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PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””
—Matthew 28:16–20 ESV
Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, this morning we are beginning a new series, called Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day. And, in this series over the next five weeks, what we will be looking at are five distinctives that we believe are important in our day and age, if we are to be a church that is centered around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, we’re doing this because we, as a church, are in a unique season. We’re at this unique intersection of past and future. We’ve just come out of a successful merger, we’ve just come through years of consistent growth as a church, and we are also are coming out of this season where we’re realizing what a healthy and firm foundation that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, now the question is, what’s next? Where is the Lord guiding us next?
And so, as we look ahead, what we want to do as a church, is we want to orient ourselves, we want to align around these basic distinctives, because what we’ll see is that the same basic distinctives of the gospel, if we keep the main things the main things, and the playing things the playing things, then God will continue to be faithful and grow us in a healthy way as a church. So, I want to say if you’re new here, this is a perfect time to be diving in, this is a perfect first week. I want to give you what sometimes we call the sermon series challenge, which is, over the next five weeks, during the course of this series, I invite you to be here every week, to hear some of these distinctives, and to be thinking about, what does it mean to be living out the gospel? I promise, if nothing else, you’re going to find yourself better equipped with the gospel, a better understanding of the gospel, and ready to navigate our times with the theological, gospel fidelity.
So, today, the first distinctive that we’re going to be looking at is conversion. Conversion. Now, conversion, I just want to throw up the basic definition, if you google search conversion, because, why not crowdsource a sermon? If you google conversion, this is what you get …
con·ver·sion: the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another.
See, conversion means a complete transformation. It means to become something that you weren’t before. It means, well, let’s hear how scripture defines it. 1 Peter 1:3 says this …
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
—1 Peter 1:3 ESV
The next, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 …
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
—2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
And lastly, and probably most famously, John 3:3, when Jesus says …
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
—John 3:3 ESV
See, what the distinctive of conversion says, is that there is not a spectrum in humanity on its way to God. There is not this spectrum where we are maybe bad, and then if we do a little bit of work, then we’ll become good, and then if we do a little bit more religious work, then we’ll become better. But, in fact, what scripture says is there are two states that of humanity, they are in one or the other. And, that is either dead in sin, or alive in Jesus Christ. Conversion means new birth, blind eyes opened, complete and utter transformation to become something that we were not before, a new creation in Jesus Christ. And, we are all called to take part in calling the dead alive in Christ, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, you may be thinking - I’m sure some of you are - I mean, conversion? I’m sure when I said conversion at first, you kind of chaffed, you were like … what was that? Cause, conversion is not a word that we normally just culturally go, yeah, a conversion, let’s talk about, right? You might have even been thinking to yourself … conversion? Are you serious? Like, who is this fool? Don’t you know that our society is trending secular? Don’t you understand this is something that we just don’t even talk about anymore? Yes. I do. And, in fact, if you’re actually thinking that what you’re talking about - this conversion idea - sounds like it’s completely impossible, then I would say you’re absolutely right. That is exactly what scripture represents.
A few months ago, I shared this illustration, and it’ll be helpful throughout this morning. I can’t think of a better time in my life that this has hit me, which is that this is what conversion looks like. Back when I was in school, I would go to this cemetery, and I would walk around. It was a beautiful cemetery, and it hit me one day that what we do when we call others to life in Christ, when we share the gospel, what we are doing is like if I were to walk up to one of those gravestones and say, rise! Walk in newness of life! Rise from the grave, find newness of life in Christ! I could shout that throughout the graveyard, in response there was silence. And, I would do that sometimes. I would just walk up, and I would walk up to a whole hillside filled with tombstones, I would say, rise! (Hoping no one was around to hear me.) Just to drive it into my heart just how impossible it is.
See, left to our own, that is a picture of how impossible new birth, new life, and new creation conversion is. That is where we were at one time, dead in our sins. And, it is impossible for us to change our hearts, unless God works. This is what Jesus says a few chapters before the Great Commission, which we’ll be looking at. He says, with man, this is impossible, when the disciples come back. They say, well, how can we do this? We’re going out there, and the demons are running over people, and people are persecuting us and turning away from us. And, he says this to them … with man, this is impossible. Your eyes are finally opened, you’re finally now seeing that this is impossible, but with God … but with God, all things are possible. But with God, this is possible.
