Society of Fellows
Several years ago I preached at the Pontiac Silver Dome. It was the largest crowd that I have ever spoken to. They were not there to hear me; there were a series of other preachers. As a matter of fact, they put me in between Josh McDowell and E. V. Hill. After I had finished speaking at the Pontiac Silver Dome I heard people say "I know Josh McDowell. I know E. V. Hill. But who is this Rainer, and who do men say that he is?"
Now what was really amazing was after I preached in the Pontiac Silver Dome, I was greeted by someone whom I did not recognize. I did not know who Ray Boltz was, nor did I know that he had written a song called "Thank You." And so when I stepped down from the podium, Ray Boltz grabs me and he puts his arms around me and he says "Thank you—for giving to the Lord." I looked at my wife and I said "He knows that song." I am ignorant!
I invite you to turn Acts 9:26. Hear the word of God. "And when he came to Jerusalem he was trying to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and bought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and he had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord, and he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, but they were attempting to put him to death. When the brethren learned of it they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus."
Timing has a lot to say about what we do. I found out that timing was somewhat unfortunate, in a recent speaking and consulting engagement in Memphis, Tennessee. It was not necessarily important where I was speaking or to whom I was speaking, but the timing at which I was speaking. It was the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. After speaking, I went back to my hotel room. I looked all around me and (I don't exaggerate) I saw at least 400 Elvis impersonators. I get in the elevator; there are four Elvis impersonators in the elevator with me. I'm thinking to myself (my prejudice is clearly showing through—anybody that's an Elvis impersonator has to be lost, and I must witness to them at this very moment) and I only have these few floors—this quick time—what do I say? One of the impersonators said "Number 7, please." I punched Number 7 and they all four responded in unison "Thank you. Thank you very much." And I'm thinking "What am I doing here?"
What would I do in this brief time? What would you say with a brief opportunity to tell someone about the gospel of Jesus Christ? There was a man, his name was Saul. If we go through the previous verses beginning in verse 19, we see that it's right after his conversion. And we see that in the latter portion of verse 19 that he was with the disciples for several days. The Galatian version says that he was with them for three days. During those times he began to learn more about who this Christ was. He had the Jewish background, but now he was putting the pieces of the puzzle together and seeing that this was the fulfillment of all prophecy.
Verse 20 speaks volumes to us. It says "Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues and saying (the only time this phrase is ever used of Jesus in the book of Acts) that he is the son of God." They began to question who he was and said "Isn't this the one who was in Jerusalem destroying those who called on his name? Isn't this the one who was doing everything he could to persecute the Church? But it says in verse 22 that Paul continued in strength and he continued to confound the Jews in Damascus by telling them how Jesus was the Christ.
Then we begin to see the first sign of his persecution, for in verse 23 they plotted to do away with him. Those who were plotting to do away with him were watching the gates day and night so that when he came out of that gate they may put him to death. We know that in this particular context Paul escaped from the death that so many were trying to bring to him. In verse 25 they put him in a basket. He literally balled himself up into a basket in the shape of a ball. They put him into the basket and they lowered him down. From the Jewish perspective, this might be the first time that we have seen a "basket ball traveling violation" as he got down in the wall and he began to escape.
The text of the day is what Paul did immediately after his conversion. I am not going to suggest that this was the most important thing that he could do, but at the same time it was the first thing that he did. Immediately after spending time with the disciples, he went into the area of Damascus, then into the area of Jerusalem, and began to tell others about Christ.
What was the price of evangelism for the apostle Paul? What price evangelism did he pay? In the 1952 movie classic "What Price Glory?" James Cagney plays the part of a man who was many ways torn through the horrors of war. "What Price Glory" tells the story of the cost of war. And the question that I ask you this morning, "What is the price of evangelism that you are willing to pay?"
He had been with the disciples for several days. He had already studied under Gamaliel, the honored teacher. Paul himself was an honored Pharisaic member. He was part of those who were in power. He was a persecutor of the Christians. Verse 20 indicates that immediately he began to proclaim and then in verse 26, once again, he begins to share what Christ had done for him. We begin to see the price of evangelism that Paul paid.
Let me share with you the three issues that Paul had to deal with for evangelism. One was ostracism. A second one was sacrifice. A third one was the risk of death. How many of us, in our every day lives, ask the question, "What are we willing to do in order to tell those who do not know about Christ, the good news of Jesus?"
