Evangelism (Making Disciples: part five)

To be honest, I never thought of evangelism and witnessing as two separate actions until recently. In his short (and free!) ebook, What Is the Great Commission?, R. C. Sproul writes:

Evangelism, on the other hand, is the actual proclamation—either oral or written, but certainly verbal—of the gospel. It is declaring the message of the person and work of Christ, who His is and what He has done on behalf of sinners like you and me.

That means there are several reasons that evangelism is not. It is not living your life as an example. It is not building relationships with people. It is not giving one’s personal testimony. And it is not inviting someone to church. These things may be good and helpful, but they are not evangelism. They may lay the groundwork for evangelism. They may allow others to relate to us, or they may cause someone to be curious about why we live the way we do. But they are not evangelism, because they don’t proclaim the gospel. They may say something about Jesus, but they do not proclaim the person and work of Christ.

Witnessing does not necessitate words, but evangelism must use words, either written or spoken. We see this thought from the word evangelism itself. It comes from the Greek word for gospel, which means good news or good message. Therefore, evangelism is gospelism. It is making known the gospel, and because the gospel is a message and messages must be expressed, evangelism is a verbal act.

Many Christians become incredibly fearful at the thought of doing evangelism, while others write it off as a special gifting for some Christians. While there are some Christians with the passion and gifting of evangelism, all followers are called to the task.

We see this principle in the book of Acts. Following the death of the Stephen, the first martyr within the church, the Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Roman Empire. Here is how Luke describes the act: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

As they fled from Jerusalem, they continued to preach the word wherever they went. They continued to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. They kept proclaiming the truth that God saves sinners from the consequences of their sins.

This powerful statement is only made more powerful by who Luke is describing. He is not merely writing about the original disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John. He is not talking about the newly formed church leaders, like Stephen’s fellow deacons. No, Luke is describing the Christians in general. Normal, everyday followers of Christ preached the word of God wherever they went, and the world was irrevocably changed.

Evangelism is the work of every believer, but please realize that this does not mean you need to have a PHD in theology. John writes that Christians overcome satanic forces “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)

You do not need to know the ins and outs of systematic theology in order to share the gospel; you only need to have experienced the power of Christ’s saving blood and be able to express how He saved you in words. If Christ’s blood and our proclamation of how He saved us is enough to conquer Satan, it is also entirely sufficient for delivering the gospel message to a heart that is dead in sin.

One more thought on evangelism before I move on. Your salvation was the work of God, not yourself. You were dead in sin, an object of God’s wrath, but Christ made you alive because of God’s great grace and love. Therefore, lay aside the weight of thinking that you will save people with evangelism. We can save no one. Even if we argue someone into Christianity, someone else can always argue them out.

We are simply called to share the gospel, proclaim the good news.

God does everything else.

As a farmer sows seed but God produces the growth, may we also be faithful to share His truth, knowing that God alone can bring the dead to life.

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4 Benefits of Christ’s Ascension

Having just concluded the Easter season, the resurrection of Christ is firmly established within our minds. After all, we cannot truly consider the work of Jesus without declaring the glory of His resurrection. The miraculous incarnation set the foundations for the redemptive work of Christ. It provided the platform by which God was able to become a man and live a sinless life. The crucifixion was the means through which redemption would come. Because Jesus lived a sinless life without blemish, He is the only human in history not deserving of death. Yet because of His great love for us, Christ died in our place, making atonement and propitiation for our sins. However, this atoning sacrifice would not have been proven effective if the resurrection did not happen. Paul is correct in saying that without the resurrection we should be most pitied of all men.[1] If Jesus was not able to overcome the death, then how would we have been able to trust Him to overcome death on our behalf, especially when we are completely deserving of death!

Indeed, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, I believe that we often leave out one more step in the redemptive work of Christ: His ascension. I have yet to hear a sermon explicitly expounding upon the significance of the ascension of Christ. Too often we view the ascension as simply a historical fact for why Jesus is not on the earth right now, and we fail to see the significant theological implications and effects of Christ’s ascension into glory. Therefore, my aim will be to do just that: to give account of the effects and the implications of the ascension of Christ upon the lives of His followers.

The Account of the Ascension

Our primary text from which we will springboard into other sections of Scripture will be Acts 1, verses one through eleven. This section of Scripture provides us with the clearest description of the actual act of Christ’s ascension; therefore, we will first look at some important aspects from this text before launching into the effects and implications of the ascension. First, verse 3 tells us that there was a forty-day period of time between the resurrection and ascension, and during that time period, Christ spoke to them about the kingdom of God. It is important to note the patient love of Christ being reflected in this statement. We know from other Scriptures, which we will discuss later, that Christ was not fully glorified until He ascended. If we couple that fact with the severity of the humiliation received by Christ on the cross, one would imagine Him wanting to receive His full glory as quickly as possible. However, Jesus does not operate as we do; He was continuously selfless even after His resurrection. He stayed upon the earth another forty days, teaching and instructing His friends and disciples about the kingdom of God. Accounts such as the road to Emmaus give us an idea of what Christ’s post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry must have looked like, that is revealing to them the great plan of salvation as fulfilled through Him.

