Five Essentials of Evangelism

Bible Book: Acts  5 : 11-42
Subject: Evangelism; Faithfulness to Jesus; Service to Christ; Missionary Service

Acts 11:5-42

I invite you to turn with me to Acts 5, verse 12. I introduced this chapter last week with the thought that no one would have imagined that the severe response Peter gives to the sin of two church members would have resulted in church growth, and yet that was what happened.

There is a subtle truth nestled away in that story that reminds us God's goal for the church is Christ-likeness. And in a nutshell, that is really why we exist. We exist as followers of Christ to reach lost people, un-Christ like people, and see them saved and changed to be like Christ.

And that is really the heart of evangelism and evangelism is at the heart of what we do. It is the objective and the goal to go into all the world and teach them how to be Christ like. It is never the goal to simply see them make a profession of faith, but to grow into being like Christ, a disciple of Christ.

And beginning in verse 12 and reaching all the way to verse 42, you see an example of how that worked in the early church. There are five elements found in these verses of what I would call effective evangelism.

Obviously we won't be able to cover all five tonight. In fact, it may take us two or three weeks to move through these verses, but I want us to see them and benefit from them.

This church was blowing and going and reaching people , and all that in spite of outward persecution and inward sin. And it's important to note that what's implied is everyone was involved. It wasn't just the church leadership or a select few doing all the work.

So what was the secret to their effectiveness? Let me point out, straight from the text, these five elements of a powerful evangelistic church.

We’ll identify the first one as

I. Purity

I don't have to say much about this one. We covered it in the first eleven verses of the chapter, but I will add, the church that will have an impact through evangelism must be pure. If you’re going to go around announcing to the world that Jesus Christ has come to remove our sin and make us holy, then our holiness better be visible.

Many folks are looking for any excuse they can find to reject the gospel, and they would just as soon use you or me and how sorry we are. The most common excuse that you and I hear from people is, “Well, I know a whole lot of people who go to church, and they are nothing but a bunch of – fill in the blank – hypocrites.”

I tell it's true the church is full of hypocrites, but come one down! There's always room for one more!

But in reality, for Christians to live a blatant, open rebellious life devastates our claim of transforming power through Jesus Christ.

We are claiming that the Lord can take a sinner and turn him into a saint. We are saying, this is what the gospel promises. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “It is not great minds, it is not great plans, it is not great ideas God uses. It is great likeness to Jesus Christ. A holy instrument is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.”

A holy life presents the evidence of the transformation the gospel announces, so the church has to be holy if it is to be effective in its evangelism.

So when we talk about evangelism in the church, right off the bat, we must acknowledge the need for purity.

Now, following these purifying deaths, notice what we read: verses 12-16

The second element that lead to effective evangelism is

II. Power

By the way, a good way to read this verse is to see from the middle of verse 12 through verse 14 as a parenthesis. The thought that begins at the first of verse 12 is finished in verse 15 The apostles were doing miraculous sings and wonders so that they brought them out into the streets and so forth. So there is this amazing explosion of signs and wonders being done by the apostles and it reached all over Jerusalem and into the neighboring areas.

And remember, all of this is happening after the apostles had been forbidden to do anything. They had been threatened if they did any further preaching and miracles in the name of Jesus. But they just inspired them to be bolder and the power that came as a result of their obedience was amazing.

Now I want you to notice something very important in these verses. verse 12a

Contrary to public perception, this is not a miracle-working church. This is a church with miracle-working apostles. There’s a big difference. You have to make that distinction. Scripture makes that distinction. The Lord Himself gave this power to do miracles to the apostles and it was specifically given to identify them as such. Not everyone in the church could do what they did. In fact, Paul told the Corinthians that signs and wonders and mighty deeds were the signs of an apostle and it was limited to their life and ministry.

I know there are a lot of people today to who believe in that kind of thing, but as far as I can tell, it was only for the beginning of the church age. Miracles were only a part of the beginning and they were given to validate the apostles as men of God. They claimed to be speaking the Word of God. How could you verify they were who they claimed to be? You couldn't compare what they said against the Bible because it wasn't around yet. The evidence was they had divine power and it served as the validation of their ministry. And then the apostles died, the age of miracles and signs and wonders died. Just as the apostles don’t last, and fade, so do the miracles. They are fading even by the end of the book of Acts where there are no more miracles.

