When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “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.” – Matthew 9:36-38
Jesus cares about people. Is that news to anyone? Even most non-Christians, so long as they believe a teacher called Jesus walked around in Galilee 2000 years ago, agree that he was generally a pretty compassionate guy. He healed constantly and fed those who interrupted his grieving over the death of His cousin (Matthew 14:13-21). He rarely turned away a cry for help and even when He initially denied a request, He proved persuadable (Matthew 15:21-28).
It’s not surprising that Jesus observes the crowd and has compassion. What makes us think twice is how He teaches His disciples out of His compassion. Here’s a guy who, by all accounts, has the ability to meet all their needs, yet He essentially delegates to a group of people who hadn’t displayed consistent compassion (Matthew 19:13-15) or aptitude for care (Matthew 17:14-21).
There’s a lot to learn from Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The gospels reveal much about God’s will and character. God delights in allowing us to bring His kingdom on earth. Jesus tells us it’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit than Himself incarnate, because the Holy Spirit empowers us to do greater things than He did in His three years of ministry (John 16:7, 14:12).
God wants you and I to be involved in redemption. There’s no theologically sound place to hide from this truth. Our salvation and sanctification is not for ourselves alone, but to be a light in a dark place and a city on a hill.
Shortly after He calls the twelve disciples (according to Matthew’s chronology, which may or may not be the historical sequence of events), He sends them out: Come to me, go to them. The Great Commission is a commissioning address after three years of ministry training, but the challenge to go began long before Matthew 28 in Matthew 10.
Are you called? Yes. Are you ready? Probably not. Yet after five years of sharing the gospel in my involvement with Power to Change, I’m convinced that evangelism is something we become ready for only by doing it. All the training in the world will only make you an armchair critic until you begin to put it in practice. Driving in Kampala, I’m frequently accosted by roadside evangelists yelling about repentance with a large black leather-bound bible held open in their right hand, left hand free to gesticulate wildly to emphasize the urgency of their tirade. I cringe every time, but I genuinely believe they will receive greater commendation from their saviour on the day of accounting than their disparaging yet inactive brethren.
Jesus doesn’t wait for them to be ready before sending out His twelve. He gives a few basic instructions, tells them what to expect, encourages them and cuts them loose. I’d like to highlight some of His words and challenge you to do out. In sharing Jesus, you WILL make mistakes, say the wrong thing, offend people needlessly, accidentally preach bad doctrine, misunderstand people’s felt needs, commit cultural faux pas, insult other religions and Christian groups, get side tracked by conversational rabbit trails, contextualize the message inappropriately, and those are just the errors I commit. Knowing all that, Jesus sends US out as His ambassadors. If He wanted it done right, He would have done it Himself. Instead He delights to see us trusting Him to work even in our most fallible efforts.
So without further introduction, here are Jesus’ instructions on evangelism from Matthew 10
- The message is simple: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” God is near to you. He wants to enter into relationship and cure your sin problem. He wants to be your Lord, your father, your deliverer.
- “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.” These reflect God’s heart to meet physical as well as spiritual needs. In some contexts, the gospel is not enough (did he just say that!?!?). People need to see God’s love in God’s ambassadors.
- “Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts… for the labourer deserves his food.” Lots of debate on what this means. I suggest it’s an allowance for full time evangelists to allow the ministry to support them, rather than feel the pressure to save up to go. Even for those not considering ministry as a vocation, this is an invitation to simply go with what we have right now and let God provide the rest.
- “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” Some people don’t want to hear. That’s okay. There are many people who are willing to listen, to engage and to accept.
- “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Some people are not content simply to ignore you, but will try to trap you, confuse you, misrepresent your words. It’s okay to ask, “Why is this person listening to me?” Sharing the gospel will sometimes cost you more than you bargained for.
- “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” So don’t stress too much about what to say. Success in evangelism is simply taking the initiative to share the gospel in the power of the Spirit and leaving the results to God.
- “Brother will deliver brother over to death…and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Even your family might be against you. In some cultures, family members will murder a person for talking about Jesus. Expect people not to like you because of what you’re saying and keep going. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” God’s got you. Believe it!! (Naruto reference, anyone?)
- “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Phrased differently, “One life to live, will soon be past. Only what you do for Christ will last.” – Jim Elliot, martyred missionary
- “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.” People will support you and you will feel unworthy of their support. Don’t worry, it’s the ministry of Christ through you that they are supporting.
Just a few words in closing. These neophyte evangelists went out and had an amazing experience sharing Christ. I haven’t had the smoothest time life sharing Jesus in Uganda (which is demographically a Christian nation, but you know…), but this year will definitely go down as a highlight in my life story.
So stop worrying about it and just go tell someone about Jesus.