Most Fridays I work from home instead of going into town where my office is. Not last Friday. I was behind on things and needed to get caught up and have access to my printers, so I went to the office. About the middle of the day, I was getting hungry. I went to the store to get some lunch meat and cheese to make a wrap back at the office. When I got back to the office, there was a man I had never seen before raking leaves in front of the building. I greeted him with a smile and went in.
I was putting away my things and preparing to make my lunch. It had only been a couple of minutes since I had come in and I heard a knock on the door. It was the man I had seen earlier. He asked if he could ask me a favor. He went on to explain that he was trying to get a job and he needed to get home so he could go get his ID. He told me how he had been trying to find work and the other man that worked there was the only one that had helped him out. (He was talking about the owner of the building. Apparently, he had paid him something to rake up the leaves around the building.) He told me that he felt like he had already done so much for him, he hated to ask him for anything else. I asked him where he lived and he told me. It was across town. I told him I would give him a ride and asked for just a couple minutes to put my things away and get my coat.
I put my stuff up quickly and rummaged around in my office but I didn’t have any more tracts. I hurriedly pulled one up on the computer and printed it out. I hurriedly texted a couple of brothers to ask them to pray. I grabbed my coat and stuck the tract in my pocket. I went out to the street and we got in my truck. I asked him his name and told him mine. As I pulled away from the curb I knew that we could spend the time in idle chit-chat or I could use the time to witness to him. He had already asked me what kind of work I did there and I had told him. In order to put myself thoroughly in the soup from the outset, I told him, as we were pulling away, that I was also a pastor. I told a little about our church, described where it was by the landmarks he knew, and invited him as best as I knew how so that he would know that he was welcome to visit.
I asked a couple of questions and he told me that he had been in prison for ten years and recently got out. He told me he had four children and twelve grandchildren in another state. He talked about his struggles and how hard it was as he was trying to get his life together. I told him I had seven children and knew that it can be hard to keep above water sometimes. I told him I would be praying for him and that I would tell the church and we would all be praying for him.
He had mentioned God a couple of times and kept talking about trying to get his life together. I told him that I did not believe in accidents. I believed God had brought us together that day. I asked him directly, “How is your relationship to God?” He admitted that it was not very good. He went on to talk about how he was trying and he needed to do better. I told him that no matter who we are, we can never do enough to make ourselves acceptable to God. I couldn’t do it and neither could he. I told him that sometimes people think we need to clean ourselves up in order to pray to God and be forgiven. I told him that one of the amazing things about the Gospel is that we don’t clean ourselves up in order to come to God. We come to him as we are, confessing our sins, repenting, and trusting only in Jesus Christ. I told him God cleans us up by washing us in the blood of Jesus Christ who died that sinners could be forgiven. I explained the Gospel to him as well as I could in a couple of minutes.
I asked him if there was anything specific we could pray for him about. He mentioned work again and that he really needed a job. He asked me to drop him at the corner, so I pulled over. I said if he had just a minute I wanted to pray with him before he got out. He agreed. I took off my hat, bowed my head, and called out to God to have mercy on him, to open his eyes to Jesus Christ and to find forgiveness in him alone. I asked God to manifest himself to him by opening the door for him to get the work he needed.
With tears in my eyes, I invited him to church again and told him I would be happy to see him there. I had never seen him before in my life and may never see him again. God knows. I came back to my office and prayed. I hope the Lord saves him. I hope that my motives were right and I left a blessed memory (Proverbs 10:7) where he will know that he needed help and he met a man on the street named Jeff who helped him and cared about him. I pray he will come to praise and glorify God because of it.
Why tell this story?
