Just Walk Across The Room - 1) The Greatest Gift

Just Walk Across the Room: 1) The Greatest Gift

Text: Luke 19:1-10

 

10,000 steps! That’s roughly how many steps we take in an average day. It adds up to about 184,000 kilometres in a lifetime, which is more than 4 times around the earth. The question I want to ask you this morning is: are you using your steps wisely? The Bible often talks about how we live our lives in terms of how we are walking. And it can mean all sorts of different things, but this morning I want to look at how we use our steps to reach others with the gospel. An average room is about 10 steps across, the question I want to look at this morning is: what if ten steps, just 1,000th of your daily average, could change someone’s eternal destiny? If so, it might well change how you walk!

Bill Hybels tells the story of an African man he met at a dinner function, and in conversation he discovered this once devoutly Muslim man had become a Christian. Bill asked him how he came to believe in Jesus. The guy told him that in his line of work he had to attend a lot of social gatherings, which he hated. He’d turn up late, do his best to make some business connections, and end up alone in some corner until it was socially acceptable to leave. He said to Bill, ‘One night while I was standing alone and watching people talking in their comfortable little circles I noticed a guy in one of these groups notice me standing all alone, and he extricated himself from his circle, walked clear across the room and introduced himself to me. We talked about work and family and sports and eventually I took a risk and told him I was Muslim. He told me he was a Christ-follower, but that he knew nearly nothing about Islam. He asked if I would do him the courtesy of explaining the basics of Islam over a cup of coffee. We began meeting almost weekly and he really sought to try and understand my life and faith. Eventually I asked him about his beliefs, and he respectfully and sensitively conveyed his love for God. And despite our deep-seated religious differences we became fast friends. We talked about faith issues all the time. If he didn’t know something he’d get back to me. Other times he knew exactly where I was struggling and had just the words I needed to hear. Finally there came a day when I was sitting at home and felt compelled to pray to God and in the process I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That single decision changed everything, and not just my decision to become a Christ-follower, but his decision to walk across that room and reach out to me.’

Personal evangelism can be as simple as just walking across the room. Just a few Spirit-guided steps can have extraordinary outcomes. The story of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that we could ever give another person. Today we’re going to look at what makes the gospel the greatest gift and what motivates us to share it with others.

 

1) The Person and Work of Jesus Christ

Firstly, the greatest gift is the person and work of Jesus Christ. The theme for this series is ‘Just Walk Across the Room,’ and in a sense that’s exactly what God did in the person of Jesus Christ. The original work of personal evangelism is actually found in Genesis 3. God created everything perfect, and yet humanity decided it didn’t need God and turned its back on God which was paramount to turning our back on life. But the Bible says that, ‘8 …as the Lord God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, [Adam and Eve] hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:8b-9)’ God walked across a garden in order to reach out to Adam and Eve. And the ultimate work of personal evangelism was been God walked across the space between heaven and earth. At a certain point in history Jesus Christ himself left the marvellous fellowship of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked across the cosmos in order to seek and save the lost, people like you and me. Romans 5:8 explains just how far Jesus went to rescue us. Paul writes, ‘8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)’ It was while we were still sinners, while we were far from God, that Jesus extricated himself from the comfort of the ultimate circle, heaven itself, to step across time and space. Jesus walked the immeasurable distance between a holy God and us sinful people in order to reach out to us. And that has profound significance for those who follow Jesus. We walk across rooms to reach out to others, because Jesus took the ultimate walk across a room in order to reach out to us. To follow Jesus means to walk across rooms like he did. But let’s get back to this greatest gift.

a) Jesus is the Greatest Gift (Jn 4:10)

Firstly, Jesus Christ himself is the greatest gift. As broken and sinful people we tend to put up barriers between us and other people, racial barriers, gender barriers, social barriers, you name it. But Jesus loved to break down those barriers. A classic example is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman. Jesus as a Jewish male and a Rabbi asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. And when she questions him, he replies, ‘10 …If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (Jn 4:10)’ Jesus refers to himself as God’s gift to humanity. In a sense God is giving himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Earlier Jesus says, ‘16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)’ Jesus is God’s gift to the world. Jesus is the expression of just how much God loves us.

