Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why Evangelism 5?

So then we hit the sequel to Luke, Acts. I like to call Acts, Luke 2 to illustrate that it is really a continuation of the same story on a fresh scroll. Acts is built around evangelism expressed in 1:8 in which Jesus tells the first disciples that they are to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Spirit which will empower them to be witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The story that unfolds speaks of this happening; chapters 1-8:4 centring on witness in Jerusalem; chapters 8-9 on the spread of the gospel through Judea and Samaria; 10-28 speaking of the spread of the gospel into the Gentile world and all the way to Rome.

Acts is especially important because Luke tells us how the disciples sought to live out the injunctions of Christ which are found in his first volume, Luke. We see from the first that evangelism was a priority which was not to be sacrificed at any cost. For them it was a non-negotiable element of being Christian. This is seen at a number of points.

Firstly, after Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter preaches the gospel as a response to the crowd's incomprehension at their behaviour. This is the first of a number of sermons in Acts, all of which speak of Jesus as saviour, messiah and Lord and the importance of response to him. On this occasion in chapter 2 3000 people are baptised.

Secondly, after the healing of the disabled beggar at the temple, in Acts 3-4 Peter again preaches, this time in the temple courts. This excites the interest of the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin. They forbid Peter and John from preaching the message. Their commitment to evangelism is seen in their refusal to desist from preaching, they seeing preaching the gospel as imperative and 'obedience to God' (4:19).

Thirdly, this commitment is seen in their response to being told to stop proclaiming Christ. Rather than ceasing, they gather together and pray for God to do wonderful miracles through them and to empower them to preach the gospel (4:29). This is a powerful statement of their belief that they could not stop preaching but had to do so. The prayer leads to the wonderful fellowship of the Jerusalem community, miracles on the streets and further preaching of the message.

The fourth demonstration of their commitment is seen in what follows. The Sanhedrin again take them into custody. They are miraculously freed commanded by an angel to preach, again indicating the importance of the task. The Sanhedrin again take them into custody and but for the intervention of Gamaliel, would have put them to death. Instead they are released after a terrible flogging and again told to stop. They refuse and return to their preaching continuing to preach day after day in the temple and in homes. Despite the threat on their lives, they remained unflinching in their determination to preach the message.

Fifthly, we see their commitment to evangelism in the appointment of the 7 to care for the Grecian widows in 6:1-6. The reason for their appointment is in part to allow the leaders of the church to focus on their priorities; prayer and the ministry of the word i.e. teaching and preaching. The impact of the selection of the seven is that they continue to pray and minister through the word and many more become Christians including some priests (6:7).

This passion for evangelism continues in the Seven, a sixth example of their commitment to the task. This is important because it shows that the ministry was not confined to the Apostles but was part of the ministry of 7 administrators. Two in particular demonstrate this passion, Stephen and Philip. Stephen began debating with Grecian Jews challenging them to see that Jesus is the Messiah. This leads to him being brought before the Sanhedrin. His response is to preach to them and this time he is not released, but is stoned to death (Acts 7). This leads to a terrible outbreak of persecution through Saul and the whole church is scattered (8:1-4). What follows is continued proclamation from the scattered Christians. Firstly, Philip, who goes to Samaria to preach the gospel with amazing effect of miracles, conversion and baptisms (8:5-. Secondly, others go to Antioch to preach the gospel there to the Gentiles where many become Christians (11:19-21).

The eighth example is the ministry to the Gentiles. It is not clear where it begins; Antioch or in Cornelius. Either way, we see Peter take the Gospel under the direction of the Spirit to Cornelius' family. They are spontaneously baptised in the Spirit as he is preaching and this launches the mission to the Gentiles. The conversion of Paul and his call to be apostle to the Gentiles sets the mission off. We read in chapter 9, 13-28 of his uncompromising commitment to the task. Despite facing terrible opposition, riots, imprisonment, floggings, fall-outs with others (Barnabas and John Mark) and ultimately a trip to Rome to face Caesar, Paul continues to preach the gospel seeking converts to the faith.

The evidence of Acts is that evangelism is a non-negotiable priority for the first Christians. It is clearly essential to their understanding of mission. They refused to compromise this in the face of potential death or in the case of Stephen and James, actual death. Even when in prison they preached through singing and praying (Acts 16). They clearly took Jesus at his word and sought to see others come to Christ. They spoke the Gospel as well as lived it. They were dedicated with great courage to the spread of the faith.

So as with all the evidence in the earlier blogs on this subject from the OT and the Gospels, we are to carry on this task. We are to prioritise evangelism. We are to be dedicated to the task despite opposition, persecution and suffering. We are to see it as central to our mission. The purpose of the Spirit in Acts is empowering for this task.

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