Sermon Series: Evangelism Lessons

April 29th, 2013

3 Week Series

Week 1: The Good Samaritan Church

Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37

Today there is so much confusion about what it is to be a Christian. Churches have defined it in many ways: how we worship, the music we use, our liturgy. Being a Christian has been defined by particular rules, such as the way we cut our hair, the garb of our clergy, and the amount of water used in baptism. In a society that has become very secular, we need to get to the point of what it is to be a Christian. Peter sought to answer that in 1 Peter 2:21: “You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps.”

In 1896, a Kansas pastor named Charles Sheldon was inspired by those words and wrote a novel defining what it is to be a Christian called In His Steps. The idea is so simple. To be a Christian is simply to ask, “what would Jesus do (WWJD)?” Several years ago, people wore WWJD bracelets, and it was popular to affirm our faith with that simple slogan. The popularity of the bracelets and slogan has waned, but the meaning is still essential. The Christian is to follow in the steps of Jesus, asking, “What would Jesus do?” in every decision.

In Luke 10, Jesus tells a story of a man attacked on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Some people coming down the road see he has been robbed and is injured, in a desperate condition; they are too busy to stop and help. The good Samaritan sees the man and stops to help. He goes beyond normal courtesy, even placing himself in danger. Jesus says at the end of this story that we are to go out and “do likewise.” We need to be the people who help if we are going to do what Jesus would do.

As Jesus was just beginning to preach, he went back to his hometown and read aloud the scripture,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus said he was called to help people in need.

At the end of Matthew 25, Jesus makes that point extremely clear as he tells the story of judgment day. We will be divided like sheep from goats. The sheep, those who help ordinary people, get to go to heaven. Those who don’t are the goats and will go to the other place. It’s very clear; we are called to be like the good Samaritan.

Today, churches are declining in membership, attendance, and participation. We ask how we are to reach new people and new generations, and we are susceptible to all kinds of membership campaigns and gimmicks. In previous generations, we won new converts by telling people that the thing to do was to go to church; everyone in town went to church. Today it is not “the thing to do.” In other generations, people went to church because they were scared into it. They were told that if they didn’t go to church, they would go to hell. Today, people disregard our scare tactics and are not going to church. Sometimes it would help if we had the most entertaining worship; surely then people would come to church! But, when a praise band takes a job at another church or a popular youth director goes to seminary, the youth group begins to fail, and we realize that entertainment, fear, guilt, cultural pressure, or attendance campaigns will not work in the long run to create sincere relationships with Christ.

Jesus said that what will work is helping people where they hurt. “Needs-based Evangelism” is being sensitive and caring; it is helping people. The greatest mistake the church has made in recent years is not noticing the hurts of the people on the side of the road. We get so busy going to our meetings and activities that we do not have time to stop. The irony is that, by that very act, the church is dying. Churches all across the world are growing and thriving when they are sensitive to the needs of the people. Jesus says that he came to help; if we are to be his followers, that is what we must do. There will be lots of techniques for reaching new people, lots of membership campaigns that will be tried and materials that will be sold, but until we really care for and help others, the church will not grow. The answer is not simply doing a little bit of good in a world that needs so much; it is really caring; it is inviting someone to a cancer support group where there is prayer and faith and hope. It is caring enough to go to the hospital when that patient undergoes treatment or surgery. It is meeting friends and family and inviting them to join you in prayer.

To be a “Good Samaritan Church” (perhaps the best name for a vibrant church today), doing a little bit of good from time to time will not cut it; it requires really caring about each and every individual. In this way, people come to know Jesus not by some slogan that they use or an empty prayer that they say but through acts of love. Jesus set an example, and we should follow in his steps.

Week 2: T E L L

John 1:43-51

The mainline Protestant church today is declining. The percentage of Americans who claim to be Christian is decreasing. These trends have been happening for twenty years. These statistics ought to remind us not of a need to have a new membership campaign but to do what Jesus taught and to make disciples. Our effectiveness will be made possible by three decisions: the decision to follow his final instructions, the decision to do what Jesus taught, and, finally, the decision to tell others about Jesus Christ and how wonderful it is to follow him.

