How Did Jesus Evangelize? part two
You probably could not envision a greater evangelistic contact than one who came to you and asked this question:
What shall I do to inherit eternal life?
What would you do? What would you say? On occasion we will have someone come and join us in the assembling of our church. What should we say to a visitor? Here’s the normal script: Be very friendly, make them feel at home, ask them if there is anything that you can do for them, don’t crowd them too much—give them a little space, and don’t be too confrontational. Essentially, the strategy is to make it as easy as possible for the unsaved guest to stay or come back. I’m asking you now: where do we see Jesus or the apostles do anything like that in the New Testament?
You already know that the rich young ruler asked the above question. It was actually asked by more than one person, even as we see a similar question in both Luke 10:25 and Luke 18:18. On both occasions, Jesus did the same thing. He didn’t make identical statements to the two different men, but in both cases He took the same tack. On both occasions, the question gives away the problem. He called Jesus “Good,” so he thought that salvation related to “goodness.” He also believed it was something that He had to do.
Turn the Focus on God
Jesus didn’t immediately reassure the seeker. He didn’t try to make it easier on the one soliciting the way to eternal life. He didn’t offer instant relief of a felt need. In Luke 18, Jesus turns the focus from what the man thought he needed back to God. Only God is good. No man is good. The rich ruler still missed that point. He thought he was good anyway. Jesus held up God’s standard of goodness, the standard of perfection, against the ruler, so he could see his lack of goodness. The dissatisfaction that led the young man to talk to Jesus in the first place had come from his own sinfulness, but he lacked the ability to evaluate it on his own terms. Enter the evangelist, Jesus.
Jesus brought each man back to the criteria to determine goodness, perfection, and sinfulness—did he know about God’s law or had he obeyed all of it? Each ruler thinks he’s good already. Obviously, each knows he’s missing something but he isn’t sure what it is. The deficiency for both is sin. It isn’t some special path to heaven each was missing or a solution for the frustration each felt. It was sin. What these men did need was to see their spiritual condition and turn from their path of self-righteousness to God. Both men, however, would not measure themselves against the Divine standard to see his own rebellion against God’s holiness. Instead they justify their behavior.
Come, Follow Me
In Luke 18 Jesus said to that ruler, Give up all your things and “come, follow me” (v. 22). Sin is against God. It relates to God as Creator and Master. God has laid out what He wants and man doesn’t follow the instruction. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. wrote in his Systematic Theology:
Sin is defined ultimately as anything in the creature which does not express, or which is contrary to, the holy character of the Creator.
The creation has a will of his own. With “come, follow me,” God says trust me and do my will, not yours. A change in allegiance occurs. A man isn’t his own anymore.
These two men wanted things to work out for them. They knew something was wrong. We sin when we don’t follow God’s will. Giving up our will to God is giving up sinning. They weren’t interested in their sin as it related to offending God but as it related to hindering them from getting what they wanted. “Following” Christ was receiving Christ. They weren’t interested in following God, just hoping to take care of that nagging eternal life problem.
An Example of What to Do
These accounts tell more than a sad story. They set an example of what we’re to do. We obey God by imitating what Jesus did. By doing so, our evangelism is sanctified by the truth, what Jesus prayed for His own (John 17:17).
Both men left unconverted. In a modern day church setting, the evangelist repulsed the hearer. In this case, it’s Jesus, so that’s not true. Some might even say that Jesus “front-loaded works” by what He said. Jesus above anyone else wasn’t saying that works could save. He did not succeed at making either man feel comfortable. He wasn’t careful to say things that wouldn’t turn the men off. Salvation is what it is. Our goal is to find the particular barrier, the stronghold which we can discern by means of Scripture, and then deal with it like we see exemplified by the Lord and the apostles in the New Testament.
What did Jesus use to persuade these men? He used Scripture. He often quoted the Old Testament. Over twenty times He said “it is written.” Almost another ten He declared, “it hath been said” or “that it was said,” and verbalized Scripture. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 refers to this as spiritual weaponry—“the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). We preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). We are begotten “by the Word of truth” (James 1:18).
In Jesus’ parable in Luke 14:23 He said:
Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
“Compel” (anakatso) is a strong word for persuade. The “highways and hedges” were outside of the confines of Judaism. In the picture, the Jews didn’t want the gospel anymore, so Jesus was telling them to bring it to the Gentiles. If the Jews didn’t want it, then go to the Gentiles to see if they would. Going to the highways and the hedges was a big deal because the religious leaders condemned Jesus for His associations with the publicans and sinners. The Gentiles will need to be earnestly urged, compelled, because they’re going to say, “I’m not even a part of Israel. I’m not worthy to be a part of that.” They need to see that they can be saved, just like the Jews, even more so with the Jewish rejection of Jesus.
The compelling message comes a few verses later in Luke 14:25-27:
And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Does that seem persuasive or compelling to you? Christ’s aim was not to draw appreciative crowds but true converts. From the world’s side, family is very compelling. The family may not want a family member to follow Christ. Just like following Christ might mean giving up possessions, it also might mean giving up family. It might mean suffering. Jesus made bold demands that would discourage the half-hearted. There is no such thing as sort-of accepting Jesus. He is either God or He isn’t. Since He is, He is worth giving up everything for Him.
This stands in stark contrast to the world’s idea of persuasion. The world sees men as consumers and persuades with temporal things, compelling men to part with cash for a desired product: a movie, a trip, a meal, new clothes or furniture, jewelry, a car, or a recreational item. Why? It works. And if it works, it’s a success. It plays on greed and covetousness, giving men what they want. It’s not calling for sacrifice but for self-gratification, something directly contradictory to the gospel. The world offers the mess of pottage for the birthright. We follow the example of Jesus in our persuasion. Preach the saving message. The gospel of Jesus Christ the power of God unto salvation.
Where’s the Power?
The power is in the Word of God. The Spirit works through the Word of God. We are born again of the incorruptible seed, the Word that lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23-25). Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
The power is in the preached Word. Hebrew 4:12 says that the Word is quick and powerful. 2 Timothy 3:15 says that the “holy scriptures. . . are able to make thee wise unto salvation.”
We depend on preaching rather than clever techniques invented by men. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31), not a man-made method. God chooses for man to be saved through the foolishness of preaching. The Spirit-filled speak the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). Believers have all the power they’re ever going to get the moment they get saved. They have every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). They have the Spirit of God indwelling them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul didn’t ask to pray for power but to pray for boldness, that he might open his mouth and speak as he ought to speak (Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:4)—what came out of his mouth, the Word of God, was powerful enough to create the universe in six days. God doesn’t call the powerful. He calls the weak. The weak preach with boldness and men are saved, not because they had strength, but because of the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-1 Corinthians 2:5). “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).