Preparing the Way (4): Two Sides to the Gospel
November 2, 2014
Intro – Six-year-old Ben kept telling his teacher about the baby that was expected at his house. One day, his mother let him feel the movement of the unborn child. Ben made no comment, but he stopped talking about it at school. So one day the teacher asked him for an update on the baby. Ben burst into tears and replied, “I think Mommy ate it.” Clarity in communication is critical, isn’t it? And that’s especially true when the communication has to do with our commission to prepare the way for Jesus. Gotta get it right.
Jesus’ commissions 72 disciples in Luke 10:1-16 to precede Him on His final journey south to Jerusalem. By application, the commission He gave them is our mission as well – in whatever place and career we find ourselves. This is our major task – prepare the way for Jesus. So far we’ve looked at the commission summary given by our Lord, the challenge of the commission (fields of people ready for harvest, but with few workers) and the commands of the commission (pray and go) and the conditions (we can expect persecution and thus must travel light). Today – the communication.
V. The Communication
When you take the witness stand in court, you are asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Right? That’s exactly what Jesus instructs here. Give the whole truth. It doesn’t help you if I tell you, “Just follow Highway 14 west to Ft. Collins,” but fail to tell you that the bridge is out halfway there, right? Half truths kill. Satan specializes in half-truths. We can’t afford to do that.
A. The Good News
1. In Deed
V. 9: “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Two commands are given. Heal and say. Do and speak! Their main job was to preach the kingdom of God, but to authenticate the message, and to indicate God’s compassionate heart. Jesus gave them power to heal. Now we can and should pray for healing any time we are not empowered in the comprehensive and instantaneous fashion these men were. The NT is our main authentication today – something these men did not have. The healing was the gospel in action, and that must be part of our communication as well.
So does God promise complete healing of our physical body today? Yes – just not necessarily in this life. But God promises a resurrection when we will receive a body “like [Jesus’] glorious body” (Phil 3:21). Rev 21:4 tells us “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” A glorious future awaits believers – both body and soul. Jesus’ healing ministry was a preview.
But ubelievers need to see the gospel now. How? The HS who indwells believer produces something to see. Gal 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” That’s the gospel in action now, Beloved. And when we are reaching out to people with compassion, energy, love and gentleness, we are living the good news with clarity. Christians have always been at the forefront of building hospitals, creating charities, caring for the poor and helping those in need – not because we are so great, but because the HS compels us. Such acts demonstrate God’s interest in the whole person. Jesus didn’t die to save souls only; He died to save people!
Robert Lewis, whose church in Little Rock has sent literally hundreds of teams to outreach ministries in LR says, “Pastors have given themselves to ministering only to the pain of their congregation but have failed to mobilize their congregations to minister to the pain and problems of the city. Either we learn to do both or reaching our cities for Christ will be nothing more than a hope and dream.” Our community has needs, too. It costs to live out the gospel, but imagine where God might lead us if we really look for ways to be a healing influence. Sharing the gospel starts with living the gospel.
2. In Word
But deeds will never be enough. St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted, “Preach without ceasing; use words if necessary.” That may sound impressive, but the truth is the gospel can never be made clear without words. Lee Strobel, whose Becoming a Contagious Christian evangelism course has trained over a million people tells of one church that shifted its focus from evangelism to service. He says, “They did a lot of great things for the community, but they didn’t baptize one new convert in four years! If we’re merely nice folks who do good deeds for others, then we’re nothing more than the Kiwanis Club.” So we must seek opportunities to speak for Christ. How we do that will vary greatly depending on the opportunity, but the basic message is right here.
a. God Offers Pardon
V. 8, “Heal the sick in it and SAY to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Say it. What you are seeing is God’s kingdom in action. Let people know God offers pardon based on repentance. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and now we can be forgiven if we will ask. You say, “Where do you see that in this verse?” Good question. Here is simply says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” But remember that both John and Jesus constantly prefaced that message as in Matt 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance triggers forgiveness. That’s how we “receive” Christ as noted in vv. 8 and 10. Jesus warns in v. 13, “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Repentance is how we receive Christ and enter His kingdom.
Pardon is instantaneous when we turn from our sin. There is no delay. There is no penance; nothing to earn; nothing to do except receive the pardon that God offers. Beloved – that’s good news. The Bible says in Rom 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Every sin – past, present and future is instantly forgiven. The guilt is gone. The penalty is paid. The heart is cleansed when we invite Him in. Jesus promises in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If that sounds too good to be true, just remember, that’s what Jesus bought on the cross. There is no forgiveness without the cross, but because He died and rose again, pardon is available to all who turn to Him. In Christ, you can be like you never sinned!
Maria Fedorovna was empress of Russia, wife of Czar Alex III, and known for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from exile in Siberia by intercepting a warrant signed by her husband. The note read, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.” Maria moved one little comma: “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.” Dear friends, that is exactly what the cross of Christ does for all who believe. It changes a life sentence into full pardon.
b. God Offers Peace
V. 5, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” A common Jewish greeting was Shalom – the Hebrew word for peace. It meant not just peace, but wholeness. By greeting someone with Shalom, you were wishing the best for him. But it was largely a formality – like saying, “Good day” or “Have a nice day.” But these disciples weren’t just being friendly. They were doing far more than just wishing peace on that home; they were bringing peace with them!
