January 20, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Not that long ago, I was talking to a guy who is a career missionary in Kenya, Africa. He explained to me how he ended up on the mission field. He said that when he was in college listening to a lecture from his professor, the professor made a statement. It was very simple, but that statement arrested this guy’s attention, and he couldn’t get it out of his mind. After class was over, he stopped the professor and said, “Hey, can I ask you a little bit more about exactly what you meant by this statement?” The statement basically was the professor’s idea about the spiritual condition around the world. This guy said, “I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind.” That statement was what the Lord used to call him into the ministry.
He went off to attend seminary. While he was in seminary, he felt called to be a missionary in Africa. By the time he finished seminary, he felt very specifically called to Kenya, Africa. Now this guy is married and has spent basically his entire adult life on the mission field. It’s all that his children have ever known. If you were to ask him, it would go all the way back to this very short, very simple statement that a professor made in a college classroom. Today he is the Director of Operations for all Southern Baptist missionaries throughout the entire sub Saharan part of Africa. This guy leads dozens of missionaries on the continent of Africa. -all because of a simple statement where that statement changed a guy’s life forever. Here’s the kicker: That statement was not part of the lecture that day. The professor just dropped that little ditty in there and changed this guy’s life forever.
We’re going to be in Acts chapter four today. We’re going to talk about how we reach people for Jesus Christ. Let me just assure you right now, if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Jeff, please don’t give me another thing to do. I need to add another item on my to-do list like I need another hole in the head.” Or, if you’re thinking, “I just don’t have the time to do anything more than I’m already doing this year,” I totally know where you’re coming from, and I’m not going to ask you to add anything to your already busy schedule.
In fact, what I’m going to tell you is how you could do what you’re already doing anyway. Simply take a conversation that you’re already having and let it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become a gospel conversation. Start to reach people for Jesus with the conversations that you’re already having. It doesn’t add one more second to you’re already busy day. You see, here’s the truth: All of us have conversations all week long. Some of us in this room have figured this out. It is very easy to see those conversations start to become an opportunity to reach somebody for Jesus. I just want to be very practical for the next few moments from Acts chapter four. I want to show you how some of you in this room are already doing this. And for others of you in this room that are saying, “I wish I could do this. I wish I know how to do this. I just don’t know how to do it, Jeff,” well today I’m going to show you in three very natural steps how to take a conversation and turn it into an opportunity to reach somebody for Jesus.
Here’s what I want you to see from this statement today: First, we’re not talking about going and knocking on somebody’s door and talking to them about Jesus. Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I’m not talking about making opportunities that don’t exist. I’m talking about taking the opportunities that God is already giving you and turning them into a chance for them to become a gospel conversation. The first step to do that is to figure out how to turn the talk.
I. Turn the talk
The people in our church who are regularly having gospel conversations are having the exact same conversations that you are. They’ve just figured out a way to naturally, subtlety change the conversation and turn it into an opportunity to talk to somebody about Jesus. They’re doing what you’re already doing. They just figured out a way to turn the talk, and that’s what you’re going to see from the Bible today. In Acts chapter four, you’re going to see somebody do this exceptionally well. I think you and I could be able to do it just as well as Peter and John when they’re called onto the carpet for this good deed that they did earlier in the Book of Acts. Here’s how the Bible describes this for us:
The next day, their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all the members of the high-priestly family. 7 After they had Peter and John stand before them, they began to question them: “By what power or in what name have you done this?”
The day prior to these verses, Peter and John, two of Jesus’s followers, showed up at the Temple. There was a guy who had been begging for money all of his life because he was born crippled. God miraculously healed this man through Peter and John. Now this man who was born crippled is running through the Temple gathering a huge crowd around him, and because of that, the religious leaders catch wind of it.
Look at that phrase “their rulers”. When Luke writes this phrase, he’s saying that all of the heavy hitters in Israel just showed up to call Peter and John on the carpet for what just happened. If Luke was writing this story today, he would say that John Roberts, Nancy Pelosi, and Donald Trump call you into the same room at the same time and ask you, “By what authority? Whose power did you do this event?” You would be freaking out right now, like I would be freaking out right now. What we see from the Bible today is Peter and John, though they’re probably intimidated like you and I would be, also see this as a beautiful opportunity to turn the conversation and to start to talk about Jesus.
One of my heroes in the faith is an oral surgeon in Birmingham, Alabama, by the name of Dr. Bill Buck. Dr. Buck says the thing that separates people who regularly share their faith from those who don’t, is fear. He calls it “The fear of the sneer of the peer.” He says once you get over that fear, you have tons of opportunities to talk to people about Christ.