They were doing what is natural, just telling a friend about a really good deal. We do it all the time. It is called word of mouth. You find there is a bargain at your favorite department store, and you tell your friends. You hear your favorite singer is coming to town, and you tell your friends and family. There is a new television series that you really like, so you tell others, whether they like it or not. We are always telling.

John 1:43-47 shares the simple story of Philip telling Nathanael about Jesus. This “telling” others happens over and over. The book of Acts is the story of telling others about Jesus. It is so natural and simple, and yet for a Christian today to tell another about Jesus seems so hard.

The people we want to share with live in a society that has become very secular. In fact, much of our society views organized religion in a negative way. Church members are thought of as hypocritical and uncaring, arrogant and judgmental. Often the language we use to describe our faith is difficult for non-Christians to understand. We use unfamiliar metaphors and symbols. Most troublesome, we have not lived our faith very well in front of the very people we would like to share with. That being the reality, how do we share?

The letters in the word TELL can be a reminder of some of the principles of how to share our faith. The T reminds us of the Truth of our own lives. In order to tell the story of Jesus, we need to know that truth ourselves. It needs to be in our minds, but more than that, it needs to be a part of our experience. Some of us have known the truth of Jesus Christ since childhood; we are almost born into the faith; it has become so much a part of how we think and live that it is who we are. Others of us have become Christians along the journey of life. We have made a change and a promise to follow Jesus. We have experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we sense the excitement of being a part of the church. We each have a story and truth about what being Christian means. Too often, we detract from that truth with fear, guilt, mistakes, and how we have changed from our worst nature. Certainly that is an important aspect of truth in all of us. But Christianity is not just about how bad we have been but about how good Jesus is. The truth is that God loves us despite our faults. Our self-esteem is secure. That’s our story. It is our truth.

The letter E reminds us of the word Explain. Much of the task of telling about Jesus is to explain. A lot of misinformation is present in our society. We need to explain our beliefs. We need to be prepared to answer hard questions. Many doctrines of the church require careful study. We must have answers for these questions. We must be able to explain. This is the story of salvation for all of us, and it must be explained and understood for us to be able to enjoy it, celebrate it, use it, and tell it clearly.

The first L reminds us of Living. If a person is to understand what the Christian faith is all about, they will understand it best by the way that we live. We need to show that love, generosity, kindness, patience, understanding, integrity, and responsibility are the principles we live by. Our society seems to reward un-Christian behavior, so we must tell others about Christ through our actions in ordinary times and in times of crisis.

A young woman found she had a difficult disease. Her friends at the office were impressed with the effective way she dealt with illness. They were amazed because she seemed to have unusual strength to handle this difficult time. When they asked how she remained so strong, she shared the strength that God had given her. They saw Jesus in her behavior.

The last L represents Leading. We are called to invite someone to church and to explain salvation. We need to learn how to lead others to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Jesus called us to go make disciples. There is no exception to that. How we share the faith and tell the story is a critical part of our discipleship. In order to really TELL we have to spend time studying, praying, and practicing. Our real effectiveness is our deep sincerity and commitment to follow Jesus. We may not have all the doctrines of the church worked out in our minds when we have an opportunity to invite someone, but we must try our best to explain what church is about, even if we fumble. We need to remember that the truth of how we live is important as a means of invitation. We are called to tell with love what Christ has taught us. Every day we live, we are telling the story of Jesus with our own lives.

Week 3: The Final Instructions

Matthew 28:16-20

It was halftime of the homecoming game. The home team was behind by two touchdowns. The coach knew his job was on the line. The team knew this was the most important game of the year. As they sat in the locker room, the coach’s instructions were clear. They had a new strategy for the second half, some assignments were changed, and an attitude of determination was set. As the team went back on the field, no one questioned what they would do or when; the time was now. They had heard the final instructions, and they were clear.

