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VIDEO Five Essentials of Evangelism, Part 2

John MacArthur Nov 16, 2014

Let’s open the Word of God to the fifth chapter of the book of Acts.  We are in the middle of this chapter.  It’s a narrative chapter.  It gives us some history of the early church, but also it gives us a pattern for understanding early church evangelism.  As we read the narrative running all the way from the beginning of the chapter and the story of Ananias and Sapphira all the way to the end, verse 42, we follow the flow of the early church’s impact, and it’s an immense impact.

I reminded you last time that as we talk about evangelism, we are talking about the reason you are here.  The reason you, as a believer, are not in heaven is because you need to do evangelism.  The Lord builds His church through His church.  The Lord uses the saints to draw the elect.  His means is evangelism through men and women.  We are on the earth to reach the chosen of God with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “How will they hear without a preacher?” Paul writes in Romans 10, “And how will they preach unless they’re sent?”  You have to go and you have to go with the right message. 

The book of Acts began in chapter 1, verse 1 with a reference to all of that Jesus began.  We like to talk about the finished work of Christ and rightly so.  The finished work of Christ was His cross work, His work of putting an end to sin, His work of making atonement, His work of providing salvation, providing propitiation or satisfaction to God by being a sacrifice that satisfied divine justice.  We understand the finished work of Christ.  We know that as He gave up His life on the cross, He said, “It is finished.”  And the triumphant commendation of His finished work was that the Father raised Him from the dead.

But there was a work that Jesus only began, and the beginning work was the work of calling His people together.  Jesus began to do this work in His life, and then He extended that work through the apostles.  The first generation church then picked up the work, and it goes on all the way down to our time.  To empower us to do this, our Lord promised that He would send the Holy Spirit.  He promised that in the upper room on Thursday night of Passion Week to His disciples and on the Day of Pentecost.  That happened. 

You remember in Acts 1:8 He says, “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.”  The powerful witness is the Holy Spirit.  On the Day of Pentecost that promise came true.  The Spirit of God came, and the Spirit of God empowered the believers and has continued to empower every believer since because all of us are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we possess access to His power.

We are then empowered for evangelism.  Again, that’s why we are here.  The Lord constantly builds His church, adds believers to His church through the faithfulness of His church.  We see this unfold in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts in the case of the first church.  There are at least five features of this early church evangelism, and I’ve been kind of pointing them out to you. 

I’ll remind you about number one.  The first feature of their effective evangelism was purity.  We remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira at the beginning verses of chapter 5, how they had lied to the Holy Spirit.  They were professing believers who were in the church.  As far as the church knew, they were legitimate.  They belonged.  They were a part of everything.  They decided that they wanted to get in on the respect and the admiration that certain people were getting because they were selling what they had to provide money to meet the needs of folks whose needs were known to them.  It was great love and great generosity and great unity.  That’s how chapter 4 ends.

So they wanted to be among those who were admired and honored, and so they promised to sell a piece of property and give all the proceeds to the church for distribution to the needy saints.  However, they kept back some of it and thus, they lied to the Holy Spirit.  They were deceitful, and you remember the story.  The showed up at church and they came to present their offering, their deceptive offering.  First, Ananias dropped dead as God executed him in front of the whole church.  A few hours later his wife showed up, and she dropped dead at the very time the young men were coming back into the service from having buried her husband. 

The Lord was saying, “I want a pure church.  I want a pure church.”  Holiness validates the message.  Holiness validates the message.  If we are not a people with transformed lives, then proclaiming the gospel of transformation is hypocrisy.  Holiness validates the message, and the Lord made that very clear.  That is why Peter says later in his first epistle, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.”  It did begin in that first church, and God did it.  From then on, there have been times throughout church history, even in our time when the Lord has also exercised the right to take the life of a believer.          

We are told about that in the early years of the church; not the church in Jerusalem, but the church in Corinth where some people died because of sins committed at the Lord’s Table.  We are reminded at the end of the New Testament by the apostle John writing at the end of the first century that there is sin that brings death in the life of a believer because you’re such a hindrance to the testimony of the church that the Lord removes you.

Judgment begins at the house of God.  God was in action at that first judgment, which is in Acts 5.  When the first time we see the sins of the saints appear in the church, God takes dire action, executing those people in front of the whole church.  May we also understand that this had an immense effect on the church.  Verse 11, “Great fear came over the whole church and over all who heard of these things.”  They knew that church was serious business, that God was serious about sin and righteousness.  We talked about how important it is that the church pursue holiness, that the church we pure.  What a terrible detriment is it to the testimony of the church and the effectiveness of the gospel when you have impure Christians, sinful people claiming to be transformed by Christ.

Even worse, when you have sinful, impure leaders in the church and pastors in the church.  But when the church is pure, pursuing holiness, when the church deals with sin in the way that we are told to deal with it, confront it, take two or three witnesses, tell the whole church, and even remove the person from the church if they don’t repent.  When we are serious in dealing with sin, the church attracts people who seek holiness and the church becomes the enemy of hypocrites and false believers.  It pays huge dividends to deal with sin in the church.  It thwarts the hypocrites and the false Christians and it invites those who are true believers, and who are true believers because they want their sin dealt with and they want their life transformed.

So the first mark of early church evangelism and the necessary platform on which all testimony becomes believable is the purity of the church.  The second thing that marked the church is power.  We picked it up in verse 12.  “At the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.”  If you’ll look down in verses 15 and 16, this display of apostolic power was to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.  Also, the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, demons, and they were all being healed.” 

This is an explosion of the miraculous.  The church that is believable, the church that is impactful is the church that has a history of the miraculous because that’s how we know God is in it.  There is no parallel to the history of the Christian church.  You can take any religion in the world and there is nothing in any world religion, large or small, that can parallel the inception of the early true church of Jesus Christ, the church of God.  This massive array of miracles: casting out demons, healing diseases, raising dead people, controlling nature, done by our Lord Jesus Himself, also by the apostles and even after the Lord has ascended back into heaven, the apostles are still doing miracles to such a degree that everyone is being healed and being delivered.

They understand that the power is in the apostles, and that’s where it needed to be set because the apostles needed to be seen as the spokesmen for God.  With all the teachers floating around in ancient times, as in all times, why would you believe the apostles?  The New Testament hadn’t been written, so why do we believe them?  We believe them because they have supernatural power, and that’s how God validates them.

I’ve told you before the reason I do not believe that charismatic leaders do miracles is because God would never give miracle power to people with bad theology.  He gave miracle power only to His apostles.  In fact, Paul writing to the Corinthians says, “These are the signs of an apostle.”  It was in that apostolic time.  The true church is the empowered church, and from its inception its power is clear and the record of that power explosion is contained right here in this history in the book of Acts. 

It starts out in chapter 1, verse 8.  You remember, “You shall receive power.”  It shows up in chapter 2 in that amazing eruption of power on the Day of Pentecost, miracle languages, phenomena happening in the natural world.  It shows up further in verse 43 when everyone was feeling a sense of awe and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles, chapter 2, verse 43. 

We see at the beginning of chapter 3, Peter and John go up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer, and they heal a lame man.  This is a man that everybody knows because he’s been sitting there begging and the people there all, in verse 9, see him walking and praising God and were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the beautiful gate of the temple to beg alms.

They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened.  This carries all the way through chapter 4 as they try to sort out this power and where this power comes from, and how do they have this power to do these kinds of things?  The discussion of that power goes through chapter 4.  We come into chapter 5 and where we are right now down in verses 12-16 and the power display continued.  Purity and power mark the early church. 

Though we don’t have miracle power today, we have a history of miracle power.  That’s our history and that’s the validation of the church at its beginning.  God, through the Holy Spirit gave to the apostles the ability to write down the record of this and also to write down the sound doctrine that God revealed to them.  No religion has this kind of history of heavenly explosion of power, validated by history and by a myriad of eye witnesses; so much so that even the enemies of this truth never could gainsay its power. 

Now, that leads us to the third mark as we think about clearing the path for effective evangelism, and it is persecution.  It begins in verse 17.  We’ve already seen it in chapter 4, but at least at this point, we pick it up in the narrative of chapter 5 at verse 17.  “The high priest rose up along with all his associates; that is the sect of the Sadducees.  They were filled with jealousy.  They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.”

Now let me just say this: persecution is predictable.  Persecution is inevitable.  “All that will live godly will suffer persecution.”  Why?  Jesus said it in John 7.  “They hate me because I tell them their deeds are evil.”  If you’re going to preach sin to self-righteous proud people, they’re going to resist and resent that.  We saw in the opening 20 verses of chapter 4, the persecution begun.  It didn’t take very long, and even that couldn’t stop the effect of the gospel.

It was the early church’s conviction that they would ignore the persecution and proclaim all the more boldly and loudly the message, and that’s exactly what they did.  So another wave of persecution comes in chapter 5.  This time it comes from the high priest, who is either Annas or Caiaphas, we don’t know which.  But if you were ever that, you kept that title for life.  So either Annas who was behind the scenes or Caiaphas, who was in the position at the time, along with his associates.  Who are the associates of the high priest?  The Sadducees, the sect of Sadducees. 

They are the ones who are the leaders of the temple operation.  They’re in power in the temple.  They are narrow fundamentalists in that they only accept the opening five books of the Old Testament, the Mosaic books.  They are collaborators with Rome.  They want Rome to be pleased because they don’t want to have their power removed and because Rome is the occupying power, their power is only theirs if Rome agrees.  They are therefore uptight about any disruption publicly.  They are uptight about any potential disturbance or any disturbing person who might be a threat to Rome. 

They are also extremely agitated at Jesus because His teaching exposes them as heretics.  These Christians are essentially in their view the real heretics.  They are not only heretics.  They are not only apostate from what they believe is the true religion, but they potentially are disturbers of the peace that could bring Rome’s head and hand down on them.  Palestine is always inflammable because the Jews hate the occupation of any outside power.  If that flammable characteristic is not checked, there could be a popular uprising. 

