The How, Why, and What of Evangelism
Acts 5:17 – 4
The How, Why, and What of Evangelism
Evangelism is often unpopular
I find it quite remarkable how, when I’m thinking about a particular Bible passage, and preparing to preach on it, I come across things during the week, related to that topic.
So today we’re thinking about evangelism, in Acts chapter 5, and a couple of days ago, a friend of mine posted a message online that read, “I hate it when people knock on your door, and tell you that you need to be saved, otherwise you’ll burn. Stupid firefighters!”
It was of course, a joke, I’m sure my friend is very grateful for our firefighters, and we have a number in our family here.
But we probably thought we knew where that statement was going, didn’t we?!
And we know that sentiment.
Evangelism, speaking to people about Jesus, often draws that kind of response. It is often unpopular.
I have a T-shirt with the words from Romans 1 verse 16 on the back, and on the front it says, “This shirt is illegal in 51 countries”, because there are 51 different countries in the world, where that message from Romans 1 about Jesus being for salvation for all people is outlawed.
Even in some of the countries that are our nearest regional neighbours, to speak about Jesus is to put yourself at risk of a prison cell, or a re-education camp.
So in Malaysia, when I was working with church leaders there in 2014, they were still waiting on a High Court ruling to determine whether non-Muslims were allowed to use the Malay word for “God” in conversation.
Try doing evangelism some time without using the word “God”, and see how easy that is.
In Brunei, you might have seen a couple of weeks ago, all celebrations of Christmas were banned, because any mention of Christian things is banned.
But even for us, who tend not to face that level of opposition, we know that speaking about Jesus can be unpopular, don’t we?
Some of you have experienced this first-hand.
So how ought we think about evangelism?
What does it actually look like, to talk about Jesus?,
Why should we do it?, If it can be this unpopular, shouldn’t we just steer clear of it?,
Is there any point to it?,
And what happens if people don’t like what we have to say?
Well, you will have noticed we’re picking up Acts 5 part-way through a series of events.
Immediately before this, the apostles, those men who had been especially commissioned by Jesus, to share take the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation with God to Jerusalem.
And so the apostles have been doing that, and through them, God has been demonstrating the healing and wholeness that comes through Christ,
Giving people a taste of what it’s going to be like to live in God’s kingdom, and he’s been doing that by healing people.
Healing , heaps and heaps , of people.
Whole towns and cities, emptied of their sick and dying, and all of them were healed, verse 16 says.
But back in chapter 4 verse 18, the same religious and civic leaders who we encounter here, had said to the apostles “You’re not to speak about Jesus to anyone.” And so as this section opens, the apostles are thrown into prison.
So we’re stepping into an episode, where the authority structure has already declared itself opposed to the message of Jesus.
We’re not starting from neutral ground, the good news of Jesus, what you believe if you’re a Christian, has already been declared illegal.
And let’s just note, that the message about Jesus is illegal, because religious people have declared it to be so.
This isn’t the pagan Romans,
It’s the religious leaders of God’s people, Israel.
So let’s take the point, even among religious people, speaking about Jesus can be unpopular.
And let me say, not much has changed!
15 years ago, men and women at Trinity Church in Adelaide, 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, simply because Christian people wanted other people, to hear about Jesus, and they were convinced that starting a new church was the best way for that to happen.
God tells his people to speak about Jesus
But we learn in in Acts 5, that people hearing about Jesus, is exactly what God wants, in fact what God commands his people to be about.
Find verse 19 there, and look at it with me, 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 all about this new life.
So now we’ve got 2 opposing agendas;,
“don’t speak about Jesus”,
“speak about Jesus”,
And it’s almost a little bit funny, if we’re aware of what Luke tells us later on in Acts about these Sadducees, who are trying to silence the message of Jesus. They don’t believe in angels.
And yet here’s an angel, right under their noses, messing with their plans.
It is almost comical.
If there was ever any doubt in our minds, “Will the good news of Jesus be able to progress against this kind of opposition?”
It’s not even a contest.
This, legal and religious opposition to speaking about Jesus, we don’t really face this. But I’m sure there’s been times that some here have thought, “Well, I can’t share my faith in this situation,
I can’t tell that person what I believe,
I couldn’t ask that colleague or neighbour, what they think of Jesus, because they’re just so opposed. The opposition and hostility is just too great.
