Romans 9:2-3 “…I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren…”
What makes you really sad?
Imagine a circle of relationships around your life. In the middle of this circle is your life. For most of us, our response grows more intense the closer tragedy strikes. Troubles on the fringes of our world (like slavery in Sudan or persecution in India) do not concern us as much.
Paul loved those close to him. But he grieved continuously for those outside of Christ. His circle of compassion ranged wide and far. Tears were shed. Cries were made to heaven. A burden was borne.
Do we cry over the people next door who don’t know Christ? Do we groan under the weight of spiritual concern for the men and women we work beside? Do we weep for our lost employer? Do we ask God to light up the darkened souls in our city and in our world?
To be like Paul means drawing the circle of our love and compassion to include anyone with a spiritual need. To have a heart for God will lead to God’s heart. Are you ready?
Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
On July 20, 2004 Jason Clauss and his brother went surfing on a beautiful summer day off the coast of Long Island, New York. At the end of several hours of fun, Jason returned to shore and had removed his wetsuit when he heard cries for help offshore. Two brothers had been pulled out to sea by a riptide and were struggling to stay afloat. Grabbing his board, Jason plunged into the icy waters and managed to rescue one of the boys. The body of the other boy was never found. Whenever someone calls Jason a “hero” he brushes it off saying: “The other kid is still out there.” (Source: Doug Colligan, Rough Waters, Reader’s Digest, March 2005, p. 31)
How many Christians through the ages have struggled with “ineffectiveness”? Faithfully sharing the good news, they are delighted when someone comes to faith—but devastated when someone “falls away.” The good news can change a human heart forever, but it doesn’t always happen that way—leaving many sincere Christians with disturbing questions about what went wrong.
We will not always experience success in our sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 13 anticipates the discouragement that His disciples (and future generations) would face in sharing the gospel. Jesus does not want us to be surprised — He wants us to understand what is happening.
Through a simple story about a farmer broadcasting seed, Jesus explains that the successful transformation of a human life requires three elements.
- The seed represents the message of redemption (13:19). The message of salvation is powerful. Paul would later describe the gospel message as God’s power to change a human heart (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:18). Power like that cannot fail!
- The sower represents anyone who shares the good news (13:18-19). Although Jesus Christ is the ultimate “sower” (13:37), He uses Christians as His hands and feet in the act of redemption. If Jesus is the one who sows the truth, then the sower does not fail!
- The soils represent the hearts of the hearers and how they respond to the good news (13:1-9). Four very different responses to Jesus are described, but only one heart is really transformed (13:23). The problem of “ineffective Christianity” does not lie in the seed or the sower, but in the soil!
Armed with this vital insight, we can begin to understand why the good news doesn’t change everyone who hears it. There are four very different heart responses.
There are people who simply will not care. (vs. 19)
As the sower scatters seed in the air, some of it lands on the hard, dusty trail beside the field. The birds quickly snatch up the easy meal. The message never had a chance! This soil represents people who hear with little or no comprehension of the truth. They do not even try to absorb what they are hearing. Preoccupied with other issues on their mind, they are demonically distracted and become indifferent to our message.
There are people who will like what they hear, but will not be changed by what they hear. (vs. 20-21)
Some of the scattered seed lands in shallow, rocky soil. It germinates, but cannot survive when the sun’s heat dries out the vulnerable root system. Jesus said this describes a heart initially moved by the good news, but not really motivated by the good news. Expressing great emotion and excitement, this person is void of any real commitment to Christ. As soon as trouble or persecution erupts because of their close association with Christ, they will fade and abandon the race.
There are people who will partially commit themselves without a full commitment. (vs. 22)
The seeds also land in a patch of thorns. In time, the dominant thorns crowd out the seed, causing it to die and become fruitless. Partial commitment describes a heart trying to nourish multiple sets of lifestyles, passions and pursuits. Because this person accepts the gospel as one of many other interests and ambitions, competing passions obstruct genuine conversion. Career ambitions, financial goals, and recreational pursuits can easily crowd out an authentic commitment to Jesus Christ.
There are people who will absolutely give their lives to the truth and lead others to do the same. (vs.23)
Some of the seed lands on good soil, yielding an abundant harvest. Jesus said this soil represents people who hear and understands the message. This person alone understands the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus Christ in total commitment. The responsive heart is marked by a drive to reproduce itself in the hearts of others. Not satisfied with just hearing the truth, this person is ready to give away life for the sake of others.
In the book of Acts we have a record of the “starting line” of the Christian church. Beginning at Pentecost, believers reached out to the lost in dozens of languages and cultures throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Although they encountered many obstacles and disappointments, the early Christians penetrated their world with breathtaking speed. So where does effective ministry begin?