And, see, this is why it is an important distinctive for our day, because our world is changing. Our world is changing, and we tend to think because of the new, secular, and pluralistic defaults, we think that because it is changing, we forget that the one who is reigning, who is standing over it all, has never changed, will not change, never will change. And, if we are still here, it is because he is still bringing redemption. And so, what is impossible with us, is possible with God. And so, today we’ll look at the Great Commission, which fittingly comes immediately - we didn’t think about this when we set it up - but it comes immediately after the Easter passage. And so, right after the Easter passage, it’s significant because these are the last words of Jesus before he ascends.
Sometimes we forget about the ascension of Jesus, that right now he is on the throne in heaven. If you look at the stained glass, he is born, and then Jesus has is baptism, and then Jesus on the cross, and then Jesus resurrected, and then we usually forget there’s another scene, which is that then, Jesus is ascended to the Father’s right hand, and right now, since that time, he has been on the throne, above all earthly powers, all heavenly powers, and he reigns.
And so, what we see in the Great Commission, the last words to earth that he’s giving here to his disciples, he’s telling them, this is what my reign is about. This is why you, as the church, are here in the world. To see hearts awakened so that those who are dead would find new life in me. And so, we’ll see why. The first point is just going to be boldly asking the question, why would we want anyone to be converted? Let’s answer that question. Why would we want anyone to be converted? And then, next, we’ll look at three distorted approaches to making disciples, and then lastly we’ll look at the key to true conversion in our day. So, let’s pray before we dive in.
We thank you that we, right now, are the people of Jesus Christ gathered under a risen, enthroned king. Father, we ask that this morning you would lift our eyes to see Christ reigning today, that you would banish our small thoughts, you would banish our thoughts of an impotent Christ, you would ban our thoughts of a distant Christ, you would enlarge our Jesus, you would increase our understanding of his power, the work that he has called us into in this world. Father, help us to see the impossibility of conversion, but also, Father, to find complete hope and joy in the fact that you are the God that changes hearts, and that you place us in the front row to see that happen. Do this work by your Spirit in Jesus’ name, amen.
I. WHY WOULD WE WANT ANYONE TO BE CONVERTED? (vv18-20)
So, why would we want anyone to be converted? This commissioning to invite, Jesus to his followers, again, has been called The Great Commision. In verses 18-20, we get the thrust of it, and I’ll just read it so that we’re all on the same page again … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me … this is Jesus speaking … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
And so, what Jesus is saying here, is he’s saying, church, as long as I am on the throne and you are still in the world, this is your commissioning. This is priority number one. This is my calling upon you. This is where my power will be at work through you. And, see, we often, we forget the context of this passage. Because, many times, when I was in college, I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, and we used to come to this passage again, and again, and again. And, it was very, very helpful, because I just have it internalized now. In fact, I probably was quoting a different version, I just realized, than what was right here in front of me. Sorry for that. But, I just internalized it, and we constantly were living that out and thinking about what does it mean to make disciples, and share the gospel? It was very healthy.
At the same time, sometimes I forgot what the context was that Jesus gave the Great Commission. And, he gave the Great Commission right after he walked out of the grave. He gave the Great Commission, imagine this, it says that some of them were worshiping him, and some of them were doubting. If you can imagine the guy who’s your leader, he dies a horrible death publicly, you think he’s gone, and then suddenly he says, rendezvous with me somewhere, and you arrive, and he’s there. What they’re seeing here, is this is one who has accomplished everything he would accomplish, and now he is powerful enough to go into the grave, and apparently to come out of the grave.
And so, when Jesus says all authority … all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me … Jesus isn’t just saying, hey, I’ve got the title, I’ve got the power, here, I’m Jesus, my last name is Christ, so therefore follow me. What Jesus is saying there, is I have the ability to bridge heaven and earth, because I am the one who entered into the grave, and I am the one who came out of the grave, and conquered death, and therefore I am the one who ascends to heaven. I reign over all of this, I know what I’m doing. Follow me. And so, the whole point, see the whole point of Matthew’s gospel from the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel …
If you remember from our advent series, we went through the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and the very first chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy, and that genealogy points back and says, this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, it goes back to this entire history, from the beginning of time, God has been at work to bring about this redemption. And, all throughout history, mankind has been wondering, how will God remove very tear? How will God deal with my sin? How will God deal with this murderous intent that’s within me of this hatred, and how everything is broken, and illness, and disease, and evil, and backstabbing, and death, and separation, and isolation? How will God fix this? He says, there is one who will come.
