Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't Wait, Go!

Evangelism

Image by Dave Siberia via Flickr

This sermon was given on April 25, 2010. The audio version does not match exactly with the written text.  You can listen to the sermon by clicking the play button Here

This morning I am going to be expounding on Matthew 10:11-15. There was a man that had an acquaintance that was in the hospital for bronchitis. He felt a distinct prompt from the Holy Spirit to go an talk to that man. He thought he would go see him after the man recovered from the hospital. He again felt the distinct prompting. At this point he determined that he would go. Life got busy as it often does and he forgot about this determination. The man's acquaintance was dead in the next week. He did from complication of pneumonia. He now carries the grief of not going and sharing the gospel with him.

It seems that in order to receive a message you first have to receive the messenger and then you have to listen. This may seem very obvious to some, but it bears repeating. In order to receive a message you first have to receive the messenger and listen to the message. Now in this case Jesus is not addressing those that would receive the message, but rather the messengers themselves. By extrapolation then we can say that this instruction is for us as well when if comes to the spread of the Gospel.

The first command is to Go! In Matthew 10:7 Jesus says, "As you go..." We are to go into the world, ministering to the needs of others, while sharing the all important message of "the Kingdom of Heaven."

In this section (Matthew 10:11-15) Jesus is telling his disciples what they are to do when they arrive. The first order of business was to find a worthy person to stay with. I struggle with this part because I am not sure what method or measure we are to use to determine worthiness. It seems that the disciples were to ask around to find this worthy person, but worthy for what? I think it is directing us to a person that hospitable and open. This seems to make the most sense to me. I have in the past attempted to share the Gospel with those that were inhospitable and closed to hear anything about God. The danger of this type of interaction is that it rarely leads to a change and often just reinforces what the unbeliever already stereotypes Christians as being. In that sense then a worthy person is one that is welcoming, and open to hearing something from you. I can think of Paul's trip to Athens (Acts 17:16-34). In that passage we find that Paul first went to the Synagogue (Acts 17:17), next the market place, and then Areopagus. In each of these circumstances Paul was sharing with those that were open to hearing him out. It does not appear that all agreed with him though. Some ridiculed him, some said they wanted to hear from him again, and some believed. It is also interesting to note that Paul left the presence of those that ridiculed him. Another time when Paul traveled to Corinth to start a church in that city he found a couple Aquila and his wife Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). They took Paul into their home and gave him work to do. It would seem that Paul determined they were worthy and he stayed with them throughout his time in Corinth.

Once a person was determined to be worthy then the disciples were to offer a peace blessing on the home. It is interesting to me that often we easily fall out of the command to offer a blessing of peace to the people that are the recipients of the message of Christ. All to often we debate, deride, ridicule, dismiss those that do not believe as we do. In some sense it is a gospel according to the flesh. "I know I am right and you are wrong so don't challenge me, don't fight me, just listen it is for your own good. Jesus died for your sins after all." I must admit I have been there myself. God grant mercy to those that I have been a stumbling block to. A blessing of peace is quite a thing. If we are to bless then it seems that we selfishly keep it for ourselves. We bless those that bless us. Jesus was saying something quite different here. He was suggesting that we speak blessing and peace without regard to where the person stood at the end of our encounter.

How does one bless another's home? Prayer certainly can be a good place to start. Sharing the Gospel without prayer is a real good way to ensure that you are arguing with the mind or the flesh. Our weapons though are not soulful or fleshly. They are spirit. If the message of the Cross is a spiritual message then it would seem to me that being in communion with God's Spirit would be a requisite part of the process. Pray for the peace of God to fill another's home then. What is more we can bring a blessing of peace by being good guests so to speak. I think American's have a difficult time with the concept of being a good guest. We expect as guests to be served and waited on. Not so with Paul. Notice that Paul promptly went to work with Priscilla when he stayed with him in Corinth. Paul the missionary of missionaries there making tents to supply for his own need. I must admit I struggle with this as well. We can be a blessing by speaking peaceably. There is a time for forceful presentations to be sure, but by in large it is the peaceable person that will lead another person to the Lord. We can be a blessing of peace if we speak in such a manner that others are likely to listen to us. Being vulgar or abusive is not a blessing and it certainly is not peaceable. I would also say that keeping passions in check is important to being a blessing of peace to others. It is often our passion (fleshly ones at that) which lead us astray into paths of defensiveness, hurtfulness, strife, and destructiveness. Keeping passions in check is no easy task when it comes to sharing the Gospel. We cannot expect others to be so kind to us. In fact there will be those that we do not reach.

When we strive to be a blessing of peace though our peace returns to us when the other person is not willing to receive that peace. At this point unworthiness is defined by not reciving your nor the message. We are not to take this personally. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you." (John 15:18) We are to realize that the peace which we offered has been rejected and returns to us in that instance.

