Introduction: Welcome to Calvary Albuquerque. We pursue the God who is passionately pursuing a lost world; we do this with one another, through worship, by the Word, to the world.
Skip Heitzig: I'd like you to turn to First Thessalonians, chapter 1, please; one Thessalonians, chapter 1. I was on an airplane this week returning home to Albuquerque and while I was sitting in the seat, I was struck by two different messages, one that I was hearing and another that I was reading. One was an old message and familiar; one was a new message that I was learning about. The old message was the message that the flight attendants always give in preparation for the flight: your seat belt has to be fastened; if there's a loss in cabin pressure, the mask comes down, you secure it, etcetera. You've heard it. We've all heard it. They all in the plane heard it.
The message that was the new message was the one that I was at that time reading in a newspaper about a group of protesters in Hong Kong that were gathering together and shouting out a message of freedom, democracy that they felt wasn't been represented well in Beijing. And thousands upon thousands of people came to join them. Now both of these messages that I was caught in between are important messages. Certainly, buckling your seat belt and having cabin pressure change and the need to breath oxygen, that could save your life. That's an important message. The message that was the prodemocratic freedom message was also a very, very important message. But what struck me was the giving of the message and the hearing of the message.
The old message was given by flight attendants, bless their heart. They have to say every flight the same thing, and they know that not a whole lot of people are really tuned into that message, so they just sort of recite it really quick. And I was looking around when she said, "Pick up the little card in the seat pocket in front of you," and nobody did. The message was received with a yawn at best, even though it could be a very lifesaving message. Whereas the message I was reading about, they were so passionate about telling it. They were shouting it out in the streets. They were tweeting it on their devices and Instagramming it.
And so when I was in that moment, about to take off, I just had this thought: What about our message, our old gospel message? How are we---or are we at all---telling that message? Are we ourselves telling that message? How are we telling it? And how are people listening to it? You know, back in 1949 there was a man sentenced for a crime that he committed. He was sentenced for life imprisonment because of a murder. John Courier was his name. Later on John Courier was paroled to a work farm outside of Nashville, Tennessee. In 1968, almost twenty years after his sentencing, John Courier was---the sentence was terminated, so he was a free man. A letter was sent to John telling him he can go free. He never got the letter. He never read it. No one knew what happened to it.
So, he worked for another ten years on that work farm not evening hearing the message, until a parole officer got wind of it and personally told John that he was a free man. Here's my question: Would it matter to you if someone sent you the most important message of your life and yet year after year that urgent message was never delivered? I'd like to talk to you about our message this morning, our message, the gospel message. How are we, or are we sharing it? How are we sharing it? And how is it being listened to? So out of First Thessalonians, chapter 1, here's what I'd like to do. I want to show you what Paul calls "our gospel." I love how he personalizes "our gospel." And he tells us the normal flow of the gospel, the message I'm calling "How the Gospel Works."
And there's a normal flow to the gospel: it comes to you, it works in you, and then it comes from you. That's the normal flow of the gospel. It comes to you, it works in you, and then it comes out and flows out from you. So the gospel is received, the gospel redirects, and the gospel rings out. I want you to see it for yourself. First Thessalonians, chapter 1, I'm going to begin with you in verse 5, as Paul says, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe."
"For from you the word of Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." Allow me to go back in history a couple thousand years and tell you about this group of people that Paul is writing this letter to. It's a church. It's a young church. The town they live in is called Thessalonica. Paul did not plan on going there. The reason he went there is because he had a vision.
In Acts, chapter 16, we're told this: that Paul came "through the region of Phrygia and then Galatia, but he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach to word in Asia." So he had come from one direction, tried to go in two other directions, couldn't do that. So, he waited and he prayed. And he was at a place called Troas. It's a great spot right on the beach. And I guess if you're going to hear from God, not a bad place to tune in. So he's there on the beach at Troas and that night he gets a vision, interestingly, from a man from Macedonia who says, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." He concluded that was the Lord's will. So, he sets out and goes 100 miles to the west on his way to Macedonia to the chief city Philippi, but he passes through the town of Thessalonica.
