I've been a Christian for over 40 years, and that's a lot of sermons and Sunday school classes on evangelism. I've had an evangelism course in college, one in seminary, two video evangelism courses, and I have a black belt in EE. All those methods had something helpful in them, because I love the gospel and I want as many people as possible to know Jesus. To be satisfied in his promises of rescue, redemption, and the humbling, holy idea that he's the center of the universe, not me--it frees me and every person who realizes it from the rat race of selfishness and people pleasing and idolatry. I want more and more people to know this not just mentally but deep, deep in their souls.
How do we do this? Well, when we look at the NT, it tells a different story from what I see in my inbox and read in evangelism books.
Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the Senate talking about evangelism in the New Testament, said this:
Evangelism never seemed to be an “issue” in the New Testament. That is to say, one does not find the apostles urging, exhorting, scolding, planning, and organizing for evangelistic programs. In the apostolic Church, evangelism was somehow “assumed” and it functioned without special techniques or special programs. Evangelism happened! Issuing effortless from the community of believers as light from the sun, it was automatic, spontaneous, continuous, contagious.
Yet what I have experienced in the church in the last 40 years is lots of urging and scolding and planning and organizing and guilt and not many results. Why? Laziness? Immaturity? Yes, that's part of it. Part of it is that the methods were not biblical and the message was often man-centered, where God is offered as a way to make your best life now, a way to make life even better. Walking in humble repentance by the grace of God and giving your life away for his glory doesn't find a place on most tracts or evangelistic sermons.
But this is not going to be that kind of message, the kind where we dwell on the bad methods and message that has passed for evangelism for the last 200 years. Why?
When John came to Jesus, you could hear the righteous indignation in his voice. "Lord, there are people who are casting our demons in your name, but we stopped them!" What does Jesus say? Leave them alone. He who is not against me is for me.
The Apostle Paul rejoiced when he saw the gospel going forth from people with flawed motives, flawed practices, and flawed results. How could he do that?
Philipians 1 makes it clear:
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
So today I want to rejoice in all the good work that Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, Jerry Falwell, all the teams that have gone door to door, all the ones who told me hundreds of times that I had to ask Jesus into my heart to be saved (which is not in the Bible), all the ones who tell me to honk if I love Jesus, all the ones that pass out tracts that reduce the gospel to a new law, a new set of behaviors that get added to the laws in the Old Testament, I rejoice. Because whether they intended to or not, whether they were intentionally doing evangelism wrong or not, I rejoice and so should you. Because God used men and women with impure motives and poor execution as a part of saving me, and you. Because God uses men like the leaders in our church, who sometimes have impure motives and who don't teach and shepherd according to the high calling of God, to care for you and your family.
But I have good news. Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden is light. The evangelistic work of loving each other, loving those around you, and planting churches that preach the truth regularly, serve the sacraments regularly, and do church discipline in a loving, repentance-encouraging way, that's not nearly as hard as carrying around the burden that you are a bad person unless you tell every person you meet that Jesus loves them, died for them, and wants to live in their heart.
Never, not once, do you see Paul encouraging people to develop relationships with unbelievers so you can get close enough to witness to them. Not once is lifestyle evangelism taught in Scripture. It's clearly not forbidden, and if you do it, there are principles that the Bible gives to help, such as:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. – 1 Peter 3:15-16
I think this is the personal side of evangelism--living lives so distinct, being such a good husband and father, obeying the laws of the land, working quietly with our hands, planting gardens, building houses, giving our children in marriage, that people ask questions. They ask why. And we need to be ready to tell them, but with gentleness and respect, not with the enormous emotional and marketing program that we've called evangelism in the last 200 years. But with the truth, and then tell them where you learned the truth; God's Word, as preached and read and believed at your church.
So if we've been confused about evangelism, both in method and message, what should we be doing instead?
That's the wrong question. That's the question you and I tend to gravitate towards. We want to fix problems with more techniques, with better programs. And that's not how this gets fixed. Is that how the early church grew, by finding a better program? I follow the lead of Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to China early in the last century, who put it this way:
Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to China (1895-1903), parish pastor in England, said this: “When we turn from the restless entreaties and exhortations which fill the pages of our modern missionary magazines to the pages of the New Testament, we are astonished at the change in the atmosphere. St. Paul does not repeatedly exhort his churches to send money for the propagation of the faith; he is far more concerned to explain to them what the faith is, and how they ought to practice and keep it. The same is true of St. Peter and St. John, and of all the apostolic writers; they do not seem to feel any necessity to repeat the Great Commission, and to urge that it is the duty of their converts to make disciples of all nations. What we read in the New Testament is not anxious appeal to Christians to spread the Gospel, but a note here and there which suggests how the Gospel was being spread abroad…for centuries the Christian Church continued to expand by its own inherent grace (underscoring is Halverson’s), and threw up an unceasing supply of missionaries without any direct exhortation” (Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962, p. 6).
