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Jan 08, 2012

Sharing the Ultimate Gift

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Christmas 2011--The Ultimate Gift

Category: Holiday

Keywords: evangelism, sharing christ, filling of the holy spirit, experiencing christ


This message looks at the relationship of sharing the Gospel of Christ to experiencing the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the joy of life in Christ.


Sharing the Ultimate Gift

January 8, 2012


INTRO:  In my email this week, I talked briefly about how life-shaping invitations can be.  We all get a host of different invitations throughout life, most of them insignificant, some of them life-changing.  And you don’t always know right off which is which.

  • I’ve received various invitations through the years as a pastor to consider pastoring different churches around the Pacific Northwest.  Every one of those invitations could have been life-changing.  But I only responded to one of them here in Spokane, and, yes, it did change my life.
  • When I was about a third grader at Hutton Elementary here in town, I got the same invitation all the other students there got to learn to play a stringed instrumentMr. Armstrong came to school and showed off different stringed instruments at some school convocation.  I, for some reason, liked the sound of the cello.  So I went home and told my parents I wanted to take Mr. Armstrong up on his invitation and learn to play the cello.  That simple invitation had one of the most profound effects on my childhood and young adult years of any I’ve ever accepted.  I fell in love with the cello and ended up playing it almost every day of the next 14 years of my life.
  • When I was in college, a group of young women at Multnomah University in Portland got together and decided to invite a group of young men at Multnomah to a semi-formal night out on the town.  I and about 6 other guys were “served” with a “summons” one day.  One of the gals was a legal secretary so she had typed up what looked and sounded very much like a legal summons to appear on such-and-such a day at a certain hour wearing certain attire at a certain woman’s dorm for an undisclosed series of events that would unfold over that evening.  Sandy was one of those gals issuing the “summons.”  So, feeling like I had no other legal options, I consented…and my life has never been the same...thankfully.  J 


Think for a moment about some of the invitations you’ve received through the years—invitations to play with someone as a child who became your best friend, to join a team sport that became your love, to come to a certain college or take a certain course, to go to a particular church or join a particular company.  We’re getting invitations all the time, whether to change cell carriers or vote a certain way or come to a party.  Invitations can change our lives. 


MIXING IT UP: Get acquainted with someone near you and share about ONE of the more life-changing invitations you’ve received in your life. 


Rather than jump back into I Corinthians right away today, I’ve felt compelled this week to spend one more Sunday on something I ended talking about last week.  Last week we ended our Advent series by looking at how we can experience THE best gift, Jesus Christ, in all of life all year long.  I talked about how there are millions of ways we can enjoy Jesus day by day but there are a handful of ways that God specifically speaks about in his Word as experiences where the gift of Jesus Christ can be enjoyed, regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. 

            The last point I made was that we will joyfully experience Jesus Christ when we share Him with people.  There is something unique that happens when we share the Good News of Jesus with people for whom Jesus died.  Conversely, there is something we’re missing when we don’t talk about Jesus with people around us.  That may be one reason why Christmas is such a special time of year—we’re thinking about, singing about and even talking more about Jesus. 

From the calling of Jesus’ first disciples to the commissioning of his last ones in the Bible, there has always been a very close connection between experiencing Christ and sharing Christ.  

  • Remember last week I pointed out that when Jesus first called his disciples to experience life with him in Mark 3:14, that we are told WHY he chose the 12“He appointed twelve—designating them apostles —that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.” 
  • When Jesus expanded his traveling evangelists from 12 to the 70/72 in Luke 10, it says this, “ 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 

Then he told them what to preach, where to stay, how to fund it, pretty much everything they needed to do to be on this inner core of 72.  That passage ends with these instructions from Jesus, “16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  17 The seventy-two returned with joy…” 

Wow!  You can’t get any closer connection than for God himself to say that people’s treatment of you when you bring His message will be considered identical to how they are responding or rejecting God himself. 

  • Then, of course, we’ve got the Great Commission in Mt. 28:19 where Jesus lays down the last command to his followers when he says, 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Jesus directly links his presence with us with our follow-through in making disciples of him in every age and place in this world. 


The very last time the Bible records Jesus’ words to his followers before he ascended into heaven is in Acts 1:8—“8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

            Notice that the receiving of the Holy Spirit is to have ONE very particular effect—to turn Jesus’ disciples into “witnesses,” people who keep radiating out into a world needing Christ with the message and presence of the Spirit of Christ. 


It is very interesting to observe what the book of Acts goes on to say about people like you and me, followers of Jesus, who were “filled with the Holy Spirit” in the first century church.  There are only 5 references in Acts that talk about God’s people being “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Look what every single one of them have in common. 