What’s happening in the early church is explosive.  The people are pouring toward the apostles.  We read that in verses 15 and 16, carrying all these sick people into the streets and putting them on cots and pallets.  The people are coming not only from Jerusalem, but the surrounding region in the vicinity.  They’re bring people who are sick and afflicted with unclean spirits, and they’re all being healed.  No one can deny it.  No one tries to deny it.  You can imagine what a massive rush there would be in that kind of setting in an ancient world where they didn’t know how to cure anything, nothing.

The high priest knows exactly what’s going on, along with his associates.  They are filled with jealousy.  That’s zēloō in the Greek.  That means anger. It could mean a lot of things: anger, malice, zeal, indignation, but certainly all of that is borne of jealousy, and that’s why the translators used that word.  They can’t stand the explosive popularity of Christianity.  They see it as defiant toward their authority.  They see it as defiant toward their theology, and they are infuriated. 

So they arrest the apostles and put them in the public jail, a horrible place, but the way, a horrible place.  For the moment, they think they’ve solved the problem.  But, verse 19, “During the night an angle of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’  Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.”

One of the characteristics of the Sadducees theology is they did not believe in angels.  Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  He sent an angel.  They didn’t, of course, believe in resurrection and these apostles and the rest of the believers were preaching a risen Christ.  They didn’t believe in angles, so God sends one of the very beings they deny, defiantly so, to take His apostles out of prison. 

By the way, angels are repeatedly used as messengers in the book of Acts, as we will see.  Now, we don’t know how the angel got them out, but he opened the gates of the prison and took them out.  There’s no further explanation of that.  We’ll see a little more about the miracle of that in just a moment.  They are delivered and what are they told to do?  Run for the hills and hide or you’re going to get thrown back in here.  I can’t keep doing this.  That’s not what the angel said.  The angel said, “Go stand and speak to the people in the temple,” the domain of the Sadducees.  “Go there,” the heart of error, the apostate temple, “Go there and proclaim to the people the whole message of this Life. 

God wants boldness in the face of persecution.  The command sounds really incredible.  To obey may be a little bit reckless.  It’s certainly audacious.  I love that kind of boldness and so does God, and that’s what He expects and that’s what He commands through His angel.  Obedience at any cost and preach the gospel at any cost.  They were expendable.  They didn’t ask, “Is it safe?”  Only, “Is it what you want us to do?”  And they are told, “Go speak,” and I love this, “the whole message of this Life, the whole message of this Life.” 

If Christianity is anything, it is life.  Life abundant and life eternal, life in His Son.  He who is the Life.  What a beautiful reference to the Christian gospel.  All the words, literally, of this life, this eternal life, this abundant life, this life in Christ.  Go and speak this to the people in the temple.  “Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.”  The angel did a miracle to let them out.  Their obedience put them in the temple.  They arrive in the morning, and they begin preaching the gospel again.  I just remind you that God doesn’t release them from a very difficult situation so they can have an easy time.  He has a lot bigger plans than that.  He puts them right back in the very place that is going to be the greatest threat to the people who put them in prison to start with.    

The middle of verse 21, “Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel.”  Those are two ways to describe one group, the Sanhedrin.  These are the elders of Israel.  They’re old.  They’re mature.  They’re influential.  They’re experienced.  They are the supreme court of Israel.  They come together, calling the Council.  They don’t know what’s happened yet.  They sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought.  They want to indict them.  They want to deal with them as a court. 

“So they sent word to bring them, but the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back.”  Shock.  The temple police, a Levitical function, go to the prison and they’re not there.  The apostles are not there.  Now, watch this, verse 23.  Here is their report: “We found the prison house locked quite securely.  We found the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.”  How did that happen?  I don’t know, but it must have been miraculous or you wouldn’t need an angel, a supernatural work of God.  A locked jail and all of the sudden, they’re on the outside.  No one has unlocked it, and the guard has been there all the time.  Mysterious, miraculous event, just another indication of the supernatural realities that are going on in the early church to demonstrate its divine character because only God can do these things.  Well, this sets off a panic. 

Verse 24, “Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.”  They go into a kind of panic.  What is going on?  Where are they?  Verse 25, “But someone came and reported to them, ‘The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’”  The final blow.  I suppose they would have thought that they’re out somehow and they’re hiding.  No.  They’re out, but they’re not hiding. 

I was thinking about this.  I remembered a few birthdays when Patricia put on the birthday cake candles I couldn’t blow out.  Have you seen those?  You blow them out and they keep coming back?  Well, that’s like the apostles.  You can’t extinguish the fire.  Satan, by the way, had overreached himself.  He extended himself beyond where he could control.  He imprisoned them, which only allowed God to do a mighty miracle, confirming the Messiaship of Jesus and confirming the legitimacy of the apostles, and confirming the faith of Christians.  Satan overreached. 

There they were back preaching with more confirmation than ever because now they were there by a miracle that no one could deny.  So the captain – this is the man who is responsible for prisoners along with the officers – went to bring them back to the prison without violence where they were afraid of the people that they might be stoned.  Yeah.  You say why would the people stone them?  Why?  They’re packing the city out with sick and demon-possessed people, and they know that these people can all be healed and delivered.  If these guys come through the massive crowd treating the apostles with violence, intending to throw them in prison; it’s liable to incite a riot from these people who are emotionally high, waiting for the healings and the miracles to take place.  Their lives could be in jeopardy.

So they have to do this without any violence because they’re afraid of the people, that the people might revolt and stone them to death.  They’re a fragile group of leaders anyway.  There’s a lot of resentment toward them.  They resented the Sanhedrin.  The people did in general, and they resented the Sadducees, and they resented the high priest.  They knew they were corrupt.  They showed that corruption in the temple operations day after day after day after day, year after year after year.  That’s why Jesus went there and assaulted the place at the beginning and end of His ministry, called it a “Den of thieves.”  The people knew that.  They knew they were being literally stolen from, robbed.  They didn’t have any respect for that operation.  Something could have triggered a mob violence action, and they might have lost their lives.

So the idea was to get them out of the temple, bring them back before the court without any violence.  Verse 27, “When they had brought them with the intention of taking them back surely to prison, they stood them before the Council.”  This is the supreme court of Israel.  Stood them there.  The high priest then questioned them saying – ” verse 28 “‘ – We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”  Isn’t that wonderful?  I wish somebody would show up here, somebody in power and say, “Okay, you people called Grace Community Church, you’ve got to stop this because you are filling Los Angeles with this teaching.”  What a commendation that would be. 

That’s what they said.  “We gave you strict orders not to do this, not to continue teaching in this name.”  That’s said with disdain.  They won’t even use the name of Jesus.  This is the high priest.  “And yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”  This is the first indictment: disobedience, disobedience.  We commanded you not to speak in this name, and you are not only speaking, you’ve filled Jerusalem with this teaching.  The second indictment, “You intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”  You are making us responsible for the death of this man.  This name and this man.  What disdain is in their unwillingness to say the word “Jesus.”  You filled Jerusalem.  You are disobedient and you have laid the burden of guilt on us. 

Oh, by the way, do you remember what they said in Matthew 27:25 when they were calling for the death of Jesus?  Do you remember what the leaders all said?  They said, “His blood be on us and our children!”  Chapter 2, when Peter preached in verse 23 he said, “Men of Israel, this man you nailed to a cross,” and verse 36, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  Chapter 3, verse 15, “You put to death the Prince of life.”  Chapter 4, verse 10, “Let it be known to all of you and all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene whom you crucified.” 

Yes, they had held them responsible.  When the apostles preached, they preached Christ, crucified Christ, risen, but they preached also that the Jews had been responsible for the death of the Messiah.  They filled Jerusalem with this message.  Persecution, persecution.  It’s an inevitable reality.  It is an inevitable reality.  Those who hate the gospel, hate Christ and hate those who preach Christ.  That’s why Paul says, “I bear in my body, the marks of Jesus Christ.”  When he was persecuted, it was Christ they were after.  It was Christ they hated, and he took the blows meant for Christ.

Persecution: expect it, expect it.  They only saw it as an opportunity to be more bold, more courageous, more straight forward, not to flee to the edges, not to go to the fringes, not to hide, but to rush back into the very heart of the city, right into the middle, into the temple and keep preaching.  And as Peter later wrote, they like Christ entrusted themselves to a faithful creator and counted it a privilege to suffer. 

There’s a fourth characteristic in the life of the early church that I want to point out to you in this narrative.  Not only purity and power, persecution, but this one follows on kind of naturally.  Persistence, just so you have another little word for your outline.  Did all this arrest and all this harassment and all of these threats scare them, quiet them?  No.  Proverbs 28:1 – I love this – says, “The righteous are as bold as a lion.  The righteous are as bold as a lion.”  Pressure only brings out the best in the righteous.

So starting in verse 29, we see the persistence of these faithful evangels.  Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”  That’s the simple reality.   “We must obey God rather than men.”  Well, you say, what about the fact that we are to be subject to the powers that be?  They are ordained of God, as Paul says.  What about what Peter says, that we are to submit to the king and those that are in authority over us in his epistle?  Well, that’s all true until they tell us not to do what God has commanded us to do or tell us to do what God has commanded us not to do. 

We obey God, not man.  We have been commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the earth.  We will not be silent.  We must obey God rather than men.  This is a sweeping statement that every believer should be able to make.  When you become a believer, you confess Jesus as what?  As Lord.  You heard that in baptism.  You have one master.  You are a slave under one master, one Lord, and you obey Him, not men.  What men say, what men desire, what men demand, what men want has no bearing on us.  You can’t be a slave to two owners.  We are slaves of our Lord and you see that bound up in their statement, “We must obey God.  We must obey God.”  That’s characteristic of a true believer.  That’s what Christians should be able to say.  We must obey God. 

If God says, “Preach the gospel,” we preach the gospel.  If God says, “Let the persecution come, and I will draw out of it my own fulfilled purposes and bring blessing to you and glory to myself,” then we preach the gospel no matter what the cost. 

