Evangelism: Speaking the Gospel of the Kingdom
Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Sermon from selected texts by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Disciples Making Disciples, Part 2 of 6
Delivered on June 21, 2015
Matthew 28:18-20—Jesus’ Great Commission to his disciples. Just like we did last week, I don’t plan to stay in this one passage, but look at a number of passages in the Bible to give us a better handle on what it means to make disciples: Why do we make disciples? What’s included in Jesus’ charge? How does it play out in our lives together?
In order to answer some of those questions, we’ve taken a break from going verse-by-verse through a particular book and entered a series on disciples making disciples. If you want to know why the elders chose to teach on disciples making disciples, I tried to flesh most of that out last week. But the main reason being that there are ways that we, Redeemer Church, could become more of one mind on making disciples and what’s included and how it plays out in every Christian’s life.
Speaking the Gospel of the Kingdom
And so we’ve come to gather round God’s word to see how he instructs us in the matter. Today, I want us to look at how the Lord instructs us in the matter of evangelism. Evangelism, speaking the gospel of the kingdom and persuading others to enter that kingdom by repentance and faith in Christ.
Last week, I set before you from Matthew’s Gospel a picture of a particular King, the Son of Man. This Son of Man is supremely powerful and is building a kingdom that will last forever. This Son of Man is also compassionate toward sinners in his mission. And that compassion drove the Son of Man to give his life in the place of many sinners. These sinners should’ve been destroyed by his kingdom—dashed to pieces, cast into outer darkness—because they rebelled. But driven by compassion for them and a love for his Father, the Son of Man came and gave his life in their place, so that they could enter his kingdom unscathed by the wrath of God.
And then we finally saw that this Son of Man is now risen from the dead and storming the gates of hell, chasing after the many he died for, and gathering them into his kingdom, until he returns to bring his final reign on earth—and he’s saying to you and me, “Follow me! Come, give your life to my kingdom and its righteousness.”
Evangelism is simply speaking the gospel of this Son of Man’s kingdom, and as you know, that Son of Man is Jesus Christ. Evangelism is holding out to people Jesus, and all that he’s done for us, and then persuading them to enter his kingdom through faith. Making disciples begins here, with evangelism.
Now, let me be clear up front: evangelism is not all that making disciples is. Making disciples also includes identifying believers with Jesus through baptism and then also instructing those believers to obey all Jesus commanded. And we’ll get to some of that in the next two weeks. But before we can identify someone with Christ through baptism and bring them into a community where they are instructed to follow Jesus, we must first introduce them to Jesus. That’s evangelism, introducing people to Jesus.
I want to spend a significant amount of time today giving you some practical steps in this area of evangelism—I’ve got at least ten things to share with you. But first, I want us to see a few things about evangelism from the Bible itself, and Matthew 28:18 will be our starting place. So, what I’m about to do is set evangelism—which is part of making disciples—in the much bigger storyline of Scripture. And then after tracing that bigger storyline, I want to show you how the whole church participates in evangelism, not just a select few. And then lastly I want to lead us into a few practical steps we can take together as a church in nourishing a heart for evangelism.
Evangelism within Scripture’s Bigger Storyline
So to begin, let’s set evangelism and making disciples into the bigger storyline of Scripture, beginning with Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These words of Jesus are massively significant for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that in them, Jesus links his victory over sin and death and his present reign with the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.
That’s right, Jesus’ commissioning of you and me to make disciples has beginnings that stretch back to God’s initial promise to Abraham to bless all the nations through his offspring. When Jesus says, “make disciples of all nations,” he’s not just saying, “make disciples of a bunch of people.” That may still be true in some sense, but he’s being more intentional than that. “Making disciples of all nations—panta ta enthne—is an intentional way of tying this back to the Old Testament, and intentional way of saying, “Hey, the day has come for God to bless all the nations through Abraham’s offspring, and that offspring is me!” (Gen 12:3; cf. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14).
And this shouldn’t surprise us too much, because after all, how does Matthew begin his Gospel? “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Jesus is setting his commission within the context of God’s sweeping plan of salvation that reaches back to Abraham. Discipling the nations isn’t a new idea; it’s been God’s plan all along. Paul picks this up as well in Galatians 3:8, when he says, “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”
Matthew’s proclamation is in sync with Paul’s proclamation. Matthew’s Gospel is a world-wide announcement that the long-awaited son of Abraham arrived in the person of Jesus. And by dying for sins and rising from the dead, Jesus has flung the door of salvation wide open for all the nations of the earth. Anybody—without distinction—who comes and puts their faith in Jesus Christ, will find themselves eternally blessed with the forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God.