In fact, the miracles are fading even with the apostle Paul still around. He’s leaving people sick here and there. The church had a such testimony at the beginning that would just lay the sick in the streets so Peter's shadow would fall on them. They brought multitudes to the apostles and notice, verse 16 says they were all healed. But as the Holy Spirit began to reveal truth, and it began to be written down and circulated among the churches, the miracles were no longer needed to validate the message of God. They could refer to the writing of the apostles and others for what they needed.

But I don't want to miss the point. In its earliest days, the church had people listening to its message because of the evidence of its power. So how does that apply to us today? It applies to us in that we preach and share the record of that power. We have the complete divinely-inspired heaven-sent record of all the miracles they did recorded for us on the pages of the New Testament, and that is a powerful record! And just because these miracles occurred then means we have the privilege of drawing from their record now.

Plus we also possess and house the power of God through the person of the Holy Spirit and the greatest miracle of all is the miracle He performs in conversion. And once that happens, God does a divine miracle that opens the eyes of those who were lost to Scripture and it just comes alive. And all the power displayed in the early church through those miracles becomes as alive to that person living today as it was to the people in Jerusalem witnessing the miracles.

So this early church was effective in evangelism because of its purity and its power and thirdly, its…

III. Persecution

verses 17-18

Just as was expected, the opposition rises up. Here in our culture and age, we've gotten so used to our freedoms that we have forgotten effective evangelism always has a cost. Where the gospel is preached, there will always be opposition and resistance.

You may not get thrown in jail. You may not be physically assaulted or beaten, but anywhere the gospel is preached with purity and power, there will be persecution. The world cannot stand a pure church. It cannot stand a powerful church drawing its power out of biblical authority. It becomes a horrible irritant to the system. More and more at this time. So persecution is predictable, and maybe more predicable right now in our lifetime than ever before. That shouldn't threaten or weaken our evangelism. It might threaten cowards and fly-by-nights, but it will not slow or deter the people of God. As I said, we've been blessed, but the early church was immediately threatened and persecuted. And I would just guess, we would have more of it if we were bolder and more vocal than we are.

Since it is so fresh on our minds from the movie, it probably doesn't need to be said, but the Bible assures us that for the committed follower of Jesus Christ, persecution is inevitable. Jesus said, in John 7, “All that will live godly will suffer persecution.” And it is because the world hates Jesus and they hate Jesus because He condemns their sin. So if we rightly preach the Bible and faithfully stand as followers of Christ, then lost people are going to bow up against that.

I was reading this week about a youth choir tour to Scotland that was sponsored by Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas. As a part of their tour, they sang in a city public mall in Edinburg, Scotland. A reporter named Shonna Craven, after comparing the choir to Nazis and ISIS called the group a "Trojan horse" let in to deceive innocent Scots. She wrote that the church the young people represent "ticks every box on the Ugly Religious Fundamentalism checklist: homophobia and transphobia, an obsession with sexual purity, and a firm anti-choice agenda thinly disguised as concern for women's wellbeing." She closed her article by writing, "As a nation we should be stating clearly: bigots are not welcome here."

I know it shouldn't surprise us that people respond that way, but I still find myself taken aback by that kind of hatred. But it was around in the earliest days of the church and the it was the early church’s conviction that they would ignore the persecution and proclaim all the more boldly and loudly the message, and that’s exactly what they did.

So another wave of persecution comes in chapter 5. This time it comes from the high priest and the Sadducees. They are the ones who are the leaders of the temple operation. They are narrow fundamentalists in that they only accept the opening five books of the Old Testament, the Mosaic books. They are collaborators with Rome. They want Rome to be pleased because they don’t want to have their power removed and because Rome is the occupying power, their power is only theirs if Rome agrees. So they don't want any public disturbances that could be construed as a threat to Rome messing with things. Therefore, they are extremely agitated at these followers of Jesus because His teaching exposes them as the heretics they are. After all, there are now people bringing sick folks and laying them in the streets so Peter adn the other apostles can get close to them. They are preaching about Jesus and everyone knows He died of a cross. Now His followers are claiming He's come back to life. And what they have here, as Barney Fife would say, is a situation!

So the high priest and religious leaders decide to quiet things down. They can’t stand the popularity these followers of Christ are enjoying and it has to be stopped. So they arrest the apostles and put them in the public jail. And for the moment, they think they’ve solved the problem. But, notice what happens.

verses 19-20

It needs to be mentioned that the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection and here are these followers out there preaching a resurrected Savior. They also didn't believe in angels. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. He sent an angel to deliver them from the jail. And what are they told to do? Go right back to what you were doing when you got arrested.

