Sunday, May 6, 2012

Seeds of Evangelism

We've been talking about witness as a part of the gospel, and over the last few weeks, we've been talking about what it means to be a false witness, and also what it means to be a false leader. Let's go positive, and talk about what it means to be a good witness. Let's talk about successful evangelism.

So, how many people have YOU led to Christ? Does anyone have a number? Has anyone led one person to Christ? I was asked that on a survey once. How many people have I led to Christ? And the answers were “between 1 and 10, 10-30, 30-100, over 100”? Really? Is that what makes an evangelist? Let's see, I led that person to Christ, but I'm not with him. I guess I should call that person up and see if they are still with Christ, because if not, then that wouldn't be a successful “lead.” Do you see how ridiculous this is? We cannot put a quantity on evangelism.

If we look at John 4:36-38: “The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” There is no single person leading someone to Christ. This is not notch-on-the-belt stuff. This is a team of people working on bringing people to Christ. Well, we may say, let's assemble a team of evangelists, and one can be the sower, and another can water, and another reap, and another can store in barns, and another can package, and another can set prices, and another can take to the grocery store, and another can buy, and another can eat.

This isn't team evangelism, either. This is “God is doing the evangelism” evangelism. Jesus is trying to dispel the myth that we are the ones who do this. We are tools in God's utility belt, nothing more. We don't know who sowed seed, or which seeds were the ones that took, or which seeds were the one that fully grew up. God doesn't want us to say, “I led someone to Christ,” or even, “Jim and I led someone to Christ.” God wants to fall on our knees and say “Wow! Lord, look what you DID! I never could have done that!”

Our Acts passage dramatizes this point clearly. Did Philip know where to go? No. God sent an angel to tell him where to go. Why was the eunuch reading Isaiah? Did Philip put the scroll in his hands? No. Where did he get the scroll from? Someone else. Do we know that person was? No. How did that other person get the scroll in the eunuch's hands? Did he just say, “read this?” No. A third person must have planted a seed somehow motivating the eunuch to get the scroll. There's probably eight-sixteen people in the line of evangelists between that unbelieving eunuch and Philip. Do they know each other? No. This was an Ethiopian. He had no reason to be reading Isaiah, and he wasn't a Jew. He may have converted in Ethiopia, but that would have been done by yet another person in his home country. Isaiah hadn't been written at the time of Solomon, so the Queen of Sheba certainly didn't have a copy.

How did Philip know to go over to the chariot? The spirit told him. Did Philip take the eunuch through the book of Isaiah line by line? No. He only interpreted the one line the eunuch was already reading. And then he was able to preach the whole gospel from there. Philip didn't need to manipulate anything. He didn't need to say, “Isaiah is a good book, but you really need to be reading Deuteronomy. Go find Deuteronomy and then let's set up a coffee date. I'll meet you at Front Porch Cafe at 9:30am sharp!”

All Philip had to do was know that the scriptures are about Jesus. He knew this, because that's how God works in us. We are able to see Jesus throughout scripture. We look at the world—at life—through Jesus tinted lenses. God got the scripture into the eunuch's hands through many people. God got the right interpretation into Philip's mind through the Holy Spirit. Then all God had to do was get the eunuch and Philip together. Everything just happened. As the phrase goes, “it just worked itself out.” What happens after the eunuch is baptized? Philip is whisked away. No time to get the eunuch in an Alpha program or find the right home church for him. Nope, God doesn't want Philip to screw anything up. Your job is over! On your way, now!

God does everything. We are his resources. The best metaphor for this is in our gospel reading. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” We are members of Christ's body, and we can do nothing of or by ourselves. We allow ourselves to be used by the vine. We are grafted onto the vine. The lifeblood of the vine flows into the branch. Christ's lifeblood is in us. We bear fruit, not because we are trying very hard, but because we have the fruit-bearing lifeblood in us. I bear fruit and the fruit falls to the ground and bursts open and the seeds inside help God's kingdom grow. You bear fruit and your fruit falls to the ground and bursts open and the seeds inside help God's kingdom grow. Together the seeds from our fruit interact in a way that God wants. The Father is the vinegrower. He is the only one who sees how the seeds of the fruit are going to interact to grow his kingdom. But if we aren't bearing fruit, we get pruned. We have to willingly submit to the vine so that Christ's lifeblood is running in our veins. Otherwise we are useless, and we get cut off.

When Paul lists all those witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15, it's not just to say, “look at all these witnesses!” It's also to say, “look at the different kinds of witnesses!” Someone might read about the risen Christ appearing to James and think, “Wow! That's the brother of Jesus, who didn't believe during Christ's entire earthly ministry, and then, when he witnesses the risen Christ, he believes! That's enough for me, I'm a believer!” And the seed gets planted. But another person may say, “James doesn't do it for me. I'm a believer because of the 500 witnesses! That is the power of mass witness!” Each of us will get a different seed out of different things in scripture, history and relationship, and as these seeds build up, as the witness becomes overwhelming, we all reach the same goal—a relationship with the risen Christ. He is the one constant in evangelism. He is the destination. He is the goal. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever. No matter what seeds of evangelism get us there, he is waiting at the end of the line.