There’s one who will be a true prophet, unlike the prophets who died. There will be a true king who will reign, unlike the kings who failed you and abused you. And, there will be one who is true incarnate, who is God incarnate, who is Immanuel, God with you. And, his name is Jesus Christ, and he has come. You see, as Paul says, 2 Corinthians 1:20 … For all the promises of God have found their yes and amen in him, in Jesus Christ … every human longing, every want, every human desire that has ever existed … was desiring Jesus Christ. And, now he has come. He has come.
And so, why would we want to convert anyone? Why would we want anyone to experience this new birth, eyes opened to see Jesus? It’s because it’s everything they have ever desired, whether they realize it or not. Everything else will pass away. Everyone else will drop the ball. But, Jesus’ promises are true, and he will never, ever fail us. He says, I will be with you, even until the end of the age. Do you see that parallel? From the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, when they’re wondering, how will God make a presence with us, and they name Immanuel, God with us, and then it ends at the end of his time on earth, and what does he say? I will be with you.
This is the life you have always wanted, it has come in Jesus Christ. But, the question is, we know this, but do we really believe it? Do we really believe it? Because, consider verse 17. I think sometimes when we come to the Great Commission, sometimes we forget verse 17. It says that … when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted. How do you doubt when a guy who you just saw get crucified, now standing there with, it seems like holes in his hands, and nothing else, there do you doubt him and go … I don’t, I don’t know if he’s really there. Right? It really happened. But, in fact, they doubt, and in fact, we can look at them and say, how could you doubt him? But, how can we doubt him?
Experiencing this resurrection life, experiencing this new life, experiencing the weight of our sin being removed, experiencing the fact that perhaps we can live forever in joy, and then we still can doubt the very power that saved us. And, that’s an important question, because the way Jesus describes what it looks like to become a follower of him is so total, that it’s actually impossible. Look at verse 18 …
… And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …
You see, you the impossibility of bringing someone to newness of life in baptism. You see, Jesus isn’t just saying here that I want you to just go around and forcibly baptize people. What we saw last Sunday at Easter, when we saw folks going into the water and coming out of the water, Jesus isn’t just talking about only a sacrament. Jesus is saying, there is an act, a sacrament that follows a reality that has, in fact, happened in that person. And, the reality that is happening in that person is impossible without me at work. And, that reality that has happened in their heart, is that now they have said, I will die to the pleasures and life in this world, and hope in this world, and I will go into the judgement waters, and I will enter death before my physical death, knowing that there is one who has gone before me into the grave, and he will bring me, through judgement, into newness of life.
And, what it’s saying there, is there is a power that is true, because I raise the dead from the grave. And, the question is, can we raise or open up anybody’s eyes to see the glory of Jesus Christ? Can we raise anybody from the grave? We cannot. It’s impossible for us to do it in our own power. And then, next, he says in verse 20 … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you … Now, you might be thinking, wait a minute, I thought Jesus was anti-legalistic, right? That Jesus wasn’t about, you know, obeying rules and whatnot. What it actually says in Matthew 5:17, again, in Matthew’s gospel, it says, Jesus says, I did not come to abolish the law and all the prophets, but, in fact, I fulfilled them.
And so, what Jesus says here, is then, that means to obey - by the way, Matthew 5:17, that’s right at the beginning of the beatitudes, and going in to the sermon on the mount. And so, now Jesus gives them a new way of living in his kingdom, and he says, in fact, now you will live out this new way that’s not just by the letter of the law, but it will actually be because you will be filled with my Spirit, and you will have the Spirit dwelling in you that will cause you to want to live in obedience, and you will walk in freedom from sin.
