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Of First Importance

July 11, 2010 Series: The Gospel

Topic: Evangelism Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:3–5

We’re all familiar with the attack on Pearl Harbor which was the beginning of our involvement in WW2. But many people don’t know that there were mistakes made that day that could have significantly cut our losses and changed the outcome of the attack. 

“At 6:00 a.m. on December 7, 1941, six Japanese carriers launched a first wave of 181 planes. Even as they headed south, some elements of U.S. forces on Oahu realized there was something different about this Sunday morning. 

In the hours before dawn, U.S. Navy vessels spotted an unidentified submarine periscope near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. It was attacked and reported sunk by a destroyer and a patrol plane. At 7:00 a.m., an alert operator of an Army radar station spotted the approaching first wave of the attack force. The officers to whom those reports were relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action. The report of the submarine sinking was handled routinely, and the radar sighting was passed off as an approaching group of American planes due to arrive that morning.” 

Because this information was not taken seriously, the Japanese attack was a complete surprise and the result was devastating: 21 sunk or damaged ships, 188 destroyed and 159 damaged Aircraft, over 2,400 American casualties and 1,200 military and civilian wounded. Ignoring the most important events of the day led to decisions being made that cost the military almost an entire naval fleet and set them behind a year in regaining their strength to be able to retaliate against Japan. 

If you think about it, the complete and accurate communication of information is vital to everything we do. Of course the consequences of misinformation are going to differ accordingly: If you forget to write baking powder on a recipe, my cake won’t rise; but if a lifeguard tells me that the ocean is 75 degrees and the waves are perfect for surfing but fails to tell me that the waters are infested with great white sharks, the consequences will be a little more devastating. 

The gospel is no different. We as Christians can also take important information for granted; information that is necessary for someone to make the right decision. I am, of course, talking about evangelism…making disciples. Today, I hope to clarify our mission and the information that our mission depends on. 

Turn to 1 Corinthians 15. Let’s read from verse 3-5: 

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

Evangelism can mean different things to different people. Even in this room, I’m sure we each have wide ranging thoughts about what evangelism is. So I want to start by leveling the playing field a bit so we’re all on the same page. This isn’t always the case, but it’s often a method that we use to define evangelism but today we’re not going to be talking about any particular method so I want to give you 2 definitions of evangelism: 

1. The process of evangelism: building relationships, serving and displaying the gospel with the intention of sharing the gospel.

2. Evangelism (proper): The act of proclaiming the gospel. 

The verb evangelism, in the Greek, literally means “to proclaim the good news”. The reality is that evangelism has not taken place unless the good news has been proclaimed-the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is important and helpful information because it helps us to accurately evaluate and adjust ourselves based on this objective definition. If your idea of evangelism lines up more with the process, that’s fine; as long as you make it through the process to the sharing of the gospel. But if you don’t, you might have a lot of non-Christian friends who are ready to hear the gospel, but you have not evangelized. 

Look at Paul’s example. How did he evangelize? “I delivered to you” (I brought you, I proclaimed to you), “as of 1st importance” (this is the foundation, the priority, the most important information)-what?-the gospel. Paul’s message of first importance was the gospel and it’s ours as well. This is how we are to evangelize-the proclamation of the gospel. 

• We evangelize by proclaiming the gospel as of first importance. 

Camp Story: On Wednesday I was a substitute camp counselor for Allen (so that he could spend the day with Janice) and I had an opportunity to do a small bible study with the 5 boys in our cabin. They all confessed to be Christians but I wanted to get a feel for their back ground and maturity so I asked a few questions to start. One of my questions was, “How did you become a Christian…What is your testimony?” One of the boys answered, “I asked Jesus to come into my heart so I am a Christian”. The other answers were similar. So I went on to ask more leading questions about the gospel. The closest answer I got to the actual gospel was from one young man who said, “It means were saved from (duh, duh, duh, duh) hell”. 

Now being saved from hell is a part and a result of the gospel, but it is not the gospel. There was nothing said about sin, repentance or faith. And the only thing said about Jesus was “I asked him into my heart”, which is good but he didn’t know why. Now, God is big enough to save all of these boys so I’m not questioning their salvation-I don’t know. And I don’t blame them for not knowing the gospel that they profess. But whoever shared and prayed with them did them all a huge disservice because they didn’t get the most important information. And so they don’t know what to do or how to live or what it means to be a Christians. And when the storms come, it will be a total surprise and a huge set back. 

Here’s what Paul says is most important:

• Christ died for our sins

• He was buried and was raised on the third day

• and He appeared to us 

Most of us know the gospel and could share the gospel with anyone but it’s our feelings, reasoning’s and our sin that get in the way-don’t they? And it could be anything: we don’t want to offend, we fear, we don’t want to scare anyone away, we doubt our ability. I mean, how do you tell a sweet elderly woman that she’s sinful and spiritually dead and that without the blood of Jesus Christ she will have to bear the weight of her own sin which means spending eternity in hell? How do you look her in the eyes and say that?

Well, let me answer that question by asking you this question-do you believe that? Do you really believe that without the blood of Jesus covering her sins this sweet little woman will be damned to hell forever? If so, how could you not share it? If we truly believe the gospel and choose not to proclaim it to those who are perishing we are not acting as representatives of Christ. We’re not merciful and compassionate, we’re cruel and uncaring. To have obtained salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ and yet keep it from those who are perishing-let it never be! 

Instead, we must share the truth. And the truth, the good news, starts with bad news. I want to read a section out of Mack Stiles book, Marks of the Messenger. 

