Faithlife Sermons

Evangelism: An Extraordinary Calling for Ordinary People



On the first day of July, 1885, a man named Edward Kimble sensed that the Lord wanted Him to share His faith with a shoe salesman he knew. Kimble was also a Sunday School teacher, and this young shoe salesman had been coming to his class. Like many of us, Kimble was uncertain as to whether he should actually share his faith with this man. But eventually the Holy Spirit overcame his uncertainty and won him over. Kimble shared his faith with the young shoe salesman and that same day the shoe salesman gave his life to the Lord Jesus. That young shoe salesman was none other than D. L. Moody, whom God later would use to share the gospel with more people than anyone else was able to in his day.[1] That’s a great story, to be sure, but it doesn’t end there. Several years later, a pastor named F. B. Meyer heard D. L. Moody preach, and he was so moved by his preaching that he himself decided to begin a nationwide evangelistic campaign. Under his influence a young baseball player by the name of Wilbur Chapman gave his life to Christ. He also became an evangelist that God used in a powerful way. Under his influence, a young man by the name of Billy Sunday gave his life to Christ. Billy Sunday, too, would go on to become a powerful evangelist. And after he preached in Charlotte, NC, at a revival in 1924, a group of men gathered together to pray for the salvation of Charlotte and the world. God answered that prayer of those men by sending a man named Mordecai Ham to conduct a series of evangelistic services in Charlotte. And at one of those services, a 16-year-old boy named Billy Graham gave his life to Christ. And Billy Graham, as we know, would go on to preach the gospel in person to more than 100 million people. It is estimated that during his evangelistic campaigns, more than two million people came forward in response to his invitation to follow Jesus.[2] Talk about a chain of events! Edward Kimble shared the gospel with a shoe salesman named D. L. Moody, who influenced F. B. Meyer to become an evangelist, who in turn led a baseball player named Wilbur Chapman to Christ, who in turn led Billy Sunday to Christ. Billy Sunday influenced a group of men to pray for the salvation of the world. Their prayer resulted in Mordecai Ham’s evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, under whose preaching Rev. Billy Graham was saved. And Billy Graham has personally reached more people for Christ than any other individual in the entire 2,000-year history of the church.[3] There’s so much here, but just to take one: We should never underestimate the long-term effect of just sharing your faith with one person. Only God knows what He will do with your small efforts.
The other thing this highlights, going along with our theme the last couple of weeks, is God’s desire to use ordinary people to engage in the extraordinary work of sharing the gospel.
We see people like Billy Graham, D.L. Moody, men whose preaching drew thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands, millions to Christ. We see the pictures or watch the old footage of millions of people in stadiums and ampitheatres the world over, people streaming up to the front with tears in their eyes to make decisions for Christ. It’s big, and it’s impactful, and it’s significant - but we tend to overemphasize how often God uses things like that. The fact is that men like D. L. Moody only come around once in a few generations; people like Billy Graham come onto the stage of world history maybe every few centuries. More often, God uses the ordinary efforts of people like shoe salesman Edward Kimble who was also a Sunday School teacher; more often, God uses men and women who are faceless, nameless and unknown to the rest of the world. In other words, God’s more common method reaching people is to use ordinary people like you to share in the extraordinary calling to witness to those we come in contact with on a daily, weekly basis.
Notice with me three things about these ordinary men who were given an extraordinary calling, the same calling you and I are given today.
First, they receive the good news with faith and obedience.

#1: They receive the good news with faith and obedience (vv. 15-16)