I do not tell you this story to make myself look like a hero. I could tell you about many failures. I have not done as much I should in life. A year or so ago I was leaving my office to get to church for the Wednesday service. While walking to my vehicle, I met a man that asked me for help and I told him I was sorry but I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything, not even a dime on me. I got into the vehicle and immediately felt a weight of rebuke on me. I pulled out and went down the street to find the man, determined to do what I could for him and to share the Gospel with him. I drove all around two or three blocks and didn’t see him anywhere. I have no idea where he could have gone in such a short time. I drove away knowing I had neglected my responsibility and an opportunity.
I tell this to encourage and I want us to encourage one another. I was overwhelmed by the encounter I had that Friday. I have had others that didn’t go that well. I couldn’t seem to think of good things to say or couldn’t get the conversation to go right. Honestly, every one of us knows enough to have the conversation I had. I had not prepared beforehand. In fact, I had been distracted with my mind overwhelmed all week long. I know it wasn’t the greatest evangelism encounter in the last 100 years, but I believe the Spirit helped me in one of the most powerful ways I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know all God’s purposes in it, though I know they will be accomplished.
A few lessons learned along the way
Let me try to encourage by sharing some things I see in this encounter and others that will help us in our personal evangelism. These are just some practical things I’ve learned. My goal is to help someone get started. I am thinking mostly about cold-contact evangelism on the street where the encounter may be a one-time event.
• We have to be willing to do it. We have to be willing to talk to people and especially the kind of people society teaches us to avoid. The example I have given is where someone came up to me to ask for help. I have found that people who really do have a need are much more open to talk to. People that come up to us may only be looking for a handout or may even be trying to swindle us with a fake story, but it is an opportunity handed to us to witness the Gospel to them.
• It takes humility to connect with people. If we think of ourselves as better than them on some level, we will be condescending and they will know it. We have to be sincere in what we are doing.
• We must be willing to listen to what they are saying, empathize with them, and respond to what they are saying. In other words, we need to have an actual conversation as far as we can and not give them a door-to-door salesman’s pitch. This goes along with the previous point and we must be concerned about the people we talk to. Evangelism is not a quota to meet.
• We can have a hard time turning conversations sometimes. We initiate contact and quickly get sidetracked and struggle to bring the conversation to the Gospel. One way to help this is to step right in it early on. Tell them your first name, and that you are a Christian, and invite them to church. Give them a tract or card. This way you have at least put the conversation on a certain track quickly and also committed yourself to it.
• We can sometimes get an opening to talk further by telling them we’re going to pray for them and then asking them if there is some specific need we can pray for them about. Again, we must be sincere and not trying to use a gimmick. We should be prepared to pray for them if we can right there. It’s a way of disarming a person and sometimes it opens the flood gates.
• If we have listened, there have probably been a few cues we can use to bring the conversation to the Gospel. I noticed how the man I met kept talking about trying to get his life together and I used that to talk about how we cannot get ourselves together before God. It led easily to the Gospel and our need for repentance.
• As a general rule it’s probably not a good idea to give money to people on the street. If someone tells me they need gas, food, or something like that, I usually offer to go get it for them. Few take me up on that offer. Some have. There is no playbook for how things are going to go. We should at least try to get something of the Gospel to people in every encounter.
Our job is to sow the seed and trust God for the results. Some people will refuse to talk or take anything from you. Some may want to argue with you. Some may be indifferent. Some may seem interested and give you openings to talk further. Remember we have successfully evangelized when we have made the Gospel clear to another person. We should always be inviting them to church. We also have to be willing to follow up. We have to be willing to receive them when they show up at church. We certainly must pray for them that God will work effectually in them.
The rest of the story
So what happened to the man I talked to that day? He came to our service the Sunday after I had met him. I was encouraged by that. I had a fairly long conversation with him after service that was mostly disappointing. He told me a lot of things about himself and his life. I don’t know if they were true or not. He may have been partially honest with me, completely honest, or lying about everything. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since.
We also have to realize we are going to have disappointments. Sometime we may invest in a person over a long time only to have them fall away. It can be painful. I pray for him. I am concerned about him. I have no idea what will happen with him. I am thankful that I at least had the opportunity to give him the Gospel and I pray God will use it to his salvation even if I never see him again.