The sense of spontaneity and of effortlessness is inescapable in these accounts of growth in the early Church. In Acts, remember the language: As the “word of God increased,” as believers in fellowship “were edified” and “walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost,” as they were “established in the faith,” converts were “added daily.” Because of its spiritual health, the apostolic Church experienced exciting and effective evangelistic results with a mechanical regularity. It is a safe assumption that evangelism is inevitable in a spiritually robust congregation. Failure to be evangelistic or “mission minded” in the New Testament sense betrays a poor spiritual condition. The way to evangelistic vigor is not some special emphasis or program, but rather humble repentance and shepherding elders and motherly nurture of the hurting. The very necessity for organizing special evangelistic efforts, however well intended, betrays the deep need of the Church for renewal and revival. One might as well exhort a woman with a barren womb to have children as to exhort a sterile, tired church to evangelize or respond to missions needs. (Partially from Darvan Radditz, Pitfalls of Modern Evangelistic Movements, 1974).
Evangelism was not optional in the New Testament; Jesus did not say “…you may be my witnesses me after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” Nor, on the other hand, was evangelism coercive. Jesus did not say “…you must be my witnesses…” Rather, evangelism was inescapable! Jesus said, “But you WILL receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
But wait pastor. That doesn't make sense. How will the world hear? How will the church grow if we are just being obedient and joyful moms and dads and kids?
There is only one exhortation, one command in the NT to be an evangelist, and that was given by Paul, to Timothy, as a part of his elder responsibilities. So that's why I promise you, bring the people that your happy, holy lives attract, bring lost family members, bring lost people you meet in a bar, and I promise you, I will tell them the Gospel!
Then you have them over for lunch and talk to them. Then you listen to their story.
But be patient. Real evangelism takes time. It's not a quick Powerpoint presentation. It took Jesus 3 years to prepare his people, his disciples, to hear about his atoning death for them on the cross and the first time they heard about it, Peter rejected it (Mark 8:33).
The sick selfishness instead of God-centered joy that you've been wallowing in for months or years can end today. Christians, turning your life joyfully over to Jesus Christ and leaving the past behind where it can die--this can happen now. Today.
Dayspring Church can do the ordinary things that it has been doing--fellowship, gospel-powered generosity, being godly moms and dads, having kids who are not the church of tomorrow, but the church of today, being God-centered and making much of him--we can be the best evangelists in Spring Hill if we'll commit ourselves to intentionally living out our values and communicating them when people ask and then inviting them to church not because I forced you, but because you want to.
You do that, and we'll be experiencing personal revival and biblical church growth. Lord, I pray that we witness the fruit of a healthy, holy church. Lord I pray that the elect in this world will see at us and say "look, how they love one another!" "Look how much they love Jesus!" We live lives like that, inside and outside the church, and evangelism won't be our problem. Finding money for a building a balcony will be our biggest problem.
We saw last week the important implications for the early church and us that Jesus ascended into heaven, and we saw how they addressed a leadership need by calling a new apostle. The New Testament church would continue in the power of Jesus' continued intercession and prayer for them and through the ministry of leaders in the church, the apostles, that would do the special work of planting brand new churches all over the known work with a demonstration of the same type of power that Jesus Christ manifested.
We want to start not in Acts 2 but in 2 Chronicles. It’s in 2 Chronicles 5, a history of Solomon’s reign, that we see the Temple David longed to see built. And the Ark of the Covenant, from the time of Moses, is brought into the holy of holies, and at the end of chapter 5, the glory cloud of God fills the Temple. It’s so powerful that the priests could not do their assigned duties they had to wait in awe of God and his manifest presence.
Then Solomon prays. He prays better than he is, he prays better than he has any right to. He prays better than his past, better than his future, would say he has a right to pray. Yet here it is in holy Scripture, and we get to read it and see how it propels us to and explains Acts 2.
[Read, starting with 5:18, read that paragraph. Then to vs. 32 about foreigners. Then 36 to end, then 7:1ff]
The message of Solomon’s prayer is that in some mysterious way, though the universe cannot contain the great God we serve and who loves us with a covenant love, has come to dwell with us, in this Temple, and will hear our prayers and respond with power and might and justice and judgment to establish the reign of his king forever and ever and establish a people for his pleasure, both Jews and Gentiles.
Do you think that’s just a coincidence? That message of Solomon being the same as the message we see in Acts 2? I do not. In Acts 2:
Just as with Solomon, the disciples have gathered at God’s command to await his confirming presence. He’s going to renew his covenant with them through establishing the place where his spirit will dwell and manifest his power. In context of humble prayer, and nothing more or less, God sends his Spirit as he did in the past, and because the Spirit of God is invisible, he has to add something to make it possible for us to perceive it.
Many implications for understanding the text and understanding the world we live in today from this. We will unpack some of these in the sermon, some in conversations afterwards.
1) The Christian life from the Old to the New Testament to today, is an experience of God giving power to his people, if you have a powerless life over sin, a powerless life over the desires of the flesh, the devil, the world, if you have no power, then it’s very likely you have no Spirit. If you’ve managed to create a life that requires no power, that requires no faith, that has no risk, no danger, no need of his gracious gifts, then it’s very likely you are not living the Christian life.