He spends three weeks there, only three Sabbath days in the synagogue, and he shares Christ in the synagogue. And from that group people believed, and with those believers a church was planted in three weeks' time. This letter was written about one year later and the church is growing and it is excited and it's vibrant. It's not stagnated. Several years back we had Dr. John MacArthur come and speak here at a midweek service. And we were talking about churches and church growth, and he said, "You know, Skip, I believe that the first ten years of a church are the most exciting years." I said, "John, why do you think that is?" He says, "Well, there's a freshness about it. People are willing to commit to common vision and rally around that common vision, and they're willing to make sacrifices."
But he says, "Often, not always, but often over time that process sort of slows down. There's an atrophy take place." And maybe you've even heard that heard that little axiom: "It goes from man to movement to monument." What begins as a vision in a man or a couple or small group who plants a church eventually becomes a movement and it gains momentum, then over time it begins to atrophy and it's just a monument that is built. So how do we stop that? We stop that by making the gospel "our gospel" and letting that flow of the gospel, that supernatural flow, as outlined here, happen to us. So let's consider these three directions: the gospel is received, the gospel redirects, and the gospel rings out.
Let me take you to verse 5. Here's the first: "For our gospel did not come to you in word only"---now stop right there. In other words, what he is saying is the gospel did come to you in word, but with something else attached---not just word only, but also something else. So the gospel doesn't come in word only, but it does come in words certainly. There is a message that we actually must use our lips to tell other people. That's what Jesus said. That's called "the Great Commission." "Go into all the world"---and do what?---"preach, preach, preach the gospel to all creation." The word "preach" is a Greek word kérussó, which means to herald. Because there was an actual office in the Greek world of a herald. It wasn't a guy named Harold.
That was his job, to be a herald, a proclaimer. And a herald was somebody who spoke for the king. He often carried a scepter and he gave announcements to the crowd with a strong voice. That was a proclaimer or a herald. That's how God wants the gospel to go out. First Corinthians 1, "It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." And Romans 10, Paul asked, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" So the gospel is more than words, but it must include words. They must be spoken. I have a great book in my library. I have it on my desk just now. It's called Soul Winner by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I opened it up this week and I noticed when I bought it, it was 1974. I wrote the date in it, so it's a long time ago.
But it was written like in the eighteen hundreds, so it's sort of a modern version of an old book. And so I was looking at it again and something---something stuck out to me. Spurgeon said, "We are to seek our neighbor's conversion because we love him. We are to speak to him in loving terms God's loving gospel." So, the message came to the Thessalonians from the lips and from the life both together. It came to them in word, but not in word only. What else did it come with? In verse 5 it says, "But also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." In other words, what you heard from us was convincing because of what you saw in us. The message and the messenger were one in the same.
The testimony of our lips was backed up by the testimony of our lives---word and example. And when a penetrating life backs up preaching lips, the gospel is unstoppable because it's convincing. It can't be separated from the people giving it. It doesn't mean you have to be perfect, but you do have to be saved and changed. As the old axiom goes: "People will follow your footsteps quicker than they will follow your advice." So, we need to witness with our lips; we need to witness with our lives. Now listen to this: if you just witness with your lips, but not your lives, you're a hypocrite. That's hypocrisy. But if you just witness with your life and not your lips, that's cruelty. That's like being a person who had a disease cured by medicine and you're not going to tell the rest of the patients how to get better.
You're just going to live a healthy life in front of all the people dying. So it has to come from the lips and it has to come from our lives. You probably heard this old poem given in many a sermon: "You are writing a 'gospel,' a chapter each day, by the things that you do, and the words that you say. People hear what you say, and they watch what you do; and so what is the gospel according to you?" So that's the first movement: the gospel comes to us, the gospel is received. The second movement is this: once the gospel is received, the gospel redirects, changes take place. Look at verse 6, please: "And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples," that's their growth, "to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe."
