Session One: Why do Evangelism?
Now, I don't know what you thought about when we said that Progress would be about evangelism. I hope it wasn't 'here we go again…' but I wouldn't be too surprised if it was. There's something about evangelism that makes our hearts sink. I think it's important to be honest about this… sometimes when we're having a conversation with someone who's interested in Jesus it's exhilarating… but most of the time when we think about sharing the gospel what we think of is hard work with no or little appreciable reward, perhaps invitations scorned, maybe even ugly conversations and friendships soured…
If that's not what you think of, praise God, but for most of us, most of the time, to some extent evangelism is a topic of dread – we expect rejection don't we? We expect people to reject the message … and to resent us bringing it up. We expect to be made to feel something of a fool, and an annoying fool at that. We expect that if we go around trying to convert people what we'll do is lose friends. That of course gives rise to our topic tonight - why do it at all?
But before we get into it I'd love you to do a bit of thinking… so I've put some questions on the screen for us to think about – I'd like you to take just 2 minutes and write down brief answers to those, and then to spend a few minutes in your groups. Now I want you to be as honest as you can, we're among friends, we're here to help each other…
• What do you find hardest about sharing the gospel with others?
• What are you most afraid of?
• What is the worst experience you've ever had in evangelism?
• What's the best experience you've ever had in evangelism?
Despite how we feel about it, there are many good reasons for evangelism, but I think three are primary:
Of these the first is most important and it's this:
1. Jesus is Lord
"if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
'Jesus is Lord' is the most condensed summary form of the gospel. It's also the most fundamental truth about the universe – Jesus rules over it. Before the heavens and the earth ever came to be, Jesus was reigning with his Father. By his word the heavens and the earth came into existence, and at his command the universe will be rolled up like a scroll. His rule pre-dates the universe we live in and will outlast it too. He sits on the throne as he always has.
Jesus is Lord.
That's the ultimate truth – Jesus rules over all things, over you, over me, over history, over everything. And one day we'll see that with devastating clarity.
But for now the world continues to treat him as it always has – as irrelevant, insignificant, even offensive and detestable. The world we know is fundamentally out of step with ultimate reality, living in denial of it. Think about this: when Jesus spoke to the storm, the wind and the waves stopped dead. When Jesus said to a dead girl 'little girl get up', she woke from death. When Jesus shouted into the darkness 'Lazarus, come out' Lazarus walked out of his tomb, still wrapped in his burial cloths. And when Jesus says 'enough' history will come to an end. He will usher in Judgment Day and at his command everyone will be divided into his and not his.
It should make us shudder to realise that in this whole created order there are only two things that resist Jesus' authority – Satan and his minions, and us – people.
The world of human rebellion is one great slight on the honour and glory of Jesus – refusing to give him his honour and defacing his glory. So first and foremost we owe it to Jesus him to speak up for him. That's the first reason we do evangelism – because Jesus is worth it, he's worthy of it.
In Revelation 4&5 John saw into the throne room of God: he saw God sitting on his throne and the four living creatures bowing before him declaring:
'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is and is to come' (Revelation 4:8)
and the 24 elders declaring:
'you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being' (Revelation 4:11).
And he saw Jesus appear as a lamb who was slain and heaven sang a new song:
'you are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth' (Revelation 5.9,10).
'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise' (Revelation 5:12)
'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever' (Revelation 5:13).
That's how it should be. That's how it will be when we see him face to face. And that's how it is in heaven now where God's will is done. And since that's so, since Jesus is worthy of all glory and honour and power and wisdom and strength and honour and praise and glory – and since men everywhere deny him his fame and steal his glory and dishonour him – then we owe it to Jesus to speak up for him, to defend him, to honour him before the world.
Do you see that? That is the fundamental reason for our evangelism – it is to defend the honour and glory of the one to whom all honour and glory belongs.
This is simply how it is, how it should be. Jesus deserves our allegiance and that includes our public defence of his glory.
And I want you to know Jesus takes this very seriously. Remember he said: 'if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation the son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels' (Mark 8.38). So if we hold back from honouring Jesus now, we cannot expect him to honour us before his Father in heaven when we go to meet them. That's just as it should be, he deserves all honour and glory, and we live to give it to him.
So the first reason that we do evangelism is about Jesus – because Jesus is Lord. We owe it to him, because all glory and honour and power and wisdom and strength and honour belong to him. We need to speak for his honour, to defend his glory and promote his claim to fame.
Jesus is Lord is the first and primary reason for evangelism.
Turn to Mark ch8.
Read 8:34-38 and discuss:
• What does it mean in practice to be ashamed of Jesus and his words?
• Look back over your earlier answers about why evangelism is difficult – do you think Jesus would say you're ashamed of him and his words?
