When the Great Commission is No More

By / Feb 23

I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Revelation chapter 5, not 15 as it says in the bulletin; Revelation chapter 5. As you’re turning there, it’s on page 1030 if you’re using the Bible in the rack in front of you. 

As you’re turning there I want to make just one more brief Mission Conference invitation. You should have already received in the mail, if you attend her regularly, this Mission Conference booklet along with a pledge card and a letter from our committee which includes the schedule, statistics, the stories, the faculty speakers. But one part I really want to draw your attention to is on the inside back cover. It’s called “The Great Commission Quotient,” and it asks, “What is the great commission quotient of this church – First Presbyterian Church?” I’ve drawn from an article written by Robertson McQuilken who was a pastor, missionary, professor and president at Columbia International Seminary. I learned after the first service he preached our Mission Conference twice over the last several decades in this church. Some of you may even remember him being here. But he says, “How do you measure how you are doing?” Is it that we have lots of flags? Is it that we get excited? We enjoy eating Indian food, which I invite you to come Wednesday evening – we’ll have the best Indian food available in Jackson served in our kitchen and chicken strips for those of a more refined palate! But it’s coming and we invite you to come. You don’t have to sign up for Wednesday; we’ll have plenty of food. 

But McQuilken asks, “How do you measure how you’re doing in mission?” And his answer is – here are the metrics – “100, 50, 10 and 5.” They’re not drawn from specific verses in the Bible; they’re drawn from the whole sweep of New Testament teaching on the spread of the Gospel. One hundred is 100% of our people are praying faithfully for the spread of the Gospel around the world. Would that be you? Fifty, 50% of all the money that comes into this church goes right back out for the spread of the Gospel across the world; 50%. Ten, 10% of our people leave to take the Gospel to places that the rest of us don’t have access. And five, 5% growth every year of new people coming to faith in Christ by profession of faith and they are baptized because of the faithful witness of people in this church. Meaning that for every twenty people in this church they are leading one person to faith in Christ each year. One hundred, fifty, ten, five – you can read about it in the article. There’s a link to take you to the longer article that McQuilken himself wrote. It’s well worth reading. It’s sobering, it’s challenging, and it will rearticulate and refocus our passion for the mission that Christ has set before the church.

The question then would be, “What would it take to motivate us toward growing in that quotient, growing in each of those four metrics? What would it take? What would motivate us?” And that’s what led me back to Revelation chapter 5. You may remember that this past Christmas, right after Christmas at our Winter Grace Service, we looked at Revelation 5 from the perspective of weeping in heaven – how grieving defines so much of the Christian life that even unthinkably in the presence of the Lamb in heaven we find weeping recorded. We’ll read about that in just a moment. But for today, I’d like us to look at Revelation 5 from a different perspective, from the perspective of mission and its endpoint. What would it look like to get to the final culmination, the goal, the target of mission? What will it look like when the Great Commission is no more, when we finish the mission? Revelation chapter 5 gives us a beautiful picture of what that will look like. 

I began thinking about that question years ago when I read John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad. And there’s one paragraph that’s been quoted over and over again, and you’ve probably heard it, but listen to its focus in terms of the end of the Great Commission. Piper says, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the Church, worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not mission, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, mission will be no more. It is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever.” So what will it be like when the Great Commission is no more, when we don’t send out missionaries any longer, when we don’t pray for missionaries anymore, when we don’t sacrificially raise money any longer to support them in places that we don’t currently have access to? What will that be like?

I thought about that question again as I was flying back from Dubai a week ago, having been really shocked by the reality that the Gospel is today going to some of the hardest, some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The Gospel is making progress even there today. You may have seen these books all around the church – The World Watch List 2020. Every year this book is published. You’re welcome to take however many you want and use them for yourselves or others you know as a prayer guide. It lists the fifty countries where it’s most dangerous in the world today to live as a follower of Jesus. I was invited to go to Dubai to participate in training men who came from numbers two, five and eighteen of the most dangerous countries in the world to live; men who came from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. And they came because they wanted more specific training in evangelism and church planting, which they are already doing in their home countries. I thought I was going to participate in training them. I was not prepared for them training me and the sobriety that settled in when I heard story after story of these men watching their colleagues, family members, loved ones, co-laborers killed, brutally – decapitated, dragged from vehicles, shot on the side of the road – because of their witness for Jesus. And yet here these men were saying, “Tell me more. I want more. I want to do this better. How do I do this effectively?”

And I asked the question, “What makes them go back in? Why would they go back, realizing every time they leave their home and kiss their wife goodbye, it might be the last time they see their wife or their children, not just because they themselves might be killed, but because their wives and children might be captured and taken and sold into slavery because of their witness for Jesus? What makes them go back in?” I believe this chapter gives us such a clear picture of the “Why?” behind their commitment. I want us to think about this passage from the perspective of when the Great Commission will be complete. Before we read this passage, let’s pray.

Father in heaven, would You please have mercy upon us. By Your Spirit, open our hearts, open our minds, open our eyes to see wonderful things in Your Law so that as we leave this place we will surely know that we have done business with the King of the universe. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revelation 5 verse 1:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’

And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

This is God’s Word.

As Jesus finished His earthly ministry, the end of John’s gospel, just before the ascension, He gives one final word of instruction and command to His disciples, and through them to us. He says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Here’s the fact – we’ve been given a mission. It’s a profound mission. We’ve been given authority for that mission and the culmination of the mission to make disciples of all nations is reflected here in Revelation 5. It’s reflected as people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation worshipping the Lamb and celebrating the infinite worth of His glory. Revelation 5 is the culmination of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations” – and here they are, falling on their faces in worship; people from every tribe, tongue and nation celebrating the worth of the Lamb. This is the target of what we are doing in all these countries represented by the flags above and around you. This is the goal toward which all of mission has been headed.

But it’s not a straight line path. Is it? It never has been. There’s an element here that is part of every mission endeavor. You see it in verse 4. John says, “I began to weep loudly.” What you’ll discover as we work our way through this study is that weeping and grieving and sacrifice and loss and risk has always been part of the mission endeavor. There is no mission without weeping. It goes all the way back to Psalm 126. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come home with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Weeping has always been part of the mission. It was certainly true of Jesus’ mission and it will be true of us as we enter into His mission as He has commanded us to. The fact is, in the unfolding of God’s sovereign plan, His kingdom building mission, there will be obstacles, there will be opposition, there will be grieving and sacrifice and risk and loss and weeping.

And you see that more clearly when you look at John’s weeping. A question is asked for which there is no answer and John weeps. “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” is asked in verse 2. “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” verse 3. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it and he begins to weep loudly. Think about this. John weeps because something is blocked, something is inaccessible, something is unreachable. Does the language sound familiar at all to our thinking about mission as we think about carrying this message of redemption to places that are now blocked, closed, unreached, inaccessible? It’s a very similar image. And John weeps because the message of this scroll, which is beautiful, that is redemptive, is blocked; it cannot get where it needs to go.

If you really want to understand John’s weeping you have to go back to chapter 4 where in verses 1 and 2 you realize that this is a throne room scene. John is actually in the presence of the King of the universe. Chapter 4 verse 1, “After this, I, John, looked and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne.” Now that language of the throne is a picture of rule. It’s repeated sixteen times in Revelation 4 and 5. It’s a picture of sovereign, unchallenged, unstoppable rule. When he describes the one who is seated on that throne, verse 3, he says shockingly little. He says he had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. That’s all he says about what he sees, except for one other thing. In verse 1 of chapter 5 he says he has something in his right hand. Not a scepter, not a sword as you might except, but something far more important. He says in his hand he was holding a scroll.

