Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Luke 3:3, “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (ESV)

Luke 3:7-8a, “He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the WRATH TO COME? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…” (ESV)

Years ago H. Richard Niebuhr offered this critique of theological liberalism, describing its message as: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” That spirit of ministerial negligence has since leavened much of that which identifies itself today as “Christian.” Pastor Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” published last year amongst much controversy, is but one example of the growing trend amongst evangelicals to dismiss the reality of hell and relevance of the cross.

By way of contrast consider the ministry of John the Baptist. His God-given message was one or repentance. “Flee from the wrath to come,” he warned (Luke 3:7). He confronted commoners, religious leaders, and political rulers alike. He gave no credence to mere religious profession or practice. He demanded fruit as evidence of true repentance. He directed the people, not to himself, but to the one who was to come--Christ. He boldly and fearlessly declared the Word to the people.

J. C. Ryle offered these comments on his ministry: “We should mark…how plainly John speaks to his hearers about hell and danger. He tells them that there is a ‘wrath to come.’ He speaks of ‘the ax’ of God’s judgments, and of unfruitful trees being cast into ‘the fire.’ The subject of HELL is always offensive to human nature. The minister, who dwells much upon it, must expect to find himself regarded as barbaric, violent, unfeeling, and narrow-minded. Men love to hear ‘smooth things,’ and to be told of peace, and not of danger (Isaiah 30:10). But the subject is one that ought not to be kept back, if we desire to do good to souls. It is one that our Lord Jesus Christ brought forward frequently in His public teachings. That loving Savior, who spoke so graciously of the way to heaven, has also used the plainest language about the way to hell. Let us beware of being wise above that which is written, and more charitable than Scripture itself. Let the language of John the Baptist be deeply engraved in our hearts. Let us never be ashamed to avow our firm belief, that there is a ‘wrath to come’ for the impenitent, and that it is possible for a man to be lost as well as to be saved. To be silent on the subject is dreadful treachery to men’s souls…Never will a man flee until he sees there is real cause to be afraid. Never will he seek heaven until he is convinced that there is a risk of falling into hell. The religion, in which there is no mention of hell, is not the religious of John the Baptist, and of our Lord Jesus, and His apostles.”

The bad news must be told if the good news is to be understood. To the degree we appreciate the extent of the bad news, we will revel in the grace of God by which we have been delivered. The Spirit of God is at work to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8)—that sinners might be directed to the Savior. We have a role to play in His work (Acts 24:25).

Pastor Jerry

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