Some time ago I found myself speaking at a church in Shrewsbury, the birth place of Charles Darwin. At the end of the message a visitor came up to me. "I have a question that no one has been able to answer to my satisfaction," he said. "What did Jesus mean when he said, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'"
Some questions take you by surprise, and this was certainly not what I was expecting. I began to explain what was happening on the cross and as I came to explain that Jesus had actually taken sin for us and become a curse for us in order to win our pardon, the man broke down into tears.
"Would you like for me to pray with you so that you might receive Christ and follow him?" I enquired.
"Of course," came his immediate reply.
It was a joy to pray with him, and as I left I couldn't help but remember that it is the Holy Spirit "who convicts as to sin, righteousness, and judgment." I am sure that many people had given a proper answer to him before, but that day was the day when the veil was lifted from his eyes.
Whenever we think about sharing the gospel, two issues immediately present themselves. The first has to do with content: What is it that needs to be said? The second has to do with communication: How will I say it? Sometimes we also talk about motivation: Why should I say anything at all? The last question becomes increasingly relevant as more and more Christians fear that evangelism is not worth losing one’s friends. All of these issues are important. All of them must be addressed. For the words of the Great Commission are clear: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."(1)
However, there is one part of sharing the gospel that we rarely hear about. The command to go and make disciples was given to us by a person, by Christ himself. The gospel was not given to us based on our ability to share it. In fact, the Great Commission is sandwiched between two such reminders. Before Jesus tells us to go, he says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (28:18). And then after he tells us to go he powerfully reminds us, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:20). Thus, communicating the gospel is first about remembering the authority, power, and presence of the one who calls us to speak.
Not long ago I was across the globe speaking to almost 5,000 people, most of whom were not interested in what I had to say. This was because I had been asked to give a talk to one audience, but I was presented with a completely different context. About half of the audience was made up of children under twelve, which I was not at all expecting. The audience was completely disengaged with me. Twice I stopped the meeting to pray and ask for silence. I have never before felt so inadequate. In the end, I abandoned the message, read a large passage of Scripture, offered a call to repentance, and then closed in prayer. I came down from the podium wanting to hide my embarrassment. My head hung in defeat. But as I looked up, I found myself lost in a sea of over 1000 faces—young and old—many of whom were in tears as they came to pray at the altar.
If the gospel is about God, this shouldn’t surprise us. God is the one who calls and convicts; God is the one who pardons and makes all things new.
Maybe the questions we often ask about evangelism call for a shift in focus. Communicating the gospel as we go about our lives is a command that we have been given. But it is a command given by the one who longs most that the world will hear. It is God who speaks, God who convicts, and God who makes disciples of broken lives. Our gospel has come to us not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. Thus, we do well to ask: Who is it we dare and yet long to speak of? How are we describing this God who is like no other? And most significantly, who are we relying on to do so?
Michael Ramsden is President of RZIM.