Luke wants you to see, opposition to the gospel message, the good news about Jesus, is so powerless against God, it’s almost comical.
An angel is simply a messenger.
I hear “messenger”, and I think of the guy on the bike with satchel over his shoulder, weaving across the footpath in the city, delivering documents!
And that’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,
That’s an angel.
And as we saw before Christmas, Luke, of all the human authors of the Bible, drives home this point;
Angels bring about what God wants to happen.
God wants people to hear about Jesus, so here in Jerusalem, in about 33 AD, the apostles are miraculously delivered from prison, in the middle of the night.
Now, of course, breaking people out of prison, doing that, more or less unnoticed, that’s a pretty big deal.
God’s able to do it yes, quite easily.
God can open a prison, easier than you or I could open a , grape!
But it’s not something that happens all the time,
It’s an unusual occurrence,
It’s not the experience of all the Christian people who are currently in prison around the world for talking about Jesus.
It is dramatic and miraculous, which should make us sit up and take notice. What’s going to happen next?
If this was a John Grisham novel, which, it could easily be, couldn’t it?, Night time prison break, covert ops, if some elite paratrooper regiment were going to bust somebody out of prison, it would only be, because there’s something really really important that that person needs to do, right?
So maybe, 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.
He gets busted out for one reason only.
Or maybe he’s a nuclear technician, the one person alive, who knows how to defuse a nuclear bomb!
See, I could write this stuff!
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 by God, is, Go, stand in the temple courts,”, “and tell the people all about this new life.
Just, go and talk,
Go and talk about Jesus.
That’s how important God thinks people hearing about Jesus is!
An angel turning up, sent by God to do something, to bring a message, I counted less than 20 times across the breadth of the New Testament.
Clearly, God wants people to hear about Jesus.
And so, At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
, Now, the apostles aren’t idiots. They know they’re breaking an express command from the ruling council is going to have consequences.
But wouldn’t it be great, if we, those of us who are Christians, if we were so utterly convinced that God wants people to hear about Jesus, that we would speak up, even if we knew that to do so would have significant even painful consequences.
What would it take, for us to be just so captured by God’s heart for lost people, that we would put aside our own preferences, pride, social standing perhaps, and join God in his work.
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!”
And there’s an awkward pause, because 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 do we speak about Jesus? (v 26 – 32)
So eventually the interrogation begins:
We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” says the high priest “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.
Once again, notice the futility of opposition to the good news of Jesus. I’m convinced that Luke deliberately includes these things so that we notice them and are encouraged.
By the high priest’s own admission, We gave you strict orders not to teach, Yet you have filled Jerusalem.
The very thing we didn’t want to happen, has happened”.
Those who oppose the message of Jesus, ultimately are powerless against it.
And so what does Peter do?
Well, he doesn’t defend himself, particularly, does he?
“Well, we thought, when the angel turned up, that on the balance of probabilities, escaping from prison was probably the right thing to do.”
No, even now, he speaks about Jesus, Because speaking about Jesus is how people can be saved.
We speak about Jesus so that people might be saved (v 27 – 28)
Did you notice the high priest’s accusation, You are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood, the high priest says, but Peter points out, “we’re not trying to make you guilty of this. You’re already guilty!
You’re in it up to your necks!”
You had Jesus killed by hanging him on a cross, verse 30, and that’s exactly right! It was this very council, this group of leaders who had sentenced Jesus to death.
There’s no question of their guilt.
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.
The high priest is saying, “You’re trying to have us killed, because Jesus was killed.”
But see how he’s completely misunderstood Peter and the other apostles’ intention? They don’t want the Sanhedrin killed, they want the Sanhedrin saved, saved from the penalty for ignoring God, and rejecting God’s king, Jesus.
The Sanhedrin are already facing death, spiritual death, eternal death. Peter and the others want them to have life saved.
I was reading this week, some reflections from Billy Graham on the topic of sincerity, I was struck again, that it’s absolutely essential that our evangelism flows from a genuine concern for people who are living in God’s world with no regard for God.
The people who are most opposed to our Christian faith, the most determined not to hear the good news of Jesus, do we long for their salvation, and look for opportunities to speak of Jesus, in order that they might be saved?
That’s what Peter does.
