In sermon #2 of the Grace Anatomy series, Jerry brought to light the nature of evangelism and our gut reaction to it. We will look at both our traditional view of evangelism and also explore the idea that it just might be wider than we previously have thought! (Just watch the gospel snowball!)

Have you ever heard or experienced the gospel being shared in a way that gave you angst? That’s probably because it was done in a way that looked more like our western mindset and less like Jesus. It was more formulaic and less relational. Perhaps more about doling out answers instead of primarily…asking questions. What?…evangelizing with questions? Yes, Jesus was known for His great questions creating a heart connection rather than rattling off rote one-size-fits-all answers. The stats are startling: Matthew records Jesus asking 94 challenging and relevant questions, Mark 59, Luke 82 and John 49!

“Jesus treats people as individuals and meets each one where they are at. That’s the nature of sincere, well-placed questions.” Jerry Myhr

Jesus demonstrates the value of questions but also how all questions are not created equal. Some questions are loaded with the twisted agenda of a fallen mindset that only trigger an emotional reaction. We’re not talking about those kinds of questions. I’m sure you know and have experienced the difference!

Grace Questioned

Grace always stirs up questions. Grace allows questions. Grace invites questions, even hard ones! Jerry opened up for us the story of “The Good Samaritan” from Luke 10. “One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him this question, ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?'” Jesus responded right back with a question, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”  The lawyer replied that the law was summarized by loving God and loving neighbor. Jesus commended the expert for his astute answer and encouraged him to follow it. The lawyer answered back again with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Knowing this lawyer was actually looking for a loophole in the law, Jesus answered his question of “who is my neighbor” with a raw and visceral story that ended with a most shocking punchline. A man is beaten and left for dead on a notoriously dangerous road and three men happen to walk by. The first is a Priest, the second is a super-holy-Priest, a Levite, and the third is the lowest in both breed and morality in their estimation, a Samaritan (they were halfbreed heretics who worshipped on the “wrong mountain”!)

As the story goes, unexpectedly it was the Samaritan that took real compassion on the man! The moral of the story actually made their idea of the most immoral person the hero of the story! Then Jesus popped the last question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” It was so distressing a thought to the religious lawyer that he couldn’t even bring himself to mention the name “Samaritan” when asked by Jesus. He could only muster, “the one who had compassion the man.”

What was Jesus after with His questions? He knew that the Jewish teachers of the law had lost compassion in exchange for a rigid religiosity. Jesus wanted to expose how their law had come to override the true Spirit of the law. His desire was to call them back into right relationship with God and others. He let them question His idea of grace and He questioned theirs.

But the nagging question remains: Is this passage encouraging rightness with God based on performance? Is this Jesus’ example for evangelism? By the end of this post I hope you will encounter the “beautiful ambiguity” of Jesus that always leads to bigger and better visions of grace. In addition, our idea of who needs to be “evangelized” perhaps also may be expanded!

A Lens of Faith or a Lens of Fear?

Let’s take a look at another interaction with Jesus where He commends good behavior as bringing “eternal life.” Jerry will unpack this more in his next sermon but Matthew 19 recounts the story of the Rich Young Ruler: ”And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’” In similar fashion Jesus seems again to be holding up works as the way to life (interpreted as “eternal life after you die”). Do you find this a confusing answer in light of your ideas of evangelism? Some translations say, “if you want eternal life, keep the commandments.” Wow, is Jesus offering another way than Himself? Is He saying that keeping the commandments will “get you to heaven when you die”? Kinda sounds like it. That’s where old assumptions get us into trouble.

First note that death is not our savior so Jesus wasn’t talking about the sweet-by-and-by-after-you-die. Jesus was and is about the present kingdom now, within you, here. Recall that “Eternal life” was defined by Jesus in John 17 as “knowing the Father.” Jesus is saying that every day is a choice. Right now there is life-giving living and at the same time there is non life-giving living. We’ve assumed from our western mindset that Jesus was always talking about heaven somewhere else when you die. But Jesus was every bit interested in what was happening in the present moment, in all our lives, the irreligious and religious. We all need to be evangelized all the time! We all need to be “good-newzed.”

The jarring juxtaposing of life and death before the lawyer was to awaken the man out of his prideful religious slumber — not to get him to pray a prayer to secure heaven after he died. Jesus taught that heaven is not primarily a location but it is a condition we can enter into right now, every moment of every day. Loving your real neighbors is life-giving today! We all need this wake-up call every bit as much as the lawyer. Relegating this story to that of an evangelism tactic to get the man to make a decision about the future (although the implications are future!) is to lose it’s present power in our lives! Jesus allowed ambiguity so as to cause people to wrestle with the truth — but in the here and now. If this story was talking about ultimately who’s in and who’s out then this is a fearful tactic indeed. We need to realize that these stories are meant to challenge the mindsets behind all inferior expressions of God’s image-bearers with the truth and reality of who they are in Christ!

There clearly was no formula with Jesus. This becomes more and more apparent as you continue to follow Him through the gospels. Jesus’ questions were meant as a catalyst for faith not fear. God can use our fear and turn it into faith but it is never to be our intentional motivator because it’s not the way He operates. “It is the love of God that motivates” (2 Cor 5:14). “It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance” (Rom 2:4). His questions were meant to expose the false self of “I am not enough” and guide people into a life-giving faith for today. This is how we can follow suit. This is the mindset for delivering the good news to all “unbelievers,” which oftentimes includes you and I!

Grace Is a Person

But Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher who asked good questions. He was the Person of Grace who ultimately allowed us to question Him to death — death on a cross where He took every inferior expression, doubt and fear behind our questions to the grave. We questioned where He got His authority to do and say the things He did and then why He couldn’t save Himself. On and on we questioned and doubted Grace.

His final answer to all our questions? “Father, forgive them…” as He died and then rose to become the pattern for all of life in His resurrection:

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:3).

“Since you are in Christ, you are a new creation– old things are passed, everything has been made new!” (2 Cor 5:17)

“You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6).

“You possess every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3).

This is the answer, the GOOD NEWS we all need every day! Share Him with someone today.