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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Defending a lion?!

Budding evangelists, and those who wish to witness more overtly concerning the Christian faith, could do a lot worse than take some lessons from that star evangelist, the Apostle Paul.

Dr Luke records, in Acts 17:1-15, two basic requirements for effective sharing of the Gospel message. The first of these is, quite simply, to concentrate on the Lord Jesus:

"Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'.” (vs.1-3)

It is Jesus Who is the centre of the Gospel message, rather than the benefits He confers. Paul stressed two specific points. First of all, the historic man, Jesus, is the Messiah (the Christ). No one can properly respond to Jesus, the Christ, until they are sure as to Who He is. This requires the study of His claims, and how they were vindicated by His life, and His final triumph over the grave. Secondly, we need to be confident about the theological explanation of why it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead.In other words, granted the facts, what do they mean? So the Gospel proclamation must be Christ-centred, factual, and theological.

However, as we read on, and discover that Paul has now arrived in Beroea, we learn the second requirement. That is to use the Scriptures! So we read:

"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (v.11)

The Christian message is reasonable, but its reasons should be drawn from the written Word. This is the weapon that God has placed in our hands. This is "... the sword of the Spirit ..." (Eph.6:17). At Beroea, the preaching was made doubly effective because the hearers checked what they heard by the touchstone of God's Word - which was, of course, for them, the Tanakh (the Jewish Scriptures; what we know as the Old Testament!). I suspect that there are many in churches today who have not yet caught on that the early church did all of its evangelisation with just the Old Testament to hand. Check out Peter's great sermon on the first Day of Pentecost of the Christian era (Acts Acts 2:14ff); Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26ff); and note that when Paul writes to Timothy and tells him that "All scripture is inspired by God and[a] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (II Tim.3:16-17) he is referring only to the Old Testament of which, he also states, Timothy has from his childhood, "... been acquainted ..." (v.15). Because of Paul's use of the Tanakh, many believed (Acts 17:12). When our arguments make no headway, the written Word will often strike home, simply because it is the living Word of the living God. There is great power in the Word - power to convict; power to convert; power to construct (or 'build up' - but I do like my alliteration!!).

Even although others distort, dilute, diminish, deny, and even seek to destroy the truth of God's Word, the faith remains unaltered - this "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude:3).

It was C.H.Spurgeon who once remarked: "Defend the Bible? I would as soon think of defending a lion!" Use the Word to share the Saviour. It's a great combination.

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