Verse 30, Peter and the apostles go on to say, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus.”  Again, they don’t believe in resurrection, the Sadducees, but, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.”  They reiterate the indictment that offends these men.  The end of verse 28, “You intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”  Peter in effect says, “Absolutely, we do.  You put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.”  This is boldness.  “You killed God’s Messiah.  We obey God.  You disobey God.”  Do you remember what God said about Jesus Christ?  “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to Him.”  You disobeyed God.  You killed His Son.  That’s the difference between a believer and a non-believer.  We obey God.  We obey God’s command regarding His Son and in all that He has commanded us.  That’s why the Great Commission says, “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” 

We are marked as believers by being obedient.  “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.  He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  He rose again to provide salvation and forgiveness.”  What’s Peter doing?  Talk about persistence.  He’s preaching the gospel to the people commanding him to stop.  He’s not saying, “Well, as soon as I get out of your presence, I’m going to give this message somewhere else.”  He’s giving it right back in their faces.                        

Peter says, “We didn’t invent this.”  Verse 32, “We’re witnesses of these things.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”  We aren’t just inventing this.  We aren’t making this up.  We are eye witnesses of His death and of His resurrection.  He has personally called us to this commission.  Further, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for this work of preaching.  We need a pretty powerful dose of this kind of persistence in our lives, don’t we?  We get a little bit of resistance from family, a little bit of resistance from friends, a little bit of resistance maybe from strangers or whoever.  It’s easy for us to kind of become silenced.  Silence doesn’t work in this calling.  It doesn’t work.  We need to be willing to confront those who would silence us and to say we are witnesses of these things. 

Peter spoke from personal experience.  We speak from the record of personal experience in the New Testament.  Persistence marked the early church, just an amazing, bold persistence.  Now, all of that bring me to the final section in the chapter.  I want to kind of talk through this a little bit starting in verse 33 and maybe in the next 15 minutes we can actually cover all of this. It would be helpful.

There’s one more point that you have to consider.  Purity is essential.  Power is essential.  Persecution is to be expected.  Persistence is essential, but there’s another component in the impact of the early church.  I’m going to give you the word, and then I’m going to explain it.  Providence, providence, providence.  What do we mean by providence?  Yes, we can be pure in the church.  Yes, we possess the power of a divine record and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Yes, we can face squarely persecution and opposition and be persistent in that, but there is another component that is really beyond our control, and that is providence. 

What we mean by providence is God’s control of circumstances.  Ultimately, the impact of our evangelism is in the hands of God.  It is in the hands of God.  When the leaders in this Council – this is the supreme court of Israel meeting officially and the apostles are there.  Peter and the rest of them from verse 29 to 32 just unpacked the gospel, preached the gospel to the supreme court without flinching persistently.

Verse 33, “When they heard this,” when the justices of the Sanhedrin of Israel heard this, “they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.”  Cut to the quick?  What is that?  Some translations, “cut in the heart.”  The word means to saw in half.  It speaks of a violent kind of mental agitation and anguish.  You could say about somebody that their words were cutting, but you’d be pretty extreme if you said, “His words saw me in half.”  They are violently agitated to the very core of their being.  The word is sharp and powerful.  If I could change the analogy, like a two-edged sword, like a saw.  It cuts in half.  Their hearts are literally torn asunder because of the persistent preaching of these Christians. 

They had indicted these believers in this man, this name for heresy; heresy about the resurrection.  Yet they kept preaching the resurrection.  Right in the faces of the supreme court they preached the resurrection.  They had been forbidden to talk about this person, to preach His name, and yet they did it.  They had been jailed for doing it.  They came right out of jail, right back into the temple, kept doing it, defying the Sadducees authority, and then they were indicting the leaders of Israel for the execution of their Messiah, and they repeated that indictment in the faces of the judges.  They had been winning converts rapidly by the thousands, defying the Sadducees domination of the people and they will not stop.  They will not stop.  At this point, we would expect that men with that power and that position who literally have been sawn in half with fury would have executed all of them on the spot.  They had the power.  They had the force, and they would have met with no resistance, no physical resistance. Why didn’t they kill them all on the spot, and put an end to the whole thing? 

A very strange thing happens.  A Pharisee, verse 34, a Pharisee.  Hmm.  A Pharisee?  In the midst of Sadducean power, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.  Who is this guy?  What is going on here?  The Sadducees were the dominating faction in the Sanhedrin.  The high priests were Sadducees.  They were enemies, in a sense, of the Pharisees, but there were Pharisees in the Council.  The Pharisees had the people in their influence.  The Sadducees had the power.  They ran the temple operation, but the Pharisees had the people.  The Sadducees were the political collaborators with Rome.  The Pharisees were the teachers of the people.  They were poles apart religiously, politically.  The Sadducees had influence with Rome.  The Pharisees had influence with the populace.        

Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees, the Sadducees would not oppose them openly because they didn’t want the Pharisees to turn on them because if they did, the people would turn on them.  Very important to the Sadducees was the people’s good will to overcome the way they were bilking the people and robbing them.  The Pharisees wanted to maintain the people’s respect, and the Sadducees wanted the Pharisees to deliver the people to them, so they had to be very careful publicly how they dealt with Pharisees.

If a Sadducee had stood up, he might have said, “Call the temple police.  Kill them all immediately.”  But it was a Pharisee who stood up, and the Sadducees are caught in a bit of a dilemma.  They want them all executed immediately, but this is a man who represents the population.  Not only that, he’s a teacher of the law, respected by all the people.  Very eminent, exceptional man.  In fact, he is known so well that if you look at the Talmud, you will find in the Talmud, he is called “Rabban Gamaliel, the elder.”  That’s a title only given to one man, “Rabban.”  He was the first one ever called “Rabban.”  That means master teacher.  He’s the master teacher. 

He commands the Pharisees, and the Pharisees own the people.  He’s the greatest teacher of his day.  By the way, he was the grandson of Hillel, the founder of the School of Hillel, which was one of the two schools of Phariseeism.  One was Shammai, more conservative and Hillel, more liberal.  Great learning, noble character, studied afar, much in advance beyond other rabbis.  He was actually given a title.  He was called, “The Beauty of the Law.”  By the way, he died 18 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. 

It was said in the Mishna about him this:  “Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law and purity and abstinence.”  That all died when he died.  That’s how revered he was.  He had a very famous student.  Acts 22:3 names him.  Saul of Tarsus was mentored by this man.  This is a very powerful man.  When he stands up to talk, everybody listens.  So he says to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men.”  He knows exactly what they propose to do.  I don’t think you want to act.  Act cautiously, act wisely.  Don’t do anything rash.  Think before you act.  Use your head, not your emotions.  Calm your fears and your fury.  You don’t want to start something you can’t control.  You execute these men, and you may have a full blown revolution.  God is supreme, he thinks.  Let Him handle it.

This is what he says, “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody – ” somebody great “ – and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him.  But he was killed, and all who followed him were disbursed and came to nothing.”  Hmm.  We don’t know who this Theudas is, a somewhat common name.  There were a number of them.  A lot of disorders were going on led by would-be Messiahs.  In fact, in ancient Israel around the time of our Lord Jesus, Israel had a quick succession of a whole lot of rebel leaders who set themselves up as deliverers and Messiahs.  “After the death of Herod, 4 B.C.,” Josephus says, “there were 10,000 disorders in Judea.  It was full of robberies, and whenever the several companies of the rebels could light upon anyone to lead them, he was created king immediately.”

They were just making rebel leaders into Messiahs and running off with little revolutions.  He reminds them of one led by a man named Theudas, and it went nowhere.  Then he says, “After this man, – ” sometime after this man, “ – Judas of Galilee – ” We do know him.  This would have come in 6 A.D.  “Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census – ” when Cyrenius, remember, was governor “ – and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.”

These things have a way of kind of resolving.  This has been tried before, and it came to nothing.  So verse 38, “In the preset case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” 

That’s human wisdom, and it’s really stupid because not everything that succeeds is from God, right?  The principle needs some thought.  The first half is true.  Occasionally, things kind of resolve themselves.  So slow down, let things kind of take care of themselves.  The second half is not necessarily true, not everything that succeeds is from God.  What he should have said as the Beauty of the Law and the teacher of the Law, let’s open the Old Testament and see if this man Jesus and this message is true to the Scripture.  That would have been real wisdom. 

If we look at Scripture and we see that He matches Scripture, then we know that He is our Messiah.  You don’t want to say that anything that’s religious that succeeds is from God.  Is Islam from God?  Is Hinduism from God?  Is Confucianism from God?  Is Buddhism from God?  Is Mormonism from God?  Roman Catholic Church true representation of God?  The fact that something succeeds doesn’t mean it’s from God.  It’s kind of interesting to me to think that the wisest men in Israel couldn’t get this right.  Go to the Book and compare Jesus with the revelation that we spend every day studying.  If they’d have done that, they would have known that beginning at Moses and the prophets and in all the holy writings, the writers all spoke of Him.  They could have started in Isaiah 53 maybe. 

You can’t judge anything by success.  So it was a very noble man who has the power to stop things with a kind of sophomoric, simplistic idea.  He sort of popped up out of nowhere.  Right guy with the right influence and because He had the right influence, even his bad idea seemed like a good one.  If you’re in the right position, people buy anything you say.  So verse 40, “They took his advice; after calling the apostles in, they flogged them.”  They didn’t get rid of all their anger, so they couldn’t just not do anything, so they flogged them, “And ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.” 

Now, are you starting to get a sense of providence here?  Who is this guy?  He’s doing something purely on his own human terms.  He pops up in the middle of this meeting that could have ended in the death of all the apostles.  He belongs to the kingdom of darkness.  He makes a silly, unqualified, simplistic statement about reality that doesn’t bear out truthfully; and yet God uses this man acting on his own to keep the opportunity to preach the gospel alive.  So they flogged them, ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, released them, “And they went on their way from the presence of the Council rejoicing they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” 

This is providence.  Providence allowed them to continue to do this, and I submit to you that God has His purposes in every era, in every age, in every country, in every time and place.  We can have the purity and we can have the power and we do.  We can face the persecution and we can be persistent, but the end of it all is determined by divine providence.  We can’t create a revival.  We can’t create an explosion of the gospel in Los Angeles or in America. 