Now some time passes and it becomes clear that the town is not going to convert to Christ. I am not sure how much time passes (God knows), but it has become clear that the audience for the message is either rejecting the message outright or not willing to listen at all. I think the hardest thing in the world is to make a break with someone when it becomes clear they are not ready to receive the message. One hopes beyond hope that a person will see it my way. If we continue down this path it is likely that the only way of conversion is by manipulation or by way of force. However, true conversion is by faith and faith alone. If a person cannot come to that place then manipulation or force will not save them. So break we must.

As a symbolic gesture of that break Jesus commands his disciples to shake the dust off of their feet. In order to understand this gesture you have to understand a practice of Jews at the time of Christ. To the devout Jew Palestine was Holy. Not just the place, but the very dust of the ground was considered Holy. When a Jew returned from a foreign city they believed that unholy dust clinched to their feet. This would lead them to shake their feet to rid themselves of the unholy dust so as not to pollute the holy dust of Palestine.

Was Jesus introducing a superstitious practice here? I do not believe so. I believe that Jesus was going with a more symbolic meaning. In the other gospels that record this event it is said that the disciples were to do this as a witness against them. In that case then it is saying we have brought a message to you and you have neither welcomed us nor accepted the message. We are not responsible for your rejection of the message. They are also making a break in fellowship with them. You see these were Jews and the Disciples were fellow Jews.

It is a sad case that there will be those whose hearts will not be changed. It is their hardness of heart that keeps them from being changed by the power of the Gospel. Making that choice hardness begets more hardness and leads them further down a path of disbelief. Arguing with a person that is on this path only chases them further along the way. That is why a break is needed.

It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of Judgment than for those that reject the messengers and the message. That seems like quite a statement. God rained down his judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah for several sins. They had a complete disregard for God and the things of God that they were judged. They were in full on rebellion against God that they were judged and condemned. They Bible explains that they were sinning against God (Gen 13:13), guilty of moral corruption and rejecting God (Deut 32), engaged in full on sinfulness with no shame (Isa 3:9), guilty of adultery, falsehood, helping evil doers, and lack lack of repentance (Jer 23:14), promoted idolatry, prostitution, a lack of social justice (Ezek 16), and given themselves over to sexual perversion (Jude 1:7). That only to say that for these towns that rejected Christ's message for which these disciples were ambassadors are worthy of greater punishment. In my mind that is quite extraordinary. Yet there is is. Let me read it. Jesus said,

I assure you: It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town
Matthew 10:15

The first phrase in this first sentence is "Amen I am saying to you." Jesus is removing any doubt about where He stands on this issue. His resolve is certain. There is no grace for those that reject the Gospel. And in the day of judgment they will face certain punishment. We tend to sugar coat the Christian message. I used to think that it was because we don't want to scare people off. I have come to the realization that so few Christians are engaged in witnessing that we sugar coat things we don't have to consider the responsibility we have shirked when it comes to spreading the message. To be sure those that do not accept Christ as their Lord and Savior will face eternal judgment and separation from God and loved ones who have gone on before them.

This judgment is a terrible fire (Matthew 25:31). It is a time in which we all will have to give account for our deeds whether good or bad, every careless word will come under the scrutiny of our Lord (Matthew 12:36). As Christians we will not escape Judgment.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says: For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one's work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one's work. If anyone's work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.

So for the Christian the terrible fire of judgment is a purification process leading to greater purity. The unbeliever on the other hand it is something much worse:

Revelation 20:13-15 says: Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

If your name is not written in the book of life in the day of judgment it means that you have rejected the Gospel. I believe that every person's name is written in the Book of life . As long as that person has breath they have an opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. Once they die if they never repent of the rejection of God's Grace their names are blotted out (that is erased) from the book of life (See Exodus 32:30-35; Ps 9:3-5; Ps 69:27-28, Rev 3:5). Having your named erased from the book of life means that you will face everlasting punishment (Rev 20:15).

I hope that is not true for anyone here this morning. I would be naive though to believe that everyone here has a relationship with Christ. If you have not made that step. Then I ask you, I implore you, take that first step. Enter into a loving relationship with the one that loves you enough to give his life for you. That is good news we can be free of sin and eternal death. If you are in a saving relationship with Christ then I have a question. Are you going to a lost world? If not then why not? When we go we need to find those that are open to the message. We need to be messengers of peaceful blessing. We have to acknowledge that there will be those that do not accept what you have to say. There are some that you may need to make a break with who refuse the gospel. The point is that we need to get involved in our mission to reach lost souls for Christ. We have to do it now. If we don't then we risk becoming like the man who waited too long to speak to the acquaintance in the hospital. That man caries that grief. That man was me. Don't wait. Let's Pray

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