This sermon was posted on Al Mohler’s blog today so I thought I would pass it on. I am looking forward, is that the right description, to listening to it. It was preached at Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa Bay, Florida.
The service is about to begin. A quick peek from behind the pulpit to see how many have turned up. Any visitors? The heart is lifted. Yes, on the right hand side, five rows back. A rare occasion, but a welcome one. Mental note made, must speak to them afterwards. Do so and find out they are a Christian family on holiday. Good to have them, but when are we going to have someone come from the local community? If only they would come in and hear the gospel?
It’s easy to blame people ‘out there’ for not coming under the sound of the gospel, but as I have read Acts 17:16-34 over and over I find the finger of challenge firmly pointed in my direction. I find it easy to sit around waiting for people to come to me with questions about Jesus, there is not much work in that. Yet, the pattern that Paul sets here, and should surely be followed in the West with the great amount of religious freedom that we have, is for the church to go to the world with the Gospel.
Where do we find Paul? Two places, the market and cultural centre and the ruling council that, according to Stott governed the city’s religion, morals and education. Paul went where the people were in order to tell them the gospel about Jesus. He welcomed the opportunities to speak to people, on their territory.
I find this a challenge to my life. Yes, I try, with God’s help, to faithfully preach the gospel, but this is mainly to believers. I know there is a real and important purpose in this as well because as people are transformed then God is glorified in and through them. But what am I doing to ‘earn the right’ to be listened to by those outside the church? What am I doing to impact people’s lives with the reality of Christ in the message of the gospel and the transformation through the gospel that has taken place in my life?
What about as christians? What can we do to get among people in the community? How far up the agenda is this in our churches? Is it a determining factor in location, activities, preaching, expectations or are we set up in the ‘we’ll meet here and you can join us if you are interested in important things’ mentality?
I’m sitting here wondering just how you kick off a new blog, and more particularly one where the purpose is to discuss how we engage today’s world with God’s timeless truth. It might seem an overdone thing, but I think I’m going to begin with some thoughts on Acts 17:16-34.
Many people have turned to this passage in the last few years as an example of how we reach out to the increasingly secular western culture. We are not living in a time where the church building is considered a natural habitat or the Bible part of general knowledge. We need all the help we can get and this passage certainly offers us a huge amount of guidance. I don’t think it is that Paul has a different pattern here, just that his pattern is more obvious. I will post more on the pattern in later posts, for now I want to mention something that pervades this passage; Paul’s clear desire for people to hear the gospel of Jesus.
We often use the phrase, ‘that went over their head’. This is a saying that is often very fitting for us as Christians as we share and proclaim the good news of Jesus. My church is situated up a hill at the top of a dead end street. We meet at the top of the hill and the world passes by at the bottom. I often feel that this is a true picture of our preaching of the gospel too. We are preaching away up the hill, but people are not hearing it. It is simply going over their heads, or worse still not even reaching their ears.
Acts 17 shows that Paul was never satisfied with that situation. He didn’t just want to speak the gospel, he wanted people to hear it. He wanted to take the truth of Jesus and engage people in the conversation so that they were brought face to face with the realities of Jesus and eternal truth. After his speech to the Areopagus not everyone followed Jesus, in fact most didn’t, but all had heard and understood what Paul was saying. He hadn’t preached over their heads and he had got through.
I can’t help feeling greatly humbled as I think how far short of this I fall in my own life and ministry. The passion that is growing in my heart is not just to proclaim the gospel, I want people to hear it. I guess that is why I want to carry on this discussion and do all I can to encourage others to engage today’s world with God’s timeless truth.