Verse 9, "For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." Once the gospel came to them, once it was received by them, it then redirected their lives. How? Well, a few different ways. First of all, conversion, conversion. Notice in verse 9, "You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." This describes what the Bible calls repentance, turning from sin and trusting in Jesus. And when a person does that, when you come in contact with the living God, things happen. You are not perfect, but changes do occur. You turn from what you knew was bad stuff and you follow him and your life changes.
I read an interesting article about a guy named Patrick Reynolds. Now, Patrick Reynolds is an activist and he works for the---or he is an activist for the American Lung Association. And his message is: "Why people shouldn't smoke." What's interesting about his story is his grandfather was R. J. Reynolds. Some of you know who this is---second largest tobacco company in America. He left the business. He doesn't collect money from the business. He speaks as an activist against smoking, because it killed his father. And he says, "I want to make up for all the damage my family has done." In a real sense, that's repentance. He turns from that huge money-making operation to give a very different message that he passionately believes in.
And there's no higher joy than to watch conversion. I've seen it thousands of times---it never, ever gets old. I look at a person, go, "You are going to heaven!" and watch then the changes take place. So, conversion is the first thing that happens. Something else: anticipation. Go down to verse 10. "And to wait for his Son from heaven." You know, one of the first marks of a converted person is they receive the gospel, they come to know Jesus, they come to fall in love with Jesus. And as they fall in love with Jesus, you know what happens? They can't wait to see him. It's like they say, "You mean he's coming back?" And when they know that, there's now this anticipation that wells up "to wait for God's Son from heaven."
Now, let me just underscore that and say, that only happens if you're a believer. If you're not a believer, the idea of Jesus coming back is not a very exciting proposition. "He's coming back? Uh-oh." I remember a bumper sticker in the seventies that said: "Jesus is coming back and boy is he mad." [laughter] That's how a lot of people feel. I looked at a Time magazine article about Americans who actually believe Jesus is returning, and the article concluded with these words: "If Jesus is coming back again, there's going to be a lot of surprised people." That is an understatement. But if you know him and you love him, you can't wait to see him, and that happens at conversion. Conversion, anticipation, here's a third thing that happens: there's a submission to God and to God's reps, his representatives.
Would you look with me at verse 6; "And you," writes Paul, "you became followers of us and of the Lord." "You became followers of us." The word "followers" means mimickers. "You are mimicking us." Now why would that be a good thing? Because we all would often say, "Well, don't follow me, follow the Lord." Paul didn't say that, Paul said, "Follow me as I follow the Lord. So I'm going to mimic Jesus and then you look at my life, it's not as perfect as his, but I'm mimicking him, and then you mimic me." And then the next generation will mimic them, and here we are hopefully mimicking someone who sets a good example, submitting to authority, and having our lives changed because of it.
By the way, if you really want to change this world---I know if you're a thinking person or reading person, or you get wind of the news and you see all the stuff going on in the world, and you go, "Oh, my goodness! It's falling apart." You want to change it? Preach the gospel, get into evangelism, share the good news with people, because now you're aiming for the heart. Oh, yes, you can join a political group and you can picket and you can have a cause, but you really want to change people? Change the heart by preaching the gospel, and all the other stuff in those people's lives will follow. It's the most proactive thing you can do to change your world. The fourth thing that happens when a person receives the Lord is a celebration.
Verse 6, "Not only did you become followers of us and of the Lord," but watch this, "having received the word in much affliction," here it is, "with joy of the Holy Spirit." Now notice that "affliction" and "joy" are next to each other: you receive the word in affliction; you have the joy of the Holy Spirit. I don't think Paul had an American audience in mind when he wrote these words, because we think in our culture you can't have joy unless you eliminate affliction. Paul is writing to people who are in the middle of affliction, saying, "You've got it bad, but, boy, do you have it good because of what the Holy Spirit has produced in your lives." You have both affliction and joy, same sentence, one of the paradoxes of the Christian identity.
