TODAY’S READING: Isaiah 35–36
Around 700 B.C. the Assyrians were ascendant, and so it seemed was their god Asshur. Sennacherib had conquered Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah and none of their gods was able to stand up to Assyrian onslaught. Many of the fortified towns of Judah fell and the murderous Assyrians stood howling at the gate of Jerusalem. And in that ominous barking were germs of missionary truth.
First, Sennacherib was correct when he called Judah foolish to trust “the staff of [the] broken reed, Egypt” (Isa. 36:6). When the gospel becomes tied to political or military power, things don’t go so well. The church rose until the time of Constantine, then lost its vitality and descended inexorably to the tragedy of the Crusades. When missions work married colonial and/or commercial advance, the divorce was inevitable and messy. Egypt was the balancing superpower of the day and the only realistic hope for Assyrian defeat, but when mission efforts depend on realistic hopes (and not the Holy Spirit, the most super of superpowers), God is not pleased, honored, or glorified. Mission efforts must intentionally distance themselves from political power.
Second, Sennacherib bypassed the authorities and addressed the common people in the local language. It was sneaky but effective, for it made the hearts of the populace fear. Missions efforts should not be sneaky but should in all ways be effective. There is no more effective way of reaching unreached peoples than learning the local heart language and getting the Bible into the common tongue of the common folk. Real missionary work cannot be done through third party interpreters nor discipleship by Google Translate. Hearts must be won and kept by missionaries fluently using the heart language, and that will make the hearts of the populace sing.
Third, missionary apologetics refuses to allow any debate between the God of the Bible and the gods of any other text or tradition be an equal one. Sennacherib tried to equate Jehovah with all the other conquered gods (v. 18). But the people of Judah refused to engage in this insulting nonsense; they held their peace (v. 21). It is not generous to concede the ground of Jehovah’s superiority over to other gods. Ontologically there can only be one God, and that God is only accurately described in the Bible. Missionaries do not get lost in the tall grass of translated names for God, debating, for example, if Allah (Semitic origin) is God (Germanic). Instead, they hone in on the question: Is Allah (or whichever name is used for God) the God of the Bible? Any description of God other than how He is portrayed in the Bible is false.
Lastly, missionary understanding knows that no matter appearances, King Jesus wins in the end, and that win is universal, over all nations. “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God… Your God will come with vengeance… And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:2, 4, 10).