Jesus' Other Sheep

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Acts 18:1-5, 7-11

Let me tell you why I have such confidence that this message is going to be effective – and it’s not because of me!

In the course of his second great missionary journey the apostle Paul has now reached the city of Corinth in Greece. He had left Athens following his sermon to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, the place where the religious teachers met to debate their ideas. A few people in Athens were convinced of the truth of Paul’s message and became Christians, but he does not seem to have enjoyed great success there. So after a brief time, Paul left that city for Corinth, which at the time was the greatest metropolis in all of Greece.

THE GOSPEL FOR THE CITY

While Athens was small and very sophisticated intellectually, sort of a university town like modern day Oxford or Cambridge, Corinth was the ancient Greek equivalent of New York, Los Angeles, and Washington all rolled into one – with Las Vegas thrown in for good measure. First of all, it was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia (Greece). Corinth was also the location for a great biannual series of games, similar to the Olympic games. It was also the leading commercial city in the country, with the largest population and most business activity. Corinth was an important transportation center, sitting in the center of the narrow isthmus that connected the Greek mainland with the Peloponesian peninsula.

Because of the city’s large population and great wealth, entertainment and pagan religion were also leading features of Corinthian life. Corinth was the site of a major temple devoted to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love. Historians say that the city contained at least a thousand temple prostitutes, women who would roam the streets of the city by night, looking for “worshipers.” So pronounced was the corruption and sexual immorality there that in Greek, the word “to corinthianize” came to be an expression for engaging in sexual sin, and one of the ancient euphemisms for a prostitute was “a corinthian lady.”

So this was the city to which Paul came to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He seems to have been all alone when he arrived in Corinth, except perhaps for his faithful friend Luke, the writer. Writing several years later to the church established through his labors in that city Paul would say, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” And, he added, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2-3). It seems clear that even the mighty apostle Paul was intimidated by the prospect of trying to evangelize this awesome metropolis.

Corinth was sensational in every way; spectacularly great and spectacularly evil at the same time. As a city it was huge, complex, bustling, exciting, corrupt, dangerous, cultured, proud, entertaining, threatening, foul, beautiful, disgusting, appealing. In short, it was everything, all at once – just like the great cities of our world today. No wonder even Paul hesitated in the face of such a challenge. Why did Paul say he was weak and fearful when he first approached the citizens of Corinth with the Christian message? Probably because he knew that the gospel would be offensive to them.

The Christian message – the gospel – is that we cannot save ourselves; not by our own wisdom, not by our wealth, not by our power or technology or weapons, not by our political systems, not by our media or entertainment industries. Human beings simply cannot save themselves from the presence, effects and consequences of sinful human nature. That was true in ancient Corinth; it is just as true today in London, New York, Bombay, or Johannesburg. We are simply not capable of perfecting our world – or our own lives. Medical advances won’t save us from illness and death, not even with gene-splicing or transplant surgery. The information revolution won’t save us from ignorance and stupidity, not even if the whole world is connected to the Internet. The United Nations won’t save us from violence and war and destruction, not if every nation subscribes to its charter of human rights.

WHY PEOPLE NEED SAVING

The reason we cannot save ourselves is because what we most need is to be saved from ourselves. Sin, defined as a basic anti-God mind set, is the root human problem. We have all displaced God from the center of our lives and erected an idol called “self” in his place. People by nature do not follow God’s way, obey his laws, or honor his name. Instead they choose their own value system and decide their own lifestyle.

The Christian message is an offense to many people, then as now, first of all because it challenges human pride. As Paul said to the Corinthians, not many who are wise, powerful or high-born in terms of this world respond to the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:26ff). But the gospel also offends worldly people because it challenges their immoral behavior and spiritual self-deception. Christians are called not only to believe in Jesus Christ but to follow him as well. That means a life of holiness, love, humility and righteousness. Paul plainly told the Corinthians that immoral persons would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9ff). If you want to know how serious God considers sin to be, you need look no further than the cross. Sin is such a terrible problem it took the death of Jesus to solve it.

The reason Paul told the Corinthians he had determined to know and speak of nothing when he arrived among them except for Jesus Christ crucified is because that is the single most important thing for sinful people, especially proud sinful people, to hear. This doesn’t mean Paul never talked about anything in Corinth besides the death of Christ. Luke says that he testified to the whole truth about Jesus’ person and identity (v. 5), as he did wherever he went. And he adds that in fact the apostle spent a year and a half in Corinth, “teaching them the word of God” (v. 11). So obviously Paul talked about many things. But one thing was basic, one truth needed to be heard first, more than anything else. And that was the truth that Jesus Christ died to save sinners.