The CEO was visiting the city from corporate headquarters, meeting with all of the members of this particular branch of the company. The sales force, management, manufacturing—everyone was there. As she began to speak, she told them clearly about changes that had to be made. She described the new strategy, telling them what had to be done. She ended with an enthusiastic summary. The applause was vigorous. The employees knew that, if they wanted to keep their jobs, they had to do what was said that day by the CEO who had given the final, clear instructions.

At seventy-eight years old, he had been in good health most of his life, but now he was dying of cancer. He asked for his children to come to his bedside at the hospital. All were saddened by their father’s illness. They were all very emotional. As the family gathered around the room, he began to tell them things he believed in—things about life, things he wanted them to do. Then, he asked each of them to promise to do what he had reviewed. That day, they all agreed to follow his final instructions as best they could.

We’ve all had experiences like these, some of us in the same situations. We understand the imperative.

In each of these stories, the instructions are clear. The emotion is strong, and behavior cannot be compromised. The team has to follow the instructions—now. The corporate management strategy was an imperative. The family gathered around their dad’s deathbed comes to understand what family is all about. They will do their best to do what he asks them to do.

Matthew 28:19-20 tells a similar story. Jesus asks his followers to meet him on a hillside in Galilee. They had done this many times before in the three years of following Jesus. This was not unusual; the unusual thing was that this is the last time. There is something final about this meeting. Jesus shares “The Great Commission.” He makes it an imperative. As followers of Jesus, we must understand that imperative. What Jesus says to the disciples, he says to all of us. To follow his way truly, we need to follow this Great Commission.

Look at the words carefully and review this imperative. First, Jesus says, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples” (vv. 18-19a). This is an imperative—we must make disciples of Jesus Christ, who comes to us in authority. Everything the church does—fellowship, worship, recreation, community service, and acts of social justice—must align with the imperative to make disciples. We have become immune to the phrase because we’ve heard it so many times. Jesus told us that our first obligation is to help people become followers of Jesus! It is the final instruction.

The second aspect as Jesus states it is to “make disciples of all nations” (v. 19b). There is no limit to whom we are reaching, those of every age, station, and situation in life. As we do evangelism, we tend to focus on certain groups—groups that are like us, those with whom we can communicate— and there’s no problem with that, but we must understand that, in reality, our field is unlimited.

Jesus says that we are to baptize new believers. We are not just to tell them about Jesus’ teachings or help them enjoy the music of worship and recreation in the fellowship hall. We are to lead people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; we are to lead people to “take up their cross and follow him”; we are to baptize them as followers of God, seen in the power of his daily presence and in his beautiful creativity.

Finally, Jesus says we are to teach them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. We are to help people really understand the purpose of the gospel, take time to explain the difficult doctrines and the easy ideas. All species of the animal kingdom teach their offspring the skills necessary to survive— gathering food, providing shelter, taking care of themselves. We as “parents” of new followers of Jesus need to teach everything he taught. It’s not always easy, but we are to teach the whole gospel—not just what is convenient or popular, but all of what Jesus taught. The church has a responsibility to help us all come to understand and teach it.

As the disciples walked away from that fantastic experience, and seeing Jesus ascend into heaven, they had many alternatives. They could go back to fishing or grieve in their homes because they had lost their Savior. They could go about family responsibilities—on and on, we have choices.

In the church today, there is so much to do. There are many good, important things to be involved with; there are so many things that are pressing and critical. Evangelism has gone out of style; this “Great Commandment” has been rejected by many Christians. They have clipped it out of the Bible and tossed it in the trash as not possible, not practical, and not doable. Yet if we are truly to be on God’s team, working for our leader, Jesus, and are truly to be children of God the Father, we have no choice. We must make disciples! This is our imperative, the final instruction! This is our task!

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