"What we are doing is not right. This is a Day of Good News (Yom Beshorah) and we are keeping it to ourselves" (2 Kings 7:9, NEB).
Everyone here is well aware of the seven festivals of Yahweh which we celebrate each year, plus the weekly observance of the Sabbath which we have gathered here to honour today. But what if I told you that there was another observance - probably even more important than all the others - which Yahweh wishes us to follow in the proper way .. not an annual or even a weekly observance, but a perpetual one that is beyond time? Well, there is one, and it's called Yom Beshorah or "The Day of Good News".
Now our passage of scripture today is set a few centuries before the coming of Christ in what was then the northern Kingdom of Israel. The neighbouring King of Syria, Ben-Hadad, had laid siege to the capital at Samaria. The siege was a terrible one. So bad in fact was the hunger and deprivation that the inhabitants had been reduced to conditions we can't begin to imagine: a donkey's head and a handful of locust beans reached fantastic prices. Then there was that horrible scene of two women calling to the king as he walked along the city wall. "Help, my lord king!" cried one of them. "This woman said to me, 'Give up your child for us to eat today, and we will eat mine tomorrow.' So we cooked my son and ate him. But when I said to her the next day, 'Now give up your child for us to eat,' she had hidden him."
Now if you aren't covering your face in utter horror at the picture of this scene and aren't saying to yourself, "That could never happen to us today - what barbaric people were these!", then let me remind you of something almost identical that happened a mere 60 years ago here in Europe during the 900 day siege of Leningrad by the German Army. I will spare you the details but say this: the inhabitants of that desperate city weren't going to the market to buy mincemeat or a packet of fish fingers, because there weren't any markets. There wasn't any food at all. And when all the pets in that huge city had disappeared, you can guess what they turned to to survive.
Overnight, however, the situation for the besieged city Samaria dramatically changed. Suddenly, the siege was over and the encircling armies of the enemy retreated, so quickly in fact that they abandoned their tents and provisions. The enemy encampments stood wide open for occupation by anyone who cared to enter. And four men did. They crept into tent after tent, amazed at what they saw, food in abundance, food sufficient to feed an army as indeed it had been doing. And, of course, they gorged themselves; and not only that, they took clothing and gold and silver, which they hid as provisions for difficult days ahead. Then their consciences smote them and they said to one another: "This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves."
Does this, perhaps, sound familiar? Are we not sometimes consumed by so much greed after a time of suffering and deprivation that we forget above everyone else who might be as badly off as we are? I think there is a carnal tendency - a devilish tendency, even - to want to hide away sudden good fortune and keep it all to ourselves when there are others who have every right to share.
This was Yom Beshorah - a "Day of Good News". Now if you go to the Greek Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX) and see the way that Hebrew term is rendered into that language - a language which has so strongly influenced our own English one - you may be surprised to discover that it is called Hemera evaggelias. And if any of you know just a little Greek you will perhaps recognise the last of those two words, evaggelias which in English we would call EVANGEL. And what an unexpected place - in the middle of the Old Testament - to find an "Evangel" or "Gospel" or "Good News". That's what we mean when we say we are "evangelical Christians" - not that we belong to some sect or group of believers who teach certain doctrines (like the Lutherans, Baptists or Pentecostals), but that we believe in sharing the Good News with others. That is what an evangelical is.
Now be prepared for a second surprise. How many evangelists or "bearers of good news" were there in this story from the Old Testament? You've got it, there were FOUR. And how many bearers the Good News, or evangelists, were there in the New Testament? Well, while there were many hundreds of them, there are four whom we especially remember because they wrote four accounts of the life of Christ - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They each wrote a Gospel. And if you're a Scandinavian, you'll know that a Gospel is called an Evangelium. Interesting, isn't it?
And so we see in our mind's eye four evangelists setting off, without waiting for the morning, to proclaim the good news of all the food and wealth in the enemy camp to the watch over the city gate. To a starving city, they said: "There is food out there in abundance simply for the taking!" It sounded fantastic, too good to be true after all those weeks and months of suffering. And yet it was true. And in away, the four evangelists were fantastic too, for they weren't just ordinary people. You see, they were outsiders, even outcasts, so diseased that they were dangerous; but without preparation, without any kind of calling, and without even moral qualifications, they were the bearers of good news, such good news that they saved a city.
Now don't miss the point here. In the first place, these four men were only thinking about themselves. Their mind was primarily occupied with their own lucky break at discovering the deserted military camp. And when they decided to publish the good news of their discovery, they only did so because they feared the possibility of future punishment if they kept quiet. It would be nice to think that they changed their minds out of compassion for the starving city but sadly this was not so. There was very little morality, let along religion, in their decision, and certainly no consciousness of the will of God or of sharing the love of Yahweh for suffering men and women in a besieged city. Self preservation was their motive.
