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john 9 and the tribes of india – mark keown

I have just read an essay by a student who ministers in India among the poor. He is involved in a mission which takes the gospel into the villages of India. In these settings, the people are poor, kilometres from any quality healthcare, making a subsistence living off the land.

With other believers, this student goes into these villages. They make a local connection. Where they are given the opportunity, they enter the village and minister. Amazing things happen. People are healed and believe.

After one class this semester, the student approached me to show me a photo he had just received from one of his co-workers. They had gone into a village to share Jesus. Unbeknown to them, there was a group of Mao rebels hiding the village. Hidden, the rebels observed what happened in the meeting. After the meeting, they came out of hiding and asked to speak to the missionaries. They said they wanted to lay down their arms and become followers of Jesus. The missionary said something like, “that is great, but you will have to hand yourself in.” They received Jesus, handed themselves in, and were no doubt put through the judicial process. They were prepared to give up their rights to freedom and their fight to have eternal life, even if it meant a lifetime in prison. Wow!

As the semester evolved, the student shared more of the story of his mission and its effect. Thousands are coming to Christ through such work. Most interestingly, he said that his experience and studies are showing that the primary reason they are coming to Christ is not the verbal preaching of the gospel, however brilliant or insipid. Rather, they are being converted through the power of God to do miracles among them. The miracles are real. The missionaries invite the locals for prayer and God does the sort of things we read in the book of Acts, again and again. Then, these locals go and share their testimonies to their wider social network, and people come to Christ in droves. They are baptised, taught, and grow in Christ. They know little of Christ at their conversion, and grow from there.

The student finds in John 9 an excellent example of the pattern by which the gospel spreads. In John 9, Jesus healed the blind beggar, a man of the lowest status imaginable in his social setting. The man does not even know who Jesus is and when interrogated, simply tells his story. There is no complex theology or exposition of a passage of the OT, or anything we might expect in our Sunday messages. Indeed, it is not until the end of the chapter that the healed man comes to know who Jesus is and his faith flourishes into a saving faith. The man was met by Jesus at the point of his need, received God’s touch, and became an evangelist through his testimony. Indeed, that is John’s primary understanding of gospel witness, telling one’s story. We think of Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael, the Samaritan woman, as great examples (John 1:40–51; 4:1–45).

What strikes me for preaching are these things. First, we must encounter people at their point of need and trust God to act dynamically in their lives. In our western intellectual tradition, we downplay the signs and wonders aspect of Christian ministry. The preaching of the gospel must go alongside giving space to God to do this thing. He is the evangelist. We are merely his conduits.

Second, we must encourage our people to meet people with their stories, the blend of God’s story with their own, their experiences of him, and share them as led among their friends, family, and acquaintances. We must give space in our churches for people to do this, for in this way, the gospel we preach comes alive in the present.

Third, we can be encouraged, God is doing great things in his world. We are summoned to resist becoming disillusioned by this study or that which tells us that the church is dying and God’s word is quenched. God’s word cannot be chained. In the debris of a post-Christendom setting, God is bringing his renewal to the world. Our call is to be preachers who preach from prayerful lives and give God room and space to do what he does best, seek and save the lost. We are summoned to invite people to receive God’s touch as an integral part of our preaching ministry. We are to trust him to do his thing. We can be sure he is working out his purposes on planet earth.

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