Matthew also tells us that Jesus is the Son of David. And sprinkled throughout the Old Testament we find these same kinds of words applied to the promised offspring of David. Another David was expected to come, stand in the place of his people, defeat their enemies, and then extend his rule from sea to sea. And once this happened, nations would come and bow before this King and worship. Psalm 22:27 for example, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.”
And here is Jesus—having stood in the place of his people on the cross, having defeated our greatest enemies, sin and death—here is Jesus reigning with all authority in heaven and on earth, and the disciples begin to worship him in verse 17. And now he’s telling them to spread the word of his victory and reign to others.
Jesus is saying to his disciples and to you and me, “Give up your life for my kingdom’s advance. Give up your life to announce the news of my reign. See what God is doing through me to save the nations. All his purposes are coming to fruition. His kingdom is spreading from sea to sea, and you’re the means of advancing the news! Go and make disciples.”
That’s the bigger storyline into which evangelism and making disciples fits. Making disciples isn’t so much about what we’re doing as much as it is about what God is doing—we just get to join him as he does it. Part of joining him is spreading the news of his kingdom, or evangelism. Telling people to enter his kingdom now before it’s too late when he establishes his rule on earth (Matt 24; Rev 19-20).
The Whole Church Evangelizes
But that leads us to another step we should take this morning. I want to show you now that within this sweeping plan of God, the whole church participates in evangelism, not just a select few. And what I want to do is start with Jesus and his disciples right here in the Gospel of Matthew, take us briefly through the book of Acts, and then take a few closing notes from Paul’s letters…
Jesus and his disciples evangelize
Even before Jesus gives his disciples the commission to make disciples, we find Jesus himself evangelizing and then teaching his disciples to do the same. So for instance, right after Jesus overcomes Satan’s temptations, we find him going to the Gentiles who are sitting in darkness. The Gentiles have no special revelation from God. No Bible lighting their path. So, Jesus goes to them, and it says in 4:17 that he began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
But then he grabs his first batch of disciples, Peter and Andrew and then James and John, and he tells them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And then the next thing Jesus does is show them how to fish for men, by teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Evangelism involves bringing the gospel of the kingdom to others and making sense of it for them.
Then Jesus does it again in 9:9-13. He calls Matthew to follow him; and then as Matthew follows him, Jesus starts introducing himself to the tax collectors and the sinners, and he calls them to follow him as well. Matthew is watching all along and learning from Jesus’ example.
And then not too much later towards the end of chapter 9 in verse 35 we get this: “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So, he asks them to pray in verse 38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
What’s Jesus doing yet again? The people are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Nobody is making disciples and leading them in the right direction to Christ, and Jesus has compassion on them. And he wants his compassion for these people to become the disciples’ compassion. So, he asks them to pray for laborers who will rescue them and then sends them out as the laborers to preach to them the same message they heard Jesus preaching to them (10:7).
Jesus evangelizes and then teaches his followers to do the same. He’s showing them that bound up with discipleship is speaking his gospel. Again and again this happens throughout Matthew’s Gospel, while at the same time you’re hearing these little chords being struck in the background that the gospel is going to be preached to all the nations and that many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (8:11; 24:14; 26:13).
And then finally in Matthew 28 that kingdom agenda ramps up in light of Jesus’ resurrection and commission of his disciples to do what? Make more of what they are. Make more disciples, who are then taught to do the same things that Jesus taught them to do—and part of that includes evangelism.
The whole church spreads the word in the book of Acts
And it doesn’t take too much reading into the book of Acts to see that initial Commission being embraced by more than just the Eleven here. For instance, in Acts 2:47, we find all the believers not just gathering with each other, but having favor with all the people, while the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were being saved. In Acts 8:4 those disciples who were scattered because of Stephen’s martyrdom—they scatter all over Judea and Samaria preaching the word of God. And then on numerous occasions you get these sweeping statements like, “the word of God increased and multiplied” (12:24); “[Tabitha’s restoration to life] became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (9:42). How does that happen? Well it happens when disciples spread the word, when disciples see their life as one big on-ramp to Jesus.
