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Altar Calls

By Bart Nelson

 

 

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I don’t think Jesus or the apostles would recognize today’s altar calls. What we do to invite people to follow Him bears little resemblance to what He and His followers did. More than anything else we do, it seems to me this is the most crucial area to do it like Jesus. Many lament the shape of the church and its constituents and I believe how we call others to Him is a major component of the issue. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look how Jesus and His followers did ‘altar calls’. WWJD?

 

Mt. 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." [Most would have expected Jesus’ message to be different from John the Baptist and the other prophets and kings of the Old Testament, but no… Repentance means to change the mind, to follow a new course. Notice, Jesus doesn’t talk about getting saved, but about coming under His kingship, His Kingdom!]

 

Mt. 8:19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." 20 Jesus *said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." 21 Another of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus *said to him, "Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead." 23 When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. Mk. 10.21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,  “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Lk. 14:26 "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 "Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 "Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. [There is always a cost to count when following Jesus! Have we counted it? Are we willing? This is woefully lacking in today’s ‘altar calls’.]

 

Mt. 11.28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [What yoke has Jesus ever been bound to? There’s only one I can think of, the cross. Puts this verse in another perspective, huh?]

 

Mt. 22.1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” [The difference between the called and the chosen, according to this parable, is how they responded to the King’s invitation.]

 

Mk. 1.17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

 

Lk. 9:23 And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

Jn. 7:37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. [Much of what Jesus taught spoke of recognizing our need.]

 

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" [Again, we might expect Peter, newly baptized in Holy Spirit to have new revelation, but he repeats what prophets, kings, and Jesus Himself said, Repent! The people of the Mid-east understood baptism to show a public departure from old beliefs and ways to a new way.]

 

Acts 3:19 "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20  and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, [Peter after the healing at the temple.]

 

Acts 8.34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

 

Acts 17:30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." (Paul at Athens) Acts 20:18  And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' 19 "So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

 

We don’t see Jesus or the disciples offering ‘your best life now’ or that following God will fulfill and satisfy you to the fullest or that all our problems will end. In fact, here are some quotes from Jesus and Paul: Mt. 7:13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Mt. 10:22 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. Jn. 16:33 "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." Acts 14.22 "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." 1 Cor. 15:16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 2 Tim. 1:8  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,

 

Invitations to follow Jesus in the Bible are:

 

  1. Public
  2. Radical – leave all, take His yoke, take up cross
  3. Called for repentance
  4. Not pleading
  5. Don’t just deal with salvation, but of being under Jesus’ Lordship in His Kingdom
  6. Neediness on the part of the followers was a pre-requisite to coming
  7. Potential followers were urged to count the cost and no excuses were stomached

 

These weren’t times for a private relationship with Jesus, where everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes. They weren’t told to ‘ask Jesus into their hearts’; ask for forgiveness, or to lift a hand. There are no prayers, only action. I don’t know if I’ve ever asked anyone to follow Jesus like this, but I want to. And how about us, have we counted the cost, repented of our sin and followed Him radically in every area of our lives? I don’t know about you, but this causes me to quake.