Jan 29 :: Matt 9:37 :: On Evangelism (or, on not leaving the life-boat seat next to you empty)

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few  – Matt 9:37   +INPFSS+

How many of you have learned at some point about the Titanic? Maybe seen the James Cameron film, or watched a documentary, or something, about that terrible accident in 1912.
One tragic aspect of that tragic event, was that there weren't enough life-boats, right?
It was because of the sinking of the Titanic that laws were made that any passenger-liner needed to have enough life-boats on it to accommodate all on board. But prior to the Titanic, there was no such law, and the ship-makers took a gamble.
2208 souls were on that vessel.
1503 died in the sinking, from hypothermia and drowning.
About 700 survived. 

When the RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene the next morning to rescue those survivors, a further tragedy was uncovered: The life-boats were little more than half-full. There was space on the life-boats for about 1150, but 450 of those seats were just empty, having never been occupied. 

Imagine how the captain of the Carpathia must have felt when he saw that. 1150 life-boat seats. 450 of them unoccupied. 

The life-boats had left the sinking ship before they were completely full, and of the 18 boats that left, only one went back to rescue screaming people out of the water. Whether it was for safety, or because of cowardice, the 640 people in those other life boats were sitting there, ignoring the cries coming from those swimming in the freezing sea, with empty seats all around them...

Imagine how the captain of the Carpathia must have felt, as they pulled the bodies of 300 men, women, and children out of those frozen waters. Souls who could have been saved, had those on the boat made room for them..


I tell you the details of this historic tragedy, as a picture – As a cautionary tale.

We who are in the Church. Who have heard the Gospel, and accepted Jesus in faith, and been baptized – we are in the lifeboat! We have been rescued from the certain fate of sin, and death, and eternal punishment. This is the miracle, the heavenly gift each and every one of us has been given. 

And we are absolutely right to be endlessly thankful to God our savior for this gift. To worship him. To seek to live a life in response to his mercy. That's all right on.

But if we do nothing about the empty seat next to us. If we reach the end of our journey, and the life-boat we are in is only half-full. If we fail to go back for those still screaming and drowning in the water. 

Well, imagine how the Captain of the Carpathia must have felt...

 

To fail to share the Good news of Jesus Christ is tantamount to selfishly stealing away in a lifeboat, leaving others to die in the cold. 

C.S. Lewis, addressing some students at university, put it quite bluntly, “woe to you, if you do not evangelize”

This morning, as a part of this Epiphany-Tide, where we remember the Light of Christ that has shone on us Gentiles, we are celebrating World Mission Sunday. A Sunday set apart for us to remember the great charge we have been given by our Master: To make disciples of all nations. To proclaim the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, and to the Ends of the Earth. 

Now, I'm preaching here something I need to remember my self. It can be easy to get so caught up on the in-house goings on of Church, that we can forget that we are in the life-boat, and there are those drowning outside our doors. 

There are still 5 billion people in the world who do not profess the Christian Faith, and over half of them – 2.9 billion, have probably never heard the Gospel before. Ever. And it's not just somewhere on the other half of the world that needs the Life-boats to circle back: I was looking at some survey and census data, and only about half of the Auburn-Opelika area considers themselves to be some form of Christian. Half. Which means there are some 75,000 people within a 20 minute drive of right here who have not put their faith in Christ Jesus. 

There are 75,000 people, right here, who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 75,000 people who are enslaved by the patterns of sin in their lives. 75,000 people who are living without God, who are living in darkness and spiritual confusion. Who have no greater purpose than to eat, drink and be merry, with despair in their hearts, and who are otherwise doomed to an eternity apart from God. 

And so this morning, I want each of us to turn our attention to that empty seat on either side of us in the lifeboat.

Now, here, the Titanic metaphor breaks down a little. Because in those frozen waters, everyone knew that they wanted to get into the lifeboat! But sin has such a blinding, such a paralyzing effect, that souls today don't even realize that they are slowly dying in the water. They don't even see that they need to be saved! Let alone that there is a lifeboat called the Gospel of Jesus Christ passing right by them.

And so this is where the work of Evangelism comes in. Evangelism is the many-sided effort to get people out of the deadly ocean of sin and death, and into the life-boat of Jesus Christ and his Church.

Evangelism is the many-sided effort to get people out of the deadly ocean of sin and death, and into the life-boat of Jesus Christ and his Church.

There was some risk for that one boat that turned back to fetch those in the water. And there is some risk in sharing the news about Jesus. There's not the risk of persecution like there was in the Apostles' time, but there is the risk that our friends and society might think we are simple, or naive, or ridiculous. But it's a risk worth taking. 

