The Greatest Story Ever Told – But Never Told
I Peter 3:13-22
It is, by all accounts, “the greatest story ever told.”
It’s the story of how God came into this world in the form of One who is His only begotten Son, and how this One lived a sinless life and loved a sometimes-unlovely world. It’s the story of how this One was killed, executed like a common criminal, nailed to a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem, buried in a borrowed grave, sealed with an enormous stone, guarded by soldiers of the legion. It’s the story of how on the third day after His death, sometime between sunset and dawn, this One who had been dead, rose up from the cold stone slab where they had laid His dead body, cast aside the grave clothes, and walked out into the garden alive forevermore. It’s the story of how His death and resurrection have deep significance for us, all because it was a necessary part of God’s plan to redeem us and the world He so deeply loves. It’s the story of how all who come to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and who are willing to put their faith and trust in Him, obtain not only the forgiveness of their sins, but they also discover a mysterious new power surging through their lives which alters the way they live and the way they love, and which fills them with a peace of mind and heart and a purpose for living which nothing in this world can ever destroy.
It is, unquestionably, the greatest story ever told. Why is it then that so often it is also the greatest story never told? Did you hear about the fellow who was caught robbing a bank and the judge said to him: “If you cannot afford an attorney, then we will provide a good attorney for you.” The fellow looked at the judge and said: “I tell you, Judge, I don’t need a good attorney. What I really need is a good witness!” We are in possession of the greatest story ever told; why then are there so few good witnesses willing to tell that story? The message of Scripture is plain. We are called to always be prepared to give the reason for the faith and the hope we possess. Why then do so few do it? Why is the greatest story ever told, also the greatest story never told? That is the theme I wish for us to address today…
Make no mistake, we are called to be telling that story.
We are to tell it in our homes. Now as someone has said, “home is the place where life makes up its mind.” It is the place where life’s most fundamental decisions are made, and therefore, the story of Jesus ought to be told there. Theodore Parker Ferris, a great preacher in Boston, wrote of a college boy who came to see him. The boy explained that he had been living with his Aunt Mary for the four years of his college education. As his time of graduation approached, he was trying to settle some major matters in his heart. He said to Dr. Ferris: “I want to settle up this business about God. And I have to tell you that the God of the stars and the planets baffles me. But this God of my Aunt Mary—that’s a God I love.” Aunt Mary, you see, had been a witness in the home.
My friends, there are too many homes where grace is not said before meals, too many homes where there are no conversations about the matters of the faith, too many homes where there are no family devotions, too many homes where the Scriptures are never read, too many homes without a private place where a person can go to pray. Alexander Maclaren was one of history’s greatest preachers. He had five sons and all five entered the ministry. Once at a family reunion, Maclaren and all five sons were present. A family friend walked up to them and said: “Who is the best preacher in the family?” Without a moment’s hesitation, they answered: “Our mother.” Reminds you of Timothy, doesn’t it? Remember in Scripture it notes that he received his faith from his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. Thank God for mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles who speak a good word for Jesus in the home.
We also ought to be telling the story at work. Do you remember Matthew and Zacchaeus? What’s the first thing they did after they were saved? They got their friends and fellow-workers together to tell them about Jesus. I know counselors who before they begin a counseling session pray with those who come to them. I know surgeons who, before they go to the operating room, sit down and pray with the patient. I know attorneys who belong to the Christian Legal Society and who bring the principles of the Gospel to the practice of law. I know CEOs of large companies who keep the Bible on their desks and who do business according to the sterling ethical principles of the faith. I know professional athletics who tell the story of the Gospel to the people who play with them. There are those who do tell the story but why are there so many who don’t? You see, when you are gripped by the reality of Jesus Christ in your life, when you are seized by the vision of the kingdom of God on this earth and the kingdom of God in heaven, then you just can’t sit still, you just can’t keep quiet. You’ve just got to tell others what a change has been fashioned in your life.
So granted, we are called to be telling the story, but how do we do it?
I would like to take a few minutes here and give you some tips on telling the greatest story ever told. Let me offer three.
Tip Number One: Be personal. When it comes to telling the story, start with the people you know best, the people who are closest to you, the people you care about the most. Jesus once said to His disciples: “Don’t go off into other lands and don’t concern yourselves with the Gentiles just yet. Start with the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, start with those persons who are closest to you. Understand, please, this is not to say that the people far away from us in the world are not as important to God. Sometimes, I think they are more important. But it’s all a matter of timing. God says that we are to begin with those close to us, and then work from there.
