The government’s new emergency system is a reminder that Christians should be a clarion call for a lost world. There will be no second chances to escape judgement when Jesus returns, says John Stevens
Our church meets on Sunday at 3pm. This week that coincided with the first test of the national emergency alert system. At exactly three o’clock, our gathering resounded not to the sound of singing, but to the piercing noise of a ten-second tone from multiple mobile phones. Some phones only received their alerts later, so for the next half an hour, periodic alerts rang out. Some congregation members, mainly those on the Three network, didn’t receive the alert at all.
While some have claimed that the national alert system is another example of government overreach, I think it seems like a good idea. It is designed to warn people of imminent dangers, such as floods, fires, and terrorist incidents, so they can escape to safety.
The issuing of an emergency alert parallels gospel proclamation. The gospel is fundamentally a warning of God’s coming judgement because of our sin and rebellion, which alerts us to the need to flee to Christ for refuge. Only by trusting in him, and receiving the forgiveness he offers, can we find safety from the coming wrath.
The missionary task of the church is to issue a warning of the coming judgement and to urge people to get to safety before it is too late
Issuing an alert about God’s coming judgement was at the very heart of Jesus’ ministry. He announced the coming of the kingdom of God, his perfect rule of peace and justice, and called people to repent ahead of the judgement that would precede the establishment of this kingdom on earth. Mark summarises Jesus’ message in this way: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus’ message is recorded in fuller detail when he preached in the synagogue in Nazareth. He declared that he had come to fulfil the promises of Isaiah 61, announcing good news of release for the poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed who put their faith in God, but warning of the coming day of vengeance against those who reject him. Many of Jesus’ parables similarly anticipate a coming day of judgement at the end of history and emphasise the need to get right with God before that day.
The evangelism in Acts is identical. The apostles offer salvation and forgiveness by faith in Jesus, warning of coming judgement for those who reject him. There is not a single mention of God’s love in the preaching of the apostles in Acts, but multiple references to this coming judgement. In Acts 17, for example, Paul exposes the sinful idolatry of the people of Athens and declares: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”
The missionary task of the Church is to issue a warning of the coming judgement and to urge people to get to safety before it is too late. The test of the national emergency alert system is a reminder to us that we must warn everyone. God has made his people his alert system to a lost world. There will be no second chances to escape the judgement when Jesus returns.
Some mobile phone users who didn’t receive the alert have complained to the government. After all, if the emergency had been real, they would not have been safe. In the same way, those who face God’s final judgement will have every cause to complain against us if we did not warn them of the danger they were in. It was the false prophets who declared peace and safety when there was none because they knew people did not want to hear the warning of judgement.
I am reminded of the way in which a new believer in China asked missionary Hudson Taylor how long they had known the gospel in England, and responded to his answer by exclaiming: “Why didn’t you come sooner?” If we fail to issue the gospel alert, those condemned to judgement might well ask us: “Why didn’t you warn us sooner?”
Let’s be thankful for the national emergency alert system, and hope it will work effectively and save lives. But let’s also recommit to be God’s emergency alert, warning everyone of the judgement to come, and urging them to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith to receive the gift of eternal life.