"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14).
Many in the church today try to determine the nearness of Christ's return by reading the signs of the times. We see such signs in particular events -- for example, the return of the Jews to Israel. Yet one of the clearest statements Jesus makes about his second coming is contained in the verse above: The end will come only after the gospel has been preached to all nations -- as a testimony.
The word that Jesus uses for "witness" in this verse is the same Greek word used for "testimony." It means, literally, "proof of the fact." Christ is speaking here of not just preaching the gospel, but presenting it as a testimony. In short, he says, the gospel we preach is effective only if it's backed up by a life that testifies to its reality.
You'd think that in America, a nation filled with thousands of evangelical churches, there would be a strong gospel witness. In one large southern city alone, there are over 2,000 evangelical churches, one with a membership upwards of 15,000 people.
But many such churches have compromised the true gospel of Christ. Divorce is rampant in their congregations. And many of their young singles lead permissive, sexually active lives. How could this be, you ask? The fact is, even with all the evangelical preaching in many of these mega-churches, there is very little testimony of Christ's lordship in the people's lives to back it up. They are not a true witness to the city or the nation.
Of course, there are exceptions. In the particular city I'm thinking of, I know of a handful of young ministers who've begun spending much time on their faces before the Lord. Now, when they deliver God's word, they speak with power and authority. The gospel they preach is backed up by a testimony of intimacy with Christ and a holy walk. And they're beginning to see the difference in the congregants' lives.
I think also of a Baptist pastor who at one time planned to build a huge new building. His congregation was growing rapidly, and he'd begun studying the church-growth movement. But then his wife was stirred to pray and seek the Lord, and soon the pastor was doing the same. He quickly gave up his dream of huge numbers and began to be a testimony of what he preached.
For a recent sermon, the pastor set up a big screen at the front of the church. He told his congregation, "God's Spirit has been speaking to me about the sins of this church. And today we're going to see them in front of our very eyes!"
The pastor then flashed sin after sin on the screen -- fornication, adultery, alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography. Then he began his sermon: "We're not about to start building a big church right now. We've got to get Christ's living tabernacle straightened out before we can do anything else. We have to live this gospel first!"
Today the Spirit of God is moving mightily in that church. People are flocking to the Lord, getting their lives straight -- because they're hearing a gospel with a testimony behind it!
I'm amazed and perplexed by the scores of ministers, both young and old, who run all over the world looking for strategies to produce growth in their churches. Today, many preachers attend seminars, conventions and "think tanks," where young ministry professionals use charts and polls to show them how to build larger churches. Other ministers flock to "revivals," hoping to learn new methods of how to have the Holy Ghost fall on their congregations.
Right now, missions societies are sending out more workers than ever before. Their rallying cry has become, "We have to get more manpower on the mission field! More qualified men and women are needed to win the nations to Christ."
But too many of the missionaries being sent are coming home within a few years. They've been beaten down, discouraged, flailed by demonic forces in those foreign nations. Why? Their lives didn't match the gospel they preached! They never developed a firsthand knowledge of Christ's lordship or of the fullness of the Holy Ghost.
Beloved, it takes more than new ideas or strategies to touch nations for Christ. All our plans are in vain if Jesus isn't enthroned in every area of our lives!
This Is a Tragedy in a Time
When Antichrist Forces Are
Coming to Such Great Power!
Never in history has there been such a wild rush of demonic spirits bursting forth from the bowels of hell. Lawlessness is sweeping the earth, with nation rising up against nation. And it's all happening because Satan has unleashed his demonic hordes in a final war against the saints!
Yet God is never caught off guard by anything that happens in our world. He isn't surprised by the awful drug plague or the blood-bath of abortion. So, what is his response in this time of turmoil and depravity? What does he propose as an antidote to the apostasy and growing demonic power? What will God do in such a time of ruin?
