Good News of Great Joy Several years ago, I was listening to a renowned preacher recount a story of an occasion in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. He saw someone he recognized, someone he believed to be a fellow preacher. This renowned pastor of a church of 1000’s was correct. This other person in the waiting room was also clergy, and he said he was excited because he thought they could“fellowship in the Lord.”
I don’t entirely know what he meant. I don’t know what “fellowship in the Lord” looks like while one is waiting for the dentist to drill away. But I think he wanted to share the joy of Jesus with a brother in Christ. But, then the famous pastor, in recounting the story, said, “I smelled a rat.”
I smelled a rat! What a thing to say, especially in reference to a colleague! The famous preacher meant that the other pastor was not in fact a true Christian. He had in mind what a follower of Jesus is and he felt this person who was clergy was not actually a Christ-follower. His description of someone who is a pastor, but in his estimation is not a Christian, is “rat.”
I don’t know if the famous pastor was correct or not. I don’t know if the person he met truly was a Christian or was not a true believer. What I know is this: people who don’t have Jesus are lost. Jesus did not call lost people “rats.” Rats are something to be exterminated with traps and poison. Jesus called lost people “sheep.” He said the shepherd (Jesus himself, John 10:11) leaves the 99 sheep (those already saved, Luke 15:4) in search of the lost one. Rats? O no, lost people are not rats, but those who desperately need the reality of Jesus in their lives. Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Christians are sometimes tempted to see those outside the church as lost sinners who have a fiery Hell ahead of them. We’re glad we get to go to heaven. Are we ever secretly satisfied that someone “out there” (outside our church walls) will get their just desserts in Hell someday? Or, are we so petrified of the horrors of Hell that we dread the fate of those separated from Jesus, especially our unsaved friends?
Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, evangelism, is a calling for every Christian. To call the lost “rats” and to snicker at their demise is completely foreign to the Gospel. Jesus wept at the reality that people were alienated from God (Luke 19:41-44). He grieved over the condition of the souls of men and women.
We do well to share his grief, but that doesn’t mean evangelism (sharing Jesus) is a fear-based work that is done to save souls by the skin of their teeth. I don’t believe we are called to Hell-avoidance, fear-based evangelism. Yes, we grieve for people who don’t know Jesus, but at the same time, we rejoice in Him. We rejoice in our relationship with God in Jesus. And we rejoice in seeing others come to Know Jesus.
Joy is a word that should be tied to how we practice evangelism. “The will be more joy in heaven” over the salvation of the lost. The coming of Jesus was for the sake of the salvation of the world. The angel said the night of Christ’s birth,“I bring good news of great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10). When we share the gospel, it should be joyful work, not scary, uncomfortable, confrontational work we’d rather avoid.
In 2012, one of our emphases will be evangelism. But this isn’t the work of passing out tracts or accosting people and threatening them with Hell, telling them, turn or burn! This is joy-work. We will spend the year searching for that joy that heavenly joy that comes when a lost person is saved. In this search, I will write newsletter columns about “Evangelism as Joy-work.” As we go, I pray that you and I together will discover the joy of sharing Jesus.