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

I struggled with this sermon all week. What is it really about? I wanted to get the pictures of nativity scenes out of my mind and get the text of Scripture into my heart. I wanted to boil this text down to its essence - what, exactly, is the point Luke was trying to make? What exactly is the point the Holy Spirit is making to us through Luke?
There are several ways to go about this. The first one is just to read it carefully and follow the argument or the story the author tells. Another way is to look at who’s in the background and who’s in the foreground. One clue to that is that this passage is book-ended by references to the shepherds, and the references are verbs that have to do with traveling. The passage begins in verse 15 with “When the angels went away the shepherds said to one another…let us go…and they went.” Verse 20, the last verse, says “And shepherds, returned - they went back - glorifying and praising God...” So we want to focus on the shepherds; we don’t want to try to recreate the nativity scene or try to figure out what it would’ve looked like; that’s not the point, and there wouldn’t be enough information about it even if it was the point.
So if you look at the text and notice with me how many references there are to speaking, references to sayings and words. And then, notice too the references to seeing and hearing…will you do that with me? And sometimes, in fact, the words translated in the English actually have Greek roots that are related to speaking and talking, and that’s intentional.
Verse 15: “The shepherds said (that’s one) to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see (that’s two) this thing (that’s three) that has happened” - the word thing is literally in the Greek “the saying, the word, that has happened”, referring to the angels’ message to them previously. “Let us go see this word that has happened.” Right off the bat, the emphasis is on the communication of a message.
Verse 17: “When they had seen (that’s four) this, they made known the statement {that’s five) which had been told (that’s six) them about this Child.”
Verse 18: “And all who heard (that’s seven) it wondered at the things which were told (that’s eight) them by the shepherds...”
Verse 19: “But Mary treasured all these things” - literally the Greek says “Mary treasured all these words, pondering them in her heart.” So that’s bnine.
And verse 20: “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God - that’s speaking, just a different form - “glorifying and praising (that’s 10 and 11) God for all that they had seen (that’s 12) and heard (that’s 13) just as had been told them (that’s 14).
So that’s 14 total references to hearing and seeing and speaking and telling. Now think of a witness? What is a witness? A witness is someone who bears witness - someone who speaks or tells the truth, concerning what they’ve seen and heard. The shepherds are the very first witnesses - and hence the very first evangelists, to ever spread the good news of Christ, born to save us from our sins.
But first they receive the message themselves. You can’t bear witness to what you don’t know. You and I cannot be evangelists or people who spread the good news of Christ without having responded to that good news ourselves. We see that the shepherds did in fact respond to that good news.
So after the heavenly display is gone and the angels have retreated to their heavenly realms, the shepherds are left to respond. What will they do? What would you do? Well, verse 15 says “The shepherds began saying” - it’s in the past tense - they were dialoguing, they were urging each other, “Come, let us go”; but not just that, it’s “Come, let us go straight to Bethlehem” - no hesitation, no thinking twice, no second guessing.

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”

This is faith in action. They may not have signed a card, or prayed a prayer, or raised their hand during a revival service. But their feet showed that they were more than willing to make a profession of faith. They received the message of the gospel - the message of the Savior, Christ the Lord, the promised heir of the throne of David, the One who would die for their sins, in their place, as their substitute - they didn’t understand all of that in its fullness, but they had unquestioning, childlike faith in God’s word.
And that’s another thing. They received this message as God’s word. Did you notice that? Notice it says “Let us go…and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us”. It was angels who proclaimed the gospel to them. But they took it as being from God. That’s not automatic. We might think, “Well, of course they did! With that angelic display - angels singing, the night sky lit up with the brilliant glory of the Lord. Of course they knew it came from God.” But we shouldn’t take that for granted. Think of all the signs the Israelites saw in the wilderness, and still they lacked faith. Think of the miracles Jesus performed for the masses, and still most of them lacked faith. God has already been at work in these shepherds through His prevenient grace, so that with the ears of faith they would recognize in this message the very words of Yahweh, and they would proclaim this message to others as His very word as well.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

And in obedience, they go, commissioned as the very first missionaries carrying the gospel of Christ to the very first mission field, a crowded suburb of Jerusalem, a small group of people surrounding a baby in a feeding trough.
They received the good news with faith and obedience. But next, they shared the good news with others.