And this is profound because that scroll is repeated thirteen times in the rest of this chapter. It speaks of God’s plan for His people – a plan of judgment and rescue; a plan to restore and redeem and heal, a plan to make all things new. John says it was written on the front side and on the back, meaning it is completely filled; nothing can be added to it. It’s a complete plan. And he says it’s sealed with seven seals, meaning that it’s absolutely authoritative. It will be accomplished. But yet because it’s sealed so tightly it’s inaccessible. And he begins to weep because he knows it’s a good thing, he knows it’s a story of rescue, he knows it’s God’s very best for His people, but it is sealed up entirely. And he recognizes that opening the scroll is not just the unveiling, the revealing of what’s there, but it’s actually the deployment, the launch, the participation of what’s there. It’s the enactment of what God has planned. And so he weeps.

And we don’t know how long the weeping lasted, but in verse 5 everything shifts when one of the elders says to him, “Weep no more. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he has conquered so that he can open the scroll and all seven of its seals.” So John raises his still tear-filled eyes and instead of seeing this triumphant Lion, this Lion of Judah, this Root of David, this one who has conquered, instead of seeing this victorious Lion, his eyes fall on a vulnerable Lamb – one still bearing all the marks of the brutal suffering and death he has endured. And it is this Lamb that approaches the throne and takes from the hand of the one who sits upon it the scroll, and as he takes the scroll all heaven breaks loose and the most exuberant worship you could ever imagine is unleashed. 

And the rest of the chapter is the display of that worship. Verses 8 through 4, the new song that all creation has been longing to hear; verse 9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransom people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.” Verse 12, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Worth is the Lamb!” 

Do you realize that for 2,000 years that has been the battle cry of mission? Every apostle who has gone forth, every martyr who has died, every missionary who has been sent, every preacher who has proclaimed, the backbeat has been, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Of course the mission is clear, the authority has been given, but Jesus Himself said, “Don’t expect that they will celebrate your coming as you go forth in mission.” Jesus Himself has said, “As they treated Me, they will treat you. If they hated Me, don’t expect them to love you as you carry out the mission.”

The point is this – no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult it becomes, no matter the sacrifices, the risk, the cost or the suffering, He, the Lord Jesus, is worship, He is worth it, which is why we worship. It’s why we go forth in mission. The Lamb is worthy. If you’re a follower of Jesus, this will be your song for all eternity and it’s your song today. 

So here’s the practical question – “What does that mean for us today? What does that mean, that the Lamb truly is worthy, today as we think about mission – not just the mission across the world but the mission here, our mission as a church?” We exist to glorify God by making disciples along the North State Street corridor, across the greater Jackson area, and across the world. What difference does it make that the Lamb is worthy? Answer, quite simply this – in every place of heartache, in every place of risk, grieving and loss and sacrifice, the Lamb is worthy, truly worthy. Not just worthy to take the scroll and break its seals, but worthy of my trust, worthy of my sacrifice, worthy of risk, worthy of anything that it may require for Jesus not just to be made known but treasured by all those for whom He sacrificed His life. The Lamb is worthy.

So what might that look like in our own experience? Well let me give you a couple of pictures that I hope will resonate with you. They’re all true stories and I’ve gotten permission to share them with you. One is Sam who lives in a major city in our country who worked as a very successful attorney and his goal was to retire early. So he worked hard, he set aside a significant amount of wealth, and at the age of fifty-nine, he retired. And he really wanted to invest, volunteer in ministries he had heard about and that he had supported over the years of his working as an attorney. And he began volunteering both his time and began really investing his money, sharing with greater and greater generosity in these ministries where he was investing, so much so that ten years later, ten years after retirement, today at sixty-nine, he’s gone back to work because he has so enjoyed being extravagantly generous with these different ministries in which he has invested his time that he now wants to earn more money so he can maintain his level of generosity. After ten years of retirement, choosing when he does and doesn’t want to work, he says, “No, I need to work because I want to keep being this generous.” He can quit right now and be comfortable for the rest of his life, but because the Lamb is worthy he smiles and says, “There’s so much more.”

Second picture. Next week you’ll be hearing from Mack Stiles who is scheduled to be our Mission Conference speaker. He is a pastor who lives and serves in northern Iraq. I spent part of my trip a year ago in his home, listening to his stories and learning from what they’re investing in. I so enjoyed him that I said, “You have to be our next Mission Conference speaker!” And he’s planning on coming. He’s also speaking Friday evening for our evangelism training seminar. It really will be worth your time to come, to register, and learn; to get one more tool for your tool belt in sharing the Gospel. This Friday. You need to register because there is a meal. But Mack sent me an email last month because I needed to finalize some details with him about the conference and I’ll just read to you what he wrote to me.

Mack said, “My wife’s mom passed away on December 12.” I received this email last month. “We returned to The States where I spoke at the funeral. We were preparing to return to Iraq on Sunday, January 5, when the news broke of drone strikes and conflict in Baghdad.” Now I’ll pause. You may remember about a month ago the U.S. military launched an attack that killed the top Iranian general responsible for a lot of the terrorism that had been carried out. And immediately there was a fear of retribution and the great fear was that Iran’s primary enemy, Iraq, and with them the United States, would be the target of that retribution. And when I was in Mack Stiles’ home a year ago I sat in his apartment and on his balcony you could see the U.S. military base beneath him so you know how close their apartment is to a U.S. military target. 

Going on with his email. “We prepared to return to Iraq when the news broke of drone strikes and the conflict in Baghdad. Iran was threatening retribution. Many were calling and texting me and telling us not to go back. So imagine this…I’m sitting in a wonderful worship service in Louisville, my eighteen month old granddaughter is sitting on my lap, my family is all around me, and people are coming up to us and telling us to stay. Don’t go back. It’s way too dangerous. And after all, we’re still grieving the loss of LeAnne’s mother. In my mind’s eye I was reminded of how we see the U.S. military base from our apartment in Iraq and the fear of the unknown, the fear of hardships, the fear of afflictions began to creep into my soul. Most of all, I feel the strong temptation to stay in warm fellowship and sweet safety that I find among my people. But then in the middle of the worship service we rose to sing this song.” 

I’ll just quote a few of the lyrics. You can look this up on YouTube. “I will trust my Savior, Jesus, when my darkest doubts befall. Trust Him when to simply trust Him seems the hardest thing of all. I will trust my Savior, Jesus, trust Him when my strength is small, for I know the shield of Jesus is the safest place of all.”

He keeps on writing. “Before we had finished the song I knew what we needed to do. I knew we needed to trust Jesus in the midst of dark doubts and my weak faith, knowing that Jesus is our shield and His way is best, and LeAnne and I needed to get ready to return to Iraq.” A day later they left for Iraq. Two days after arriving in their apartment, rockets fell on their city. “I preached at our church in Iraq the following weekend,” he writes. And he says, “I’m so glad we came back. Would you keep us in your prayers? Pray that the church will remain strong and hold out the hope of the Gospel. Pray that we will shine like stars in the midst of a dark and depraved generation.” 

Here’s my question. Why would he leave a church he loves, why would he leave his grandkids, his children, people who know him and love him and are encouraging him to stay, when no one would fault him for staying where he was, why would he go back? Of course you know the answer. The Lamb is worthy. Or as Revelation 12:11 says, “He did not love His life so much as to shrink from death.” The Lamb is worthy. 