His answer is the same as it has always been -- to bring forth the victory of Christ in a renewed way. God has always responded by raising up a fresh remnant of men and women who will be a pure testimony to his saving and sanctifying power. And the same is true today. His plan is to bring onto this scene of antichrist activity a body of separated, Christ-filled overcomers -- godly men and women who'll live in total submission to his government and lordship!
We See This Pattern
Throughout the Bible!
Consider the plight of Israel in Egypt. God's nation was in incredible ruin, with widespread apostasy. Satan had Israel under his heel, manipulating the political powers of the day to make laws against them and persecute them. The enemy was ridiculing and mocking God's testimony on earth.
It was a dark hour in Israel's history. And over time the people grew discouraged. They began backsliding, indulging in the pleasures and sensuality of Egypt. Idolatry and fornication became rampant. Israel's situation seemed hopeless. The faith of the nation was slowly dying.
What was God's response to this rising power of darkness? Did he stir up surrounding empires to act as his rod against Egypt? Did he incite a civil war among the Egyptians? Did he send avenging angels? No -- God did no such thing. He had a totally different plan. Instead, he laid his hand on a single man, raising up Moses!
Moses was a man of prayer, totally shut in with God. He said no to the pleasures, ease and temptations of Egypt, living instead under the total rule of the Holy Ghost. He had no agenda or ambition of his own. He forsook all his human ability, relying on the great I AM as his sole provision and resource. And he came from holy ground, with a firsthand vision of God's holiness.
So, in the blackest hour of Israel's history, when it looked as if God's people would succumb to the enemy, the Lord raised up in the midst of it all a man who would act as a testimony. And this one man brought down a whole nation while raising up another. God did it all through one man!
We See This Same Plan
Embodied in Samuel.
Here we see another generation of apostasy, depravity and backsliding. At the time, the ark was gone from Israel. Eli, the nation's high priest, was lazy and complacent, allowing his sons to debauch the priesthood. Under their leadership, adultery and fornication were rampant in the temple. But Eli had become so used to his life of ease, he wouldn't do anything to stop them.At one point the Lord wrote the word "Ichabod" over the whole religious system, meaning, "The Spirit of the Lord has departed." Once again, satanic forces had risen to great power. And to the natural eye, God's work had lost so much ground, the odds of recovery seemed improbable.
But the Lord had a man in place all along -- a little child named Samuel. While all the ministers around him were indulging in fornication and gluttony, Samuel was learning to hear God's voice. And as he became more and more intimate with the Lord, the Holy Spirit filled him with a prophetic word. He became a testimony -- living proof of the power of God!
Scripture says that as Samuel grew, none of his words fell to the ground -- meaning, he consistently spoke with power and authority. And because of his godly authority, no nation was able to lift a hand against Israel for over forty years.
Once again, the Lord raised up a single man as a testimony to a whole nation. God needed no army, no human organization, no "new thing." All he needed was one righteous man -- someone whose ministry was committed totally to his holy ways!
We See This Same Pattern
In Nehemiah's Time.
In Nehemiah's day, the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins, the city a literal pile of stones. And the church was totally backslidden, with no witness left. The wicked powers surrounding Israel persecuted them severely, mocking every work they tried to undertake.
How did God respond in such a time of ruin? Did he send a well-trained militia out of Shushan to help them? Did he send a palace guard to smite their prominent enemies? No, God once again raised up a single man -- Nehemiah.
Here was a man with God's burden on his heart. Nehemiah spent his time praying, fasting and mourning, because he was broken over Israel's condition. He also continually dug into God's word, grasping prophecy and moving in the Spirit.
Although Nehemiah served as cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, he remained separate from all the wickedness surrounding him. In the midst of all the sensuality, immorality and godlessness taking place in Israel, he maintained a holy walk with the Lord. And, in turn, everyone who heard him preach was purified in soul.