#2: They share the good news with others (vv. 17-19)

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Verse 17 of Luke chapter 2 records for us the very first sharing of the gospel message by the very first missionary-evangelists, with no fanfare whatsoever. It simply says,. “When they had seen this” - that is, Mary and Joseph and the baby in the feeding trough - “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” That’s it. The only thing that stands out about this message and these evangelists is how ordinary it all is. But that’s God’s way.
Ill. Chuck Swindoll tells a story about what he calls the “best evangelistic center in the greater metropolitan Boston area”. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s not the First Baptist Church. It’s not the Christian camp. It’s a filling station owned by a mechanic named Bob. Doesn’t get much ordinary than that. But he runs an extraordinary business, because Bob figured out that his work of running the filling station and his calling to be on mission for Christ could be welded together. How did he do it? By getting to know his customers, by being honest and trustworthy, doing good work, treating people well, and as God presented opportunities to him, Bob shared the gospel.
This is what Swindoll says:
“As time passed, his station became known as the place to go for gas, new tires, and other car service. I have seen a half-dozen cars lined up bumper to bumper near two pumps in front of that little station just waiting to be served by that man. He has no banners out, no “Jesus Saves” flags, no signs, no “ichtuses”, nothing plastered all over the station or in the windows, no sign, ‘Bring your car to Bob and take your soul to Jesus.” He simply did his job! He did it well and people knew he was in partnership with the Lord. He led dozens of people to faith in Christ.” [Swindoll, p185]
In other words, Bob wasn’t into gimmicks, because he knew the gospel didn’t need them. Bob was just an ordinary guy with an ordinary profession, but He believed in an extraordinary God with an extraordinary message with its own power to save, and that was the source of His effectiveness. Too often we think God needs extremely dynamic speakers and large crowds to give His good news credibility. He does not. The message comes with its own power.
300 Quotations for Preachers Letting the Gospel Lion Out

A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do. Yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best “apology” for the gospel is to let the gospel out.

The shepherds seemed to get this intuitively, probably because they themselves were so ordinary. The shepherds were dirty men; they were men people looked down on; they were morally suspect; they were considered ritually unclean. And yet God chose them to be the first emissaries of the gospel. And so, to use Spurgeon’s word, they just let the gospel out. “They made known the statement which had been told them about this child.” So simple. God made it known to them. They responded with faith and obedience. And they make it known to others.
By the way, there are two mistakes we make in evangelism. These are mistakes we make personally and as a church. Can I share them with you?
One mistake we make is over-intellectualizing it. Over intellectualizing it. How do we do this? Well, we do this when we think that we have to debunk evolution or spend time defending the existence of God. These are good things, but these things are not evangelism. And ultimately people don’t disbelieve in the gospel because of evolution or not believing in God. The problem is not ignorance; it’s sin; it’s unbelief. And as important as it is to have ready answers on those topics that people struggle with, it’s even more important to have a firm grasp on the gospel because it is the gospel, the message that salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, that is the message that is like a lion, the message that has its own power, the message that, as Paul says, it the very power of God unto salvation. We over-intellectualize the gospel.
Another mistake we make is trying to argue people into the kingdom. No one has even been lectured into the kingdom; no one is argued into the kingdom. Yet this is a big problem for us Christians today. We automatically assume that if someone is not a Christian, if someone is not of the same political party we are, if they don’t agree with us in every single minute way, then they are sub-human and not even worth engaging with. Social media doesn’t help us here, and church let me plead with you on this: when you’re sharing something on Facebook, or making your own post, if it’s about anything controversial, before you hit “publish” pay careful attention to the way you have worded it and remember that before you are anything else you are an ambassador Jesus Christ. And if people who see your posts in their feed know you’re a Christian, then all the more reason to pause.
But you say, “Pastor Dustin, can’t I share my opinion?” Absolutely. But more important than your right to speak your mind is your calling to represent Christ. So before you share your opinion, pray about it - am I doing this at the right time? Am I wording this in the right way? Is this how Jesus would approach this topic? Or am I about to destroy someone who thinks differently from me and cause an argument? Worth asking that question.
Evangelism is not lecturing someone with an academic lecture; evangelism is not arguing your point until you’ve exalted yourself and destroyed them. The shepherds remind us what evangelism is: taking the message God has made known to us, responding to it ourselves, and then making it known to others. “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.”
And notice the variety of response. Apparently there were more people there than just Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Verse 18 says “All who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” We don’t know who they were; maybe some of Joseph relatives or just concerned Israelites wanting to help out. Or people who just loved newborn babies. More important than that is their response. They “wondered.” The NIV has:

18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them

It’s interesting because when you look up this word “amazed” or “wondered”, you find that it’s used a lot of times in the gospels. The crowds wondered or marveled or were amazed when Jesus healed someone or cast out a demon. But here’s the thing - it doesn’t necessarily imply that they had saving faith - like when Jesus preached a sermon in Nazareth and the crowds marveled at his speaking ability but were ultimately offended by Him. It’s simply human nature to marvel, to be amazed, at something spectacular.
And here it could simply be amazement in a negative sense. After all, this scene is the last place these people would expect the kind of person to be born that the shepherds are describing. Who would expect the heir to David’s throne, the Savior, Christ the Lord, to be born in a feeding trough out in the cold? Were they amazed in the sense of “Wow! This is the Messiah? How cool is that?” Or was more like, “What in the world are these guys talking about? They’re out of their minds?” We don’t know.. And often when you share the gospel, you don’t see immediate results. You don’t know how they took your message. As a pastor, I think one of the hardest things is not knowing what kind of long-term effect your ministry is having on people. Much of ministry is sowing seeds and watering.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
But Mary’s response is different. Luke tells us that she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” To “treasure” means to store it away. To ponder means to put the things side by side for comparison. These two things are an act of faith. Mary seems to know that even though she doesn’t fully understand it now, God will help her grow in her understanding. So she stores it away, and she reflects on it, she puts all this together, putting it side by side, comparing, thinking, reflecting, praying, trusting that what she doesn’t get right now, one day she will. Never forget that. We won’t always understand all that we hear in a sermon or a Bible study. But that doesn’t mean it was useless. Store it up, put it away for future use; reflect on it; pray about it; compare it;

Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

And this helps us in evangelism. You can’t tell the impact on someone immediately, and the gospel has its own power. That’s why Jesus said this in Mark 4

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head

Only heaven will reveal what our ministry has accomplished. Between the wondering amazement of the crowds and the quiet reflection of Mary, the shepherds might well have wondered whether their efforts had done any good. But we know the effect of their efforts, as they shared the good news with others.
Lastly, they return to their ordinary lives with joy and gladness.

#3: They return to their ordinary lives with joy and gladness (v. 20)

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

We might expect the shepherds to go out on the road with their message. You know? Become real traveling evangelists. Do bus tours, fill up the ampitheatres of the ancient world, draw crowds. There were men who did that back then just as they do now. They weren’t evangelists, but they were famous speakers, famous orators who studied rhetoric and became really great speakers? Men like Plato, Socrates, Isocartes, Quintillian - these men lived and died long before the shepherds, and the ancient world was just as acquainted with their names as we are. They drew crowds not just to hear their philosophy, but simply to hear how well they spoke. It was an art, the art of rhetoric.
The shepherds aren’t into this, though, nor is that God’s normal way of working. And so, a bit anti-climactically, just as verse 15 tells us that just as they went over to Bethlehem, now verse 20 tells us they returned, they went back. The New Living Translation paraphrases it, tells us exactly what Luke means. It says “the shepherds went back to their fields and flocks” - they went back changed men, praising and glorifying God for what they’d seen and heard, but still they went back - back to the cold, exhausting, monotonous, unappreciated, ordinary work of being a shepherd in first century Palestine.
Not only is this not what we’d expect; worse, we might even judge the shepherds failures for going back. Going back to the ordinary in our lives is not generally applauded today. We’re encouraged and taught from the womb to strive to make it to the top, to be as visible to others as possible, to dominate the field, to make a name for ourselves in our profession.
This happens in the ministry, too, you know. Pastors, who are shepherds of a different kind, are often made to feel like the success of their ministry in God’s eyes is determined by the size of the crowd they can draw. And it is our weakness as pastors to want and expect ever increasing crowds.
And in fact, you’re not likely to get a book published as pastor and you definitely won’t get invited to speak at a pastors or ministers conference unless your church’s membership is in the thousands. I know of one conference that tried something different one year. They tried to get pastors to speak at their pastor’s conference who came from churches of 200 members or less - you know, the size of the vast majority of churches in America. Nobody signed up for the conference. The next year they went back to hosting the celebrities. Some of these celebrity pastors actually have private hallways onto the stage so they can only come out when it’s time to preach and then make an exit so as not to have to deal with their church members who live ordinary lives. They’re off to their book signings and conference speaking, anything but back to the ordinary. And if you think I’m getting self-righteous, I see the same desire for recognition in my own sinful world.
But what I’m learning - and what I want our church to embody is this: Going back to what is ordinary is anathema to the world, but surprisingly it is sacred to God. Actually, given what we know about God, and the world, is it really surprising? God’s not the one who’s backwards; the world around us is; we are. That means we have to reconsider what true wisdom is
That’s why Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31
1 Corinthians 1:27–31 NIV
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
In other words, God has deliberately chosen to work in such a way that His methods and ways are the opposite of what we would expect, and He does that not only to shame those who think themselves wise and great; He also does that in order to make it clear who is intended to get the credit: Him. God must be glorified in all that we do. He uses us for our good, certainly; but in that He also purposes to glorify Himself by achieving greater things than we could ever imagine all while using people and methods we would consider weak, foolish, insignificant.

