One of the difficulties, as well as one of the joys, of a lifetime of Christian discipleship is being confronted with your own shortcomings. It might be a failure to understand a key doctrine, or it might be a failure to live up to clear, biblical morality. What you once thought you knew like the back of your hand suddenly becomes a fog because of some new information. The way you once lived, thinking it was good and right and true, now seems to be at odds with reality.
One example of this is that of the rich, young ruler. We read about a young man who was clearly a first-born people-pleaser. This man’s whole identity was wrapped up in pleasing other people by keeping a close eye on how well he obeyed the law. He was meticulous when it came to obedience. It’s very difficult to be this kind of person, but it’s kind of the person we all like. They’re trustworthy. You know they’ll be where they should be when they should be. He’s likable. He’s ever going to offend anyone by saying the wrong thing.
You know someone like this in your own family or friends. You like them, but their inability to do anything wrong probably grates on you. Because you know that they do all the right things, but just the fact that they never do anything wrong makes you question what’s really under the hood. Nobody is this perfect.
This kind of guy gets his own personal interaction with Jesus in the story of the rich young ruler. He’s confronted with his own shortcomings when everyone else besides Jesus is just so proud of him. This is the guy who dads want dating their daughters, who we want in charge of things, who we want to throw into leadership, but Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. People pleasing isn’t going to get this guy as far as he thinks. Being in a position of power isn’t going to save this man.
This kind of person is found on both sides of the biblical aisle. Those who hold to a biblical morality and ethics can become proud of it. They live lives of strict adherence to a principled code of ethics and biblical doctrine, as we should. But it’s possible to make meeting the demands of the law the way of salvation.
Those who hold to a social gospel and spend their days arguing for progressive cultural changes can become proud of it. They think they’re actually making a difference in someone else’s life, so they sleep easy. But cultural changes do not deal with the effects of sin in the inner man.
This man’s whole life is rooted in forming an identity, described as someone who never strays or steps out of line, who supposedly takes the law of God more seriously than others. But the correction that Jesus offers is not to form an identity based on anything you do, but to see Jesus for who he is and the identity he gives you.
This man who has kept all the laws since he was a child still has no peace. He still doubts that he’ll one day inherit eternal life. Just not breaking the rules does not necessarily lead to any kind of assurance. But that’s the point. For many of us, there’s a place where, if it’s touched, we recoil. Some things are easier to give up than others, or to repent of than others. But there are other identity markers, where if we’re confronted, we refuse to give it up, and we walk away sorrowful and sad like this man. But in the gospel, we lose our fear of losing our identity
Losing everything for Jesus means inheriting everything.
At certain times, everyone needs a soft correction. And that’s exactly what Jesus offers this man. We’re told that when Jesus looked at this man, he loved him. There were plenty of people with whom Jesus was angry, but that’s not mentioned here. There were plenty of people with whom Jesus was frustrated, but that’s not mentioned here. Jesus took pity on this man. He loved him.
When we’re prone to make what we do the foundation of our faith and assurance, it won’t be long before we’re knocked off our pedestal. There were Pharisees who believed their performance was what made them a good person. Good works were a performance to get the admiration of others and eternal life from God. Jesus had little patience for performances.
But with this young man, Jesus sees a man struggling with his faith. The young man desperately wants to take care of it himself. So if you’re someone who isn’t performing your faith to get the applause of others, but you’re struggling to see what real faith is, this tragic story calls us to consider the kind of salvation that Jesus offers and how it’s infinitely better.
Before this man approaches Jesus, Jesus is teaching in public. The crowd was bringing children to Jesus so they could see him and he could bless them. His closest disciples thought the children were a distraction or a hindrance to what Jesus was trying to do. But when he sees what’s going on, we’re told that Jesus was “indignant”, or angry. Children were a major audience for Jesus. He never turned them away. That’s why Jesus responds to this attitude of children being a bother by telling the disciples, “Let the children come to be; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).
It’s only after this that this man, described in other gospels as the rich, young ruler, approaches Jesus with a question about the way into eternal life. First, Jesus says,
vv.17-19: To inherit eternal life, look to the Scriptures.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”
This man runs ahead of the crowd to get to Jesus, and he calls him “good teacher.” Why does Jesus answer the man the way he does? “Why do you call me good?” Is Jesus rejecting the man calling him good? Wouldn’t that mean Jesus is rejecting being equated with God?