They weren’t as well-trained as we are.  They didn’t have any more power than we do.  It was the Holy Spirit.  We have the truth written down that they had received verbally.  They didn’t, in a sense, have any more than we do, but providence had ordered the explosion of the church in that time.  If you study church history, you know there are times like that.  Providence ordered the Reformation.  You can ask what happened from 500 to 1500 when you have 1,000 years of darkness, and then explosion of the light of the Reformation.

It’s the purpose of God in His providence.  God was not ready to shut down the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem.  The church was not complete in Jerusalem, and so you read this in chapter 6, verse 1, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing – ” meaning in number “ – while the disciples were increasing in number.”  Go down to verse 7, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

God providentially kept the gospel going.  They were released.  They kept preaching.  They kept preaching until God was satisfied that the church had been begun.  Then in chapter 7, they killed Stephen.  Then in chapter 8, wholesale persecution explodes.  On the day that Stephen was killed, Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.  On that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, except the apostles. 

The apostles, of course, began to be martyred.  The end of it all really is determined by divine providence.  What a wonderful reality that is, isn’t it, to know that?  We have access to the purity and the power.  We face the persecution.  We are persistent in the persecution, but divine providence determines our access, our opportunity and the extent of the reach.  That’s in God’s hands.  I’m happy to leave that to Him, aren’t you?  So we don’t panic about results, do we?  We are just to be faithful about the proclamation.  God that?  Okay, I’m done.  Let’s pray. 

Father, we are so grateful for your Word, how it lives and move and empowers our thinking and then our action.  Just privilege to be in this chapter and to live through these experiences of the blessed apostles.  So grateful that we can be considered as part of this long line of godly men and women right down to the present.  So eager to trust in your providence.  We’ve seen providence in the past in America.  Providence operates so that the gospel is free to be preached and proclaimed anywhere and everywhere in schools, universities, government halls to be proclaimed in businesses.  Then we’ve seen all of that seemingly going away, and you are working in a different way. 

Now there seems to be persecution beginning, and threats being breathed out against the gospel, the church, but this too is in your providence.  All you ask of us is not that we order the world in which we live.  You do that.  But that we faithfully proclaim the message with persistence, boldness, and courage.  Use us in that way we ask for your glory.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

VIDEO Five Essentials of Evangelism, Part 1

John MacArthur Nov 9, 2014

We come tonight to the fifth chapter of the book of Acts and verse 12, I’m delighted to be back in this incredible historical account of the early church.

We have gone through the book of Acts and seen the foundation of the church essentially laid.  We remember how the gospels end.  In particular, also the gospel of Luke, who is the writer of Acts with a commission to evangelize the world.  There will be the coming of the Holy Spirit our Lord tells His followers and when the Spirit comes, the Spirit will enable His people to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.  This proclamation will go on for all of human history until our Lord Jesus returns to establish His glorious kingdom. 

The church exists on earth for the purpose of its own development.  The church is the means by which the Lord builds the church.  He gathers His redeemed through the agency of His redeemed.  He uses believers to bring about the salvation of other believers.  This is what the apostle Paul reminds us of when he says, “How will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they’re sent?”  It is the church’s responsibility then to send out its people for the proclamation of the gospel for the gathering of the rest of God’s people.  This is the church’s mission on earth.  This isn’t part of what we do; this is the objective of everything we do. 

So as we come through the early chapters of the book of Acts, we have come through the part where the Holy Spirit comes.  The declaration is made by our Lord that when He comes, “You will be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.”  We’ve gone through the Day of Pentecost.  We’ve seen the coming of the Spirit.  The birth of the church has taken place.  The church has begun to grow through the means of the proclamation of the gospel.  Chapter 2, verse 41 says that the day the church was born 3,000 souls came to true faith in Christ.  So on its first day, 3,000 people were in not only the church universal, but the church local in the city of Jerusalem.

Chapter 2, verse 47 then tells us that the Lord added daily to the church, the number of people who were being saved.  So starting with 3,000 every day that passes by more people are being converted under the preaching of the gospel.  We come into chapter 4 and verse 4.  “There were many who heard the message of the apostles, concerning the gospel of Christ and they believes and the number of men came to be about 5,000.”  So the church is undergoing explosive growth, and that’s specifically counting men.  We know there would be no doubt an equal number of women.  Thousands of people are coming to Christ in the early weeks and months of the life of the church.  We come to chapter 5, and that’s where we are going to be looking. 

I draw you initially down to verse 14 where we read, “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.”  These would be in the thousands.  This church is exploding.  We come into chapter 6 and verse 7, “The Word of God kept on spreading.  The number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.  There’s no diminishing and now it has swept through a great many of the priests who are becoming obedient to the faith.” 

We come over to chapter 8, and it’s still happening.  “Here the crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.”  We come into chapter 9 and verse 31.  The church throughout all Judea has now stretched from Jerusalem into Judea into Galilee and into Samaria, as our Lord said it would.  It’s enjoying peace.  It’s being built up as the months have gone by and the folks are going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and it continue to increase.  We can assume that hundreds and thousands more are being add4ed to the church.

We come to even chapter 11, and maybe we’ll stop at that point, verse 21.  “The hand of the Lord is with the apostles as they extend into the land of the Gentiles.  A large number who believed turned to the Lord.”  Verse 24 ends with, “A considerable number were brought to the Lord.”  This is the story of the early church.  It is literally a cyclone of evangelism, a kind of tsunami of gospel proclamation, amazing evangelism, amazing results as thousands of people are being drawn into the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel by the purpose and will of God and through the proclamation of the truth.  God is building His church. 

Jesus, you remember said, “I will build My church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.”  That is exactly what is happening.  The church then, and I want to lay this down; not that you don’t understand it, but to make sure nobody is left out in this understanding.  The church is the gathering of believers in Jesus Christ.  That’s what the church is, the true and living church.  A local expression of that church is simply a physical collection of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who come together for the purpose of fellowship and prayer and the breaking of bread and the testimony of mutual love, mutual care, mutual ministry around the apostle’s doctrine.

This is a church.  A church then is a gathering of believers in a local place.  That’s what this is.  That’s what churches have always been.  They come under the leadership defined in Ephesians chapter 4.  Ephesians 4:11 says that when the Lord ascended, He gave some gifts to His church.  What were the gifts?  First, apostles and prophets historically, and they were followed by evangelists and teaching pastors.  They are given to the church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.  The church is the body of Christ, believers who are in Christ, drawing their life out of Him who is the head.  The church comes together as the body of Christ to serve.  It is equipped for that service by the evangelists and teaching pastors, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

What is the objective of the church as it gathers the church, as it lives out its life, the church as it meets?  It is to be conformed to Christ’s likeness.  The purpose of the church then is edification.  When it gathers, it gathers to be edified.  It gathers to be edified through the proclamation of truth, through worship and mutual ministry and prayer, and all of the elements of fellowship.  That is a church so that it matures.  It grows up in grace and in the knowledge of Christ through the proclamation of divine revelation so that, verse 14, it is made up, “No longer of children, who are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.  The goal of leadership in the church, the evangelist and teaching pastors to the church is to bring the church to maturity. 

“And we live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  We grow in grace when we grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture.  The church gathers then to be edified, to grow into Christ-likeness.  It should never be the case that people are in a “church” and are frustrated because no one really is providing for them the necessary food for their spiritual development.  That doesn’t seem to be the objective and the goal in many contemporary churches, which are more designed to entertain unbelievers as somehow a kind of human way to woo them to embrace the gospel.  That doesn’t happen by human means.  That’s a divine miracle, by the way. 

The church then is as its objective, moving by all its means to Christ-likeness.  That’s what the church is.  Everything that happens in the church is geared to drive the church toward being like Christ; manifesting Christ-like virtue, manifesting Christ-like commitment.  The commitment of Christ, of course, obviously beyond His holiness and His absolutely prefect virtue and righteousness was to seek and save the lost.  He said, “I am come to seek and save the lost.”  So Christ-likeness in its fullest expression is not only spiritual maturity and virtue and holiness, but it is as Christ did, having the passion to seek and save the lost.  That is the fulfillment of our commission. 

It’s not enough to have the virtue of Christ without the commitment of Christ.  That’s why He came into the world.  That is the purpose of the incarnation ultimately.  That comes out in verse 15 of Ephesians 4, “Maturing and becoming like Christ, we speak the truth in love as we grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”  You cannot be fully Christ-like as an individual or as a collection of believers in the church until it is part and parcel of your life to speak the truth in love.  Speak the truth in love.

Evangelism is at the heart of what we do.  It is the objective and the goal.  It is the reason we’re here in the world.  It is why the Lord left us here, but it also is the byproduct of our spiritual development.  Evangelism is our mission, but it doesn’t occur effectively.  It doesn’t occur dynamically.  It doesn’t occur spiritually and supernaturally by the working of the Holy Spirit unless you have Spirit-filled, maturing, Christ-like believers.  They are the ones the reproduce. 

As we come to chapter 5 and particularly in verse 12 where we’ll pick it up, we see a rather lengthy chapter running all the way to verse 42.  I suppose there could be some sermons that break this all up and we may find it rather difficult to get through it in one message, maybe even rather difficult to get through it in two.  But it really is one discourse and what you have here are what I see as five elements for the early church’s evangelistic impact.  Five elements that defined the early church’s evangelistic impact.  They were growing and they were going everywhere, proclaiming the truth.  You get a little glimpse of that if you go back into chapter 4, say, at verse 29 where you have the believers, the apostles gathered.  They’ve been threatened by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. 

Verse 29, “And now Lord, take note of their threats and grant that your bondservants, your slaves may speak your Word with all confidence.”  They understood that’s why they were in the world, that they existed to speak the Word with confidence.  “While you extent your hand to heal and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.  And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and – ” implied, “ – all began to speak the Word of God with boldness.”

They all spoke in languages on the Day of Pentecost when they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now we see a very dramatic transition.  No longer are they speaking in a foreign language.  They’re speaking in the language that everyone understands, and they’re speaking the Word of God with boldness, and that’s the language that they themselves know.  This boldness, this speaking the Word of God, this proclaiming gospel is produced by the filling of the Holy Spirit.  So right there in that section of chapter 4 you see that everyone was filled with the Spirit, and as a result of that, everyone was speaking the Word of God with boldness, with confidence, with as very 29 says, “All confidence.” 