• What is more important, our fears, or Jesus glory?
Jesus is Lord is the first and primary reason for evangelism. The second reason is that:
2. People are by Nature Sinners Under his Wrath.
We find this in that famous passage in Ephesians 2:1-3
"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and habits. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."
The point is clear isn't it? Jesus is Lord and we owe him glory. But by our very nature everyone rejects Jesus' rule and holds back the glory that belongs to him, so by nature we're objects of God's wrath. This is the default human condition, and there is nothing that we can do for ourselves to get out from under it. In and of ourselves we are all without hope, we can't make up for what we have already done, and we can't stop from doing worse in the future.
But yet there's hope for us – that's the gospel news. So Paul goes on in verse 4:
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved… for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast."
God's wrath is hanging over the whole world. But the gospel is the news that wrath can be averted: Jesus has taken our place and we can be forgiven, we can know God's mercy, his wonderful saving grace. That's the amazing reality – but the world continues in gross ignorance of it, and in gross rebellion. So, they need to hear the good news so they can turn and escape from under God's wrath – I'm not telling you anything you don't already know – therefore compassion compels to us to speak the news that we know. (2 Corinthians 5:14 – For Christ's love compels us – because we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died)
Now there are two more points under this heading that perhaps deserve special mention.
i) The first is that though we are by nature objects of God's wrath, mercy is God's idea: grace, mercy, forgiveness in Jesus – these aren't ideas that we have thought up in hope that maybe God might just let us off this time – the whole thing is God's idea, God's plan. Before the creation of the world God planned for all this to come to pass (this is Ephesians ch1). So when we share the good news there is good reason – excellent reason – to think that it might work, that sinners who hear this message might turn from their sinful ways and put their trust in Jesus. It worked for us – but more importantly it's God's design for the world, so we have good reason to think it will work for other people too.
ii) It's also worth mentioning that the time of God's grace will come to an end – then it will be too late for everyone who doesn't believe. On that day there will be no more opportunities for repentance – because Jesus will come back and bring all things into judgment, or because death might come before that day; either way there is a hard, immovable deadline. None of us knows when that time will be – for us, or for any other person. So there is an absolute urgency about evangelism. There is a moment of grace, a time during which forgiveness is available freely, but the window is limited, we daren't be slow lest we miss the divine moment.
So the second reason for us to do evangelism is for the sake of sinners. Everyone who has not yet bowed the knee to Jesus is living under God's wrath and unless they turn and put their trust in him they will experience God's terrible anger against sin. If we care for them, we must tell them the good news.
So we do evangelism for the sake of God's glory in Jesus and for the sake of sinners under God's wrath. What's the third reason for doing evangelism? –
3. Evangelism is the Reason the World Keeps Turning.
Declaring God's glory and rescuing sinners from hell is the reason we're all still here. Have a look with me at 2 Peter 3:8
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar: the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."
I hope you can see the point here – the one thing that is keeping Jesus from returning right this moment is his mercy; he is giving people time to be saved. Creation continues from day to day and hour to hour because the task of evangelism isn't complete.
So read yourself into that passage – what are you here for? What's your purpose in life, what's the one great task that you can give yourself to? God is waiting for people to repent and put their trust in Jesus. You know the message of repentance and trust in Jesus. So do the maths… God is waiting for you and me who know the truth to share it. That's right isn't it? I don't think I'm stretching anything here – if the only thing delaying the day of Judgement is God's patience with unbelievers then don't test God's patience – tell them the news they desperately need to hear!
Now of course it goes even deeper than this. It's not just that God's mercy is delaying Judgment Day – as if God's time table has been thrown off. God hasn't been taken by surprise, he's not being frustrated, this is God's design for creation.
Come back to Ephesians, this time, ch1:3
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will – [ to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.] And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
There are some things there that might distract us from our topic, but stay with me. The key idea is at the beginning of verse 4 – before the creation of the world. Before he ever said 'let there be light' God had a plan to save sinners. Adam and Eve's encounter with a tricksy snake was no surprise to God. Jesus coming into the world wasn't plan B. God knew it all from the beginning: he knew Jesus would have to come and die to make things right. And he knew that the message of the gospel would be the only hope for sinners. And gloriously God saw all of this and decided that it was worth it – that he would indeed create a world and populate it with people who would turn away from him and blot his beautiful creation with the crimson stain of sin. And that he would send his son to shed his own blood to wash that stain clean. And this, verse 6 says, is for the praise of his glorious grace – or as ch2 vs7 puts it – 'in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus'.
Do you see then that the very purpose of creation is tied up with our evangelism? God created the world in order to demonstrate the riches of his grace, to show the depths of his love and mercy by saving sinners who really don't deserve it – who really, really don't deserve it.