Soon a revival of holiness swept the land. "The priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall" (Nehemiah 12:30). The house of God also was purged, with everything of flesh cast out. Nehemiah sent workers into the temple, telling them, "I want every piece of filth out of here. Don't leave anything that has to do with idolatry or sensuality. Take it all out and burn it!"
Beloved, this is God's concept of revival! It's all about sweeping out every chamber in our heart that's unclean and unsanctified. He wants no dark places left!
Where did Nehemiah get such spiritual authority, to cause compromisers to tremble, and to bring back godly fear to the temple? The king didn't give it to him. No church bishop gave it to him. He didn't learn it from a Bible school.
No, Nehemiah got his authority on his knees -- weeping, broken, wanting to know God's heart. And because he was a man of prayer, he was able to confess the sins of a whole nation: "...that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night...and confess the sins of the children of Israel...both I and my father's house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments..." (1:6-7).
There Is a Shocking Account
Of Apostasy and Backsliding
In Ezekiel's Time -- and in
Such Times, God Looks for One
Who Will Become His Testimony!
Israel in Ezekiel's day was lewd and proud. Men committed abominations with their neighbors' wives and even defiled their daughters-in-law. The once-holy prophets backslid, becoming lovers of money and no longer discerning between the holy and the profane. And the nation's leaders became ravening wolves, seeking after dishonest gain, shedding blood, speaking lies and vexing the poor. It all sounds so similar to our times!
Israel so forgot God's ways, the Lord said of them, "The house of Israel has become as dross to me!" The nation grew so weak, worldly and powerless that God made them a laughingstock to the secular world. He said, "...therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the heathen, and a mocking to all countries" (Ezekiel 22:4).
What a searing indictment! God was saying to Israel, "You've so despised holy things, giving yourselves over completely to lust, I'm going to take away your witness!"
The prophet Ezekiel was an older man at this time, about to pass out of the picture. So, how did God deal with the situation? He told Ezekiel, "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none" (verse 30).
Imagine it -- Israel's fate rested on whether God could find just one righteous man to rely upon. Yet he said to Ezekiel, "...but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them..." (verses 30-31).
God said the same thing to the prophet Jeremiah: "Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem...seek...find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth; and I will pardon it" (Jeremiah 5:1). He told the prophet, "I'll pardon the entire nation if I can find just one man who'll stand in the gap. All I need is a single soul who's wholly yielded to my will!"
Beloved, today we hear a Babel of voices in the church crying for more relevant, contemporary ways to reach the world. And so many bizarre, fleshly programs are being tried. Yet, in my many years of ministry, I've seen these kinds of programs come and go. They rely totally on appeasing the flesh; they have nothing to do with the cross. The crowds they draw live empty, unfulfilled lives, having never been exposed to the gospel of separation from the world and its lusts. The world scoffs at these programs, recognizing them all as mere foolishness.
Any minister or promoter can develop such chaff. A person can even live like the devil and implement seemingly godly programs. In fact, all you need is a sharp mind and the strategies of a CEO to build a mega-church. Yet if you do it apart from God -- without his righteousness or holiness -- it will be a stench in his nostrils. It is a gospel not backed by a true testimony. It has no power to deliver!
I've also noticed over the years that the more backslidden a preacher becomes, the more he turns to the entertainment gospel and "new works" to bring in crowds. And he relies on numbers and finances to judge his own success. But there is no accompanying testimony to such works -- because they're of another gospel, another Jesus!
A truly godly pastor has only one goal in his ministry: to give no rest to his soul until he has crowned Jesus Lord in every area of his life -- and to bring both himself and his sheep under the governing rule of the Holy Spirit!
Any Person Whose Life Is A
Testimony to the Keeping Power
of the Gospel Will Become A
Prime Target of Satan's Wrath!
If you hunger and thirst for the fullness of Christ, Satan will declare outright war on you. When he sees evidence that your commitment is real -- your diligence in prayer, your denial of self -- he'll use every weapon in hell to try to destroy your testimony. Why? That testimony is God's answer to apostasy and ruin!
