Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 4, Number 25, June 26 to July 3, 2002



by Rev. Russell B. Smith

Covenant-First Presbyterian Church
717 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

We're continuing our preparation for the Billy Graham Mission by working our way through a series on Witness: Sharing our Faith. We've answered the question "What is our situation?" — seeing that our situation is marked by living in the tension between dignity and depravity. We've answered the question "What is our solution?" — seeing that our solution was a sacrifice that leads to salvation — the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

This week, we turn to communicating the message, specifically answering the question "How do we speak". In other words, in what ways to we verbally communicate the good news of what Jesus has done for us? We've all heard the stories of Christians who go door to door sharing the gospel. We've heard the stories of people who bring come to Christ in the first encounter with a witnessing Christian. Howard Edington, my former pastor in Florida, told how he and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, were riding in a cab from an airport and Dr. Bright started asking the cab driver questions about faith, and before ten minutes had past, Dr. Bright was asking Dr. Edington to lead the man in a prayer of repentance and trust in Jesus.

We all hear these stories, but can we be honest — most of us think that's kind of wacko. Most of us think that's great for those super-Christians, but I just want to be a normal person. Many of us are just plain reluctant to witness. Oh, I can invite people to my church. I can commend a good book to them. But I am very reluctant to actually share my personal faith. Don't be ashamed. I'm there too. This series is so hard for me to preach because I've felt it too — the guilt that I might not be a good enough Christian. The embarrassment that I don't have more notches on my belt marking the souls I've led to Christ. The pressure that I feel from those who are passionate about sharing the good news. I confess, I'm reluctant too — and this sermon is just as much to encourage me as to encourage you. Here is today's text:

MT 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Jesus encountered this reluctance even after his resurrection. Look at verses 16-17. It says they worshiped but some doubted. These were people who actually saw the risen Christ — they touched his body — they more than anyone had reason to be fully committed, but they doubted. What did they doubt? Certainly not the fact that Jesus stood before them. A clue comes from earlier in Matthew 14. The disciples are in the boat. The storm comes up. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and says, "Tell me to walk on the water." So Jesus calls him out. Peter takes several steps on top of the water, and then, in verse 30, he became afraid and began to sink. Jesus says, "You of little faith; Why did you doubt?" Doubting is not necessarily about the facts of something, but rather about the application of spiritual power on our behalf. The doubting here is not that something actually happened, but that the spiritual power promised us by the event will indeed be worked on our behalf. I believe that most Christians don't doubt what Christ did for us, rather they doubt that the Holy Spirit will use us in a significant way to make a difference in someone's life.

Because of this doubt that existed then and today, Jesus gave very explicit directions right before he ascended to heaven to deal with it. These explicit directions fly in the face of our doubt and energize us to do what we doubt we have the power to do. He tells us to go; He tells us to make disciples; and He tells us to teach.

First notice that in our text, Jesus tells us to go. We don't have the option to wall ourselves up in our holy huddle, holding hands and singing "Kumbayah". We are to go out there among the people. For some, this means to go to a new place and serve as a full time missionary. We support several of these people with special callings — The Ballard family in Norway, the Lizorkin family in the Russian neighborhood of Philadelphia, the Householder family with their ministry to athletes, the Cook family with their ministry in the former Soviet Union.

However, realize that this passage is not just for special missionaries called to the field — it is for the whole church. We are all called to go. We don't have to go out of our way to go into the world. People surround us in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, the shops that we frequent, the places where we exercise, and the organizations we belong to. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by people who may have heard of Jesus, but don't know Him as the Savior. In our calling to go, we are called to build relationships with people. This doesn't mean saying just saying, "How's it going?" It means conversing with them. Finding out about them. It means asking questions and listening more than talking. Remember the old salesman's motto, "Me Me Me is dull dull dull." — our job is to spend time with them, listen to their stories, find out what is on the hearts and minds of these people, and become their friends. It is only in the context of such relationships will us regular folks have the opportunity to share the good news.

Not only does Jesus tell us to go, he tells us to make disciples and baptize them. Now this needs to be understood in the context of the whole Scripture. The Bible does not teach that you through your cleverness and creativity will persuade someone to become a follower of Christ. You will not win souls. Paul addresses this in the Corinthian Church when some claimed to have been saved by Paul, and some by Apollos, Paul's partner in ministry. Paul writes this (I Cor 3:5-9). It is God who gives the growth. It is God who works on the hearts of those around us. We don't have to worry about the results, simply about our part.