Families have days where nothing seems to go right. We are getting ready to go somewhere and problems pop up at every turn. One kid is sick, another is tired, and maybe others have chosen this extremely inconvenient time to embody contrariness. We’ve barely begun and Mom has already had just about enough and is twitching and ticking like an animal shelter mutt with one eye.
We arrive at our destination looking like unmade beds and realize one kid’s hair didn’t get fixed, one has on two left shoes of different colors, and another is sporting a mucus mustache. It always somehow works out that at just such a time as this, that family shows up. You know the one with several children impeccably dressed as if heading to a photo shoot, who march in appropriate birth order at precisely one arm’s length, and always use appropriate manners and etiquette for whatever social situation they are in. They all smile with glistening teeth as though they have time to visit the dentist regularly. They never raise their voices above a polite conversational tone and you can only imagine they have mastered the control of their children by telepathy. That family.
They drill by us in West Point cadet fashion and each click of their perfectly polished patent leather shoes sounds out the cadence of our failures and varying emotions to our ears.
Whoa! Hold on to that last one—jealousy. Why can’t our kids be more like their kids?
Sometimes families see that family that seems to have it all together and either give up, because we will never be like that, or else they want to become that family or die trying. It can be discouraging and hopeless. If we’re not careful here, we can set up an idol we are bowing down to and serving. If there is a positive blessing that can come from the downfall of some well-known family ministries in recent years, I hope it is that we will stop idolizing “perfect” families. It is wise to learn from others, but let us learn with discernment and never try to impersonate others through blind copying. We really shouldn’t want to be like that family.
All Photoshoped and Airbrushed
The picture you have in your mind of that perfect family is not true to reality. It’s all Photoshoped and airbrushed. You’ve mentally composed an image that’s always in just the right light. You are seeing them at their absolute best and comparing your family at its absolute worst. There are two obvious problems with this. First, it is not a fair comparison. Second, it is not a comparison that should be made in the first place. A perfect family is not the standard of measure and measuring ourselves against others is not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). You should realize that you can’t possibly be like that because that family isn’t actually like that either. Families are a group of sinners varying in age, size, and gender, but all sinners all the same. There is no such thing as a “perfect” family.
All that Glitters is Not Gold
You should also realize that while you’re looking at that family’s best, you’re not seeing their worst. You don’t know what their weaknesses are. They seem to do well in some areas, but no individual or family does well in all areas all the time. You don’t see where they are failing. Beside this, there are some families who major on the public appearance. Their kids know where to stand, where to sit, and when to be quiet. Usually those kids are not being taught far more important things. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a family that is doing well in some areas and a family that is putting up a front and a public fiction.
Bridge Out Ahead!
You’ve probably heard the joke about the two men standing by the road holding signs. One sign read, “The end is near!” The other sign read, “Turn around before it’s too late!” A car passes by them and then they hear screeching tires and a splash. Another car passes while the driver shouts angrily at the men. The car goes out of sight and they hear more tire screeching and more splashing. A third car approaches and slows by the men so the driver can read the signs. The driver then stomps on the gas, flinging rocks at them and then they hear the same screeching and splash. The first man looks at the second man and says, “Maybe we should hold up a sign that says, ‘Bridge out ahead!'”
That joke works and illustrates two points germane to our topic—misperception and obscured vision. The passersby misinterpreted what they saw, thinking it was a couple of religious nuts trying to evangelize them. They also suffered from limited vision because at that point the drivers could not see around the bend that the bridge was out. Likewise, we need to realize that the picture we have of that perfect family is a snapshot capturing one moment in time. We have misperception problems because even in that one moment of time we are not seeing the whole picture. We are not perceiving their flaws. Our vision is also obscured because we are looking at one moment in time and we are not seeing the end result of that family. We are not seeing how they turned out. This problem of limited vision is one reason why Solomon teaches us not to be too hasty in declaring one way better than another because we cannot see the end (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 6:11-12; 8:7).