Conclusion & call for response

Jesus is an extraordinary Savior with an ordinary birth like ours. His gospel is extraordinarily good news for ordinary people like us. The work He has given us is an extraordinary calling carried out by ordinary people. And it’s appropriate that our series would bring us from Jesus to the good news of the gospel to the task of evangelism. Do you see how this glorifies God? Do you see how this makes Jesus look supremely attractive?
If you do, then it’s time to get to work. It’s no secret that most Southern Baptist churches are made up of an aging generation. We love our seniors, dearly. And How do we minister to them and meet their needs for teaching and fellowship while also making sure we don’t become one of those churches that ends up becoming a museum or a restaurant? That’s what’s happening all across Europe. The winds of secularism and pluralism have blown down those churches that weren’t rooted deeply in the Scriptures. But contending for the truth and teaching the Bible is largely irrelevant if in doing so we aren’t intentionally trying to reach our community and our city?
And our motive here has to be right. It can’t be, “We need to bring more people into our church so we don’t have to close our doors.” It should be, “We should be obedient and step out in faith by engaging in this work of evangelism that everyone is called to engage in in some way.”
Right now, COVID-19 has made all of this uncertain. Evangelism is a relational thing, isn’t it? It involves closeness, conversation, engagement, togetherness - all of the things that are spreading the virus right now. We should still be finding ways to do it even now, but when it’s over we’ll have no excuse. Why don’t we formulate a plan now for how we’re going to mobilize and fan out into these neighborhoods around our church and into Shelby once all of this is over? Now is the time to plan. How will you be involved?
Everyone is called to be involved in evangelism in some way. I know it makes us nervous, but think of it like this: Jesus loves you, Jesus likes you, and Jesus wants to involve you in His mission. He’s for you. He won’t delight in your failure; He’ll help you grow.
So maybe this morning is a time to recommit. Maybe for some of you it’s a time to finally, really commit your lives to Christ. Maybe you’ve never really trusted in Him for salvation. Maybe you’ve been going through the motions, thinking that coming church, just being here, is enough. It’s not. Just like the shepherds, you and I have to personally respond to the good news with faith and obedience. That means saying, “I know I can’t be good enough on my own; I trust in you, Jesus, that your death on the cross is sufficient to atone for my sins; henceforth I rely not upon my own goodness to make me right with God, but on Christ’s righteousness alone.”
Maybe others of you need to make that commitment public. You’ve trusted in Christ but maybe it’s happened gradually over the course of a few months or even years. It’s time to make your commitment to Him public. Whether that means finally joining our church, or being baptized for the first time, Jesus means for us not to hide behind the pews but to let the world know, “I belong to Jesus. I’m not perfect, but He’s accepted me for better or for worse. And for better or for worse, I want to live my life for Him.”
Whatever the Holy Spirit is showing you today, don’t miss the opportunity to respond. You can do that where you sit; you can come down front and pray with me or pray alone. The important thing is not where or how; the important thing is that you respond to what God has shown you this morning.
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