When I was at Southern Seminary in the early and mid eighties, one of the things that I noticed quickly was the busyness of life could take me away from the priorities of life. I noticed that the studies and the rigors of theological education could remove me from my family and the obligation and honor I had to be a father and a husband. I also noticed that busier I became in theological education, the less I tended to tell others what Christ had done for me. In the providence of God, I was called to be a pastor of a small church in southern Indiana. I remember meeting with the entire search committee. His name was Merle. I asked Merle "Why is it that you think that God may be leading this church to call me as pastor?" Merle takes his wad of tobacco out of his hands and he drips it on my shoes and says "Ain't nobody else applied for the job." I had my first sense of affirmation that God was calling me into pastoral ministry.
The little church was averaging seven in attendance. My family of four made it eleven. I called up all my buddies in church growth and said "We have had a 47 percent increase in attendance in one week in our church. How have you done?"
The little church had not seen a baptism for 25 years. Somehow God reminded me in the midst of this that it was time to get back to what really matters; to giving my family the priority time that they needed and to telling others about Jesus Christ.
One of those with whom I shared Christ as we were busy renovating the church was Steve. I asked as he was painting "Steve, would you like to know how to become a Christian?" No entree, no type of dialog, just simply "Would you like to know how to become a Christian?" He said "Yes." And as he had a paint brush in hand, I shared with him how Jesus Christ died for all sinners. I shared with him how we were all sinners who had fallen short of the glory of God, how Jesus died on the cross as his substitute, and how by placing his faith in Him he could have the promise of eternal life by faith. And Steve, with paintbrush in hand, accepted Jesus.
But it did not end there. Steve told Nancy, his wife, and Nancy told their parents, and then it began to spread throughout the community, and before we knew it the little church was averaging over sixty in attendance.
What does it take? What price evangelism? For the apostle Paul, one of the prices that he began to pay immediately was ostracism. We see in verses 26 through 28 that he tried to associate himself with the disciples, but they were afraid of him. They didn't believe that he was a disciple. Good old Barnabas comes in and says "Here, I'll bring you together. I'll tell you what happened to Paul. I'll show them how the Damascus Road was a real experience." So the immediate ostracism was lifted, and once again we see the word that is mentioned many times in this text: the word "boldly" in verse 27, again in verse 28 He tells people boldly about the name of Jesus.
That was ostracism among some fellow believers who didn't believe that he was a true convert, but you and I will suffer ostracism in the world when we tell people about Christ. The cross is offensive. Christ, the only way of salvation (John 14:6) is considered narrow minded and intolerant. Did you see the Donahue show with Southern Seminary’s President Al Mohler? One of the lines the rabid rabbi gave toward Dr. Mohler was just unbelievable. Dr. Mohler was faithfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the millions in the audience. He was faithfully going Scripture, and the rabbi said to him, "Dr. Mohler, are you allowed to think for yourself?" I almost bust a seam in my gut—asking Dr. Mohler if he's allowed to think for himself. If I could have been with the rabbi then I would have said "No. He calls me for everything he says. Not at all. He doesn't think for himself." What Dr. Mohler said was offensive to the world. It is offensive when you tell the world that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation and explicit faith in him is necessary. For Paul, the ostracism was with fellow believers. That can happen to us, as well.
What price evangelism are you willing to pay? If I were to take all the church members in the United States and to put them in a pot and add them all up, and look at the number of conversions, people who genuinely had an experience of salvation with Jesus Christ, you know what those numbers would show? It takes 85 church members in America a year to reach one person for Jesus Christ.
Let's bring it home a little bit. Not just to Southern Baptist life, but to those in ministry. In our survey of those who were in vocational ministry, those who are pastors and ministers of education and youth and music and so on—when we asked them this question in an anonymous survey, "How many of you have told someone about Jesus in the last twelve months?" only 17 percent said "Yes." And we wonder why our churches are dying. They're certainly dying doctrinally. They're certainly dying for lack of the presence of God's spirit, but they're also dying because evangelism is not taking place.
One of my greatest memories at Southern Seminary is when Dr. Ted Cable was on the executive cabinet when he was Dean of Boyce. Every Wednesday Dr. Cable and I would talk right before the meeting. In an informal way, we would share with each other those with whom we had shared Christ the past week. Are you sharing your faith? Are you accountable to someone?
