Last week we celebrated Easter, the foremost Christian holiday. People all around the world gathered together to (in theory) rejoice in the finished work of Jesus at Calvary. This happens every year, but my question is, what now? I think the best way to answer that question is to look in Scripture—we can look at the response the disciples had to the very first Easter. In each of the four gospels, we find an account of the response the disciples had to the news of Jesus’ resurrection. There are two hallmarks in each account, first they worshiped Jesus, and second, they went and told others. As we remember the resurrection, we should have the same two responses—not just the week after Easter, but every day of our lives. That of course, is easier said than done.
There is a part of me that really enjoys the genre of television show known as the “infomercial.” These are usually half-hour to hour-long commercials that are designed to look kind of like a regular TV show. What I love about infomercials is that they are absolutely hilarious and at the same time, remarkably effective. They are corny and are full of wacky demonstrations, but as we reach the end of the show, I find myself believing what they are saying. I find myself saying, “You know, I don’t think I have a knife that can cut through a shoe and then carve a turkey. You never know when that might come in handy!” Or, “Man it would be nice to be able to cook an entire rack of lamb on my countertop—just set it and forget it!” Or I’ll watch an infomercial for some amazing fitness machine and conclude that I’m not in shape because I don’t have this machine. I may find myself putting down my can of pop, setting aside my bag of chips and getting up out of my chair, because I’ve discovered the reason I’m not in shape!
So, what is it about infomercials that makes them effective? It certainly isn’t the sales pitches, because they are pretty silly. We recognize that the person on the show is trying to sell us something, so we have a healthy dose of skepticism. I think that what makes infomercials so effective is the fact that we hear from people who appear to be just like us and have benefited as a result of the product. We believe these people because they don’t have an agenda, they just believe in the product.
In infomercials, a personal testimony gives credibility to whatever product is being sold. There is a lesson in here for us. As Christians, we aren’t selling a product, but we do want to communicate something to others. We want them to learn about the One who died and rose again so that we might know God and live forever. The disciples shared with others what they had seen and experienced with Jesus. I want to suggest this morning that we should do the same.
There are a variety of ways that we can share this message with others, but I want to focus on three principles this morning that will help us to share the message effectively. The first is that we should meet the needs of those we want to reach.
Meet the Needs of Your Audience
As we look at examples from Jesus’ ministry, we see that Jesus was always sensitive to what people needed. If we look at the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000 (Matthew 15:29-39), we see that Jesus wanted to teach the people but he knew that they were hungry. He knew they couldn’t possibly hear what he had to say if they were thinking about how hungry they were. Jesus met the needs of his audience first so that they would be willing to listen to his message. One of the best ways for us to share the gospel with people is to show them Christ’s love by meeting a definite need.
I have a friend who is in charge of evangelism for a large church in St. Louis. He told me a story about how he met a family that was facing the prospect of another winter without heat. Their heat had been turned off a couple of years prior, and they hadn’t been able to afford to get it turned back on. This young man wanted to show them the love of Christ so he found a way to get their heat turned back on. When they asked why he would do that, he told them about how he’d been given a great gift through Jesus and that he wanted to show them that same kind of love. They didn’t understand, but they were incredibly grateful. This family wanted to know more about why someone would do such a loving act, so they asked him to explain further. He shared the gospel with them over the course of several weeks, and eventually several members of the family placed their faith in Christ. Those family members in turn told their extended family what God had done for them, so that around 20 people eventually became Christians, all because this one man took the time to meet the family’s need for heat.
As a church, we are constantly looking for ways to do this. We took over the concession stand last summer because the park district needed help, we painted a house of someone who couldn’t afford to paint it herself (and we plan to paint more houses), we send people on mission trips to places where families need help. We believe that it is important to do these kinds of things as a church, but it’s even more important that we make the same kind of effort in our personal lives. We need to look at the people around us, see what needs they have, and then try to meet them. Look around you, is there:
- Someone who needs help mowing their lawn or doing other yard work
- Someone who needs a ride to the store or to the doctor
- Someone who needs a caring ear
- Someone who needs food
- Someone who needs a night out away from the kids
- Someone who is overwhelmed financially
- Someone who needs help with their computer, car, house, pets etc.
If we make an effort to look at the people around us with an eye to what their needs are, we can find some very practical ways to show Christ’s love to them. When we do this, we share the gospel in a very real and tangible way. You will find that when you meet people’s needs they are more willing to listen to the message of the gospel.
So the first principle of telling others about the good news of Easter is to show love in a practical way. Instead of focusing inward, we need to look outward and think about other people. But what do we do when we actually get the chance to talk about our faith? How do we go about actually explaining the gospel to people? That leads us to the second principle; we need to explain the gospel in a way that people can understand it.
