"Share Good News - Confrontationally"
June 3, 2007 Acts 2:22-24, 36-41
Chuck Colson was a nervy, aggressive, successful lawyer in the Richard Nixon regime - until allegations about Watergate started flying. The sudden plummet in popularity forced him to question the way he'd been operating up to that point. A friend named Tom Phillips boldly challenged his attitude. Colson recalls, "He was so gentle I couldn't resent what he said as he cut right through it all: 'Chuck, I hate to say this, but you guys brought it on yourselves. If you had put your faith in God, and if your cause were just, He would have guided you. And His help would have been a thousand times more powerful than all your phony ads and shady schemes put together.'"
Phillips started reading to Colson from CS Lewis' book Mere Christianity. Lewis was talking about the vice of pride. Colson says, "As he read, I could feel a flush coming into my face and a curious burning sensation that made the night seem even warmer. Lewis' words seemed to pound straight at me...Suddenly I felt naked and unclean, my bravado defences gone. I was exposed, unprotected, for Lewis' words were describing me...It was pride - Lewis' 'great sin' - that had propelled me through life...Lewis' torpedo had hit me amidships."
That must have taken some boldness on the part of Phillips to challenge Colson's actions, and read such a hard-nosed section from the book. But it started Colson on a spiritual investigation of Jesus' claims - an investigation that led him to conclude Jesus Christ is God, as He claims. The confrontation led to one of the most publicized conversions of our time - how Nixon's 'hatchet man' found spiritual rebirth. Colson went on, after imprisonment, to become founder of Prison Fellowship International and a keen Christian thinker and spokesman.
The Change in the Big Fisherman
Simon Peter also went through a big change in his life. The man standing boldly, preaching at Pentecost to thousands, sticking to his guns in front of the Sanhedrin in the book of Acts, seems a different person from the impulsive, unstable, fickle denier the night Jesus died. Even before that, he'd been impulsive - rebuking the Master for saying a premature death of suffering should never happen to him; asking the Lord to tell him to walk on the water towards Him; offering to build a shelter for Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even after the resurrection, in John 21(3) we see Simon again following through on a whim as he said, "I'm going out to fish" - leading the other disciples on a task that was fruitless until Jesus showed up. So impetuous. What happened? How did he go from "Simon" with unbridled impulsiveness to "Peter" with harnessed initiative?
Three main factors impacted him; we need to encounter these as well if we are to become genuine witnesses to the new life that can be ours in Christ. First is the BROKENNESS OF FAILURE. Peter had boasted at the Last Supper, "Even if all fall away, I will not." (Mk 14:29) Jesus, who knows our deepest secrets, predicted Peter would disown Him 3 times before the rooster crowed twice. When it came true - and Peter didn't have the guts to remain a faithful disciple before a servant girl - he "broke down and wept." (Mk 14:72) He caved in, he wimped out, he failed pathetically. That must have cracked his pride wide open.
A second factor was the IMPACT OF THE MIRACULOUS. Peter was the first to enter and see the empty tomb. He had personal audience with the Risen Jesus. He tugged on those suddenly wonderfully full nets when Jesus told them to cast them on the other side of the boat (Jn 21:6). Luke records that during the 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus "gave many convincing proofs that He was alive" (Ac 1:3). The big fisherman who'd always managed on his own slowly started to accept that it's what God's doing that's most important, not what we do on our own steam.
Brokenness of failure; the impact of the miraculous; a third factor that changed Peter was REASSURANCE OF JESUS' GRACE AND LOVE. After Peter's denial and excruciating pain of death, Jesus didn't shun this problematic disciple but restored him. Three times He asked him if he loved Him, then commanded Peter to take care of His sheep, and renewed His discipleship by ordering, "Follow Me!" (Jn 21:15-19) It was 3-fold clearly to offset the triple denial. This must have touched Peter's heart and soul incredibly. So bad a mistake - but Jesus forgave him.
These 3 factors operating together shook Peter to his core, brought him to see life from a new direction - God's way, not just Peter's. We see him change from a proud self-centredness to accepting God's control. Jesus summarizes this in Jn 21:18: "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; [we could call that the "Do What You Want" approach] but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Peter exchanged a pushy, surface, self-confident persona for one that was truly powerful: based not on self-will but harnessed to what God is doing. Having realized his own faultiness, Peter repented and submitted to be limited by serving God's purposes - even if that would mean death.
You can spot this shift from "what I want to do" to "what God's doing" in Peter's speech to the crowds at Pentecost. He keeps bringing in Scripture passages to explain what God's up to. He's developed a Scripture-shaped insight into God's sovereignty and people's precariousness. Vv25-28, "I saw the Lord always before me...I will not be shaken [because God's there]...You will fill me with joy in Your presence." As opposed to on one's own being shaken, abandoned to the grave, decaying.
Vv17-21 mention cataclysmic environmental signs of this order's soon passing - blood, fire, smoke, the sun and moon changed as God's judgment day approaches. These fearful signs ought to prompt people to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. And vv34-35 talk of the Father making Jesus' enemies "a footstool for your feet". This must cause hearers to ask, Am I one of God's enemies?
So Peter quotes Old Testament prophecy to show the significance of recent events, re-frame them in the big picture: it's urgent that his hearers repent, and save themselves (v40) "from this corrupt generation". Because his frame of reference has changed from self-determination to serving a sovereign God, he's able to draw on a much larger authority.
A Compelling Approach
Peter's evangelistic message at Pentecost was very compelling: over 3000 hearers accepted his message and were baptized (41). What made it so convincing? He was able to place the immediate situation in an eternal context, through relevant references to Scripture. He helped people see what was going on - and what their hidden or spiritual state was - in relationship to eternity and judgment.
