Steve jumped into the chest-deep waters for one last quick video to end the day’s filming. He and his cameraman came across a mas- sive 8-foot wide stingray and desired a shot of Steve behind the ray before it swam away. Usually docile animals, the stingray — without warning — attacked Steve, stabbing him with “hundreds of strikes within a few seconds.”
Steve Erwin was the adventurous and animated Australian zookeeper known also as “the Crocodile Hunter.” He filmed daring close encounters with wild animals in hopes of educating viewers about the beauty and danger of the animal world. He would grab venomous snakes by the tail, feed hungry crocs by hand and swim in shark-infested waters. He often warned his viewers about not attempting to mimic his close encounters with wild animals. As a warning, he famously would say, “Danger, danger, danger.”
He died tragically on Sept. 4, 2006, after being pierced in the chest with a stingray bard while attempting one last shot of film for the day. The dangers that he warned millions of viewers about eventually and surprisingly took his own life.
What is more dangerous than grabbing a venomous snake by the tail, feeding a hungry croc by hand or swimming in shark-infested waters? It’s hearing the warning to beware and yet not acting upon it.
The Gospel writers give their readers an even greater warning than that of handling deadly animals. Matthew, for example, records for us that at the heart of John the Baptist’s message and Jesus’ message after him, is the theme of repentance. In other words, beware lest the danger we warn you of go unheeded and you suffer great loss.
While there are many tools and strategies for sharing the gospel both across the street and across the sea, I want to focus briefly on the importance of the substance of our message over the method of our message.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus called their hearers to repent of their sins (Matt. 3:8; 4:17). Whether in our own culture or cross-culture, we are to call people to repent of their sins. Repentance is a change of mind, a turning away from and toward something/someone else.
Later in the book of Acts, on his way to Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul gathers the elders from the church at Ephesus and reminds them that at the heart of his gospel message is “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.
Whatever method one uses to share the gospel, the substance of our message must involve the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Yet, no matter the culture we share this news in, the call to respond to that message is not simply one of mental assent; it’s a wholehearted forsaking of our sin and trusting in Jesus alone for salvation.
In other words, when we share the good news of Jesus, people must understand that to have good news, it presupposes that there is bad news. Danger indeed abounds because our sin separates us from God (Isa 59:2; Eph. 2:12).
Let us warn people of the “danger, danger, danger” to come if they do not repent. But let us also assure them that in turning from that danger they will find life in Jesus alone.
Doug Williams is missions strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.