After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus said to His followers: “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”(Matthew 28:18-20). These words of Jesus have become known as The Great Commission.It has also been seen as a command. There is no doubt Jesus wants us to share our faith. There is no doubt we should be actively sharing our faith. However, in these verses Jesus is not commandingus to do anything. He is assumingwe will share our faith. A better reading of the first part of verse nineteen would be, “As you are going…”After all, why would Jesus have to command us to share the good news of His grace and mercy and forgiveness; the good news that through faith in Him, God’s kingdom breaks into our lives, changing everything; the good news that there is a better way to live and do things then how we are presently living and doing things?
Following the example of Jesus, and living out His teachings, Jesus’ disciples changed their world. Now, Jesus is asking us to do the same thing. The problem is we have made evangelism a program instead of a lifestyle. We have condensed it down to a sells pitch involving a few select verses and a prayer, instead of emphasizing that evangelism is about living your life, following the examples and teachings of Jesus, proclaiming there is a better way of living life then what we are presently experiencing. We have made evangelism about personal faith instead of about a proclamation that God’s kingdom is right now available through faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, very few Christians actually share their faith with anyone. Yet, the expectation that we would “make disciples of all nations”is still there. The opportunities to change our world for the better are still there. The question is,how do we change our world?
The Example of the Early Church
One could say the Church was birthed in Acts 2:1-47. Jesus promised He would build His Church on the confession that He was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16-19). After His resurrection, and before His ascension, Jesus said to His followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8). Additionally, Jesus told His followers to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come (Acts 1:4). The disciples obeyed. Sometime later, Acts records these words: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”(Acts 2:1-4). Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit that He made in John 14 had come to pass, and the Church was born. By the end of chapter two we discover, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”(Acts 2:47b).
What happened in Acts 2 is nothing less than a miracle! In a single day the Church grew from about 150 people to over 3,000 people, and then, every day, more people were added. More important than the numbers were the life-change that took place. In addition to the life-change, the culture around them started to change. These first Christians literally changed their world. I believe by following their example we can change our world as well. So then, what do we learn from these first Christians. What example can we gleam from them? From their example we learn the cycle of discipleship. From their example we learn how to change our world.
The Holy Spirit
The most important part of any journey is the start. If you don’t start you will never finish. So, the starting point to changing your world is the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit. His followers waited on the Holy Spirit. And then, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”(Acts 2:4). It is the Holy Spirit that draws us to Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit that resides in us at conversion. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us. It is the Holy Spirit that equips us to change our world. The best thing is, unlike the first Christians, we don’t have to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon us. The Holy Spirit fills us the very moment we place our faith in Jesus.
Beginning with You
The second part of the cycle is recognizing that changing the world begins with you. Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.”The Apostle Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”(2 Corinthians 5:20). God’s plan “A” for telling the world about Jesus is you and me. There is no plan “B.” Of course, you can’t really tell people how they can be reconciled to God unless you have been reconciled to God. Thus, the starting point for changing the world may be the Holy Spirit, but it begins with you allowing the Holy Spirit to change you.
Living in Community
In Acts 2:1 we read these words, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”Their being togetherwas not a one-time occurrence. Near the end of chapter two we discover, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts”(Acts 2:46). The power of their influence was directly related to the quality of their unity and the intimacy of their community, the third part of the cycle of evangelism.
Community is simply doing life together. It is walking together through the ups and downs, mountains and valleys of life. It is being there for one another when no one else is. It is not giving up on each other and loving one another unconditionally. The power of the gospel is the transformation and reconciliation that takes place between people beyond race, gender, ethnicities, nationalities, education, and economics. When believers live in unity and experience community, people notice and are attracted to the gospel.
We may LIVE IN community, but we LIVE OUT our faith in the neighborhood. Living out faith in the neighborhood is the next step in the cycle of evangelism. The believers in Acts were not ashamed of their faith, and they were not afraid to live out their faith in public life. In Acts 2 we learn that the people in the neighborhood were “utterly amazed”(Acts 2:7) and “amazed and perplexed”(Acts 2:12). Others, “made fun of them”(Acts 2:13), but they still noticed them. Then, in the neighborhood, in the middle of the street in the middle of the day, “Peter stood up…raised his voice and addressed the crowd…”(Acts 2:14).
Not only were their words recognized by their neighbors, so were their works. Acts reads, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people”(Acts 2:42-47). Did you notice that last phrase, “…enjoying the favor of all the people”?People noticed! In fact, some scholars speculate that one of the major reasons the Roman government turned on this rag-tag group of people was because they were messing up the social order of things. They were helping the poor, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the prisoner, and all the other things Jesus had taught them to do.
As the first Christians lived in community and lived out their faith in the neighborhood, people became curious and started asking questions. It’s the natural process in the cycle of evangelism. The end of Acts 2:12 records the people asked, “What does this mean?”Near the end of his sermon, the crowd interrupted Peter and asked, “What shall we do?”(Acts 2:37); and I am quite confident some people questioned the sanity of them “selling their possessions and goods”and giving them “to anyone as he had need”(Acts 2:45). That’s crazy! That’s counter-cultural? That went against the caste system of that day and it goes against the capitalistic system of our day.
When was the last time someone asked you a question about your faith because of the way you were living out your faith? Has anyone ever asked you a question about your faith because of something you did or didn’t do that was the totally opposite of what everyone else did or didn’t do? Apparently, if people are not regularly asking us questions about our faith, we are not regularly living out our faith. Peter said, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”(1 Peter 3:15). The first Christians changed their world without fancy buildings, great music, cool sermons, and outstanding programs. They simply continued the ministry of Jesus, and as they did, people were curious and asked questions.
One day, during Sunday School class, the teacher asked her young students what was grey, furry, jumped from tree to tree, and gathered nuts?” A little boy raised his hand, and knowing he was in church said, “Teacher, I know the answer is Jesus, but that sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”When people ask you questions about your faith because they see you living out your faith that is the open door of opportunity you are looking for, and the answer to all their questions is Jesus, the next step in the cycle of evangelism.
In Acts 2:12 the people asked, “What does this mean?”Beginning in Acts 2:14, Peter preaches a sermon with one message, and that message was Jesus! Beginning with the Old Testament prophets, Peter explained that “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead…God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact…Therefore let all Israel by assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ…Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”(Acts 2:22-24, 32, 36, 38).
As you live out your faith people will ask questions. The answer is the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
As we proclaim Jesus, people will place their faith in Him, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and the cycle repeats itself. In fact, the cycle will continue until Jesus returns. That is how you change your world! After Peter’s sermon, “three thousand were added to their number”(Acts 2:41). As this cycle repeated itself, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”(Acts 2:47).
God’s plan to change the world starts with you being filled with the Holy Spirit. His plan continues as you live in community and live out your faith in the neighborhood. As you live out your faith, people will notice and ask you questions. The answer to their questions in Jesus. Many will believe in Jesus, be filled with the Spirit, and continue the cycle.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But we all know it is not so simple. The cycle begins with you, but it also stops with you. The reason it is not simple is because we have not really tried it. Our challenge this week is really simple: Do something different. Do something that is radical and counter-cultural. Follow the teachings of Jesus and pray that someone asks you a question. Then, share Jesus with them.
To watch a video of this sermon, click here.