Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 31, 2022
“Fundamentally Sound: Evangelism”
Over the past three of my sermons here at Cornerstone EPC, we have treated my big three fundamentals for soundness in Christian faith and practice: namely, Scripture intake, prayer, and worship—both public and private, though we treated only public worship from the pulpit. There are more such fundamentals—quite a few more in fact—according to Dr. Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.1 We’ll get to all of them, God willing, during the rest of the summer and perhaps into the early fall. We tackle one fundamental today which, for me, is among the toughest—to wit, evangelism. Let’s get some training and encouragement together from God’s Word this morning.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The Apostle John’s Spirit-led narrative opens with Jesus willing to go from Judea, in the south of the Holy Land, to Galilee in the north. In this setting, Jesus calls Philip, saying to him, “Follow Me,” (and implying, “Keep on following,” presumably as His disciple).2 Philip, for his part, follows: and that without delay, without challenge, and without excuse. The next action we read in the narrative, after information concerning Philip’s origin, is of Philip, very lately called to follow Jesus, telling Nathanael about Him. Philip declares, “We,”(including likely town-mates Andrew and Peter), “have found the One Whom the Law and Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip, in his likely zealous presentation, unwittingly errs thrice. First, Philip and his friends, are found by Christ. They do not find Him. Second, Jesus, actually, is of Bethlehem—though He has lived almost the whole of His earthly life in Nazareth. Third, Jesus, though thought to be the son of Joseph, is the Son of God. In spite of these errors, and in spite of Nathanael’s objection to Jesus’ domicile, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip brings him to Jesus, bidding him, “Come and see.” Come and see, O Nathanael, this Man of whom Philip spoke—and, in seeing Him, see Gospel truth, and see God Himself, incarnate in this Man. Though Philip cannot meet Nathanael’s objection, he goes with him to the One Who can.
This ends Philip’s action. Jesus does everything else to bring Nathanael into saving relationship with Himself. He displays His omniscience concerning Nathanael’s person and character—and that to Nathanael’s wonder: “How do You know me?” Jesus tells Nathanael how—and Jesus’ display and words persuade him by the secret work of the Holy Spirit. The evidence lies in Nathanael’s exclamations, “Rabbi, You surely are the Son of God! You surely are King of Israel!”3 Then Jesus, pleased that Nathanael believes on relatively little evidence, assures him that much more evidence—confirmatory at that—lies in wait. Jesus, by a somewhat veiled allusion to Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), declares Himself the Way (cf. John 14:6) between Heaven and earth—replacing the ladder in Jacob’s vision with Himself.
Note that Philip, once claimed by Christ, tells another of Him. He tells of Jesus, to the best of his ability, to someone he knows. This is also true in other New Testament cases. Andrew, once claimed by Christ, tells Peter, his brother, of Him (1:41-42), and the woman at the well, converted, tells all of Sychar of Jesus, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (4:29). Similarly, we who are in Christ are to tell others of Him: both of His being (Who He is) and of His works (what He has done, does, and evermore shall do).
We tell others, with great glee and fervor, of other things we perceive as good. We tell, without much prompting, about the new girlfriend, or child, or grandchild, among others. We tell others readily of the good things that happen in our lives. We also share readily concerning the groups and causes we support—such as our political parties and candidates, our sports teams, and our high schools, colleges, and universities, to name but three. Yet many of us are reticent to talk about Jesus. Why is this?
We demur to talk of Jesus often because we fear failure in the effort. We fear failure because after all, in some cases, we don’t know Jesus in a saving way. If this be true, then cry out to God for His salvation this very hour—and let me know if I may help you in this. We fear failure in our testimony to Jesus because we don’t know the Gospel—or the balance of the Bible—very well. We also harbor the fear that our hearer won’t accept the message we proclaim—and in the rejection of the Gospel message, and, hence, of Christ Himself, we fear the rejection of ourselves as well.
Here now are some truths to ease our reticence and our fears.4 First, evangelism matters. It is the consistent pattern of the New Testament that those inside Christ’s saving love share the Good News about Him with those outside. Second, you don’t need to know everything. Philip didn’t know everything, and God yet used him. Third, evangelism is not only for pastors or for gifted evangelists. Evangelism, like prayer, is for everyone. Fourth, the result is not up to you. This is a wonderfully freeing thing for me. The result is up to God, and we can trust Him with His result from our evangelistic endeavors. Fifth, the worst result is not as bad as you think. We tend to think the most horrific results from our efforts, likely fueled by the evil one—yet, in most cases the most horrific comes not to pass. Let us declare Jesus with gentleness and respect, and leave the result to Him.
Finally, here are some (not all) ways to start the Gospel conversation.5 You may remark concerning something that happened at church on Sunday. Or you may testify that you read something really helpful in the Bible recently—and declared what that was. The Lord may well use your honest question, “How can I pray for you?” to move the one you ask to see the One through Whom we pray. In any case, beloved, let’s share Jesus, and our faith in Him, with others.
1 Dr. Whitney is professor of Biblical spirituality, and associate dean of the School of Theology, at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
2 The Greek imperative of John 1:43 is in the present tense, which connotes continuing action. See J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners (New York: Macmillan, 1923), 180.
3 The Greek constructions are emphatic.
4 Simon van Bruchem, “Help! I’m Terrified of Evangelism!” Written for Our Instruction (blogspot), May 25, 2022 (https://writtenforourinstruction.com/help-im-terrified-of-evangelism, accessed July 28, 2022). Rev. van Bruchem serves as pastor of All Nations Presbyterian Church in Perth, Western Australia.
5 Ibid, with exception of “How Can I Pray for You?” which occurs in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: Revised and Updated (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 131.