You see, there’s a crux point. I believe it happens in every conversation. You’re just sitting there listening to somebody as they’re talking. You’re trying to pick up what they really believe or maybe you’re trying to find out why they behave the way that they do. The crux point is the point where a metal bridge sits on a stone foundation. Since metal expands and contracts, this crux point moves throughout the course of the year. If you’ll listen carefully, I’m convinced every conversation has a crux point. At some point in the conversation, if we’re just listening, they will start to tell you why they believe what they believe, or they will explain to you why they behave the way that they behave. When you’ve seen that, now you’ve got the ideal opportunity to start to explain to them what you believe and why you behave the way you behave.
Let’s do this as an example. In this conversation between Peter and John and the religious leaders, there is a crux point that the Bible points out for us. What is the real essence of the conversation? What’s really at stake here? Or, what is the question that they’re really asking? It’s power. They’re asking the questions, “Whose power? What power do you ignorant, uneducated fisherman have to come into my Temple and start to have a religious conversation with people about Jesus? We are represented by the entire religious system in Israel. The high priest has the sanction of the Roman government. We have Cesar’s power backing us up. Whose power do you have to come into the Temple and to teach this message?”
Peter and John see this as a perfect opportunity. They say, “Okay. If you’re going to put the ball on the tee for me, I’m going to take that opportunity. I’m going to talk to people about Jesus because you just asked the question. Now that you’ve asked the question, I’m going to take that opportunity and run with it.” This is why I’m convinced you can almost listen to somebody into the kingdom of Heaven, because at some point, they’ll start to tell you what they believe, or they’ll start to tell you why they behave the way that they behave. Now you have a perfect chance to turn the conversation and talk to them about Jesus.
II. Listen for the Holy Spirit
When that opportunity to turn the conversation comes, now it’s time for you to pay very close attention to the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I’m saying: If you do the talking and the Holy Spirit is not part of the conversation, nothing eternal, nothing lasting is going to come out of it. But, if you will listen to the Holy Spirit, he can give you the perfect words to say, because that’s exactly what the Scriptures tell us Peter does next.
Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders: 9 If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a disabled man, by what means he was healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing here before you healthy.
Do you see what just happened? Do you see how bold this brother Peter is? He just pitted the religious leaders against God. He said, “The proof that Jesus really is the Son of God is the miracle above all miracles. It’s the miracle of his resurrection.” Then Peter puts it this way: “You religious leaders are playing on the opposite team from God.” Think about it like football for just a second. You’re on the wrong team, and you’re heading toward the wrong end zone. Jesus’s resurrection is the proof that he really was the Son of God. By the way, you crucified him. You can’t miss this today. Peter is making it clear. We’re not talking about some dead religion right now. We’re talking about a living God who by faith can transform somebody, turn them around, and change them forever.
I’m going to be honest. Sometimes when church people start to share their faith, there’s a danger that you have to be on guard against. If you’re not careful, this conversation will devolve into just talking about rules and morality. That’s not what we’re shooting for. We’re shooting for a conversation that talks to people about their heart and about what’s happening in their life. I’ll give you a quick example of this. When he was still an Associate Pastor at Ebeneezer Baptist Church, Dr. King wrote a letter to his fiancé at the time, Corretta Scott. He said there are many pastors and preachers who are preaching a dead religion. A dead religion is the kind of religion that just tries to have control over people. It just gives them a set of rules. That’s not what Dr. King said his ministry would be about. In fact, in a letter to his fiancée before he really became the phenomenon in the last century that he was, he wrote these words. He said, “Too often has the church talked about a future good ‘over yonder’ totally forgetting this present evil over here. As a theologian and one deeply convinced that the way of Christ is the only ultimate way to man’s salvation, I will try to avoid making religion what Marx calls the ‘opiate of the people’.”
You see, there’s dead religion, and then there’s the words of faith that give life. Maybe more than any preacher of the last century, Dr. King was a man who stood in both camps and challenged religious people to show him how their faith made a difference in the way that people live today. But he also said, “Ultimately it is only through faith in Jesus Christ, something that can change a man or a woman’s soul, that real lasting change will happen.” Dr. King understood this very well. If, when we start to have a conversation, it’s just nothing but talking about rules, we’re really offering them a dead religion. Listening to the Holy Spirit, we want to offer them the thing that radically changed our life.
