This article was first published in the April 2007 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
In my local assembly we not only celebrated Christ’s victory, but I called out to those in attendance who had never seen nor understood what Christ had accomplished for them. As I spoke I looked into the faces of those who just some months or years ago were outside of the life of Christ, outside of His kingdom...they were strangers to the family of God. And now, there they were: citizens with the saints, rejoicing in Jesus, their Redeemer and friend. For some of these souls, walking through our church doorway was the last stop on the road to salvation; when they heard the message they were ready receive the grace and life that Christ offered them. Hmm...but others were not quite so ready; no, they would require patient reasoning and exhortation, urging them to faith. Their stubborn skepticism and doubt restrained their hope that what I was communicating in the Gospel and the miracle of the Resurrection just might be true. I saw these faces of doubt too as I spoke.and called out to them to believe the message.
What does it take to convince a soul of the truth of the Gospel? Someone will quickly claim, “well, that is the Holy Spirit's job, not ours...just preach the message and let God do the rest." And who can argue with that reasoning? It is certainly true that Scripture speaks profoundly about the drawing and convicting work of the Spirit. And yet God has ordained our part as the messengers of the Gospel: We are to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15). Did not the Apostle Paul, after leaving no doubt about God's sovereign work in salvation in Romans 8 and 9, then go on to speak of the need for preachers to convey the message in chapter 10? “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10: 14-15a). We will always have a responsibility to obey the Great Commission and take the message to those who need to hear. It takes work and persevering patience to reason with those who do not believe.
While in Corinth, Paul visited the synagogues every Sabbath and "reasoned...trying to persuade Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4). Indeed, in writing to the Corinthians, he acknowledges that all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and states plainly, "since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:10–11). In this statement Paul may certainly have been referring to his need to convince certain Corinthian believers to submit to his apostleship; but in the larger context he is speaking of the ministry that God had given him, and indeed to each of us...the "ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5: 18–20).
Have you ever wondered how Paul reasoned with unbelievers? Where did he start? Did he use different approaches and styles to draw their attention? Again, his interaction with the Corinthians is informative: "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified....My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God’s power" (1 Cor. 1–2, 4–5). Yet, in Acts 17, we find that Paul "reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace" (v. 17). Indeed, "Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection," and was taken to a meeting of the Areopagus to discuss his preaching. What is most fascinating in this account is Paul's appeal to their minds through sound theological reasoning that is not overly technical; he even refers to an inscription on an altar and quotes from their poets! The quotations and the altar reference connect him to his listeners and allow him to sketch out important fundamental themes like Creation, God’s omnipotence, the created order, Judgment, and ultimately the Resurrection. And note the response of his audience: "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but other said, 'we want to hear you again on this subject'" (v. 32).
God is calling all of us to connect with those who are lost in this world! He calls us to a ministry that requires great effort of heart and mind to reach the souls of others. This requires knowledge of God, knowledge of His world, and an understanding of the reasoning of man. However, we must never forget that it is the message of the Resurrection that arrests attention and focuses the minds of unbelievers. In Acts 17 the message of the Resurrection was the dividing line between those who mocked and those who wanted to hear more. It is the same today.
What is the value of a soul? God gave his one and only Son, who poured out his life on the cross. Truly God loves the world and desires all people to be saved. May we be faithful in taking the word of the Cross and the word of the Resurrection to those who are perishing apart from God. At ABR we use the knowledge of the science of archaeology to speak into the body of Christ and into the skeptical world. Like Paul we use this knowledge to help others find Christ and spiritual freedom. And we build up the church in helping them to be strong and confident in the word of God. May the Lord grant each one of us the boldness to speak the unchangeable Gospel within our unique area of calling and knowledge. And may we never forget the power of the Resurrection of Christ in filling our lives and our words with power to transform lives.
Scott Lanser is the Executive Director of ABR. He graduated with an MA from Biblical Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor for over 20 years in Lancaster County, PA.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
A moving video on archaeology related to the Passion Week, by Joel Kramer of Sourceflix (Off site link).