Every July the press in New York City reports, “The Jews for Jesus are back in town.” Eleven years ago I was offended by the report. I had just been elected executive director of Jews for Jesus, but had not yet left my post as leader of our flagship branch in New York City. We had the most missionaries on station and were working hard year round to make Jesus known. Either the press did not realize that we had been there all along or they did not think our usual presence was significant.
As the campaign began, people on the streets commented, “Oh, you’re back.” Some even said, “Hey, it’s nice to see you guys on the streets again.”
“We’ve been here all along,” I would insist. “We have a big office over on 31st between Park and Lexington,” I’d say, pointing in the general direction of our office.
Since then I have come to appreciate this annual phenomenon. It shows that something special happens during these month-long all-out efforts to proclaim the gospel. That “something” is the power of God.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16). As James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel said, “The power is in the proclamation.” God’s power is released whenever the gospel is proclaimed. The media—and people in general—pay attention to power on display. That is why people sit up and take notice of our campaigns.
Have you ever thought about what it takes to help someone to come to faith? We don’t become effective witnesses by winning intellectual arguments. Building a better case than one’s opponent does not guarantee that he or she will be persuaded, and even if they are they may never do anything about it. There is little power in that kind of intellectual exercise. The power comes in the proclamation of the gospel.
Years ago, when I was preparing to be on the “Larry King Live” show, Moishe Rosen gave me some excellent advice. He said, “David, you can go on Larry King and talk about David Brickner, you can go on Larry King and talk about Jews for Jesus, or you can go on Larry King and talk about Jesus. You need to make up your mind beforehand what you intend to do.” Moishe knew that some of the other guests Larry King had invited would oppose me, and that it would be tempting to defend myself or try to prove my own credibility. It would also be tempting to promote Jews for Jesus, which, after all, I believe is a worthy ministry. The point was that such an opportunity should not be squandered. I prayed that I would be able to take every opportunity to proclaim the gospel. The Lord answered prayer, blessed the interview with His power and made it an occasion for His glory. See an excerpt at http://youtube.com/watch?v=y6OOiKTt3_o. Every witnessing encounter, whether private or public, presents us with similar choices.
Recently I had the privilege of teaching personal evangelism to a group of college students. Campuses are open marketplaces for ideas where debate is a common form of communication. Whether the topic is creation vs. evolution, gay rights or national politics, these college students face constant challenges that can be opportunities for a witness. The students seemed relieved when I told them they didn’t need to be expert debaters in order to witness effectively. They simply need to understand the gospel well enough to explain it to others, allowing the Holy Spirit to apply their words to people’s hearts.
We looked at 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 where Paul says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” This is the gospel that we need to proclaim as well. It is simple and it is powerful. Whether we are sharing our story or discussing the proofs for God’s existence, the truth that Messiah died for our sins and rose again on the third day is the message we must make known. Whoever believes this in their heart and confesses it with their mouth is saved. That is the power of God unto salvation.
One student asked, “In light of postmodernity and its rejection of the reality of sin and even of God’s existence, don’t we need to explain those concepts before sharing the facts of the gospel?” It is a good question but the answer is “no.” Even if post-modern thought rejects these realities, the human heart is innately conscious of them. People are not atheists by nature and they do have an inner moral compass. That compass, distorted as it is by sin and unbelief, can still resonate with the truth of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is He who opens eyes and softens hearts. It is He who provides the faith necessary for a person to believe and confess Christ, however long or short the process. That doesn’t mean that we should not listen carefully to people’s objections and answer sincere seekers wisely. But it is God who persuades people’s hearts of a message that is profound and yet simple enough for a child to understand.
Many times I catch myself in the midst of an argument with a skeptic and stop to ask, “Before we go on, may I explain to you what I believe? It will only take a minute.” Most people are willing to allow me to explain the gospel briefly at that point. It is amazing to me how that changes the entire tenor of the conversation. That is the power of God.
Ruth Rosen told me that one of the best witnessing opportunities she ever had began when a friend remarked how annoying she found a high profile Christian who insists that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to hell. Ruth asked, “Do you understand why he believes that?” Her friend admitted that she did not. “Would you like to?” was the next question. Her friend, a bit surprised, thought for a moment, then said that she would. It opened the door to explain the gospel message.
These are the kinds of opportunities campaigners will have all month long in New York, and for shorter but still intense two-week periods in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toronto and Montreal.
Most of our campaigners are not experienced evangelists. Many are volunteers who have never done anything like this before. Part of their training is learning to use what we call the “Proposal Statement,” a simple and straightforward explanation of the gospel message. Campaigners memorize and practice it via role-playing exercises before the campaign. This enables them to approach people with an opportunity to engage in a spiritual conversation. Half the difficulty of street witnessing is knowing where to start, and the Proposal Statement solves that problem. It is a good tool for telling people the gospel message with confidence.
That gospel message is where the power is, whether you tell it spontaneously or use a prepared statement. So if you feel ill equipped to talk to someone about Jesus, remember where the power is. Give them the gospel and watch what the Lord can do.