Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. Acts 2:5
Devout – Peter addressed the crowd and 3000 were added to the messianic community that day. Who were these people? The popular version suggests that these were non-believers, but that isn’t what Luke tells us, nor is it what Peter says. Peter addresses 3000 devout Jews. The Greek word is eulabes. We might translate this as God-fearing men. It means those who rightly discerned and practiced proper attitudes and actions before God. In other words, these men were already torah-observant believers. Now you can understand why they had such a strong response to Peter’s speech. They were following God in every detail of their lives. When they heard the truth about Jesus, they immediately saw their guilt and repented.
Contemporary evangelistic methods like to point to Pentecost as the pattern for big crusades. It was a big day, no doubt, but it was not about reaching those outside the faith. It was not an attempt to preach to the lost. It was a day when “men of Israel” had their eyes opened to the rest of the story about the God they already served. In fact, the story of the expansion of the New Testament ekklesia is typically about going to those who were already worshipping the God of Israel and introducing them to the Messiah. In city after city, Paul goes to the synagogues to deliver his message. He rarely speaks to non-believers. Instead, his usual evangelistic effort focuses on those who worshipped the God of the Hebrew Bible. How else can you explain Paul’s extensive use of Old Testament references and practices? You could draw the same conclusion from the writings of Peter, James and John.
Does this mean that there is no place for campaigns or crusades? Of course not! God draws men and women by all sorts of means. We do not dictate how God will act. If He wants to send a single prophet (Jonah) to an entire city, He is free to do so. However, if we are going to align ourselves with the New Testament pattern (and its Old Testament precedent), then we will have to pay a lot more attention to the process of intimate discipleship within Spirit-led communities. Our version of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles overlooks the fact that nearly all of Paul’s efforts were not with non-believers but rather with Jewish proselytes. They were Gentiles by birth, but they were already part of the community of Israel.
Evangelism today hardly bears any resemblance to the efforts of the early church. Today our outreach is focused on the “lost.” We think of evangelism as the process of reaching the “unsaved” world for Christ. To do that, we adopt a Greek model of delivering correct information to as many as possible. We think that spreading the word is the equivalent of fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s not. The Great Commission is about transforming lives through dedicated obedience and deliberate benevolence. It’s a one-at-a-time delivery method because it can’t be accomplished without long-term engagement. Did you notice that Paul often spent months or years with a Messianic community before he moved to the next city? A weekend blitz never crossed his mind. There are a lot of God-fearing men and women who need to know Yeshua. Pick one. Let them see your life poured out for them. That’s evangelism.
Topical Index: Evangelism