Evangelism for Normal People Week 2 – Evangelism in the Old Testament

Last week – Evangelism is good/important but has gotten a bad rep. People don’t talk about it, don’t know how to do it. Is there a way to reclaim it?

  • Started looking in scripture – first response we see to sin in the OT is not God pushing people away, but trying to bring redeem them and bring them back

This week: run through the Old Testament story to see where evangelism shows up and what it looks like because in what it once was we might find an image of what it could be

Genesis 12: 1-3 – God chooses Abraham, tells him he will be a great nation, he will be blessed

  • Seems a little unfair at first – why just one nation, why won’t everyone be blessed?
    • Answer – they will. God’s goal is to use this nation to bless the whole world
      • My grandmother maintained that at the beginning of one school her parents would give her oldest sister money to go buy new shoes for all three girls and instead the oldest sister bought herself shoes and a dress and my great-grandmother was forced to borrow money from the local bootlegger so that the other tow girls could have shoes for school. That’s not what God intends (one person/group keeping their blessing for themselves) 
        • God’s intent is for the blessing to be for all with Abraham’s family as the channel

Back to Adam and Eve – their blessing was that they were able to live in relationship with God in a world created by God in a way God had designed to fulfill their every need. The people of Abraham and Sarah are going to be responsible for putting people back in touch with their creator and invite them to live in relationship with God in God’s world and God’s way. They are to be evangelists.

This takes a while – the nation slowly builds with Abraham and Sarah finally having one child who had two but the promise only connects to one who has twelve and then as things start to pick up they have to flee to Egypt where they become enslaved. Over four hundred years they grow until there are a lot of them and then Moses is called to lead them and they leave Egypt in spectacular fashion and then before they get very far they stop and receive a set of rules. And then we get about 200 pages explaining all those rules.

  • Interesting when it comes to evangelism: instead of demanding they go and tell the story of what happened to them to inspire people to worship, God stops them and tells them how to live

Leviticus 19

What hopefully strikes us is the diversity of laws – care for the poor, fair treatment of laborers, care for the disabled, harvesting fruit, cooking meat, respecting elders, not letting daughters become prostitutes, concern for refugees.

  • What connects them – “I am the LORD”
    • Is this a threat? No, it’s a description
      • 19:2 – be Holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy
        • Each of these laws is a description or an explanation of how God is holy – God cares for the poor, the disabled, the refugee, God wants them to be safe (undercooked meat kills people), God wants them to have enough (let fruit trees grow on their own for a few years)
    •  People being remade in God’s image as God’s people will imitate those concerns. Through Moses and Israel God is creating a community that once more bears the image of the Creator. They’re creating a community that shows how things can be
      • What does that have to do with evangelism? Everything
        • Deuteronomy 4:5-8
          • God’s intention is for others to look at Abraham’s people and be drawn to what’s different. And the answer to what makes them different will be the God they worship and serve.
          • God’s rescue mission has never happened through words alone. God’s reaching out begins with the lived-out message of a God centered life
            • “As God’s people live in God’s world in God’s way, their life will be a powerful magnet for everyone searching for truth and compassion, for justice and dignity, for meaning and hope. The outstretched hands cannot achieve much unless they are attached to a healthy body”
              • Israel has to have something to offer before it makes an offer

That vision, of Israel as a means of worldwide influence keeps showing up in the OT

  • David before Goliath – all earth may know that there is a God in Israel
  • Solomon dedicating the temple – foreigners, who are not your people Israel, may come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm.
  • Micah (pre exile)- Many nations shall say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob”
  • Zechariah (post exile) – Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts…

It is only occasionally successful. The only examples of foreigners converting are: Jethro, Rahab, Ruth, Queen of Sheba, Naaman (General of Aram), Nebuchadnezzar, people of Nineveh

  • That’s not a lot of people, so what’s the problem?
    • Pre-Exile – they don’t want to be different, they want to be like other nations
    • Post-Exile – they not only want to be different, they want to be separate
  • For the most part Israel always swings between being too similar to other nations or so different that other nations can’t come to them

What comes from all this?

  1. Evangelism is a God project – not a human invention
    • Which means God will bless the labor but it has to be taken seriously
  2. Tension between the two extremes are still there – some churches are so open to culture that they lose any distinctiveness that makes them attractive, some are so focused on being distinct from the world that they build up walls so great that their light doesn’t shine through

The question for us – not how can we evangelize, but what is the quality of our community life? Is it such that outsiders to the faith might be attracted to it?

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