If there was anything that defined that early church, it was evangelistic passion and evangelistic zeal.  They all were filled.  They all were speaking.  They were speaking the truth concerning Christ with loving hearts.  They were demonstrating their love, verse 32 to 37 how that chapter ends.  There wasn’t a needy person among them, verse 34.  They were all sharing whatever they had.  They were enabling each other to live and eat and have a place to stay and the necessities of life so that they could maintain the force of evangelists, that was proclaiming Christ all throughout the city of Jerusalem. 

This is the early church.  This is the purpose of every church in every age: to gather for fellowship, the apostles’ doctrine, prayer, the breaking of bread, mutual ministry, service, love, being fed the Word of God.  But to scatter with one passion, and that is to proclaim the gospel.  As we come to the end of chapter 4, it’s euphoric.  Everything seems to be wonderful, almost millennial. 

Then you come to chapter 5, and you remember how this chapter begins.  We run into the horrible, devastating sin of a couple who professed to be believers by the name of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira.  They introduced sin into the pure life of the church.  We looked at that some weeks ago.  Sin like a cancer ate into the fellowship and it threatened to sap their power and destroy their impact on the world; and so it was immediately judged by God in a severe way.  Both of them dropped dead, killed by God right in the service worship of the church on the Lord’s Day.  God Himself did the disciplining.  No sooner had that been done and the church was purified that the church began again its ministry of evangelism.  That picks up the text in verse 12 and carries us through this fifth chapter.

Now, as I said, there are a lot of things that unfold in this lengthy chapter.  I don’t want to get bogged down in details because it is a narrative.  So let me see how much we can cover, but let’s build our thinking around these five elements of a powerful evangelistic church.  Five elements necessary for effective evangelism.  We’ll sort of draw out of the opening of the chapter.

We’ll identify the first one as purity.  Purity is the first one.  The church that is going to have an impact must be pure, must be pure.  That is vital to a church’s integrity.  If you’re going to be announcing to the world that Jesus Christ has come to remove our sin, remove our guilt, to grant us righteousness, to make us a holy people, zealous for good works.  If that is our gospel, then it better be visible.  It better be visible.  That is why a corrupt pastor, corrupt leadership and corrupt people who call themselves Christians and identify themselves as a church is such a devastating thing on evangelism. 

The world wants any excuse that it can find to reject the gospel.  The most common excuse that you hear and I hear is, “Well, I know a whole lot of people who go to church, and they are nothing but a bunch of – fill in the blank – hypocrites.”  This devastates our claim.  We are claiming transforming power through Jesus Christ.  We are claiming that the Lord can take a sinner and turn him into a saint.  We are saying, this is what the gospel promises.

As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “It is not great minds, it is not great plans, it is not great ideas God uses.  It is great likeness to Jesus Christ.  A holy instrument is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.”  A holy life presents the evidence of the transformation the gospel announces, so the church has to be holy if it is to be effective in its evangelism.  We’ve talked about that much through the years.  The testimony of a church like ours in this community for all these many, many, many years, many, many decades – the greatest testimony of this church is that the gospel we have proclaimed has been upheld by the people in the community who are known as a part of this church.

We can talk about a transforming gospel because there are lives that have been transformed.  Discipline in the church is critical.  Obviously, if God was still doing it on His own the way He did it in chapter 5, the ranks would be thinned significantly; if God literally took the life of anybody who ever lied to the Holy Spirit.  The Lord has made a very clear statement by doing that, but has shown mercy subsequent to that. 

God no longer disciplines regularly in the church, although 1 John says, “There is a sin unto death.”  There is a time when God may take a life.  He did it in Corinth.  “Some of you are weak and sick and some of you are dead, you sleep, because of desecrating the Lord’s Table.”  So there are times when the Lord Himself disciplines in a church by taking a life.  We can assume that still goes on, but not all the time and certainly not in every case. 

He has turned the discipline over to the church.  He has turned the discipline over to the church.  It is our responsibility to follow the patterns of the New Testament commands to holiness.  Ephesians 5:11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”  1 Timothy 5:20, “Them that sin rebuke before all.”  Titus 1:13, “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”  Luke 17:3, “If a brother trespasses against you, rebuke him.”  Matthew 18, “If your brother sins, go to him, confront his sin.”  If he repents, you’ve gained your brother.  If he doesn’t, take two or three witnesses.  If he still doesn’t repent, tell the church.  If he still doesn’t repent, put him out of the church.  Treat him like a tax collector and an outcast. 

God did the original discipline, and then turned the discipline over to the church.  The early church didn’t sidestep this discipline, didn’t see it as some kind of negative, but as a positive to maintain its purity.  God had to be the first teacher.  God showed us the severity of sin and showed us the severity of His reaction to sin in the opening verses of chapter 5.  He turns over this purity responsibility to the church itself.  Peter puts it this way, 1 Peter 4:17, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.  Judgment must begin at the house of God.”  And if it begins at the house of God, what’s it going to be like for those on the outside, Peter says. 

We have the responsibility to do everything possible to sustain purity in the church, and we cannot fear that as if that somehow will cause the church to be rejected.  The world rejects the church anyway, rejects the gospel anyway until a divine miracle takes place in the heart.  That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  But the purity of the church is it’s testimony to the validity of the gospel.  We’re talking about a gospel that transforms people from sinners into saints.  Then they better be on display among the people who claim to have had that miracle occur.

So we have no fear about purifying the church, but rather we must be devoted and diligent in that effort.  1 Corinthians 5 even addresses it from the standpoint that it’s like the leaven that permeates everything, affects everything.  If you have someone who professes to be a believer, but is living in immorality, you put him out of the church.  1 Corinthians 5 says, “Turn him over to Satan that his soul may be saved even though he may be destroyed,” because a little leaven will leaven everything. 

So when we talk about evangelism in the church, we’re talking at the beginning about the church has to maintain its purity.  When you see scandalous behavior in the church, scandalous behavior, particularly among the leaders of the church, this just fuels rejection.  This fuels animosity.  This justifies the unbelievers’ unbelief.  Now, let’s see how it played out, that discipline that the Lord did in the opening 11 verses. 

Look at verse 12, only the second half of the verse.  Let’s start there.  The last statement, “They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch or Solomon’s portico.”  That’s the same place where Peter preached in chapter 3, Solomon’s porch.  On the east side of the temple court, there was this porch, this massive colonnade where thousands of people could gather together.  It was a familiar meeting place.  It was an elevated porch beside the great temple court.  People would gather in the temple for morning sacrifice, evening sacrifice and all day long for prayers.  There was no church building, so the believers met there. 

It was, I’m sure, a beloved spot because back in John 10 we find our Lord teaching there in Solomon’s porch.  It was named that because it still had the footings from Solomon’s original temple.  It was really all that was left.  So they were all there.  They were all with one accord in that place that had been sanctified by the teaching of our Lord and sanctified again by the wonderful preaching of Peter in Acts, chapter 3.  They were all together there in one accord, but notice verse 13.  “None of the rest, that’s non-believers, dared associate with them.  However, the people held them in high esteem.”  

I cannot tell you how important it is to understand those two statements. To be held in high esteem for your virtue, for your passion, for your zeal, for your confidence, for your boldness is necessary.  Also, to be feared is necessary.  The church has to be both a testimony to virtue and a testimony to judgment at the same time.  The populous saw the church as a group of people who had been transformed.  They held them in high esteem.  They were different.  Their lives had been transformed, but there was no movement on the part of the people to rush in and become a part of this.  Why?  Because the word spread very rapidly of what had just happened.  What had just happened was the execution of two people in the church. 

They knew that that is not a place to trifle with.  It is a place of transformation, but it is also a place of judgment.  People must understand that even today.  God may take lives in the church, and we wouldn’t necessarily know that.  People die of natural causes, but God may do that in discipline.  We wouldn’t know that, but we do know God has turned over to us the responsibility of discipline.  Anybody coming and saying, “I want to be a part of this because I want to be a part of the transforming power of Christ in this place,” you must know that sin will be dealt with here. 

The pure church deals with sin, keeps itself pure so that the church becomes, on the one hand, wonderfully welcoming and at the same time, frightening.  Most churches make church membership a non-issue.  Many, many churches don’t even have membership.  They don’t even call for any more involvement than showing up occasionally.  They want to make sure no one feels personally identified.  They make becoming a part of the church easy, cheap, without demand.  Not much talk about sin.  Certainly, no threat of discipline.  This is not right.  This is wrong.  This is not the place where you make unbelievers feel comfortable. 

You cannot accomplish the purposes of God in evangelism by downplaying sin and the purity of the church.  The purity of the church is critical to its evangelistic testimony.  Churches that are full of sinning people, believers and unbelievers, the church that is never dealing with sin will literally be flooded with hypocrites, flooded with people who have religious impulses, flooded with people who want to make social contact or business contact or be a part of activities or looking for life partners.  When the church becomes that, it has totally lost its way, and now it cannot lay the platform for effective evangelism. 

What makes our testimony believable is our life, our transformed life.  So we are caught in that necessity of being held in high esteem, and that has to be true.  The community, the world around us must hold us in high esteem for the demonstrable virtue.  But at the same time, be in no hurry to associate, no hurry to become a part.  That’s exactly the way it played out in the early church. 

The verse that follows in verse 14 gives us so much hope.  Because of the church’s devotion to purity and, listen, because people were not joining the church on their own, because in fact, they refused to do that humanly, all the more – what’s the next word? – believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.”  That’s how a church grows.  It grows when true believers are added, true believers in the Lord are added.  Who does that?  That’s the work of the Lord Himself.  He is building His church.  He is adding to His church. 

