May 27, 2009

A Fragrance and a Stench

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.
2 Corinthians 2:16


In our church on the edge of Tokyo we often have lively debates about whether we are doing evangelism right. One member, a businessman, quotes the words of Carlos Ghosn, the chairman of Nissan Automobiles: “It is not good enough to say you’re trying; you’ve got to improve sales!” Another member says, “Yes, but by those standards, Jesus was the worst evangelist there ever was. All his disciples left him in the end!”

Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord with seraphim calling “Holy, holy, holy.” He heard the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?” and answered, “Here am I. Send me!” And what was to be his message? “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” Jesus quoted these very words in his ministry. And how long was Isaiah to proclaim this message? Until the people’s hearts were calloused, and the cities lay in ruins from God’s judgment. (See Isaiah 6.) Don’t misunderstand: both Isaiah and Jesus held forth the offer of forgiveness and salvation, but the Lord knew that many wouldn’t listen. This grieved the heart of God, and it’s why Jesus came to save us from our sins.

Paul says that to some the gospel is the fragrance of life, but to others it is the stench of death. True evangelism brings both reactions as we faithfully tell of Jesus’ atoning death and call people to repentance and faith.

Lord, what a wonderful but fearsome thing it is to tell people of salvation in Christ! Here we are, Lord, send us! May we bring your message faithfully and lead others to you. Amen.

About the author — George Young

George Young, a native New Yorker, worked as a taxi driver in New York City before studying to become a pastor. Then he, his wife Ruth, and their children were missionaries for many years in northeastern Japan. They worked with ministers and believers from the Reformed Church in Japan to spread the good news of salvation in Christ and ­establish new churches. Now George and Ruth are retired and live in the northeastern United States, nearer to their children and grandchildren.

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