The report of the Lord is first and foremost a bad report.
There is a misunderstanding prevalent among Christians, especially those weaned on the “prosperity gospel.” It is assumed that when the Lord gives a report, he always gives a good report, and that the report of the devil is always bad. Thus, we say repeatedly in “Naijanese:” “God forbid bad thing.” However, this comes from fundamental lack of understanding of Jesus’ kingdom dynamics.
In the kingdom of God, the way up is down. The Lord kills and makes alive. He makes poor and makes rich. He brings low and lifts up. (1 Samuel 2:6-7). He wounds and he heals. (Deuteronomy 32:39). Therefore, before the Lord gives a good report, he first gives a bad report.
God’s bad reports
If the report of the Lord were always good, as is commonly assumed, why would Isaiah ask: “Who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1). What is so difficult to believe about a good report? If the report of the Lord were the same as the prosperity messages prevalent in the churches of today, why were the prophets of God in the bible often beaten up, jailed and killed? Thus, Jesus lamented: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” (Luke 13:34).
The truth is the report of the Lord is first and foremost a bad report. Why else would Jeremiah bring charges against the Lord? He complains: “O Lord, you deceived me when you promised me your help. I have to give them your messages because you are stronger than I am, but now I am the laughingstock of the city, mocked by all. You have never once let me speak a word of kindness to them; always it is disaster and horror and destruction.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8).
Because this world is steeped in evil and corruption, the report of the Lord is often bad. It is usually of God’s anger at the sins of men and of his impending judgment. But inside that bad report is often buried the promise of a conditionally good report. Thus, Noah gave the bad report that God would destroy mankind in a flood. However, he also said those who took refuge in the ark would be saved. It is the devil and his agents that give good reports which then turn out to be bad. They are determined to give us a false sense of security.
Let us go back to Genesis to get a foundational understanding of this kingdom dynamic. God told Adam at the dawn of creation: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17).
This was a bad report and it came from God. It was a report of certain death as a consequence of disobedience. Who then gave the good report? It was the devil. “The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
Whose report did Eve believe? She believed the good report of the devil and rejected the bad report of the Lord. Therefore she ate the forbidden fruit and also gave it to Adam, her husband. Immediately they ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve died spiritually. Their death was not forbidden by the Lord: their death was decreed by the Lord.
The tendency to reject the bad report of the Lord in favour of the good report of the devil is endemic. In the case of Adam and Eve, it resulted in their being driven out of the Garden of Eden and denied access to the Tree of Life. (Genesis 3:24). Today, it results in Christians being denied entry into the kingdom of heaven.
Why is God’s good news often hidden in his bad news? The answer lies in the surgical nature of the word of God. It is like a double-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12). Thus, the Lord asks Jeremiah: “Is not my word like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). Fire consumes the chaff, so the word of God burns and consumes fake Christians. But fire also purifies, so the word of God purifies true Christians. The hammer, of course, is used both to destroy and to build.
The same pillar of cloud that brought darkness to the Egyptians provided light for the Israelites. The same Red Sea which destroyed the Egyptians saved the Israelites. Similarly, the gospel leads many to condemnation, even as it leads a few to salvation. Jesus says: “the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16).
Thus, the word of God is often bad news and good news simultaneously. But it is usually bad news before it is good news. Jesus, the word of God, would cause the bad to happen before the good would happen. Indeed, his speciality would be in bringing the good out of the bad. Accordingly, Simeon prophesied that Jesus will cause people to fall before causing them to rise: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34).
Therefore, James counsels believers: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10). Jesus himself also says: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).
Couched in this manner, the greatest trap of all will be Jesus himself. Isaiah warns: “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:14-15). As we run from the bad that following Jesus entails, we miss the good he provides. Jesus says: “You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake… But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9/13).
Accordingly, the gospel is bad news to those who reject its bad report. But it turns out to be good news to those who accept its bad report. What is the bad report before the good report of the gospel? Jesus says: “Whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).
Don’t say to this: “God forbid bad thing.” The rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life. The gospel required him to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor and then follow Jesus. But the man rejected the bad news of losing his wealth and, thereby, forfeited the good news of inheriting eternal life.
Even so, those who reject the bad news of the gospel forfeit its good news.