Evangelism is many-sided, because it is a great effort to bring the Gospel to people, or to bring people to the Gospel. And we have to be patient, and we have to be creative, and we have to be courageous. 

The message of Jesus needs to be proclaimed with both word AND deed. If we're just saying words, but our deeds and our life look like any averagely selfish non-Christian, then our words will be ineffective at getting people into the life-boat. If we do every good deed around town, but never say with our words that Jesus Christ is the motivating reason for our actions, our deeds alone will not bring souls into the life-boat either. 

In the time of the Apostles down to our own day, God has called some to do their evangelism far away from where they grew up. Paul ended up in the distant city of Rome. Our own Micah Hatley, was called to go serve in Uganda, on a chiefly deeds-based mission, and he faithfully answered that call, and will share some of his experience with us a little later on this morning. Every earnest Chrisitian should at least ask God if he wants them to go do missions in some place that's not home. If God ever puts something on your heart in this way, it's important to listen, no matter what station of life you find yourself in. As an aside, if this does happen to you, I encourage you to talk to me about it, so I can be a helper in discerning what the Lord wants for you. 

So, certainly there are always some who are called away. But there are also those who go to far away places because it seems slightly more exotic, and therefore somehow easier to share the Gospel there. But this is a muddle-headed idea. If you can't share the Gospel in your own town, what makes you think you would all of a sudden be made an instant evangelist somewhere else?

The fact of the matter is, most Christians, most of us, most of you,  – are called to serve God where you are. Are called to be a missionary and an evangelist right here in Auburn-Opelika.

If you don't think of yourself in this way, as missionaries to this city – well, surprise! It is what you are. And it goes a long way to not getting too entangled in the things of this world to often remember the fact.

To that end, I also wish to give each of you a challenge. 

I want you to imagine yourself on one of those titanic life-boats, with an empty seat on either side. And I want you to think of it is a personal project, a personal mission, to fill both of those two seats. If every Christian in these two towns could just fill ONE seat, then this whole area would be saved by Jesus Christ, and not a soul lost. So, for that one seat, the seat on your right, let's say, I want you to try and think of someone right now, who lives in this area, who you wish would come to a saving trust in Christ Jesus. It could be a friend, or a family member, or a neighbor, or a co-worker. In fact, let's all close our eyes – i'll do this too – and let's ask God, that he would suggest to our minds who it should be. 

Ok, now for the other empty seat next to you, the seat on your left, I want you to think of someone a little further afield. Again, it might be a family member, or a friend from college, or whatever, someone who doesn't live right here. Again, let's ask God who that person might be, that the seat next to us is waiting for.

Ok, so each of us has thought of two people. Two people that we would like to see be rescued from the deadly waters, and brought into the Life of Faith. 


Now, how do we go about doing that? It's not as simple as just blurting something out about Jesus, and hoping they say yes. In fact it's often a long-game. 

The most essential thing though, is Prayer. Before anything, I encourage you to be praying for these souls on a daily basis. Just keep praying the same thing:
Lord, please save Mike. Lord, please save Clarissa.
Everyday, until he does.
And then from their, prayers that God would guide YOU in that process:
Lord, please make it clear to me, when it is a good time to say something to Mike.
Lord, please show me how I can bless Clarissa, in your name.
Lord, please guide our conversation, that it would be easy for me to share something about you.

And when he does, to then do that thing. Or say something.
And it doesn't have to be the whole Gospel at once.

It can begin with just a little hint, a small suggestion, that they can then pick up on when the time is right. Maybe just letting them know that you go to Church. Maybe letting them know that the reason you did this or that, or made it through this or that, is because you're a Christian. Maybe inviting them to come to Church with you some day. You don't have to open up the fire-hose, just a sip of water is a good place to start. But in all your dealings with that person, to stay intentional, to realize that the seat next to you on the boat is empty, and that if they don't get on it, they will perish. 

If we care enough, just for two, through even this small effort, by the law of exponents the whole world could be saved in short order. And as we prove faithful in little, the Lord will give us more and more opportunities as well. But we must begin here. We must begin with these two.

So, let me pray for all of those souls who you've brought to mind, right now.

[PRAY]


In a year, I'll ask how things are going on your rescue mission, and again the year after that, and after that. And even if it takes years, I pray that the Lord WILL use your witness, and bring those lost souls whom he loves into a saving knowledge of himself.

Amen.