volume 13, number 27, July 3, 2014
But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” Acts 3:4.
I love preaching to people on the streets of our American cities. Recently, while preaching at Lincoln Park in downtown Newark, New Jersey, right across the street from Integrity House, a state sponsored half-way house for men and women coming out of jail and off drugs, I repeatedly witnessed a remarkable scene. As I preached to these men and women, as I declared to them that they are rebellious, stiff-necked, hard hearted, and incapable of affecting change in their lives; as I told them they have a guilty, shameful past and that no manner of effort on their part can ever remove it; as I drove home the fact that they have long been governed by a bad master of addiction, whether it is drugs, alcohol, violence, sex, gambling, or prostitution-I saw the look of desperation in their eyes. They were all in trouble and they knew it. Then when I went further and told them that they most certainly would go to hell for their sins, that eventually they would hear the most awful words ever imagined, “Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, into the everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels,”-the look of desperation deepened. They were surely under conviction. Just as a prosecuting attorney is to convince the jury of the guilt of the man on trial, so my job was to convince them that they stood condemned and guilty before the tribunal of a holy God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
But then, when I lifted up Jesus, proclaiming to them that He died on the cross, taking their sin, condemnation, guilt, and shame upon Himself; that He was raised again from the dead, enabling them to walk in newness of life; that He reconciled them in His fleshly body through death, removing His just enmity from them; that He delivered them from the domain of darkness, transferring them into His kingdom; that Christ Jesus was the propitiation or the satisfaction of God’s righteous wrath by His blood-I began to see a ray of hope in their eyes. And when I told them that they could start all over again, that Jesus could wash away their sin, casting it from them as far as the east is from the west, that He could make them children of God, knowing the Father’s eternal love, that He would never leave them nor forsake them, that they would be with Him forever with joy inexpressible and full of glory; they quickly repented, believed on Christ, and called on the name of the Lord for mercy and grace.
I tell you there is nothing like preaching to men and women who have that look of desperation in their eyes, who are thirsting for something more, something eternal and transcendent. This is especially glorious when you then see the flicker of hope in their eyes, “Is this really possible? Can it be that I can truly gain an interest in Christ’s blood? Can I really be set free from my bondage to sin, Satan, and death?”
Why is it that so many of those who have lost everything are the most open to the gospel? Surely it is because they know they are in big trouble. They know they are enslaved to their sin and face judgment. They know all hope is gone in self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-improvement classes. They are desperate. They are out of options.
Why are so many people who have accomplished a great deal in life, who have money, education, nice jobs, and nice homes bored or ambivalent about the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Because they have forgotten one vital thing-they are just like the men and women in Integrity House in Newark. While they may think they are rich and have need of nothing; they actually are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:17).
Peter fixed his gaze on a desperate man as he went up to the temple to pray. The man, lame from birth, soon saw his desperation yield to hope, for Peter lifted up Jesus to the man. Everything changed for this one who was healed by Apostolic power, ordained by the Lord Jesus.
What does this mean for you? Several things. First, get a fresh, experiential sense of how utterly desperate your condition was prior to God’s marvelous and miraculous work in your life. The very best of you were guilty, vile, shame filled, hell bent, rebellious, blind workers of iniquity and were surely destined for hell had not God intervened with saving mercy and grace. Second, realize that you are debtors to such grace. Hold your money, time, and energy loosely. Don’t hoard it. Give it up freely and willingly to get the gospel to your community, nation, and world. Be done with lesser things. Invest your life in the only two created things which will last for eternity-God’s word and the souls of men and women. Third, walk humbly before the Lord. Put away any man made distinctions of color, race, ethnicity, morality. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There are immoral sinners, but there are also moral and religious sinners. At the end of the day, however, we all are on the road to perdition until God breaks through in redeeming love.
Fourth, use the glory of your new found exhilaration with the gospel of grace to move you out of your comfort zone to lift up Jesus. Recently, while on the campus of UAB doing questionnaire evangelism, we met a woman in her forties, who was waiting on her son who had just enrolled at the University. When I asked her about eternity she was a bit miffed and said that was a personal question. When I asked her what she thought she would say to God when she met Him, she became even more irritated and said, “Why are you asking these kinds of questions of people you don’t even know?” My response was, “We love Jesus and we simply want to lift Him up. He is such a glorious Savior that we want everyone to know about Him.” She was disarmed by that response. It is true, isn’t it? Where else can anyone go to have what a believer has in Jesus!
And fifth, by complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit, because He alone can provoke conviction in a person’s life-you must labor for that look of desperation in people’s eyes. Until they have it, they will not be serious about their souls. Until they come to the end of their own morality and religious activity, they will not run to the only lover of their souls, the Lord Jesus. They must first gain the look of desperation. After they have it, though, then you have the inestimable privilege of lifting up Jesus-the Reconciler, Justifier, Redeemer, Savior, Expiator, and Propitiator. That is when the look of hope comes into their tired eyes. When they gaze upon Jesus, seeing His beautiful face of glory and grace, then they will truly run to Him for eternal hope and safety.
Here’s the bottom line-we are ambivalent about the gospel of grace because we have failed to remember how far gone we were, how lost we were, how enslaved and hopeless we were. We have underestimated our own sin as well as God’s justice and holiness. He indeed is a consuming fire but that fire from Mt. Sinai has been quenched by the Savior’s blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Labor for that look of desperation. Labor for that look of hope.