The gospel message itself necessitates evangelism
And then we get several places in Paul’s letters where he continues the same song of evangelism belonging to everybody in the church. You know, it’d be real easy—especially if someone like Paul was your pastor—it’d be real easy to say, “You’re really gifted at evangelism, so I’m going to sit over here and let you do that. I’ll just show up on Sunday and make friends with the people you win.” And again and again Paul shows us that such a mentality cuts against the grain of the gospel message itself. There are things about the gospel itself that don’t permit that kind of talk.
So, for starters, the gospel has at its center a person who is supremely glorious, Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1-7). In him, all God’s promises are Yes and Amen. In him, all the fullness of God dwells bodily. In him, we find a perfect sacrifice for sin. In him, we find God’s glory revealed for all heaven to enjoy. And if we’ve truly come to see his glory in the gospel, then our mouths will talk about him to the world. We’ll want them to stand amazed at Christ too and to worship him. This is how Paul lays it out in Romans 15:8-21.
Or, something else that characterizes the gospel message; the gospel message itself is a proclaimed message. That’s what Paul calls it in Colossians 1:23, the gospel “is proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” The point is not that the gospel has already reached every single individual under heaven, but that the only gospel the church possesses is a proclaimed gospel, is an advancing gospel, is a darkness-penetrating gospel. It’s an onward-marching message, and if this is the message that saves us and gives us new life every day, then we too will be serving its onward march to others.
The gospel is also the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16-17). To embrace this message about Jesus is to escape our desperate plight under the wrath of God and gain a right standing before God. And if we’ve experienced that deliverance ourselves, we can’t be anything other than debtors to those for whom Christ died. That’s why Paul says in Romans 1:14: “I am under obligation to both Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.” He’s indebted to them; he owes them the gospel, because he’s experienced its saving power. As Paul Minear once put it, “Our obligation to Christ who died produces obligation to those for whom Christ died.”
Called to imitate Paul’s evangelistic ways
So, in several ways, the decision not to evangelize is contrary to the gospel message itself. But Paul also calls attention to several other things that show us that evangelism is something every Christian participates in—to one degree or another. One is that Paul tells the church in Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ; and part of what they’re imitating is how Paul becomes all things to all men in order to save some (1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1). So we’re called to imitate his evangelistic ways, his sacrificial bending here and there, his giving up of personal preferences, to gain a hearing and win people to Christ.
Our spiritual footwear = gospel of peace
Then he also tells us in Ephesians 6 that part of our spiritual armor as Christians is some gospel footwear. We’re to put on as shoes the readiness given by the gospel of peace (6:17). It’s an Old Testament image for messengers who run to announce the good news to others (Isa 52:7). Their feet dance on the mountaintops to herald the King’s victory. This is every Christian’s armor, because every Christian has Christ, which is where the armor comes from in the first place. Christ has these kinds of feet; and he gives the same kinds of feet to his people.
Churches partnered with Paul in evangelism
Then one more place in Paul. We’ve got the nature of the gospel itself, the imitation of Paul’s ways, some fancy footwear called the gospel of peace, and now lastly, we have partnership. Both the church in Philippi and the church in Thessalonica—when Paul writes to both of these churches he rejoices in their evangelistic proclamation of the gospel. He says the word of the Lord sounded forth in Macedonia and Achaia by the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:8), and then that the believers in Philippi have been much bolder to speak the word without fear, because of Paul’s imprisonment (Phil 1:14).
So, these various pictures sound the same note: evangelism is bound up with discipleship; it’s for every believer; it’s for the whole church. That’s not to say that every believer’s gifts in evangelism will be identical—the New Testament is also clear that some will be more gifted than others. And it’s also not to say that all our evangelism efforts will look exactly the same—they won’t. It’s only to say that this amazing privilege of bringing the good news of our King to other belongs to all of us.
Toward Nourishing a Heart for Evangelism
So what are some steps toward nourishing a heart for evangelism in our own lives? What are some steps we can take to encourage evangelism in our own walk? I’ve got ten of them. These aren’t exhaustive by any means, but I hope they’re a start. Maybe you can think of a few others that are even better than the ones I’m giving you today. If so, great! Find somebody and encourage them with your additions. So, here we go.
1. Examine yourself
Number one, examine yourself to see if you’re truly in the faith, to see if you’re truly a Christian. That might sound like an odd place to begin, but it’s absolutely necessary. You can’t make a corpse dance. How deceiving it would be to tell you to go out and deliver a message that you don’t really love, that you don’t really know yourself. How can you truly publish peace when you have no peace with God? How can you truly overcome fears when your identity isn’t found in Christ? How can you truly love your enemies if you don’t know the forgiveness of your own sins? Luke 7:47, those who are forgiven much love much. A heart for evangelism begins with new birth, with forgiveness.