He begins by explaining the phenomenom of the Spirit-filled disciples speaking in foreign tongues. He insists they're not drunk - it's too early in the morning for that, anyway. He quotes the prophet Joel to show God has fulfilled His promise to pour out His Spirit so people prophesy, wonders are seen (such as the tongues of flame), in order that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (18-21). In short, Peter is able to demonstrate the spiritual significance of current events - what's happening around them.
Next, Peter shows them convictingly their culpability (their fault, the blame they deserve) and their need for help. He doesn't back down from pointing out clearly their part in the murder of a righteous man. V23, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." There's the charge, plain and simple! The One they crucified has instead been vindicated as innocent by God, who raised Him from the dead and made "this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (36) Peter tells them they need to repent and be baptized in Jesus' name "for the forgiveness of your sins." We may be reluctant to mention the "S" word for fear of making people squirm or feel uncomfortable; but if you went to the doctor and s/he just talked about the weather and your bowling ability and never actually talked about your ailment, they wouldn't be a very good doctor, would they? Sin is the root problem that has to be addressed in order for people to be truly helped. It's not as if they're the only guilty party: v40, Peter pleads with them to be saved from the corruption that's so prevalent.
The words struck a nerve; the Holy Spirit was working inside the people to convict them of their sinfulness. Hearing Peter's description and charge, the people are "cut to the heart" (37) - the Greek means "to prick, pierce, sting/pain sharply, agitate vehemently". They needed to become aware of their need before they could get help.
Peter doesn't leave it there: he presents God's kindness as a solution for their corruption. God has been acting through all this to bring something good about. V22, God did miracles and wonders among them through Jesus; God's set purpose and foreknowledge guided the betrayal and trial; 24 & 32, God raised Him to life; 36, God made Him Lord and Christ.
Because of the Father's kindness and grace, Peter's able to offer the free promise of salvation. The 'promise' or receiving forgiveness and the Spirit in 39 for all whom God calls is rooted in them repenting. God has made it possible for them to save themselves (40) - if they only will.
Assertive and Direct
In their book Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg point to Peter as an example of what they call the "confrontational" style of evangelism. Such a person typically has characteristics of being confident, assertive, direct, and bold. They skip the small talk and like to get right to the point. They often have strong opinions and beliefs. They would agree with statements like the following..."I like to say what's on my mind when I talk to people, without a lot of small talk. I don't mind making people feel uncomfortable or putting them on the spot during a conversation, if necessary. I believe in being completely truthful with my friends, even if the truth could hurt the friendship. I believe that if you really love someone, you have to tell that person the truth, even when it's painful. (and) I sometime get into trouble for not being gentle or sensitive in the way I deal with people." Do you know some believers who are like that? Are you like that? If so, maybe your style is 'confrontational' like Peter.
The authors offer some suggestions for those with this style. "Practice 'putting others first'; listen to what your friends say before you tell them what you think they need to hear. Learn to ask good, direct questions that help you understand your friend's point of view. Be prepared for situations where you will stand alone in sharing Christ; under God's guidance, challenge people to trust and follow Christ - God will use your boldness. (and) Ask your friends to tell you whether or not you have the right balance of boldness and gentleness. Remind yourself of Paul's expression in Ephesians 4, 'speaking the truth in love' - remember, both truth and love are important." We need to ask God to help us be sensitive and tactful when we talk with our friends; allow God's Spirit to restrain our tendency to come on strong all the time. Colossians 4:6 tells us, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
This short video has an example of a young person with a confrontational style getting in a friend's face - lovingly - about the direction they're heading...[VIDEO]
See how she was assertive, direct, and bold? She got to the point, while avoiding judgmentalism; she reminded her friend she was asking the tough questions because she - and God - really cared for her.
In Your Face...for Good
Bill Hybels writes, "I have a friend who for years played church and pretended to be a Christian. He'd heard lots of good teaching, knew the gospel message inside and out, and could quote numerous Bible verses. The only thing he lacked was a direct-style evangelist who could get in his face about his need to start living the truth he knew. Then one day God sent one. This man looked my friend in the eye and told him he was a hypocrite. That made him angry, but it made him think. And within a week's time he committed his life to Christ, a decision that has transformed his life over the last twenty years.
Hybels adds, "Some people are just waiting for a contagious Christian who won't beat around the bush, but who'll clarify the truth of Christ and challenge them to do something about it. Could that Christian be you?"
Phil Geldart was a young college teacher who with some other ex-Navigators led an informal youth group in the area where I attended high school. Phil had a confrontational style: he was both imaginative in preparing Bible stories he and his friend would act out, and bold in challenging us to become true followers of Jesus. After high school I attended the University of Guelph, where Phil worked. There I met Yvonne. She had attended some IVCF events with some classmate friends, and I shared some Scripture passages with her at the library. But it was Phil who, one day after a meeting, actually asked Yvonne whether she was a Christian; and for the first time she realized and acknowledged aloud she had come to trust in Christ. Wonderful!
So, be bold as the Lord leads; don't be afraid to be direct, getting in someone's face if you sense the time is opportune. By God's grace you may assist them to appropriate His precious promises of new life - forever.
You may help as it was throught CS Lewis that Chuck Colson realized his need for a Saviour. Colson writes: "The central thesis of Lewis' book and the essence of Christianity, is summed up in one mind-boggling sentence: Jesus Christ is God (see John 10:30)...The more I grappled with those words, the more they began to explode before my eyes, blowing into smithereens a lot of comfortable old notions I had floated through life with, without thinking much about them. Lewis puts it so bluntly that you can't slough it off: for Christ to have talked as He talked, lived as He lived, died as He died, He was either God or a raving lunatic...No one had ever thrust this truth at me in such a direct and unsettling way." Let's pray.