If you want to find forgiveness, peace, reconciliation with God and with people, if you want to be released from the power of evil in your life and gain the strength to live right, if you want to be delivered from fear now and death later, if you want to share the new life of God’s kingdom, then you must start at the cross. You must put all your trust in Christ crucified, in the Son of God’s sacrifice for you. You must believe in him, give yourself to him in faith and love, and begin to live as his follower. That’s the only way to be saved.

MISSIONARY PRACTICE

This is the message of the Christian gospel, and you can learn more about it by reading Paul’s two letters to the Christians in Corinth in the New Testament. You can also learn more about the way the gospel message is spread throughout the world from how Paul went about it in first- century Corinth. When he arrived there, he was alone. But he did not remain that way. Paul soon met some other Christians, a married couple named Aquila and Priscilla.

These two were Jewish Christians who had been living in Rome. Like all the Jews there, they had been expelled from the imperial capital by an edict of the emperor Claudius. The Roman historian Suetonius also mentions this event which happened in the year 49 a.d., and he implies that the reason Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome was because of the conflict within the Jewish community in the city over the growing number of believers in Christ. Priscilla and her husband Aquila seem to have been among those who had come to faith in Christ early on, probably while they were still living in Rome.

Paul sought this couple out, stayed with them and even worked with them for a time. We learn here in Acts 18 that the apostle had a trade; he was a tent-maker, Luke says, and he supported himself for a time in Corinth through manual labor. Paul wasn’t just a preacher. He had a real job in the real world, but he used his job not primarily to make money or get rich, but rather to enable himself to serve Christ in the world and to reach out to his co-workers with the gospel.

Today we still call Christian ministers or missionaries who support themselves with other work “tent-makers” because of this example set by Paul. But we also learn from Acts 18 that when his friends Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth Paul was able to give up his tent-making and devote himself full time to the work of preaching and teaching the gospel. It is good for those who wish to make their service voluntary for Christ to support themselves with secular employment. But it is also right that, where possible, missionaries, pastors and other Christian workers should be paid through the gifts of the church so that they can devote their full energy to preaching and teaching God’s word.

A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT

While Paul was attempting to establish the church in Corinth, he had a wonderful experience, a great encouragement from God. It must have been very discouraging for him when he first tried to preach the gospel in Corinth. As we have seen, he came to that great city with fear and apprehension. How would he ever even be able to gain a hearing for the claims of Christ which so challenged and contradicted the Corinthian culture? More than half a million pagans in that vast urban center, and he just a solitary individual. What could Paul do? Then the Lord spoke to him in a dream.

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Acts 18:9-11, niv

Do you know what most impresses me about that reassuring word from the Lord? It’s the last statement God made to Paul: “I have many people in this city.” Notice the tense of the verb. It is present: “I have many people here,” God said. Not, “I will have many people as soon as you finish your work of evangelism and get them to believe in me.” Not, “I hope to have many people in this city if only they will decide to give up their idols and become Christians.” No: “I have many people, right now, already, even before they have heard and responded to the good news about Jesus.”

It reminds me of something Jesus himself once told his disciples: “I have other sheep, not of this fold. I must bring them also, and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:14-16). Who are Jesus’ other sheep? They are all the people, already known to him and loved by him, whom he knew he was going to save some day. He was thinking especially of the gentiles, the “other sheep” outside the fold of Judaism, all the nations and peoples all over the world who would one day become his followers. But they already belonged to him; he knew them as his own. Jesus was thinking of every one of their names when he said those words. Maybe he was even thinking of your name.

This is an amazing and powerful truth. God knows each of his people. They are his, they belong to him right now, they have always belonged to him. That truth gives me confidence right now. I know that as I share the gospel over the air or in print, I’m not really going to convince anyone of something they don’t want to believe. But I don’t have to try to do that. All I have to do is speak the Lord’s words, echo his loving invitation, and his sheep all over the world will recognize his voice and follow him. Some will respond – I know that – because they are his.

This truth can be a wonderful encouragement for you as well. If you are listening and feel drawn to Christ right now, it’s because he is calling you. If you feel like you want to follow him, it’s because he knows you and loves you already. You don’t need to worry whether or not he will accept you. If you come to him, it’s because you belong to him. Might you too be one of Jesus’ other sheep?