The How and Why of Evangelism
Acts 5:17 – 42
The How & Why of Evangelism
Speaking about Jesus is often unpopular
Last week I was looking at a website of a group of atheists, and there were a number of people saying things like, “I hate it when Christians in the west claim that they’re persecuted for their faith.” And everyone in the forum was having their 2 bob’s worth about how Christians in the west aren’t persecuted at all.
And it’s true that generally speaking Christians in countries like Australia don’t fear for their lives, because of their faith, and we should be thankful to God for the freedom we enjoy,
But interestingly, that very same day that I was on that website, I read an article about 2 Christian women in the UK, who were sacked from their jobs, because they each wore a cross pendant on a necklace.
Amazingly, that the publishers of that articles couldn’t bring themselves to identify the women as “Christian”, so the headline described them as “two Crucifix enthusiasts”!
If a symbolic reference to Jesus, hanging around your neck is enough to get you sacked from your job,
Well, speaking about Jesus, is even less popular.
I have a T-shirt with the words from Romans chapter 1 verse 16 on the back, and on the front it says, “This shirt is illegal in 51 countries”, because in 51 countries, that message from Jesus in Romans 1 is outlawed.
But speaking about Jesus doesn’t have to be illegal for us to realise that it can be unpopular, does it?
And some of you will have experienced that first-hand.
And even if we haven’t had personal experience of the opposition that comes from evangelism, from talking to others about Jesus, we get the picture all-too-clearly in Acts 5, don’t we?
You would have noticed we’re picking up part-way through a sequence of events.
Immediately before this, in verse 12, the apostles have been confirming their life-changing message about Jesus with miraculous healing.
But then, verse 17, Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.
It’s a little bit of déjà vous!
Back in Acts chapter 4, again, after a dramatic healing, and an impromptu sermon about Jesus, this same group of leaders, the priests, the temple guard and the Sadducees, have Peter and John, the most prominent apostles arrested.
Acts 4:18, Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 . Peter and John replied, 20, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
It’s that command from the Sanhedrin, which was kind of like a church council and the full bench of the High Court rolled into one. This is the prohibition, that Peter and John and the other apostles are breaking, in speaking to people about Jesus 5.
See down in verse 28 of chapter 5, We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,”
See, speaking about Jesus can be unpopular, even with religious people.
In 2001, Trinity church said “we want to plant a new church in the Adelaide Hills, because we want more people to hear about Jesus”, and I have a folder in THIS THICK, in my office, filled with the complaints, threats, even threats of legal action, from religious leaders in our city, all because Christians wanted other people to hear about Jesus.
God wants people to hear about Jesus
We know that’s what God wants, don’t we?
See verse 20, But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
Two opposing agendas, “don’t speak about Jesus”, “speak about Jesus”, and which one do we think is going to come out on top?
Luke, the historian is even being a little bit funny to show just how powerless and insignificant this opposition to the message of Jesus really is. He tells us later on, in chapter 23, that the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels! And here’s one, meddling with their plans right under their noses!
I can’t help but think of the former Iraqi Information Minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf.
Do you remember seeing him on TV during the invasion of Iraq?
“There are no American forces in Baghdad”, all the while in the background of the camera shot, you can see American tanks rolling through the city!
If you’ve ever felt there’s so much opposition and hostility that I can’t see how I could ever talk to someone about Jesus, Luke says that opposition is so powerless against God, it’s almost comical.
The word for “angel” simply means messenger.
I hear “messenger”, and I think of the guy on the bike with satchel over his shoulder, delivering documents in the city!
And it’s not a bad comparison!
Are they his documents? No!
Is he working to his own agenda? No!
He’s on someone else’s business, delivering someone else’s messages,
So the angels in the Scriptures, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Acts, the angels are there, bringing about what God wants to happen.
God wants people to hear about Jesus, so the apostles are miraculously delivered from prison, in the middle of the night.
And did you notice for what purpose, the apostles are released?
It’s worth giving this some thought,
If God is going to go to, what seems to us, all the trouble of breaking some men, it might be all the apostles, so it could be 12 men, breaking them out of prison, doing it in such a way that verses 22 and 23, there’s no obvious sign of it from the outside.
If God does all of that,
It’s not the usual way that God operates,
So what does he have in store?
What is it that he wants these apostles to do?
If this was a Hollywood blockbuster, or a John Grisham novel, night time prison break, covert ops, if the CIA or someone, were going to go to bust somebody out of prison, it would only be because they need them to do something really really important wouldn’t it?