Last picture – and I did get permission to share this. Two men from Memphis graduated from college at the same time, Alan and Tom. Before they started their businesses they made a pact with their wives and with each other to live radically generous lives, to mimic the generosity of their father – their father on this earth and in this culture. They agreed to cap their salaries at $150,000 a year no matter how well their businesses would do. Now remember, these guys had just gotten out of college; $150,000 a year seemed astronomical. But they said, “We’re going to cap it. No matter how God blesses us, even though we’re only making $35,000 a year now, no matter how God blesses us we won’t take more than $150,000 a year salary. The rest we’ll give away. We’ll invest in the spread of the Gospel.”

Over time, the Lord did more than they could have ever imagined. Each of their businesses is now generating over $500 million per year; each of their businesses generating over $500 million a year. And to this day, they are still being paid $150,000 a year. Consequently, each of them is giving away millions and millions of dollars each month for the spread of the Gospel across the world. They’ve taken it one step farther. They’ve put each of those companies into a donor-advised fund, governed by an independent board of governors, directors, so that they’ll be even more free to invest that money as they had initially designed. To this day, these two men meet every Saturday morning to walk around their modest neighborhood to remind each other of their pact and to celebrate the stories of what God is doing through their generosity.

Why would they do that? They’re worth extravagant amounts of money. They could live in opulence. Why would they live in relative ordinariness? Maybe because the Lamb is worthy? Think about it. How much money could God entrust to you before you would start living a really self-absorbed life – more houses and more stuff and more displays of the wealth that God has entrusted to you. These men live their lives the way they do to very clearly say, “I’m not an owner. I’m not a consumer of this wealth. I’m a steward, temporarily. It’s God’s money and we want to accelerate the return of the King however aggressively we can.”

What could God entrust into your care without you becoming very self-absorbed? The Lamb is worthy. Or turning it around another way – of what would the Lamb not be worthy of in your life? Where would you draw the line? “I’ll sacrifice this, this and this, but I draw the line with my kids. Don’t You dare take my grandkids away!” I heard of someone saying to their mother, “I believe God’s calling us into ministry into this different country,” and the mother said, “How dare you do that to me!” Where would you draw the line? Of what would the Lamb not be worthy in your life? 

See, there’s a point coming when the Great Commission will be no more. We won’t send out missionaries anymore. We won’t have mission conferences anymore. It will be done! And the Lord Jesus will gather us all up, we who claim to know Him and celebrate our belonging to Him, and He’ll say one of two things and only one of these two things. He will say, “Well done! Well done, good and faithful servant!” Or absent that, He’ll say, “Well, you done.” And that’s it. The Lamb is worthy. Those who go forth weeping, carrying their seed with them, will doubtless come back with shouts of joy and victory, resounding in their homes and in their lives. What resounds in your life as you look at the flags, as you read the Mission Conference booklet, as you hear the stories? Of what is the Lamb worthy in your life? Let’s pray together.

Father, we are reminded of what the apostle John declares in Revelation 7 – the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our Shepherd and He will guide us to springs of living water, eternal springs of living water, and You Yourself will wipe every tear from our eyes. No matter what the weeping, no matter what the grieving, the loss, the risk, the sacrifice, You will make good on Your promise so we, with joy for all eternity, will proclaim, “The Lamb is worthy!” Would You help us to live lives that display that declaration today? – “Worthy is the Lamb!” We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.



The Fuel for Mission

By / Feb 23

Well this evening we’re going to be taking a short break from our series in the Beatitudes to look at what ought to be a very well-known passage of Scripture to many of us since it is our theme verse for the year. So let me invite you to turn with me to Peter’s first epistle, 1 Peter chapter 2, and we’re going to be reading from verse 9 through to verse 12. 

In these verses we’re going to notice and we’re going to explore how Peter, he outlines, I think quite marvelous, some of the elements that God has, in His sovereign mercy and grace, He has gifted and given to the church, to us as His people, to act as a fuel for mission, as a fuel for mission. And part of the reason that we’re looking at this and considering this and reflecting upon this, this evening, is in light of our upcoming global Mission Conference that begins on Wednesday. We’re heard a lot of details about that both at the morning service and Wiley has reminded us this evening. Once again, pick up one of the brochures that’s around the place and just get involved, if nothing else, but at least be knowing how you can be praying for our missionaries and the conference at large. 

Now many of you will know that the vision of First Presbyterian Church is to glorify God. It’s to worship and adore the One who is the Lamb who is worthy and who was slain. Ed expounded that in quite some detail this morning. But we are to glorify God by making disciples. And where are we commissioned to make those disciples? Well, it’s on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and of course around the world. And this implies that if we as a church exist to make disciples, which is the heart of God in Matthew 28 and throughout the New Testament and it’s rooted in the book of Genesis, but if that is why we exist, is to make disciples, then we also need to admit that the church really has very little to do with the place and the building. This is the hub where we gather to worship and exalt the risen Christ. It’s the place where we are equipped as brothers and sisters, as saints, in order to go out and fulfill that which God has commissioned to us as His body. And so it concerns people living together in covenant relationship through the grace of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Just as a quick aside, that’s partly what we witnessed just last week’s Sunday where men and women professed their faith, covenanting before God and us as the community of faith here at First Pres, to be gathered and to be used of God in the explosive expulsion of the Gospel to the ends of the world. It’s for the glory of God and for the good of the world that the church exists. Nothing more; nothing less. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing that has been entrusted to us by the Lord Himself.

Now let me take you back a little bit to the book of Acts. Just after Pentecost, you will remember that the church was growing. In fact, it’s very clear that we could say that the church was a church that was on mission, where mission began in the family and in the neighborhoods in which they lived. It began in the marketplaces. It began in the schools. Every relationship was impacted by this new identity that had been given to the men and the women who had been changed for the sake and the cause of the Gospel. They understood that the world that they lived in did not know the Lord Jesus Christ and they also understood that the world that they lived in needed the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s that combination that fueled them to go and tell despite the cost. Their world, it certainly wasn’t free and as hospitable as it is here in the United States; not at all. In fact, if you lived as a Christian you marked yourself as an enemy of the state, an enemy of Nero. 

And it’s into that context that the apostle Peter is writing this letter that, as many of you know, David has been working through over the last few months in the morning services. One author summarized the first few centuries of the church as follows. He said, “They strove to spread the Gospel and stay alive.” It’s not what we think are the two phrases that would go together, but you just think about what happened in Jerusalem when the persecution came. There was this explosive expulsion as missionaries went out to Asia Minor. They went east into India and they went south to Africa and the Middle East. And we know from the records outside of Scripture and in Scripture that many of those new communities began to face the persecution of the Roman State and the growing Roman Empire. Many of them found themselves living in caves and in the forests because they were committed to spread the Gospel message and stay alive.

Now brothers and sisters, God is always at work in the hearts of men and women. He is at work in ways we just can’t always perceive and we don’t understand. He is on mission to redeem the other sheep that are not yet a part of the fold. The same God who condescended to redeem us in Christ, the One who has promised and told us in Scripture that He prepares a home for us, He is the same one who calls and who burdens and who sends His church – local congregations, ordinary men and women in local congregations – into the world to bear witness to His grace, making the Gospel of Christ clear and compelling to those who have not yet heard this good news. 