Don’t be Quick to Garnish Whited Tombs
Hopefully I have relieved some burdens by this point, but I hope to give further encouragement. I mentioned previously that we can learn from others and we can and should. However, we need to take heed from whom and what we are learning. In this case, we don’t want to be like Rehoboam who rejected the counsel of his elders and betters and chose the counsel of his peers (2 Chronicles 10:6-8). The counsel of the gray-headed who have already done well at raising children to adulthood is far weightier than the example of the grand marshal and his parade of peacocks, no matter how well the peacocks can keep time with their steps.
If we are majoring on matters of public appearance, we probably have some pride issues we need to deal with. Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes for those who majored on outward appearances (Matthew 23:5-12, 23-33). One sure-fire way to raise up a Pharisee is to follow the program of the Pharisees. We don’t want to be or produce Pharisees. We need a sense of priority in what things are more important than others (Luke 10:38-42) that we not be giving undue attention to appearances. We should not be content to clean up our children like the outside of cups and platters. We should pray diligently for their salvation. We should always be quick to pray for and encourage other families. Let’s stop comparing ourselves and being quick to criticize and condemn others. Let’s be quick to put on humility. Parenting is hard and we need immeasurable grace to do it anywhere near well.
Have you ever had a dream or a thought where something happened in a certain way and then later it did happen? Many people have had intuitive moments like that. Some try to turn it into a career. And I must say, there is money to be made in the world through that sort of thing and there is a long, storied history of people doing that.
So if I have a thought that something is going to happen and it happens, does that make me a prophet? No, it doesn’t. One reason why is because for every instance I could tell you about where I thought something was going to happen and it did, I could tell you of dozens of times where I thought something was going to happen and it didn’t. The biblical requirement for a prophet was 100% accuracy with no margin for error. That fact alone informs us there are no prophets today.
The ending of prophecy is a worthwhile study, but beyond our purposes here. I want to tell you about prophecies of the atonement in this chapter. First, who was a prophet by biblical standard? When we understand that, we understand what a biblical prophecy is, and then we can consider some specific prophecies.
Two primary passages in the law give the biblical requirements for a prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 & 18:18-22). One reason these were given was so Israel could evaluate and authenticate a man’s prophetic ministry. They were also commanded to stone those who were found to be false prophets and put to the sword those prophets who led the people into the worship of any other god. The requirements presuppose liars, hucksters, and charlatans. From these two passages we draw at least four important requirements.
- The man had to be called and sent by God (Deuteronomy 18:18, 20).
- The man had to receive revelation from God the people were required to obey (Deuteronomy 18:18-20).
- The prophecy had to be consistent with Scripture (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Isaiah 8:20).
- The prophecy had to come to pass as it was prophesied (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
There were always those claiming to be prophets who did not meet these requirements and God promised to judge them (Jeremiah 14:14-15). We also have a specific example in a false prophet name Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:15-17). A true prophet was a mouthpiece for God. He spoke the words God gave him and those words were authoritative as if God had spoken them directly from heaven to the people.
A prophecy is God’s word by Scripture. That word sometimes included revelation of something God purposed to do beforehand. For example, there was a time when the king of Syria came with his army and besieged and surrounded the city of Samaria in Israel. There began to be a shortage of food that grew so severe two women fought over eating their own sons. Elisha was a prophet who was in the city and he relayed the word God had revealed to him.
Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.
– 2 Kings 7:1
So God revealed to Elisha that the next day there would be plenty of food. Many were skeptical how that could be true, especially since the army of Syrians was still outside the city. But that night God made the Syrians so afraid that they fled and left their camp behind them (2 Kings 7:5-8). The people in the city found out and went out and plundered the deserted camp and had plenty just as the prophet had prophesied (2 Kings 7:18). So, had Elisha’s prophecy not come true, he should have been stoned to death as a false prophet who falsely claimed to speak for God.
