daily biblical sermons


IT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH TO EVANGELIZE WITH WORDS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, Saint Barnabas, Apostle, June 11, 2016
Acts 11:21-26, 13:1-3, Psalm 97, Matthew 5:33-37


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:19-20).


The gospel was at first preached only to Jews. St. Peter's experience with Cornelius changed all that, when a large number of Gentiles also believed in the Lord Jesus. St. Peter then returned to Jerusalem to report this to the apostles. "When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'" (Acts 11:18).


St. Peter's experience was followed by that of Jewish Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene who came to Antioch and preached the Lord Jesus to the Greeks also and "a great number that believed turn to the Lord" (Acts 11:21). It was to this group of Gentile Christians that Barnabas was sent by the Church in Jerusalem. He then went to Tarsus and found Paul and brought him to Antioch, and the two of them spent a whole year teaching all these people.


In these events we see the beginning of the Church's mission to the nations and peoples, to the Gentiles who were pagans. The Church very soon discovered that Gentiles also needed to hear the gospel and believe in the Lord Jesus for their salvation.


Far more was involved here than simply giving witness by performing charitable actions. Charitable actions alone by believing, prayerful Christians are insufficient to transmit the gospel. Actions alone do not transform people. Good example alone does not give people the word of life. It does not communicate to them that God has sent a Savior into the world who died as a punished criminal on a cross for our sins to make just reparation for them before the Father so that he could justly forgive us, when we put our faith in him, which is the basic gospel message of salvation that we are sent in mission to preach to the world.


This is the great liberating revelation that God has given to us to communicate to all nations and peoples, and only words can communicate it. Good example alone does not communicate the gospel message. That is why Christ sent out his apostles to preach the gospel with words to every creature (Mark 16:15) and to instruct and make disciples of all peoples and baptize them (Matthew 28:19).


This, then, is the mission of the Church. This is what we are to spend our time and money doing. We are to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all peoples in the name of Jesus, because of his death for our sins. "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:46-47). This requires words. This reality is what the Church preaches and then also administers in the sacrament of reconciliation (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:22-23).


It was important that this gospel message also be preached to the Greeks (that is, to the Gentiles). It was not enough for the Jewish Christians just to keep this message to themselves and simply content themselves with giving good example to the pagans, thinking that they are thereby fulfilling their mission to the Gentiles. More than good example is required for Christian mission. We cannot just give witness to God's love among non-Christian peoples and think that we have thereby fulfilled our mission to the world as Christians.


What did the Christians in Antioch do concerning Christian mission? They themselves sent out missionaries to go to new places and preach the gospel with words. The Holy Spirit told them, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). So Paul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus and preached in the synagogues in Salamis. Then they sailed to Perga, where they preached again with words in the synagogue about Jesus, the Savior whom God has sent us, how he was put to death, and how God raised him from the dead to save us from our sins, saying, "Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).


Indeed, as St. Peter said to the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius's house to hear his preaching, "To him [Jesus Christ] all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).


This is basically the same message that St. Peter had earlier preached before the Sanhedrin, saying, "The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:30-31).


In his very first sermon on the day of Pentecost, St. Peter proclaimed this same basic gospel message, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).


This clearly is the way of salvation, namely through faith in Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sins, to make reparation for them by his death. To benefit from his act of salvation on the cross we must have faith in him, repent of our sins with a firm purpose of amendment to have them forgiven, and accept baptism.


So it is the mission of the Church to make this happen; that is, to preach the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and to invite all to repent and believe in him and accept baptism. Then this forgiveness and new life can be administered to them through the sacraments, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.


Christ sent his apostles out to the ends of the earth to make disciples of all peoples and baptize them (Matthew 28:19) precisely because this is how he wants all peoples to be saved. That is why Jesus said "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (John 3:36). Jesus said this because, "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:11-12). It is clear that this is how God wants all people to be saved, namely through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross to make just reparation for our sins.


Hence the urgency of mission, that is, direct proclamation of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ who died to make reparation for our sins. This is what evangelization is all about - it is proclaiming with words this good news to all peoples, calling them to conversion, faith, and baptism. It is the mission of the Church to evangelize the world in this way, to enable all people to have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, for a new life in the light, and for a sure hope of eternal life in heaven with God when they die.


Even though we may hope in the mercy of God for those who still do not know of Christ, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God wants all people to come to forgiveness and salvation by knowing Jesus Christ, dead and risen, and by putting their faith and trust in him for their justification and eternal salvation. Hence the urgency of Christian mission.


It is an error to call the basic Christian message "ideology" and then dismiss it by saying that we are not to preach ideology. It is also a serious error to call God's moral law (the Ten Commandments) "legalism" and then dismiss it by saying that we must get beyond legalism, the preaching of ideology, and proselytization.


This is nothing less than a new secularization of Christianity. It is a denial of the faith, a rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such a way of talking and thinking is alien and incompatible with the Christian faith. It is the product of a secular way of thinking that is alien to the gospel.


Rather God's moral law convicts of us sin and leads us to the gospel to seek justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Law and gospel go together and are the essence of Christian preaching; and to bring this message to the ends of the earth and to invite all people to conversion, repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, and entrance into the Church is the essence of Christian mission.

 

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