The gospel always arouses hostility, because it counters human pride; but the gospel always produces joy, because it replaces human pride when there is repentance. One of the most joyful experiences in evangelism, and I see it when people walk forward at an altar call, is to see joy birthed in them. Many of them have tears. Some are ashamed because of the past. But the whole idea is: "I get a do-over? I have a fresh start? I'm forgiven?" It's like joy has been birthed into their lives. That happens. The gospel comes to you, the gospel works in you, and something else, notice verse 7 before we finish this out. Verse 7, "So that you," he writes to the church now, this young church, "so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe."
So here's Paul bragging on them: "This is what the Lord's done in you and working in you, and you're examples now to other people who are watching." Can I just thank you, do you mind? I want to thank you as a pastor, because you, this church, you people are fine examples. Now, I hear about that whenever I have people visiting, guest speakers, guest musicians, even people who listen on the radio and they're passing through and they come attend a service. And they'll say this: "Your people are so alive. There's something going on." You are examples, and you are good examples to this community, to this state, to this nation. That's the effect in the gospel working in you. But there's a third direction the gospel has to flow in. It comes to you, it works in you, but it must come from you.
So the gospel is received, the gospel redirects, but here's the third: the gospel rings out. Verse 8, we're going the close on this, verse 8, "For from you"---notice in verse 5 the gospel came "to" them, now it's coming "from" them. "For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we [we apostles], we don't need to say anything." "You're doing it all. The gospel rings out from you." Huh, so different, because some people think, "Well, that's the preacher's job to let the gospel ring out." Paul says, "You know what? I don't have to say anything. You're doing it. The gospel has sounded forth from you."
Very interesting word, "sounded forth." The root word is echo. You know what an echo is, echo-o-o-o. That's an echo. It's a sound that reverberates over and over again. The words "sounded forth" is a Greek word exécheó, which means to echo or reverberate forth, or the sounding of a trumpet. Kenneth Wuest who translated from the Greek directly into English, expanding it a little bit, writes it this way: "For from you there has been cause to sound forth in a loud, unmistakable proclamation the word of the Lord, the echo of which still rolls on with a very great sound." What a word picture this is of evangelism. It's like they're in Thessalonica, a big bang occurred when you received the gospel, but the sound of that bang is still being heard in the valleys and the mountains of Macedonia and this whole region.
Beautiful picture, wave after wave of proclamation. You see this, the early church were saved souls wanting to see more souls saved. They didn't say, "Great, the message came to me. Good, I'm going to heaven, good deal." It's still echoed forth. I've noticed over the years several ways that believers interact or respond to unbelievers. First of all, you can isolate. You can isolate. One who isolates thinks this way, it's the monastery way of thinking: "I need to get out of this bad, evil world, and I'm going to buy a home in the country, buy a bunch of guns, a bunch of food. It's just me. It's just me and my own. I don't want to be around all the stuff happening." That's isolationism. So you can isolate. Here's a second response you could have: you could insulate.
By the way, isolate is not good plan when Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." So let's just scratch that off our list, shall we? Let's consider number two: we can insulate. This is a person who says: "I really don't want to read what's going on in the world. It's just going to make me sad. So I'm going to be insulated. I won't be aware of what's happening, but I'll just have Christians around me all the time. Again, not a good plan when Jesus said, "Go into all world and preach the gospel to all creation." Here's a third thing you can do: you can imitate the world. "Well, the only way to get them to like me is for me to be like them. I'll do what they do. I'll share their values. And maybe then they'll think I'm cool and then I can, like, say something to them. Want a joint, bro? Let me tell about Jesus."