It’s interesting that nowhere else is Jesus called “good” by anyone else. “Good teacher” wasn’t a common title for a rabbi, and there’s no record of it inside or outside the Bible. What this man is doing is trying to flatter Jesus. He’s a people pleaser. We’ll find out soon that he’s an outstanding, law-abiding citizen. He’s a rich man. You don’t get rich without having a strong mind and being self-motivated. He’s young. Most young men have to be taught to respect their elders, which he does. He’s a ruler, which means he probably holds an office in one of the local synagogues. He’s a respected person trying to shower respect on someone else to get his respect, as well.
But Jesus says that only God is good. Right off the bat, Jesus basically tells this rich young man, “You don’t really know who God is. All the things you do, you do for yourself.” And Jesus never says, “Don’t call me good, cause I’m not good.” Without saying too much, he just tells this man that only God is to be called truly good.
Moving beyond that, Jesus turns this man’s mind to the Scriptures by quoting from the ten commandments. It’s telling that Jesus only quotes commandments 5 through 10, which are the commandments that have to do with the relationships between people. Commandments 1 through 4 are all about the relationship of man to God. So Jesus has told this man that he has a misguided doctrine of God. And he’s about to call into question the motivations behind his adherence to the commandments about men.
The thing about the law is that many of them are easy to do, but none of them are easy to do for the right reasons. Not murdering someone is easy, but how many of us have had some kind of deep desire to hurt someone else? Most people won’t commit adultery, but how easy is it to train your eyes and your mind to refuse to look at him or her, this or that? He had amassed a tremendous amount of wealth, and it had blinded him to everything that was underneath the law. So Jesus tells him,
vv.20-22: To inherit eternal life, leave this life behind.
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
This young man assures Jesus that everything Jesus just told him that he needs to do, he has done. It was common for a Jewish male to be considered an adult around age 13, and from that point on, he would be accountable for keeping the law of Moses. So what this man is saying is that as long as he’s been accountable, he’s never broken the law. It’s an incredible statement, but it’s not unusual. The apostle Paul says something similar when he’s giving an account of his Jewish pedigree in Philippians 3. He says that he was “blameless” when it came to all that the law demanded.
And this amazing statement comes next. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” He sees a man struggling. This man is so good at keeping the law and yet so bad at loving God and loving others. If he really knew what the law required, he would see that he has never really loved God as he should. He would see that he never really loved his neighbor as he should. In Romans 7, Paul demolishes the argument that anyone can truly keep the law. In fact, when the law was given, sin came to life, because now there were names for the sins we had committed. And before the law was given, the sins that we committed, even without specific laws and names for those sins, were all committed because no one has ever loved God as he deserves, which is the foundation of all sin.
Jesus is asking this man, “Do you really love God? Do you really not idolize anything? Do you really find your only comfort in this life and the next in the promises of God? Or do you actually feel comfortable because of your wealth? Because of your attempt at being a law-abiding citizen? Is your security in the things you have and the things you do?”
The one thing this man lacked was the only thing that matters: unconditional, unmatched, unwavering love of God. And the barrier was what he did and what he had. So Jesus tells the man to give it all away as a way of proving to the man where his allegiance really was.
If you were in this man’s shoes, and you asked Jesus the way to eternal life, what would he tell you to do? Would he tell you to give it all away? What does giving it all away look like for you? Where’s the bone of contention? What’s the unrecognized idol? Is it the comforts of money and wealth? Is it name recognition? Is your good works? What makes you get defensive? What specifically would Jesus call out as what you need to give away to inherit eternal life? What is it that, if you were asked to do it, would immediately stop you in your tracks and say, it can’t be done?