It would be right, therefore, to see these four men as unintentional evangelists. I see them as four men caught up in the purpose and will of Yahweh without their being aware of the size of the operation that was in hand. This sort of thing happens. Let me illustrate.
Some 20 or so years ago, General Dozier of the United States Forces in Italy was kidnapped and taken prisoner by the Red Brigade, a communist terrorist group, and when he was rescued by a brilliant effort of the Italian Police, he bore his testimony to the reality of prayer to a secularised Western world which no longer believes in prayer. What trained and anointed Christian evangelist would command so widespread a radio and TV audience as this? And a Mr. Pyke, a business man, arrested as a spy in fundamentalist Muslim Iran, spoke on release, not only of prayer, but how there existed in his heart no hate for his captors who unjustly held him in jail for months, and with not even a mattress on which to sleep. What a proclamation in a world where hate is epidemic!
I have often remarked to people that the most successful evangelism I have ever done is when I have done nothing at all and simply let Yahweh work through me. I have travelled to many countries and witnessed. I don't doubt these visits were important for some people but by far the most spectacular work I have ever accomplished is when I have just obeyed the Lord in simple things. About 5 years ago I received a direct revelation from Yahweh whilst I was on a train going to work to go on the Internet about which I knew nothing at all. In that short space of time I have reached over 100,000 people and all I ever did was to sit at home and type away on a computer and publish free sermons and articles. My last evangelistic trip abroad was two years before. At around this time the Lord showed me a vision - that was when we were about to leave Norway and come to Sweden. He showed me three fields, and in particular the one I was facing. It was a little field and the harvest had been gathered in. I was very disappointed at what I saw because I had been working for years and years and the crop was so small. I knew there were two other fields ready to be harvested but I didn't pay much attention to them. And then, a few days ago, He showed me in a dream another field - the field of my current Internet ministry - and it was enormous. It must have been a hundred times as large as the first field. And do you know what is all the more remarkable? I have used a fraction of the amount of energy in my present ministry than in the first.
Believers are so busy with their evangelistic campaigns, fund raising activities, planning, publicising and promotion, that they don't always realise that the sovereignty of Yahweh operates even with respect to the publication of His Gospel. Look at the fantastic success in communist China! Was it achieved by Western Evangelists having mass rallies across the country? No, it was caused simply by smuggling in hundreds of thousands of Bibles. And miracles are happening in that land! The stories of the simple faith of those people and the incredible power they are showing is evidence of God's mighty hand. I praise God that evangelists from the West weren't allowed in! They would have ruined everything.
I have seen it in Africa. Natives read the Bible and come to saving faith. Then Western evangelists with their perverse New Agey teachings move in and destroy everything. Who needs them?! The people found the truth for themselves. Of course there are bona fide evangelists and teachers, and they are needed - the Body needs to be taught and nourished. Nobody is in any doubt about that. But sometimes it is better to let the Lord do His own work in His own way. He will cause His Gospel to be heard, received, and lived by, when He will and by whom He will; and some of the occasions and some of the instruments are wholly unexpected.
Does anyone here remember how the Gospel first came to Korea? Some of you may have heard. It began with a Westerner translating the Gospel into Korean but he died before he could finish his lifelong labour. The papers with his translation on never reached the publisher - those papers which he had sweated and toiled over for years and years were lost. They fell into the hands of a peasant family who used them to wallpaper their home. And guess what happened? One day someone read those pieces of paper plastered on those walls and came to a saving faith in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). And that person told others. And so the Gospel spread so that it is now the second largest faith in that Buddhist land. Sometimes Yahweh works in extraordinary ways.
Let us return to Samaria. The real "Good News" had already been preached to that city but it had been disbelieved. The prophet Elisha, back in the besieged city, had said: "Hear the Word of Yahweh: By this time tomorrow a shekel will buy a measure of flour and two measures of barley in the gateway of Samaria." He had said it to the king and to his lieutenant in attendance. He had said it as the recognised upholder of the nation's faith. He, the official religious leader, had proclaimed the Good News of Yahweh's ample provision for the needs of His people. But the king received the message in stony silence, and his lieutenant received it with open mockery: "Even if Yahweh were to open the windows in the sky," he said, "such a thing could not happen."
There comes a time when Yahweh's ministers are not heard. What we need to note is that the failure does not always lie in the corruption or weakness of that body of witnesses, but in the unwillingness of the people to receive any message of good tidings from organised religion. And such a time is present. People are in rebellion against organised religion. Yes, the churches are to blame in part for compromising with the Word. Yes, ministers have abused their positions of responsibility and power and brought a bad name on the Church. And yes, the Church has strayed from the Gospel and has been doing so for centuries, and has embraced many peculiar and unscriptural doctrines and practices. Of these things organised religion is most assuredly guilty. But this does not mean that Yahweh is not in organised Christianity!