But what is our part in making disciples? Quite simply clear communication. It comes from understanding the basic good news message and being able to communicate it. That's what we covered the past two weeks. If you can remember dignity and depravity and a sacrifice that leads to salvation then you can communicate the core idea of the gospel. For a more expanded presentation of this simple truth, I recommend Campus Crusade for Christ's little booklet "The Four Spiritual Laws." 1 There it is in a nutshell — and if you've been paying attention the past two weeks, then you've got it. If not, then go to the Third Millennium website and review those sermons.

However, clear communication isn't just about ideas. It is also about your story? How has Jesus affected you personally? How has He made a difference in your life? What are you like now that Jesus is in your life? How have you seen God's hand at work? Being able to clearly tell your story is just as important as being able to clearly communicate the basic message. As you enter into relationships with people, you will have natural opportunities to tell many stories about yourself — these stories are like seeds that we sow in peoples minds — seeds that the Holy Spirit grows and bears fruit as they inquire about this faith that you have.

If you need a resource to help you in learning how to clearly communicate, I highly recommend Bill Hybel's book Becoming a Contagious Christian. Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek church in Chicago, one of the most exciting and dynamic churches in the country. The point of the book is to teach you how to share your faith in a compelling and refreshingly different way. He hopes to teach you how to take advantage of the natural opportunities in your life to share the gospel.

One of my favorite stories from the book illustrates the capacity to clearly communicate. Hybels and his wife were on vacation and a couple they met invited them to a party. As they were in conversation with people in the party, it became clear that most of the people weren't believers. Hybles was straightforward about his profession, but not pushy in sharing faith. They had a pleasant and cordial time. As he and his wife were leaving — she had already climbed down the ladder to their dinghy, and he had one foot on deck and one foot on the ladder, the host asked "Say, Bill, before you leave can you answer a question? I've always wanted to ask a Christian what it means to become one. Could you tell all of us?" So here he is, half off the boat and everyone, pina coladas in hand, suddenly turn their attention to Hybels. The need for clear and quick communication was imminent.

Hybels quickly summarized the gospel by saying it's about Do verses Done. Religion, he said, is spelled D-O. It's all about what you do to work gain God's favor. The problem is that you can never be sure that you've done enought. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. Jesus did what we could never do for ourselves. He lived the perfect life we could never live and he died on the cross to pay the penalty for the wrongs we've done. To become a real Christian is to humbly accept what he has done for us and put ourselves under Christ's leadership. Then he adopts us into His family and begins to change us from the inside out.

Isn't that a succinct and powerful answer? To make disciples, we need to be prepared to communicate that clearly, both the basic message and our personal stories.

So, Jesus tells us to go; he tells us to make disciples; he tells us to teach. Each of us must be prepared to tell someone who accepts Christ "What's next" Here the basic principle is that you can only take people as far as you've gone yourself. Remember the last point of the do/done message — After you accept his leadership, he works on you from the inside out. How is Jesus working on you? How is he transforming you? Jesus works on everyone differently. You have a unique story about what Jesus is doing in your life. That story is your gift to the rest of us and to new believers. Don't horde it. Don't be selfish. Be prepared to teach.

Another principle that came out of the Billy Graham Christian Life and witness course is that to teach someone else, you only need to be one step ahead of him or her. You don't have to be a super Christian to teach someone else. You only have to be one step ahead.

Therefore, to clearly communicate the message, to tell your story, you have to have a story to tell. If we are to teach new disciples to obey, then we have to learn what it is to obey ourselves. We need to be in the Scriptures regularly and in prayer to help us understand the Scripture. As we engage in worship, witness, study, sharing, and serving, we will understand more and more what it means to obey. This isn't a guilt thing. Really. Jesus won't love you any less if you aren't following through on this. Rather it's a hunger thing — if you're hungry for the excitement and meaning that comes from living out what you were created to be, then you'll chase after it with gusto. If you're not hungry for that, but you want to be, then simply pray for the hunger. It will come. We'll talk about this in more depth next week.

Finally, notice the order Jesus uses. First go, then make disciples, and finally teach. He begins with his authority and he ends with his everlasting presence with his disciples. We're not in this alone. We have God as our companion. We'll talk about this point in more depth in two weeks.

So, with those teasers to keep you until next time, let's take God's Word to heart. Amen.


1. Editor's Note: The updated version of this tract is available at