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  • Gospel Gone Viral

    Posted on November 1st, 2009 admin No comments

    This company began in a Harvard dorm room in 2004. The idea came from a publication common in colleges and prep schools. This publication was a book that had headshot photos of all students, faculty and staff. Rather than printing anything, the founder of this company created a website that contained the same information. The website was originally restricted to Harvard students but the idea spread and the site was soon opened to students of other schools in the area. The idea continued to spread and the site was opened to anyone with a university email address. Now this website is open to anyone over the age of 13. It has more than 300 million active users. Over 8 billion minutes are spent on the site each day.

    Facebook went viral. It grew through self-replicating viral processes. It tapped into pre-established social networks and grew among the people who were already connected to each other. When facebook went viral, there was no stopping it. Word of mouth, video clips, email, text messages, and much more helped spread the facebook message.

    Just as Facebook has gone viral, so has the Lord’s message. Think about it, the story of what happened in ancient Palestine 2,000 years ago has spread across the globe and we are still talking about it today. The Lord’s message has rung out like an echo that never stops. The Lord’s message keeps covering more territory and keeps reaching more people. The gospel has gone viral. The gospel message cannot be stopped.

    This message spreads like a word-of-mouth campaign on steroids. Today, marketers try to create such an effect through viral marketing. They know that messages are most effective when they go viral. The gospel went viral in the first century and it continues to spread in this manner today.

    All of us should want to be part of this viral campaign. We won’t have to sell shaving crème, or a natural berry juice that wards off infectious disease. We don’t have to sell a particular political party, a religious denomination, a local church or ourselves. We don’t have to sell anything, but we should want to participate in spreading the gospel message to the world as God works in the hearts of people.

    As Christians, it is important for us to know what makes the gospel go viral. When we know what makes the gospel go viral we will know how to participate in what is happening around us. We can help spread the message. We can get people talking about the gospel. We can get people talking about the truth that Christ died and rose again. Our subject question this morning is what makes the gospel go viral?

    Our key text is 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:

    9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
    10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

    This morning we will discuss two things that make the gospel go viral. The first answer comes from the first half of our chapter. It is so important that we must remind ourselves of it. The second answer comes from our key text, verses 9 and 10.

    The first thing that makes the gospel go viral is God. God is soveriegn over his creation. God is the one who is at work in all of our lives, doing what he wants to do, for his purposes and for his glory. Don’t miss the fact that God is the one who causes the gospel to reach the hearts of people. He is the one who is taking his message across the world through people who love him and who are obedient to him.

    Verses 4 through 6 help us understand that God makes the gospel go viral. In verse 4, God chooses his people. In verse 5, God compels his people to preach the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. In verse 5, God works through the preaching of the gospel to convict people of their need for salvation. God gives grace to people to believe. In verse 6, God transforms people into imitators of Christ when they believe the gospel.

    Do you see how God is at work, causing the gospel to go viral? Don’t miss God’s role because you can never do those things that only God can. You can’t make people believe in Jesus. You can’t make people change their lives. You can’t make people stop doing those things that are destroying them and taking them farther away from God.

    However, there is something you can do. It is the second thing that makes the gospel go viral.

    The second thing that makes the gospel go viral is Christians who turn to God. The role of turning to God in making the gospel go viral is found in verse 9.

    Verse 9 begins in a way that sounds strange when translated literally. The ESV reads, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you.” We don’t talk that way today, but we can still make sense of this phrase. “They themselves” refers to the people previously mentioned in verse 8, which includes the people in Macedonia, the people in Achaia, and the people everywhere Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled. The phrase “what kind of a entrance we had to you” was an idiom for how someone is received. We would best understand this phrase if it read, “For people everywhere talk about how you welcomed us.”

    People were talking about the church behind the church’s back. But, in this case, that’s all good because what they were saying was good. It was true. It reflected life change that came through faith in Jesus Christ. It was the gospel gone viral.

