by Craig Dyer
In my early teens I read Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18) and longed for something as convincing in our day to help my friends be persuaded beyond doubt as to the living reality of the one true God.
I wonder how many of us still feel slightly conflicted in our evangelism and wonder if the Lord could be more persuasive and convincing than expecting people to listen to the content and message of the Bible.
One of the features of the parable Jesus told in Luke 16, about the unnamed rich man and Lazarus the beggar after their respective deaths, indicates how powerful and persuasive Jesus believes the enscripturated Word of God to be.
When the rich man, in the misery of hell, realizes that no help can come to him from heaven, he turns his attention to his brothers, whom he has pre-deceased. Contrary to the common speculation of those who say they don’t mind going to hell because all their friends will be there, Jesus portrays the desolation of this man and his desperation that no one else would join him there: “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house….for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment’” (Luke 16: 17, 28).
As Jesus tells the parable, this man has known colossal wealth and has lacked nothing in life except an awareness that, in his complete disregard for God and his fellow man, he was sealing his eternal destiny. Now he thinks of those who fate is not sealed, those for whom there is still time. Suddenly, hell has an evangelist, or at least a director of evangelism.
He begs Abraham to send someone to warn them so they don’t join him. Can we hear the desperation in his words? Does his plea from hell on the lips of Jesus do anything to lift the fog from our eyes about the eternal destiny of the lost?
By pleading for this, the formerly rich man shows more concern that no one else suffer his fate than that his suffering is relieved. He is desperate for the living to be contacted and told what is ahead of them, so that they will repent. And he is not impressed by Abraham’s evangelistic strategy, “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’” (Luke 16:29-30).
Jesus gives a voice to those who are highly motivated to reach the lost, but who have no expectation that exposure to the Bible is going to convince them to repent. They long for something more persuasive.
But the point Jesus makes from the reply of Abraham is that there is nothing more persuasive than exposure to God’s Word, “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (v. 31).
I used to think Abraham was arguing that if the five brothers can’t be bothered hearing God’s Word, then why should the God they ignore make it easier for them to repent? But that’s not what’s happening here.
Abraham corrects this common misunderstanding. His reply shows that astonishing miracles have less power to convince people than the Word has.
Such is the confidence of Jesus in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. All authority in heaven and earth (and hell) is His. He could have set up evangelism any way He wanted. And this is how He did it.
So, if you’re concerned for the lost, let them hear Moses and the prophets and Jesus and His Apostles. The Spirit-inspired, written Word of God is the most convincing power on the planet.
Craig Dyer (@CraigDyer1)is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”