Jesus said it at the very outset.  “If any man will come after me,” Luke 9, “let him deny himself, take up his cross, follow Me.”  That’s what it means to be a Christian: self-denial, cross-bearing, and life of obedience.  You say goodbye to your sin.  You heard the testimonies of the young people.  They had to come to a point in their life where they wanted Christ more than their sin, where they wanted Christ to deliver them not only from the guilt, but the power and the presence of their sin.  They wanted to be transformed.  That’s why you join a church, because you’ve come to Christ and want to be delivered from sin. 

If the church strives to be the assembly of people who desire the forgiveness that is offered in the gospel and want to be made holy in Christ, not just declared holy, but made holy; they become a holy people, pursuing holiness.  The world will not be in a hurry to rush in and be exposed for what it is.  That’s how it should be.  The church needs to be separated from the system.  The line needs to be so clear, so obvious that there is no confusion. 

When the church is pure, people join who seek that purity.  When the church deals with sin, people join who want their sin dealt with.  I’m not saying we don’t love the people who come.  God loved the world and gave His only Son.  Christ died for sinners.  I’m thankful when sinners come, but they need to know that this is the church, and this is how the church lives.  I’m glad when people respect our church.  I think about that.  At the Christmas concert, people come.  They respect the music.  They respect the people they know, the friends that bring them, their character, their lives, their families.  But they come, and then they don’t come again.  I understand that, because this is a place for those who are believers in the Lord, and that’s as it should be.

People say, “Well, we’re not going to grow if we tighten everything down.”  I’m not talking about legalism either.  “We’re not going to grow if we tighten everything down and become obsessed with sin.  We’re just not going to grow.”  Yes we are because the Lord will grow His church, and He will add to the church those that are being saved, those that are being delivered.  So it all starts with this commitment to purity in the life of the church.  Personal testimony, personal testimony is validated by corporate purity, corporate righteousness, corporate saintliness. 

It’s awfully hard for people who were true believers in the church where there’s a lot of hypocrites to give a convincing testimony about the work of Christ and even harder if the people in the leadership are publicly shamed in some way.  All right, that’s point number one.

Point number two, point number two.  Number two is power, and this is unique to the apostolic era.  Go back to verse 12.  “At the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.”  Signs and wonders were taking place publicly, publicly.  Verse 15, “To such an extent were these signs and wonders – ” by the way, 12b through 14 is a parenthesis.  So 12a, then parenthesis, ends at the end of verse 14; 15 picks up from 12a.  “To such an extent these signs and wonders that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.  Also, the peoples from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.”

This is an explosion of apostolic signs and wonders, not only in the neighborhood, but in the city of Jerusalem.  Not only in the city of Jerusalem, but beyond that from other cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem.  People were being brought, and everyone is being healed, and everyone is being delivered from unclean spirits.  Now remember, all of this is happening after the apostles had been forbidden to do anything.  They had been forbidden to do any of this.  They had been told to stop all of this.  They had literally been confronted by the authorities who were so disturbed.  It was demanded of them that they stop all preaching and all of this that was essentially turning the world upside down in their words.  But they didn’t, of course.  It just inspired them to be more bold and the power burst was really astonishing.

Please note would you, verse 12, “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.  At the hands of the signs of the apostles.”  Listen, this is not a miracle-working church.  This is a church with miracle-working apostles.  There’s a big difference.  You have to make that distinction.  Scripture makes that distinction. 

Our Lord Himself, you will remember back early in His ministry when He called together His apostles, gave them authority over disease and authority over demons.  He gave them the power to do miracles.  That is why the apostle Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle, the signs of an apostle.  There were specific signs that identified an apostle, and not just anybody could manifest those kinds of signs.  Signs, wonders, mighty deeds, He told the Corinthians, were the signs of an apostle. 

There were only 12 apostles.  One was defective, that is Judas.  He’s eliminated.  Matthias takes his place.  We saw that at the beginning of Acts.  Paul is later on added as an apostle out of due season.  The miracle ministry of signs and wonders was apostolic, and it was epic.  The sick – go to verses 15 and 16 – were being healed.  People were coming from absolutely everywhere.  The streets must have presented a strange picture in those days.

Now remember, the church has exploded.  There are thousands of believers, and they don’t have anywhere to go.  So when they want to have an assembly, they make one wherever they are in whatever segments they happened to be gathered.  Maybe they came together all of them on the Lord’s Day likely in the temple courtyard and took over the temple.  But the streets are alive with these believers, and the apostles are moving among them, all of the apostles.  Now the list is complete at 12 because Matthias has taken Judas’ place.  We can assume he also had the power that the other 11 had.

They are so convinced of their power, their power is so visible that they believe, the people believe that even the shadow of the apostles would heal them.  When Peter comes by, they try to get ill people into his shadow.  Now, the Word doesn’t say that his shadow healed anybody, okay?  It doesn’t say that.  It says the people believed his shadow could heal.  If you go back in history, it’s kind of interesting.  You find some ancient documents about the belief that the shadow of a powerful person could influence another person.

Parents, for example, would run to draw their children away from the shadow of someone they feared, away from the shadow of someone they disliked.  Children would be pushed into the shadow of an influential, noble person.  So maybe this is just part of those kinds of superstition, but it does let us know that they knew the immense power of Peter and the other apostles. 

This is only for the beginning of the church age.  Miracles were only a part of the beginning.  Why?  To validate them as the preachers of the truth since they were speaking the Word of God.  They claimed to be speaking the Word of God.  How do you know they are?  There’s no New Testament, so how do we know they’re speaking the Word of God?  We know because they have divine power.  Those are the emblems, the badges of truth. 

The apostles don’t last, and they fade.  In the book of Acts, they fade.  When they fade, the miracles disappear as well.  As you get to the end of the book of Acts, there are no more miracles.  The miracles are fading even with the apostle Paul still around.  He’s leaving people sick here and there.  They had a testimony at the beginning.  Then as the Lord, the Holy Spirit began to reveal truth, and it began to be written down and circulated among the churches, they were validated by the Scriptures; not by miracles.    

We have to say this: the church had people listening to its message because of the evidence of its power.  Now listen, you say, “How does that apply to us?”  It applies to us, dear friends because, listen, we have the record of all that power in Holy Scripture.  We don’t have apostles running around doing miracles.  We have a lot of false apostles running around doing false miracles, but we also have the complete divinely-inspired heaven-sent record of all the apostolic miracles on the pages of the New Testament. 

So we own the record of the power of God displayed in the church.  That’s a powerful reality.  We also possess the power of the Holy Spirit who is doing the marvelous work of conversion.  But just the fact that these miracles occurred then, doesn’t mean that we can’t draw from them.  We can.  You say, “Well, what if people don’t believe the Scripture?”  Oh, I don’t expect them to.  Do you?  I don’t expect anybody to believe the Scripture.  Why?  Because, “The natural man understandeth not the things of God.  They are foolishness to him.  They are spiritually discerned.  He’s spiritually dead.”  I don’t expect them to believe the Scripture, but they can’t be saved unless they do.  But they won’t unless God does a divine miracle and opens their eyes the Scripture comes alive.  All the power displayed in the early church becomes as alive today to that person who sees the truth as it was to those people in that city.  In fact, even more so.  There were a lot of people who saw the miracles and never really believed.  I see all those miracles.  I’ve read all about them.  I’ve written all about them.  I’ve studied them.  They’re part of the fabric of my faith as much as if I was there.  Aren’t they yours? 

Well, so those are the first two things.  To make evangelism effective, a pure church and a powerful record, a powerful record.  If you want a comparison, go back and look at the history of Islam and compare the record of Muhammad, a mass killer, sexually-deviated with the record of the New Testament, with Christ and the apostles.  So, power belongs to the church and the record is established in Holy Scripture, and I promise you Scripture cannot be broken.  Scripture will defend itself. 

I’m sure you’ve noticed this over the years.  I don’t spend a lot of time defending the Bible, trying to make you believe it.  You don’t even question it.  You don’t question it.  You come here.  I stand up here and thank you for coming all the time.  It’s pretty amazing to hear somebody talk.  You come all the time and you sit there and you not only hear what I’m saying, but you feel the truth of it, don’t you?  You feel the weight of Scripture.  The more I go into it and the more I try to unpack it and make it clear to you, the more that it rings true and consistent.

So you embrace all those miracles and all those displays of power, and that’s part of the body of reality that you believe in.  We believe in miracles, apostolic miracles in the establishment of the messiahship of Jesus Christ and His deity and the authority and inspiration of the apostles.  Another way to say this is evangelism is built on a pure church and a pure divine revelation; a commitment to holiness and a commitment to divine authority and Scripture.  If you’re loose on any of those two things, you’re short circuiting evangelism.  We haven’t even gotten to talking about the message yet, but we may.  We may. 

There’s a third point, but my time is gone, and I didn’t get as far as I wanted.  But the third point, and this is a necessary reality for the church: persecution.  Purity, power, and persecution.  Persecution is inevitable.  Persecution is predictable.  You come to verse 17 and immediately, “The high priest rose up.”  This is so predictable.  “Along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees who ran the temple operation and the Sanhedrin), and they were filled with jealousy.  They laid hands on the apostles, put them in a public jail.” 

Listen, you cannot be effective in evangelism unless you anticipate the persecution.  You may not get thrown in jail.  I have only been thrown in jail once, and that was when I was in the South in kind of a heat of the night sheriff and I was preaching in black high schools around the South.  Some sheriff took me down to jail and took all of my money because he thought I was stirring up civil rights during the Civil Rights Movement, which I wasn’t.  I was preaching the gospel with my friend John Perkins. 

That’s the only time I’ve ever been hauled in, followed a police car to a jail for preaching.  I’ve escaped that, but I haven’t escaped animosity, and I kind of expect it.  I think, too, there have been times and seasons in the life of the church when persecution ebbs and flows. We’ve had the best of it in the western world because we’ve been under the Christian influence for so long.  Of course, that’s all gone now.  So we should expect the persecution to get elevated pretty fast.  It can come many, many ways. 

