Contagious Christianity

Acts 4:1-20

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family.

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then 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 before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”   (Acts 4:1-20)

I’d like to think we’re making a difference.  But I’m not sure the city authorities are going to round us up and tell us to be quiet.  The good news should be travelling like wildfire in dry stubble.  Our Christianity should be contagious like an epidemic.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I want to share my faith, but . . .”  But you didn’t.  I don’t know why you didn’t – you may not even know why you didn’t.  But you didn’t.   Something held you back; something stood in your way. 

I know what holds most people back.  There’s two basic reasons for not sharing your faith:  fear or indifference.  Either you care about people, but are afraid to say something, or you don’t care about people and won’t say something. 

And it’s obviously not that simple and clear-cut, but it comes down to those two scenarios.  And I’m going to narrow it down even more – I don’t think any of you are in that second category of indifference – that you don’t care whether people are lost and without God in their lives and aren’t going to say anything because it’s not your problem.

But I’m guessing that all of us have struggled a little with fear.  You may fear what someone will think of you, you may be afraid of turning someone away by saying the wrong thing, you may be afraid that what you say will offend someone, afraid of losing a friendship – but the bottom line is fear.

And I understand that.  I’ve had to overcome a lot of fear in my life to say something to someone who needed Christ in their life.  But let’s work together to dispel some of that fear and get a better perspective on what God is calling us to do.

An Open Door

The first thing, and perhaps that main thing we need to do is be open doors.  If you’re a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, you need to get out of the way and let people see Jesus in you.

I remember when I was little and I’d be standing in front of the TV and my dad would say, “You make a better door than a window!”  And that’s still true.  Sometimes we get in the way of letting people see Jesus.  In a couple of passages we read last week, Paul told us how we need to interact with people who aren’t believers:

When he wrote to the Christians in Colossae he said, Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5-6)

To the Philippian Christians he said, Be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Phil. 2:15-16)

It’s not so much what you say, but who you are that makes a difference with people.

Somewhere in all the motivational rhetoric, we convinced people that the most important element of effective soul-winning was technique -- if you said the right things, had the right answers to their questions, punched the right buttons -- you could make disciples.  I don’t know if that’s just simplistic or just plain stupid, but the fact is people are not going to respond to a speech, they are going to respond to a person.  That’s right, they are going to respond to you, more than to what you say.  That’s why it’s so vitally important that we begin by looking at our lives as open doors through which the gospel can walk into the lives of others.

And what’s important is that we not just comfortably blend in, looking the same as everyone else, but that our lives are  distinctively different.  The greatest temptation for a Christian is to blend in with the crowd, not stand out, not draw attention.

Illust. – Story of boy going off to college – the family was afraid for his faith.

Sometimes we compromise our beliefs and values to accomplish that, but sometimes it is something as innocent as just being a good old boy -- a good neighbor, a good friend, but nobody would ever suspect we have a faith in Christ.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described what it was like to be citizens in God’s kingdom, and it means that we stand out from the crowd and that we live counter-culturally:  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16)

And it’s not so that people look at you and think, what a nice person, but that they look at you and think, what a great God.

A Living Faith

People are desperately searching for a light in the darkness -- it may not seem like it sometimes, but they are.  Especially in the confusing, directionless times we are living in, people have their antennas out looking for a life that makes sense, a life that is filled with purpose.  They are looking for a person whose life is consistent with their speech.

Is yours a living faith -- a faith that is evident in who you are and how and why you live?  I’m not talking about perfection -- that’s not what people are looking for.  But the world is looking for a person who makes mistakes, who experiences struggles -- but handles them with faith.

Let’s go back to our scripture reading in Acts 4 -- vs. 13 – “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”  Their message wasn’t what impressed these Jewish officials, it was a nuisance.  What impressed them was the fact that they could tell by their lives these men had been with Jesus.

Before you preach the good news, I want to know -- are you living the good news?  Paul wrote about that kind of influence we have by the power of a life of faith – You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.  (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

When I became a Christian, it wasn’t because somebody convinced me about the rightness of their church organization, or the correctness of their church doctrine, but because I was so impressed by the powerful witness of their lives -- they lived their faith.

Being There

People in need respond to people who care.  I said a minute ago that people respond to people.  But more than that, people respond to people who care.  If you want some open doors through which to share the gospel -- be there in people’s lives when they are going through trials and struggles of their own.  Not in a manipulative way, not with ulterior motives.  But be there and help them through them.