2) This power is not private, but public. It is not simply Jesus coming and sitting on the throne of your heart, but it works itself out, by the very nature of the gift and the giver, in public and in the assembly of the people of God.
3) As God establishes his new Temple, his new dwelling place with men in 2 Chronicles 5 with signs and wonders of a specific type, now he establishes through signs and wonders that he dwells with his church in a new, mobile temple, with every believer being a temple of the Holy Spirit, with his Spirit not being tied to a specific spot, but going everywhere his people go. Where shall I go to flee from your spirit, David prayed in Psalm 139, I wonder did he see such a day as this?
Instead of fire descending on the sacrificial lambs of the Old Covenant, he sends fire to descend on the future martyrs of the New Covenant. Every one of the people who were mentioned in the book of Acts as being in that assembly of Acts 2, and almost every believer in the book of Acts, is recorded in history as being martyred for the faith.
The glory descends in OT Exodus at Mount Sinai, at the Temple sacrifices in 2 Chronicles 7, and now in Acts 2, the fire and glory descends signaling that God is demonstrating his power, manifesting his presence, glorifying himself, empowering his people to rule and reign and tell the world, Jews and Gentiles, the good news that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is alive, and Jesus forgives sinners who repent and by faith, believe he is God and can forgive sin.
Think about this more deeply, though. What do you think happened when God sent fire down upon the sacrifices of sheep and cattle at the Temple in 2 Chronicles? Do you think they survived?
What happens when the power of God comes down on you to proclaim the Gospel in a hostile world, and you demonstrate with great power that they cannot control you, they cannot buy, you, they cannot withstand your message of hope and forgiveness through Christ alone—did you think the world would be happy with you? Did you think it would applaud (slow clap)?
The gospel and the power of God to rescue sinners that we have today may not be as flashy, may not have the spiritual fireworks attending it as the apostles saw, but it’s no less real. The promises of Christ to heal body and soul, to rescue the sick and the dead from the final destination of all who side with Satan and his angels, they are no less real today, Amen?
Tongues of fire on the 120 fall and signal that God’s presence and power are a consuming fire. If you want to be consumed by God, who happily receives the offering of your life and sacrifice of your small goals to his big ones, your selfish goals to his goals that will transform the universe, God bids you take up your cross and follow his son. When Jesus bids us come, as Bonhoeffer said, he bids us come and die.
The details of the text today is that God supernaturally and powerfully signaled that he would accomplish the goals of taking the good news of repentant faith in Jesus as the Messiah to the nations. The miracle could have been as much a miracle of ear as one of tongue; the crowd could have been miraculously able to hear praise and prayer and preaching as the 120 were overcome by the presences of God and had a spiritual experience that made them babble. Or babble could be transformed in midair before it hit their ears. Or the 120 could have been saying something like a universal common language that all could hear, by the power of God. We don’t know. It’s not explained. But what’s clear is that Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said that Matthew 10:19 that he would give his disciples the words to say, if they were brought before rulers to give testimony. He did for them what he did for Moses in Exodus 4:12, he gave them speech to tell the truth about God.
He can and will do the same for you today. It may not be in a different language, but if need be, he clearly can do that.
God is not afraid to release his word, with power, into a hostile world. Are you?
There’s a reason Jesus promised he would be with the disciples. The mission is scary. There’s a reason Jesus promised he’d send his spirit among us—the mission is lonely. There’s a reason we meet and the early church met so regularly for the Lord’s Supper and worship and preaching and fellowship—the mission of spreading the true gospel into this culture is not easy. We need to be built up and matured with the means of grace God has promised will empower his church to repentant faith.
Let’s come boldly, expectantly, to the table today, fortifying ourselves for the mission of seeing the gospel to further and deeper than ever before in Hernando County and beyond. Let the nations be glad!
How can Christians not care about proving themselves to others?
When we try to prove ourselves to others, we focus on impressing them—a spouse, a boss, a parent, a peer. We want so desperately to be cheered by them, we’ll overwork or compromise our health or morals. The approval of others becomes the most important standard in our lives, so we sacrifice our beliefs, our convictions, our standards so that we will be accepted by others. When others are our standard, we will always fail to find the approval and acceptance we long for.
The Gospel reminds us that others cannot offer us lasting acceptance. That God, not others, are our standard. We will never sufficiently prove ourselves to others because we are flawed and so are they. God is our standard. We fail to meet it, but the gospel reminds us that Jesus has met God’s standard for us! Others aren’t nearly as forgiving as Jesus is. We need not prove ourselves to God because Jesus has proven our worth. We don’t have to seek fundamental approval from others because are approved by Christ. Period.
Friends, thank you for the hearty welcome to Sermon Audio. Special thanks to Steven, who works for Sermon Audio and was on site at the Ligonier National Conference this week, who helped us set up our site.
I can only upload 10 per billing cycle, so the five I've uploaded will be all until we get all the messages from April. But you can go to the Dayspring Church fan page at Facebook and find 20 or so back sermons.
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