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The message of Evangelism

posted 5 Oct 2014, 12:43 by Joshua Monteiro
Sorry- but we haven't managed to record for a few weeks. Here are my sermon notes for 5/10/14.

Evangelism: the Message

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I wonder if you have ever had the experience of meeting someone for the first time, and they say something like this: tell me about yourself. And it can be a really difficult question to answer. As a student, it was simple- you said your subject and college and people pigeon holed you based on that- engineer- probably can’t read, mathematician- lacks social skills, history student- lies in and works one night a week, and so on. But that invitation- tell me about yourself- is hard to answer not because we lack information, but because the topic is too big. Do you really want to hear 31 years of life story, all my experiences, thoughts, desires and ambitions?

And that can be the same problem we can face in sharing the Christian message- the gospel, the good news. Somebody says- so what do Christians believe? And your head is so filled with different truths and bits of the Bible that what you blurt out is a random series of ideas that probably don’t make sense. The whole Bible is God’s message, but we can hardly say to the person giving us 2 minutes to summarise the Christian message- just go away and read the Bible.

What we need is something that gives us a summary of the Christian message in a nutshell. Yes, the Christian message speaks to all sorts of situations, and has advice for many areas of life, and tells us lots of different truths about God and human beings. But if we are to share the good news of God, as Bert was encouraging us to last week, then we need a really firm grasp on the core message of the gospel. We need to have fixed in our minds a summary of the gospel. We need a short message, which if they accept they can be saved- it contains enough information to start the Christian life. But it must be a short message- simple and memorable, so that it’s there in our minds- so that when, in the words of 1 Peter 3:15, when we are asked for the reason for the hope that we have, our answer in that moment is a clear account of the good news.

What we’re going to do this morning is look at one example of a gospel summary in the Bible, and then look at two modern examples of gospel summaries. None of these are the only way to share the gospel- but all of these are tools- and it would be good to have one of these firmly in your mind.

The Biblical example of a gospel summary is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 15, after 3 chapters dealing with how they are to use spiritual gifts in worship, Paul sets out his basic gospel summary. 15:1-2 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

What Paul gives in the following few verses is his gospel summary. This is the same message he had preached in Corinth when he planted the church. This is the gospel message they had heard, received and trusted- taken their stand on. There is nothing new in this gospel summary. It was familiar to them. It should be familiar to us. “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” And while this summary is shorter than Paul’s sermons, this summary of the gospel contains the central truths so that if you hold firmly to this gospel, if you truly trust this gospel, you are saved, and if you abandon this gospel, you are lost. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” It is because this core message is the message of salvation that Paul speaks of these truths “As of first importance” in v3. All the truth he spoke was God’s truth, and so it was all important. But these core truths were of first importance- he received this message from Jesus and passed them on. These truths are of eternal significance.

vv3-8 then give Paul’s gospel summary.

a) All about Jesus Christ. You cannot read through these verses and think that the gospel is about someone else. “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” A summary of the Christian message must be focused on Christ. Jesus, the man born in Bethlehem, who is the Christ, God’s king, is the good news.

b) According to the Old Testament. As Paul summarises the key events of Jesus Christ, he twice uses the phrase- according to the Scriptures. “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” When Paul says, according to the Scriptures, he’s almost certainly not referring to what we call the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but to what we call the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures. He’s saying that Jesus fulfils a whole bunch of promises, predictions and patterns, that in his death and resurrection he is not bringing something totally different but fulfilling God’s plans that he has been sharing for centuries. Jesus is the God, the King, the man, the saviour who was promised throughout the Old Testament.

c) Jesus died for our sins and was buried. It is not just that there was a man called Jesus, who did some cool stuff. When Paul boils down his gospel message to the essentials, he focuses in on three events, the good Friday to Easter Sunday events. He says that of first importance, the core of the gospel message is that Jesus died, and to show that he really died, he was buried. These two events are central. And the reason Jesus death is central to the gospel is that his death achieved something no one else could. Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. The Scriptures would no doubt have included Isaiah 53, where we read of the coming servant of the LORD: He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,     stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions,     he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Central to the good news is the message that we are all sinners, but Jesus Christ died for our sins, he took away our sins and dealt with them, so that we can be right with God. The core of the Christian message is not that we are nice people who need a bit of help to become perfect, but wicked, ungrateful, rebels against God who deserved to die- but Jesus died for us.

