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June 21, 2015, 1:53 PM

Commissioning our Haiti Team



New Life Presbyterian Church
June 21, 2015.
“The Power of the Gospel”
Romans 1:16
By Cameron Smith

This morning, we commission our Haiti team (Shannon & Rachel Smith; Heather & Taylen Gearhart; Hope & Seth Thompson) before they head out of the country next Saturday. Thinking about the mission ahead of them, I wanted to share what I trust a reminder and a charge for them. It is also something that we all need to hear. It’s from Romans 1:16.

Paul says, I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes…. (ESV)

When the Paul wrote these words, he had never set foot in Rome, nor had he met many of the people who first heard his letter. In spite of his unfamiliarity with people and place, he still had an unshakeable confidence in the truth of what he was commending to them. Paul believed the Gospel was a life changing promise from God, and that this promise was for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

Let’s walk a little slower through this pregnant thought in Romans 1:16.

Paul says, I am not ashamed of the gospel. These are convicting words. In the early Church this spoke to the embarrassing reality that as the new kid on the block, Christianity was small and insignificant compared to the sophistication and power of the mighty Roman Empire. Paul wanted them to know that even though they felt inferior to the glory of Rome, the truth was that in Jesus Christ, they served an even bigger God.

However, I think that this admonition scratches another itch for us modern believers. For us, it’s not so much our insignificance relative to our culture, but mostly our dis-ease with the exclusiveness of Jesus. We forget one of Charles Spurgeon’s great lines, “Be not ashamed of your faith, remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, and reformers.” Instead, we think, who are we to say such things when there are seemingly many other competing truth claims in the world? How can we maintain that Jesus is the only way to be right with God?

I think this is one of the reasons that many short-term mission trips gravitate towards ministries that resemble social work apart from any concern for the soul. Evangelism is either downplayed or ignored entirely. The rationale is: Sharing the Gospel divides; but service unites. Someone might take offense to what we say, but they’ll never be offended by a good work. Besides this, doing evangelism opens up the possibility of rejection. The reality is, both Old and New Testaments agree that God’s way of saving the world, and all who proclaim that message will be a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense (cf. Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:33 ESV).

I think the truth is that subconsciously, we think, who are we to make such claims? It seems arrogant. I’m sure we’ve all heard about, and in some cases, have been on the receiving end of high pressure Gospel sales jobs; and we want no part of that!

To be sure, ministries of compassion and mercy are absolutely good and essential and necessary.  However, ministries of mercy and compassion can never be divorced from Gospel proclamation. The Gospel is the reason that we do what we do. How much sense does it make to remain silent about what motivates us in the first place? Besides, financial assistance, food and provision of medical services are good and necessary; but they are not enough. Jesus did say, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matt. 16:26 ESV).

Our Haiti team is being sponsored by Global Partners in Peace and Development. I have immense respect Jonathan and Heidi Grooms who head up this organization.  They seem to do well in balancing concern for both body and soul in the countries where they serve. They never forget why they do what they do and who compels them to do what they do. They literally give the thirsty a drink of water, but they don’t neglect sharing the Living Water either. It is all about Jesus, and we should never be ashamed of that.

Indeed, we cannot be ashamed of the Gospel, for as we find in Paul’s next claim in Romans 1:16, it is the power of God for salvation. The word we preach and share isn’t just a passive, academic concept. It isn’t one truth among many. The Bible isn’t just great literature, though it is certainly that too!

The Gospel is about the living God who created the universe and still works in our midst, and isn’t done yet. The Gospel reveals God’s purpose to lift up a fallen world, and this is done through the work of Jesus by his perfect life, his atoning death on the Cross and his resurrection that sealed the deal. And now, the Holy Spirit has been unleashed to apply salvation in individual hearts: To convict of sin. To woo us back to God. To point to Christ. To reorient our hearts. To remake our lives so that we might reflect God’s glory in ever increasing measure.

Taking in the power of the God in salvation, Welsh preacher D. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it bluntly when he said that “a Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else. No man can make himself a Christian; God alone makes Christians.... A Christian is one who has been created anew; and there is only One who can create, namely, God. It takes the power of God to make a Christian.” If you prefer a lighter touch, there was a great meme I came across yesterday: “How many Calvinists does it take to change a lightbulb? I know not, but one thing is certain: The light bulb will not change itself.”

And yet, God still chooses to use us to share the life-giving, powerful words of the Gospel. He uses our often inadequate, mostly clumsy and weak words to spark the first steps towards a new life. That is what Paul was getting at when he talked about the “foolishness of what we preach.” Rudy Tomjanovich, the former coach of the Houston Rockets, famously commented after his basketball team made one of their improbable championship runs, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” I would say, don’t ever underestimate what God will do with your weak, clumsy and inadequate words! They are your words; but it is God’s power.

And as I move to the close of this message today, the really beautiful, mind-blowing thing about the Gospel is that it is for all people, or as Paul says in the last line of Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This is the scandal of the New Testament: Salvation possible for the world! However, it was always meant to be a package deal. The Old Testament promise made to Abraham that through his family, all the nations would be blessed. Now in Jesus, fulfilled. From one man, through one family, to one nation; now and yet to come, a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9 ESV). That’s beautiful. That’s why we do missions. We were not meant to keep this to ourselves!

I want to encourage our Haiti team today to keep Romans 1:16 close to heart as you go; for you are going as ambassadors for the Kingdom of Christ:

[Do] not [be] ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes…. (ESV)

You have all heard the Word of God. Please consider it well.   Amen.


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