by Joe McKeever
In our family, Loxley, Alabama, is known for two reasons: it’s on the way to Gulf Shores, our favorite beach, and it’s the location of Burrell’s roadside market, where we stock up on peaches and melons. This past summer, Loxley was in the news because a preacher forgot the nature of the gospel.
On June 14, Pastor Orlando Bethel was preaching the funeral of Lish Devan Taylor who died of prostate cancer. In the middle of his oration, according to the town newspaper, the pastor announced that the deceased had led a life of drunkenness and fornication, and therefore had gone to hell.
At this point, some of the mourners turned their grief into action. They rose from the pews and dragged the preacher outside and proceeded to beat the daylights out of him. The police had to be called to break up the fight.
What got me was how the preacher’s wife defended her man. “He is duty-bound as a minister to preach the gospel.”
Now, as far as I can tell, no one had a problem with his preaching the gospel. The difficulty seems to lie in his faulty understanding of the gospel, literally “good news,” from the Greek euaggélion. You can search the Bible over and not find one instance of anyone banishing another to hell and calling it the gospel. Whenever it is true that a particular person is hell-bound, it’s terrible news.
No one should ever speak of hell without tears in his eyes.
What makes any good news special is that it counteracts the bad news. The doctor announces the diagnosis has changed and the patient will live. Just as the family was facing bankruptcy, Dad got a great new job. After three years of drought, the crops are incredible. The death row inmate is pardoned. The miners are rescued after three scary days in the cave-in. Someone who was headed to hell is now going to heaven.
The gospel’s starting place is the problem of sin and its deadly effect. Any Christian unclear of what sin is and why it is sinful will be fuzzy on why the gospel is good news. He will make a travesty of his calling and bring the work of Jesus into question.
Professor Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School said to a group of us recently that after doing university missions for a quarter of a century, he has seen a change. The biggest issue with collegians is no longer the Trinity or the Incarnation or proofs of the resurrection. The problem of sin has to be presented and explained and brought home to this generation.
Sin is rebellion against God and neglect of His ways. It is man’s odious offense before God that has drawn His righteous wrath. Sin is both active and passive; it is both commission and omission.
“The wages of sin is death,” God’s word says. That means simply sin is a killer, not that God is. What we need is someone to interrupt this deadly process. That’s where the good news comes in.… “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel—the good news—is that Jesus Christ paid off the debt of our sin when He died on the cross. He returned from the dead to live forever and now saves all who turn to Him in faith. The good news is not that people are going to hell, but that they may skip it altogether and spend eternity in heaven. The good news is it has nothing to do with works or merits or earning brownie points with God. It’s all by God’s grace, and therefore is a free gift. (Check out Romans 6:23.)
As a pastor, I cannot tell you how liberating it is to know I do not have to judge the deceased lying in the casket in front of me. I do not have morality enough, mentality enough, or maturity enough to make such pronouncements. The God who knows every detail of every moment of our lives will be our judge.
My job is to deliver God’s good news to the broken-hearted assembled in the funeral chapel. For many, this may be the only time they will hear this welcome message. I am so relieved. I love to tell people good news.
Joe McKeever is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana