"Mission" Dan Wilton || One Story Ten Questions: Part 9 - 12 June 2016
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there is an ongoing debate in our nation about the place of Religious Education in Schools.
Just yesterday there was an opinion piece in the Brisbane Times that called for all religious classes in schools to be abolished because it was seeking to wrongfully proselytize kids.
The article said:
Windsor State School has banned the Connect Religious Instruction (RI) classes following a review by the principal… In a letter to parents, principal Matthew Keong explains how the lessons contravene Religious Instruction policy by attempting to convert children to Christianity.
“Connect’s materials go beyond imparting knowledge of Biblical references, and extend to soliciting children to develop a personal faith in God and Jesus… “
The review has found the Connect program in breach of the policy that prohibits proselytising, defined as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.
And this is not a unique opinion piece. Public opinion is starting to question the place of Christianity not only in schools, but in nearly every area of public life. And their concern seems to be about that word PROSELYTIZING.
This word – proselytizing – simply means: ‘seeking to make converts.’
It’s basically a code word for any attempt to convert someone to your way of thinking or to your religion. And it’s on the nose for a lot of people.
And you can understand why!
I mean who here enjoys receiving those phone calls by telemarketers at 7pm, just as you’re sitting down to eat dinner, trying to convince you to change phone plans, or electricity providers?
Can anyone say they honestly enjoy those phone calls? Wouldn’t everyone win if they didn’t even call in the first place?
And I think for many people that’s the exact same mindset they have about religion. It’s ok for you to believe what you want – but don’t try and push it on me – I’m not buying!
On the whole, our society would prefer if we all just kept our religious bent to ourselves – it’s good for you – we can respect that, but as long as it doesn’t impinge on us.
Should Christians perhaps heed their requests – after all, they aren’t asking us to completely give up our faith. They’re just asking that Christians aren’t as public about it; and that we stop attempting to convince others to convert.
Is that really a big thing to ask? Isn’t that just normal courtesy? After all, isn’t it intolerant not to respect the beliefs and religions of other people?
These aren’t new objections. They’re the very same objections that were addressed to the very first followers of Jesus. And so this morning we’re going back to the very start of the Christian church in the book of Acts to see how they responded to these same accusations.
MISSION: ‘MY WITNESSES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD… ‘
So turn with me to Acts 1. The risen Jesus has gathered his disciples together and tells them that his work is not finished. He’s about to leave but he has a mission for them.
Pick it up with me from verse 7:
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus gives the disciples a mission statement – to go out and be his witnesses starting from the city of Jerusalem, and then to the nation of Israel, and then to all the nations.
Did you notice that Jesus tells them to begin firstly in their backyard – go tell others what I have taught you and what you have seen right here in Jerusalem. And then he continues. He says, it’s not enough that you just tell people here, you need to go out and tell people from every nation, from all people groups, who I am and what I’ve done.
And despite what some people might say, it’s not for political gain or motivated by power hungry dominance.
No, something truly life changing has happened, and Jesus’ followers are to make sure that everyone hears about it! So that everyone has an opportunity to share life with Jesus.
And that’s exactly what the rest of the book of Acts is all about – these people sharing who Jesus is – in Jerusalem, Israel and the ends of the earth.
But why? What reasons; what motivation is given for working against the status quo; for pushing beyond the personal religion, for convincing others to follow Jesus. Move forward with me to Acts 4. Here we see two of these men that Jesus has just been talking to in chapter 1, following through on the mission.
Peter and John haven’t moved on too far from where we left them in chapter 1 – they’re still in Jerusalem speaking to anyone who’ll listen about who Jesus is – and they’re doing some pretty crazy miracles – and thousands are becoming Christians.
But the religious and political leaders have taken wind of the movement that has started up and they’re not happy about it.
And you can understand why! These are the same leaders who only a month earlier had sentenced Jesus to death. And then suddenly there’s a whole bunch of people travelling around claiming that this same man – Jesus, who they put to death – is now alive.
And so these leaders do the most natural thing they can think of – they throw Peter and John into prison and tell them to remain silent about this Jesus.
But Peter and John refuse – and it’s here where we find three fundamental reasons why Christians won’t ever stop sharing about Jesus, and why it’s important not to.
It’s necessary, it’s natural and it’s non-negotiable.
The first reason is found in verse 12. Peter builds up to it from verse 8 when he is asked ‘By what power or in what name’ are you proselytizing and healing people. – it’s one of those gift questions…
Peter doesn’t miss his cue, and says:
Know this – you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands healed.
He spells it out for them in a way that they really can’t miss. Verse 12:
Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
The ruling council could see the implications of his claim. And we need to make sure that we’re clear on this too.
Acts 4:12 says that the only way to know God; be rescued by God; and to enjoy God forever is through Jesus Christ.
Peter is making a bold claim here, with massive implications.
Firstly he’s saying that all religions do not lead to God. If Acts 4:12 is true, then by definition, all other religions ultimately DO NOT deliver. That’s not to say that they don’t say some helpful things, or that everyone who follows them is a horrible person, but if Jesus is the only name under heaven by which we can be rescued, then people who are calling on other names are barking up the wrong tree. That’s tragic.
Secondly, we need to be rescued. If Acts 4:12 is true, then everyone who is not a Christian is still in grave danger, and needs to be rescued.
Lastly, any form of sincerity (whether that be belief or spirituality or being religious) is not enough. The strength of our feelings, or depth of our piety, or frequency of our practice cannot rescue us. Only Jesus can. Trusting in Jesus’ name – that is, in who he is and what he has done for us – is the only way to be safe and to be free.
If Jesus is who he claims to be, and who the Bible says he is, it does and will matter, because it means that life and freedom and joy – salvation – is to be found in no-one else.
Peter is saying that sharing who Jesus is with others – even proselytizing – is necessary because no one can know God without first knowing Jesus. It’s that stark – if you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know God and you don’t know life.
And so it’s necessary. And secondly it’s natural.
When I was at university I used to work part time at a cinema at Fox Studios in Sydney. If you’ve ever been to a Gold Class cinema – it was pretty much the same as that. You paid a fortune to access a private lounge area, where you could order food and drinks from the bar, and then you were ushered into these massive cushion seats to recline on.
One of the unique things about the cinema at Fox Studios was the variety of famous people we would get through the doors.
During my time there I met a whole lot of celebrities – Jennifer Hawkins, Hugh Jackman; Nicole Kidman; Hamish and Andy; Daniel Craig; and even – probably the most exciting – John Howard (clearly not a high point for many of you).
And after every encounter – I’d be boasting about it with whoever would listen! It was the start of every conversation for the next month – Do you know the other night I shook Daniel Craig’s hand!’
It’s a logical response isn’t it? If you’ve run into a celebrity or something amazing has happened to you, you immediately Tweet, message, Facebook, Snapchat, or whatever social media the kids are using today. You’d want to share it wouldn’t you? When you’ve seen someone famous you want other people to know. When you bump into greatness you want other people to know.
But Jesus is not just a celebrity. He’s God himself. And it’s not just popularity status that he’s handing out, he’s offering eternal life. Offering an end to pain and suffering; a real relationship with the God who created the universe; he’s offering salvation.
It was so natural for me to want to share my brush with fame meeting Jennifer Hawkins or Daniel Craig – why wouldn’t I have the same enthusiasm to share my relationship with Jesus, who is the Lord over all creation.
And that’s exactly the same reasoning that Peter and John give to the religious leaders in Acts 4. Pick it up with me from verse 18:
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
It would be illogical not to share what they had seen. Jesus had died and been raised to life again. He had shown all the proof he needed to demonstrate that he was exactly who he said he was – God himself. And now he is here, offering salvation to anyone who will accept him as God.
Let me put it starkly.
It’s either true or it’s false that God walked amongst us in Jesus; it’s either true or it’s false that he offers us forgiveness through his death; it’s either true or it’s false that his resurrection gives us life.
If these things are false than logically we should shut up, sell up and give all the money to solving human poverty; or finding cures for cancer; or saving the whale – or any other countless worthwhile organisation you’d like.
But if these things are true, that God made the earth, if it’s true that he sustains everything; if it’s true that he walked amongst us and died on a cross in order to forgive us; if it’s true that he rose from the dead, defeating the power of death and offers us eternal life.
If these things are true, isn’t it natural to speak up and give our lives to making him known?
If you believe that God is Lord, that Jesus offers forgiveness, you can’t keep that to yourself. And so like Peter and John we can’t help but speak about what we have seen and heard.
But even if it’s necessary, and even if it’s natural, some people still won’t want us to share Jesus. And I’m sure there are many Christians here this morning who still aren’t keen on the idea of sharing Jesus.
And believe me I’m talking to myself here.
That story about how I’ve mixed with celebrities – how I’ve shaken Daniel Craig’s hand – I think I’ve woven that story into countless conversations over the last couple of years – I mean every time a new James Bond film comes out, I’ll manage to slip it in.
I was excited! But have I been as open about Jesus?
Of course professionally I have – I’m a minister – how much more public do you want to get? But it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with sharing Jesus, sharing my faith when opportunities arise.
And why – because I suffer from a severe case of ‘PEOPLE PLEASING’. I’m more interested in talking about Daniel Craig because I’m sure others want to hear about him – and let’s be honest they don’t always want to hear about Jesus.
But if God really has intervened into our world through Jesus Christ, if he made us, and loves us, and has our lives in his hands… we need to obey HIM and not other people – It’s non-negotiable.
Which is why Peter and John say what they do in verses 18-19. When offered their freedom, conditional on shutting up about Jesus, Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”
Peter and John realise that because God is God, and has acted for our good and his glory in Jesus – then of course they will obey God rather than mere humans.
Now if you’re anything like me – and you struggle with this then we need to ask God to work the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in him alone ever deeper into our heads and hearts.
We have the Spirit, and we have the message of Jesus, who has changed the world. We don’t need anything new. We certainly don’t need anything more. We simply need God to change our minds, to bring us into line with the truth, to help us to see the world through his eyes, through the lens of the gospel. We need to ask God to help us to believe what we already know. We need to exercise faith – we need to trust Jesus, and live to please him, rather than ourselves or other people.
SHARING IN THE MISSION
Christianity has always been a missionary faith. From the very birth of the church, Christians have been told to go out and share who Jesus is, in the hope that others might also become Christian. It’s at the core of who Christians are.
If you are here this morning and you think that there is no place for Christians to speak about Jesus in the public sphere, then please hear this. Christians don’t speak up and make a nuisance of themselves because they think they’re pretty awesome; or because they like the sound of their own voice. But we speak and we try to share who Jesus is, because we genuinely believe that God has done something in this man Jesus Christ. That he is God’s son and that he offers salvation and life to anyone who will trust him.
And it’s from this conviction that Christians have and will continue to speak up, because we believe it is necessary, it is natural, and it is non-negotiable.
It’s not from intolerance or general disregard for others that we speak up. No, but it’s born from our love of others and conviction that Jesus is the only way in which anyone can be saved; the only way to know God.
If you are a Christian here this morning, we need to remember who Jesus is. We need to be bold in making Jesus and his salvation known. And I’m not saying that we should all be like Peter here – boldly speaking before a group of men who were intent on keeping him silent. But we are called to be ready to speak.