Here’s what Peter says. I love this part about Acts chapter four. He says, “You see this guy standing here now?” Please don’t miss what Peter just did, because notice the guy’s not sitting on the steps anymore begging for money. Peter is really saying, “You religious leaders don’t have the power to heal a man that was born crippled. I don’t have the power to heal a man born crippled, but Jesus Christ does. The miracle that your witnessing is proof of the message of Jesus.” So, church, when you go to share with somebody the words of life, you have a miracle that you can back this up with. This isn’t the miracle of somebody’s legs who were fixed. You have the miracle of a life that has been fixed. I was dead in my sins and then Jesus reached in, snatched me out, and radically, totally changed me. And he can do for you what he did for me. When you have the power of the miracle of new life, of being born again, backing up what you’re saying, that’s a really hard thing for somebody to argue against.
III. Get personal
You see, it’s as simple is just listening to the crux of the conversation. When you hear it, start to turn the talk to Jesus. But when you start to turn the talk, it’s not you doing the talking anymore. Now it’s the Holy Spirit that’s doing the talking. When the Holy Spirit is doing the talking, you can get really personal with people. Let me tell you what I mean by this statement. You’re not listening for an opportunity to put a fast one on them and pull the Jesus juke. They think you’re going right and you start to go left with a conversation. No, you’re listening for their heart. When you hear their heart, you start to share with them your heart. Then hoping and praying that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you’ll get an opportunity to show them God’s heart in the conversation. That’s what I mean by getting personal. Peter gets really personal with these religious leaders.
This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
Peter is speaking not just to the crowd of religious leaders, but to anybody who’s willing to listen to him. They know that a builder’s job is to look at materials and to decide if the material is worthy to be used for the project. If the material’s not worthy, you reject it, throw it out, and treat it like it’s worthless. The most important part of the building project is the cornerstone. Peter says, “You, the builders, threw out Jesus, the cornerstone. You rejected him like he was unworthy or worthless. But God made his name the name above all other names. There is no other name whereby you must be saved.”
The people in the room were probably like, “Hey Peter, are you trying to convert me right now? Are you this uneducated fisherman trying to convert me, a highly educated religious leader, to this Jesus?” I think if Peter were honest, he would say, “Absolutely. That’s what I’m trying to do. Not just you, but anybody in the room who’s willing to listen. I want everybody to experience what I experienced in Jesus.” This is where Peter can get really personal and say, “Weeks ago, I was so terrified and scared for my own life that when a little servant girl started asking me questions about Jesus, I denied him and called curses down from Heaven on myself. Now, I’m boldly standing before you by the power of the Holy Spirit and declaring you must be saved, and it is only through Jesus Christ that a man or a woman can get to Heaven.”
It would be incredibly offensive to anyone, if you really believed in a Heaven or Hell and you didn’t share that with them. These aren’t my words. These words come directly from a well-known atheist. We’re a church that teaches there really is a Heaven and a Hell, and it lasts forever. This atheist would tell you, “If you really believe this and you don’t share it with me, you must really hate me not to share what you believe in Jesus.” Penn Jillette is right. Religion does a lot of bad stuff. But that atheist said it better than most preachers that I know. If a truck was coming at you, somebody who loved you would do what they could to try to prevent you from getting hit by a truck. Then he says, “How could you possibly believe that there’s a real Heaven and a real Hell and not tell me about it?”
Here’s all that I’m trying to say to you, church. You’re already having these conversations. Some of you in this room have figured out how to turn these conversations into opportunities to reach people for Jesus. But to be honest, some of you in this room are still struggling with that. Now, when I say conversations, I’m not talking about being in the checkout line of the grocery store with fifty people behind you, and you want to have an hour-long conversation with a person ringing you up. That’s probably not the time to do it. But I am saying this: I promise you, this week you’ll have a conversation or two with somebody that you don’t know for sure whether or not they’re Christians. That is an opportunity for you to just subtly find the crux and turn the conversation to talk to them about Jesus. Listen to the Holy Spirit; let Him do the talking. Then, as God gives you the ability, get personal, and you’d be surprised how easy this is. You get opportunities to do it all week long.
• Today, Jesus’s good news reached my soul for the first time. I surrendered to him this morning.
– I have let fear stop me from talking about Jesus in the past. Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit and not my fears this week.
+ I will take an opportunity to reach someone this week.
- What is the scariest part about sharing your faith?
- Do you have a story of a personal miracle that you can share with someone?
- Read Luke 21:13-15.
a. Do these verses imply that you shouldn’t be prepared for a gospel conversation? Explain your answer.
b. If we should be prepared to talk to someone ahead of time, how does Jesus give us the words to say in this midst of the conversation?
- How do you know when the Holy Spirit is prompting you to talk to someone about Jesus? Be specific.
- Can you really share your faith without sharing your heart with someone? Explain your answer.
- Pray for the opportunities that you will have this week.