Like if the bloke getting freed from prison was a scientist, who was the only person in the world who knew how to develop a vaccine, for a global epidemic, or the only guy who knows how to defuse a nuclear bomb!
That would be the Hollywood version!
But the historical version is at one level, much less dramatic! The really really important task, for which these men are busted out of prison, “Go, stand in the temple courts,”, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
Just go and talk, go and talk about Jesus.
See how important God thinks people hearing about Jesus is?
In 1961 US President John F Kennedy made a speech to congress declaring a national goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” And the Administration, the government and the people aligned themselves behind that goal.
Well in Acts chapter 1 verse 8, God gives us his church his declared purpose.
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And these are the lengths that God will go to, in order for his declared purpose to succeed.
And so, At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
Meanwhile, the first item on the agenda for the meeting of the Sanhedrin this morning, is the interrogation of the Christians, “Bring in the Christians!”
Awkward pause., The Christians can’t be found!
And you can imagine it can’t you?!
“Go and have another look”
“We had another look”
“Go and have a mum’s look”!
But still no Christians.
Verse 25, Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
Why speak about Jesus? 26 – 32
But eventually the interrogation begins:
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” the high priest “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
This very accusation, makes it clear once again that the high priest and the rest of the religious hierarchy are powerless,
Against God’s declared purposes,
Those who oppose the message of Jesus, ultimately are powerless against it.
“We ordered you not to teach, and yet you have filled Jerusalem.
The very thing we didn’t want to happen, has happened”.
And so what does Peter do?
He doesn’t defend himself, particularly, he wants to speak about Jesus, Because speaking about Jesus is the way that people can be saved.
We speak about Jesus so that people might be saved 27 – 28
You are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood, he says, but Peter points out, we’re not trying to make you guilty of this. You’re already guilty!
You’re in this up to your necks!
you had Jesus killed by hanging him on a tree, verse 30, and that’s exactly right! It was this very council, who had Jesus sentenced to death.
Now, when the High Priest says, you are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood, he’s echoing an Old Testament expression for charging a person with murder, literally “to lay someone’s blood”
And according to the law of the time, that crime demanded death.
Really, the high priest is saying, “You’re trying to have us killed, because Jesus was killed.”
But Peter and the Apostles don’t want the Sanhedrin killed, they want the Sanhedrin saved.
They want them saved from the penalty for ignoring God, and living in God’s world in opposition to God.
I was reminded again this week, reading some of Billy Graham’s words, that it’s essential that our evangelism flows from a genuine concern for people who are living in God’s world with no regard for God.
Without that, our evangelism is what? It’s nothing, it’s pride, it’s just an argument.
Do we have Peter’s heart, that we would give up an opportunity to defend ourselves, in order to speak about Jesus?
‘cause what we get is a little evangelistic sermon, isn’t it?
Verse 30, The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel
What is evangelism?
And I wonder what do you say when someone asks you,
“Well, what do you believe about Jesus?”
“Why are you a Christian?”
“What is it that Christian people believe?”
Is Peter’s explanation-slash-evangelistic sermon to the Sanhedrin, anything like what we would say?
Our word evangelism, comes from the Greek word for gospel, a word that simply means “good news”, and so to do evangelism, is literally if we were to create a verb to “good news” someone, to tell them good news.
And Peter’s example here, it is good news isn’t it?!
This isn’t the only example of evangelism,
This isn’t the only way to speak about Jesus,
But this particular example could certainly sharpen up the way we speak about Jesus with our friends or colleagues, even those who are quite opposed to Jesus, as is the case here.
When Peter presents Jesus to his hearers, What does he do?
He starts with God,
We hear that it’s the God of Israel, who’s been at work, the God of our fathers,
We get the resurrection, he raised Jesus from the dead
He deals with the personal guilt of those he’s speaking to, Jesus, whom you had killed
And he alludes to the curse of God that Jesus endured on the cross, by using the language of Deuteronomy 21, hanging him on a tree
We hear of the exaltation and therefore the vindication of Jesus, he was who he claimed to be, he was able to deliver on his promises, he wasn’t just a religious nutter, and we know all this because God exalted him to his own right hand.
Jesus is God’s chosen ruler, the Prince,
As Saviour he rescues God’s people,
And the offer of repentance and forgiveness of sins is extended to those who are listening, in this case, the leaders, the men of Israel.