He gives a little evangelistic talk!
Verse 30, 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
What is evangelism?
Let’s think for a moment, about what we say.
If we do take the opportunities God gives us to speak about Jesus, When someone asks you,
“Well, what do you believe about Jesus?”
How do you respond?
And does what we would say, bear much similarity to what Peter says here?
Now, this isn’t the only example of evangelism in the Bible,
This isn’t the only way to speak about Jesus,
But this is one example, written and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit, and so I’m sure it can help us sharpen up the way we speak about Jesus.
So what does Peter do?
Well, he starts with God,
We hear that it’s the God of Israel, who’s been at work, the God of our ancestors,
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 killed
We hear of Jesus’ vindication, God reverses the human verdict on Jesus. He was who he claimed to be,
He is 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 is extended to those who hear this good news.
Not bad for a 3-line evangelistic explanation, is it?!
Now, I’m not saying that when you’re standing at school, or in the lunch room at work, and someone asks, “So what kind of church do you belong to?” that you need to quickly flip open your notebook and say, “Well let we take you through 10 points about what we believe”!
I’d hate for us to think, that when God gives us that opportunity we’ve been praying for, that we somehow have to cram all of this into our one sentence answer!
But often as Christians, we confuse 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! We’ve had numbers of people share their testimony here on a Sunday, and every one of those people has done it because I’ve asked them to!
I’m not against personal testimony, but Peter knows, the message of Jesus crucified, raised, exalted, making repentance possible and offering forgiveness to sinners, that is , people who have rebelled against him and ignored him, That’s the message that saves.
Apologetics, is not evangelism.
I’ve been reading Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Real Jesus. It’s an excellent book, looking at 6 of the current challenges to the reliability of the Scriptures and the identity of Jesus.
Answering those kinds of questions is what we call “apologetics”, And it’s a great book. 13 bucks at Koorong.
But answering those kinds of apologetics questions is not evangelism.
Inviting someone along to church,
These things are not evangelism,
They might accompany evangelism,
They might be the fruit of evangelism,
They may create opportunities for evangelism,
But they in themselves, are not evangelism.
Peter’s little speech here, is a great reminder of exactly what evangelism is, what it is to “good news” someone, which is what the word evangelism means.
At Equip, our big training day for Christians across the state in April, I’m going to be training Bible Study Group leaders.
And one of the things I ask these leaders to do, in their preparation, when they’re looking at a part of the Bible, is to ask themselves, “What question is being answered by this passage?
If this is the answer, then what’s the question?
Now, when it comes to us, talking about Jesus to our friends, I know I can’t just rattle off everything that Peter says here.
That would quite artificial, quite foolish, probably.
So let’s ask the question that I ask the Bible Study Group leaders, “What’s the question?”
What question is being answered in verses 30 and 31?
And whatever that question is, my evangelism also needs to answer that question.
So have a look at it, 30 and 31, I’ll give you 10 seconds, which is not as long as I give the Bible Study Group Leaders at Equip, but we’ve got the top shelf here at TMB, what question do you think is being answered?
You don’t need to yell it out, but have a think about it.
It seems to me, that the question being answered is,
“What has God done in Christ for sinful people?”
What has God done in Christ, for sinful people?
Now, as I said, we probably can’t and we wouldn’t want to, 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 answer the same question.
And the various examples of evangelism that we find in the Bible do answer this 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.
Do you see that this is actually incredibly , well, liberating, I think! Because in heaps of situations, we could get a sentence or 2 out, couldn’t we?, in answer to this questions, “What has God done in Christ for sinful people?” And that means we’re doing exactly the same kind of evangelism as the apostles!
There’s not some magical formula that has to be followed,
There’s no checklist we have to memorise,
And the way I answer the question in this context, can be, and probably will be, completely different to the way I answer it in this other context, that is, it can be entirely natural,
The amount I say in one conversation will be different to the amount I say in another. I might only have opportunity for one or 2 words in some situations, but I always want to be working towards answering that same question.
If you’re here with us this morning, because you’re not a Christian but you want to find out what Christians believe, we’re really pleased to have you with us, and I want to suggest that 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 Christian people, 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 (v 29)
OK, so there are, I think, 3 more things to notice that can help us talk about Jesus.
