I will always remember my first trip to Israel nearly thirty years ago. I expected to be thrilled to walk where Jesus walked, and I was. I expected to be overwhelmed with the beauty and history of the land, and I was.
However, I did not expect to fall in love with the Jewish people, but I did.
To that point, I had made only a few Jewish friends over the years. I was always impressed with their commitment to their faith and love for their people. But what I experienced in Israel on that trip was magnified over more than thirty trips to the Holy Land since: the incredible resolve and courage of her people.
The Jewish population in Israel chooses to live in a tiny land surrounded by enemies. They are less than seven million in number; the Arab population of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip is nearly the same. Then consider the Muslim countries that border them: Egypt, with 102 million people; Jordan, with more than 10 million; Syria, with more than 17 million; and Lebanon, with nearly 9 million. Not to mention Iran to the northeast, a nation pledged to the destruction of Israel, with nearly 88 million people.
As they fight for the future of their nation, I am inspired once more by their courage. And I find in their example a call to courageous witness for myself and all who share my calling. As I write this article on October 16, this call is amplified for me today as I remember the significance of this day in Christian history.
Lighting “a candle in England”
I taught the history of western thought in the PhD program at Dallas Baptist University for many years. One of my responsibilities was helping to lead the annual doctoral study tour of Oxford University. We always began our experience with a walking tour of this incredible town and its stunning architecture and historic sites.
Our first stop was the Martyr’s Memorial, erected in 1843 to commemorate events that occurred three centuries earlier. The memorial includes statues of Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Nicholas Ridley, the bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, the bishop of Worcester.
All three were sentenced to death for their Protestant convictions; Ridley and Latimer were burned at the stake on this day in 1555. Cranmer was forced to watch, then he was burned to death the next year.
Latimer’s last words have echoed across the centuries since: “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”
How I know our calling is urgent
The candle of Reformation lit by Ridley and Latimer soon burned bright across the nation and much of the world. However, it is in greater danger today than at any time since it was “lit” by these courageous martyrs.
Less than half the population of England even claims to be Christian. Less than 5 percent attend church services on any given Sunday. The stark decline of religion in America is public knowledge as well. As I have written often, a growing consensus considers evangelical Christian faith and morality to be outdated, irrelevant, and even dangerous to society.
However, none of this changes our calling to preach God’s word. Like Nathan courageously confronting David with his manifold sins (2 Samuel 12) and Isaiah speaking God’s word to Hezekiah in the face of Assyrian aggression (2 Kings 19), you and I are commissioned to seek and speak God’s word to the crises and leaders of our day.
Here’s how I know this calling is especially urgent in our post-Christian culture: the more people reject God’s word, the more they need to hear it. The sicker the patient, the more urgent the physician.
“On the soul thick midnight lies”
God assures us that his word never fails: “It shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Accordingly, we must say to all who will hear us: “Seek the Lᴏʀᴅ while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lᴏʀᴅ, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (vv. 6–7).
However, to stand boldly and courageously for biblical truth in an unbiblical day, it is vital that we go first to the One whose word we proclaim and whose Spirit empowers us. He is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Accordingly, this call to worship by the British poet Francis Turner Palgrave is relevant for our souls:
Lord God of morning and of night,
We thank thee for thy gift of light;
As in the dawn the shadows fly,
We seem to find thee now more nigh.
Yet, whilst thy will we would pursue
Oft what we would we cannot do.
The sun may stand in zenith skies
But on the soul thick midnight lies.
O Lord of lights, ’tis thou alone
Canst make our darkened hearts thine own;
O then be with us, Lord, that we
In thy great day may wake to thee.
Praise God our Maker and our Friend;
Praise him through time, till time shall end;
Till psalm and song his name adore
Through heaven’s great day of evermore.
When our souls experience the “thick midnight” of this darkened day, we can give our “darkened hearts” to “our Maker and our Friend.” Then we can extend his “name” and glory to our darkened culture, to the glory of God.
Why do you need this invitation today?