Saturday, August 17, 2013

"It's about the WORD, people!!

I am afraid that many people have the wrong picture of the early Church.  Maybe it's because people have heard about the early Christians helping each other and sharing their possessions and eating together.  It was a great time for the Church and many were coming to Christ.  Spirits were high and life was good!  So we think ...

But that's NOT the way it was!  What is described in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-34 describes the very first months of the Church being gathered by the preaching of the disciples - now "apostles" = "sent out ones."  Even during the first weeks and months those who were preaching about Christ were being questioned and harassed by the leaders of the Jews and even thrown in prison and beaten.  Still, the Church grew.  It was not long before the persecution became worse, leading to the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.  Still, the Church grew.

Then we come to Acts 8.  Remember, this is not long after the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on the disciples and those present as they prayed.  There were now several thousand believers in Jesus Christ, mostly Jews who believed that He was the promised Messiah.  Acts 8 describes what happened next:

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul (later, Paul), began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."  (Acts 8:1-3).

Jerusalem was the home of most of those who believed.  Saul was a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders of the Jews, who was determined to exterminate this small group who dared to proclaim that Jesus was the Christ.  He would leave no stone unturned until they were all dead or in prison.  You would have thought this would be enough to stop the preaching of the gospel in its tracks, but Acts 8, verse 4 says, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

Why would they do that?  Why would these early Christians continue to proclaim their belief that Jesus was the Christ, that He had died and rose again, that He was the promised Savior, all the while knowing that doing so may cost them their very lives?  Because they believed it!  They believed that only through faith in Jesus could anyone be forgiven for their sins against God and be saved from His just judgment against sin.  They understood sin as the universal condition of mankind and they believed that all men are guilty before a holy God.  The Holy Spirit convicted them of their need for forgiveness and the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the best news anyone could ever hear!!  A Savior had come, God in the flesh, to bear the sins of the world on His shoulders, to be punished in our place, and through faith in Him all who believed would have eternal life.  They believed it!!  And so, they proclaimed it.

So must we!  Those who believe the Gospel must proclaim the Gospel.  Preaching the Word is the highest calling of the Church, of every true believer.  Yes, we are called to do good deeds.  Yes, we are called to love even our enemies.  But in doing so, our highest calling and our greatest purpose is to preach, to proclaim the Word of God, the Gospel that points people to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Think about this:  At some point in the next 100 years (for most much sooner) every person you know, every person you will meet in your lifetime, will stand face-to-face with Almighty God, the God who created the universe and who sent His Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.  And every one, including you and me, will deserve His everlasting punishment for the sins we have committed.  The only hope ... the ONLY hope that anyone has of escaping God's wrath, His judgment, is faith in Jesus Christ, confessing Him as Savior and Lord.

Read John 3:16-21.  ONLY those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.  The God who has revealed Himself through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments points to the cross of Jesus Christ as an "atoning sacrifice" for sin.  True God became true man, that He might represent the human race and offer perfect righteousness to the Father on our behalf and endure the punishment we deserved.  Everything Jesus did, He did for me.  He would have had to do nothing less had He come to save one person.  Such is the weight and guilt of our sin before God's holiness.  Therefore, nothing is wasted, whether one person or one thousand or one million believe.  The requirement:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).  And faith comes from "hearing the Word" (Romans 10:17).

Paul writes in that same 10th chapter of Romans, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15).

Who do you know who has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ?  How many around you have never heard what really happened on the cross?  People today in churches all over our country and around the world are being told that Jesus' suffering and death on the cross was simply an example of patient endurance that we are to follow.  People are being told that we must be careful not to offend people by acting like we know everything.  If we come across too strong and act like we are right and everyone else is wrong, that will turn people off.  We need to be sensitive.  We need to be careful how we present the Gospel of Jesus.  Doing good deeds is OK, but let them speak for themselves.  People will understand just by you showing them love.

Friends, that's a lie.  People will know why you are doing what you are doing and will know how to be saved from God's judgment only when you preach the word!!  The word, "preach," means to "proclaim."  While some are called and gifted by God to be teachers, EVERY believer is called to proclaim the truth of the Word of God that points to Jesus.  Romans 10:15 is a quote from Isaiah 52:7, where Isaiah declares, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"  "Zion" represented the Jews, the people of God.  The apostles and early believers were fulfilling the words of Isaiah as they brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the Jews and then to the rest of the world.  Saying, "Your God reigns," points to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who made His covenant of GRACE with Abraham and all who would believe in the promised "Seed," Jesus Christ (See Matthew 1:1-2).

"Preaching the Word" has been the calling of the Church since its beginning.  Every believer is charged with the task of speaking to others about Jesus Christ and calling them to repent, to turn from their sins to follow Him ... and then tell others ... so they can tell others.  Of all of the reasons for what some perceive as the decline of the church today, this is the greatest:  that many people who claim to be Christians do not know the Word themselves and have never told anyone about Jesus.  We get caught up in evangelistic programs and people think they have to be biblical scholars before they can speak to someone about Jesus.  We allow the world to intimidate us to silence by their accusations of being unkind and unloving if we tell people they are lost without Jesus.  Yet, this is what the Word of God says and it is our calling, our mission, our responsibility to tell others.

Whatever else we are called to do, it's about the Word!  God has promised that His Word will not return to Him without accomplishing the purpose for which He sends it.  And that doesn't mean everyone we talk to will believe.  Paul writes in II Corinthians 2:15-16 that "we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."  God's Word offers life, but it must be received and believed.  If not, it pronounces the death that already exists in the hearts and minds of those who do not know Jesus.  Because most people believe everybody is going to heaven, there is no urgency to preach the Word of God.  People around you are spiritually dead without Jesus!  And the Word is the only instrument of God's Spirit to bring them to life.

Will you do it?  Have you heard and believed yourself?  Is Jesus YOUR Savior and Lord?  You can't lead someone to a place you've never been!!  It's about the Word, people!!  Preach it!!

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