This is what the fiery furnace in the story of Daniel is all about. Satan devised an elaborate plan to destroy the only testimony of God's power left in Babylon. It culminated in a white-hot oven, meant to kill all living proof of God's gospel truth.
Three godly young Israelites served in high government offices in Babylon -- men who were visible testimonies of the gospel they preached. They had separated themselves from the sensuous lifestyle of Babylon, committing their lives instead to prayer. These three men weren't prophets or priests, but mere laymen. And they remained faithful to God and pure in heart in the midst of the idolatrous masses.
Of course, this stirred Satan's rage, and he entered the heart of Babylon's evil king. Immediately the king erected a huge golden statue and declared it the official national god, an object to be worshipped. Then he summoned every official and servant from every nation under Babylon's thumb, so he could introduce the new religion. When the ceremonial music began, everyone was to bow to this new god.
Satan also prompted the king to erect a huge brick furnace and to stoke it so the white-hot flames were visible to everyone. I ask you -- why did Satan do this? Surely he knew there wasn't a governor, judge or sheriff anywhere in Babylon who would resist the new decree. They didn't need to be seduced or threatened.
In fact, they all must have been dumbfounded, wondering, "Hey, who wants to rock the boat? We've having it fine -- we've got prosperity, food and drink, the good life. And this new religion is easy on the soul. Who would want to give up all this?"
So, what was the fiery furnace all about? It was totally the work of Satan -- a manipulation rigged by him to destroy the three young laymen. He wanted to kill off the only remaining testimony of God in Babylon!
The devil went so far as to corrupt a king and his entire government just to get to three men. He created a situation so severe, with the danger so high, nobody in his own human strength -- not even the godly young men -- could face it without crumbling.
Yet at the first sound of the music, they didn't bow. Satan was infuriated at this! Then, out of the mouth of the king came these awful words, "...and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15). "...heat the furnace...seven times more than it was wont to be heated" (verse 19).
Now the devil had God's servants in his sights, threatening, "Who do you think you are, that you can escape the fate I've laid out for you? I'm going to bring you down and destroy your testimony completely!"
Likewise today, the heat we face is many times hotter than it was a generation ago. For example, Satan has rigged the entire technology of our age -- corrupting it with seduction, sensuality, lust and temptation. Why do we face such a white-hot furnace of temptation today? Why are lust and sex being used to sell every conceivable kind of product? Why are there hundreds of porno websites on the Internet? Who's the target of this flood of filth?
Surely it's not the wicked masses -- those who are already Satan's children, according to scripture. It isn't the secular world, which has already been seduced. No, Satan's target is none of these. Rather, he has manipulated the media to snare the hearts of overcoming Christians. He wants to weaken and destroy the testimony /f the gospel!
Right now the furnace is being heated seven times over in the lives of many believers. Satan has created situations in their homes, on their jobs and in their relationships that are more intense than ever. And many once-strong Christians are giving up, quitting on God. They no longer pray for help. Instead, they think, "My trial is too intense for me to survive!"
Praise God, These Three
Men Kept Their Testimony
And Crushed Satan's Plan!
p> God turned the devil's scheme into an opportunity to expose the whole nation of Babylon to his testimony. Because the three young laymen would not bow, the Lord delivered them. And they brought to the nation a clear manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The king of Babylon testified, "...Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?...Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:24-25).
Suddenly, the king nullified his first decree of idol worship. And he quickly issued this new decree: "Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (verse 29).
Beloved, it all happened because of the testimony of three men -- righteous lovers of God who were willing to lay down their lives in faith. These three humble working men were responsible for changing the laws of the land!
Yes, things are going to get hot economically, physically, mentally, spiritually and in every other way. But God has already placed his hand on separated, godly men and women in every place. And his gospel will be preached as a testimony.
Then the Lord will come!
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