I believe in the Church evangelizing. I believe that, because our Savior gave His church a commission – a Great Commission. The dictionary defines a commission as the act of granting certain powers of authority to carry out a particular task or duty. Jesus has authorized us to preach the gospel and share our testimony with everyone. I think that I can tell you with all assurance that there will never be a time in you life where you’ll need to pray, “Dear Father, is it your will or not, that I witness to the guy in the cubicle next to me at work? I’d really like to know your thoughts on this.”
Evangelism in the early church was a joyous privilege and not a burdensome duty. It was the proclamation that God in Christ had come into the world to save sinners. Telling others about the passion and the triumph of Jesus Christ was the response of transformed people, turned on by the Holy Spirit.
The commands of our Lord Jesus to the early church were not veiled in metaphor or hyperbole. No Christian can read what we've come to call the Great Commission and ask, "Now just what did Jesus mean by that?" This morning, I want to preach the first of five messages on The Great Commission. Each sermon will be based on one of the five passages where the Commission is found. It is recorded in each of the four gospels and also in the Book of Acts. Each reading is just a little bit different, but in that difference we see the five priorities we must have as a church.
I. The First Great Commission: WE ARE TO GO IN POWER
- Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- Jesus told His disciples that all authority had been given to Him (v. 18)
- Jesus reminds us that we do not evangelize in our own power and ability
- it is not the authority of a church, or a denominational mission board, or an individual Christian who can change a sinner's life, but the power of the Son of God
- Jesus changes lives!
- when Jesus uses the word "lo" preceding the promise of His eternal presence, He is saying "Look, ... give me your undivided attention ... I'm going to say something profound and extremely important!"
- he calls us to be aware of the magnitude of a great biblical truth
- God is with us all the time, wherever we go
- John 14:16-17 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."
A. THE SPIRIT EMPOWERS US WITH A HOLY UNCTION
- it is the Spirit who give us the earnest desire to witness and share our faith
- if you don’t have that desire you have one of two problems; either
- ... you are not a Christian, and the Spirit is not operative in your life, or ...
- ... you are a Christian, but sin has quenched the Holy Spirit in your life
- when we walk in the Spirit, one of the fruits of that relationship will be the desire to share our faith
- on the Friday of our Lord’s crucifixion, the Apostle Peter has thrice denied that he ever new this man named Jesus
- after Jesus is buried, we find him cowering in the Upper Room with most of the other disciples
- forty days later, we find him preaching to the crowds and telling them: "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear ... Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:32-33; 36)
- what made the difference in his and the lives of the other disciples?
- it was the empowering of the Holy Spirit that came upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost
B. THE SPIRIT EMPOWERS US WITH A HOLY BOLDNESS
- Matthew 10:17-20 "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."
- the same Holy Spirit that gives the believer in China boldness to testify of Jesus when he is being persecuted, is the same Holy Spirit that will give you boldness to witness to the waitress who takes your order at Applebees
C. THE SPIRIT EMPOWERS US TOWARD HOLY LIVING
- 1 Peter 3:15 "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;"
- folks – let me be honest – most Americans want just enough of God to make them feel good, but not enough of Him to radically change their lives
- Americans want Christianity Light and not true holiness of heart and life
- ILLUS. In a religious poll released just last week, George Barna discovered that 72% of Americans claim to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. But that same poll also discovered that Americans are woefully inconsistent in their commitment to spiritual disciplines and activities. Barna concluded: "Americans are willing to expend some energy in religious activities such as attending church and reading the Bible, and they are willing to throw some money in the offering basket. Because of such activities, they convince themselves that they are people of genuine faith. But when it comes time to truly establishing their priorities and making a tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and to allowing Him to change their character and lifestyle, most people stop short. We want to be ''spiritual'' and we want to have God's favor, but we're not sure we want Him taking control of our lives and messing with the image and outcomes we've worked so hard to produce."
II. OUR FIRST PRIORITY SHIFT: WE MUST CEASE BEING PROGRAM-DEPENDENT AND RETURN TO BEING SPIRIT-ORIENTED
- Acts 13:1-3 "Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."
- folks, there’s something in me that says this is the pattern we need to get back to in discerning the Lord’s will for our church when it comes to accomplishing The Great Commission
- as Southern Baptists, we’ve become exceedingly program dependent
- now, I’ve got nothing against programs per se – Sunday School is the program we use for teaching the Bible in our church, and it needs to remain a priority
- however, we’ve become so accustomed to ‘church in a box’ that we’ve forgotten that God has placed this congregation in a unique place, at a unique time in history, to accomplish a unique ministry in this world
- what do I mean by that?
- our convention is ruled by pragmatism – we look at what works in other places and assume it will work everywhere
- ILLUS. Long before Rick Warren wrote his best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, he wrote a book titled, “The Purpose Driven Church.” In it, Warren tells of the things they did in Southern California to make church attractive to Southern Californians. He threw away his suits and ties and bought the loudest and wildest Hawaiian shirts he could find, a bunch of khaki dockers and loafers – no socks. And that’s Warren’s ‘Sunday best’ that he preaches in. They did away with the hymn books, and went to nothing but praise choruses displayed on large screens. They did a demographic study to discover the characteristics of the typical Southern Californian – what they liked and didn’t like. They labeled their composite person “Saddleback Sam,” – Saddleback being the community they were located in – and that’s the group they targeted for evangelism. Thousands of pastors across the county read that book and said “Wow, if those things will work for him, they’ll work for me.” And they tried those things and got fired because what worked for Saddleback Community Church in Southern California may not work for Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in central rural Iowa! What they didn’t realize is the Rick Warren and the core group that made up their initial church plant, prayed and fasted and sought the Lord’s will as to what they needed to do in order to reach their community for Jesus Christ.
- may God grant us a spirit of repentance from our pragmatism and may we find a renewed vitality as we seek to become spirit-oriented congregation that prays and fasts to discover God’s will for our missions and evangelistic agendas
Evangelism was and is the cornerstone of church growth. Every church ought to be an evangelizing church regardless of its size. ILLUS. In C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, the author uses parody to teach the church some important lessons. The central character of the book is an old senior demon by the name of Screwtape. He is helping to groom his nephew, a young inexperienced demon named Wormwood. In one encounter Screwtape advises his nephew to keep the church tiny and self-centered. Says Screwtape, "We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique."
Unfortunately, many churches have swallowed Screwtape's advise. They have indeed become cliquish country clubs for snobbish saints rather than sanctuaries for sinners in need of salvation. When evangelism is relegated to a minor role in the church, the gospel is muffled in the world.
I believe in the Church evangelizing. I want you to believe in it to. I want you to believe in it, not because I do, but because you believe our Savior gave His church a commission – a Great Commission, and it must be our priority!