b) Our salvation in Christ is the greatest gift (Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 9:15; Eph 2:8)

But Jesus is not only God’s gift to us, Jesus also gives us a gift of his own, salvation. The Bible also speaks of our salvation in Christ as the greatest gift. Here’s just a few examples, ‘23 …the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)’ And ‘8 …it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8)’ And Paul refers to the surpassing grace God has given us as ‘15 …God’s indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15b)’ And elsewhere Paul talks about the ‘17 …the gift of righteousness… (Rom 5:17c)’ that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. God’s gift to us is more than just himself coming down into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, it’s Jesus dying on the cross in our place, it’s Jesus paying the penalty for our sins, it’s Jesus reconciling us with God, it’s Jesus giving us his righteousness, it’s Jesus giving us eternal life. One of the most vivid pictures of this gift is found in John chapter 8. Jesus is teaching in the Temple when a group of religious leaders drag in this woman who’s been caught in adultery, and they ask Jesus whether she should be stoned according to the Law. As far as they can see Jesus has two options, let her go and deny the validity of the Law, or uphold the Law and be seen as unmerciful as well as getting in trouble with the Roman authorities. But Jesus presumes they’re going to stone her, and so he organizes them, ‘those of you with no sin can stand at the front of the line and throw the first stones!’ Jesus wrecks their trap. He makes them realize that before God none of them are righteous, they are all sinners. And one by one their stones fall to the ground and they walk away. Although Jesus has every right to condemn her sin, instead he says, ‘I don’t condemn you.’ Jesus didn’t come to condemn our sin but to forgive it. Jesus didn’t come to punish us for our failures, but to redeem us. Jesus came to give us a new life. And so he tells this woman to go and sin no more. Without excusing the woman’s sin, Jesus reminds us that everyone needs forgiveness and redemption and healing. Everyone needs to know God’s grace, God’s undeserved gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

c) Sharing the Gift

And in a nutshell that’s what evangelism is all about, sharing the gift of salvation in Christ, helping people get connected to Jesus. Our primary mission in the world is to love people and serve people and point people towards faith in Christ. And that’s exactly what Jesus did in his ministry. In our text he’s just walking down the street when he looks up and he doesn’t just see a person he sees Zacchaeus, and he reaches out to this man and changes his life. Our mission is the same as Jesus’ to seek and save the lost, to redirect wayward people towards Jesus, to restore broken people, to see people’s lives transformed, spiritually, relationally, emotionally and socially. It’s only when we have received this amazing gift from God that we are truly motivated to share it with others. It’s only as we truly understand the full extent of God’s gift to us in Jesus are we motivated to tell others about Jesus. It’s only as we come to understand that Jesus walked across the room to reach us are we motivated to walk across rooms in order to reach out to others. If you really believe in the redeeming and transforming power of God’s presence in a person’s life, then the single greatest gift you can give someone is an explanation of how they can get to know Jesus and the gift of salvation that comes through faith in him.

 

2) The Power and Presence of the Holy Spirit

So if that’s why we evangelize, our next question is how? How do you share the Good news about Jesus with someone? Well there are dozens of evangelistic fads, from EE3 to yelling on street corners, from Bus ministries and handing out tracts, to televangelists and crusades. But according to the Bible God has already given us everything we need to do evangelism. In fact, the next great gift that God has given us is the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. According to the Bible when we believe in Jesus we ‘38 …receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38b)’ And according to the Bible the Holy Spirit enables us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ. Jesus says, ‘8 …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. (Acts 1:8b)’ It’s not enough to just walk across the room, we need to do so empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit. If you don’t feel adequate to do evangelism then join the club, the disciples were only ‘13 …unschooled, ordinary men… (acts 4:13b)’ and yet empowered by the Holy Spirit they amazed the religious establishment, and changed the world as we know it. If you don’t know what to say, if you don’t have a speaking ability, if you don’t have the looks or the talent, don’t freak-out, what you have instead is the mountain-moving, life-transforming, death-defying power of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5 Paul encourages Christ-followers to ‘25 …keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:25b)’ What that means is that we are to tap into the power of God that is living right in side us. And that power not only makes us more like Jesus in character, but also more like Jesus in our purpose. So what does it look like to keep in step with the Spirit?