Effective ministry begins…
When I understand that all of my resources combined will never be enough to do the job. (v. 1)
On the day of Pentecost we find the disciples gathered together in one place. With all they had experienced with Jesus and armed with the Great Commission, we would expect them to be out in the streets, preaching the good news.
However, in Acts 1:4 and 1:8, Jesus made it clear that the disciples needed something more in order to fulfill their mission of local and global evangelization. Years of intensive training and sitting at the feet of Jesus were not sufficient. By telling them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, Jesus was underscoring a basic truth: in my own strength and abilities I will always be inadequate to do what God has called me to do (Zechariah 4:6).
Power for the task is a gift, not an achievement.
When I am filled with and fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit. (v. 2-4)
Heralded by the sound of wind and the appearance of fire, the Holy Spirit came to rest visually on each disciple as a fiery flame. Through this imagery, He makes it clear that each individual disciple needs His guidance and enablement in ministry. It is not enough to have a Spirit-filled pastor and staff in my church. I need to cultivate a personal relationship of love and obedience with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
It was common when I ran track in high school for some runners to start too soon: this was called “jumping the gun.” They were forced to go back to the starting line and begin again. Have you “jumped the gun” by attempting to do ministry apart from the Holy Spirit?
When I am willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel with my world. (v. 5-11)
Moved by the Holy Spirit, the disciples immediately began to speak in the languages of at least 15 different nationalities gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast. Now the Spirit did not have to do this. Using the language of business and trade, the disciples could have simply spoken Greek or Aramaic. They would have been clearly understood by most of the crowd.
The Holy Spirit wants to help us overcome every obstacle posed by language and culture. Unlike Islam which requires seekers of truth to study the Koran in Arabic, the good news of Christ is to be shared in the idiom and within the cultural norms of peoples around the world.
Was it comfortable for the disciples to speak a language they had never learned? I doubt it, but the greater purpose of proclaiming the “wonderful works of God” (v. 11) overwhelmed all personal preferences and tastes. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to communicate the gospel in terms others can easily understand?
When I accept that some people will reject me and my message. (v. 12-13)
In verse 12, some people are asking “what does this mean?” In verse 13, others are mocking the disciples, accusing them of being drunk.
Some people will reject and ridicule you and your message. Paul taught we should expect persecution whenever we begin to live our lives with reference to Him in all we do and say. (2 Timothy 3:12)
However, there will also be those who want to know more. Endure those who reject you so that you can impact those who respond positively to you.
When I embrace a deep sense of evangelistic urgency. (v. 14-21)
Quoting from Joel 2, Peter announces to the crowds that the arrival of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of prophecy. Everyone willing to call on the name of the Lord (v. 21) could be saved and subsequently filled with the Spirit (v. 18). He also explains that these are the last days, describing signs and wonders which will immediately precede the “day of the Lord.” (v. 20).
Life is short and time is short. Anyone and everyone can now call on the name of the Lord. Armed with the leading and power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people ought to be deeply motivated to broadcast the good news.
Let’s go to the starting line for effective ministry and allow Him to launch us into His work—just like He did for the church at Pentecost.
Reproduced here with permission, this message originally appeared in the March-April, 2004 issue of Preaching Magazine (Vol. 19, No. 5). Edited by Michael Duduit, Preaching Magazine is written almost entirely by those who share a calling to the ministry of preaching. Each issue contains practical feature articles which offer useful insights to strengthen your preaching. Every issue contains a selection of model sermons which reflect the best of preaching across the United States and beyond.
Several years ago a mission pastor entered a barber shop around the corner from his church. Although he needed a haircut, his purpose was to build a witnessing relationship with the owner. They had a good talk, but the only result was a really bad haircut.
Laughing at his new “butchered” look, the pastor visited another barber to fix the problem haircut. Weeks later he returned to the barber next door for another haircut — with the same result. My pastor friend’s comment the second time: “I think he’s improving… some.”
Building relationships with the people who serve us every day can be like that.
We encounter people who serve us at the bank, the fast food restaurant, the post office, the cleaners, the grocery, or the pharmacy. These secular servants encounter complaints and cranky customers every hour. Are we part of the “complaints and cranks” crowd? Or do we stand out? Do they look forward to our smile and kindness?
It is so easy to focus on the quality of service rather than on the souls.
To my knowledge the barber who gave bad haircuts never came to Christ or attended the mission my friend pastored. But if Jesus was willing to suffer deadly abuse at the hands lost men, I think I can handle the bad haircut.