God wants boldness in the face of persecution. The command sounds really incredible. To obey may be a little bit reckless. It’s certainly audacious. I love that kind of boldness and so does God, and that’s what He expects and that’s what He commands through His angel. Obedience at any cost and preach the gospel at any cost. After all, they were expendable. They didn’t ask, “Is it safe?” Only, “Is it what you want us to do?” And they are told, “Go speak,” and I love this, “the whole message of this Life, the whole message of this Life.”

If Christianity is anything, it is life. Life abundant and life eternal, life in His Son. He who is the Life. What a beautiful reference to the Christian gospel. 

The command is to go to the temple and talk about Jesus, and that's exactly what they did.

verse 21a

Now don't miss the fact that the angel did a miracle to let them out but it was their obedience that placed them in the temple. They arrive in the morning, and they begin preaching the gospel again. I just remind you that God doesn’t release them from a very difficult situation so they can have an easy time. He has a lot bigger plans than that. He puts them right back in the very place that is going to be the greatest threat to the people who put them in prison to start with.

verse 21b

Their intention is to have the prisoners brought before the Sanhedrin for indictment. But, verse 22 - Don't you know they were shocked to find the cells empty! Now, watch this, verse 23 - So if you think they were shocked by the empty cells, then imagine how it must have felt to know the doors are locked, the guards are in place, but they are not there! How did it happen? I don't know! I guess angels can get you through locked doors and prison walls!

Now the panic sets in!

verses 24-25

One would think that once they got out they owuld have run for their life or been hiding somewhere, but instead, they're down at the very place they got arrested doing the same thing that got them into trouble! In fact, I would guess they were preaching with more energy and unction than ever before. After all, once you come to know Satan can't touch you and your enemies have no power over you, you can turn your SELf loose!

verse 26

I wonder if they didn't just politely ask if they wouldn't mind going downtown to answer a few questions! They sure don't want to stir up the people and they know better than to mess with this kind of power! So the idea was to get them out of the temple, bring them back before the court without any violence.

verses 27-28

Isn’t that an amazing testimony? Don't you wish somebody would show up here some Sunday and say, "You people have got to shut up talking about Jesus because you are filling Ardmore and Carter County with your teaching!" What a commendation that would be. That’s what they said. “We gave you strict orders not to do this, not to continue teaching in this name. And yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”

So the first charge that bring against them is civil disobedience. We commanded you not to speak in this name, and you are not only speaking, you’ve filled Jerusalem with this teaching.

The second charge is, “You intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

You are making us responsible for the death of this man. Notice, they won't even use the name of Jesus. You filled Jerusalem with your doctrine. You are disobedient and you have laid the burden of guilt on us.

So the third characteristic of effective evangelism in the early church is persecution and just saw it as an opportunity to be more bold, more courageous, more straight forward with the gospel of Jesus.

There’s a fourth characteristic in the life of the early church that I want to point out to you in this narrative. Not only purity and power, persecution, but …

IV. Persistence

verse 29

Simple enough, isn't it? That’s the simple reality. So what about Paul's instruction to be subject to the powers that be? What about what Peter says, that we are to submit to the king and those that are in authority over us in his epistle? Well, that’s all true until they tell us not to do what God has commanded us to do or tell us to do what God has commanded us not to do. Then we obey God and not man. It's just that simple.

We have been commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the earth. We must not be silent. We must obey God rather than men.

This is a critical commitment that every believer must deal with. When you become a believer, you confess Jesus as Lord. That is the very heart of our salvation confession. We have one master. We are slaves under one master, one Lord, and we obey Him, not men. What men say, what men desire, what men demand, what men want has no bearing on us. You can’t be a slave to two owners. We are slaves of our Lord and you see that bound up in their statement, “We must obey God.” That’s characteristic of a true believer. That’s what Christians should be able to say. We must obey God.

If God says, “Preach the gospel,” we preach the gospel. If God says, “Let the persecution come, and I will draw out of it my own purposes and bring blessing to you and glory to myself,” then we preach the gospel no matter what the cost.

verse 30

They reiterate the indictment that offends these men. The end of verse 28, “You intend to bring this man’s blood on us.” Peter in effect says, “You better believe we do! You put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. You killed God’s Messiah. And the truth is, we obey God and you disobey God.” That’s the difference between a believer and a non-believer. We obey God. We obey God’s command regarding His Son and in all that He has commanded us. That’s why the Great Commission says, “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” We are marked as believers by being obedient.

verses 31-32

Talk about persistence! He’s preaching the gospel to the people commanding him to stop. He’s not saying, “Well, as soon as I get out of your presence, I’m going to give this message somewhere else.” He’s giving it right back in their faces.

And notice, he says in verse 32, “We didn’t invent this. We aren’t making this up. We are eye witnesses of His death and of His resurrection. He has personally called us to this commission. Further, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for this work of preaching.

I think the church of today could use a dose of that kind of persistence! We have a tendency to shut our mouths at the first sign of opposition. After all, we might lose our tax exempt status! But silence doesn’t work in this calling. We need to be willing to confront those who would silence us and to say we are witnesses of these things.

V. Providence

The first four are in our control. We determine how pure we will be which in turn determines the power we will be given. We can stand in the face of persecution and persistently keep preaching, but there is another component that is really beyond our control, and that is this idea of providence.

What I mean by providence is God’s control of circumstances. Ultimately, the impact of our evangelism is in the hands of God.

To refresh our memory, Peter and the other apostles have been jailed for preaching in the name of Jesus and disobeying their orders to stop. And when given the opportunity, they just unload on these Jewish leaders, accusing them of murdering Jesus, and then just preach the gospel, reminding them of their need to repent and be forgiven.

And one would hope they would respond by doing just that,, but that's not what happened.

verse 33

Furious. Some translation say "cut to the quick" or "cut to the heart". The word describe a violent kind of mental agitation and anguish. It actually means to saw in half. Now I will tell you it's one thing to use harsh, cutting words, but hardly ever would we say that someone's words just cut us in half! But that's what they say about Peter and his sermon! They are furiously agitated to the very core of their being. After all, they have threatened and arrested and jailed these men for preaching about the reusrrection of Jesus and the moment they are released from jail they go back to the very same place and preach the very same message! And now, in front of the Supreme Court of Israel, they're still doing it! They just won't stop. And we would expect that men with that kind of power and that kind of anger would have executed all of them on the spot and put an end to the whole thing. So why didn't that?

In a strange turn of events, one of their own, who is a Pharisee gets involved. His name is Gamaliel. He is a teacher of the law and respected by all the others.

verse 34

So who is this guy and what's he up to? The Sadducees were the dominating faction in the Sanhedrin. The high priests were Sadducees. And they were enemies, in a sense, of the Pharisees, but there were Pharisees in the Council.

In a sense, it's the same kind of setup as we have in our governing bodies with people from opposite ends of the spectrum trying to work together to get things done.

With the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees more of a relationship with the general public, but the Sadducees had the power. They ran the temple operation and were the political collaborators with Rome. But the Pharisees were the teachers of the people and were seen as more involved in the life of the nation. And they were poles apart religiously and politically.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that because of the popularity of the Pharisees, the Sadducees would not oppose them openly because they didn’t want the Pharisees to turn on them because if they did, the people would turn on them. Very important to the Sadducees was the people’s good will to overcome the way they were bilking the people and robbing them. The Pharisees wanted to maintain the people’s respect, and the Sadducees wanted the Pharisees to deliver the people to them, so they had to be very careful publicly how they dealt with Pharisees.

If a Sadducee had stood up, he might have said, “Call the temple police. Kill them all immediately.” But it was a Pharisee who stood up, and the Sadducees are caught in a bit of a dilemma. They want them all executed immediately, but this is a man who represents the population. Not only that, he’s a teacher of the law, respected by all the people. And apparently, he is a ery eminent, exceptional man. In fact, he is known so well that the Talmud refers to him as “Rabban Gamaliel, the elder.” That’s a title that means master teacher and it was only given to one man and that is this man. He is also familiar to students of the New Testament because of one student in particular of his and that is none other than Saul of Tarsus. So he is a very powerful man. When he stands up to talk, everybody listens. Notice what he says:

verse 35

He knows exactly what they propose to do. I don’t think you want to act. Act cautiously, act wisely. Don’t do anything rash. Think before you act. Use your head, not your emotions. Calm your fears and your fury. You don’t want to start something you can’t control. You execute these men, and you may have a full blown revolution. God is supreme, he thinks. Let Him handle it.

verse 36

We don’t know who this Theudas is. He may very well have been a Messiah wannabe. There were a number of them around. In fact, in ancient Israel around the time of our Lord Jesus, Israel had a quick succession of a whole lot of rebel leaders who set themselves up as deliverers and Messiahs.