Acts 2:4--All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Just what were they speaking about?  According to vs. 11 Jews from all different parts of the world heard them speaking in these non-Greek or Aramaic languages the “wonders of God in our own tongues.” Then Peter, who was obviously one of those who was filled with the Holy Spirit went on to preach a Gospel message calling them to repentance, belief and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 4:8—Peter addresses the Sanhedrin after they were arrested the day before for preaching Christ…and healing a man who had been born blind and was now over 40.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” and he again preaches the Gospel to them.  He ends with this Gospel proclamation in vs. 12—“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  2 fillings, 2 evangelistic messages.


Acts 4:31—Background:  Peter & John are severely threatened by the Sanhedrin and told not to speak to anyone about Jesus.  They basically tell the Sanhedrin that’s not going to be possible because failure to talk about what they have experienced of Jesus would mean they would have to disobey God (4:20).


APP:  What does that say about you and me when we choose silence about what God has done and what we know of Jesus?  I’ve never been threatened for speaking about Christ, yet how often do I choose silence, the very thing the Sanhedrin wanted Peter and John to do. 

            So they immediately go back to God’s people, the church, and tell them all about it and call a prayer meeting.  And what do they pray?

            29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”


3rd filling; 3rd witnessing event.

Acts 9:17ff
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

4th recorded “filling”; consistent result—powerful preaching of the Gospel.


Acts 13—beginning with vs. 4, we are told that Barnabas, Saul and John Mark were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” to Cyprus.  When they arrived there, they preached the Gospel to the local Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, “an intelligent man.”  But a certain sorcerer named Elymas tried to “turn the proconsul away from the faith.” 
“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”

 Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.”


5 for 5!

Anybody here want to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”?  Without doing a study on exactly HOW a disciple of Jesus is filled with the Spirit, it is safe to say from these verses that it involved PRAYER either by God’s people for boldness and filling or PRAYER by God’s people for someone else (Paul) who needed the fullness of the Holy Spirit. 


APP:  So…how many of us today, followers of Jesus here gathered, are willing to ask God to fill us with His Holy Spirit so that we will speak the word of God boldly? 

[Ask people to stand who would like prayer for that; PRAY.]


Now fast-forward from A.D. 30 more or less to A.D. 60. Paul is experiencing his first imprisonment in Rome.  He’s writing the “Prison Epistles” of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.  And he’s writing a letter to a man in Ephesus by the name of Philemon who had come to Christ because of Paul’s earlier ministry. 

            As God so often does, a series of virtually miraculous events had brought a run-away slave from Philemon’s household named Onesimus to Rome and into contact with Paul.  Paul had shared Christ with Onesimus and Onesimus had received the Lord Jesus as his own Lord and Savior.  After a bit of discipling, Paul  is now sending Onesimus back to Ephesus with a letter that basically asks his master Philemon to receive him back into his household just as he would receive Paul himself and to cancel any of Onesimus’ debts…or put them on Paul’s tab.


Here’s what Paul writes in Philemon 1:4ff.

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers….6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.


Paul makes a striking connection here between being “active in sharing [our] faith” and “hav[ing] a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” That last statement sounds an awful lot like something every one of us who loves the Lord Jesus would want to experience—“a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”  That sounds like enjoying the Ultimate Gift of Christ to the full, right?  And it’s directly linked with “being active in sharing [our] faith.” 


Might this be why Paul himself asks for others to pray that he himself would be bold and consistent in sharing the Gospel with others?  Had he learned by experience that there is a direct connection between experiencing the fullness of Christ and sharing the Gospel of Christ? 


In two of his other Prison Epistles—Ephesians and Colossians—Paul makes only one request for prayer.  Listen to what he says in Ephesians 6.  Concluding his admonitions about putting on the spiritual armor of God, Paul wraps it all up with this call to prayer.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. [And WHAT are we to pray for?]

 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”


Clearly the kind of prayer Paul wants “in the Spirit” is prayer for the boldness of the church.  Writing from prison for the faith that has put him there, he brushes all other possible requests aside and focuses like a laser on just one thing:  boldness to share the Gospel “as [he] should.” 


He ends his letter to the Colossian church much the same way in Col. 4:2-4.

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.


Does not the very prayer which Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him become the model for that which we should be praying for one another? 

And where  is he?  He’s in Rome…under house arrest.  His movement is limited.  But he does not want that to limit his sharing of the Gospel.  He asks them to basically pray that God will open up the opportunities, the encounters with people that will enable him to share Christ with them. 