    Verse 9 continues by providing more information about what people everywhere were talking about. The verse reads, “They tell how you turned to God.”

    The verb turn, epistrepho, means to turn or return. It refers to a change of mind or course of action. In Acts 11:21, men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began telling Greeks about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The text says, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” One writer says this turning “is in essence the concept of repentance; it means turning from former sources of trust (whatever that might be) to trust in God’s plan of salvation and life through Christ.” This turning to God happened when you first placed your faith in Christ. You changed your mind concerning the person of Jesus and you turned to him in faith by recognizing him as the one who died as a sacrifice for your sin.

    The act of turning to God can also occur later in one’s spiritual life after wandering away from the truth. James 5:19-20 reads, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James says that wandering away from God can lead to a premature death. For example, imitating a bad crowd can put you in a bad situation where a bad fight breaks out and someone hits you upside the head with a bad 2”x4” that sends you to your grave early. James says, rescue those who wander away by turning them back to God.

    When you discover you have wandered away, turn to God. When you wander from the truth, you view the God you trusted for eternal life as no more than the grantor of a life insurance policy. He doesn’t consume your thoughts. He doesn’t dictate the direction of your life. He doesn’t receive the praises of your mouth. You slip away from him, following things of this world which rust, are eaten by moths or taken by thieves.

    The things that distract us from worshipping God are idols. Idols are anything that we worship other than God. Idols can be your work, your investments, your spouse, your children, your eHarmony matches, the new truck on the dealer’s lot or the new home you dream of owning. When your mind is consumed by these things, they have become idols that have taken the place of God in your life. When you find yourself heading that direction, even worshipping idols a little bit, change your mind and turn back to God.

    Notice that we usually talk about turning from one thing to another. However, in verse 9 Paul reverses the emphasis. He writes, “You turned to God from idols.” The emphasis is on turning to God. Christians who turn to God make the gospel go viral.

    APP: What’s on your mind right now? If it’s not God, change the channel. Turn to God.

    ILL: Earlier this week as I was trying to study this passage, I caught myself worshipping idols numerous times. The stock market was tanking and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Duck hunting season is around the corner and I wanted to listen to duck calling audio files on the Cabela’s website. Thursday I was craving Chinese food like I hadn’t eaten in two weeks. What’s a man to do with all these idols diverting his attention from God? Change the channel. Turn the mind back to God. Ask God for grace to turn to him, to focus your mind on him, to keep him at the center of your life.

    Now that we know that turning to God makes the gospel go viral, what do you do once you have turned to God? What do you do? The text gives us two things to do once you’ve turned to God. They are serve and wait.

    The first thing you should do once you’ve turned to God is serve.

    Verse 9 reads, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”

    The verb translated serve comes from the same word group as δοῦλος, which means, “slave.” The verb form in verse 9 means to be a slave or to serve. Matthew uses the same word when quoting Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Thessalonian believers knew that you could only serve one master. In turning to God they chose to serve God, and people noticed. People started talking about how the Thessalonian believers were no longer worshipping dead idols. People started talking about how the Thessalonian believers were serving the living and true God.

    Paul uses this same term for “slave” in Romans 6:6. He writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Paul refers to a time in the past when he was bound to sin as a slave. Sin was his master and he was chained to it. Sin had power over his life. He could do nothing to set himself free from the power of sin because he was enslaved to it.

    When you believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, you identified yourself with Christ in his death. The old you who was enslaved to sin died to sin. You were then set free from sin’s power over you. Yet, when you turned to God you become a slave to God. Romans 6:18, “You have been freed from sin and have become slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.”

    When Christ sets you free from the power of sin, he becomes your new master. You are no longer a slave to sin, but you become a slave to God. You are his servant who is given the choice to live as a slave to sin, even though you have been set free, or as a slave to righteousness. The more you submit yourself to God, the more you grow spiritually. The more you grow spiritually the more you begin to live like Jesus Christ. The more you live like Jesus Christ, the more you begin to realize the abundant life you have been granted. It is only when you live as a slave to God, bound to his sovereign rule, that you discover freedom from the power of sin. By living as a slave to God, you know what it means to be free from sin.