Not a good plan when Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." A forth response we can have is to vegetate. Now, I find an enormous group of believers in this category: vegetate. This is the apathetic believer. Truth be told, though they would never tell it, it's the idea that says: "I know people are going to hell, but so what?" There is no motivation at all to win lost people to heaven. I don't think any of those are good possibilities when Jesus said go into all the world and preach the gospel. But there's a fifth, and I think it's the appropriate response. It's not isolate, it's not insulate, it's not imitate, it's not vegetate, it's penetrate, penetrate. Go get 'em. The bullets are flying, run into them. The battle is ensuing, jump into it, penetrate.
Jesus called us "salt" and "light." And we're a great saltshaker here. The saltshaker needs to be turned over and the salt needs to be emitted into the world. Over in Bedford, England, is a little church, a Baptist church. And on the west side of the building is a stained-glass window, a scene right out of Pilgrim's Progress written by John Bunyan. It's a picture of the Evangelist in the story pointing toward a wide field. Why Bedford, England? Because Bedford, England, is where John Bunyan was in prison for twelve years because he wouldn't shut up. He wouldn't stop preaching the gospel, so they put him in jail. So he wrote the book Pilgrim's Progress in jail.
And so here's a stained-glass window of the Evangelist pointing the Traveler with a big burden on his back, a pack of sin, and Evangelist is pointing to wide field. And you may remember the story: "Then said Evangelist, as he pointed over the large wide field, 'Do you see yonder light shining?' And the Traveler said, 'I think I do.' Then said Evangelist, 'Keep walking with the light in your eye.' "But what a strong image of that arm pointing the right direction. Where are you pointing? Where is your life directing. Are you even pointing? Is it important to point people to the light? Because to these Thessalonian believers, the gospel came to them, worked in them, but it rang out from them.
The gathered community of believers became the scattered community of proclaimers. And so we, we like to remind ourselves of our task, of our vision of upreach, yes; inreach, yes; but outreach, yes. Jesus said, "I'm going to make you fishers of men." When was the last time you caught a fish? When was the last time you threw out the line or the net? I'm going to draw your attention to the screen and we're going to close in song, and can't wait to see what the Lord's going to do later on this afternoon and this evening.
Narrator: Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry. Week after week, month after month, and year after year those who called themselves fishermen met in meetings, talked about their call of fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. One thing they did not do---they did not fish. In addition to meeting regularly, they organized a board to send out fishermen to other places where there were many fish.
The board hired staffs and appointed committees and held many meetings to define fishing, to defend fishing, and to decide what new stream should be thought about. But the staff and committee members did not fish. Large, elaborate, and expensive training centers were built, whose original and primary purpose was to teach fisherman how to fish. They only taught fishing year after year. After tedious training, many were graduated and were given fishing licenses. They were sent to do full-time fishing, some to distance waters which were filled with fish, but like the fishermen back home, they never fished. Like the fishermen back home, they engaged in all kinds of other occupations.
After one stirring meeting on the necessity for fishing, one young fellow left the meeting and went fishing. The next day he reported he had caught two outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it. So he stopped his fishing in order to have time to tell about the experience to the other fishermen. Now, it is true that many of the fishermen sacrificed and put up with all kinds of difficulties. Some lived near the water and bore the smell of dead fish every day. They received the ridicule of some who made some of their fishermen's clubs, and the fact that they claim to be fishermen, yet never fished.
They wondered about those who felt it was of little use to attend the weekly meetings to talk about fishes. After all, were they not following the Master who said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men"? Imagine how hurt come were when one day a person suggested that those who did not catch fish were really not fisherman, no matter how much they came to be. Yet, it did sound correct. Is a person a fisherman if he never catches a fish? Is one following if he is not fishing?
Closing: What binds us together is devotion to worshiping our heavenly Father, dedication to studying his Word, and determination to proclaim our eternal hope in Jesus Christ.
For more resources from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig visit calvaryabq.org.