Now to be clear, Jesus is not adding anything to the finished work of salvation. He’s not saying that there’s anything that you and I must do to inherit eternal life. He’s making a point to the man and to us. Eternal life is a gift. If God was supreme in his life, if love of God surpassed any creature comfort, then how would anything in this world compare to God? It’s not that this man could not be saved, or that his salvation depended on his own sacrificial generosity; that actually misses the point. Because immediately, Jesus says that…
vv.23-27: To inherit eternal life, God must give it.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
“All things are possible with God” is one of those lines that’s used for all kinds of purposes. But when Jesus says it, he’s talking about the impossibility of salvation. No amount of money, generosity, or good deeds will ever merit your salvation. The difficulty with wealth is its capacity, or potential, to blind us to that reality. Wealth offers comfort, ease, and security, none of which are any great evil. Wealth also offers more chances for sacrificial generosity, which Scripture always commends. Perhaps in ways that other temptations do not, money has potential to ruin us.
But then, Jesus expands beyond the wealthy and says that it is difficult for anyone to enter the kingdom of God! The rich man was simply a jumping-off point. And clearly, Jesus is speaking to those who will enter the kingdom. He calls them his children, and in the previous passage, Jesus just blessed the children who came to him. You must enter the kingdom as a child, with a child-like disposition, with dependence not on money or works, but on God alone. He’s saying to them, “Remember what I said about how the kingdom belongs to children? Then come to me like a child, with empty hands, nothing of any worth of your own, but in joyful love and trust.”
All this time, the disciples thought they were shoe-ins for the kingdom. They thought they got it. But when Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to shove itself through the eye of a needle, all of a sudden, they realize entrance into the kingdom isn’t achieved the way they had expected. When they ask, “Then who can be saved?”, the relief comes when Jesus says that God gives it, and that’s the only way to be granted eternal life, or entrance into his kingdom. Then Peter pipes up again. So Jesus tells them,
vv.28-31: To inherit eternal life, live for Christ now.
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Peter speaks for the group as the lead disciple. The young man has just made something of a fool of himself, so to contrast themselves with the man, Peter reminds Jesus just how much they have left behind to be disciples.
The usage of saying the reward will be a hundredhold in this time and in the age to come sounds an awful lot like the parable of the soils where Jesus says that when the seed is planted in good soil, the harvest is thirty-, sixty-, or a hundredfold. But here it’s not just the harvest at the end of the age, but both present and future blessings. There is nothing you will lose or give up now that will not be returned to you and multiplied graciously in the age to come.
What’s incredible is that it’s not just things, but people, as well. When you confess that Jesus is Lord, you inevitably place some distance between yourself and those who do not. That distance isn’t meant to be cruel or mean, but the things of God are foolishness to the heart that rejects him. It’s completely natural. You may want to share your faith with your family and friends, but they may not want to hear it, and that causes some distance. Now with God, all things are possible, so that distance is not a barrier for him.
Jesus says that in confessing him as Lord, you leave behind your old self, your house, your family, your land. That’s precisely what has always been required of those who pursue righteousness. God told Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2). Lands, siblings, and everything you know. Come out of your old ways and into God’s kingdom.
But that doesn’t mean a life of ease. When we enter into God’s kingdom, into eternal life, we gain a new family, new brothers, sisters, mothers, one Father, as well as a new land, one that waits for us in the age to come. We are a part of a new kingdom, but until that kingdom comes in its fullness, we will face persecutions. We will be mocked. We will be abandoned by those who once loved us. We’ll be re-classed. But are you willing to give it all away and follow him? Are you willing to lose your great life to inherit eternal life? Or will you walk away sorrowful, because what you have is so great?
This passage is often preached to show the merits of altruism, or the extreme selflessness that forces you to sell everything you have to give it away. One of many problems you now have is that you’re a pauper and starving your family.
When Jesus quotes from the ten commandments to this rich, young official, he doesn’t even bother quoting any of the commandments about obeying and loving God. Why is that? Because this man worshiped an idol. He didn’t worship the one, true God. If Jesus had listed the four commandments about obeying God, the man could not have said that he had kept the laws since his youth. Sure, he gave his sacrifices, his tithes, and he went to the festivals. But keeping a chair warm is not the same as a heart that’s warm toward God. So instead of a direct attack, Jesus actually gets to the heart of the matter and tells this man to take his idol and toss it into the fire. He tells him to take his many possessions, sell them, and give away the money.
