Updated: Sep 8, 2020
When Jesus ascended to the heavens (Acts 1), he left his disciples with what must have felt like an impossible task: to be Jesus’ witnesses in a world that had just witnessed Jesus crucified; to live within Jesus’ kingdom even while subjugated under the Roman Empire; to proclaim the good news of Jesus—the Prince of Peace—in direct opposition to the “good” news of Caesar—the ruling emperor of Rome.
What an impossible gospel!
This small group of outcasts was supposed to spread a message that subverted the whole Roman Empire (and every empire for that matter). How were the disciples supposed to spread the news of a king that no longer stood on the earth? How were they supposed to direct others to a kingdom that couldn’t be seen (Luke 17:20-21)? The only way to spread the good news of this king and his kingdom was to simply get on with following this king Jesus—to get on with living under his reign. And that’s what the apostles did. The book of Acts tells stories of how the early church got started and how it grew. In Acts, evangelism sometimes looks like Peter delivering a beautiful sermon (Acts 2:14-41) and other times evangelism simply looks like the church being the church. Take Acts 2:42-47 for example:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
As we see from accounts like this, the impossible gospel of Jesus only makes sense if it is made evident by the life of the church. Evangelism (the spreading of the good news) is directly tied to ecclesiology (who the church is). If you want to show everyone that life with Jesus is fuller, freer, and more fruitful than life under Caesar, then get on with living life with Jesus. That will be your witness. That is evangelism.
The good news is not just something that an individual Christian says, it is something that the whole church must be. The gospel cannot simply be articulated. It must be demonstrated in the flesh.
The task of evangelism today still seems like an impossible task: to be Jesus’ witnesses in a world that has already witnessed Jesus crucified; to be the church in a world that presumes the church is dead; to embody a peace ethic in the midst of an empire where violence is the norm; to reckon with racism within our church and society while so many around us make excuses for the racist status quo; to exhibit the value of Christian community in a culture that overvalues individualism. Jesus’ gospel is still an impossible gospel. It still only makes sense if it is demonstrated in the life of the church.
Evangelism is most often thought of as the words we say to communicate the good news of Jesus. We think of Billy Graham’s voice resounding through stadiums around the world. Or maybe we think of street-corner preachers shouting “Repent!” through their megaphones. This is what we think the good news sounds like.
But the gospel is too big a thing to only be communicated through words. It must be communicated through all five senses. What does the good news look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? What does it smell like? It is not enough to preach the good news. We, the church, have to be the good news in all that we do. The gospel of Jesus should be experienced by our neighbors in every way possible.
Perhaps the good news not only sounds like a sermon of repentance and forgiveness, but maybe it also sounds like kids laughing and playing at Lowell Elementary. Maybe the good news sounds like the silence of not having a helicopter hover over the neighborhood every night. Maybe it sounds like the doorbell ringing when a neighbor comes to share some extra food they made.
Perhaps the good news looks like a beautiful mural on the side of a downtown building. Maybe the light coming from the Impact Center sign looks like good news on a dark street. Or maybe good news looks like flowers and trees lining the sidewalks and streets.
Perhaps the good news feels like an air-conditioned building when it’s 105 degrees outside. Perhaps the good news feels like a handshake or a hug when someone hasn’t been touched in so long. Perhaps the good news feels like warm soil in between someone’s fingers as they collect their harvest from the community garden.
Maybe the good news tastes like bagels after a worship gathering or a meal on Tuesday night. Or maybe the communion wafer and grape juice tastes like a whole life-sustaining feast of good news to someone who has been excluded from the Lord’s table in the past.
Maybe the good news of Jesus smells a lot like fresh paint in a neighborhood that hasn’t seen investment in so long. Maybe the good news smells like warming tortillas at sister Rita’s house. Maybe it smells like hand sanitizer that will protect someone from Covid-19.
The good news of Jesus is so much more than any words we can preach. If we want to truly witness to the lordship of Jesus and his kingdom, we simply have to get on with being the church. We don’t need a podium, a megaphone, or a tract to evangelize. We simply need to be the church. For in being the church God receives glory and our neighbors receive goodness, and it is then that they may know that Jesus is Lord.
What does the good news sound, look, feel, smell, and taste like to you? Give God the glory for the ways you experience the good news!
Challenge yourself to evangelize in a new way this month. How might your neighbor best experience the good news of Jesus? Through a meal? Through some flowers? Through a word of encouragement? Be creative. Engage all five senses.