Not bad for a 3-line evangelistic sermon, is it?
Now, I’m not saying that when you’re standing at the school gate and one of the other parents asks, “So what kind of church do you go to?” that you need to quickly flip open your notebook and say, “Well let we take you through 10 points about what we believe”!
Or when that moment that you’ve been praying for comes, and you get an opportunity to share something of the hope you have as a Christian person in a broken and hurting world, that you need to think, “I have to somehow cram all of this into my 1 sentence answer”!
But I’ve often observed Christians confusing other things, with evangelism.
Personal testimony, for example, my story of how God has been at work in my life. Personal testimony doesn’t save people from sin.
I’m not knocking personal testimony, but Peter knows, the message of Jesus crucified, raised, exalted, making repentance possible and offering forgiveness to his enemies, That’s the message that saves.
It’s a message that speaks of what Christ has done for sinful people.
It explains rebellion against God and his chosen king.
It explains that Jesus suffered the due penalty for that rebellion so that we don’t have to.
Other things like personal testimony,
Inviting someone along to church,
Those things might flow out of evangelism,
They might accompany evangelism,
They might be the fruit of evangelism,
But they in themselves, are not evangelism.
Peter’s little speech here, is a great reminder of exactly what evangelism is,
What people need to hear about Jesus.
Throughout this year, I’m doing some training of preachers, in different contexts, and so I’ve been working on my training materials.
And one of the things I want preachers to do as they wrestle with a Bible passage in their preparation, is to ask themselves, “What question is being answered by this passage?
Or to put it another way, “If the Bible passage is the answer, what is the question?”
It sounds a bit like Bible Jeopardy or something, doesn’t it?
What is the question?!
So I know I need to come up with something to say to my friends, and I can’t just rattle off everything Peter says,
So we ask that question I ask the preachers.
What question is being answered in verses 30 and 31?
And whatever that question is, my evangelism also needs to answer the same question.
So in verse 30 and 31, the question being answered is, “What has God done in Christ for sinful people?”
What has God done in Christ, for sinful people?
That is the question Peter is answering.
Now we can’t answer the question in exactly the same way that Peter does,
We don’t need to answer the question in exactly the same way,
But we do need to be answering the same question.
What has God done in Christ, for sinful people?
My conversations about Jesus with people who don’t know him, need to answer that question.
If you’re here with us this morning, and you’re not a Christian, I realize that this might all sound really weird.
And maybe you feel a bit like you’re being spoken about, But I do want to speak just to you, for a moment.
If you’re not a Christian and you’re here, I presume it’s because you’re interested in finding out about Christian things. Which is great! You have come to exactly the right kind of place.
And so if you want to find out what Christians believe, you need to find an answer to that same question, “What has God done in Christ for sinful people?”
And whether it’s here or somewhere else, if you’re talking with Christians, trying to find out what they believe, don’t let them just talk about church,
Or church planting,
Or their own personal testimony, as exciting as that might be!
Get them to tell you what is even more exciting, ask someone to tell you, “What has God done in Christ for sinful people?”
If you don’t know the answer to that, find someone here this morning, and don’t let them leave, until they’ve given you the answer!
We speak about Jesus in obedience to God 29
OK, so there are 3 more things to notice in Acts 5 to help us talk about Jesus.
Peter says, we speak about Jesus, in obedience to God
See back there in verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men!”
The apostles are mindful of Jesus’ great commission in Acts 1, you will be my witnesses, which is the programmatic statement for the whole of the story of Acts. It’s that command which drives the ministry of the church.
No doubt he’s thinking about the declared purpose of God in Acts 1:8, But of course they’ve also got this direct command from God, “Go to the temple and talk about new life in Christ.”
And so they’re willing to disobey the law of their society, out of obedience to God.
Now lots of us, find talking about Jesus difficult.
And as far as I’m aware, none of us have been miraculously led out of prison in the middle of the night, given commands by an angel,
And so this would seem to be an ideal moment to say, “Well, that’s where the Apostles and their unique role in the foundation of the church, are different to us!”
These Apostles are just being obedient to God’s specific command, “go to the temple and preach!”
We haven’t had an angel,
We didn’t receive that specific command,
Can we therefore say, that we speak about Jesus, out of obedience to God?
It seems to me, that the answer is pretty clearly “yes”!
We don’t have the command from the angel, but if we’re Christians, we stand in the line of those to whom those original words of commission were first spoken, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
We receive that commission in a derivative sense, but not in any lesser sense.