After the death of Herod, 4 B.C.,” Josephus says, “there were 10,000 disorders in Judea. It was full of robberies, and whenever the several companies of the rebels could light upon anyone to lead them, he was created king immediately.”

They were just making rebel leaders into Messiahs and running off with little revolutions. So Gamaliel reminds them of one led by a man named Theudas, and it went nowhere. 

Then he says

verse 37

In other words, these things have a way of kind of resolving. This has been tried before, and it came to nothing.

So verse 38

That’s human wisdom, and it’s really stupid because not everything that succeeds is from God, right? The principle needs some thought. The first half is true. Occasionally, things kind of resolve themselves. So slow down, let things kind of take care of themselves.

The second half is not necessarily true, not everything that succeeds is from God. What he should have said, as a teacher of the Law, let’s open the Old Testament and see if this man Jesus and this message is true to the Scripture. That would have been real wisdom.

If we look at Scripture and we see that He matches Scripture, then we know that He is our Messiah. You don’t want to say that anything that’s religious that succeeds is from God. Is Islam from God? Is Hinduism from God? Is Confucianism from God? Is Buddhism from God? Is Mormonism from God? Roman Catholic Church true representation of God?

The fact that something succeeds doesn’t mean it’s from God. It’s kind of interesting to me to think that the wisest men in Israel couldn’t get this right. Go to the Book and compare Jesus with the revelation that we spend every day studying. If they’d have done that, they would have known that beginning at Moses and the prophets and in all the holy writings, the writers all spoke of Him. They could have started in Isaiah 53 maybe.

You can’t judge anything by success. So it was a very noble man who has the power to stop things with a kind of simplistic idea. He sort of popped up out of nowhere. Right guy with the right influence and because He had the right influence, even his bad idea seemed like a good one. 

If you’re in the right position, people buy anything you say. So

verse 40

Apparently they still had some anger issues they needed to work out! They couldn’t just not do anything, so they beat them and once again ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.”

Now, are you starting to get a sense of providence here? Who is this guy? He’s doing something purely on his own human terms. He pops up in the middle of this meeting that could have ended in the death of all the apostles. He belongs to the kingdom of darkness. He makes a silly, unqualified, simplistic statement about reality that doesn’t bear out truthfully; and yet God uses this man acting on his own to keep the opportunity to preach the gospel alive. So they flogged them, ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 

And how did the apostles respond?

verse 41-42

Providence allowed them to continue to do this, and I submit to you that God has His purposes in every era, in every age, in every country, in every time and place. We can have the purity and we can have the power and we do. We can face the persecution and we can be persistent, but the end of it all is determined by divine providence. We can’t create a revival. We can’t create an explosion of the gospel.

They weren’t as well-trained as we are. They didn’t have any more power than we do. It was the Holy Spirit. We have the truth written down that they had received verbally. They didn’t, in a sense, have any more than we do, but providence had ordered the explosion of the church in that time. If you study church history, you know there are times like that. Providence ordered the Reformation. You can ask what happened from 500 to 1500 when you have 1,000 years of darkness, and then explosion of the light of the Reformation. It’s the purpose of God in His providence. 

God was not ready to shut down the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem. The church was not complete in Jerusalem, and so you read this in chapter 6, verse 1, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing - ” meaning in number “ - while the disciples were increasing in number.”

Go down to verse 7, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” God providentially kept the gospel going. They were released. They kept preaching. They kept preaching until God was satisfied that the church had been begun.

Then in chapter 7, they killed Stephen. Then in chapter 8, wholesale persecution explodes. On the day that Stephen was killed, Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. On that day, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, except the apostles.

The apostles, of course, began to be martyred, but the end of it all really is determined by divine providence. What a wonderful reality it is to know that!  We have access to the purity and the power. We face the persecution. We are persistent in the persecution, but divine providence determines our access, our opportunity and the extent of the reach. That’s in God’s hands. I’m happy to leave that to Him, aren’t you? So we don’t panic about results, do we? We are just to be faithful about the proclamation.