If you determine you’re not a Christian, don’t run away from Christ and his church. You’re in the right place. Repent and put your faith in Christ. Christ shed his blood for you, and invites you to come to him for life now. Today is the day of salvation. He says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He will take you in, no matter how many years you’ve pretended to be a Christian.
2. Pray for help
Number two, pray for help. Everybody in here who has a relationship with Jesus can pray. The way to God has been opened for you. Your sins are forgiven. And you can come boldly before God and ask for his help. We’re talking about the Son of Man, here. He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and he is with you. Ask him to give you opportunities to share the gospel with people. Make it one of your regular requests: “Father, send somebody to me or give me the courage to go to them, so that I can speak Christ to them.” Paul asks the church to pray for him this way while he’s in prison. He’s chained up with people. He’s seeing guards pass by on the hour. You’d think he’d just say something to them. But he sees that the spread of the gospel comes by the Lord’s doing, not his own. So he asks the church to pray: “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col 4:3).
How many people in here pray before they eat dinner, give thanks for the meal? Raise your hand. Alright, you can begin here. Some of you who may be more intimidated by a message like this just need to start here with prayer. Just praying for God to make it so. Pray for opportunities to share. Pray for lost friends and family members. Pray for people’s conversion. Pray for boldness and wisdom in sharing. Pray for God to use you.
3. Preach the gospel to yourself
Number three: preach the gospel to yourself. Remind yourself of your desperate condition before knowing Christ. Remind yourself of God’s extravagant love for you in the cross. Look often at Christ’s kingdom and all the riches for people who believe. Remember the Son of Man’s compassion toward you. Every Christian can do this as they meditate on the good news and memorize God’s promises and sing the songs of Zion. The more thrilled you are with Jesus, the more you’ll want to talk about him.
We talk most about what we love. Would your neighbors and friends and coworkers know that you love Jesus by what you talk about most? Changing that doesn’t start with a mere commitment to talk about Jesus more. It begins with treasuring Jesus in the gospel. So, preach the gospel to yourself. A heart for evangelism grows from a love for Jesus, as he is beheld in the gospel (cf. 1 Pet 2:9).
4. Look at people through Jesus' eyes
Number four: look at people through Jesus’ eyes. Remember John 4, when Jesus is with the woman at the well and the disciples go into town to grab some lunch. And they get back, they see Jesus talking to this woman, and they’re a bit puzzled. The woman then runs off to tell her village about Jesus and all the people from this Samaritan village start coming to Jesus. And while these people are coming to Jesus, the disciples urge him to eat his lunch. You got revival breaking out and the disciples are like, “Man, I love me some Jimmy John’s. Eat up Jesus.”
What’s the problem? They don’t see. They need new eyes. And so Jesus says, “Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.” We need to see people through Jesus’ eyes. We need to see that people without Christ are really walking toward destruction. We need to see that every person will spend eternity in hell, if they don’t know Jesus. We need to see that he’s drawing the nations to himself right now. Seeing people this way changes how you interact with them. The guy at the gas station while you’re filling up your car isn’t just someone you don’t know, he’s going somewhere. And you have a message to save him.
5. Plan for evangelism
Number five: plan for evangelism. We plan for so many other things in life that are far less important—like watching a basketball game or going to a movie. Why wouldn’t we also plan to bring others the gospel? This is one reason we try not to put too many programs in place at Redeemer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with programs, but too many of them can pull you away from interacting with the lost people God brings into your life. So, we try to minimize programs to give us the extra time to reach the lost with the gospel.
So what might this planning look like? You could just write it in on your calendar: “Invite Jason and Rijhad over on Friday for dinner;” or “Treat my coworker to lunch on Wednesday.” Or it could be more general, like “fourth Friday evangelism” or “third Saturday pancake breakfast for neighbors” in hopes that these relationships—as you build them and learn them—they open doors for the word. I know some of you will make cookies for the trash-men that come by their street, or others of you that frequent the same coffee shops or play grounds during the week as a way to meet lost people and share with them. It’s planned. If you’re married, husbands, you have to lead out in this planning, especially since many times your family’s schedule revolves around your work commitments.
