(Preached at Alger First UMC on 9/6/2015)
Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20
This week, we’re starting a series on this thing that we call evangelism. So for today and for the next five weeks, I want to explain what I think evangelism is and what I think the Bible tells you about it, and give you some help in actually doing it. And I want to emphasize that this is just how I understand it. There are many different understandings and perspectives on evangelism, so you might have a different understanding, and that’s ok. I want to help us think about it and practice it. Alright?
Now, I’ve had a few encounters with evangelism, and been through some “training sessions” that are supposed to teach you how to do it, mostly through campus ministries and high school youth group. Many times I didn’t really agree with how it was presented to me or how we were told to go about practicing evanglism. But even when I see evangelism done in a more positive way, something in me still has reservations about it. How do I talk to someone about Jesus? You might be thinking, “But Pastor Andy, we pay you to stand up in front of us and talk about Jesus for 20-30 minutes every week! What do you mean you don’t know how to talk about Jesus?” But there’s something different about talking about it up here in the proverbial pulpit and talking about Jesus with a friend or a family member. A lot of the time, I’m not actually sure how to do it, what to say, all those things.
Now, I’m sure that a lot of us have those same kinds of questions when we think about evangelism. And I want to help us out with those questions and struggles. Now, if you’re here and you’re thinking “Well, I don’t really know that Jesus guy to begin with, so why in the world is this going to matter to me?” That’s ok, this message is for you too. Because I’m sure that whether or not you know or believe in Jesus, I’m sure you have some image of what evangelism looks like, even if it’s come from some not very healthy sources, like street preachers with bullhorns that you might have heard about or seen, right?
So with this, I think a lot of us have doubts about evangelism. We might think that it doesn’t really work and it’s not really necessary. We might think that it’s only for the pros-the pastor’s the one who needs to tell people about Jesus, not me! You might just think that you don’t know how to talk about Jesus, or that you don’t know Jesus well enough to talk about him.
And I think those doubts make us have a lot of misconceptions about evangelism, ways of doing evangelism and images of evangelism that don’t really match up with the Gospel message we’re supposed to be sharing, right? Evangelism is not street preachers yelling out a hateful message, even though that’s what we see a lot. Evangelism is not just imparting information, like pamphlets we might see-just tell them the info in this pamphlet and it’ll be ok. Evangelism is not just digging for a conversion moment. Evangelism does not leave people high and dry and alone after they receive the message, the job isn’t done. What I’m saying is that evangelism is not something we do to We do not evangelize people, at least not how I understand it.
Evangelism is simply sharing with others the salvation that we’ve experienced through Jesus Christ. Now I think the Bible gives us this much healthier image of evangelism, but more than that, it says that whatever this evangelism thing is, we need to do it. We need to practice evangelism, not just think about it and maybe say it’s a good thing. But before we can do that, we have to figure out what in the world evangelism is, right? So let’s take a look at one of the ways the Bible talks about evangelism.
Could you all open your Bibles to Matthew 28:18-20? I’d like everyone to do this, so if you don’t have a Bible with you, you can use a red pew Bible in front of you, and the page number for the red pew Bible should be in your bulletins.
Now, while you’re turning there, let me show where this falls in the story. Jesus has been crucified, buried, and risen from the dead. Three women have seen him alive and Jesus told them to go back to his followers and tell them that he’s alive, and for them to go to Galilee. So Jesus’ 12 disciples heard this, and they go to the region of Galilee, and they up on a mountain to meet Jesus.
18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, CEB)
So Jesus is basically telling his followers “I’m leaving now, but your work isn’t done. You’ve been following me in this way of life for a few years, so now invite others to follow me with you in this way of life.” This command from Jesus, to invite others into the way of life following Christ, has come to be known as evangelism. And the Gospel-writer obviously thought it was important because these are the last words that Jesus is recorded as having said. And I think I can see why.