Contextualizing the Message
Last year, my wife and I were eating leftover roast for dinner, and at one point she said that she thought a piece of meat had gotten stuck when she swallowed it. Being the loving husband I am, I told her it would be fine, that she just needed to wait it out. After about an hour of feeling like it hadn’t moved, we began to get worried. We had tried all sorts of things to dislodge the piece of meat, but nothing seemed to work. So we went to the emergency room to enlist the help of a doctor. Of course, while we were waiting for the doctor to come in, the piece of meat moved into her stomach. The doctor in the ER referred us to another doctor so she could have some tests done. Later when he gave us the results of the test, he said my wife had eosinophilic esophagitis. I didn’t know whether to laugh, dance, or cry because I didn’t have a clue what those words meant.
I asked the doctor if he could explain it to us. He said that it meant that there was an inflammation of the eosinophils which was causing problems with her esophagus. That was about as helpful of replacing a burned out light bulb with another burned out bulb! So I politely asked if he could explain it to me further. This time he read me the pathologist’s report, which would have been just as clear if he read it in Chinese. I concluded that either he had no clue what this diagnosis meant, or he just couldn’t explain it. Either way, I was getting annoyed with him. I asked him what caused this problem and he had no idea. I asked him how it was treated, and he couldn’t really give me a good answer to that question either. We left and haven’t been back.
I’m sure you’ve had an experience somewhat like this before when someone was trying to tell you something, but they couldn’t explain it in a way that made any sense to you. Usually we conclude that these people are either arrogant or stupid, and we simply dismiss them. We assume that either they have no idea what they are talking about or really aren’t interested in helping us understand.
Unfortunately, sometimes when Christians talk about what we believe, we come across in the same manner. When we look at the examples of Jesus and Paul, each of them made an effort to clearly communicate the truth of the gospel, so we should do the same.
Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus taught by telling stories called parables in order to help people understand. The parables focused on something his audience was already familiar with, and then he drew an analogy to whatever truth he wanted them to know. Paul did the same thing; we see a perfect example of this in Acts 17, when Paul was in Athens, Greece.
Athens was a great city in ancient times. The philosophers of ancient Greece form much of the basis of our modern philosophical thought. The people of Athens were very interested in learning new things. So, Paul went to Athens and went to where the people were and began to talk to them about Jesus. When Paul talked to Jews he would start by talking about the law and the prophets (which they knew well), but the Greeks didn’t know about Jewish history. So he talked to them about some of the philosophers they respected. He talked to them about the shrines they had to different gods in their city. He pointed to a shrine to the unknown God and basically asked, “If you could know this unknown God, would you be interested in meeting Him?” The door was open.
This is exactly what we need to do when we have the chance to tell others about what Jesus has done. It’s certainly possible to express the whole gospel in a single sentence like, “Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection was the propitiation for our sin debt, which resulted in our justification, sanctification, and ultimately our glorification.” That’s a very precise and accurate definition of the Gospel but what others will hear is “eosinophilic esophagitis”. Using “church language” with non-church people doesn’t help them understand. Instead, we need to look for creative ways to explain what we know to be true.
There are lots of ways to do this. Tell stories that might relate to the gospel story, tell about what God did in your life, draw analogies from common life experiences—whatever you can do to make the story of God’s love clear, do it! One of the reasons Max Lucado is so effective at communicating Christian truth is that He tells stories that have a message.
It’s All about God
By far, the most important principle to remember is the third principle, that when we talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection—even when we’re talking about how our lives have been changed by it—the focus should be on God, not us. This means several things.
First it means that we have to keep focused on the story of the gospel. Chances are that when we talk to people, they will try to get us sidetracked, because they take issue with the message of sin and the need for a Savior. So people may try to bring up topics like evolution, the death penalty, politics, or even abortion. It’s tempting to try to show how smart we are by addressing these topics, but when we are sharing the gospel a better response is simply to say, “that’s really a subject for another time.” We must make sure that we are focusing on telling people the story of Jesus, not getting bogged down in side topics.
Similarly, if we are talking about our own experiences, we need to remember that God is the main character in the story. It’s great to tell people about how God has changed you—it’s an effective way to illustrate to people what you believe. The danger is that the story becomes about you. Sometimes you hear people tell their story and they talk about how bad they were, or what was going on in their lives or the lives of their friends. They seem to have forgotten why they were telling the story in the first place. Because it’s all about God, we need to make sure that we keep Him the main character.
Second, when we recognize that it’s all about God, we will also recognize that a person’s response to the gospel doesn’t depend on us. A few months ago we studied 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul was addressing some of the issues in the church at Corinth. He reminded the people there of this simple principle which he illustrated by talking about farming. He said, “I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Paul’s emphasis was that neither he nor Apollos could take credit for what happened as a result of planting seeds—that is, sharing the gospel. All they could do was to plant and water the seed, they had no control over whether that seed grew or not.