The world cannot stand a pure church.  It cannot stand a powerful church drawing its power out of biblical authority.  It becomes a horrible irritant to the system.  More and more at this time.  So persecution is predictable, and maybe more predicable right now in our lifetime than ever before.  This doesn’t threaten our evangelism.  This will threaten cowardly people, but it will not threaten the people of God, the true church, and those who are bold in Christ, right?  So it’s no shock.  We’ve escaped it for a while because of strong sort of residual Christian influence in the morality of our country.  That is all gone in the apostatizing of America, so we expect that.  Well, they got it right away in the early church.  We would have more of it if we were bolder, if Christians were bolder.  But we’ll have to save that discussion of persecution for next time.  That’s just a preview.  I have a lot more to say.  I actually had, let’s see, 22 pages of notes, and I covered 6.  That’s pretty good. 

Pray with me.  Well, we rejoice, Lord, that we can be like those early believers, counted faithful enough to suffer for the gospel.  Give us boldness.  May we be faithful to draw the power out of the Scriptures, to give testimony to the Word of God, to the record of Christ and the apostles and the establishment of the church, and the miracles that indicate the truth of His incarnation.  And the foundation of the authority of the apostles in giving us the Scripture.  Give us the courage of our convictions, boldness to face whatever resistance or persecution may come.  It will come.  It must come because the kingdom of darkness will react to the light. 

Give us boldness and courage to proclaim the light.  May we know that purity and that power that produces the animosity of the kingdom of darkness, but also gives us opportunity to set people free and bring them captive to Christ.  Thank you for your Word and for our fellowship together.  In the Savior’s name, amen.

5 Things God Never Said

By Dr. Larry Moyer on Feb 9, 2018

Misconceptions of God can be costly, because they can be very defeating. For example, it’s agonizing to me how many people think “Cleanliness is next to godliness” comes from the pages of Scripture. If this is indeed a word from God, then homemakers have every right to feel guilty that their house is not always tidy. In fact, depending on how far you carry it, people soon become more concerned about their furniture than they do their family. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”? I’ve seen this used as a basis for many people thinking they can work their way to heaven. They therefore miss the Biblical teaching that eternal life is free (Romans 6:23).

Here are five other misconceptions of God’s Word you’d be wise to spend a Sunday addressing. In fact, I think you’d be wiser to give one Sunday to each of these. I assure you, they are so rampant that you could easily spend a 30-minute message discussing each one. Most unfortunately of all, every single one of them in some way adversely affects our outreach to non-Christians.

1. If you don’t know the date you were saved, then you are not saved.

Unfortunately, evangelists have been the worst at propagating this first misconception. The fact is, there is a split-second when a person goes from darkness into light. After recognizing you’re a sinner and that Christ died for you and rose again, you place your trust in Him alone as your only way to heaven.

However, just because you don’t know when that particular split-second was doesn’t mean you aren’t saved. When Scripture gives assurance of salvation, it doesn’t go back to a date or a moment; it goes back to a fact. Who are you trusting right now? If you’re trusting Christ alone as your only way to heaven, you are saved, regardless of when you crossed the line. After all, John 3:16 does not say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and whoever believes in Him and knows the date should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This idea is critical, because if a person buys into this misconception, it’s a tremendous hindrance to their outreach for Christ. How can I talk to someone else about their salvation if I’m not entirely certain of my own?

True, some people come to Christ from a very sudden and dramatic experience, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39; he could have easily given you the date. And there’s no doubt the same thing was true of Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:1-22, 26-28; I’m sure he not only could have given the date, but he could have testified of the specific hour he trusted the Savior. But there are those whose conversion is not as dramatic. They may have been raised in a Christian environment, where Christ was spoken about frequently. Certainly at some point of time they came to clearly understand their sinful condition and trust Christ, but they may not know exactly when the moment occurred.

Minister deeply to your people and free them by telling them that as long as they’re trusting Christ alone, they are saved, regardless of when they crossed the line.

2. If you want to be saved, just invite Jesus into your heart.

Well-meaning people often use the phrase “invite Jesus into your heart.” They often base this on Revelation 3:20 where we’re told, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” With the phrase “stand at the door and knock” in mind, many picture the heart as a door where Jesus stands begging us to let Him in. Therefore, the lost are exhorted to “invite Jesus into their heart.”

However, that verse is addressed to Christians, not non-Christians. Verse 19 reads, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Chasten means “to discipline” and is used of believers, not unbelievers (Hebrews 12:5-6). The passage addresses the church of Laodicea, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3. Their wealth at the time had lulled the church into spiritual sleep; Jesus Christ described this distasteful condition as “lukewarm” and invites them to repent of their condition and make Him the center of their love and worship.

Additionally, in Revelation 3:20, the Greek translation of in to means “toward.” In a figurative language, Jesus is saying to Christians He will enter the Church and come “toward” the believer for fellowship. The word dine referred to the main meal of the day to which you invite an honored guest. It was a meal given to hospitality and conversation. Again, the issue is fellowship, not salvation.

Why is this phrase so dangerous to use in evangelism? There are those who “invited Jesus into their heart” and sincerely meant they were trusting Him as their personal Savior, and they are forever His. However, there are some people who think that by simply saying a prayer in which they “invite Jesus into their heart,” they’re saved. In this case, their trust is in a prayer, not in a Savior who died on a cross.

Ninety-eight times in the Gospel of John, the one book whose purpose was to tell us how to receive eternal life (John 20:31), we’re told to believe. It means “to trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven.” There’s nothing wrong with someone praying to tell God they’re trusting Christ alone, but he/she must be aware that saying a prayer doesn’t save; it’s trusting Christ that saves.

Teach your people to use the right terminology. They should ask lost people to do what the New Testament asks them to do—believe—and this means to trust in Christ alone to save them.

3. When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell.

Many believers don’t enjoy evangelism. When they do practice it, they often do it out of guilt, not grace. One reason people feel guilty is because they’ve been told that if they’re given an opportunity to share Christ but they don’t take it, they are forever responsible if that person goes to hell.
This false teaching is often based on the misuse of Ezekiel 3:18-19. There we read, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”

This passage has nothing to say about evangelism. God appointed Ezekiel a watchman (Ezekiel 3:17). His job was to warn of impending danger. The nation was doomed, and only through heeding their watchman could they survive. Chapters 4-24 of Ezekiel contain his cry of alarm, which gave those outside the walls opportunity to seek protection. It also gave the people time to secure the gates and man the defenses. The death spoken of in Ezekiel 3:18-19 is physical, not spiritual. The context is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel predicted.

A person refusing to heed God’s warning from Ezekiel could expect physical death. Ezekiel was to warn the righteous, not just the wicked. If Ezekiel refused to speak God’s message to people who came to his house, he’d be guilty of murder. This is the meaning of “…but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” By giving a warning, Ezekiel delivered himself from the responsibility of the coming judgment. Those who ignored his warning could only blame themselves. One can see the danger when this idea is applied to evangelism; all of a sudden, we become responsible for someone’s eternal destiny.

But bringing people to Christ is a God-sized job. It’s our job to bring Christ to the lost; only God can bring the lost to Christ. John 6:44 reminds us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Evangelism now becomes exciting. I do it recognizing that God is not holding me responsible for the results.

4. If you come to Me, I want either all of your life or none of it.

This one is said in different ways, but the meaning is the same. There are those who exhort, “You can’t meet God halfway. If you want to come to Christ, you must completely surrender to Him. God will only do business with you if you mean business with Him. He’s going to get all of your life, or He doesn’t want any of it.” What’s the problem here?

Look at the language in John 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:25, 6:47, 11:25-26, and 20:31. All of them make it clear that salvation is based on one thing: believing and trusting in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we trust Him this way, we are as certain of heaven as though we’re already there.

This misconception is, again, often based on a wrong handling of Scripture. To support it, verses are cited that speak of discipleship, not salvation. Every Christian should be a disciple, but unfortunately, not every Christian is. In fact, Christ warned people about the cost of discipleship before encouraging them to sign up (Luke 14: 26-27). Salvation is free, but discipleship involves a cost.

Here’s where the misconception becomes so defeating: Who of us at any given moment would say every single aspect of our life belongs to Christ? All of us have those aspects we hold back, and even if we do give them to Him, there are moments we take them back. If indeed He has to have control of my entire life, how can I speak to someone else about their salvation? This misconception presents new Christians with conditions that, as unsaved people, they’re not even remotely prepared to meet.

Encourage your congregation, when they speak to the lost about Christ, to explain that salvation is instantaneous, but discipleship is a process. Once they decide to trust and believe in Christ for salvation, wholehearted surrender and Christ-likeness become a goal to achieve with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of believers.

5. If you’re not willing to confess Christ publicly, you cannot be saved.

This misconception comes in different colors, and there are those who carry it to different extremes. Some are simply talking about admitting personally and publicly that you’re a Christian. Some go so far as to say one must walk forward in a church through what is commonly called the “altar call.” Either way, the understanding is given that if you don’t, you can’t be saved.

When addressing this misconception in a message, approach it positively, not negatively. Stress the importance of unashamedly telling people that you are a Christian. After all, if He was not ashamed of you, why be ashamed of Him? Such a confession plays a part in receiving eternal reward. A good passage to support this is Matthew 10:32-33, where Christ declares, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” The context clearly explains that the issue is not eternal life; the issue is discipleship.

Then show your people that confession is not an issue of salvation by pointing out three things. The first is John 12:37-43. The miracles of Christ were designed to wave a flag before the Jewish people proclaiming Christ as God. Many refused to believe. John tells us, “…but although He had done so many signs before them they did not believe in Him.” Some, though, did believe. John 12: 42-43 says, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” In the book of John, the words believe in are used consistently for saving faith. Jewish rulers had trusted in Christ the Messiah, who could save them from their sins. But confessing Him in public would have resulted in their excommunication.

You can also show them the many verses that condition salvation upon faith alone, apart from any public confession. For example, John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Romans 4:5 says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
You might also point your audience to the thief on the cross. The thieves on the cross were divided in their view of Christ. One extended the condition, “…if you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The other placed his faith in Christ, asking, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vs. 42). Christ’s response was the best news a dying man can hear. “Surely I say unto you, today you’ll be with me in paradise” (vs. 43). There was no way this dying thief could have told others of his salvation. He was saved by recognizing Christ as who He said He was—the only One who could save him from his sin.