Second, in verse 6 we see that the disciples, even after forty extra days of learning from Jesus, still did not understand fully the work that Jesus had done and was still going to do. Though Jesus taught them for forty days about the kingdom of God, they still could not stop focusing upon the kingdom of Israel. They longed to see the day that God would fully establish Israel as the chief nation upon the earth, now with Christ as their king. However, this was not the intent of Jesus, at least for that time. Christ’s focus was, instead, upon the kingdom of God that would not only impact Israel but Samaria and the ends of the earth as well. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Christ will one day return as a ruling king to bring all of the earth under His submission, but such was not the plan during the days of the disciples.

Third, verse 9 describes the literal ascension of Christ into the heavens. Though some people today may find difficulty with this account of Jesus ascending into the clouds and vanishing, we cannot ignore that the gospel writers portray this event as concrete fact. Granted, there is a level of mystery to this verse. For instance, what exactly does it mean that a cloud took Him out of their sight? Since we know now that beyond our atmosphere is a massive cosmos, we assume that He did not physically ascend beyond the atmosphere but rather was taken supernaturally into the heavenly realm, which is beyond human sight. Nevertheless, since the ascension clearly involved the supernatural working of God, it is mysterious but true. We must take the ascension as clear, historical fact, just as Luke does here.

1. I Go to Prepare a Place for You

There is no doubt that Christ’s ascension would have naturally caused worry and sorrow among the disciples. We see some evidence of that fact in verse 10, where it appears that the disciples are awestruck because of having just witnessed the ascension of their Lord into heaven. Though of course, we read at the end of Luke that the disciples left the ascension rejoicing and worshipping Jesus. How are we to explain the reason for their joy, when obviously it was difficult for them to lose the physical presence of Jesus? We receive part the answer in the first verses of John 14. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about His departure from them.  Apparently, this disheartened them because Jesus begins chapter 14 by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He then proceeds to tell them that He will be going to His Father to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Throughout history, the Father’s house has been most commonly seen to be a reference to heaven, and I see no reason why it would not be so. Thus, Jesus is indicating that He would be leaving them prepare a place for them in heaven. Now, we must be careful with this text because some might take it to mean that the reason for Jesus’ 2000-year delay is because He hasn’t finished preparing all of the rooms in heaven. That seems to be a ridiculous interpretation of this text. Instead, Jesus is using imagery of Jewish matrimony to describe His relationship with the disciples. At that time, it was common for the bridegroom to return to his father’s house following the couple’s engagement, where he would prepare an addition onto the house where he and his bride will live. Thus, Jesus is using this imagery to describe something of the result of His ascension into heaven: Jesus’ ascension into heaven prepared the way for us also to enter into heaven.

Too often, we read this text and are too focused upon what Jesus might be describing heaven to be like. In fact, I have heard many people, on multiple occasions, declare that they cannot wait for their mansion in heaven. The problem is that they placed their focus upon the wrong part of the text. Jesus’ point here is that because He is going before the disciples, He will also return for the disciples. The emphasis is not about what heaven is like but rather that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a guarantee of His bringing us into heaven. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection, so His ascension guarantees our eternal home with Him. But how did the ascension accomplish this? Hebrews 1 verse 3 seems to give us some indication. It claims that the act of ascension was Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This means that the very act of Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father was symbolizing the completion of His atoning work on our behalf. Praise God for the ascension, confirming the accomplishment of the cross and resurrection!

2. The Priestly Intercession of Christ

Having seen that Christ’s ascension serves as our guarantee of heaven with Him, we now turn to the second reason for the importance of the ascension: the priestly intercession of Christ. The task of explaining this role of Christ is far too great for this short sermon, but I will try to cover the overarching purpose for it. The priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of the book of Hebrews, so I strongly suggest rereading the entire book for a better understanding of this matter. However, there are two great texts within Hebrews for viewing this matter. First, Hebrew 9:11-12 tells us that Christ, our high priest, entered into the very presence of God (not simply the man-made Holy of Holies, found within the temple), bringing before God the sacrifice of His very blood to make propitiation for our sins. The weight of this sacrifice was so great that He only needed to make one ascension into the holy place and only needed to offer that one sacrifice in order to secure “an eternal redemption.” This is the significance of speaking of only one act of Jesus ascending, He did not need to do so repeatedly. There was no need for Christ to repeatedly enter into the holy place. His sacrifice was sufficient, once for all.