You know there are few things as hard to contend with as the power of the personal example. We as Christians are called to go to those people in our acquaintance who do not seem to have a vibrant knowledge of Jesus Christ, and we are to hold up before them the example of our lives. So make a list of four or five people you would like to reach, people who seem to need the Good News. Keep a record of the times you pray for them, and the places to which you invite them, and the times which you spend with them, and needs which seem to be theirs. Ally yourself with deep love and affection to them. It will make a difference. You see, we are to tell the people we know, and we are to know the people we tell!
Tip Number Two: Be persevering. Stick with it. Persevere in telling the story. I know, sometimes it gets discouraging. I heard about a little boy who prayed one night: “Dear God, please make me a good boy, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Well, God spends a lot of time and a lot of patience working to make us what He wants us to be. Just so, we must be willing to spend time and patience in sharing the story with others.
You see many times we are not aware of the effect we are having on other people’s lives. Just this last week I was at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta. A young man walked up to me in the hall and he introduced himself and said that he was from Baltimore, Maryland. Then he said: “Do you remember speaking at the Christian Life Conference in Montreat, North Carolina five years ago?” I remembered, and I also remembered not being overly pleased with what I had done on that occasion. He said: “I still remember every word you spoke there, and that is why I am now in seminary studying for the ministry.” You could have knocked me over with a feather! Do you remember how Peter, when he would walk through the crowds, his shadow would fall on individuals and they would be healed? Listen, my friends, when you get discouraged remember that your shadow is falling on other people and you do not know what God is doing through the power of your influence. So don’t quit. Be persevering.
Tip Number Three: Be positive. Let the style and the tone of your witness be upbeat, joyful and positive. Don’t ever be sour and harsh and judgmental. Don’t slam people over the head with sin; lift them up with grace. There was a young preacher who went to his first church in Kentucky. His first sermon was a denunciation of the sin of gambling. After the service, the elders told him that one-third of the members of that church raised race horses. The next week, he tore into the sin of alcohol. The elders informed him that one-third of the congregation grew corn for use in Kentucky’s distilleries. The third Sunday, he pronounced condemnation upon the sin of smoking. The elders, not so nicely, told him that the final one-third of the church members grew tobacco. The fourth Sunday he preached on the theme: “The Sin of Fishing in the Territorial Waters of Other Nations”—that’s not a big problem in Kentucky. But do you see what happened to him? He came in with a hard, severe, judgmental approach and it boomeranged—it backfired on him. As a result, he so watered down his witness that it was worthless.
As Christians, we are called to be positive energy centers. We are to be dynamic force-fields. We are to be radiant, joyous ambassadors. We are to be the triumphant heralds of God. We are to be “thumbs-up people.” You remember how in the days of the Roman Empire when the gladiators would fight, one would win and the other would be defeated. The victor would then look to the emperor or to the crowds. If they put their thumbs up, the defeated gladiator would be allowed to live. If they put their thumbs down, the loser was slain. My beloved, there are lots of defeated people in this world. There are lots of people who are losing the fight. They are looking to people who will say to them “thumbs up!” They are looking to people who can show them the secret to victorious living. They are looking to people who are always prepared to give a reason for the faith that is in them. Therefore, be positive.
Some years ago, a noted British atheist named Charles Bradlaw challenged a preacher, Hugh Price Hughes, to a debate on the existence of God. The challenge was delivered in the newspaper. Hughes accepted, also via the newspaper. He wrote: “Since we have learned in our courts of law that it is beneficial to produce witnesses to testify in the case being judged, I shall bring to the debate 100 people whose lives have been changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let Mr. Bradlaw bring witnesses whose lives have been transformed by the gospel of atheism he preaches. Such witnesses will add weight to the debate.” On the day of the debate, Charles Bradlaw, the atheist, never showed up!
Peter wrote to us: “Always be prepared to give a reason for the faith and the hope that are in you.” Those words are not some sentimental invitation to a saccharine discipleship. Instead, they constitute a call to the colors, an invitation to responsibility, a demand for duty, a willingness to fight the good fight in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a call to let the greatest story ever told be told.
Today begins here the ministry of Jay Andrew Mitchell—a bright, winsome, committed, articulate witness for Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit invade him with power. May the angels of the Lord rally around him for support. May this congregation rise up and embrace him with love. And may he help us all to learn better how to tell the story…