There comes a time in all of our lives when we have to learn to do things on our own. Whether that means our first steps, our first go at riding a bike without stabilisers, going to school on your own, all the way through to the time when we finally leave to set up home ourselves. You can’t help but feel both excited and a little bit frightened when you have to stand on your own two feet and learn how to do things by yourself. I wonder how those disciples must have felt as the time came for them to leave Jesus and go out two by two to do their own preaching and healing. Up to now Jesus has been doing most of the hard work, he has been the one doing the teaching and they have been the ones listening and learning. Now it all has to be put into practice.
I’m sure they were wondering what the places they were going to would be like; how would the people there treat them? Would they be made welcome? And I am sure that more than one of them would have been asking themselves how on earth they were going to live up the high standards of Jesus. Would they have the faith to live as he asked them to do?
They seem very badly equipped to our eyes for a job of evangelism. They are to bring with them nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic and they are to rely completely on the hospitality of those they will be seeking to preach to.
They are equipped with one thing however that is completely beyond value and that is the power and authority of Jesus to do the work that they have been sent to do. So, travelling light they are sent off to preach and to heal. I wonder who they were paired with? Did the brothers James and John travel together? Do you think Peter bossed about his travelling partner? Who travelled with Judas and what was Judas like as a preacher and Evangelist?
Evangelism is one of those words that when you bring up in church has everybody looking at their feet saying, “please don’t pick me!” It is one of those things, like exercise or cleaning those awkward bits under the kitchen cupboards that we know we ought to do but never quite get around to doing it. There is always something more urgent or more pressing for us to deal with. There just never seems to be the right time or the right moment to bring up the subject of Jesus with our friends or our loved ones.
Evangelism can be a daunting thing, but like the twelve we too are called to go to our own people, to preach and to heal. We all know that evangelism is important, it is as simple as it is unpalatable, people who do not accept Jesus as their saviour and Lord face both judgement and hell. Using this passage and the one before it we are going to look at aspects of evangelism and hopefully we will be encouraged to make this essential part of the Christian faith a higher priority in our lives.
The three aspects that we will be looking at are these –
1) Evangelism is a lifestyle not an occasional activity
2) Evangelism is more about actions than words
3) Successful Evangelism involves relationships
Evangelism is a lifestyle not an occasional activity.
I’m sure we all know what it is like to nervously go up to a workmate or family member and invite them to some church social event or evangelistic rally. We find ourselves suddenly flicking some switch in our brains that puts us into evangelism mode. The sweaty palms, the loss of words, the false confidence that results in us saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time makes it seem that we are about to ask our hapless victim to do something perverse rather than simply asking them to go to church with us.
Much of this nervousness can stem from the fact that we live such segmented and fragmented lives. We talk about our “Christian Life” or our “Family Life” or our “Work Life” in a way that makes them seem like separate existences. We do not discuss work at church and we definitely do not discuss church at work and so when it comes to that evangelism time of the year the person who up to this point has not mentioned Jesus in their office at all in the last twelve months suddenly has to introduce Jesus into their God-free work life.
But how does that work in practice? How do we introduce Jesus into our daily activities? A good place to start is by recognising that he is there with you anyway, whether you invited him or not. That awareness of the presence of God in our everyday activities (whether we feel it in our hearts or we just know it in our heads) can transform our attitude to evangelism. He is always there to hear our prayers for our workmates, ourselves, those we live with or our families.
Evangelism starts by asking for God’s power and authority. The disciples were not sent out in their own strength or their own authority. A Lifestyle of evangelism involves asking God for opportunities to speak of him in our everyday lives and being willing to make use of them when he provides them; and he will provide them.
Now does that mean becoming the workplace bore or the family member who talks of nothing else but God? No, but what it does involve is the ability to listen out for what God is doing in other people’s lives and being open enough to share with them what he has been doing in yours.
Evangelism is more about doing than it is about talking.
And this brings us on to our second point, which is that Evangelism is more about doing than it is about talking. I’m sure that I must have heard a many as two thousand or so sermons in my 27 years of life and I could count on one hand the number that have radically changed my life. When it comes to witnessing to other people the smallest action is worth a thousand sermons.
They say that actions speak louder than words, which means that if we talk about the Christian life but do not live it then our actions will more than drown out what we say. We see this in our own peace process when every now and then it gets to the point when people realise that words are not enough. If words are not backed up by actions they make the speaker look like a hypocrite at best or a liar and a fraud at worst.
But if actions are louder than words then the smallest gesture shown in Christian Love can speak more to a person than the most eloquent sermon ever preached. If you are a person who is not generally good with words then take heart at this because this is a way of making evangelism so much easier. Rather than being a complicated process by which we have to explain the love of God to other people, witnessing can be as simple as mowing a pensioner’s lawn, giving someone a lift, minding someone’s children so that they can have a day to themselves.
These are all very ordinary everyday things and I am sure that you can think of many more but as with the last point it boils down to being able to pray for people and watching and listening for ways in which you can actively show the love of God in their life.
In our reading, the disciples were not only sent to preach but they were also sent to heal. They were not only sent to speak but also to do. We see this with Jesus himself throughout the Gospels. He does not go to a town or a home merely to preach the word of God but as he goes he backs up what he says by his actions.
In the Old Testament we see the same dynamic at work when God is talking to his people. God is rarely, if ever, described in purely philosophical terms in the Old Testament, instead the language used of him is not only relational but also active. He is the King who rules in power, he is the leader of the armies of Israel, he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his characteristics are not listed in neat systematic theologies but are described through the things that he does.
At the start of the Ten Commandments God describes himself not so much in terms of who he is but in terms of what he has done. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” If we worship a God who does more than talk about love then we should be a people who do more than simply talk about love.
Successful Evangelism involves relationships.
That sort of love involves relationships and successful evangelism involves relationships. You don’t have to know somebody in order to witness to him or her. The overwhelming majority of those who went to see Billy Graham preach didn’t know the man and yet God used him to touch their lives and to present them with the Gospel. This is true but as most of us do not have access to thousands of people in stadia across the world and enough satellite equipment to speak to millions of people at the one time then I’m afraid we are just going to have to face up to the fact that we will have to get to know the people to whom we want to witness.
In chapter 8 we read of the freeing of the Gerasene demoniac, a man you would have thought would be perfect for bringing around with Jesus on his preaching tours. Imagine the looks on the crowd’s faces, as he would recount his testimony! He asked Jesus if he could travel with him and Jesus answer to him is interesting. In verse 38 and 39 it says –
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
His testimony might have been a powerful thing for a stranger to hear but how much more stunning a witness would be his new life at home with his family? It is easier to see the change that knowing Jesus makes to your life if people know you, but getting to know people is a messy business that takes years and years and so often we want our evangelism to have instant results.
Our God is not a God of instant results, he loves and is interested in people and so we his servants must also be interested in people as well. Not merely as extra people that we can cram into our church on a Sunday morning but as individuals for whom Jesus lived and died and rose again.
Evangelism was as time consuming and messy a business for Jesus during his earthly ministry as it is for us today. He forged relationships with people too and, as we read about over Easter, when he was arrested and tried they all ran away and more than one of them even betrayed him. So although witnessing can be difficult, we do not have a hard taskmaster who is unaware of our fears and our anxieties, but we have a Lord and Saviour who has witnessed in a family, in a workplace and among his friends and who is always there for us when we need him.
So although it might feel as though we are left to strike out on our own we know that Jesus is always there with us, not only because he promised that he would be there but because he keeps his word. These are the words of that promise, spoken by a man who faced all of our trials, our fears and our sorrows, he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”