So, tell me, did you grow up in church, or did you start attending much later in life?
I read a story about a teenage boy who grew up in church, and that’s a great thing! I encourage you to raise your kids in church! One study shows that the more a person is in church as a child and teenager, the more likely they will be a healthy Christian as they move out on their own and become independent adults. One hour a week is better than none. Two hours a week is better than one. But three hours a week is really setting your children up to be active church-going people all of their lives.
So it was a great thing that this teenage boy grew up in church. The only problem was that the church that he grew up in taught that a person could lose their salvation based on how they lived. So he constantly doubted whether he was truly saved. He tried to be a good Christian, but every time he sinned, he lived in fear that he wasn’t good enough. He tried to share Jesus with others, but it always ended in an argument because his motivation was secretly to prove to himself that he was right and good enough and worthy to be called a Christian.
He was taught false doctrine, that God only loved him if he behaved a certain way, and that led to an unhealthy way of doing what ought to be a very natural and healthy practice for Christians: sharing the gospel.
Is there anything that’s hindering you from sharing the gospel? Maybe it’s a false doctrine, or a fear, or an insecurity. What is it that hinders you from sharing the gospel? Whatever it is, I wonder how much of that can be overcome by realizing just how much Jesus really loves you.
Anyway, one Sunday, when this teenage boy visited a friend’s church and heard the gospel that salvation is by grace through faith, it changed his life. He no longer looked to his own life to prove he was a Christian, but he looked to Jesus. And after that, he started obeying and sharing Jesus with joy.
My sermon this morning is about evangelism, even though a lot of it may not sound like it’s about evangelism. But it’s all about why and how we go about evangelism, and how if we go about sharing the gospel with the wrong why, we’ll inevitably mess up the how also.
We talked last week about how 2,000 years ago, an angel found some shepherds in a field, and announced to them “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The angel, of course, was talking about the birth of a little baby in a dirty manger. And as much as all the world considered it to be unremarkable at the time, the angel announced that the birth of Jesus is good news!
And we continue to celebrate Christmas even today because we believe that the birth of Jesus is still good news. It’s good news that God sent us Jesus to be the Savior of the world. It’s good news that although we sin, Jesus saves. And it’s good news that because Jesus came, He will make all things new.
We also talked last week about how we often love to hear and share bad news, but we often don’t fully believe good news. And when you really start to understand the gospel, you might even think that it’s too good to be true. And I’m sure for at least a moment, even the first shepherds who heard the news about Jesus straight from the angel wondered if it was true. So rather than letting the shepherds just wonder about this news, the angel actually told them where to find this baby, so they could see for themselves.
And in the same way, we shouldn’t just be content to hear good news, and then go about our day. We ought to seek it out. We ought to go to where the good news is, so that we can also become eye-witnesses of the good news, so that we would then tell the good news to all the world. That’s what the shepherds did, and that’s where we pick up the story today.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20)
Father, as we treasure these things in our hearts, I pray that you would stir us up to share these things with all the world. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Do we have any art lovers out there? I kind of think we’re all art lovers in a way, we just love different kinds of art. Maybe you love paintings, or classical music, or even dubstep. Does anybody listen to that anymore? Anyway, whatever your favorite kind of art is, is there are certain piece of art that whenever you see it or hear it, it gives you peace?
There’s a story about a wealthy man who wanted to buy a painting that perfectly illustrated the feeling of peace. Not finding one that satisfied him, he issued a contest for artists to paint him one. Artists sent him paintings from all over the world. Most of them were very similar. There were paintings of calm lakes, serene fields, and beautiful sunsets. But none of these gave him the feeling of peace that he was looking for. Instead, the painting that he selected as the winner was of a raging waterfall just before a violent storm.
This isn’t the exact painting, but this one was inspired by the original story.
In the painting, you could see the dark, ominous clouds forming and could feel the tension of what was about to happen. And there were a couple scraggly looking trees, being beaten by the waterfall’s waves.
But then if you look real close at the painting, you could see a bird’s nest right in the middle of the waterfall where the water parted, and in it a small momma bird guarded her eggs in the middle of the chaos with quiet confidence, because she had done it many times before. And this was the painting that illustrated perfect peace.
We have such an incredible need for peace today. Whenever we look at the world around us, we see all kinds of conflicts. There are wars and rumors of wars. Governments constantly threaten one another. Parties within the same nation don’t get along. And all of this shouldn’t be any surprise, because oftentimes, there’s even drama and conflict within our own families. And not only that, but even within ourselves, we’re often conflicted about what we believe, or what we should do, even regarding some of the most important things. It’s like our very existence is characterized by the exact opposite of peace.
So what are we, both collectively as the church, and individually as Christians, supposed to do about that?
Jesus would later say, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” So we have a command to be people who promote peace. But in the desire to be first and right, we’re often wrong because of the ways we express truth. Rather than being people of peace, we quarrel and fight. It’s far too easy to engage in the drama, and to stir things up, and to call for war with our enemies, but Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, and He calls us also to be peacemakers.
Are you a peacemaker, or do you constantly find yourself stirring the pot?
Now, this doesn’t mean that we should always avoid conflict at all costs. Jesus called the Pharisees vipers. He cleansed the temple of the moneychangers. He said that He didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. He came to divide father from son, mother from daughter, and mother in law from daughter in law. That sounds like a whole lot of family drama!
And the reality is that for a time, there will be conflict in this world. We can’t just ignore that. It’s an error to say “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. So how do we not ignore the reality of war, and yet promote peace? I think the answer is to seek Jesus.
Notice what the shepherds did when they heard about Jesus. Verse 15.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
When the shepherds heard the good news about Jesus, they wanted to see for themselves. They wanted to be a part of the good news, to sit at His feet, and worship. They wanted to rest in the good news of great joy that would be for all the people.