Still the high priestly work of Christ does not end there. Though obviously there is major and primary significance in the mediatorial work of Christ through the presenting of His blood on our behalf, such does not completely encapsulate the intercession of Christ for us. The final two verses of Hebrews 2 give us insight into the continuous high priestly work of Christ. There, the writer of Hebrews portrays Christ as being a high priest that relates to us and is merciful upon us. Since Jesus is fully man as well as fully God, He is able to be a sympathetic high priest. This means that Jesus’ work is also to continuously aid in our sanctification by petitioning the Father on our behalf.

3. The Glorification of Christ

The third effect of the ascension that we will consider is the glorification of Christ. We know, especially from texts such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, that the end result of Christ’s humility unto death was the exaltation and the glorification of Christ; however, we rarely view the ascension as having such an integral role in the glorification of Jesus. Verses 20-22 of the first chapter of Ephesians provided a clear link to these two concepts. Paul states here that following the resurrection Christ was seated at the “right hand in heavenly places” (the ascension) and that from this seat He is far above all powers and authority. The act of Christ ascending to the right hand of the Father is the very act of placing all other things under His feet. The ascension proclaims that Christ is Lord and that all things are in subjection to Him.

However, with this discussion also comes the question of why do things appear to be outside of the control of Christ. After all, if Jesus is truly as exalted as the New Testament describes, why does everyone not yet proclaim Him Lord over everything? The answer is simply within the word “yet”. Things do not always appear to be under Christ sovereign rule for now, but there will come a day when we will finally see every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Thus, the ascension of Christ is both the proclamation of His present glorification at the right hand of the Father and also of His future glorification as every creature in existence declares Him to be Lord.

4. The Sending of the Holy Spirit

For the final effect of the ascension, we turn our attention once more to the main text of our study: Acts 1. The ESV divides these first eleven verses of chapter one into three paragraphs. Found within each of those paragraphs is a concept that is key not only to understanding the significance of Christ’s ascension but also for understanding the nature of the Christian life as a whole: the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the mentioned often in this text because He is of absolute importance. The first paragraph tells us that the power through which Jesus accomplished His entire earthly ministry was through the Holy Spirit, and since that is the case, the next two paragraphs are utterly astonishing. In verses 5 and 8, Jesus confirms to His disciples His previous promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them. This means that the disciples were ordered to wait for the very same power that empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke goes so far as to imply that, through the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles in Acts would be the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ! This should give us an entirely new depth of meaning when we call the church the body of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are meant to be the physical presence of Jesus in the world, even today.

Jesus gives emphasis to the importance of the Holy Spirit whenever He tells the disciples that it was better for them that He was departing from them because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them.[2] This is an incredible statement. Surely, there are times when each of us would love to be able to speak to Jesus face to face, to be able personally to be His disciple, yet Jesus Himself tells us that having the Holy Spirit is better. Why is this so? It is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit is God Himself inhabiting our bodies just as the presence of God once occupied the temple in Jerusalem. This should be an incredible thought for any believer that God would choose to dwell within us! This Spirit within us is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[3] He is the One by whom we are able to call God our Father. We also learn from Romans 8 that He makes prayers on our behalf to the Father, since we often do not know how to pray as we ought. In short, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the life of the believer. We simply cannot live the Christian walk without Him.

Final Implications of the Ascension

Finally, brothers, after we have seen the astounding effects of the ascension of Christ, upon both Jesus Himself and every believer in His name, we must give question to how they shape and mold our everyday lives. First, if we claim that Christ is the glorious treasure of our lives, do our hearts show to be with Him? Are our hearts within Him in His heavenly realm, where He has prepared the way for us to go?

Second, if He has truly ascended into heaven in order that we might forever dwell with Him, do we long for such? Do we long to be eternally with the infinitely glorious Christ in never ending worship of His supremacy and majesty?

Third, or perhaps do we look too longingly for the His return? Are we like the disciples who stood looking at the sky, seemingly in wait for His immediate return? Or will we in true obedience serve the Lord and make Him known since His return can come at any time?

Fourth, since we are given the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, how seriously are we taking that work? Are we faithfully going to the ends of the earth to carry the name of the Jesus, the ascended and glorified Christ?

Finally, if we have seen that the ascension is evidence of Christ’s completed work, do we trust in that completed work? Do we have full reliance in Jesus for our salvation, knowing that our greatest works are worth nothing at all?

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] John 16:7

[3] Ephesians 1:14

Church Elders | Titus 1:5

Week 3 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.. (Acts 20:28)

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples of the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)

OPENING THOUGHT

Last week we concluded the greeting section of Paul’s letter to Titus. In it, Paul established a few important truths that we must understand going into the body of the letter. First, he identified himself as both a slave and apostle, meaning that he was sent out by God to serve the body of Christ. Second, Paul addressed the purposes for his apostleship and writings as being the growth of Christians’ faith and their knowledge into godliness. Third, he presented the goal behind his purpose, that the believers would have hope in eternal life. Finally, Paul pronounced the gospel blessings of grace and peace in Christ to Titus.