Who of us can fill anyone with God’s Spirit? Who of us can cause anyone to desire to walk in newness of life? Who of us can fill anyone with eternal joy? It’s actually impossible, what Jesus is pointing to, here. It’s impossible. So, if I say, go and make those things happen, it starts to feel a little bit like in that graveyard. It starts to feel like when you walk out into your job, into your neighborhood, into the grocery store, into the gym, wherever it may be, the playground … it seems impossible because it is.
So, before we discuss what Jesus would have you do, let’s dig in a bit there. Because, when we’re sharing our faith, it feels as hopeless as a graveyard, and because of that, we often resort to approaches to making disciples in the appearance of life, but our are actually falling short of the kind of life that Jesus is promising. So, three distorted approaches to making disciples.
II. THREE DISTORTED APPROACHES TO MAKING DISCIPLES (vv18-20)
When we realize how impossible it is - and you may be thinking right now, yeah, I feel this. If I were to just get up here and say, let’s talk about evangelism, and let’s go do it and tell you some stories, and then go do it. As soon as you walk out those doors, you would immediately feel this crushing weight, which is … I feel there’s something here I can’t do. And, that’s actually healthy. Now, want to also bring another healthy element, which is what God is going to do through us.
But, one of the things, is that means usually what happens - at least in my life - is I have two responses, one of two. The first is that I just give up. Now, here’s the problem … the thing that drives me to give up is that I believe that it is impossible to just, for me, to raise someone from the dead. When I give up, I preach to myself the fact that that is something that God is no longer doing. And, the problem is, if God is no longer doing that in others, than it’s only a matter of time before I begin to believe that he’s not going to do it in me. And, that everything I’m doing and saying is a super natural reality of God working in my heart, is actually something that I, in my own power, am doing. And, that’s a crushing reality.
But, the second one is to attempt to convert in my own power. Because, even though I know in the graveyard example, I know that if I say rise, and no one raises, I go - Oh, I know what will make them rise - if I get more eloquent. But, eloquence isn’t going to change it. If I say, let’s get a band in here and have a big party, and I get all my friends and we have a cookout, and I’m like, it’s going to be such a good time, the dead are just going to be crawling out of their graves. Like, can I join? Can I have a hotdog, guys? This is amazing, right? It’s not going to change anything.
But, often, we fall into the belief that those kinds of approaches will do it. And so, here are three distorted approaches, and I think this is important to consider. Because, Jesus says this right before one of the last times he speaks to his disciples, before he’s betrayed, prior to the Great Commission. He says … For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray … This is a sobering statement from Christ. Because, we may not claim to be the Christ but we can offer a false idea of life in Christ when we make disciples in our own power. So, here are three distorted approaches.
Parrot Approach (Convincing the Mind)
The first is what we are going to call the parrot approach, like parrot on your shoulder, convincing the mind. Jesus said to teach them all that I [Jesus] have commanded … Here’s the key, not just our way of thinking. In other words, conversion isn’t just limited to getting people to think and talk like us, to parrot us. But, here’s the thing. We do this, cause often it can look like life to us, if we can just get someone to parrot how we talk, how we think, to use our tribal or theological language. Because, if they are saying the right things, repeating what we say, then they must be born again, right? Not necessarily. They could still be dead.
I know this is going to seem completely goofy, but I can’t help but the picture in my head, just to drive this home, what this is like. Do you guys remember the movie Ace Ventura? It made my childhood. I’m dating myself a little bit, I know for some of you that’s way before your time. But, in Ace Ventura there was this time when he goes up and he punches the Monopoly guy. There was, like, this old monopoly guy and he punches him - and he actually ends up killing him - but he picks up the guy to pretend like he’s not dead, and he puts him on his shoulders, and he dances him around, and he’s talking for him. That’s, many times, what the way that we pursue discipleship looks like.
What we do, is we take people who are dead, and we tell them, just say and repeat after me, and say these words, as if that is enough. And then, we say, do you see this disciple here? They’re dead. It doesn’t matter if they’re parroting what you’re saying, they’re still dead on the inside. Following Christ is about more than mere information, it’s about complete transformation.