d) Jesus rose again and reigns. And that is not the end of the story. Equally important, the other great fact about Jesus that must be communicated, is that he is alive. “that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The proof that Jesus is the Christ, God’s everlasting King, is that he rose. The proof that Jesus really has paid the price for sins to be forgiven is that he did not stay dead. And Jesus rising is wonderfully good news. It means that our final enemy, death, is defeated- Jesus can really give us everlasting life. It means that Jesus is a king and friend we can know today, because he is alive. What is on offer is not just some historical facts but a living relationship.

e) Jesus appeared to witnesses (according to the New Testament). And finally, when Paul concludes his message of central gospel truths, the things of first importance, he speaks of the fact that the risen Jesus appeared to many witnesses.  and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. Jesus dying for our sins and rising to new life is not a myth, a nice story to try and make sense of the world. It really happened. There were witnesses. Jesus rose from the dead and hundreds of people saw him. When we talk about his life, his death and his resurrection, we are not relying on 4th hand stories embellished by centuries of retellings. We know from first hand witnesses, many witnesses, who establish the case. Today, we find these witness accounts in the New Testament- primarily in the Gospels, but also in the rest of it.

When the Mormons come to visit me, they always end by appealing to me to pray and see if God doesn’t give me a warm feeling inside to confirm that Joseph Smith is a prophet. It hasn’t happened yet. But actually there is a more serious point- we don’t believe the gospel just because we get a warm feeling and then switch off our brains. We are encouraged to investigate and believe because God has given sufficient evidence. 500 people, most of whom are still alive- you can ask them he says to the Corinthians, you can talk to me or Peter. In our gospel, we are not asking for blind faith but for people to investigate and follow the evidence.  

 That is Paul’s gospel summary: All about Jesus, who fulfils the Old Testament, who died for our sins, who was raised to life to prove he is God, and who appeared to many witnesses so that you can be confident he really is the Lord and Saviour.

As we turn to some modern summaries, you’ll notice that they cover these sort of facts. The reason that modern summaries are helpful is because often people around us don’t have the background to understand some of the words used in Paul’s summary. They know nothing about Jesus, they don’t know that Christ means God’s king and Saviour, they don’t know what sin is or why it is a problem and so on. That means that in a gospel summary we must pick up a bit of the wider Bible story to help them to see who Jesus is and why he is so important. The first gospel summary we’re going to look at is Two ways to live- produced by Australians, so it’s pretty straightforward.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgpaOq93rJ4

I hope most of us are nodding our heads at that- that is a gospel summary. If you believe that- you will be saved. It’s simple to remember six points: Creation, Fall, Judgement, Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, Our Choice. It is all according to the Scriptures- they have a verse for each point. There’s a booklet for each person to take away.

If you’re not a Christian- this is a great summary of the Christian message. Perhaps look through each point, and work out what it is you don’t understand about the Christian message, or what you disagree with- and then talk about that with a Christian friend. If you understand it all and don’t disagree with any of it, then you are left with the choice. What saves is not knowing the message, but trusting it- trusting in Jesus to die for your sins and inviting him to be at work in you by his Spirit. You might think that is adding something to Paul’s gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15- but Paul was writing there to believers. And he specifically speaks of them v1 not just receiving the message but standing on it- here I stand, I am defined by this message. Salvation depends on holding on to this message. A response is always needed to receive the new life Jesus offers.

If you are a follower of Jesus, can I encourage you do to two things with this booklet. Firstly, read it yourself. Perhaps memorise the six points as guides for a gospel summary. It might be helpful to memorise those six verses- take one week for each verse, so that you can show people that what you believe is not your own ideas but from the Bible. So use it for yourself. And then ask God to give you an opportunity to give it away, or to share the message with someone.

The idea of learning an outline like this is not to be a straightjacket- these are the only words you must say. But it is like a guide post on a map. You can take several different routes, but there are certain points where you should get back on the main road. I think these 6 points can also be helpful to bear in mind when people ask questions. A question about suffering in the world might look at box 2- the fall- to explain that God made a good world and it is our bad choices that have messed it up and caused pain. Or we could look at box 4 and talk about God loving us and sympathising with our sufferings, as he suffered when he became human. Or we could look at box 5 and talk about how Jesus has power to overcome suffering and evil in our life- shown by the resurrection. Use these outlines as tools, not masters.

As we get to the end, we’re going to watch another gospel outline. It is more recent- you can find it online, but there is currently no booklet to go with it. Hopefully it covers the same ground as Pauls’ summary in 1 Corinthians, and fills in the background a bit differently. Sit back and watch 321.

http://321.revivalmedia.org/

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