We now move into the body of the letter, and Paul begins in this verse by clarifying his command and expectation to Titus. Primarily, Paul left Titus on the island of Crete for the purpose of organizing the churches there. As we see in the first chapter of Genesis, God is a God of order and structure. In the creation of the world, He took the world methodically from chaos to structure in the span of six days. So God longs for His body, the church, to be organized so that it might function well for His kingdom.

Paul specifically urges Titus to put order to the churches through the appointment of elders in each town. Because the cities then contained only one church, Paul is thus directing the establishment of multiple elders for each church. As we study through what Paul meant by church elders, we may notice that his idea of church leadership looks different from most current churches’ leadership structures; however, our main concern is with understanding and living according to the Word of God, not the wisdom or plans of man.

Read verse 5 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul’s primary mission for Titus was for him to organize each church of the cities of Crete through the appointing of elders. What is the biblical idea of church elders and deacons? How is that idea similar or different to your previous idea of church leadership?
  2. Since throughout the New Testament there was only one church per city, Paul’s command to appoint elders in every town seems to point to multiple (or a plurality) of elders in each city. Does the rest of the Bible support this concept of plural elders for each church? Why or why not?
  3. What is the main reason that most Baptists no longer practice plurality of elders? Is this a sufficient reason for changing the Bible’s design for church leadership?
  4. What are a few practical benefits of elder plurality?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Take time to thoughtfully consider the biblical concept of elders within the church and how it differs from most churches’ established leadership.
  • Pray that in all things, especially matters of the church, we (both corporately and individually) would submit ourselves the Scriptures and its teachings.

a thought on Babel & the Great Commission

So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.Through the act of confusing their language, God dispersed everyone across the whole earth. (Genesis 11:8-9 ESV)

In the end, God’s sovereign will must be done, through either obedience or judgment. For the men at Babel, it came through judgment.

And the ramifications of this judgment are significant. Since only five or so generations from Noah had passed, there would have likely been a strong familial bond between the people of the city. Yet in one swift act of God, the relatives that each man had known for centuries were suddenly speaking gibberish. With no way of communicating with one another the people left Babel by families to form the nations and groups seen in the Table of Nations (Gen. 10).

The city was then called Babel because it sounds like the Hebrew verb for “to confuse.” However, throughout the Old Testament, Babel is the name used for the city of Babylon. Just as Babel is here associated with sin, so Babylon is known as a representation of wickedness.

Since the division of languages is a judgment of God, they stand today as a reminder of sin and its consequences. We are no longer able to communicate with everyone that we encounter because of the depravity of the human heart.

However, human sin does not have the final word.

Zephaniah 3:9-13 speaks of God reuniting the human tongue under one language:

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.

Furthermore, the speaking in tongues in Acts 2 seems to anticipate the undoing of the judgment at Babel.

Indeed, it is only in Christ that people are able to truly unite without the devastating effects of sin and pride. Jesus has bridged the linguistic and cultural divide, commanding us to reach every ethnicity.

As with the people of Babel, we cannot gather in one place, but the body of Christ unites as it multiplies.

The Church grows together as it disperses among the nations.

And just as their gathering at Babel was contradiction of the divine commission to all humans to fill the earth, so is a Christian who does not seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

The call to make disciples of every ethnicity is the great calling for every Christian.

There is no such thing as a Christian who does not fulfill the Great Commission. Whether it is inches or miles, every follower of Christ will go and make disciples.

It’s fundamental to the Christian identity, and it’s the undoing of Babel.

Jesus’ Continued Ministry | Dec 30

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2 ESV)

Prior to His ascension, Jesus gave to His disciples clear commands for what they were supposed to do until He returned. They were to be His witnesses to all the earth (Acts 1:8), to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ to all nations (Luke 24:47), and to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). Though these texts are well-known (for good reason), these first verses of Acts are often overlooked.

Acts is written by Luke as the sequel to his Gospel, and he begins it by explicitly saying that the Gospel of Luke was about “all that Jesus began to do and teach”. The word ‘began’ is interesting because Luke’s Gospel covers Jesus’ birth to His ascension, so it would appear to be the most complete account of Jesus’ ministry, not the beginning of it. However, Luke is expressing a deeply important thought for us to understand: as the body of Christ, His church, we are the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

We saw last week that Jesus’ ministry was about expanding the kingdom of heaven on earth. By making disciples and proclaiming repentance and forgiveness in Christ, we are growing the kingdom of God. Just as Jesus kept His focus upon proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4:42-44), so must we understand that our purpose is to preach the gospel and make disciples.


Knowing that Jesus has called each of us to make disciples until He returns, does your life reflect this command? If not, what are some specific reasons that keep you from obeying Jesus?