There are many prophecies recorded in the Bible and we can’t cover all of them. We have been considering the atonement, or covering for sin and I want to consider a few prophecies about the atonement. Before God covered Adam and Eve in the garden, he revealed to them that they needed a Savior who would destroy their enemy and deliver them from the death they were cursed with. He revealed to them that the Savior would be the “seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15). The Savior would be born of a woman.
Many, many years later, God spoke through his prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that the long-expected seed would be born of a virgin.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
– Isaiah 7:14
About 700 years after Isaiah prophesied this, a son was indeed born of a virgin in Bethlehem in Judah of Israel. Jesus was born, the long-awaited Savior and seed of the woman.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
– Matthew 1:20-25
The angel of the Lord revealed to Mary that her son would indeed be the promised Messiah.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
– Luke 1:30-35
There are hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah in Scripture. Jesus fulfilled most of them and the rest he will fulfill when he comes again. He fulfilled prophecies in the circumstances of his birth, family lineage, the things he said and taught, the working of signs and wonders, and in his death and resurrection.
The death of Jesus was not some unfortunate event that otherwise stopped a promising career. Jesus himself testified that he came into the world to die (John 10:11, 14-18; 12:27). Jesus prophesied about his own death and foretold how it would fulfill the prophecies of Scripture.
The he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
– Luke 18:31-33
After Jesus was resurrected to life, he confirmed that his death and resurrection were according to prophecy.
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
– Luke 24:26
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise form the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
– Luke 24:44-47
His death was purposeful and planned by God (Acts 2:23-24; 4:26-28). Different prophecies in the Old Testament refer to his death, but the most extensive and plain single passage is Isaiah chapter 53. That particular chapter is in a section of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Servant of Yahweh (Jehovah) whom God would send. The chapters leading up to 53 color a picture of the Servant’s work that includes suffering and rejection and even death by chapter 53.
Chapter 53, with verse numbers, is included below for you to read and refer to as I finish this chapter.
- Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
- For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
- He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
- Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
- But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
- All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
- He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
- He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
- And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
- Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
- He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
- Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:1-12
The chapter has 12 verses in our English Bibles. The verses divide into four groups of three verses each like a poem of four stanzas. Verses 1-3 refer to his coming into the world. These verses foretell him being despised and rejected because of his lowliness. The “we” in verse 3 is the Jewish people of Israel. They confess their rejection of him because they thought him of no worth.
Verses 4-6 speak of his suffering in two ways. First, he would suffer the consequences of sin as a man. He would bear grief and carry sorrows. Second, he would bear the just punishment for sins as a sacrifice. He was wounded, bruised, and chastised for transgressions and iniquities. Again Israel confesses they rejected him because they thought his suffering was punishment from God due him, but they are also confessing that it wasn’t for his sins but for “our” sins he was put to death. These verses also speak of the purpose of his bearing sins for healing and for peace, to make atonement.
Verses 7-9 speak of his death and his burial. His death would be a voluntary death where he fully submitted to suffering. He was the lamb that was slaughtered. Verse 9 is a remarkable prophecy about his grave being with the rich. Criminals that were executed by crucifixion were not given an honorable burial but rather dumped in a mass grave like garbage or the carcass of a dead animal. Being subject to such a death made the burial of Jesus in honor among the rich a most unlikely happening. However, this is exactly what happened when Joseph of Arimathaea, a rich man, sought the body of Jesus and buried him in his own new tomb (Matthew 27:57-60).
Verses 10-12 give God’s estimation of his anointed Servant’s work. God is pleased in every sense and particularly judicially. These verses point to his life after his death and his just reward for his suffering. He will justify many and inherit the kingdom prophesied before. He will make atonement for his people in his death. This is what Jesus has done as was prophesied before.
In the next chapter, I want to break the atonement down into four parts and consider them.
This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.
If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.