Text – Acts 14:8-20
How many people sometimes feel inadequate, discouraged or even ashamed when it comes to their efforts to share Jesus Christ with others?
Although Jesus told us to be fishers of men, we are content to be keepers of the aquarium.
A girl returning home from Sunday School complained about the class’s reaction after the day’s lesson. “We were taught to go into the world and make disciples of all nations,” she said, “but we just sat there.”
Dr. James Stewart, professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, described what he thought is the greatest threat to the church. He said, “It is not communism, atheism, or materialism; the greatest threat is Christians trying to sneak into heaven incognito without ever sharing their faith.”
It looks like we all need some encouragement in this matter of evangelism. And what better place to look for than in the experience of the apostle Paul on his 1st Missionary Journey.
Syrian Antioch – Cyprus (Elymas the sorcerer) – Perga in Pamphylia (John leaves them) – Pisidian Antioch (the Jews jealously opposed). Iconium (the unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of the Gentiles, and between then they plotted to kill Paul and Barnabas). Fled to Derbe & Lystra. Mistaken for pagan gods. Unbelieving Jews turned the crowd against them and Paul is stoned and left for dead. Finally return to Syrian Antioch to find that the church is in crisis.
No wonder Paul’s said in v22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s clearly not a bed of roses, this evangelism thing. But it was only through the apostles’ persistence and God’s blessing, that the Christian gospel continued to spread and to flourish and, ultimately, to reach us.
Runs not the Word of Truth through every land?
A sword to sever, and a fire to burn?
If blessed Paul had stayed
In cot or learned shade,
With the priest’s white attire,
And the saints’ tuneful choir,
Men had not gnashed their teeth, nor risen to slay,
But thou hadst been a heathen in thy day.
How did they do it, and what can we learn from how they did it?
1. They ministered in God’s truth and power. Cf. v3. (Heb 2:4) ‘God also testified to the message of salvation by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.’ Too often, we treat truth and power as if they sat on opposite ends of a see-saw. Nor are they quite like the two wings of a bird, providing equal impetus to the work of the kingdom. Miracles are like a town crier, or a banner, or a double-spread advertisement, or a loud bell, calling people’s attention to and thus confirming the message of God’s grace. I say to you on the authority of this verse, that the most important thing in evangelism is the message of God’s grace. But there is not a syllable of evidence that God is unable or unwilling to confirm that message with miracles. It is time for us to unite in looking to God to answer the prayers of his people in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.
2. They were jealous of God’s honour, v 14. These disciples were more concerned to defend God’s name than they were to protect their own lives. ‘We do not find that they rent their clothes when the people vilified them, and spoke of stoning them; they could bear this without disturbance: but when they deified them, and spoke of worshipping them, they could not bear it, but rent their clothes, as being more concerned for God’s honour than their own.’ (MHC) Are we? Is there something of that same fire burning in our souls, that it grieves us to hear God’s name taken in vain, that is offended by a careless and thoughtless attitude towards the things of God. Suppose you were to hear the name of a dear friend slandered, would you not feel compelled to say, “Julie is my friend, and I can’t bear to hear her spoken about like that.” This, surely, ought to be a great motive to force us out of our complacency.
3. They began where people were, v15. Paul and Barnabas looked at the the situation in front of them, asked a question, appealed to what was self-evidently true, and began with reference to God as Creator. This is in striking contrast with Paul’s preaching to the Jews. ‘We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility. We have no liberty to edit the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. Nor is there ever any need to do so. But we have to begin where people are, to find a point of contact with them. With secularized people today this might be what constitutes authentic humanness, the universal quest for transcendence, the hunger for love and community, the search for freedom, or the longing for personal significance. Wherever we begin, however, we shall end with Jesus Christ, who is himself the good news, and who alone can fulfil all human aspirations.’ (Stott) But at least we need to begin. ‘Most Christians are like an Arctic River – frozen over at the mouth! In evangelism, the hardest things seems to be to open your mouth to get the first word out.’ A good way to begin is like Barnabas and Paul, with a question. Next time you here someone making a statement that’s remotely connected with the things of God, try saying, “That’s interesting, what makes you say that?” You first opportunity is lkely to be tomorrow. And you might be amazed at the results.
4. They were convinced that the Christian message is ‘good news’, v15. The message about Jesus Christ is good news, in the sense that religion is not good news. Paul and Barnabas refer to the pagan gods as ‘these worthless things.’ (Isa 42:8) “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
It is obvious that we live in a multi-faith society. We hear of inter-faith worship being held in Westminster Abbey. We learn that the future king wants to be known as a ‘defender of faith’ rather than ‘defender of the faith’. We read of church leaders promoting, quite properly, dialogue and understanding between religions but failing clearly to assert the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his work. We find that according to a recent survey, nearly two out of three adults believe that the choice of one religion over another is irrelevant becaue all religions teach the same lessons about life. It doesn’t matter which god you pray to because every deity is ultimately the same being called by a different name.
‘Religion is not in itself a good thing. On the contrary, man’s religions have always been his greatest crimes. Indeed, the whole of the Old Testament is one sustained, unrelenting polemic against religion (in the shape of polytheism and idolatry). To portray as morally indifferent systems which for centuries have been instruments of deception, degradation and oppression would be a dereliction of duty.’ (Macleod, The Monthly Record, 6/79)
The world has many religions; it has but one gospel. (George Owen)
‘Euagelio (that we cal gospel) is a greke worde, and signyfyth good, mery, glad and joyfull tydings, and maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce and leepe for joye.’ William Tyndale
“The Gospel is the greatest story ever told, about the greatest offer ever made, by the greatest person who ever lived.” – D. J. Kennedy
Other religions take bad men and try to make them better. Jesus Christ takes dead men and makes them alive. (Erwin Lutzer)
‘Other religions are like sets of swimming instructions for a drowning man. Christianity is a life-saver.’ (Paul Little, Know Why you Believe)
Religion tells you what you must do for God. The Christian gospel tells you what God has done for you.
If there is anyone here thinking, ‘All religions are pretty much the same, it doesn’t matter which one you choose,’ I urge you to think again. You need Christ, not religion.’ If anyone supposes that the most important thing is a decent and moral life, I answer again, ‘You need Jesus, not morality.’ If any imagines that simply ‘doing church’ will suffice, I say one more time, ‘You need Christianity, not churchianity.’
They believed this. Do we?
We have in Acts the story of the spread of the kingdom of God. It began in Jerusalem, spread through Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the ends of the earth. Those who brought the message did with many hardships. But their encouragement, and ours, is that we are doing the Lord’s will, for he said, “You will be my witnesses.” Their encouragement, and ours, is that the Lord’s sovereign purpose is to call “a multitude that no man can number.” Their encouragement, and ours, is that the Lord has promised, not only his assistance, but his very presence, “Lo, I am with you, to the end of the age.”