Peter says, we speak about Jesus, in obedience to God
See there in verse 29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
Jesus had said to the Apostles, back in chapter 1, what we call the Great Commission, you will be my witnesses, and it’s that command which drives the ministry of the church throughout Acts.
And so Peter’s no doubt thinking of that, but they’ve also got this direct command from God, “Go to the temple and talk about new life in Christ.”
And so the apostles are 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 ever been miraculously led out of prison in the middle of the night, and given a command by an angel “Go and talk to people about Jesus.”
So this would seem like the ideal moment to say, “Well, that’s where the Apostles and their unique role in the foundation of the church, are different to us!”
They were obedient to God’s specific commands,
We didn’t receive those specific commands,
Can we therefore say, that we speak about Jesus, out of obedience to God?
Well, it seems that Luke, our historian, would say the answer is a resounding “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 breaks out into each successive part of that 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, it’s Christians like us, who are the pioneers, talking to new people and new nations about Jesus, in fulfilment of the Great Commission.
Think of Philip not one of the 12, speaking with the Ethiopian, and into Samaria,
The Christians in Antioch: Just an ordinary bunch of Christians in a local church, who God uses to take the gospel to all the world.
So yes, Christians today, 2000 years after these events, we speak about Jesus as a mark of our obedience to God.
Now, 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 local council when they say a church is only allowed to have one A-Frame on the side of the road!
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.
If your parents ever left you in the care of an older sibling, and that sibling, “Mum and Dad are gone, Let’s draw on the walls! I’m in charge, I say we can do it!”
Which authority do you obey?
Let me rephrase that, Which authority ought you obey?!
Now, it’s theoretical for us in Australia.
Less than a year ago we used to meet for church in a building owned by the government!
But some of us, will live in countries, or have lived countries, where it is illegal to speak about Jesus.
I know a pastor in England, who works in a church, just like outs, He says that the laws about what can be spoken of in public are becoming so oppressive in the UK, that he expects, at some point in his life, to be arrested for talking to people about Jesus.
So we don’t know what’s going to happen here over time.
But we know we have to obey God, and if that means disobeying the law of Australia, that’s what we do, but we also accept the penalty.
That’s what the apostles do, isn’t it?
They obey God, and willingly face the punishment that obedience brings, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name
We speak about Jesus and the Holy Spirit does his work (v 32)
But there’s good news!
Peter tells us, Christians aren’t alone, as we speak about Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is hard at work alongside us. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
If you’re a Christian person,
When you speak about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work.
Remember, if you know the story, as important as that Great Commission was, 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,
I open my mouth,
I try to answer someone’s question,
I give my fumbling attempt to speak about what God has done in Christ for sinful people, and I mix up my words,
And say the wrong thing,
And forget important bits,
, And God himself, 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.
Again, notice the lengths Luke goes to to record stuff that he thinks will be an encouragement to us!
This isn’t just how evangelism works for apostles, or super Christians.
the Holy Spirit, whom God has given, to those who obey him.
All Christians are given the gift of the Spirit.
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 a unique message (v 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, some even wanting to put them to death., verse 34, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up
His argument is this; “If the message about Jesus, is just another message, about another bloke, it will come to nothing.”
Because people making the sorts of claims Jesus did, are not rare.
Theudas appeared, He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
Judas the Galilean appeared, He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered
What’s the similarity between those 2?
They stayed dead, and it all came to nothing.
But Gamaliel was spot on!
Whether it’s the story of Acts,
Or the story of 2000 years of human history, we see that those who are opposed to the message of Jesus are powerless to stop it.
The good news of Jesus is not just another message,
One among many from which you can pick and choose.
The message of Jesus stands alone,
He made extraordinary claims, and his claims were vindicated by God himself in extraordinary ways, not least, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
And as Gamaliel says, 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, when people try and impose their beliefs on me.
When they, maybe knock on my door, and try and pressure me to agree with their opinions.
But do you know what I do like?
The firefighter who knocks on the door, and say you need to be saved, or you’ll burn!
I was evacuated from the Ash Wednesday bushfires when I was kid.
I’m extremely grateful!
When we’re talking about Jesus, we’re not just sharing opinions,
We’re not trying to convince people of our beliefs,
All we’re doing, is speaking a life-saving message, that someone took the trouble to share with us, and that God longs for us to share with others.