True peace is such a priceless thing, isn’t it? And yet it is as elusive as the wind. Thomas Merton tells us why: “We cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” No truer statement was ever made. But these disciples were carrying the solution! Their message anticipates what Paul writes later in Rom 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we get peace with God? By being justified by faith. What was the disciples message? Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. What happens when people repent? They are justified by faith and find peace with God. The Pharisees urged, “Do more, and maybe –.” The gospel urged, “Quit doing, and receive forgiveness.” There is nothing in the world like knowing that your sins are forgiven. I don’t mean hoping or wishing or thinking if I do enough. I mean knowing. Peace to this house.
David Smith was one of the finest pit crew chiefs in NASCAR racing. In the 1960’s he had plunged headlong into the hippie scene with its trademark consumption of alcohol and drugs. His father, a new Xn, began to witness to him, but David said, “When I get old like you – then I’ll get religion.” His dad said, “What if you were to die tonight at one of your crazy parties, or wreck your car? Where will you be?” David replied, “Pushing up daisies, I guess.” His dad said, “Son you’ve got a soul that’s not going to be pushing up daisies. It’s going to be either in heaven or hell for eternity.” David blew him off. But it wasn’t too many months down the road that David realized that tho he was doing more dope and drinking more than ever, the fun was gone. He got out a Bible his mom had given him and began to read some verses she had marked. He read through the night and called home the next morning to find that his mom had been having a sleepless night as well and spent much of it praying for him. David decided it was time. He confessed his sin, invited Jesus in and says, “I knew at that moment all the guilt was gone, the burden lifted off my shoulders. In its place a joy and warmness and a complete peace came into my life. Right then.” That’s the peace that Jesus was offering thru His disciples; it’s the peace that He is still offering. Do you have it; peace with God, peace with self, peace with others? Or have you returned the offer, unopened, unused, unwanted? He offers; but you have to accept.
c. God Offers Paradise
Have you noticed that God’s offer just gets better and better. V. 9: “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.” The kingdom! That’s what every Israelite was looking for. But they’d been misled about how to become part of it. Consequently most of them missed it even though they could have reached out and touched it in the person of the King Himself – Jesus Christ. Is that sad, or what?
What is the kingdom of God? At its core it is the rule of God wherever and whenever it is accepted. Thus it begins in the heart. It arrives in our heart when we receive Him; but it extends ultimately to a universe-wide kingdom that lasts forever. The Jews were looking for that political kingdom without realizing it starts within. What they wanted was within reach. In seeing the miracles, they were seeing kingdom power at work. In the disciples, they were seeing kingdom residents. In the person of Jesus, they could touch the King. That’s how near the kingdom was! Yet most of them missed it because they would not submit to the entrance requirement – turning from sin to Christ.
But for those who did, they received pardon; they received peace and they received paradise. What did Jesus tell the believing thief on the cross? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lu 23:43). The instant that reprobate gave his heart to Jesus he was eligible for paradise and he was there before the sunset. Is that a great salvation or what? And that’s our hope, Beloved. God offers paradise – and it’s real. It’s the real deal.
Tim Keller tells of having thyroid cancer and facing an operation. The prognosis was good – still, it was cancer surgery. He took comfort from a passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Near the end of the 3rd book, evil and darkness are overwhelming and appear about to win everything. Tolkien writes, “Sam [one of the heroes] saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Putting away all fear, he cast himself into a deep, untroubled sleep.” Keller’s comment is so insightful: “It's really true. Because of Jesus’ death evil is a passing thing – a shadow. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach because evil fell into the heart of Jesus. The only darkness that could have destroyed us forever fell into his heart. It didn't matter what happened in my surgery – it was going to be all right. And it is going to be all right.” God offers paradise, Beloved, and He will deliver. That’s the good news – the gospel.
B. The Bad News
The other side of the gospel – the bad news. It’s simple. In order to get what God offers, you have to accept it. Seems so simple. Why does most of the world blow it off? I don’t know, but look at v. 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” Jesus is saying, “You guy are peace carriers. If people will accept Me and repent, they will have peace with God, peace within and peace with others. But if they reject you, the peace will return to you.” Why? V. 16, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” To reject the gospel of peace is to reject the one bringing it, to reject the Jesus who paid for it, and to reject the Father who arranged for it. There is no peace without the Prince of Peace.
To reject Jesus is deadly. V. 10 ff: “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” Wiping the dust off was a means of saying, “As you have rejected me, so I now reject you. But know this – the kingdom of God was so close you could reach out and touch it – and you turned it down.” The worst part of hell will be the realization that Jesus offer was so close you could touch it; and you turned it down. All eternity to regret.
Conc -- That’s how close it is this morning. It is one heartfelt prayer away – one decision to turn from sin to Christ – that’s how close it is. It is at hand; but is it yours? A guy went to the doctor and said, “Give it to me straight, Doc. I can take it.” The doc said, “Okay. Let me put it to you this way, if I were you, I wouldn’t buy any green bananas.” That’s pretty straight, isn’t it? But we all make the mistake of assuming that applies to someone else – not to us. We got plenty of time. But here is wisdom. A pastor was teaching a lesson on preparing for death and repentance. A student asked, “Pastor, when should a man repent?” The pastor replied, “Repent a day before your death.” The student was confused, “How can a man know the day of his death?” The pastor answered, “He can’t. He doesn’t. He won’t. So do it now. Don’t wait.” Eternity attaches to the decisions we make right now. Let’s pray.