When we’re confronted with the truth about our idols, we will get defensive. Sometimes that looks like ignoring what we have just learned and going away sorrowful. Sometimes that looks like outbursts of anger. But losing everything for Jesus means inheriting everything. There is nothing in this world that’s worth ignoring Jesus Christ. Losing everything for Jesus means inheriting everything.
How do you sway people to a new perspective in an age when we tolerate every perspective? When every point-of-view and idea is said to have equal value and weight, what can the church do to continue to present the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as the most important fact in history and Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father?
There’s one approach that says, “Just work harder. We gotta get the message out there. If every minute isn’t spent doing something for the kingdom, then you’re not spiritual and might not even be a Christian.”
The opposite approach isn’t to throw your hands up and ask who cares but to say, “God has decided who is saved and so there’s nothing for me to do. God will sort everyone out at the last day.” But that almost sees God as writing a tragedy and disregards clear command to make disciples.
There’s no debate that the insistence on tolerance in our culture has made evangelism difficult. Not only do we as individuals have to know the Bible, but we have to think about presentation. Are we being too soft? Are we going too hard? Do we know enough about who we’re talking to to get through to them?
How does the church make sense of all that the Bible teaches about presenting the gospel to the world? Do we work harder? Do we give up? Well, if the gospel is the good news about what God has done and not what we do, then the way we present that good news should be in line with that foundational truth.
Salvation is not based on my power to persuade but in God’s promise to save.
We’re reading today from Mark 4 where Jesus tells several parables, all of which have to do with the mystery of what happens when a seed is planted in the ground. Each of the three parables reflect on sowing, growth, and a harvest way more grand than what was to be expected. And in general, all the parables that Jesus told, in whichever gospel we find them, are ultimately centered on the kingdom of God.
So when a parable comes up about planting a seed and watching it grow, we connect it to the person and work of Jesus, who has brought the kingdom of God to earth. The very presence of Jesus and the good news of what he’s accomplished is the seed that is planted and which will eventually bring about a harvest in the age to come, when every eye will see him and every knee will bow.
Since we’ll be looking at several parables today, we need to be clear on what a parable is. A parable teaches truth through concrete pictures instead of long, wordy essays. It doesn’t focus on the abstract; it stays grounded. But by using a common, everyday kind of experience to teach about the kingdom of God, Jesus was able to actually hide the truth from those who had no interest in hearing it. Why do you think Jesus pulled his disciples aside to explain the parable of the sower? Because it wasn’t for the crowds; it was for the disciples. After the parable of the sower, Jesus tells his disciples,
“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” (Mk. 4:11-12)
A parable stretches your thinking. You can take it at face value and miss the point, or you can ruminate on it, read it through the whole of Scripture, and let it show you something about the kingdom of God.
In the first and longest parable, the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that this parable is key to understanding all of the rest. If you don’t know who sows the seed, what the seed is, and who’s in charge of the harvest, you’ll come to all sorts of conclusions about salvation and the kingdom of God that don’t come from the Bible.
Jesus had no problem teaching the crowds, but he did expect them to listen to him and put in some effort to understand what he said. By calling them to listen, he urges them to pay close attention and go beyond a superficial answer. He demands a response.
In this parable, it’s often assumed that the sower is the lone Christian and the seed is the gospel. But as Jesus tells the parable, we are not to think that the sower is careless in where he scatters the seed. Is he wasting his efforts by scattering seed where there are thorns and rocks? Of course not! No farmer wastes anything. He scatters intentionally.
When people walk along the path, thorns and weeds might get squashed, but they’re still there. And they choke the good seed. And like all weeds and thorns, they don’t need much, if anything, to grow, and they will choke the life out of what you want to grow. And when he scattered seed on the rocky soil, he’s not being careless there, either. The rocks are beneath the soil which aren’t obvious. The farmer is intentional in everything he does.
When the kingdom of God, in the person of Christ, came into the world, it was not without its obstacles. Jesus was betrayed by a disciple, the religious leaders plotted his murder, he died an agonizing death. But those obstacles are offset by an enormous harvest. The kingdom was not hampered one bit. With the kind of harvest mentioned here, 30-, 60-, and 100-fold, how can you even consider the seed that fell on the path, thorns, and rocks waste at all?