Your presence is powerful  -- it is a powerful solvent to loosen stuck prejudices, a master key that opens doors that have been bolted shut.  You have to earn the right to be heard.  One of the great things we have lost in our high-tech, impersonal world is a sense of community, of comradery, of intimacy.  We keep to ourselves and mind our own business, and people suffer silently behind closed doors, alone.  The Bible talks powerfully about the imagery of the body which permeates who we are as Christians together.  What if we were to use that incredible tool to reach out to others and extend to them the kind of support and love which we have experienced in the body?  You don’t have to be there as a counselor giving advice, or an expert fixing their lives, but as a friend sharing their struggles, weeping with them in their defeats, rejoicing with them in their victories.  Your presence is powerful.

Something to Share 

The greatest key to opening doors to sharing the gospel with others is a conversion.  Not theirs, but yours.  That’s right, yours.  I think of some Christians whose faith is absolutely lifeless.  It is a dreary, habitual struggle to come to church once a week.  Their Christianity is packed in a box they neatly store on the shelf in their hall closet during the week.  They occasionally pull out their faith and try it on during the week and mention something to their friends about God, but it is so artificial and forced and out of character that they feel embarrassed for even trying.

Let me say this as kindly, but as strongly as I can -- there are people wearing the name of  Christian who still need to be converted.

Maybe you struggle with sharing your faith because you honestly don’t feel you have anything to share.  You wouldn’t know where to start because you haven’t felt anything spiritual inside for the longest time. 

You can’t share what you don’t have.  You can’t quench the spiritual thirst of  others from a dry well.  Maybe you need to dig deeper and tap into the source of spiritual life.  Perhaps it is your own relationship with God that needs to be revitalized before you feel equipped to share with others.  But let me tell you folks -- There is no more powerful key to opening doors than people seeing what God has done and can do in your own life.

I think the story in Mark 5 is one of the most powerful stories in the NT. As this man is standing there, freed from the demons, in his right mind, he begs Jesus to let him go with him, but Jesus tells the man,  “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord had done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  That is the greatest thing we can share with people – what Jesus had done in our lives.

Our Great Commission

There in Matt. 28 and Mark 16 in those two passages we call the Great Commission, your Bible probably reads, “Go into all the world…” – an imperative, a command.  But it’s not that – it’s a participle – “Going…” or “As you go . . . make disciples”  (Matt. 28:19)  “As you go ... preach the word” (Mark 16:15)

And what that tells me is that what the emphasis is on is that this preaching and this making disciples is a natural part of our lives – as we go about our lives… -- This is not a program or technique – it is who we are.  As we go about our lives we cannot help but tell the good news and bring new followers to Jesus.

In another passage we read last week in 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Paul wrote, All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 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.

It’s not a commission for evangelists, not a program for Thursday nights to go out and knock doors -- but a commission, a personal calling -- to allow God to use your voice, your talents, your life to bring others to him.  What you have experienced through the redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ is God’s open door into the lives of others who need to hear the powerful, life-changing, soul-saving good news of Jesus Christ.

There is a phrase I like:  Lifestyle Evangelism.  It’s a term that describes the need for evangelism to permeate our lives - that describes something that is not a cold, dry technique imposed on our prospects, but a loving gift that grows out of relationships.

If we are ever to have the opportunity to speak a word of invitation, they must see a living faith, they must feel a caring hand, they must see that your life has first been transformed by the power of God.  Has it?

Illust. – Oswald Golter “But I do” 

I love the story told by Dr. Fred Craddock about Dr. Oswald Goulter. He was a missionary he knew who after years of service in China, was put under house arrest by the Communists. He was finally released on the condition he would leave on the next available ship, which happened to be a steamer going to Madras, India. He wired his mission board for travel money. While waiting at the coastal city of Madras in India to take a ship home, he heard there were lots of Jews sleeping in barn lofts there. They had been denied entrance in every country except India, and they had gone inland and were sleeping in barn lofts. It was Christmas. Dr. Goulter went around to those barn lofts and said to the homeless Jews: "It is Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

They said, "We're Jews." He said, "I know, but it is Christmas." They said: "We don't observe Christmas. We are not followers of Jesus." The old missionary said: "I know, but what would you like for Christmas?" They argued with him and he said: "If somebody gave you something for Christmas, what would you like?" To get rid of him they said: "Some good German pastries."

Dr. Goulter finally found a pastry shop with German pastries and he cashed in his passage ticket and took baskets of German pastries to these Jews. Then he wired his mission board for money for another ticket.

When Dr. Goulter told that story in a seminary classroom, a young seminarian sitting in the front row was absolutely incensed. He said to Dr. Goulter, "Why did you do that? They don't even believe in Jesus!" Dr. Goulter said, "But I do. I do."