Be doers of the word, James says, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. The outcome of parroting and making disciples by a parroting approach is not disciples of Christ, it’s disciples of us, followers of us, who parrot us, rather than passionately following Christ. Jesus says this, he gives many woes in the last chapter, and he says this … woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For, you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice a much a child of hell as yourselves. You have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. Listen, you can’t intellectually convince someone into new life. They’ll have facts in their head, but no life in the heart.
The next distorted approach is the puppet approach.
Puppet Approach (Colonizing the Will)
Puppet, like puppet on a string, colonizing the will. So, the first is going for the mind, this is going for the will. Jesus says disciples will com from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, every nation, Revelation tells us. Because, God will take every human form of worship, and he will transform it by his Spirit, as he renews the dead and brings them to life where they are in their culture, he will take their cultural expressions and their form of life, and he will turn it to worship him, and bring him glory. And, that means there is no one monolithic way to worship, no one right Christian subculture, but instead of allowing Christ to enter into lives and express himself by his grace, how often do we make conversion about becoming and acting like us?
So, we may not expect them to parrot our thinking, but we do expect them to be a puppet that follows us, to act like us. But, like a puppet can live, move, and have its being only if the puppeteer is pulling the strings, so also can a disciple who is living off the expectations that we have for them for their behavior, they don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit, they live in the power of our expectations.
And, we do this because it is more expedient to colonize lives with our behavioral expectations than to colonize growth by God’s Spirit. The point of conversion is not to make others like us, it’s to free them so that they’d worship Christ in their own way. Do we shut the door with our expectations of what a follower of Jesus should look like?
The last approach, the party approach.
The Party Approach (Cathartic Emotional Moments)
Conversion is, to new life, not a momentary high. Jesus says, behold, I will be with you until the end of the age. That’s not a moment, that’s not even a season. That’s forever. Jesus says, I will be with you forever. We often, though, think that conversion can come just through a series of emotional highs, just cathartic moments, just moments of a kind of high, and we think if we can just make them feel this high, if we can just make them feel something they haven’t felt before, then they’ll give their lives to Jesus.
It’s like bringing a band into the graveyard, or trying to just have a party. In and of itself, it won’t bring life. Now, listen to me, I am all for parties, okay? I don’t want to be the party pooper - man, Pastor doesn’t like parties. No, I love parties. I’m just saying, you can’t bring dead people to life with a party. We, and that, can’t alone bring the dead to life. Jesus says, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and the plates, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Jesus wants to transform the inside, and come make his presence in us, by his Spirit, not leave us endlessly searching for another high.
We are commissioned to go after more than right thinking, right actions, or right feeling. Jesus wants the whole person. And, the only way to see someone truly come alive in Christ is to allow God to do what only God can do.
And so, lastly, the key to true conversion in our day.
III. THE KEY TO TRUE CONVERSION IN OUR DAY (vv18-20)
Here’s the key. We are commissioned, God converts. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to change a heart. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to manipulate minds or coerce wills, or just try to manipulate emotions. God is the one who changes hearts, and it leads - when that happens - to true, gospel conversion. Conversion that is rooted in the power of Jesus Christ, rooted in the power of Jesus’ Spirit at work in this world, not rooted in our own power, our own personality, our own persuasion, but rooted in Christ. God opens eyes, God causes new birth, God causes the dead to rise. We can’t do that.
Go back to the graveyard. So, what do I do? If I’m in the graveyard and I realize that they are dead in a grave. Now, of course, the illustration begins to break down here because they’re dead, right? We’re talking about spiritually dead. But, what does it look like at that point? I don’t try to get more eloquent, I don’t try to manipulate, I don’t try to bring in, you know, all the fun gimmicks to try to bring people to newness of life, but what do I do there as I begin falling on my knees and I cry out and say, God, help my unbelief. But, bring life here. I cry out to God, because he is the one, and his power is the power that raises them from the grave, the same power that raised Christ from the grave.
See, while we can affect, we can affect someone’s thinking, we can affect someone’s will, we can affect someone’s emotion, but we cannot effectively change a heart to love Jesus Christ. And, if God gets the heart, the rest will follow. Here’s a helpful way of putting it. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, says this …
“What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the will finds doable, and the emotions find desirable.”