With such an impressive harvest, the point can hardly be that some seed fell in some bad areas. The point of the parable is this: The coming kingdom of God will be more glorious than any obstacle it faces now. God is planting seeds right now which will result in the fullness of an unimaginable harvest later.
When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples, he says as much. The word is sown, like a seed, everywhere. But some will hear it and have it taken away by Satan. Satan is the accuser. And there will be those who stand accused of their sin and find no mediator, no substitute, no savior, in Christ. They are those who reject Christ flat-out.
The rocky soil are those who think that Jesus can do a lot for them, maybe they really enjoy being with other Christians, but otherwise they never put down any roots in the faith. They don’t know what they believe or why. And just like a plant with no roots, as long as the weather is fair, there won’t be a lot of problems. But as soon as water gets scarce or a storm comes, as soon as Christians begin to be mocked for their faith or are forced to take an unpopular position culturally, they fall away. They default to being in the majority.
The thorny soil are those who hear the gospel of Jesus but aren’t wiling to die to themselves. Their identity comes from others’ opinions of themselves, from the comfort that money affords, or from the general ease of life that comes along with going wherever the wind takes you. And suddenly, the gospel is asking too much of you.
But be assured that the seed will bear fruit. There might be soils that aren’t conducive for farming, but when the seed falls on good soil, there is no holding it back. The return on investment can only be thought of as divine.
Throughout the Old Testament, the harvest is always thought of as something that takes place at the end of the age, when the new creation breaks in and does away with the old. In the book of Revelation, and angel with a sickle comes and harvests the earth. In Joel 3:13, we read, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.” And here we’re given the assurance that no matter the appearance of things right now, when that takes place, those who receive the word and bear fruit will be ushered in to the kingdom of God as sure as a seed bears fruit when planted in good soil.
And when explaining this parable, Jesus also says that a lamp is not meant to be hidden. Why do you turn on a light when you enter a room? So you can see what you need to. It only makes sense that Jesus is himself the lamp that has been lit and has been preached to the whole world. Jesus is insisting that the point of the parable is the revelation of the kingdom of God, both now and at the end of the age. The seed is sown and grows into an unimaginable harvest that far outpaced the normal growth of seed, and there will be a revealing of Christ’s glory and majesty that, even though it might not seem like a normal, man-made kingdom that we expect, will be greater than we might ever expect, and it will be eternal.
And because the future revealing of the kingdom then will be the deciding factor in the eternal state of everyone who’s ever lived, understanding the point of these parables is critical today. Depending on the reception of the seed that is sown, depending on the response to the person and work of Christ, you have a corresponding share in his kingdom. Those who respond with joy and obedience will receive a greater share in the harvest than they expected. Those who respond with coldness or just continue living as if it’s not the ultimate reality or that they will deal with their sin on their own will receive less than they think they deserve. What you receive in the coming kingdom of God depends on whether you are living in the kingdom of God today.
In his next parable about the kingdom of God, Jesus teaches about the inherent power of the kingdom. If you called that parable the parable of the sower, you’d call this parable the parable of the seed. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Now the focus is on the power of the seed that gets released as it is scattered. When a farmer sows the seed in the ground, plenty of time passes between the sowing and the first signs of growth. And then even more time passes between the first signs of growth and the final state. Christ might return at any moment, but that any moment might way farther away in time than any of us think. But regardless of the time in-between sowing and harvest, the power is still at work. It is not an insignificant period of time.
And what does this farmer do after sowing the seed in the ground? Does he work himself ragged and live a life riddled with anxiety about his seed? Does he dig the seed back up to check on it and replant it? Of course not. He goes to bed. He wakes up. He goes to bed. He wakes up. The ability of the seed to grow depends not one iota on the work and anxiety of the farmer.
The farmer knows that he must sow the seed in the sowing season, but when it comes to how the seed grows, “he knows not how.” Friends, we need to understand that the power to bring about regeneration resides not in our power to persuade but it God’s promise to save. If we live our lives thinking that it’s up to us, that if we say the wrong thing, that if we have a moment of fear and hesitation, and if we have obstacles to talking to people, then they’re doomed forever, then we have an unbiblical view of evangelism. A lot of modern evangelism books and popular thoughts sound like customer retention manuals rather than the revealed, totally-sufficient word of God.