And what we’re going to see in these verses as we look at verses 9 through 12 is that Peter tells us that a church on mission thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. Thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. And so without further adieu, let us turn to God’s Word, and as we read it, we will then pray just afterwards. This is God’s holy and inerrant Word. 1 Peter, chapter 2 from verse 9. Peter writes:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Praise be to God for His Word. Let’s bow our heads as we go to the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we give You thanks and praise for the revelation of truth that You have entrusted to the church. Father, thank You that You have shone the light of the Gospel upon our hearts. And we pray, Lord, that this evening, that You would continue to open up the Word of truth. Draw us in. Cause our hearts to be stirred so that we may love Jesus Christ all the more. And Lord, that our desire, our sole desire would be to do that which He has called us to do. And we pray this and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Mateo Langat was a man, a very young man, when he first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his mother tongue when a couple of missionaries came through his village and they settled there for a couple of years learning the language, and eventually understanding the language sufficiently they then explained the good news of the Gospel. And it is said that he was one of the early converts to Christianity amongst the Kipsigis people in Kenya. As he matured and as he grew up, he went on to be a preacher and a pastor amongst the same community, amongst the same community in which he grew up, and in one of his sermons that was translated into English in 1976 he gives this analogy. He says, “Here in Africa, one person cannot cultivate with oxen by himself. There must be people in the field to guide the oxen on each side as well as one who holds the plow. Likewise, one cannot be the church by himself. He must call others who are in Christ to work together.”

I think in some sense it’s quite a beautiful analogy of what we’re going to be looking at this evening. It’s this united witness of the body, the united witness of the church that impacts a rebellious and a fallen world. That’s the testimony of the early church. They were thinking and speaking and acting consistently with that which they read in the Gospel and in the narratives that had been left for them. They had been so changed by it. And we have these records given to us throughout the course of church history which will tell us similar stories and similar details in various countries. One of the great church historians of the 19th century, Kenneth Latourette, he writes with regard to the missionary advance that was propelled out of Europe and out of North America, in other words, the transatlantic protestant community. He writes this. That, “The missionary advance of Christianity into a global religion was the result of sacrificial, unconstrained donations of many millions of individuals, both people and resources.” It was being gripped by something larger than themselves, something of heaven we might say, and binding themselves together to be involved in reaching those who have not yet heard the good news, who are still in spiritual darkness.

By the way, we live in a day and age where we think that most people have heard about Jesus Christ, but there are nations around the world where there are very few Christians, if any in some of those communities. So many of the languages of this planet still need to be translated into their mother tongue. The mission is not finished. 

Now as we have already mentioned, Peter is writing this letter to a community who are under persecution. He’s writing to them who face the prospect of increasing and greater persecution if they stick with their convictions. And even though he knows they are facing increasing persecution, he does not write to say and ask them to back off. But in actual fact, in the midst of this clear and present danger, he gives them further instructions to stand their ground and press on with what God has called them to do. So firstly, the church on mission thinks consistently. We are to be governed by who we are in Jesus Christ, knowing our identity so that we think consistently and in light of that. 

A Church on Mission Thinks Consistently

Peter presses this home I think for us in verse 9 of the text where he uses a series of identity descriptors regarding the Christian where he says, “You are a chosen race. You are a royal priesthood. You are a holy nation. You are a people for His own possession.” One of the things I was reminded of just this afternoon as I was reflecting on this again is the Trinitarian language or the implications of the Trinity that are given to us in those phrases. A chosen race. That’s part of the work of the Father. A royal priesthood is part of the work of the Son. And then you’ve got a holy nation. That’s part of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. And then he wraps it up by saying as a result of the work of the Trinity, He has made you “a people for His own possession.” He holds you together. He has you in the palm of His hand, and so much more.

These are remarkable, if not even astonishing statements, these phrases. This was a Jewish man who, in his day, was writing to a mixed community of Jew and Gentile believers and he was giving them the label that is deeply entrenched in that which God called His people back in Genesis and Exodus. And he’s doing this intentionally; using historically rich and Biblical language to remind the Jews of their history, but secondly to remind the Gentiles who have now been grafted in, “You have the same identity as the people of God because you are a true Israel.” And of course, Romans 9 verses 3 through 11 goes into much greater detail with regards to that. 

What was so important about this? Because in a world where different groups, people were being divided by race, where one tribe steeped in its own cultural traditions was pitting itself against another tribe with its own cultural traditions, where people would distinguish themselves on the basis of socio-economic issues and many other issues – here comes Peter and he says to them, “Oh, you all, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” And he tells them, “You are one in Christ.”

Now to understand the terms, these terms of identity, we have to go back to God’s call to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 where God says through His Spirit, or He speaks to Abraham and He says that through Abraham’s offspring the nations will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, the nation of Israel itself had been the recipients of God’s abundant mercy and grace. But that mercy and grace was never meant to end with them. They were always meant to be the conduits of mercy and grace – “As you have received, so you are to give as well.” And then in Exodus chapter 19, right before God gives Israel the Ten Commandments, He says in verse 5, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant you will be My treasured possession among all peoples.” And then in verse 6, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 

Do you hear what Peter is doing? He’s picking up on the terminology that was given to God’s covenant people in the old covenant, in the Old Testament, and he is applying it to the new covenant community. They were always meant to be a light to the nations, Isaiah 49 verse 6. But that doesn’t happen. The record of the Old Testament tells us that. Israel failed, and in some sense we might say Israel failed dismally. God did not choose Israel because they were bigger or better or brighter than the other nations. No, He chose them because He placed His love upon them. But unfortunately, what happens all too often is that Israel misconstrued God’s mercy, thinking that God preferred them over the other nations; that God loved them and did not love the other nations. And with that, they lost sight of the mission that had been entrusted to them. And the result was that they thought more highly of themselves, they forgot God, they forgot God’s purpose, they forgot the plan of redemption. They became dark like the surrounding nations as they became inward focused, living as if they had not received mercy and certainly appearing as if they had not come across as God’s people, set apart. And so as they turned their back on the covenant, guess what happened – God judged them and the record of that is in the Judges and of course throughout the prophets. 

Brother Andrew, he was a smuggler of Bibles amongst other things back in the days of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, he took, I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of Bibles behind the scenes. But he once wrote this. He said, “Persecution is an enemy the church has met and mastered many times.” What was he saying? He was saying and he was trying to communicate that when persecution comes to the church, the church, after it reorients itself, it knows where to turn to find refuge – and that is in the arms of the Savior. But then he continues in that quote. He says, “However, indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe.” What’s he saying there? When we don’t recognize the mercy and grace of God and give thanks and praise and adoration and worship to the One who is worthy and who is on the throne, when we assume these things were due to us, we become indifferent to those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness and on the path to hell. 

Let’s extrapolate this to the 21st century. Is it possible that the reason that the Western church – and I’m speaking broadly here – but is it possible that the Western church is in such a dismal condition where spiritual poverty abounds and where willful and unconstrained sinfulness is flaunted as good under the banner of the church, is it possible that we too have lost sight of God’s overarching, massive and glorious vision to reach the nations with Jesus Christ, and our focus is turned inward instead of actually seeing what God can do through His church, by faith, with an expulsive power of a new affection?

Friends, having been given our new identity in Christ, let us be a people who boldly pray that God would renew and refresh our thinking and our mind so that our thinking would be consistent with that whom we have been declared to be in light of our union with Jesus, so that when we pursue our daily bread, when we go about the regular routines of life on the North State Street corridor and the greater Jackson area that we would truly grasp that we are set apart for His purpose, for His glory; therefore, our lives will exude worship, adoration, and that we are living for our great King of kings and Lord of lords. This is what Peter is pressing home for us – a sense of our identity, to think consistently in light of the Gospel in who you are.

