Spread Like Wildfire – Stuart Johnson

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How many of us have felt like we want to share the gospel but have no idea where to begin?  Before I fully grasped the gospel in the Trinitarian frame, I worked very hard at sharing the gospel through the local media in the country town we lived in and even ran ads on the country TV station nearby.  I have no idea of the impact we had.  I knew there was great interest in the articles I wrote as I was in a heavily Catholic area.  The local Catholic church gathered all the articles I wrote and kept them on file.  I found out about this when we tried to get our children enrolled in the local Catholic school.

Sharing the gospel when the opportunity arises is something I do quite naturally.  I have always wondered how the it might have been when the gospel first spread from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas.  There was fierce opposition with some lives lost for the sake of the gospel.  Yet, this is a world that was vastly different to the world we live in now with our freedoms we take for granted.  The ancient world was ruled by a tyrannical Roman Empire.  Historians describe the ruling soldiers as thugs who could menace the population without fear of prosecution.  On a whim, your family could be targeted, pillaged and the women raped and the whole family taken away into slavery.  The only recent comparison we have is the rule of Europe by the Nazis during World War 2 and the events in the Middle East.  Yet, the might of the Roman Empire could do nothing to quench the fire of the Spirit as it spread throughout the known world.

The quest by many Christians is to try and replicate what those first Christians appeared to do.  This usually involves some form of piety and a strong endeavour to cleanse the church of sin.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but it depends on how we interpret the word sin.  If it has its ground upon morality and what is judged good or bad where we opt for morally upright, “good” living then we are no better than the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  We have to understand that on the one hand we have Jesus as God in the flesh highlighting the rampant hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  On the other hand, we have the Pharisees and teachers of the law questioning the character of Jesus who ate with sinners and tax collectors and performed miracles on the Sabbath Day.  If we could have a third hand, we have evangelical Christianity behaving like the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Both the Pharisees and Teachers of the law and the evangelical church fail to see with their own eyes the nature and character of God through the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees and  teachers of the Law were so convinced of what they saw in Jesus was so very bad.  They were in fact blind to Him.  The real sin in the presence of God was the Pharisees and teachers of the Law did not know Jesus as He truly is and therefore could not see Him.  If the church in general are drawing similarities in their behaviour that have all the hallmarks of the Pharisees’ and the teachers of the Law’s rampant hypocrisy, then we can safely say the churches who operate in this way are blind.  The community around the church can see for themselves the hypocrisy by those who particularly behave like they are the moral arbiters of society.  The nature and character of God is to love freely and give Himself to all without turning anyone away.  Yet, we find in much of evangelicalism is the tendency to turn people away with the impression they are not up to the moral high bar.  Therefore, love is conditional on what a particular church deems as good or bad, right or wrong.

I love the story at the beginning of John 8 of the woman caught in adultery.  If we read this in the context of what is good or bad, right or wrong, then it is very easy to miss the point of this story.  The famous line, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone,” is well known even amongst the secular community.  As we know, all the accusers dropped their stones and walked away.  Jesus was well qualified to cast the first stone as the One who is without sin.  Yet, His hands were empty.  He even declared that He will not accuse.  If we are in the good bad frame of mind, we will immediately jump to the disclaimer, “Go sin no more.”  So if this is the way we think, then we will pile on the burden of the do’s and don’ts of pious living.  I believe what Jesus said was not in reference to sanctimonious living but to what the woman caught in adultery had just witnessed.  This is what she witnessed: God is not an accuser, is without sin and His hands are empty of the rocks of condemnation but full of mercy.  This is the very nature and character of God that the woman witnessed.  She saw Him and was set free from sin.  She saw the Light of the world!  When we see Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, we become aware that the sin of the world has been taken away.

If the church is to survive into this millennium then our accusations must stop and we must replace the rocks in our hands with the mercy of God.  To be without sin is to adopt the nature and character of God expressed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  I believe as we show people the true Person of Jesus Christ who actually resides within them and teach them about His nature and character  in fulness of His mercy with loving hands, then people may actually start to see Him.  The woman at the well actually saw Jesus Christ.  People may actually see that God the Father, Son and Spirit in the midst of our darkness and depravity has given us the dignity, courtesy and respect they feel we deserve. They wanted to be known and this was the task of Jesus Christ, to make God known in Him.  We actually do not deserve to be cast into oblivion as many evangelical churches would have us believe.  We do not need to ask for mercy when mercy has already been given.  The Triune God has declared a divine, “No!” against our destruction and a divine, “Yes!!” to life in all its fulness.

What happens when we start to work with merciful, loving hands empty of stones and our mouths silent of accusations and condemnation?  We may start to engage with people in whom the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law may deem as morally questionable characters.  We may be accused of being soft on sin.  We might even be accused of eating with sinners, prostitutes, murderers, gays and lesbians, adulterers and even tax collectors!  What a mess this kind of church would be in!!  Is it possible for us to sit down and eat with a prostitute and discuss how her week was on the job with the hands of mercy of love and without accusations and condemnation?  Can we sit down with a gay or lesbian and talk about how harsh their persecution has been from fundamental churches or the issue of same sex marriage with the hands of mercy and love and without accusations and condemnation?  Can we as children of divorced or separated parents make judgments on one or both of them when they both have shown such love, grace and mercy as they have reared us into adults?  Even if our upbringing was messy, do we as broken people condemn broken people??  When marriages breakdown, so many stones are thrown from moral high grounds between parents and children.  People in their immediate community take sides and become allies of those who want to inflict enormous pain on opposing parties.  Yet all are broken.  I have seen this happen even by those who profess to be devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  Is there any place to behave so reprehensibly?  Who has the right to condemn so harshly when we have been judged so mercifully?  If God has shown such mercy then we fall into line with His nature and character and be merciful.  To be holy is to be merciful, gracious and loving.

What happens if we all meet Jesus Christ as He truly is?  What happens if our true personhood meets the divine Personhoods of the Father, Son and Spirit?  Then we disciple each other with love and mercy with our hands empty of stones and mouths silent from accusations and condemnation.  What kind of church would this be?  It would be full of morally questionable characters loving other morally questionable characters in the true fellowship expressing the nature and character of the Father, Son and Spirit.  We would learn more about courtesy, dignity and mutual respect for all concerned.  Church itself would be transformed from the fast food style, karaoke, fleeting shallow niceties, and handing over the money all set to a tight and strict schedule to a church that live in the Light of Jesus Christ.  By loving mercifully we just might see miracles happen.  Such a contrary scenario might set a spark and spread like wildfire!