On the morning of May 31, 1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, lay in dire peril, but they did not know it yet. Between six and ten inches of rain had fallen in the previous twenty-four hours, and the South Fork Dam, weakened by alterations made by a hunting-and-fishing club, looked as if it might give way. The president of the club had a nearby telegraph office send a message to Johnstown. It read: “Southfork Dam liable to break. Notify the people to prepare for the worst.” The Johnstown telegraph office had received warnings like this before that hadn’t resulted in problems, so they ignored it. At about 1:30 p.m., the dam gave way and 2,208 people perished in the roaring flood waters.
Like the men in the telegraph office, God often calls on His people to warn their friends, neighbors, and family of impending danger. One of the images the Bible uses to demonstrate this responsibility is the watchman standing on the wall (Ezekiel 3:17). When he spots danger, he must warn the people. He cannot control what their response will be, but he must issue the warning nonetheless.
The prophet Jeremiah played the role of watchman in Jeremiah 37–38. The Babylonians were waiting at the door, ready to vanquish the city of Jerusalem. The tense scene between Jeremiah and Zedekiah shows the prophet’s willingness to say hard words to someone who needed to hear them. He told the king that if he surrendered, he would live and his household would survive. However, if he refused to surrender, the city would burn and he would not escape the inferno.
Jeremiah pressed Zedekiah to listen: “Obey the LORD in what I am telling you, so it may go well for you and you can live” (Jeremiah 38:20). Jeremiah was charged with speaking God’s words, but he could not control the outcome.
Our calling is not the same as Jeremiah’s, but as followers of Jesus, we are surrounded by friends, family, and neighbors who recklessly live their lives as if God does not exist. They are setting themselves up for misery, not only in this life, but also in the life to come. As ambassadors for Christ, we have been given a message—the gospel—and we are responsible for sharing it with the world, so that those we meet may be reconciled to God and live in the hope and joy that comes from knowing Him. We cannot make our friends believe, nor can we exercise faith for our family and neighbors, but we can tell them the truth of the gospel so that they may believe. As the apostle Paul told the church in Rome, “How can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
Written by Scott Slayton