sentence in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He writes that he knows of no one who will care for them like Timothy, ‘for all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:21).
Losing sight of central truths
Tensions and splits often occur in local churches when the central truths of the Christian faith are lost sight of. It is so easy for other issues, important in their own right, to take centre-stage and consume our thoughts, time and energies.
Hymnbooks, music, and Bible versions are among the items that too often absorb our attention, while our witness to the gospel suffers.
What is of first importance? Paul tells the Corinthians what he considers to be the essence of the message he preached, namely, ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures and that he was seen…’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).
The apostle Paul is an example to us of a true Christian. He was taken up with love for Jesus Christ and all that he meant to him.
The Lord Jesus Christ, he says, ‘gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil age’. The Son of God ‘loved me and gave himself for me’. ‘God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. ‘I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 6:14; Philippians 3:8).
We are not all called to be preachers and missionaries.But we are called to be enthusiastic in our devotion to Jesus Christ.