This goes against how most of us think and live. When we hear something new, we often filter it through what we already believe. If it disagrees with us, we disregard or attack it. And if it does agree with us, we immediately take it to social media and use it as a weapon against people who don’t agree with us without even digging deeper to find out if it’s really true or not. But when the shepherds did something completely different.
You know, the shepherds could have just taken the news they heard and started spreading it. They could have gone to the city and started debating with the Pharisees themselves. But instead, they wanted to see Jesus. And I don’t think it’s because they didn’t believe, but rather because I think they wanted to rest and rejoice in the good news.
I’m not sure most people would really do that today. Most people today don’t seem to care about really resting in the true good news, they just want to feel good about themselves in the moment and continue living however they want. They may try to squeeze Jesus into their lives a little by going to church occasionally or even telling people that Jesus is their Savior when it comes up, but it’s only because it’s often only because they’re trying to prove to themselves that they’re really Christians.
And when I say “they,” I really mean “we,” or at least, “me.” I’m sure that I don’t spend nearly enough time just resting in what God has done for me. And if I’m honest, my motivations for obeying God are often very selfish. And if I don’t rest adequately in the good news, letting it really sink in, then how can I ever expect to share the good news the way God wants me to?
I mean, I might share it anyway because I like a good argument, but that would be like honoring God with my lips while my heart is far from Him. But if we want to be people of peace, then we need to not only believe the truth, but to sit at the feet of Jesus, and worship Him, continually being thankful for God’s grace being shown to us, sinners. And only THEN can we begin to share it in a way that glorifies God, speaking the truth in love.
So that’s what the shepherds did. They went to see Jesus. Verse 17 says:
When they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:17)
So what was the saying that had been told to them concerning the child? It’s what we read last week. Go back up to verse 10.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
And the angels also said in verse 14:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14)
You see, God offers peace to all of those who will trust in Jesus. It’s a peace with Him, peace within ourselves, and it’s peace with one another. Even when others around us may stir up drama, or accuse us of all sorts of things, God’s peace means that we can answer them with love, and gentleness, and self-control. And truly believing and resting in the good news allows us to do that.
In fact, it’s often the drama of life that gives us the opportunity to share Jesus. When others aren’t experiencing the peace that we have, we have the opportunity to let them know that God loves them and offers them grace and peace, not in a condemning way, but simply because we’re amazed that we ourselves were shown this same grace.
The shepherds were amazed that they were seeing what the angel had told them. And maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, if I suddenly saw a bunch of angels tell me about Jesus, and if I were able to go and see Jesus myself first-hand, I’d just rest at His feet and worship Him, too!” And maybe you would. But let me ask you this: when’s the last time you opened up His word outside of church? When’s the last time you sang a song in worship to God outside of church? Listen, I’m not trying to discount the importance of worshiping God together, and being encouraged through His word together, I’m just saying we have the opportunity to rest and rejoice in Jesus every single day, and if we’re not doing that, then the way we go about evangelism is going to suffer.
Put it this way. Who’s your best friend? Maybe your best friend is from high school, or work, or church. Think about who it is. Ok? Now, let’s say you never ever see your best friend again. It’s not that they disappear or that they moved away or anything, it’s just that you never take time to see them or talk to them. You ignore their calls. You don’t respond to their texts. You just stop seeing them. But whenever anyone asks you who your best friend is, you still say it’s that person. But if I were to ask that person, I wonder what they would say?
Listen, God wants you to have a real, active, first-hand relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t want you to just take my word for it, or base your relationship with Him on an experience you had years ago. He wants you to hear from Him daily by reading His word, and He wants you to respond in prayer, casting all your cares on Him. And we do this as we’re thankful for what Jesus has done for us, and it’s through this vibrant relationship that God invigorates us to serve Him and tell others about Him.
So the shepherds went and rejoiced with Mary and Joseph about these things. And just as the shepherds were amazed, they were all amazed, too! Verses 18-19.
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:18-19)
Even while the shepherds went to see Jesus, they began preaching. They couldn’t contain their joy! This is like going to church, and not just sitting in a pew, but being an active participant. It’s like sharing in Sunday School, or singing special music, or reading the Scripture aloud. Paul told us that when we gather, each one is to bring a hymn, or a verse, or something, so that we might all be built up.
Make up your mind not to just be a passive Christian. Don’t just come to church to watch and listen. Come to give and serve. And if you don’t know how to just jump in and do that, I’d love for you to ask me, “How can I get involved in the life of the church?” There have been very few people over the years who have said to me, “I want to serve at church, but I don’t know how. But I’ll do anything you want, Pastor!” I love that kind of faith! And God loves that kind of faith. Because that says to God, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.” But it starts with simply resting in the good news about Jesus.
And it’s at this point that the shepherds began to proclaim the good news about Jesus’s birth not just to Mary and Joseph, but to everyone they saw. Verse 20.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
Now, I could be wrong, but I imagine that the way they did that was vastly different from how the gospel is often shared today. Today, Christians often see the gospel as a weapon that we need to beat people with. We seem to feel like we need to use it in order to scare people into worshiping God, like it’s bad news. But I imagine that the shepherds went out and were joyful. They told people, “I heard the angels! I saw the baby! The Savior has been born, and it’s good news of great joy for all people!”
Do you believe that? Do you have the joy and peace of Jesus in your heart and life?
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)
What do we mean when we say that the gospel is good news? Do we treat like it’s good news? This series will explore how the gospel truly is good news of great joy that shall be for all the people. Sermons: November 29, 2020: Anointed to Bring Good News (Isaiah 61:1-4) December 6, 2020: Good… (read more)