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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Evangelism

Second Sunday After Epiphany


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”


Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”


The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”


When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”


They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”


“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”


So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.


Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

John 1:29-42a


It appears to me that Andrew was the first evangelist – or the second one if we count John the Baptist. Andrew spent one day with Jesus, believed that Jesus was the promised Savior, and was off to tell his brother what he’d found! A one-day-old Christian and already witnessing! And as Corrie ten Boom would ask, “And how old are you?!” (That question always gets me!)


I don’t know what Jesus said to Andrew that day – I wish I did – but whatever He said and did convinced Andrew that He was the promised Messiah who’d come to save His people. I know that Andrew didn’t fully understand the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus’ mission of salvation – but he didn’t waste any time sharing what he did know with his brother! You might say he was consumed with a passion to spread the Gospel. And of course after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, there was no stopping Andrew and the rest of the Apostles.


When you think about eleven men setting out to evangelize the world, I think we’re allowed to wonder how on earth they did it! Within ten years of the death of Jesus the Gospel about Him had reached Alexandria and Antioch, the greatest cities in Africa and Asia. We’re almost certain it had also reached Rome by that time. It was such a notorious movement in that capital city of the world that Christians could be made scapegoats by Nero for the Great Fire in A.D. 64.


The message of Jesus spread like wildfire throughout the whole Roman Empire, capturing different races and cultures, making inroads into the aristocracy and among the intellectuals, and changing the lives of countless ordinary men and women. Evangelism was clearly a priority among those first followers of Jesus!


The Gospel of Jesus Christ so gripped Barnabas that he sold his farm, gave up his money to the cause, and burnt himself out in the service of his Master. His specialty was rejoicing at other people’s success and encouraging everybody in his path, including impossible characters like Saul of Tarsus!


The Gospel so gripped Philip, a Greek-speaking (and probably Greek-living) business man from Caesarea, that he first became a church administrator and then discovered he had a gift for evangelism. His specialty was reaching out to outsiders, like Samaritans (whom nobody else would go near) and Ethiopian eunuchs.


The Gospel so gripped Peter that his up-and-down, hot-and-cold character was changed into a rock-like dedication. He found his prejudices of a lifetime melting away as he shared the Good News of a Savior with a type he’d been brought up to despise, the gentile Cornelius.


The Gospel so gripped Saul of Tarsus that he gave up his security, his intellectual arrogance (though not his intellectual competence), his status, his prospects, his finances – in order to be a life-long evangelist, missionary, apologist, strategist, and finally a martyr for the Jesus he had once so vehemently opposed.


The Gospel so gripped unknown laymen that they went on a long safari from Jerusalem in order to tell everyone they met about Jesus, and, almost by accident, founded the church in Antioch, which became the springboard for world evangelism.


Why did they all bother? Why did these early Christians give up what they had, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ? Why should we bother? There has to be some powerful motives if we’re going to get up enough courage to start the scary task of sharing our faith. Embarrassment has to be overcome; openings have to be made; time has to be sacrificed. There have to be some powerful motives if we’re not to give up in discouragement when we see little, if any fruit from our efforts!


Well, as a matter of fact, there are some powerful motives, and the early Christians knew them and were moved by them. Maybe we’ll get an idea why we should bother sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ if we look at why the early Christians concerned themselves so much:


1) They bothered because of God’s love. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. He only had one Son, and that Son was a missionary! What’s more, God’s own love became implanted in the hearts of believers, so it’s not surprising that they began to share their Heavenly Father’s attitude with the lost.


2) They bothered because of Christ’s command. In the farewell words of Jesus to His disciples, He assures them that He has all power in Heaven and on Earth; He promises them that He’ll be with them until the end of the age; and then He gives them His parting instructions: they are to go into all the world and make disciples. We treat the last wishes of those we love very seriously. So did the early Christians, and this was Christ’s last request.


3) They bothered because of the Holy Spirit’s push. The Spirit isn’t given to make us comfortable – it’s given to make us missionaries! It was inconceivable to the early Christians that anyone could receive God’s Holy Spirit without also being fired up and equipped to speak for the Lord whenever opportunity knocked.