When you read the book of Acts and learn about how the gospel spread, it took place by Christians bringing people into their homes and hosting a Bible study. An apostle would go to a place, preach for a time, move on, and leave the church in the hands of the elders and the congregations. There were no church buildings. Before Christians had buildings to gather in regularly, they met in homes or in public. There were no sanctuaries, no programs, and no seminaries. Christian homes were the sanctuaries, programs, and seminaries. The first Christians knew the gospel that they believed well enough to preach it to people in their spheres of influence. And because of that, the church exploded. Now, are sanctuaries, programs, and seminaries bad? Not at all. But they are secondary to the simple, scalable preaching of the gospel. The power is in the gospel message about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, not any one thing the church does, however much it supports that message.
Because who harvests the ripe grain at the right time? The same one who sowed it. It is God who sows, and it is God who harvests. It will take place at the perfect time. The seed follows its appointed course by the one who sowed it. The harvest is certain, regardless of the time it takes for the seed to grow and become ripe. The harvest is certain because of the power in the seed itself. The harvest is irresistible. It is certain. And it is coming.
Jesus tells another parable like the first two. “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Jesus here focuses our attention to the contrast between the size of the seed and the size of the shrub or the tree. There’s no time spent talking about the growth. It just happens, again, by the power built in to the seed. Jesus says the kingdom is like what happens to the mustard seed. It seems to have an insignificant beginning, but when it is full-grown, there is more than enough strength in its branches to provide and protect all of those who find themselves there. It is nourishing. It is comforting.
The day will come when the glory of the kingdom of God will finally and fully be the undoing of every other kingdom that stands against it. That began in the ministry of Christ and the apostles, and it will conclude when Christ comes again.
These parables have remarkably little to say about the actual casting of the seed. That’s not to say it’s not important, but Jesus is emphatic that the power lies in the seed itself—the gospel. That means you should do what you can to present the gospel message to those in your circles, but the paradigm shift for many of us is if our definition of evangelism is rooted in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” or the Bible.
Jesus can simultaneously command us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18) and leave the harvest in the sovereign hands of God. The best way that you as an individual, day to day, can make disciples of all nations is to be faithful where you are and be clear about the gospel you profess to believe. Pray for those you have the ability to influence. If God has placed you in your family, in your workplace, in your community, then he has also placed the Holy Spirit in you to present the gospel there. So what does it mean to share the gospel and trust God for the harvest?
Simply share the simple gospel, not just your testimony. The gospel is what God has already accomplished. When you read the presentations of the gospel throughout Scripture, one of the key themes that comes up nearly every single time is the history of God working among his people. Stephen, in Acts 7, does just that. He summarizes the Old Testament in a single chapter. So you don’t need to have an exhaustive knowledge of every Israelite king or exact dates, but can you present Jesus Christ as the culmination of everything that God has done to redeem his people?
We also don’t need to pressure people into saying they made a decision that they didn’t actually make. Emotion is not evangelism. Faith and repentance come from God, not emotional frenzy. One sign of true Christian experience is reverence for the things of God, not bouncing off the walls. If you have to froth someone up to get a response, then they will have a short-lived experience, as promised in the seed sown on the path.
Don’t evangelize like it depends only on you and on this single moment. Evangelize like God sows the seed and the harvest will be greater than you can imagine. The apostle John tells us in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
The sovereignty of God in salvation is a doctrine worth dying for, because the only other alternative is that it’s up to me and you. Christ is the good shepherd. We’re his sheep. He was the one who was pierced for our transgressions, the one who bought with his blood people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people, and he bore our sins on the tree.
The sovereignty of God in salvation is also a massive comfort to believers. Salvation is not only possible; it is decided. It is finished. It is a reason to fall to our knees and worship. Untold numbers of believers from the whole world, from all ages and places, will worship God for their salvation. Because it is him and him alone who works salvation for his people. We go into the world to make disciples, without qualification, but we do so knowing that the harvest is coming, and the one bringing about the harvest has all the power do to so.