Nor does he want it to intimidate him into silence.  “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”  Notice again that Paul feels a moral obligation for sharing the “mystery of Christ” with people. Sharing the Gospel with others was not a Great Commission Paul saw as a “Great Suggestion.”  It was something he believed he would in some way be held accountable for. 


That sense of accountability is painfully evident in Paul’s final words to the Elders of the church at Ephesus  in Acts 20:25ff.

25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.


Paul felt very deeply the weight of responsibility that comes with the gift of the Gospel.  Like an oncologist who holds the cure to every patient’s cancer, we are ambassadors of Christ who hold the key to eternal reconciliation with every person’s Maker.  When we withhold that message, when we go silent, when we bottle it up inside rather than sharing it outside, we in some way become guilty of the blood of those from whom we withhold it. 


[See Ezekiel 33—The watchman on the wall who does not sound the alarm when he sees danger coming; he is guilty of the blood of those in the city who die as a result.]


ILL:  I remember all too vividly an experience I had when I was in high school.  Remember the Mr. Armstrong, that music teacher who first shared with me his passion for music and got me interested in taking up the cello?  He had a daughter named Angela.  She was an amazing cellist, technically by far the best in Spokane for her age.  We were stand partners in the Spokane Junior Symphony for several years. 

            There were actually three of us cellists who graduated the same year from high school—Angela, myself and Helen (who is now Assistant Principle of the cellos in the Spokane Symphony).  All three of us were headed to separate colleges.  So around graduation time, we all went to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory here in town. 

For a couple years I had been looking for just the right opportunity to share Christ with Angela.  I bumbled and fumbled about.  That evening I felt such a burden to share Christ with her. But we parted without me having clearly given her the gospel. 

All that summer I kept thinking about how I needed to write her and at least clearly put my own testimony in Christ to her and send her a simple gospel tract. 

College started for all of us in the fall.  I got busy with the new routine, but I was never free of that nagging concern for her soul. 

Those were the days when people still wrote letters.  And my mother was faithful to write to me at college about once a week.  I remember receiving a letter one late fall afternoon in November.  My mom was famous in our family for including news clippings of interest from the Spokesman Review.  (Her mother did that with her to her dying day.) 

As I opened the letter and unfolded its contents, a newspaper clipping fell to the floor.  I picked it up to discover that it was the obituary of Angela who had died just the week before in her freshman year at the University of New Mexico where she was studying cello.  And I knew that I would never again have an opportunity to share with her THE most important invitation anyone can ever receive, that of knowing Jesus Christ. 

            I cannot say “I am innocent of the blood of all men.”


STORY:  Many of you may know the name Amy Carmichael.  Amy was a beautiful single woman missionary to India in the first half of the 20th century. 

After hearing Hudson Taylor of China speak once while she was a teenager, she determined to give her life to sharing the Gospel of Christ overseas in unreached lands.  She first went to Japan but after just 18 months left discouraged, for India. In India she found what her heart longed for.  She spent the next 55 years there without interruption, without a furlough.  She dedicated her life rescuing young children, mostly girls, many of which had been sold into temple prostitution.  And she wrote and published over 35 books.

The organization she founded was known as the Dohnavur Fellowship, located in a city just thirty miles from the southern tip of India. The fellowship would become a sanctuary for over one thousand children who would otherwise have faced a bleak future.

She was also a pioneer in respecting as much of the indigenous culture as possible.  In an effort to respect Indian customs and culture, members of her organization wore Indian dress and the children were given Indian names. She herself dressed in Indian clothes, dyed her pale English skin with dark coffee, and often travelled long distances on India's hot, dusty roads to save just one child from suffering.

While serving in India, Amy received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary. She asked Amy, "What is missionary life like?" Amy wrote back saying simply,

"Missionary life is simply a chance to die."

Amy died in India in 1951 at the age of 83. She asked that no stone be put over her grave; instead, the children she had cared for put a bird bath over it with the single inscription "Amma", which means mother in the Tamil.

One of the quotes attributed to her summed up her experience of Christ:  "One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving."  We can give the gospel without loving…but we cannot love without giving.

That must have been what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 2 Cor. 5:14 when he said, “For the love of Christ compels us.” That love has been compelling believers for 20 centuries to share God’s ultimate invitation to join his family by faith in Jesus Christ. 

It is that love that compelled Amy Carmichael to write about a sort of waking dream she had while in India. 

“The tom-toms thumped straight on all night and the darkness shuddered round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked; and I saw, as it seemed, this:

That I stood on a grassy sward, and at my feet a precipice broke sheer down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.

