There is a striking charge—and occasionally we all need one—we find it in the strange book of Ezekiel. From a modern language translation, the words of that prophet are as follows:
“… the message came from God … A sword is being sharpened and polished … Now, will you laugh?”
I just read an essay on the pros and cons about negative preaching! Well, this is the prophet using negative, graphic language to tell people to get ready—if things don’t change soon, judgment is on the way! It was a frightening message!
Nothing kills evangelism like a loss of belief in the fact that we are lost and there is coming a day of judgment. When we think, well over 50% of the people who sign up to attend one of our events cannot clearly say, “I have repented and put my faith in Jesus Christ”—it means in their present condition, hell awaits them. John’s gospel makes it plain, “But those who don’t trust him have already been tried and condemned … Their sentence is based on this fact: that the Light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness … for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:18-19, TLB) — It should make us tremble and weep at the very thought!
A famous Scottish preacher came to Dundee to preach in view of a call. He was put in a boarding house with a pub below. On Saturday night he heard the rowdy behavior and profane language, and he lay on the floor and sobbed, “Oh, they perish, they perish!” Who does that today? Do we believe that this is “… reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Peter 3:7)? Are we taking the Bible seriously?
Charles Spurgeon told fellow preachers, “Shun all views of future punishment that would make it appear less terrible.” Yet today, the novelist David Lodge wrote, “At some point in the 1960’s hell disappeared. No one can say for certain when this happened … in fact they had ceased to believe in its existence a long time ago,” and a Harvard professor in the divinity school said that the belief in hell and future judgment has been in decline for four hundred years and now the trend is irreversible.
In my bookcase is a book entitled Whatever Happened to Hell? Do we really believe, as John said, “… the whole world lieth in wickedness”? Peter was not afraid of negative preaching and the truth:
“They are doomed to the eternal pits of darkness.” II Peter 2:17
Recently I ran across a letter written to an editor of a Melbourne, Australia, newspaper. It was written after a Billy Graham crusade. It says, “After hearing Billy Graham on the air, viewing him on television and reading reports … concerning him and his mission. I am … sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else’s) needs to be saved—whatever that means. I have never felt I was lost … If in order to save my soul I must accept such a philosophy as I have recently heard preached, I prefer to remain forever damned.”
We are meeting people who are cultured and gracious. They smile and express appreciation, and we cannot help but ask, “Are they really lost?” Yet, beneath the surface there is a volcano of resentment toward God like we just read from Australia. “The offense of the cross” is still there! Ezekiel said as a question, “Can you laugh this off?”
When we put this all together—this is no time to laugh. And yet, believe me, if America dies, it will be because we laughed ourselves to death! Never in history has there been a people to pay so much to
be amused by filthy-mouthed comedians. Foolishly, we have turned a moral midnight from an end-time tragedy into a shameful comedy. Have we ever had so much satanic laughter and less godly joy? Have we ever had so much worldly tomfoolery and so little wholesome laughter?
Paul said people of this world are “without excuse” so that, judgment and condemnation is not unfair or undeserved, yet, do we hear preachers plainly warn of it? And the attitude is spilled over into the pulpit. Charles Spurgeon described it in one unforgettable sentence:
“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.”
We hear preachers cracking doubtful jokes and making puns about sacred Scripture. The Bible does not make anyone giggle! No great spiritual awakening ever started with loud laughter! We cannot start this ministry with a flippant attitude. It’s time to get very serious!
And remember, God, in history has done more great things in times of persecution rather than when pleasure was paraded. — Today we Christians tremble; the truth is we should be hated by unbelievers, but we are just ignored! The revivalist/evangelist Charles G. Finney said Mr. Wet-Eyes and Mr. Amen are no longer present in the average church! What needs to be rediscovered today? It is surely this: the difference between worldly happiness and Christian joy.
James says, “… mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.” (James 4:9) He even adds, “… weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” (James 5:1) This is the most strong language that can be spoken!
And nowhere in Scripture do you find God saying—“Pardon me, I said it too plainly.” The day of reckoning is coming!
And yet John Lennon had a smash hit with a song which included these words that became almost a theme song of the age:
“Imagine there’s no heaven; It’s easy if you try, No hell below us — Above us only sky”
Today, for too many people heaven and hell talk is reserved for foolish and uneducated people only. For far too many, the whole idea is a big joke.
We who name Jesus as Lord are never more shamefully embarrassing than when we laugh and giggle over the fact that supposedly people are lost, lost, lost! One can imagine how Ezekiel would react!
In the coming days—it may be our only chance with some people—to show them joy, not silliness; to show them a face full of love, not just a silly grin. The truth is—this will be the closest opportunity some have ever had to meet someone who can say, “I know Jesus personally.” And today I am haunted by the fact I can name times when the last message people ever heard before going into eternity was from my lips—it may be the same with you now!
Pray that those brought into your circle of influence may be moved now, remembering the severe words of Ezekiel, “A sword is being sharpened and polished …” Our time is limited, the days are evil, our opportunity to show them Jesus is now and very brief.
Ezekiel tells us all—
They stand condemned today.
Now, will you laugh?
The prophet Ezekiel wants us to realize the urgency of the hour and the reality of a coming judgment, and the only hope they have is God.