    Some of you may be thinking of John 15:15, where Jesus tells his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends…” That seems to contradict Paul’s idea of being a slave to God, until you consider John 15:14 where Jesus says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Paul and John agree. To find perfect fellowship with God, you need to do what he says. You have to obey him as a slave obeys his master. In that place of obedience to God as the master over your life, you experience freedom from the power of sin.

    It only makes sense, then, that the first thing to do when you turn to God is to serve him. He is your master. You are his slave. When you commit your life to serving God, you become more like Jesus. People see your life. They notice many things that are different about you. Then, they start talking behind your back. They start talking about how the gospel has changed you. You have now helped the gospel go viral.

    ILL: There is a church in Topeka that values serving God. One of the ways they serve God is by bringing churches together to help local schools. They give up one Saturday morning each year to clean the grounds of these schools. Now that may not sound like much, but gathering and distributing resources to accomplish this project is a big task. The result of their effort is that the community sees hundreds of Christians working together, for free, to make their city better. That act alone doesn’t save anyone, but it lets the world see that the gospel has changed the lives of these church people such that they are willing to give up a Saturday morning to help someone else. When people of the community see the newly landscaped lawns, they ask, “Who did that?” Someone answers, “Those Christians.” People start talking. The people who hear them start talking, and on it goes.

    That church has just helped the gospel go viral. People see or hear about Christians serving God and want to know more, so they visit the church that pulled weeds at their kid’s school. When they attend the church, they hear the gospel. They wouldn’t have heard the gospel if they had slept in, but they hear it at church and they have the opportunity to respond in faith.

    That’s the gospel gone viral. There’s no wonder why growing churches are the same churches that serve God by reaching out to their geographic communities. They are giving people something to see. Our service won’t save anyone – God does that – but it will prove that we have turned to God. When we turn to God to serve him, we will contribute to the viral spread of the gospel.

    APP: Be thinking of ways that your church can serve God. There is nothing wrong with serving as an individual, but imagine what could happen if you served together. There are unlimited ways how this congregation can leave its mark on this town. Again, I know many of your are already at work as individuals, but how can you get the whole church united in a way that serves God and gives people something to talk about? How can this church help the gospel go viral in this town?

    The second thing you should do once you’ve turned to God is wait.

    When I first think of wait, I think about sitting around doing nothing. You agree to meet someone at a certain place and a certain time, but when you get there they are not there so you sit around and wait. If you didn’t bring anything to read or there is no one to talk to, you sit and do nothing. That is boring. It is not fun.

    However, that understanding of what it means to wait is not accurate. Waiting includes expectation. You expect something on the other side of waiting. The child who goes to sleep on Christmas Eve wakes up super early because he expects to find Christmas presents under the tree. He can’t open his presents yet because his mommy and daddy are still asleep. He has to wait 45 minutes before he can open his presents. As time ticks by every so slowly he waits in expectation for something he has waited his whole life for. As he waits he expects that this could be the year of the BB gun.

    Christians who turn to God wait for a greater gift. They have waited their entire lives for this gift. Christians wait for the coming of God’s Son. He is the same one God raised from the dead. His name is Jesus and he rescues Christians from the wrath to come.

    Let’s unpack verse 10.

    We are waiting for God’s Son to come back from heaven. Just as Jesus passed up through the heavens above when he rose from the grave, he will also descend from the heavens. He will pass through the clouds. Can you imagine being on a plane? You’re looking out the window watching the puffy clouds, and vroom. Did you see that? Yeah, that was Jesus. Some kid on the ground will be looking up and say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Jesus!” Nah, it will be much more significant than that. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, he “will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” We don’t know the particulars of what will happen when that day comes, but we do know that it will come. In the meantime, we are waiting for Jesus, nothing else – no series of earthquakes, no global currency or financial disaster, no one world leader with green skin and three eyeballs. We are waiting for Jesus, not signs and wonders.