Romans 10:9-10 is many times used to support the misconception that if you don’t confess Christ publicly, you can’t be saved. We read “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Above all else, it’s worth noting that the word righteousness in Romans 10:10 is a noun form of the verb translated “justify.” Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justified here means “to be declared righteous.” Therefore, the meaning of the first part of Romans 10:10 is, “…with the heart man believes and is justified before God.” But confession in Romans 10:9-10 is a part of what’s necessary to live a victorious Christian life. The context is arguing that one has to be willing to confess Him publicly in order to triumph over sin. For further explanation of this passage, I would direct you to my book, Free and Clear, which has a chapter entitled, “If I Don’t Confess Him, Do I Possess Him?”

Regardless, the passage itself clearly says that believing is what justifies a person before God. A public confession of Christ is very important, but the importance is not related to our eternal salvation. Upon trusting Christ, we receive His gift of eternal life. By confessing Christ consistently and unashamedly, we experience victory over sin and gain eternal reward when we see the Savior face-to-face.


Misconceptions can be damaging and defeating. The above five can be a particular hindrance in our outreach to non-Christians. The result is a confusion of the message, the questioning of our own salvation, and even a lack of boldness in speaking to others about the Lord. Consider giving a series of messages addressing the above five things God never said. You may free people up to evangelize—and encourage them to do it out of grace, not guilt.

Scriptures: Acts 8:26-39, Acts 9:1-22, Ezekiel 3:17, Ezekiel 3:18-19, Hebrews 12:5-6, John 1:12, John 12, John 12:37-43, John 20:31, John 3:15, John 3:16, John 6:44, Luke 14, Luke 23:39, Matthew 10:32-33, Revelation 2, Revelation 3:20, Romans 10:10, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 4:5, Romans 5:1, Romans 6:23

Before we say, “Here I am. Send me.” – A reflection on Isaiah 1-6.

Sim Chen Xing  November 21, 2019

Preparation is important. Answering God’s call when we are uncertain of our faith and when we have no knowledge of the world we live in might bring unnecessary harm to the work of the gospel.

Just to be clear, when God called Isaiah to “go for Him” (ref: Isaiah 6:8), the message God had for Isaiah was to tell the people that they will not be healed (ref: Isaiah 6:9-10). It was a message of judgement not blessing. It was a message of terror, not well-being. It was a message of destruction, not prosperity. It was not the gospel.

Sure, you might argue that the sign of the coming Messiah was mentioned in Isaiah chapter 7, but that’s not the point, is it? We have got to understand the context behind why the message was given to Isaiah at that particular instance. To understand this, we must relook the first five chapters of Isaiah.

Background of Isaiah’s Visions

Isaiah started off his book by stating that Israel does not know God (ref: Isaiah 1:3). Israel has persisted in rebellion and had been severely injured as a result. Yet, God in His unwavering love cared for her and pleaded with her to repent (ref: Isaiah 1:5-6Isaiah 1:18-20Matthew 23:37). Though outwardly the people are worshipping God, they were legalistic in their approach, ritualizing their worship so that they appear outwardly righteous but are inwardly full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Ref: Isaiah 1:11-17Matthew 23:27-28). So God reasoned for them with a way out. He will provide them with a way out and will thoroughly purge away their sins and have all their impurities removed. Though their sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. He will restore them as in their days of old; glorifying them to be called “the City of Righteousness” and “the Faithful City” (ref: Isaiah 1:18-1925-27).

At this, God continued to show Isaiah the future event that is to come: the gathering of the nations at the mountain of the Lord where people will learn the ways of the Lord so that they will walk in His paths (ref: Isaiah 2:3). There will be a Unified Kingdom in the last days whose goal is to provide the welfare for the entire world and to submit to the authority of God (ref: Isaiah 2:4). At this, Isaiah invites the house of Jacob, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (ref: Isaiah 2:5).

But not everything was peaches and cream. Judgement must be done to humble the proud. All that humanity built will be destroyed and all idols will disappear (ref: Isaiah 2:82:12-18) when the dread of the Lord and the splendour of His Majesty shakes the earth (ref: Isaiah 2:102:21). He will do these through the creation of loopholes in governmental systems, allowing immature boys to rule over them; children to govern them (ref: Isaiah 3:4). Immaturity and bad management will cause oppression amongst the people and consequently, the failure to respect elders (ref: Isaiah 3:5). Policymakers will go from house to house to pick people who will lead them, not knowing that the nation has already been thrown into chaos and no one is capable of leadership (ref: Isaiah 3:6-7).

However, the people were not repentant. They continue their pride parades and their marches for “freedom” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). They do not know the Lord. So the Lord let them enjoy the fruit of their labour — youths oppress the people and women rule over them (ref: Isaiah 3:12).

Now God takes His seat and judges the people saying that “it is you who have ruined my vineyard”. The people have plundered the poor, crushing the people, and grinding the faces of the poor (ref: Isaiah 3:14-15). The women were prideful in their actions, using their newfound stature and wealth to flirt with men around them (ref: Isaiah 3:16-17), so the Lord will take all of these away (ref: Isaiah 3:18-24), wipe out the men in battle (ref: Isaiah 3:25), and reinstate within them the desire to be loved (ref: Genesis 3:16). On that day, these women will look for love and it will not be found, they’ll desire a home but it will not be given (ref: Isaiah 4:1).

The days of darkness will not be long, though. The branch of the Lord will grow and be beautiful and glorious. The fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors. All who remain faithful will be called Holy. God will wash away all our sins and cleanse our wounds by the Spirit of Judgement and the Spirit of Fire. He will personally lead His people by a cloud of smoke and a flaming fire. It will be a shelter for the people from the heat of the day and a refuge and hiding place from storm and rain (ref: Isaiah 4:2-6).

The vision could have stopped here. But God continued to express His love and exasperation for His Creation. He’s planted a vineyard – a vineyard whom He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:1-2Matthew 21:33). But the tenants caused it to yield only bad fruits (ref: Isaiah 5:2-4). So, in His anger, God vowed to destroy the vineyard of the One He loves (ref: Isaiah 5:5-7). He will bring about judgement to those who cared only for themselves rather than the work of God’s hands (ref: Isaiah 5:8-12), humbling them and exalting Himself through His justice when He shows Himself by His righteousness (Isaiah 5:15-16). Judgement in the form of man-made and natural disasters will happen on the surface of the earth till the entire planet is covered with smoke and the light of the sun cannot pass through (ref: Isaiah 5:30).

It was on this note that God revealed His heavenly position to Isaiah. It was only after all of these visions that Isaiah saw God seated, high and exalted, on His throne (ref: Isaiah 6:1). It was on this note when Isaiah penned down the famous vision we can all memorise. It was on this note when God called out, “who can I send?” It was on this note when Isaiah replied, “here I am. Send me.”

How are Isaiah’s Visions applicable to us in modernity?

Understanding Isaiah’s vision will give us a clearer understanding of the world we live in today. We know this because contextual prophecies in the Bible will never be a one-time off thing. When God shows us a certain societal trend in the form of a vision or a prophecy, it’ll have an immediate fulfilment as well as a future (or repeated) occurrence. After all, nothing is new under the sun (ref: Ecclesiastes 1:9). That said, I’m proposing that all of the prophecies concerning societal trends that were the result of sins are applicable to modern times.

For example, when God makes boys the people’s officials and mere children their governments (ref: Isaiah 3:4), we might relate it to how meritocracy allows people who excel in their studies to take up high ranking positions in the civil services. The young will rise up against the old (ref: Isaiah 3:5), resulting in a form of oppression that was never expected in the two or three generations that preceded them. When considering how people rise up against one another to oppress each other, have we considered how chaotic the world is? Like Hong Kong in its current state? Consider also how “women rule over people” (ref: Isaiah 3:12). Doesn’t this sound like feminism? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposing equality. I’m just opposing the ruling over part. It’s feminism on drugs that led to women being “haughty” (ref: Isaiah 3:16). How about LGBT pride parades? How about arts and entertainment productions that glorify detestable behaviours in the sight of God? “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it” (ref: Isaiah 3:9). How about capitalism at the expense of oppressing the poor? “Woe to them who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left. They live alone in the land” (ref: Isaiah 5:8). They will be brought low and humbled (ref: Isaiah 5:15).

What does that mean to us?

Knowing these gives us the awareness of God’s calling. It gives us the awareness of the gravity of God’s calling. It reminds us that we are “a person of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips” (ref: Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah was reminded that he was in a way or another, related to all the people that he saw in the visions earlier. And this realisation caused him to repent for the fear of the Lord. He realised that he’s not worthy to be where he was and he could have died standing before the face of the Lord.

Isaiah had the contextual knowledge for the call that was placed ahead of him. He’s seen it, not just through the vision, but through his daily living. He’s evaluated the society as he knew it and must have prayed for it on a daily basis. It is through this knowledge and the assurance that his sins (past, present, and future) were atoned for that he so willingly replied, “Here I am. Send me!”

Likewise, having the contextual knowledge of God’s call gives us a perspective of the severity of the work that is laid before us. It prepares us psychologically for what is ahead of us, allowing us to plan our moves according to the nature of the message and the knowledge we have gained about our audiences. On top of this, we are to ensure that we are sure of our faith. We need to rest on the assurance that our sins, however large, were atoned for. If we are uncertain of what God had done for us, how can we lead people into the faith? If we are uncertain of our future, how can we speak of life eternal?

In all that we do, we must know that we are representing a living and loving God who is always longing for the return of humanity back to His Arms. From the very beginning until our current day and age, He has never given up on us. But because of sins, the mystery of existence will be hidden from the people we are tasked to speak to. They will hear and never understand, see and never perceive. Are we ready to preach the Word knowing we will face all sorts of obstacles? Are we ready to preach the Word with such cultural sensitivity that we speak not to the person but to his spirit?

I think, before we say, “Here I am. Send me,” we will need to ask ourselves if we have seen all that Isaiah saw. Are we assured of our eternal salvation in Christ? Don’t dive into deep waters without knowing what is in store for us.

Are we ready?

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
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