You see what he’s saying there? He’s saying, we go for all the other three, but in fact what you want in the Bible, the heart is the seat of the whole person. Think of, like, the steering wheel, the entire person. If you actually allow God to get the heart, all the rest will follow. All the rest will follow. So, how do we point those God has placed in our life to Christ so that their hearts come alive in Christ?
Proclamation & Prayer Approach (Conversion of the Heart)
In scripture, we are given two primary tasks: to proclaim the gospel, and then to pray. To proclaim the gospel, and to pray. And so, let’s look at proclamation for a second. And, I know as soon as I say proclamation, what you start to think is … are you going to give me, kind of, a model for how to share the gospel? Are you going to give me kind of a 1, 2, 3, 4?
And, not that I’m against any of those approaches, I found them very helpful just to start with, hey, there is a God, and he has a plan for your life, he is over your life, and you are sinful, and you are separated from that God, and there’s newness of life and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ, and so respond and come to him. And so, just going through those things, here’s the thing … you want to know the best and most powerful way to learn to share the gospel? It’s to allow God to do a work through the gospel in your life. Let God change you with the gospel. Because, people don’t need us to just share our truth from on high. They need to see that there is one who is true, who is actually on high in our lives.
You can say yes, I know you think that pursuing more, more money, more sex, more achievement, more stuff, more peace in this world will satisfy you. But, trust me, I know, I’ve experienced in this, in that way that Jesus has forgiven me of my sins, that Jesus has fulfilled me, that Jesus has given me newness of life, just sharing how the ways that Jesus has actually changed, how God is at work in your life. Cause, you and I were dead, you and I were lost, in darkness, blind. But, thanks be to God in Jesus Christ. That’s the message of the gospel. Thanks be to God. In spite of our sin, Jesus has saved us and given us newness of life in himself. Not a message that puts us on high, but points to the one who is on high, Jesus.
Think about it. Jesus calls redeemed sinners, like you and me. Think about it. Why doesn’t Jesus just write it in the heavens? Why doesn’t God just make it kind of like a cosmic plane that is flying around? When the sun rises, it’s got one of those banners, like on the back of a plane, you know? And, it just says, Jesus is Lord. And, you’re like, well, I don’t know how to explain that one … must be true. Right? Why does he have us do this? Because, we are as much proof as it gets. That, in fact, that he could take our prideful arrogant selves, broken people like us, and he could turn us into a new creation, and now we have this message to share.
We are the proof, as Peter says, be ready to give a defense, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you. The work that God has done in you. To share that. If he could save me from myself, he can surely save you. If he could give me hope, then he can give you hope. If could give a curmudgeon like me joy, then he can give you joy, as well. Don’t make the gospel an abstract series of ideas. But, share how God has forgiven you, how he’s freed you, how he’s given you joy, how he’s at work in your life.
And, second, pray, and ask God to reveal what to say. Because, here’s the thing. So, I said proclamation, second one is prayer. Because, here’s the thing. Everyone around you is actually seeking to know the Lord. This is how Paul puts it in Acts 17 …
“he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us”
—Acts 17:26–27 ESV
Paul, at this point, is actually talking to a pretty pagan audience. And, he says, do you know that in what’s happening in your life, there’s this cosmic drama that’s playing out in your mundane neighborhood? In your mundane office place, in your ordinary gym, in all these places that we think are just normal, material, mundane passing by moments? What’s happening, is God is at work, and he is causing there to be desires, and men, and women all around us that are reaching, and they are pining, and they’re yearning, and they’re grasping at everything around them, hoping that this next thing will be the thing that will satisfy them. And, they’re just hoping it will be that thing, and they don’t know that it’s Jesus, that it’s God’s glory that they’re searching for. And so, they’re grabbing everything that has a little bit of the taste. It’s as if they’re lapping up cinnamon in the dirt, because there’s just a little bit of the taste in it.
And, God says, do you realize that’s the cosmic drama that’s playing out around you. As Julian Barnes, an english novelist says, he says this, I love it. He’s not a believer. He starts Nothing to Be Frightened of with this …
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.”
—Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of
That’s honesty. I don’t believe in God, but I miss him. That’s what’s all around you. Don’t disqualify someone because they live a messy lifestyle. Don’t hold back because it seems like someone has it all together. Listen, all they’re doing is trying whatever it is, is they’re just trying to find Jesus. And, if we’re willing to step into their lives, and we’re willing to say, listen, when you’re grasping for this, and you’re grasping for achievement, and you’re grasping for pleasure, and you’re grasping for security, and comfort, and stuff … I know what you’re looking for, and I guarantee if you sit down and you get to know them, what they’re going to say is yes, because deep down, I’m just dying inside.
This is the drama that’s playing out all around us. We don’t have to give intellectual arguments alone. We pray God would give them the heart to see Christ as reasonable and true. If they throw their lifestyle choices in our face, ask God to make them see the goodness of Christ, his way is fulfilling. Ask God to do that by his Spirit. We don’t have to do that. Sometimes we take on the weight of doing all this. Well, the whole point is, it’s not in our power. In fact, everything Jesus describes here of making disciples is what comes after they have a conversion experience and newness of life. He says, just proclaim the gospel, and then when I do the work of changing their heart, then you follow up, and you baptize them, and you teach them.
We never should have had this idea that somehow we kind of persuade people, and kind of nudge and kind of contort people into the kingdom of God. Jesus changes hearts. We can pray, we can ask the one who is on the throne. And, listen, I know that witnessing, that sharing our faith, all these things, this is the kind of thing that’s nerve wracking, that causes trembling, that causes just this anxiety. And, here’s … perhaps, perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that’s a healthy thing. Because, what we’re doing in that moment, is we’re coming to the end of ourselves, and we’re realizing, God, this is a work that only you can do. And, we’re leaving the power in his hands.
It’s okay to be nervous, because we know at the end of the day it’s God who does the work, not us.
In closing, Jesus said to his disciples ... the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest … See, we live in a day, again, when the defaults and the beliefs are that we are in a secular time, that the harvest is not plentiful. But, that is not what Jesus says. Jesus didn’t say, well, at one point in the future, I get it, there’s going to be the Scientific Revolution and all these things are going to happen, there’s going to be the enlightenment, and kind of the subjective turn to the self, and I know it’s going to get real messy, but, oh man, it’s just going to be a graveyard, not a harvest at that point.
Jesus says it is a harvest, until I come again. It is a harvest, even in a society trending post-Christian. It is trending post-Christian, but I like more the phrase that is gospel haunted. All around us, there is the desire … I miss God. I miss the fact that there is one who is bigger than me, one who can save me. Jesus says, there is a harvest. The problem is not the harvest, but the lack of laborers. While our world does change, the one who can change it does not. And, if we are still here, it is because God is still working, a redemption that we have a part to play in. We are commissioned, and he converts hearts.
The harvest, the graveyard if you want to say, is plentiful. And, we must ask the Lord to give us a laborer’s heart, and a laborer’s mindset so we would see it. Listen, there are six million people. Six million people in the Inland Empire. And, most of them are searching for what we have in Jesus Christ. Right now, they are straining, they are pulling, they are reaching, they are feeling along, just hoping, hoping that the next season, the next thing, the next whatever it is would give them what they have been longing for. And, there are our neighbors. They’re our follow classmates. They’re our coworkers, they’re our family members. They’re the people God has placed all around us.
By Jesus’ authority, you are commissioned, because he is the way, he is the truth, he is eternal life. And, he is going to open eyes, he is going to change hearts. Because, that is what he has always done. He has always, since the moment he walked out of the grave, he has caused the dead to walk out of the grave, from the very moment he first walked out. Don’t miss out, Emmaus. Don’t miss out. Witness the impossible, as God brings the dead to life. He is with you. Let’s pray.
Lord God, give us a laborer’s mindset. Lord, the harvest is plentiful. Lord, help us to see with the eyes of your Spirit. Father, give us eyes to see that all around us the fields are ripe for the harvest. Father, don’t let us sit on our hands and just bemoan that around us it seems like the devil is having his way. But, Father, help us to see where you are at work. Give us a laborer’s heart to see, to want and desire to see the blind see for the first time, to see the lame walk, to see the dead rise. Spirit, empower our witness, and give us boldness, knowing we serve the one who is truly on the throne above all thrones, the king above all kings. It is in the name of our ascended King that we pray, Jesus Christ, amen.