6. Partner with others in the church gifted in evangelism
Number six: partner with others in the church who are gifted in evangelism. We’ll look at this in more detail the next two weeks, but learn from each other. Dan Hilmers used to tell me: “Evangelism is more caught than taught.” Rather than being intimidated by your brothers and sisters who are great evangelists, see them as God’s good gifts to you. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). For those of you stronger in evangelism, invite others to come with you when you talk to unbelievers. Let them in on the conversation. Show them the multifaceted ways the gospel addresses the questions people are asking. And also let them see that not every discussion with an unbeliever is easy, and oftentimes heart-wrenching when they walk away from Christ. Christ has given us to one another, so that we might grow in our Christ-likeness together, including growth in evangelism.
7. Take risks for Christ's sake
Number seven: take risks for Christ’s sake. You know why evangelism isn’t easy? There’s a host of dark powers and principalities that doesn’t want others to know about Jesus. The spiritual powers of darkness would like to keep blinding the minds of unbelievers. But this is why God gives us the armor of Christ and shoes our feet with the gospel and gives us the sword of the Spirit, which is his word. War is risky. We take risks to tear down the spiritual strongholds in people’s lives with the gospel.
This is especially a word to introverts like me, and to those who lean toward isolation like me. I have to die to my introverted-self to reach out to the guy at Starbucks, who’s hanging his shoulders with depression. This may sound small, but it’s risky for me to say, “Hey man, what’s wrong? You need somebody to talk to?” My fellow introverts, we can’t let personality labels rule the day while people are perishing.
I’m not saying you have to become a street-preacher tomorrow morning, but simply to think of ways to speak of Christ to others, whether that’s one-on-one or with a phone call or with a letter. The point is that we have to die to see people live. We have to take risks to speak into others’ lives. That risk might be as small as speaking to someone when every fiber in your being is wanting to hide. Risk might mean moving into a neighborhood you’d rather not live in. Risk might mean having the same-sex couple next door over for dinner. Risk will take various forms for each of us. But this we know from Jesus: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
8. Use the Bible when you evangelize
Number eight: use the Bible when you evangelize. Maybe the first place to begin talking to somebody about Jesus isn’t some sort of packaged gospel presentation, but an invitation to read Scripture with you. Make sure they have a copy of God’s word and then ask them to get to know Jesus from the Bible itself, rather than just your own words. Read through one of the Gospels with them, and make time to meet with them and discuss what they read. Help people see that you’re not just feeding them your opinions; you’re feeding them what God himself says in the Bible. Besides, we must remember that it’s God word that gives life to the dead.
9. Learn from Jesus and the apostles
Also, when you’re using your Bible—number nine—learn from Jesus and the apostles how to speak with people about the gospel. Take notes on how they approach each person. You’ll find they don’t always preach the gospel the same way. There’s no canned approach to evangelism. Jesus doesn’t speak to the self-righteous Pharisee the same way he speaks to the woman at the well. He doesn’t speak to the rich young ruler in the same way he speaks to the man born blind. Paul doesn’t speak to the Jews the same way he speaks to the Greeks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re always proclaiming the same gospel; they just do it in different ways that best meet people where they’re at.
Jonathan Dodson has a helpful book on this matter called The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. He does a great job pointing out the various “gospel metaphors” of Jesus and the apostles. He says, “If we slow down long enough, we will see which [gospel] metaphor intersects with a person’s loves. To the guilt-ridden, Jesus brings guilt-absorbing redemption; to the rejected, perfect justifying acceptance in Christ; to the abandoned, the adopting love of a perfect Father; to the hopeless and worn out, new creation; and to those longing for intimacy, union with Christ.” Learn some of these from Jesus and his apostles, and then speak them into people’s lives.
10. Be Faithful
Finally, tenth, simply be faithful. Be faithful with what the Lord gives you each day. Don’t get discouraged if you get sick tomorrow and are cooped up in bed all week and don’t get to share with anybody. The Lord gives us different circumstances to deal with from time to time, and the world around us needs to see us content and resting in Christ. Our daily contentment and peace in Christ will help authenticate the message we preach when we are well.
More than that, it’s very tempting in our microwave-smart-phone generation to want immediate results when we evangelize. But let me remind you, brothers and sisters, evangelism is not converting people; evangelism is showing people how they can be converted by trusting in Christ. Our responsibility is to preach the gospel of the kingdom and leave the results to God. As Mark Dever likes to put it, “The gospel seed might lie in the ground until you do, and then spring forth to life.” Simple faithfulness is all that God is asking of us. May he be pleased to use us in the salvation of many, as we speak the gospel of Christ’s kingdom.