Then I saw forms of people moving single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding on to her dress. She was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step . . . it trod air. She was over, and the children over with her. Oh, the cry as they went over!

Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind; all made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly, and fell without a sound.

Then I wondered, with a wonder that was simply agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not. I was glued to the ground, and I could only call; though I strained and tried, only whisper would come.

Then I saw that along the edge there were sentries set at intervals. But the intervals were too great; there were wide, unguarded gaps between. And over these gaps the people fell in their blindness, quite unwarned; and the green grass seemed blood-red to me, and the gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.

Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned toward the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their number started up and wanted to go and do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. "Why should you get so excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go! You haven't finished your daisy chain yet. It would be really selfish," they said, "to leave us to finish the work alone."

There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more sentries out; but they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no sentries set for miles and miles of the edge.

Once a girl stood alone in her place, waving the people back; but her mother and other relations called and reminded her that her furlough was due; she must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for awhile; but no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell, like a waterfall of souls.

Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf; it clung convulsively, and it called-but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way, and with a cry the child went over, its two little hands still holding tight to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back in her gap thought she heard the little one cry, and she sprang up and wanted to go; at which they reproved her, reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere; the gap would be well taken care of, they knew. And then they sang a hymn.

Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was-the Cry of the Blood.

Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord. "And He said, 'What hast thou done, The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.'"

The tom-toms still beat heavily, the darkness still shuddered and shivered about me; I heard the yells of the devil-dancers and weird, wild shriek of the devil-possessed just outside the gate.

What does it matter, after all? It has gone on for years; it will go on for years. Why make such a fuss about it?

God forgive us! God arouse us! Shame us out of our callousness! Shame us out of our sin!

Could it be that the very thing we find so difficult, the very thing we avoid—the sharing of the Gospel of Christ with others—is the very avenue by which God has designed to reveal himself most fully to us and to give us some of life’s richest experiences with Him. 

  • Why else would Paul ask for prayer to be bold in the middle of prison?
  • Why else would the early church pray for boldness in the face of persecution?
  • Why else would Paul pray that Philemon would be active in sharing his faith? 


I fell compelled to invite us all to enter into a new commitment to pray for each other—that we would be bold to share the Gospel of Christ clearly as we should.  How many of us would like to have others praying that we will be active in sharing our faith, boldly and clearly sharing Jesus Christ with ALL whom we meet?  (Stand)


Can I challenge us to make that a daily prayer of ours for ourselves and for at least one other person in God’s family this year?  Who would say, “Yes, by God’s grace and my determined discipline, I will make that my prayer for my life and those who just stood this year of 2012?”


ILL:  I remember being challenged one summer at Bible camp as a teenager in high school to trust God for a certain number of people to come to faith in Christ through my sharing of the gospel that year.  I don’t know whether putting down numbers is the way God wants to motivate us to share the Gospel or not, but it at least reminded me to look for opportunities at every turn.  I began leading Children’s Church and sharing Christ every week with children.  I began to see opportunities I hadn’t seen before and became bolder with my fellow classmates.  It changed my life to start praying daily that God would grant me the privilege of seeing 100 people meet Jesus that year.  Only heaven will tell whether or not that happened.  But I know I was changed. 


We hold in the power of our tongue the ability to give to anyone we meet THE most important invitation of their life—an invitation to know Christ.  We’re not responsible for the outcome but we are responsible for the invitation. 


Will you join me this year in praying that God will make us a people of irresistible invitations?  Of incessant invitations?  Of loving invitations? 


I feel a little like the pastor who preached the same message 5 Sundays in a row and was finally confronted by an Elder who said, “Pastor, when are you going to give us a new message?”  He replied, “Just as soon as we start practicing the old one.” 


I’ve got the same challenge this week as last:  Will we trust God this month, this week, to give us boldness to invite one or two or ten people to join us at Alpha starting the first week of February?  There is nothing magical about Alpha.  But I do think there are several elements that make it extremely effective:

1.)    Food—a meal shared together bonds people together.

2.)    Freedom—to ask any question, express any doubt, search out any answer.

3.)    Frequency—10 weeks of consistent exposure to a.) the truth of the Gospel and b.) the power and presence of Jesus Christ.  It combines truth with life encounter. 

4.)    Fun—laughter around the table and during the presentations.  (Nicky Gumble, the presenter, is funny!

How about writing out your list of people to invite during communion today?

How about taking some invitation cards from the back table before you go?

How about praying daily with and for someone else here for boldness and obedience to the calling Christ has given each of us?