A Church on Mission Speaks Consistently

And that brings us to the second point. And for those of you who were worried, the first point is always the longest so you can relax! So secondly, the church on mission is to speak consistently. It’s to speak consistently. We have a message to proclaim. The message is given to us in the revelation of God Himself, but the message is also something that we embody because we have experienced the transformation ourselves. You know, when you think of the epistles of the apostle Paul, one of the traits that characterizes his letters is he always begins with his name. That was the traditional way of beginning 1st century letter writing or the format. But immediately after giving his name he would, in many cases, describe an aspect of his identity in Christ. And so some of the examples would be, he says that he is “a servant of Christ, an apostle of Jesus, he is called by the will of God.” Why does he do that? I often wonder whether he introduces himself and then immediately reminds himself that his identity constrains that which he is going to write about and that which he is going to call the Christian community to obey. You see, our thinking has an impact on our speech and on our actions, hence, we are called to dig down deep into the Scriptures and understand who God is, all that He has done for us, and of course all that He has made us to be. 

In our text in these verses in 1 Peter, Peter reminds us that the message includes our experiential knowledge – three things. That God has sovereignly called us out of darkness and into His light; that there was a time when we were not God’s people but now we are God’s people. That there was a time when we were under God’s wrath because we have not received mercy, but now we are a people who have received God’s mercy. And you see, it’s these three sets of antithetical statements, this figure of speech, that reminds us of the two paths that every single person is on one or the other. There is no middle ground. It’s either darkness or light. It’s mercy or no mercy. It’s God’s people or not God’s people.

And so this speech, this message, this antithetical use of language that is given in these terms, in these phrases, that ought to be something that fuels and shapes our own conversations with people. Do you remember what it was like to be searching for truth and yet be walking in spiritual blindness and darkness? Now some of you have grown up in the church and we praise God that there had never been a moment where you have not known the good news of Jesus. But there are many of you here who can testify that there was a season when you were walking in spiritual darkness; even though you were hungering for truth, you could not find it. And so you would turn to the philosophers of this age, you would turn to other religions, you would turn to false gurus and there would still be no hope until God came down and He opened your eyes, and like the apostle Paul, it’s like scales fell from your eyes and all of a sudden you’ve got it because God had done the work in the heart to bring you to repentance and faith.

You see, when He opens our eyes to grasp true truth, this Jesus we recognize He is the light who dispels our darkness. Don’t ever forget that. That’s a part of your testimony that people who are in darkness; they need to know that’s what it was once like, but I also am now on the other side and I can testify to grace and mercy and love and all the other traits with that. Let your remembrance of His mercy towards you propel you to herald Him to be the light of the nations. Friends, when this message collides, this message of mercy, this remembrance of mercy, when it collides with your abiding love for your fellow image bearers – whether they be in your family, whether they be friends, whether they be in your community – when the message collides with love for those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness, it produces a longing within us; a longing to pray for them, a longing for them to know the mercy that you yourself have been a recipient of; the One who is all merciful in a very merciless world. We long for them to be enveloped into God’s people, to have a new identity and to understand what that means, where they can drop the facades that the world has pressured them to take on and that they can simply rejoice in the glory and the grace of who this God is. And so we pray, we remember our testimony, and we wait for opportunities to weave our testimony of mercy and grace into the conversations of everyday life, entrusting that God, in His perfect timing, will use our lisping tongues to bring light in the midst of the darkness of those who are still trapped at this very point in time.

A Church on Mission Acts Consistently

And so Peter presses home the importance of thinking consistently and speaking consistently and then thirdly, he reminds us that the church on mission acts consistently. We are to live godly lives. Peter now, intentionally I believe, draws our attention to two spheres of action – the one is positive and the one is negative. The negative one, he says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and the positive one is, “Act honorably,” so that even when they criticize the message that you embody, they still can say, “It’s good to have Christians in our neighborhood and community because of their acts of mercy, because of their love, because of their grace, because of their peace” and many of the other fruit of the Spirit and so much more. “It’s good to have them here.”

Friends, using the language of Peter is verse 11, as a sojourner and as an exile, you are passing through this place. You do not belong here, if you belong to Jesus. Your true home is in heaven. Do not get too comfortable here please. Comfort can bring the rot of immobilizing the church. And so he says to us, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh.” That’s the negative injunction. Flee from that which was consistent with the path of life that you once were on – the path of darkness. And for those of you who have been reading the chronological Bible this past week, you will know that a number of injunctions were given to us in Leviticus where God was saying, “Don’t do this. Flee from this. Abstain from this.” That’s what Peter is referencing and he’s calling it to mind. 

Let me ask you a quick question. If you and I are on the path of life, why do you want to pick at the rotting carcass of your sin on the other side of the road? That’s meant to be a stench to us. We want nothing to do with it. Flee from those things. Abstain. It’s what Paul is calling us to. Friends, it’s not just that by nibbling at a little bit of sin here and there is going to have an effect in terms of giving us a virus or bacteria. Look what Peter says. He says these passions of the flesh, they wage war against your soul, and ultimately it compromises the witness of Christ to the world. But then he doesn’t just give us the negative; he also gives us the positive where he says, “Live out that which is consistent with your new identity and your new home. Don’t do that. Do this. Flee from that. This is what you should be pursuing and asking God to grow you in.”

Let me close with this. As you look at these four verses, the progression of Peter’s thought and his argument for me is pretty magnificent actually. And it’s very possible that Peter’s own rambunctious pilgrimage has given him a deeper understanding of what he is writing to the church. I mean, how many times does Peter say something on the spur of the moment or do something on the spur of the moment and Jesus has to rebuke him? But immediately after rebuking him, Jesus Christ restores him with gentleness and in grace. And when Peter, after the resurrection, truly understands who Jesus is and who Jesus has made him to be as a disciple of Christ, his speech and his actions were forever changed and he was emboldened by the Spirit to go and do whatever he was called to do, whatever the cost, sacrificially. 

Friends, have there been inconsistencies in our thinking, in our speech, in our actions? I think that every single one of us can say, “Absolutely there have been inconsistencies.” And it’s a reminder to us that there is only One who is perfectly consistent in all that He has ever done and said and thought, and that’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He’s the One that lived the life that we could not live and He laid down His life for us so that we would find life, and life in abundance. But the point here is, in the midst of the inconsistencies of our thinking, of our speech and our action – are we a people who are quick when God brings that to our conscience, are we quick to repent and come back to the Savior and say, “Father, forgive me”? But not just to leave it there. “Now, quicken and embolden me and give me a desire to go and be the person amongst Your people that You have called us to be.”

Friends, our great King is advancing His kingdom. The mystery is that He has entrusted the mission to the church and it’s a beautiful thing. And as a church that’s on mission, my heart cry is that we would be a people who pray fervently that God would reform and refresh and revive us in our thinking, in our actions, and in our speech; that the consistency would be evident to a watching world because of our love for the Savior. And so, this fuel for mission, these elements that are fuel for mission, ultimately they need to be ignited by the sovereign hand of God. And we can pray for that as we ask God to send revival perhaps, and to reform the church. 

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, if you have been saved by God’s grace then let me remind you once again that “You are a chosen race, you are a royal priesthood, you are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” You and I are recipients of mercy upon mercy upon mercy and grace upon grace upon grace. And we’re going to be further reminded of that as we come to the Table in a short while. Aren’t we? That we get to gather around this table as the community here at First Pres, but let us not stay with First Pres because this Table extends across the world where millions, untold millions are gathering and have gathered. And it crosses the space-time continuum. And part of the reason that we come here is to feed on Christ by faith, to be strengthened, to be emboldened so that we must go and tell the message to the sheep that still need to be brought into the fold. Let us pray that God would impress that upon our hearts as we enter into global missions conference week, and that would be in our own lives that we would have a growing desire for fuel for mission as well and to go and do that. 

Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Shall we? Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we give You praise and we give You thanks. We adore You for sending Your Son, the Lamb who was slain. Father, we thank You that in these few verses You once again remind us of what You have called us to think, to speak, and to act as Your church and ultimately to be burdened with a desire to see the good news of the Gospel that has penetrated and changed our lives, to see that go out to the nations. But Father, may we not take our eyes off the fact that there are people in our own neighborhoods who are not yet in the light. Father, commit us to prayer. Open our eyes; may we be fervent in looking for opportunities so that Jesus Christ may be praised. And we ask this and pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.



Scandalous Love

By / Feb 24


Relational Evangelism Session 2

By / Feb 23


Relational Evangelism Session 1

By / Feb 22


Do not Lose Heart: A Cross-Shaped Mission

By / Feb 17

Good morning. It’s a great joy to be worshipping the Lord together with you this morning. Would you bow your head with me and pray as we ask the Lord to reveal to us this morning His good news from His Word.

 

Father, our hearts are thirsty for the joy and the wellspring of life from Your Word. And we pray this morning that as we come and hear from it, Lord, that Your Spirit would be among us, that Your Spirit would open our eyes to see Jesus and the glory of the risen Son of God that we might delight and find joy in being Your children and worshipping You today. It’s in Your name we pray, Lord. Amen.

 

Friends, it’s a great joy to be with you. My name is ———————-. I am one of the missionaries sent out from this church working in —————–. And we have been greatly blessed by your church praying for our family and caring for us and supporting us as we’ve been kicked out of our field of work and have relocated to —————–. where we are now. This morning as we come to God’s Word, we’re going to be looking at 2 Corinthians chapter 4. I invite you to open your Bibles there right now. But 2 Corinthians chapter 4 is a place where Paul is really showing a depiction of his ministry, the struggles that he went through. And I think as you guys begin to talk about evangelism as a church and developing a culture of evangelism as a church, this passage really helps us understand the heart of Paul and what ministry looked like for him and the heart of Jesus and how this ministry is shaped by the community, by the church.

 

So do open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians chapter 4. This morning we'll be looking at verses 1 and 5 through 12, and then in the evening, we'll be looking at 13 through the end of the chapter. In your pew Bible, I believe it's on page 965. Hear now the Word of the Lord:

 

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

 

Friends, this is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, as it is without flaw. It is for our good and your joy and His glory. Thanks be to God.

 

Ed asked me to speak on evangelism as we are preparing for this Missions Conference focused on developing a culture of evangelism. And so I thought this morning that I would begin by sharing with you my most recent experience in evangelism. We were in Orlando about a week ago on a sunny, Saturday morning, 75 degrees – a beautiful Florida day. And I was in the backyard with my kids and some of the neighbor kids and they were playing and there was a knock at the door. And a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses had come down the street and were doing the rounds in the neighborhood. On Saturdays, they are regularly out on Saturdays doing that. Well, I saw, scanned the street and saw that there were quite a few of them out that day and I thought to myself, "This would be a great opportunity to practice what I'm preaching! This would be a great opportunity to sit with these neighbors and share with them the glorious riches of the Gospel." And so I invited them inside. They came in, we had a brief interchange, we went through the Gospel and sure enough, they became Christian! No, that's not what happened! Everybody's just looking at disbelief at me! I did think that though. "This would be a wonderful opportunity to share with these neighbors the good news of the Gospel." But then I thought, "But I'm just so busy right now." And I didn't. And I actually waited until they left behind the house.

 

And I share that with you sort of as a confession to say to you that I desperately need the motivation, the power, and the strength of Jesus to help me do something that I know I’m supposed to do but I struggle in doing. And maybe you’re not like me. Maybe that’s not an issue for me. But this passage is helpful for me. Paul is helpful for me showing this picture of what Gospel ministry looks like and how we as Christ’s church are on mission for God being the light of the good news of Jesus in a dark world, bringing it into the dark world. And there are three things I want to show you from this passage that Paul pulls out for us. Three things to help us move outside ourselves on an incredibly hopeful mission together – this mission that God has called His church to be on with Him. The message that we carry will be the first point. The second point, the nature of the messenger. And then finally, the means or the way in which the world is going to see Christ in the church, in us. And my goal for us this morning is that our hearts would be so captivated by the beauty of Jesus and the joy of His Gospel that we would be compelled, we would be compelled to commend Him to our friends and the world, no matter what the cost is.

 

The Message of This Mission

So first, the message of this mission; the message of the Gospel. Paul says in verse 5, “for what we proclaim, for what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” This, friends, is the message. This is the message he is saying we proclaim. In another place, Paul puts it this way. He says, “We proclaim Christ and him crucified.” Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ and Him crucified. This frames the meat of Paul’s understanding of who Christ is and what Christ did. That Jesus the Nazarene, who walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, is Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. He is sovereign God incarnate. God with skin on. All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him. And He demands our allegiance. He deserves our allegiance.

 

Christ

But more than that, He is also a loving Redeemer. And in His selfless love for His sinful creation, He stepped into history, He demonstrated His love by His willingness to die on the cross, a guiltless death, forgiving us of our sins, giving us His righteousness, justifying us, adopting us into His family, taking upon Himself the sin and the shame of the world in order to rise again from the dead, defeat death and totally subvert the world’s notions of power and might and to prove both God’s mercy and justice on that cross. And He will sanctify us. He’ll give us His Spirit. He’ll change us. He’ll make us more like Christ – the full expression of the glory of God. And what Paul says in verse 6, he says, “This Jesus is that! The full expression of the glory of God.” What was veiled in Moses, what was veiled to the priests in the tabernacle and the temple and to the unbelieving world by the veil of darkness, he says in verse 3, you can now see explicitly in the face of Jesus. In another place, Paul says “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ.”

 

News

You see, friends, what we proclaim, what we are heralds of as Christians in this mission of God, we proclaim this good news of who Jesus is and what Christ has done for us. And friends, it is news. It is news. It is not self-help. It is not good advice. It is not a new leaf people need to turn over. It is not a new way to live. It is news that you and I are desperately evil and lost and failing to live in the fullness that God has created us to live in. And this Jesus has, in His life, death, and resurrection, made a way for all who would believe in Him to receive God, to receive the light in the darkness of our hearts, as Paul says, that we might see the very face of God in Christ, unveiled. Now, what a message that is. What a powerful message. What good news that is!

 

Light

And look at how Paul describes what that news does to our hearts. Look at verse 6. “God said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.’ He has shown in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Paul here is reaching back to Genesis chapter 1 verse 3. In the very words of creation that God spoke to miraculously bring light from darkness, something from nothing. And what he’s saying is that every single one of us, every single one of you, if you are a born again Christian, if you believe and trust in Jesus’ name, this was no less a creation miracle equal to God speaking the Word out of nothing. And it is not because you are more special. It is not because you are smarter or more capable or gifted. It wasn’t because you were beautiful. Jesus came to make you beautiful. Jesus came – the work of God is entirely initiated by Him, completed by Him. Jesus didn’t choose you because you are greater than someone else. He chose you because of His grace towards you. You didn’t have anything to do with it any more than you had something to do with your own natural birth. You see, what Paul is saying is that your value, your identity is ontological. It is spoken into existence by a living and loving heavenly God. It’s spoken into existence. It’s not earned. And He invites you and calls you into fellowship with Him, with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.