Did you notice that these three motives for evangelism are all rooted in the nature of God? They kind of give a trinitarian basis for evangelism. We’re called to share the Good News because God the Father is like that. Evangelism is the working through Christians of the love of God the Son. It’s the thrust of God the Holy Spirit being implemented by Christians.


That’s why they bothered: because of the God who had revealed Himself to them. Isn’t that enough?


Well, I’m afraid it isn’t enough for most of us most of the time. We sit there and say, “Fine, sounds good” and pass the buck to somebody else. So if you haven’t heard a reason why you should be motivated yet, the New Testament gives us some other reasons why the early Christians bothered with the business of sharing the Gospel:


4) They bothered because of their responsibility. You know, the Bible speaks of Christians as Christ’s ambassadors, who beseech people on behalf of Christ to get reconciled with God. An ambassador represents his country in a foreign land, and that’s a big responsibility. That responsibility is ours. We are Christ’s embassy in a foreign – and sometimes hostile – land. He relies on us! What if we fail? What if we don’t discharge our obligation? The answer’s given in a story – just a story – about what happened when Jesus returned to Heaven after His ascension. He was greeted by all the angels of Heaven, and Gabriel asked Him what plans He had made for continuing His work on Earth. And Jesus replied, “I have left behind eleven men, and have entrusted the task to them.” “But what if they fail?” asked Gabriel. And Jesus replied, “If they fail, I have no other plan.”


5) They bothered because of their great privilege. What an amazing thing it is that God should make His appeal through us! What an astounding thing that He should entrust His most precious gift to us. It never ceased to amaze Paul that the privilege of representing the Lord wasn’t entrusted to angels, nor to kings, nor to high politicians – but to forgiven sinners! The Heavenly Father takes us into His family, and gives us a share of the family business! It’s a job from which we’ll never be fired, and from which we’ll never need to retire. God has determined that He will only speak through the voice of reconciled sinners in reaching unreconciled sinners. Amazing! What a privilege that is for us. I think the immensity of it struck Paul more and more as he got older. He tells the Corinthians that he's “not worthy to be called an Apostle” because he had persecuted the Church. Then he says to the Ephesians, “to me who am less than the least is this privilege given.” And finally when he writes to Timothy he calls himself “the chief of sinners.” But to the “chief of sinners” is given the privilege of telling other sinners about their Savior!


6) The early Christians bothered with telling others the Good News they had learned because of other people’s needs. According to Ephesians 2:1, men and women without Christ are dead. Though they’re mentally, physically, and emotionally alive, these people are spiritually dead. According to Jesus’ own words, society has lost its way, and mankind has an identity crisis. People don’t know who they are, where they’re going, or what there is to live for. Now Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. But people don’t realize this. They think Christianity is about rules, and church-going, and obligations – and have no idea that Jesus can meet their deepest needs and desires. People need Jesus! You know, the New Testament talks about two ways: the broad way which leads to destruction and the narrow way which leads to life. It talks about two choices: for Christ or against Him. It talks about two groupings: wheat and tares, wise and foolish, in or out of the Great Supper, with Christ or without Christ. The Bible never mentions a middle ground! And that’s what drove Paul and the other early missionaries into such service. They understood the need of those who were out of touch with God.


7) Finally, they bothered because it brought joy! Those early Christians found that there was no joy like it! Paul told the Thessalonians, “You received the Word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” The joy in the hearts of the converts was there in the missionaries too.


Well, these are seven of the motives which burnt themselves into the minds and consciences of the early Christians. They’re worth thinking about. If they catch on with us, we’ll be at this business of sharing the Good News until our death bed. If not, then talking about methods won’t do any good. The biggest problem in evangelism isn’t finding methods, but motivation. And if the example of the Holy Trinity, the privilege and responsibility laid upon us, the need of those without Christ, and the sheer joy of serving Him in this way don’t move us, I don’t know what will!


May God help us to respond to His love, by loving the people He brings across our paths enough to share His Good News with them.


Amen

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