How Shall They Hear Without a Preacher?
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19 ASV).
By Larry McClellan
As Christians, we clearly follow Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. One of the very first things Jesus did when he was thirty years of age is found in Luke 4:17. He went to his hometown of Nazareth to the synagogue where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath Day he was handed the book of Isaiah to read from, where he selected the 61st chapter and read verses 1 and 2. And Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Then Jesus closed the book, gave it to the minister and sat down. Everybody’s eyes were fixed on Jesus. Was this Joseph’s son — the little boy that had grown up before their eyes? He spoke so eloquently and with zealous sincerity and reverence for Jehovah. When he added, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” they were astounded and wondered at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They might have liked what they heard. However, everything changed when Jesus quoted Proverbs and said, “no prophet is accepted in his own country.” They were so infuriated by these words of Jesus that they wanted to throw him headlong over a hill! However, Jesus escaped — seemingly miraculously.
Here we consider the doctrine of witnessing. What is our message? To whom do we witness, and how? What effect does this witnessing bring upon us as well as upon others? Why does a Christian need to witness to others? What was Jesus showing us by example at the very beginning of his earthly ministry? Why did he start with just the first part of Isaiah 61?
Preach the Acceptable Year of the Lord
Quoting from Isaiah 61, Jesus pointed to his great commission from God. This is also a serious commission for serious Christians. Let us read it carefully — and follow its direction carefully throughout our Christian lives. We are God’s business cards in a world of darkness that generally hates the light. The truths we are commissioned to preach have a variety of effects on a variety of hearts. The truths we witness can bless some with a comforting message they enjoy hearing. In contrast, it can make other people feel extremely uncomfortable — even angry and possibly angry enough to hurt or even kill us, given the opportunity. Others may simply respond with apathy.
It happened to Jesus, did it not? It happened to his apostles also. (Tradition says they tried to kill the Apostle John too.) It is a sword that cuts sharply, separating truth from error, light from superstition, darkness, or ignorance. Jesus showed us by his experiences the reactions we could get from people by simply witnessing to the gospel.
Whatever the case, we all have this commission, as our Lord Jesus had. If we follow Jesus’ example we should fulfill that commission — until we are stopped, like John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, or like Jesus our king. However, we should not stop, because someone convinces us to stop, but only when we are stopped by an outside force or forces. Work until “the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). We should also not stop because no one will listen. Stopping on our own may actually be a presumptuous sin! (See the Expanded Comments on Psalms 19:13.)
Therefore, let us focus on the divine directions given to us in Isaiah 61 to see if we can improve ourselves, given our various circumstances.
The divine commission in Isaiah 61 directs us as disciples of Jesus to comfort people with the scriptures. We should point them to God’s promises and encourage them to become ambassadors of the Lord. We can comfort them by sharing the biblical message of salvation through the precious blood of Jesus — and that there is a better day coming when there will no longer be pain, sickness, sorrow, and even death. We also comfort one another as brethren in Christ with these exceeding great and precious promises (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
We are commissioned to comfort those that mourn. Did Jesus offer comfort in his ministry? Absolutely! As disciples of Jesus, we are to do likewise. The whole world is mourning senseless killings and injustices perpetrated on the weak and innocent to a level that brings tears to the compassionate Christian. What effect does this have on our hearts? It can galvanize us in the bond with our heavenly Father. It can lift our spirits to focus more on the glorious words of salvation and hope for humanity. When given an opportunity to share the message, it will energize us to continue proclaiming the good tidings to others.
Dare to Be a Daniel
But what happens when someone laughs at you, persecutes you, throws a tract back in your face, calls you a member of a cult, or proclaims you anathema, or cursed? Does that scare you away? (It does many.) Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone. Dare to give a witness; dare to make it known. Our early Christian brethren from the Smyrna period had much more persecution than that, did they not? When you receive such kinds of reaction, it can also cement the relationship with your Master. It can be classified as first-class suffering. If you suffer with Christ, then shall you reign with him (2 Timothy 2:12).
Perhaps this is one reason why the church is just a Little Flock. Sometime in their life, all Christians will have some kind of persecuting experience. Let us not hide our light under a bushel. If we have failed, like Peter did, let us move forward and use our failings as stepping stones for future victories. Consider the question: Would there be enough evidence to convict us of being a Christian, should the occasion arise? The occasion will arise when Christians go to judgment at death.
In Isaiah 61:3, who are “them that mourn in Zion?” In Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 4 (page 30), it is suggested that these are spirit-begotten Christians in mainstream churches who have throughout the Gospel Age painfully observed the spirit of the world in their midst. We are to give them the beauty of hope in a wonderful resurrection morning (a heavenly hope for the spirit-begotten, and earth for the rest of mankind). Most denominations have scared them with a God of eternal torment and damnation, giving them the “ashes of death.” But the Bible gives them flowers of hope and glad tidings of great joy!
The doctrine of witnessing compels us, if we really love the Truth and not just believe it, to represent the true character of God’s love. Now, in this Gospel Age, is the acceptable time to join Jesus in consecration and preaching the really good news of what Jesus actually died for — to redeem Adam and the whole human race. God’s justice is not for “just us.” For God so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten son to die as the ransom price required by divine justice. What more could He possibly have given from all of His universal domain?
We are also commissioned to give the “garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). This means to share from our hearts the loving kindness of Jehovah, the wondrous grace we have been given. We explain how the unmerited favor of God has been spread over the entire human family! God’s plan that all the families of the earth will be blessed is a promise from the Old Testament. And the Apostle Paul quotes it in Galatians 3:8 as the gospel preached unto Abraham. We can lift the mourning faces and the “spirit of heaviness” brought about by conflicting and inconsistent creeds — doctrines from churchianity — by pointing out (via witnessing) that God will only permit evil on the earth until this “seed class,” the Christ, head and body (true Christians), is completed (Romans 8:19).
If You Love Me …
Let us fulfill our divine commission given in Isaiah 61, dear brethren, to the absolute best of our ability. Let us follow Jesus, who was followed by the apostles and faithful ones of the past, to listen and follow our divine commission in preaching the gospel. We must do so to receive the crown of life, even a full reward. Jesus said, “If you love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This commission is for those who follow him. Make the effort — go the distance. Jesus said, “And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:36). Our wages begin in this life as we witness of God’s plan to others.
Let us, dear followers of Jesus, embrace even the smallest opportunity to put out a tract, mail a booklet, say something to our barber, beautician, plumber, or electrician, about the incredible invitation and the scriptural hope of a glorious day beyond the dark clouds of the present distress in a world spinning out of order. Let us step out of our comfort zones, and demonstrate to our Master that we truly are willing to witness in spirit and in truth. By this we gain credentials and our place in the divine family of our king. The anointing on the head (Christ Jesus) runs down upon the Body (Psalms 133). The same commission and ordination comes to us as it came to our Lord Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).
Dear ones of this anointing, let us do our personal best in our present situation of life — to fulfill our commission in this scriptural doctrine of witnessing. Use whatever means the Father puts within our reach, whether it is mailing out a tract, handing out a booklet, or witnessing to our friends or family. If we are aging, or saddled with an ailing body, pray for those who are more able to witness. Let us all look for these opportunities. They do not always just land on our laps. How hard would you want your brethren looking for you, if you were outside the Truth fellowship, and needed to be found? Amen!