 

I don’t know about you, but my experience of evangelism last week, there’s a lot of pessimism in my heart, there’s a lot of fear in my heart, and there’s a lot of pride in my heart that led me to chose poorly how I spent my Saturday afternoon. But what does a message like this do to our pessimism? It dismantles it. It says that nobody is beyond the reach of grace. Neither is anyone beyond the need of grace. And what does it do for our fears? It says that we don’t have anything to fear. We have nothing to lose because it’s God who works, it’s God who calls, it’s God who justifies. What does it do to your pride in evangelism? What does it do to your pride? The Gospel undermines that and it says that it has nothing to do with us. It dismantles the pretense in us and humbles us because we didn’t do anything to deserve it. You see, this is a beautiful message that we’re called to proclaim as ambassadors of Christ in this world.

 

Nature of the Messenger

Well while marveling at this message of incredible value and our identity that we have in Christ, those who have seen the face of God, Paul goes on to say in verse 7 a little bit more about the fact that this message should humble us as messengers, as bearers of this message. Look at verse 7 with me. Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” When I proposed to my wife thirteen years ago it was at a beautiful overlook in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, a beautiful part of the country, and I did what any good romantic man would do – I made sure it was a perfect scene, everything was going as planned, I got down on one knee, pulled out the blue box with the ring in it, I opened it up and asked her to be my wife and she looked at it and said, “Wow! What a beautiful box! I can’t believe you got me that box!” No, she said, “Look at that beautiful ring!” That was the point of it.

 

Power and Weakness

And what Paul is trying to say here in this passage is that the clay pot that we so often elevate, the clay pot – he's using a metaphor here, a common item that is quickly thrown away, that serves its purpose to be a vessel of something of importance, but it's quickly thrown away. He's using this metaphor to say that we are that. We so often think it's the box that counts. We so often think the box needs to be more beautiful, more special. But Paul says no. The box must decrease so that the beauty of the ring might increase. I want to suggest to you today that God didn't pick Paul, He didn't pick you and He didn't pick me because of some great worth that we have to bring to Him, because of some ability we have. He picked us not even in spite of our weaknesses but because of our weaknesses because God likes to make foolish the things of the world because God is designing something beautiful in both the incredible power of the message that we bear and the weakness and brokenness of the messenger.

 

The Gap

They're both entirely unexpected. They're both entirely unexpected to the world. And there's something about the message of the Gospel that requires a certain kind of messenger. You see, God has called you and me not in spite of our weaknesses and brokenness but in fact, because of them because God wants to call attention not to you or to me but to the gap between the all-surpassing power and majesty and holiness of God and the complete and utter weakness and brokenness of the messenger. God has designed this gap to be the place where the extent and the beauty of His glory are put on display for all the world to see. And the greater the gap, the bigger the Jesus. Later in chapter 12, Paul says that God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited, to keep him humble, to call attention to that gap. Because it's in that gap where he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

 

And friends, it's my tendency, it's our tendency and sin that as messengers we get incredibly uncomfortable with that gap and we try to narrow it by pretending and performing, we try to compensate for the harsh reality that we are deeply, deeply flawed and that God's holy and majestic nature is so much greater than us. And we need that Gospel, we need that Gospel to bridge the gap. Not calling attention to the box, but to the treasure that's inside. As Christians, we often think that the onlooking world, what they need from the church is a bunch of put-together, capable, smarter, articulate do-gooders. "If they could only see us be a little better. If they could only see us putting our best foot forward a little better." But that's the exact opposite of what I think the world needs to see.

 

Some of the most powerful moments that I’ve seen in our little church in ————– is when the preacher repents from the pulpit, when he mourns his sin visibly and lets the Gospel work in his heart. He shows the gap. This might show or demonstrate an incompetent or sinful minister, but it sure demonstrates the beauty of the treasure that’s there. Not to call attention to the person, but to call attention to what Christ has done in the person, that which was of surpassing worth. Some of the most beautiful conversations that we’ve had with new believers in the church and people who have joined our church was always how they saw in the brokenness and in the repentance of that community the grace of Jesus exemplified. You see, friends, it’s in the gap where Christ manifests the true power for witnessing to this world through His Spirit in your life. When we become less, He only then becomes so much more. And isn’t that what the world needs – much more of Jesus and much less of me?

 

Well, Paul goes on to describe his experience of proclaiming the Gospel. Part of the criticism of Paul from the critics of Paul that he's answering in this letter is that they criticized him for suffering. They said, "Because Paul is suffering and out there having so much persecution, it must mean that God is not with him!" But Paul says, "No, it's because of the message that I proclaim that these afflictions are upon me, that I am suffering. There is persecution because of this." And he goes on to say his experience of being crushed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. By this, what he's saying is that the Christian experience of suffering and persecution is actually normative for how the Gospel goes forward. It's not the exception; it's not the exception.

 

The Means of How the Gospel Goes Forward

Look at this third point with me – verses 11 and 12 – the means of how the Gospel goes forward. He says this in verse 11, "Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are also being given over to death, for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." Two principles that I want to end with today about how the kingdom of Jesus advances through these clay pots. The first is this. The first is this, friends – we are not above our Master. We are not above our Master. We must also bear the cross. We die that others might live. That's the dynamic that Paul is pulling out here. That's what he's showing us – death for life. Paul says it another place. "I want to share in Jesus' sufferings, becoming like Him in His death."

 

Carrying a Cross

Friends, the way the Gospel goes forward to our friends and neighbors and the nations has always been and always will be patterned after our Savior. Christians choosing to lay down their rights and not fight for them. To give up honor and influence, not pursue them. To love others selflessly and leave comfort and safety, forgiving our enemies. What Paul is saying is that in doing so, we participate in the death of Christ. We die little deaths every day. We carry a cross because there’s no resurrection without a cross. That’s how we live. If you want to live in resurrection power, you need to meet Jesus at the cross first and see the work of dying as the means to bring life to others and life to you too. The cross always comes before the resurrection.

 

Let me give you a few examples of what this looks like. In ————–, a huge part of our ministry is hospitality. Sacrificing your home, opening up your home, practicing hospitality – welcoming in orphans and neighbors and immigrants and students, people who wouldn’t otherwise have a home. It’s one of the most powerful evangelism tools. It’s when you’re able to see your home not as yours but as God’s gift to you to use for the furtherance of His kingdom in this world. There’s a great little book on this by Rosaria Butterfield called, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and I commend that to you. It’s a great example, a great story of Christians using their home to further the Gospel in their communities.

 

Another wonderful way we see this worked out is fostering kids, orphan care, elder care. You die a lot when you do those things. One of my really great joys and something that excites me a lot about our church in ———– – seeing our small groups going out on mission together to orphanages, going to elder homes, serving them, loving them; serving people who could never repay them, who could never give them anything back. And loving them. That's dying to self so that others might live. We live in a city in ————– of 12 million people but there's so much loneliness, so much brokenness, and addiction and pain. And just being friends with people who otherwise wouldn't have friends – what a ministry that is. Who can you befriend? Who can you reach out to and listen to and care for and serve? See, friends, the way the church goes forward is patterned after our Savior. It's not by pursuing prosperity or influence. Our witnessing is by being kind, by being patient, by being prayerful, by serving, by being hospitable, loving self-sacrificially. This is what death for life means.

 

Christ Being Manifested

And that's not all. Look at what Paul also says. This is how we're going to be able to do that. This is where we're going to be able to get the resources and strength to do those things. He says this – "so that the life of Jesus also be made manifested in our mortal flesh." Don't you see, on one hand, there is dying so that others may have life, but at the same time, there is Christ's life being made manifested in us so that we also might live. He's saying that you might lose everything else for the sake of Christ but you get Christ! And what joy comes with getting Christ. When I read this passage I can't help but think about Galatians 2:20 as well where he uses similar language. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me." Or Colossians 3:3-4, "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."

