Evangelism and Joy: Still Learning from Lausanne

“To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in this world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth.”—C.H. Spurgeon (Sermons, 11.431)

Introduction to the Reading

I have said that Cape Town 2010 was transformative for me. I have seen this as my own passion for evangelism has been transformed. I saw this as I drew in the air of this passion from brothers and sisters in the New Christendom of Africa and Asia and, even now, the Middle East. The lungs of my soul were filled with the rich oxygen of Great Commission delight.

I was once a prodigal. Having been reared in a Bible believing, Christ loving home and then having lived (hardly the best description of that period) in the far fields of life as a very young man; then, having heard of God’s grace through Jesus Christ (through the cogent and authoritative preaching of Dr. D. James Kennedy) and then to know that I am adopted as a son of God when I am regenerated and justified by God in Christ, brought—yea, and continues to yield—inestimable joy.

Joy and evangelism is what I witnessed in Lausanne. Joy and evangelism is what I experienced when Christ saved me. Joy and evangelism is what happened when a crisis erupted in Jerusalem in the days after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. A terrorist named Saul led a “great persecution” against the assembly of saints in that city called “holy”—Jerusalem. So, the people—not the clergy, mind you, but the people—were scattered. Read the text and note how the author, Dr. Luke (under the power of the Holy Spirit), begins with terror and ends with joy.

This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.

Acts 8.1-8

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.  But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

Introduction to the Message

As I write, I am sick at home. My wife and son are worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in the assembly of the saints. Fox News is broadcasting non-stop with the tragic and shocking news of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona that took the lives of innocent people, including nine-year-old Christina Green, a pastor, a federal judge, Judge John Roll, and a young congressional aid, Gabe Zimmerman. The target of this madman left the Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head, in (as of this writing) critical condition. I am praying, with the nation, for the loss of life, the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords—and eleven other victims—and for strength for their families.[1]

We learn again that terrorism has many faces including anarchy and anti-Semitism in our own country. God help us.

As we grieve this inhumanity and as we pray for God’s blessings on the wounded victims and the mourning families, we know that the world, too, lies in the grips of terror—particularly the Christian Church.[2] Indeed, the Christian Church is under attack by madmen in the Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Iraq, and so many other countries. If we were without faith and without the Word of God we might be tempted to despair.

Know this: the Church of Jesus Christ is threatened but cannot be defeated. The Church is triumphantly advancing, right on schedule, through the continuing motif of the Cross of Jesus Christ and His paradoxical, glorious, upside-down way of making all things—even a heinous Roman cross, a murderous race killing the One who created them, and radical Islamic fundamentalist rape of our women and murder of our young men— work together for good.[3] These events are horrible. Yet God uses the very sin of man, the barbarism of a lost race, to bring about good.

This is what happened in the text of Acts chapter eight. The Jerusalem assembly had gone through much already since Christ Jesus was crucified, buried, raised and ascended. Now terrorism set in under a madman named Saul. The terror created what we see so often today in nations under persecution: diaspora. In that diaspora, something happened. That is what I want to focus on for this reflection.

What happened when the people of God were dispersed from killings and threats of killings was evangelism. Acts 8.4 is one of my favorite passages:

“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

The text tells us that the diaspora was not in vain. In fact, the terror actually drove the disciples of Christ out from the relative comfort of home to the far reaches of the Roman realm. The traumatic events of Jerusalem, rather than driving people to despair, drove them to share the Gospel with the world. Now, read through the story of Philip leading an Ethiopian eunuch to faith and go with the writer to the city of Samaria, and go to the end of this section, to verse eight:

So there was much joy in that city.

Tragedy leads to dispersion, leads to the preaching—the evangelizing—of the common people and souls are saved, lives are transformed, people are healed, and the faith of the resurrected Jesus went forward through the generations.

What I remember from Lausanne, and what I am thinking today, is about how God is building His Church and calling me to be a part of it.

I learned this from my Anglican friend from the Sudan. He told me of his experiences of suffering and how Christ used that to build His Church. He told of how he was able to share the Gospel only because of the trauma that human beings were experiencing. The Church is ignited, as it were, through attack upon it. This is not something we pray for. This is something we pray in.

Thus, I should look at tragedy and remember God’s involvement in humanity. He is not absent. He is there. I cannot fathom the depth of understanding of human suffering and divine sovereignty and intentions for good. Such things are too high for me. I see the doctrine. I do not look through it. Yet I see and I know that God is involved. This causes me to recognize that the Gospel of Jesus may be preached in the midst of tragedy and indeed the trajectory towards joy involves a necessary first step of speaking Christ into the midst of the trauma.

Oh God let us preach Christ as we are dispersed through this generation, and as we speed headlong through the Twenty First Century. Let us speak the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Oh that I may have the passion for evangelism in the midst of trials that my Sudanese friend has. Oh that the passionate prayer of David Brainerd might become the commitment of my life as a minister of Christ:

“I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.”[4]

Then there will be joy in my heart and “joy in the city.”

[1] See the AP story, “Arizona Rep. Giffords shot, 6 killed in rampage” (located at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ghjeYdEW-1vnG6MhDVZNquM6PACg?docId=926d3194025a4d73a5f8add878077874), accessed January 9, 2011.

[2] See the story by Mark Seddon in The Independent, “We may be witnessing a new age of Christian persecution,” (see http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mark-seddon-we-may-be-witnessing-a-new-age-of-christian-persecution-2173951.html), accessed on January 9, 2011.

[3] “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).

[4] David Brainerd, from Grace Christian Quotes, (http://thegracetabernacle.org/quotes/Evangelism-Passion.htm), accessed January 9, 2011.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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