Humans have been created to live in a certain way, the way of life that Jesus models. Those of us who know about this way of life should tell those who don’t know. Two guys named Henry Knight and Douglas Powe frame it in this way “A follower of Christ has received a message that has made all of the difference in their lives, it has transformed them in an amazing way, and they want to share that message with others hoping that it will transform their lives too.” I’ve been transformed in an amazing way, and it’s a transformation that you can’t find in anything or anyone else besides Jesus. I have experienced salvation, and it has transformed my life. I want you to experience this salvation too.” That’s what evangelism is all about. Evangelism is sharing the salvation that you’ve experienced and that’s transformed your life with others.
Now, salvation is one of those really churchy words that church people like to throw around, even if we don’t understand it. So let me try to explain that
Salvation is not a set of duties or activities that will earn us heaven after we die. That’s not the salvation that Jesus talked about.
In fact, I don’t believe that the Christian message of salvation is about what happens to us when we die at all. I do not believe that we are saved SO THAT we can get to heaven, I don’t think getting to heaven is a goal or a reason for salvation at all.
Jesus did not die on the cross to save us just so that we could go to heaven after we die. When we talk about salvation or when we say that we are “saved,” we’re really talking about a new life that have right now in the present. We’re talking about a new life that we can experience right now, a better life than the life we live before we know Jesus, a life that slowly becomes less broken, less fragmented-our life is put back together, only this time, it’s a better version. Salvation is a transformation that we can experience right now that leads us into a new and better life that we can live right now, not in the distant future, not when we die, but right NOW in this life, on this earth. And this is the kind of life that we were created for, the only kind of life that will give us true fulfillment and true peace and joy. Now isn’t that something that you want to experience? Isn’t this new life something that you want others to experience, that others need to experience?
One of the things I said I wanted to do in this series was equip you, and give you some tools that you can use to carry out Jesus’ command to make disciples. So in order to really equip you, I want to give you in compact form the message of salvation. Because it’s kind of strange to explain to you how Jesus has told us to go out and invite others into this salvation and new life without telling you the basics of what this whole message is that we’re supposed to be sharing. On your outline, you’ll see this outlined starting in the middle of it. These are some big truths, and each one of these points could be a sermon in themselves, but I want to give you the big picture of what it is Jesus has called us to share.
Salvation is offered to everyone
This new life Jesus was talking about is offered to every person in the world. Even people who we don’t think deserve it. Even if we are the ones who might not deserve it, this new life is offered to everyone in the world. Because each person-each one of you and everyone-is of infinite worth to God, and God wants each of us to experience this new life of love Jesus is inviting us into
Everyone needs salvation
On the flip side of that, everyone needs this new life. We have a problem that we can’t fix, a disease that we can’t cure. There’s something in us that makes us do bad things. Normal Christian thought calls this phenomenon ‘sin.’ And sin is more than something we do that makes us guilty-though that’s true as well- it is a condition. We ARE sinners. We don’t just need forgiveness, we need a fundamental change in identity. We need transformation in this new way of living that Jesus offers us.
We Can Be Forgiven
In admitting that each of us has a problem that we can’t cure, that we’re sinners in need of transformation, the Good News comes in the belief that we can be forgiven, that that problem can be fixed, that that sickness inside of us can be cured, that our broken lives can be put back together in Jesus Christ, free of charge-we don’t even have to do anything to deserve it.
We Can Receive New Life
With the forgiveness comes the new life I’ve been talking about. When we are saved and set free from our brokenness, Jesus brings us into a new life of love. In this life, we start to look more and more like God and act more and more like Jesus. We live as people who love God and love others deeply. And we desire to see the world in the way that God sees the world.
We Can Be Truly Happy
Through this new life, we can be happy. That’s the simple truth of it. We can experience joy, like we were meant to experience it. We live as people who have a depth of happiness that is only possible through Jesus Christ. This is what we’re bringing to others. And this might be what each of us here needed to hear.
Now what would happen if we all took seriously Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all people in the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us? What would that look like? What kind of amazing transformation would occur in this world? The United Methodist denomination has a mission statement-so they’re saying that everything about the United Methodist Church-this is the goal. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And the making of disciples starts with people first hearing this message of salvation, hope, love and transformation-and maybe with ourselves hearing and believing that message. This is the transformation we’re working towards-the transformation and healing and fixing of the entire world. Don’t you want to be a part of that?