What price evangelism? The price of ostracism, the price of sacrifice. For the apostle Paul we begin to see the cost of his proclaiming Christ. By the time we get to verse 28 he is moving about freely in Jerusalem, and he continues speaking out "boldly" in the name of the Lord. By the time we get to verse 30 we see they are shipping him away again. Once again, Paul cannot stay in one place because of a threat on his very life. He is brought down to Caesarea and presumably put on a boat and taken to his hometown of Tarsus. It is not convenient to be evangelistic.
Ask Mark Terry if he's willing to go back to the Philippines at the risk of persecution, of terrorist cells, and he will tell you he will give his very life to return to tell the Filipinos about Jesus. Ask George Martin if he is ready to return to what he really considers his homeland of Indonesia at risk of death to the Muslim extremists, and he will say "I'll gladly give my life."
What inconvenience are you willing to suffer? What sacrifice are you willing to make to tell the good news of Jesus Christ?
In verse 29 we see what was causing the problem. He was arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, the Greek Jews, those who obviously knew much about the Old Testament of which Paul had spoken so much to this point but could not be convinced that Christ was the fulfillment of it all. As he talked and argued with them, as he presumably shared Christ one on one, as he presumably presented an apologetic case for Christ being the true Messiah, their response—they were attempting to put him to death. Those who share the good news of Jesus Christ will pay the price of ostracism.
You will also pay the price of sacrifice. It is not comfortable in this world, and in this culture, to say that there is absolute truth and there is but one way. You will be ostracized, you'll have to sacrifice, but for some of you, though I would not wish a martyr's death upon anyone, it may be that you will be called to give your very life for the sake of the gospel. For Paul, death was always an option.
The Greek-speaking Jews, the Hellenistic Jews, obviously had fresh on their memory the message of Stephen, the stoning of Stephen, and the death of Stephen. And they obviously saw the apostle Paul as yet one more who needed to be put to death for this heretical teaching that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Last semester I received a telephone call from one of the members of my first church. It's always an honor to get a call from a body of believers that were the first ones to whom you ministered as a pastor. They put up with your mistakes; they look at the silliness of your ministry and still love you anyway. I received a telephone call from Virginia. Steve was the first person I led to Christ. Steve and his family began to come to church. Their extended family began to come to church. I began to believe that I was the only one who was not kin in that church as it began to grow with this extended family. One of those who came to the church was Virginia, the mother-in-law of Steve. She called me up and said these simple words: "I'm dying. I have cancer. Can you come talk to me?" I said "Virginia, I'll be there tomorrow."
I left the seminary and went to see Virginia as she was obviously in the latter stages of a cancer that was ravaging her body. I sat down by her and said probably what many of you in ministry say many times. I said "Virginia, what can I say? What can I do?" She said "Tell me what you told me back in 1984." I said "What do you mean?" She said "Tell me what you told me back in 1984, how we are all sinners—you remember that?" I said "Yes, I do." I went through the entire gospel presentation with her. I shared with her once again how only Jesus saves. I shared with her how He covers all sins through his substitutionary death on the cross, and I shared with her, because she had received him many years ago, that she could be assured that she would soon be in his presence. Two weeks later I received the call to come to the funeral. Virginia was dead. But I knew beyond a shadow of doubt, because my faith is placed in the Savior who saves, in the only truth and life, and the only way of salvation, that she had put her faith in Him and she was in his presence that day.
There are so many things I could do in pastoral ministry. There are so many ways that I want to feed the flock, and teach, and be one of doctrinal purity, but one of the greatest joys I had was to be able to stand before a congregation and to say "I know where Virginia is today."
What is the price of evangelism that you are willing to pay? What is the price that you are willing for your life to be consumed with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? Evangelism is not merely for evangelists. Evangelism is not just for students in the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism and Church Growth. Evangelism does not just take place when we take that course called "personal evangelism." Evangelism is a part of who we are. It becomes our very being, and like the apostle Paul, it overflows so much that we cannot help but tell people about Christ. What price evangelism are you willing to pay?
Join me in prayer. “Father, may you listen to the prayers of your children in this moment, where you ask us if we are being obedient to those last words your Son said before he ascended to you: ‘You will be my witnesses.’ And Lord, where we have gotten too busy to do the best, where we have substituted the good for the best, break our hearts. Give us the vision, the heart that you have for a lost, for a dying and hell-bound world. Give us such an overflowing love of you in us and what you have done through us and what you are doing, that Christ cannot help but show through in all that we do and all that we say. Let us never get too busy to tell people about your son, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.”
Written by: Dr. Thom