Evangelism has gone through a few phases since the church began to shrink in the UK in the late 1950s. At that time you could fill a stadium with nominal Christians, get Billy Graham to preach the gospel, he’d shake the tree and some fruit would fall out. By the mid-eighties the stadium method no longer worked, so the church in the UK turned to process theology, Alpha Courses, Christianity Explored and the like. It took fifteen weeks to give people a greater grasp of the gospel, with a bit of happy fellowship and a Holy Spirit weekend, fruit would emerge. I have found it nearly impossible to get people to commit and turn up to that length of course, so I now share the gospel as I mix with folk day to day and then, when the fruit is ripening, ask folk to come to a one-off evangelistic bible study which explains the gospel and sets out a challenge. This is the first of two one-off evangelistic studies I’ve been using:
In the first nine chapters of Mark’s gospel, the miracles and authorative teaching of Jesus amaze people. They have never seen anything like it. Then in Mark 9, Jesus talks about hell.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. Mark 9:43
If it is better to cut your hand off than go to hell, how terrible must hell be?
Do you want to go there?
Jesus does not want you to go there either. That’s way he came.
When Jesus speaks so clearly about hell, your first response might be like the religious leaders who try to justify themselves before God. They ask Jesus if it is lawful to divorce. Jesus asks a question which uncovers that the religious leaders had dropped the standards of the law to make it easier for them to feel good about themselves before God (Mark 10:4). Discuss the sorts of ways can we be like them. How do we try to self-justify?
Jesus shocks the religious leaders by tellng them that the original law of God still stands and that they have broken it (Mark 10:5). Therefore, they deserve hell. Self-justification does not work. When we self justify it only results in falling standards, because religious people can’t keep their own rules let alone the law of God and so we face God’s punishment for our law-breaking.
What does Jesus do next? He gets indignant with his disciples for acting like bodyguards by stopping families from bringing their children to be blessed by him. Jesus says:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:14b-15
The kingdom of God is a gift to be received. When children receive gifts, how do they respond? (A. With gratitude and love.)
To make this point really clear, a rich young man runs up to Jesus to ask him a really important question. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17).
Jesus says “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
Who is good? God. Is anyone else good? No. If none of us is good, then we’ve all got a problem before the good God!
Jesus tells the rich young ruler six of the ten commandments. The young man says he’s kept them. Do you think he feels justified at this point?
Then Jesus looks at him, loves him, and says “now, go and sell all that you have, give the money to the poor then come and follow me.” (Mark 10:21) In other words, if you want to be as good as God, is you want to be as generous and selfless and God, if you want to get into the kingdom of God by doing things, you must do what God does. God gave the world to us, he gives us life, breath and everything (Acts 17:25) so do the things that God does and you’ll get into his kingdom. Can the rich young man can’t do it? (Mark 10:22)
Can you or I be like God? (A. No) Then it is impossible to get into the kingdom of God by doing things.
What sort of things do people try to do to get into heaven?
Jesus then forces the point home. We can’t get in to heaven by praying, fasting, going to church, mosque, gurdwara, temple, synagoge or whatever, giving to charity, worshipping God, keeping rules, Mark 10:23-26
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
The answer is no-one. But, Jesus gives us hope.
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
In other words, God can do something to make it possible for not-good people to be made good. The disciples have not quite grasped this yet (Mark 10:28), but Jesus goes on to predict his death for the second time (Mark 10:32). You see, his death will be the way that God makes the impossible possible.
Turn back to mark 8:31-37 where Jesus predicted his death for the first time.
Jesus says “If you want to come after me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
Jesus has opened the way to heaven by his death for our sins. He gives the kingdom of heaven to everyone who will receive it as a free gift, with gratitude to him and love for him. And here’s the challenge. If Christ sacrificed himself for you, will you make sacrifices for the sake of others?
If you want to accept the gift of eternal life tonight, it is yours. And as you accept it, are you willing to accept the challenge to stop living for yourself and living for the sake of Jesus and for others?
If you are ready, then come back next week as we will look at what it means to follow Jesus. If you are not ready at this time, then we’ll pick up again later, but don’t come back next week if you are not ready just now to follow Jesus.