We must remember that when we share the gospel and people do believe we cannot take credit for it. When we went to an evangelism conference with the youth last year, the last session of the conference invited students to share their experience of sharing their faith that weekend. As our three leaders sat listening to these stories, we were excited to hear what God had done, until one kid got up and talked about he’d “saved” two people. We all cringed. God is the one who does the saving, we are just the messengers. Our job is simply to be faithful in sharing; God will determine how people respond.
On the other side, when we share the gospel and people respond negatively, we must not blame ourselves either. When I was in college, I would occasionally do street evangelism with some friends. This is where you go up to people you’ve never met and talk to them about the gospel. I had a lot of mixed emotions about doing this. I understood that it was important, and I was always acutely aware of the fact that the people I was talking to would spend eternity in Hell without Jesus. So when people didn’t respond, I beat myself up and felt like a failure. I was hesitant to share the gospel because I figured I wasn’t good at it. There is tremendous freedom in knowing that it doesn’t matter whether you are “good at” telling people about Jesus or not. It doesn’t matter whether you feel like you have all the answers. God is in control of people’s response to the message. The only way that you are responsible for someone not believing the gospel is if you don’t share it at all.
The story of Easter is a tremendous story, one that we can rejoice in greatly. You and I have both done things wrong. You probably know the ten commandments. Think about them for a second. Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lied? Have you ever looked at a member of the opposite sex and wondered what they looked like naked? If so, then the Bible says you have committed sin. The way the Bible describes sin is like a crime. In our justice system, when you commit a crime, there is a punishment that goes along with it. If you were to get caught speeding, you would have to pay a fine. Suppose you really didn’t have the money to pay the fine. You’d be in deep trouble. The judge might even issue a warrant for your arrest. But if you had a friend who was willing to pay it for you, you could be made right with the law again. Any warrants for your arrest would be rescinded, because in the eyes of the law, you would no longer guilty.
This is exactly what it’s like for us in the eyes of God. You and I have committed crimes, and there is a penalty to pay. That penalty is far beyond what you or I could ever pay. And no one else in this world can pay it for you, because they each have their own penalties. Jesus Christ lived on this earth but was different. He never committed any sin—in other words he was innocent in God’s eyes. Because of this, he was able to pay the penalty that we couldn’t pay. He said that if anyone would submit to him and let him lead their lives, he would pay for their sins. When Jesus died, he did so to pay for your sin and my sin. When he came back from the dead three days later, he proved that he was God, and that he could do what he promised. That’s the story of Easter, and that’s the reason we celebrate.
If you haven’t trusted Jesus to save you, I encourage you to do so now. If you understand what I just told you commit to follow Jesus with your life. I recognize that there may be people who will hear me say this and immediately dismiss me. You may think I am biased, that I get paid to say nice things about Jesus. I understand your skepticism, and I don’t expect you to simply take my word for it. Check it out. Jesus’ disciples didn’t tell people to just take their word that Jesus had risen from the dead, they told them what they had seen and invited people to seek out the facts themselves. If you don’t believe me, talk to others here today—if they have been changed by the message of Easter, then like the disciples, they will be eager to help you understand it.
For those of you who are believers, let me challenge you to respond to Easter like the disciples did—give God the praise he so richly deserves and tell others about what you have experienced. Think about all the things we talk about that really have little importance:
- How great a new restaurant is
- How wonderful a type of car is
- How GPS has changed our lives
- How some TV show is worth watching
- How bad some sports team is and our opinion of how it should be fixed
We share testimonies about things that, in the grand scheme of things, are really unimportant. We ought to be sharing our testimony about something of eternal importance; what God has done for us. Let me suggest you do a couple of things. First, look for ways to show God’s love before you tell people of God’s love. Second, start where the other person is starting. In the conversation on baseball you could interject “Did you know that the Bible talks about baseball? The very first verse of the Bible says, ‘In the big inning.’” In a humorous way you have brought the Bible into the conversation. Find ways to bring up Jesus, God, or the Bible in your daily conversations. Be creative!
Third, I challenge you to take some time and write down the message of the gospel in a paragraph or two. Try to explain the gospel in a way that a five year old who never went to church would understand it. Get rid of the catch phrases and theological vocabulary. Speak in the language of a child. If you’re looking for a start, look at the way I shared it just a minute ago. Once you have done this, commit that paragraph to memory so that when you have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone, you can do it in a way they’ll understand.
Easter wasn’t meant to be a holiday that brings families together. It was meant to change our lives. It was meant to motivate us and activate us. Easter was meant to change us. I would go so far as to say that if Easter doesn’t change you . . . .you haven’t really understood Easter at all.