If there is no bad news, there’s no good news? Luke 7:47-“He who is forgiven little, loves little.” The more we understand our sinful, wretched and undeserving condition before God the more we will be amazed at the love, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. And by communicating the truth of depravity we set the stage for the Savior. 

Mack Stiles: “We want people to see their sin in all its horror, not so they are motivated to “clean up their act”, but so they fall at the feet of Jesus knowing that he is their only hope.” 

So we press on two basic truths: our hopeless situation before a holy God and the amazing grace of a merciful God. The world around us is going to hell. People die every day without the Savior. It’s not up to us to convince or argue. We need to understand and come to grips with the fact that as His disciples-we carry the life giving-offensive message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have the antidote to their disease. And like Paul we need to be able to say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. Some will mock, some will reject but some will be saved. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 

So, we are to evangelize by preaching the entire gospel-including the offensive bad news-as of first importance. But Paul also makes reference to receiving the Gospel. Look at verse 3 again: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received”. Not only did Paul proclaim the gospel, he also received it. 

• We evangelize as those who have received the gospel as of first importance. 

It’s not good enough to just have accurate and complete information. The Navy had the information they needed to get planes off the ground, some of the ships out of the harbor and have some kind of an offensive front waiting for the Japanese planes, but they didn’t act on the information. The message of the gospel needs to be understood but it’s not merely an intellectual decision. We have to act on it, live it and experience it. Our message is not only truth but our experience of truth; it’s our testimony. 

These two verbs in verse 3 (delivered and received) are linked to what follows which is the gospel. We don’t proclaim empty words that we learned and are now passing on as an act of good will. We proclaim our experience with the Living God. We proclaim what we have received. Our very specific story of rescue from a life of loneliness, hate, bitterness, envy, lust, selfishness; a life of sin, bondage and death; a life of frustration because no matter what I pursued or how much I pursued it I could not find satisfaction! 

But now, now I have Christ! | He died for me. | He forgave all my sin. | I was a helpless, dead, wretched sinner. | I deserved to be punished. | I deserved the wrath of God. | But He died for me! | And he was buried but death could not hold Him. | He rose from the dead and He’s alive! | Alive! And He’s made me alive with him and opened my eyes to see the truth. | And now I have peace with God and my thirst for satisfaction has been filled because He’s more than I could ever ask or imagine. 

Is this how you received the gospel? Is this how you experience the gospel now? Are you amazed by grace? Are you aware of the debt that’s been paid for you? When you share the gospel, does it come from a grateful heart that bears witness with Christ? Or is it a duty? 

Or maybe you don’t share the gospel. Maybe evangelism is something that you fear and avoid, something you desire but never pursue, never really pushed yourself. Or maybe you’ve resolved not to. If you struggle to evangelize-to proclaim the same gospel that you profess to have been saved by, I would submit to you that the antidote is not a method or a plan. The answer is not to try harder and it’s definitely not to give up-we don’t have that choice. 

The answer is to receive the gospel as of first importance, to learn and experience the gospel, to know and experience the joy and satisfaction that is Christ. To live your life in the reality of who you really are; a new creation, hidden with Christ in God, united with Him, saved from your sin and promised an inheritance that is eternal. Christian, this is who you are you. But if you don’t believe it, if you’ve not experienced it, how can you expect to call someone else to it? I don’t believe you can. You need to first receive this gospel. I’m not talking salvation; I’m talking about experiencing the gospel in your heart and soul that you already know in your head. 

*You may know that you’re a sinner but have you ever felt the weight of it. Have you ever experienced the relief, gratitude and freedom that comes from having an unbearable burden lifted off of your conscience forever? *You may know that you’re an heir with Christ. But have you ever experienced the joy and security of being a son or a daughter of God? *You may know that God is for you. But do you live with an expectation that God is intimately involved in every aspect of your life and He is working all things for your good? I could keep going. If you can’t answer a resounding “YES” to all of these questions, you need the gospel. 

We have centered this ministry on the gospel because we see that in scripture Jesus, Paul, Peter, the whole bible is centered on the gospel. But because of this we run the risk of becoming numb to the gospel, taking it for granted. Sometimes we might even get tired of hearing about it. I understand that that can be a natural temptation but I want you to know that when you feel that way, the problem is not with the gospel-the problem is with you. 

We tend to think that we have a handle on it. But the gospel is not linear. It’s multifaceted. It touches every aspect of life. You’ll never hear the gospel too much-it’s actually the opposite. As long as you struggle with sin, you need the gospel and the more we understand and experience the truth and the implications of the gospel in our lives the more we will reflect Him and be changed by Him and proclaim Him as of first importance because we’ve also received Him. 

The person who shared the gospel with you and then subsequently disciple you may not have given you all the information-maybe they didn’t know or chose not to. Or maybe they did and you sat on it and did nothing with it. But regardless, you’ve felt the effects, the setbacks, the frustration and the feeling of defeat, questions of assurance, loneliness, condemnation, battles with sin that seem impossible. Do you realize these are the opposite of the bibles description of the Christian life? I want to pray for some of you right now. 

I want to pray for those who struggle with evangelism but I want to pray specifically for 2 different groups: 

• Those who have not received the Gospel as of 1st importance. There’s a disconnect between your knowledge and your experience; the gospel you know and the gospel you live.

• Those who are hindered to evangelize primarily by sin: laziness, pride, indifference.

 Let's gather around those who have raised their hands and pray.

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