    Why do we wait for the Son of God? We wait for the Son of God because we have turned to him. We are bound to him as slaves. We have turned from everything the world offers and we’ve placed our hope in Jesus. He is the focus of our attention. We rise early, not expecting a bb gun, but expecting Jesus. If another hour passes without his coming, we wait with the expectation that today will be the day.

    You may ask, “What’s the big deal? I get the serving, but why the waiting? Why this expectation of Christ’s return?” Well, check out verse 10. It ends, “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Properly understanding the phrase “delivered or rescued from” will help us see the significance of waiting for Christ. You can be rescued from something by being pulled out of it, as in you were rescued from the raging waters when someone threw you a rope and pulled you out of the water. Or, you can be rescued from danger in that you were kept from it, as in you were rescued from the raging waters when your mother wouldn’t allow you to swim in the river. That’s how the preposition “from” is used in verse 10. The same idea is found in 2 Corinthians 1:10. Paul said he was rescued from a deadly peril. Paul did not have to experience this deadly peril before being rescued from it. He was kept away from experiencing it in the first place. According to 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Christians will be delivered from the coming wrath in that Jesus will keep them from it. Christians will not have to experience the coming wrath of God.

    Colossians 3:5-6 reads, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.” God’s wrath is his anger at evil and all that opposes him. The exact timing of when God will execute judgment through the pouring out of his wrath on those who have not trusted Christ as savior is uncertain. Knowing when God will punish nonbelievers isn’t as important as knowing the certainty and nearness of it. Take a moment to think about the wrath of God which will soon be poured out on people who have not believed in Jesus. We are talking about God, who created the universe and who created man from the dust of the ground. We are talking about God who is everywhere and who knows all things. He doesn’t even have to lift his finger to make violent storms cease. That God is going to pour out his anger on people, people who have not believed in Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

    Our hearts must break for people who have not believed in Jesus. When judgment comes, without Christ, nothing will save them.

    But, as Christians we wait for Christ who rescues us from the coming wrath. What’s the big deal? Why the waiting? We expect Christ’s return because our hope is in him. He is our master who keeps us from coming anywhere near God’s hand of judgment because he has set us free from it.

    If you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, this talk about God’s anger being poured out on the unrighteous must make you tremble. It must make you see the need of identifying yourself with Christ through faith so that you won’t have to face God’s wrath. No matter what you’ve done in life, know that God is a gracious God. He wants you to have a relationship with him through his Son. Believe in Jesus Christ now and discover how he sets you free from the power of sin and from the coming wrath of God. If you have questions, come talk to me after the service.


    Today you have seen two things that make the gospel go viral: God and Christians who turn to God. You’ve learned that once you to turn to God you serve him and you wait for Jesus.

    ILL: Several years ago I wrote a book for Christian singles. Before I make it available to the public, I wanted to have another person edit it. So, a few months ago I asked a smart friend if he would edit it for me. He agreed. Now I have to wait for him to edit each chapter before I can make progress. I have to wait. He gives me one chapter and I have to wait for the next. As I wait, I don’t sit idle and do nothing. I work by incorporating his changes into the final draft. I work as I wait. As I work, I wait with the expectation that I’m about to receive great suggestions that are going to make this book better.

    Last Monday night I received chapter 7 and made the suggested changes. Then Tuesday night I checked my email and was surprised to receive chapter 8. It came much earlier than expected even though I did expect it.

    Jesus’ coming is going to be something like that. We don’t know exactly when he is coming, but we expect it. We wait for it. As we wait, we serve. One day Christ will come. Until then, we turn to the Lord and make the gospel go viral by serving God and waiting for his Son.

    Let’s pray.


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