That is right at the heart of God's plans and purposes in the world, brought to completion in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the declaration of what he has done. Does that sound wrong to tie those two things together like that, irreverent even?
Listen to Luke 24:44-46 as Jesus explains his resurrection to the two on the road to Emmaus:
"He [Jesus] told them 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
Jesus here summarises the whole of the scriptures for the benefit of the disciples. They were stupefied by his resurrection (just as they had been devastated by his crucifixion), but Jesus says that it was God's plan and he had revealed it throughout the scriptures. But notice that Jesus adds to the cross and resurrection that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations. That's us – part of God's plan. Evangelism must happen because it's God's will, just as Jesus death and resurrection had to happen because it's God's will! Evangelism is God's plan for spreading the fame and renown of his son. It's through the preaching of Jesus to the nations that Jesus comes to receive the glory and honour and power that belong to him. On the last day it will be us – each one of us a product of evangelism – who will gather around his throne and sing his glory and grace. And because we're there – we, sinners, we by nature objects of wrath – because we're there in his presence the whole heavenly realms will know the great depths of God's love, revealed in his kindness to sinners – us!
Do you see how this defines our very purpose and meaning in life? We're saved to be God's people – his kingdom of priests – his missionary people. We're not called to be disciples only, but to be disciples who are disciple-makers. Every one of us, individually and corporately, has a role to play in God's great plan of salvation.
So I wonder if you've ever thought of yourself like that – as a missionary on service, as a disciple-maker. Because that's what you are, that's why God has left us here on earth, so that we can make his name known, so that we can tell people the news of the gospel. It is our identity and purpose.
If that's the case then we have three massive reasons to do evangelism, each one of them far more significant that our fears or feelings of reluctance – because we owe it to Jesus, because we owe it to the lost, and because that's what we're here for.
So let me suggest to you that the gospel and the need to share it should be the primary factor in shaping what our lives look like. And before you unthinkingly nod and smile I want you to think that through in two directions.
Firstly if that's the case then the cause of the gospel over-rides our choices of where we live, it out-ranks our concern for our children to grow up in safety, let alone our concern for our children to get the best start in life via education. The cause of the gospel trumps our preferences and even our prejudices, even the really deeply held ones we don't like to admit. The cause of the gospel is more important than our sense of self worth, our climbing the ladder at work or enjoying the best coffee and keeping up to date with fashion or technology. At every point we turn Jesus says to us 'hand it over' – he says to put aside our ambitions, desires, hopes and dreams, even fears. 'Let them go,' he says 'and take up my mission for you which is a lot less glamorous and a lot less popular – but which will prove worth it in a way that nothing else can'.
So, secondly, I want to ask you to work through a little exercise. Gospel partners from HTG ahave left home to go and live overseas in places that are overtly hostile to the gospel, places. They've gone with a deliberate intention to live and work among people very different to them, in a culture that doesn't welcome them. They live ordinary lives there, but as they do they're constantly working to make friends and create openings for the gospel. They've explicitly tried to shape their lives around the priority of the gospel. They carry on normal life – go to work, make a living, bring up their kids – but they do it very deliberately, thinking through how they can use their normal lives to reach out to their neighbours with the gospel.
So here's the question for you and me – how would your life change if you had that same attitude – how would you live differently if your focus was the gospel, if sharing the message of Jesus was your top priority in life? You might chose to move overseas, but let's start where we are – how would your current day to day look different if you shaped everything you do in normal life around sharing the gospel?
Now let me ask you a second question – what's stopping you from making those changes right now? The answer to that question might just reveal what you're truly worshipping!
That's worth a bit more thought, so I want us to pause here and take some time thinking that through in our groups…
• If you were to live as a missionary in Gateshead, how would your life change?
• How you go about trying to meet people and make relationships?
• What would you need to change about how you spend your time?
• What opportunities do you already have that you could make more of?
• What could you do to produce more opportunities?
• What's stopping you from living like that right now – for homework think about making even just one of the changes you listed above – could you do that now as we prepare for ONE LIFE?
The reality we need to face is that though we might not relish the thought of sharing the gospel we have to admit that there are very good, very real reasons for us to make it our first priority – Jesus is Lord, we need to give him the glory that belongs to him. People are under God's wrath and will suffer his judgment if they do not repent – compassion demands we warn them before it's too late. And we're here for this very purpose, to call people from death to life, to join in God's great eternal plan of winning people for himself. It's the very reason we're put here. So, even if it's not naturally our thing – we need to shape our very lives around the absolute priority of the gospel. And there's more – God in his grace rewards us richly for our efforts, and we'll look at that, next week.