The family and friends of the deceased have gathered in the small chapel; the service is about to begin. This death was an untimely one, and no one was prepared to say goodbye. There is so much pain in the hearts of each one there. A clergyman rises to the pulpit to speak.
What words will he bring? What can he say to bring real comfort and hope to those who are in such anguish? How would you advise him? Should he point out that the consequence of sin is death, and we are all under condemnation if we fail to turn and receive the Messiah Yeshua as our sin-bearer? Will this message bring healing to those in mourning? Is there a time when the preaching of the gospel is inappropriate? The answer is yes—and no.
There are many who say that it is unfair and even opportunistic to preach to a captive audience” a message they did not come to hear. Some would go so far as to say that, at such a time as this, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and waged war, the preaching of the gospel is offensive.
But if the gospel is the message of eternal truth about God and His love for humanity, then how could there be a time when that message is inappropriate? The problem does not lie in the message itself, but often in the messengers’ presentation.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian congregation, said the gospel needs to be carried by broken and weak vessels so that its power can be displayed. At the very core of the gospel we confront a God who emptied Himself in order to bring His people back to Him. Those who carry the message of the gospel should reflect the humility inherent in its message.
It can still be argued that a funeral is not the appropriate place to speak that message, because of the great pain and sense of loss people are feeling. But if our message is that especially in times of pain and death, God is very aware of our suffering and wants to offer us peace, then what else can we say that will offer true hope and help? Sometimes it is only through the death of a loved one that we’re forced to re-evaluate our beliefs. Pain often sharpens our perceptions about the meaning of life.
In Chicago, where I minister with Jews for Jesus, we had been involved in our Behold Your God campaign for three weeks prior to the September 11 attacks. The daily commuters had become so familiar with us they would sometimes greet us by name! When they saw our T-shirts, they knew they’d be handed a gospel tract.
On the afternoon of the tragedy of September 11, we were confronted with the question: Is it appropriate for us to be out on the streets, preaching the gospel? We prayed and grappled with the unexpected, tragic turn of world events, and realized our message was more appropriate and necessary than ever. But the presentation of God’s comforting truth needed to be extended with the same humility a minister must exercise when speaking at a funeral.
The city of Chicago went into reverse—the commute into town suddenly became the commute out of town. The Behold Your God campaigners, a trained and committed team of evangelists who had one more week of campaigning to go, became more and more aware that God had gathered them together for such a time as this. We had been on the streets representing God and His grace to the people of Chicago for the past three weeks. Why stop now, when those very same people who had received our message were now thrown into fear and confusion?
Pain often sharpens our perceptions about the meaning of life
We made placards that said “Prayer Station—stop here to pray and receive a free Bible.” We set these stations up all over the city. Many passersby who had not stopped to talk us in the previous three weeks were now desperately seeking prayer and words of hope and comfort. We quickly wrote new literature in the form of a statement, instead of the usual tracts. To our surprise, many people stopped and thanked us for being out there, assuring them that God was still in charge and that He could be trusted.
However, there were some who were upset by the fact that our mere presence on the streets reminded them to grapple with the message that Jesus is the answer for both Jews and Gentiles. To these we responded, “If not now, when? When have you ever needed God’s good news more than at such a time as this?”
“Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25). In such tenuous days as these, we all need good news. God’s message of love and grace is never inappropriate and it is always necessary, in and out of season, in every place in our world—that is our Great Commission.