- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. John Compton at First Baptist Church of Alexandria.

At their last meeting with our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples wondered about His return. "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom?" they asked [Acts 1: 6-9]. Our Lord did not even answer, but we know what He was thinking. "Don't speculate on the time or date. Focus on the work at hand."
A person's last words in life, their deathbed words, are very important. Here in Acts we have Jesus' last words before He goes to be with the Father. He says, "Be My witness."
Our churches, like the disciples, are usually interested in every other thing, but not the main thing the mission of outreach and evangelism. Left to itself, the church easily drifts away from this mandate from our Lord. Thank God there are those among us whose hearts are close to God, because their hearts beat for lost people. They know what the Lord cares about the spiritually dead men and women everywhere. Our world is filled with the walking dead.
You have made evangelism a priority here. That is why we devote $700,000 a year to outreach. Our building, our staff everything is mindful of outreach. First things must remain first. There are five "great commissions" in the Scripture. One is in each gospel and the fifth is here in Acts, where our Lord lays out a strategy.
First of all, He tells us that outreach is effective only because of the Holy Spirit. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you," Jesus says. Now, the disciples seemed more interested in the Cabinet-level positions in the new kingdom. They were thinking, "Lord, we've been with you a long time. When is this going to happen?"
Jesus did not give them positions, but He gave them a power, which in the Greek gives us the term dynamite. The Holy Spirit is the dynamite that breaks up hardened hearts, making them receptive to the Gospel. In John 14, Jesus says that after He returned to the Father the power of the Spirit could come down. What's so special about the Holy Spirit? you ask. Well, the Holy Spirit is God.
Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem, and sure enough the Spirit came at Pentecost. "They were imbued with power, and 3,000 souls were baptized. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts hearts; he is the one who converts. So you need to depend on the Holy Spirit. Long before you talk to someone, the Spirit is already at work. God has been working in the lives and circumstance of people for years.
Hard as you may try, you cannot persuade anybody about God. The process is explained in 1 Corinthians 3:6, where it says, "Paul planted the seed" the word of God "Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." We are co-workers. Our role is to share, publish and teach the word, and God convicts the heart and saves. You are not responsible for another person's salvation. Just share the good news. Tell people what God has done in your life.
Turn to Romans 10:13 and we can read more about this responsibility. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," it says. "How then can they call on a name they have not believed in, and how can they believe what they have not heard." They do not hear unless we speak, and to speak makes someone "beautiful" in God's eyes.
Our Lord began the great commission by sending the disciples into Jerusalem. Then to Judea, Samaria and beyond. For us, that is like Alexandria, then Virginia, our nation and world. When Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses," it was not a suggestion. He told his first followers, "I will make you fishers of men," and that remains an evidence of our faith. Are you fishing for the souls of men?
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Douglas Cross at Free Methodist Church of Alexandria.

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