In fact, in Acts, as the good news of Jesus is first breaking out into the next part of that expanding mission field, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria it’s often other Christians, not the apostles, Christians who receive that commission in a derivative sense just like we do, who are the pioneers talking to new people and new nations about Jesus.
Think of Philip, with the Ethiopian, into Samaria,
The Christians in Antioch:, pioneer missionaries.
So yes, Christians today, 2000 years after these events, we speak about Jesus because we want to obey God, which in Acts 5, meant disobeying the religious and civic authorities, didn’t it?
There are plenty of places in the Scriptures where we’re told to obey those authorities God has raised up to govern us.
Obey the law,
Stick to the speed limit,
Obey the parking restrictions in William St, Littlehampton.
But when, if, the law of the land, comes into conflict with what God has said, our obligation as Christians is to disobey the lower authority, in order to obey the higher authority.
When you were a kid, your parents might have gone out for an evening, and left you in the care of your older brother or sister. Imagine that older sibling says, “Let’s draw on the walls! I’m in charge, I say we can do it!”
Which authority do you obey?
Which authority ought you obey, perhaps I should say!
Now, it’s theoretical for us, talking about Jesus freely here, in the comfort of a government-owned building!
But some of us, will live in countries, or have lived countries, where it is illegal to speak about Jesus.
And I’ve mentioned before, the pastor I know in the UK, who works in a church, in almost every way identical to ours, who says that the laws relating to religion in the UK are becoming so oppressive, that he expects, during his lifetime, to be arrested for talking to people about Jesus.
So we don’t know what’s going to happen in time,
But we know we have to obey God,
And if obeying God means disobeying the law of Australia, that’s what we do, but we also accept the penalty, just as the apostles did, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus.
We speak about Jesus and the Holy Spirit does his work 32
Peter also tells us, Christians aren’t alone, as we speak about Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is hard at work with us. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him
When God’s people speak about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work.
The apostles’ public ministry of witnessing to Jesus wasn’t to start until after they had received the Holy Spirit, that’s how crucial the Spirit is in being a witness for Jesus,
I wonder if you tend to think that when you speak about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work,
The very Spirit of God, is witnessing, testifying, about Jesus.
It kind of, takes the pressure off somewhat, doesn’t it?
Evangelism isn’t me convincing someone.
Evangelism is me speaking about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit doing his work.
It’s not just how evangelism works for apostles, or church leaders, or super-spiritual Christians.
All Christians are given the gift of the Spirit, who witnesses to Jesus.
Which means every Christian person, can be at work with the Spirit of God, as we speak about Jesus.
That is an amazingly privileged position that God draws us into isn’t it?
The message of Jesus is not just another message 33 – 40
Finally, we’re reminded here, that the message about Jesus is not just another message among many.
As the Sanhedrin are trying to work out how to stop the apostles speaking about Jesus, and some are desperate to have the stoned, verse 34, A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up.
His argument is basically, “If this is just another message, like we’ve heard before, it will come to nothing.
Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered
What’s the similarity between those 2?
They stayed dead, and therefore it came to nothing.
Remember Peter’s message? the God of our fathers, raised Jesus from the dead
And Gamaliel was right! 2000 years of history has shown that those who are opposed to the message of Jesus are unable to stop it.
The message about Jesus is not just another message,
One among many from which you can pick and choose.
The message of Jesus stands alone,
Who is the one who claimed to bring reconciliation with God?,
Who claimed to die for the sin and rebellion of the world?,
Whose words were vindicated, in his resurrection from the dead?
And as Gamaliel says, if you oppose Jesus, if you stand against the message of Jesus, or reject the message of Jesus, you will only find yourself fighting against God, facing God’s judgment.
I don’t like it, really, when people try and impose their beliefs on me.
When they pressure me to come around to agree with their opinions.
But do you know what I do like?
The policeman who stands in my path and says you cannot go this way, the fact is, the road is under water.
The doctor who says, the fact is, you’re sick, and you need to take this medicine in order to get well.
The firefighter who says, the fact is, the building’s on fire, and you’d better evacuate.
The pilot who says, the fact is, we’re about to hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever seen, and you need to put on your seatbelt!
When we’re talking about Jesus, we’re not sharing our opinions,
We’re not trying to convince people of our beliefs,
We’ve been given facts,
A life-saving message, that someone took the trouble to share with us, and which we’re called on to share with others.