a) Promptings of the Spirit

Firstly, it means we are tuned-in to the promptings of the Spirit. It’s not easy to explain how the Spirit works in people’s lives, and often it will be different for each person. But I believe there are three things that we can do that make us more receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

i) Stay Connected to Jesus

Firstly, we need to stay connected to Jesus. When we are close to Jesus we are more open to what Jesus is speaking into our lives through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, ‘5 …If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5b)’ It’s only our connection to Jesus that allows God’s power to flow through our lives into the lives of those around us. I looked at how we become spiritual people a few weeks back, so I’ll just run through it quickly again. Staying connected to Jesus means daily putting your faith in Him. It’s every day waking up and saying Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, and I trust Him for what I need today. Staying connected to Jesus means confessing your sins. It’s repenting of anything that threatens to separate you from Him. And it’s reminding yourself that Christ’s blood cleanses you from all your sin. Staying connected to Jesus means reading God’s word and listening to God’s Spirit speak to you through the pages of Scripture. Staying connected to Jesus means communing with him through prayer. Just like you stay connected with people by talking to them, so we stay connected to Christ as we talk to him. Staying connected to Jesus means staying connected to His body, the church. I personally experience Jesus’ presence the most when I’m with his people. Finally staying connected to Jesus means worshipping him in word and deed. It’s as we lift him up in song and it’s as we serve him that our faith becomes real. When we are intimately connected to Jesus we open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit in us and through us. Our connection to Jesus tells us how to walk. Walking with Jesus will mean getting excited about the things that he gets excited about.

ii) Pray for Opportunities

Secondly, we need to pray for opportunities. In our Small Group we’ve been doing a study called WEIRD, about how as followers of Christ we are meant to be different from the world. And the second study was all about how we use our time. The main idea was that most people in our society should be doing less rather than more, we should be making space in our busy lives for God. But as a spin-off it also means we should be using our time for God’s purposes not just our own. As Alice and I have been reflecting on that idea we decided that we needed to give God permission to interrupt our daily schedules. And so one morning at Breakfast we prayed, ‘God we’ve got all this stuff planned for today, but we want to be open to the things you might have planned for us. We give you permission to interrupt our plans. If you want me to speak into someone’s life I’ll stop what I’m doing and speak. If you want me to serve someone in need today, I’ll do that.’ It wasn’t until after we finished praying that I was struck by just how scary that sort of prayer is. Basically praying this sort of prayer is saying that your heart is open to the Spirit’s leading, that you will go where he leads, that you will do whatever he prompts you to do. It’s saying that you are willing to walk wherever he leads you to walk, whether it’s across a room, your office, the classroom, a supermarket aisle, or your street.

iii) Keep your eyes Open

Thirdly, you need to keep your eyes open to opportunities, to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So what does it mean to keep your eyes open? I presume you normally walk with your eyes open, it helps with not bumping into things. What I’m referring to is keeping the eyes of your heart open. It means looking at people, not as strangers, not with indifference, but as people who are created in God’s image, as people who are lost, as people who need to know the forgiveness that God has provided in Jesus Christ. Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost, what about us? Do you seek out lost people? Do you look for opportunities to serve people? The point is not to contrive opportunities to ‘save someone,’ rather the point is to walk when the Spirit prompts you to walk, talk when he prompts you to talk, keep silent when you’re in risk of saying too much, and stay put when he leads you to stay put. Sometimes the Spirit won’t prompt you to say anything in a particular situation, or he won’t prompt you to walk across the room, but the point is that every day, every moment we should be ready for the moment when he does. Paul talks about how he was ‘6 …kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Act 16:6b)’ At that time Asia was a closed door. But elsewhere Paul talks about how ‘9 …a great door for effective work has opened to me. (1 Cor 16:9a)’ Paul was lead by the Spirit, and sometimes the door was open, and sometimes the door was shut. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus, doing life constantly plugged into the Holy Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, obeying the promptings of the Spirit. Being walk-across-the-room people means we walk when the Spirit says walk.