We had our period back in the mid 1990's when our members said: "No more organised religion!" and went their way. They decided to become their own private religion or "solo-Christians" as I call them. They saw the staleness, dull conformity and hypocrisy in the churches round about them and assumed that something was wrong in being organised per se. In Israel, as today, there were false prophets who spoke only smooth things to please the king and win popularity among the people. And there were priests then, as there are today, concerned only with lining their own pockets with money. Big churches are always liable to these corruptions which is perhaps why, in our time, God wants them small. But for all the risks of organisation - and they are real - there would be no religious faith to hand on from generation to generation without an organised church or assembly.
I think back to my own spiritual search. If all there had been were thousands of little house churches with no centralised structure or common doctrine I doubt I would ever have found what I did. As it was, my task was made easier, in a way, by the fact that there were a handful of major Christian groupings who pretty well summarised all the main variant doctrines of the centuries. My journey through them - and I stress that this was my particular journey - led the Lord to build this New Covenant work. And today, 16 years on, it is known far and wide and has an influence far in excess of its actual membership size.
For any work of Yahweh to succeed, there has to be a certain degree of organisation, because Christianity is not a solo-man's religion. It's about the life, work and dynamic of many people co-operatively working together, principally at the level of the local assembly or church. Without that family life, there is no Gospel. None at all, for it degenerates into navel-meditation without it.
Of course, there was something exciting about those four outcasts promoting the good news of plenty to a hungry city. Of course there is something exciting about some imprisoned criminal confessing his faith in Christ, and let not its genuineness be questioned; but do not fail to hear the same good tidings that the Assembly of Christ has been proclaiming for generations. It is actually the body of Christ - and in particular the organised body in this instance - which carries the burden of responsibility for faith in the countries in which it is present.
I want to conclude with one more point and it concerns the king in this story. To appreciate his rôle we must briefly return to that horrible siege situation. The king was walking along the city wall when a woman cried out to him for help. She had a perfect right to do this for he was the divinely appointed guardian of the city's welfare. What she actually said in Hebrew was, "Save us, O king!" But he had no good news of salvation to offer. Furthermore, he abdicated his position of responsibility, and said: "If Yahweh will not save you, how can I?" No wonder she went on to tell her repulsive tale of woe. Still he had nothing to offer, not even a word of sympathy, though he performed the ritual act of rending his clothes, and the people saw that he was wearing sackcloth next to his skin. To crown it all, he vowed he would execute Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh, forthwith, blaming him, and indirectly blaming Yahweh, for the city's terrible plight.
So the king made himself an enemy of Yahweh, instead of allying himself to the truth. And when Elisha proclaimed the Good News of Yahweh's plenty, he had nothing to say. And when the four unintentional evangelists also proclaimed it, his immediate reaction was to dismiss it as a trick of the enemy.
Perhaps we ought not to pass harsh judgement on this king. The city's plight was desperate. There seemed no possible way in which relief would come. And when the news was proclaimed that the enemy had fled, in ordering an investigation to make sure this wasn't a trick to lure the besieged inhabitants out beyond the walls where they could be massacred, he was not reacting beyond the reasonable and normal on the part of any military commander. Nevertheless, the blunt fact is that he had replaced faith by doubt, and trust in Yahweh by rational considerations. For such people, God has no more use. Not that I believe for one moment that Yahweh cast him off for ever. The love, mercy, and compassion of Yahweh are far greater than "the measure of a man's mind".
What I mean is this: if a man, a servant of God, if a king, even a church or assembly, comes to the point of abdicating from the stance of faith, that is, trust in Yahweh, he or it will be dropped like a stone out of His purpose in the world, and he or it will be replaced by another, and these purposes will continue. So four outcasts, motivated by nothing higher than their own safety, found themselves employed by Yahweh as the bearers of His good news. Yahweh takes up one and sets down another in His work of implementing His purpose in the world, including the proclamation of His Gospel, for it is His.
The thing is, are you ready to be an evangelist - one who tells the Good News of Christ's Gospel? The Day of Good News - Yom Beshorah - is today. It is every day. Every day we are to bring Good News, not only to those who are not saved, but also to those who are being saved ... and that's all of us! The apostle Paul said:
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor.1:18, NKJV).
"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2.Cor 2:14-15, NKJV).
"And so continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, NKJV).
If salvation was just a single act, what need would we have of hearing more of the Gospel? But it isn't - salvation is past, present and future. We are all being saved, and it is God's power that enables to continue to be saved. Therefore let all bring the glad tidings of Yom Beshorah to everyone every day, so that we may grow and be strengthened, as well as to rescue those who are not being saved and are perishing. Amen.