Read Psalm 98.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We live in a world where bad news seems to spread a thousand times faster than good news and fear is more contagious than joy. I sometimes wonder if that’s why God chose to wrap the gospel in a reminder of His coming judgment.
Just take a look at many of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. Poor people and strangers are welcomed into the wedding banquet, while others are tossed out into the darkness for lack of proper clothes (Matthew 22:1–14). The sheep are welcomed into the kingdom, while the goats are sent into everlasting fire (25:31–46). There is no good news of salvation without the bad news of coming judgment for those who refuse to believe.
It has always been this way. When God rescued the Israelites from the iron grip of Pharaoh, news spread fast throughout the region about God’s care for His people but also about God’s judgment on those who stood in the Israelites’ way. Rahab of Jericho told the Israelite spies, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed” (Joshua 2:10). When Rahab came to faith in the God of Israel, it was terror that got her attention.
Psalm 98 tells us, “The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (vv. 2–3). Many of the nations the psalmist refers to were enemies of God’s people. The “righteousness” they saw was God’s judgment coming down on people just like them. The “salvation” they witnessed was God acting on behalf of Israel to the horror of those who—just like them—worshiped foreign gods. Yet the psalmist tells them to “shout for joy before the LORD, the King” (v. 8).
It seems a strange thing, doesn’t it? But in God’s grace, fear actually brings clarity. No one wants to be found guilty. No one wants to be on the losing side of a battle. God’s goodness and power make the dividing lines especially clear. Just like Rahab, the people of the nations have an opportunity to put their trust in Yahweh and escape the coming judgment.
That’s what happened in the New Testament. Jesus and His followers made the dividing lines especially clear. God is not concerned with race or bloodline, sacrifices or Sabbath. He wants people who trust in Him and in His Son, no matter what. In the light of this twin-message of a coming kingdom and a coming judgment, many who were once far away from God find hope, even as they realize it is their own sin that made it necessary for the Son of God to die.
When God acts in history, it becomes increasingly difficult to plead ignorance about the nature of reality. That’s good news. No more driving in the wrong direction. No more pretending we have it all figured out. He invites us to come out into the open and trust in Him. We can be included among those He saves.