b) Playing our Role

Secondly, keeping in step with the Spirit effectively means playing the role that God has given us. Often when we think of evangelism we think of it in terms of getting someone to confess their sins and give their life to Jesus. Isn’t the whole goal, to see people come to faith in Christ? And if they don’t from a spiritual perspective your efforts have been a failure. But that’s not how the Bible sees it. Paul says ‘5 …the Lord has assigned to each his task. (1 Cor 3:5c)’ His point is that we each have a particular role to play in God’s purposes. Paul talks about how ‘6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Cor 3:6)’ It’s helpful to picture a number line from -10 to 10, where -10 is as far from God as you can imagine, and 10 is as close to God as you can imagine, and 0 is the spiritual line of faith, when someone receives the gift of salvation and begins their journey with Jesus. Sometimes you may be used by God to bring someone from a -7 to a -4. They may be nowhere near accepting Jesus as their Saviour, but you may have broken up some really hard soil in their heart so that the next person who comes along may be able to plant a seed. Other times God may use you to plant the seed of faith in someone’s life and you get to see it sprout, you move someone from a -1 to a +1. Other times God wants you to water someone’s faith, to encourage their faith and move someone from a +4 to a +5. The point is that the role you are supposed to play is the role you are supposed to play. The point isn’t what you do, but what God is doing through you. God has his timing and his purposes, and we need to play the part that God wants us to play, rather than the part we want to play.

c) Partnering with God

And the awesome thing about keeping in step with the Spirit is that what we’re really doing is partnering with God. Paul talks about this idea in 2 Corinthians 5. He starts, ‘16 …from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… (2 Cor 5:16a)’ Paul has learnt to see people from a spiritual perspective. People are either far from God, or they have been brought near to God. People are either spiritually lost or they have been found. Paul talks about it in these terms, ‘17 …if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)’ Like with the women caught in adultery, Jesus gives us new life, he doesn’t condemn us he sets us free. And then Paul writes, ‘18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18)’ Who’s doing the reconciling? God is. Where does all this come from, this Good News? From God. And to whom has God given it to? To us. Our ministry, our mission in this world to seek and to save the lost, to share the gift of salvation, the gift of knowing Jesus, comes from God. In fact, it’s God’s mission. Paul says that this ministry that God has given to us is to tell people, ‘19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. (2 Cor 5:19a)’ The gospel message is that through faith God no longer counts our sins against us, rather we have been reconciled with God. That’s what God is doing, that’s God’s grand plan, and he invites us to partner with him in that mission. In fact, Paul says ‘20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:16-20)’ God makes his appeal to the world through you and me. God employs us as his ambassadors, as his representatives in this world.

 

So like Paul I just can’t help myself, I implore you, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled with God. I don’t know where you are on that spiritual continuum, but I encourage you to accept the greatest gift ever given, the person of Jesus Christ, who died in your place so that you might be reconciled with God. It’s only through faith in Jesus that all your past, present and future sins can be washed away and no longer counted against you. It’s only through faith in Jesus that you can be made right with God and receive eternal life. And if you will accept that gift, or if you have accepted that gift, then my prayer is that you will be an ambassador for Jesus, that you will share that gift of God’s grace with others, that you will be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, that you will pray for opportunities and keep your eyes open for them. I encourage you to play the role that God has given you, no matter what they may be, whether it’s just to do an act of kindness or say a few words of encouragement, or to lead someone to Christ, or to grow someone’s faith. The adventure of following Jesus is being open to the Holy Spirit as you partner with God’s great mission to reconcile people to himself, or as Jesus put it – to seek and to save the lost! All is takes is the willingness to just walk across the room for the sake of the gospel! Amen.

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