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DRAW A CIRCLE THAT TAKES THEM IN!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, October 16, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed [tried, attempted - Rienecker] to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles…" (Acts 9:26-27).


This is a very interesting passage of Scripture, and I think there is a lesson for us in it, one that is central to evangelism. Any church that is active in evangelizing the lost can learn a vitally important truth by thinking about what happened in that early church.

You see, they had been doing a great deal of evangelism - so much evangelism that the high priest rebuked them and said,

"Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine" (Acts 5:28).

At great peril, they disobeyed the religious authorities and

"went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).

No one reading the first few chapters of Acts can say that these early Christians were afraid to evangelize. Certainly not! They were bold and fearless in their evangelism (Acts 4:13). They were beaten, but they continued to evangelize (Acts 5:40-42). One of them, Stephen, was even stoned to death, but he continued to witness even in his dying moments. No, we can't say that these early Christians were afraid to evangelize. Evangelism and witnessing were taken for granted as the duty of every one of the disciples, the members of that early church.

And yet, there was something they were afraid of. Look again at verse twenty-six,

"And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed [tried] to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him …"

"The disciples" here refers to the members of that local church. "They were all afraid of him"! He had been a Christian for three years by this time (Ryrie, note on Acts 9:23), but they were afraid when he tried to "join himself" to them. They shunned him, and avoided him, and didn't want him in their church.

Do you see the irony of this? They were absolutely fearless when it came to evangelism, but they were afraid to let a "new person" join with them in fellowship! One of the meanings of the word "irony" is "a result that is the opposite of what might be expected" (Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary). The situation in Acts 9:26 is a perfect illustration of irony. What happened to Paul was exactly the opposite of what you would expect from these Christians who were so fearlessly engaged in evangelism.

"He assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him" (Acts 9:26).

I have observed more than a little of that irony in our churches during my lifetime. It is experienced in several ways. For instance, we are willing to send literally millions of dollars to evangelize people in foreign countries. And yet when those very same people move close to us, and express a desire to join with us, we are "afraid" of them. We push them away into a "mission," even though they don't need one because they speak perfect English! So, you see, this irony exists right now in many American churches.

But this ironic situation occurs even in a multi-ethnic church like ours. We may say that it doesn't happen here, but it does. We work tirelessly at evangelism. We go out to bring in the lost several times a week. And yet…do you see the irony, the result that is the opposite of what one might expect? Some of you already see it. You know where I'm going with this. We "break our necks" to evangelize and yet, when they come in, we have a tendency to be afraid of them just enough to "leave them out" - when it comes to something that isn't directly involved in a church activity. When he wanted to join them

"They were all afraid of him,"

even though they were not afraid to go to evangelism.

It seems to me that there is something in human nature that automatically does that. We are willing to evangelize, but when it comes to free time, we want our familiar friends, and we shut the "new people" out. I think there is something in our natural depravity that does that. And I think we need to consciously fight that tendency in ourselves.

When Paul came to the church at Jerusalem no one accepted him or wanted him. The unbelieving Jews were now his enemies. But the Christians didn't accept him either. Many new people have a similar experience when they first come to church. They hear us tell them to leave the world and come with us. But then we give them a handshake and a waxy smile, and go off with our friends, leaving them out. Then we wonder why our evangelism isn't more effective! If we want to add new people to our church, we simply must add them to our circle of friends! To paraphrase an old poem,

They drew a circle to keep us out,
   Bible thumping Baptists, a thing to flout.
But the kids in our church knew how to win.
   We drew a bigger circle that took them in!

And that is what we must do with these new people who are now coming regularly. We must draw a circle that takes them in!

Now, our text doesn't end with the selfish introversion of those Christians in Jerusalem. There's a "but" at the beginning of verse 27. When you see "but" in the Bible, there is often a gracious answer from God, which overcomes man's sin and prejudice. Here is one of those grace-filled "buts," at the beginning of verse 27. With that word "but" in mind let's read verses 26 and 27, ending in verse 27 with the word "apostles." Please stand and read those two verses aloud.

"And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles…" (Acts 9:26-27).

You may be seated. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

Good old Barnabas…He comes over and puts his arm around Saul [Paul]. What a blessing he was to him! How we still need people who will put their arms around some new [person] and will help [him] along (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1983, volume IV, p. 551).

That's what we must do. We must bring the new people in to our "circle."

But the kids in our church knew how to win.
We drew a bigger circle that took them in!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."


Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 9:17-27.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Bring Them In" (by Alexcenah Thomas, 19th century).


THE OUTLINE OF

DRAW A CIRCLE THAT TAKES THEM IN!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed [tried, attempted - Rienecker] to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles…" (Acts 9:26-27).

(Acts 5:28; 8:4; 4:13; 5:40-42)