 

Friends, what Paul is saying is that somehow, though you are here in the flesh, though you are being given over to death, your life isn’t. Your life is hidden with Christ. It is united to Him, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Now I don’t understand how all this works. There’s mystery to it to some degree. But at the very least it means this – as Paul says, “by our death, the life of Jesus is made manifested in us.” Nothing, nothing that happens to you can ruin you. Death can’t touch you. It can’t destroy you. It can’t end you. It can only serve to propel you deeper and deeper into Christ and ultimately into the very presence of Christ in heaven. Because “Christ died once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God,” He’s got you. You’re in His grip. Your life is hidden in Him. Your identity isn’t tied to anything in this world. It’s tied to Him. Nothing about the fluctuations of this world, the up and down markets – if you are tethered to Him, you can give up everything and lose everything but still have everything because you have Him. Nothing can take that from you.

And Paul is saying that life is being made manifest in him by him giving up his life. As Christ gave up His life for the world, so that life of Christ is being manifested in him in this world. All because one man died for your sins and rose that you might rise. And that resurrection power explodes from the cross throughout the world as you bear witness to His name.

 

When our family got kicked out of ————– about six months ago, we felt less like what Paul says in verse 8, “afflicted yet not crushed.” We felt more like what he says in chapter 1 where he writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware brothers of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” The days and nights that my wife and I spent weeping as a family, as we were uprooted from our home watching everything that we had given our life to crumble, taken from us, the depression that I fell into for months where I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning, watching our kids really, really struggle and wrestle through the hardship of being uprooted over there and planted over here, falling behind in school by about a year, losing their friends – our youngest two children still won’t sleep through the night. We were utterly burdened beyond our strength. Where do you find strength for that?

 

Paul goes on with so much hope. He says, “But that was to make us rely on not ourselves but on a God who raises the dead.” Friends, the cross always comes before the resurrection. God brought me out of —————- and put our family through the hardest turmoil that we have ever faced to get me to quit relying on myself and my own strength and to show me again that His power is made perfect in my weakness because He is a God who raises the dead. I might have lost a lot. I might have had a lot of deaths. But really, it was nothing, because I got a greater Jesus. And don’t you know that every cancer that you’ve faced, every bout with depression, every loss of something or someone dear is lovingly designed by your Heavenly Father to plunge you deeper and deeper into His Son, to be like Him in His death and to be filled with His Spirit so that the life-giving light of the knowledge of the glory of God would explode from you in resurrected power to bring that light into the darkest parts of the world. Do you believe it? Do you believe it? Now let’s not lose heart. Shall we pray?

 

Father, thank You so much for this beautiful passage. Lord, thank You for the miracle of our salvation that You spoke light into the darkness of our hearts and You’ve given us Jesus. And that in the face of Christ we see the face of God. We thank You for this beautiful message. Would You, Father, help us to turn to You in strength, in our weakness for strength, to proclaim this message to a world that so desperately needs it. It’s in Christ’s name that we pray, amen.



Do not Lose Heart: A Glorious Vision

By / Feb 17

Good evening, friends. It’s a great joy to be with you again this Lord’s Day evening to look into God’s Word and see what the Spirit has for us. I was reminded after the service this morning that I failed to mention – I kept talking about me and our family being kicked out of our mission field and I never mentioned why we were kicked out. And so somebody said, “Hey, you should probably tell everybody because people are wondering, ‘Why were you kicked out of ———-?’” And so real quick, just in June of this past year, on returning to our country I was not permitted to enter. They deported me to ———-. My wife and kids were in the country. They were there for about six weeks while I was trying to get back to them from ———-. I finally made it back in and the government permitted me to stay for six weeks but then they finally kicked us out and sent us back home to The States. And the reason they gave for doing that was our missionary activity, our ministry that we were doing. So currently, we are in the middle of a court case. I’m trying to get back in and seeking permission to return. So please do pray for us. Our court case was heard, finally, on February 14, and we’re just waiting for the verdict. It could be any day now. Would you bow your heads and pray with me as we come to the Lord and hear from His Word.

 

Father, indeed You have called us, Your people, to be Your light in this world that we should shine before men, that they might see our good works and know You and praise You and worship You. We pray that even tonight as we hear from Your Word that our hearts would be pricked by Your Spirit, that we would see Jesus, that we would be encouraged by His grace and motivated by His grace, that it would compel us to be ministers of this Gospel, to this world that desperately needs it. It’s in His name that we pray, amen.

 

Would you open your Bibles, if you have a copy of God’s Word with you? We are looking at 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. We looked at the first half of that chapter this morning – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. In the pew Bible it’s page 966. Paul writes this:

 

“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

 

Friends, the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of God is forever. And this is God’s Word. It is inerrant, without flaw, it’s for us and to His glory. Amen.

 

Randy Alcorn, in one of his books, writes about a young missionary man named William Borden. William Borden was a Yale graduate, an heir to a great amount of wealth. His parents gave him everything; withheld nothing from him his whole life. After graduating college, he rejected his life of ease. He gave away almost all of his wealth and he moved to Cairo, Egypt to share the story of Jesus with the Muslims of Cairo. After about four months as a missionary in Cairo, he contracted spinal meningitis and he died at the age of 25. If you go to Egypt, if you go visit the pyramids, in the shadow of the pyramids of Egypt, the great tombs of the pharaohs, there is a graveyard of missionaries. And on one of the tombstones of those missionaries is William Borden’s name with the dates 1887-1913. And the epitaph on that stone under his name reads this: “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life as this.” “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life as this.”

 

You see, friends, the implications of what we’re talking about today and what you’re going to be hearing, really what you hear every week from the pulpit, the implications of this – that we are believing in a resurrected Savior and that we are called to be His messengers in this world, to bring this good news of the Gospel to this world – should change the way we live. Shouldn’t it? There should be no explanation in our lives for lives of faith. There should be no worldly explanation for lives of faith. So my question for you this evening is, “What about you? What in your life, what is God leading you to do in this city, in your career choice, in the way you engage injustice or racial reconciliation or loving your neighbors or radical hospitality? What are you doing? Could it be said about you that ‘except for faith in Christ, there is no explanation for the way that you are living your life’?”

 

And I’m helped by Paul again in this passage because Paul really does give us a glorious vision of what faith in Christ produces in a believer on mission with God in this world. He gives us this glorious vision of what faith in Christ produces in a believer on mission with God in this world. Two things in this text that he says are inexplicable for a believer, and third, he says how this grace strengthens us to not lose heart as we endure with perseverance.

 

We Proclaim the Gospel to the Lost

Look in your Bibles at verses 13 and 15. So the first thing he says that’s really inexplicable about a believer is that we proclaim the Gospel to the lost. Look at verse 13 with me. Paul has just finished talking about the principle of how the kingdom of Jesus comes in the world. We looked at that this morning – through weakness and suffering. And then he transitions to this discussion of how death produces life, and life death, and he says, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believe and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and so we also speak.” What’s he doing here? The Bible’s hyperlinked text. Right? Paul, when he is quoting from the Old Testament, Paul in this sense is quoting from the Old Testament, Old Testament writers, and he is interpreting their experiences of suffering and proclaiming the kingdom of God through the lens of the cross. And in this case, he’s referencing Psalm 116:10, a psalm where the psalmist is living the life of faith in the midst of suffering just as Paul was. And he’s identifying with that suffering and applying that psalm to his life now.

 

Believing Leads to Speaking

And Paul is saying, "Because we believe, we also believe, we also are to speak." Paul assumes that if you believe, you should speak. You can't help but speak. There's a connection, a causal relationship between the faith that the Spirit gives you to trust in the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ and to be a recipient of His grace, and then to proclaim that, to speak that to others. You might have heard the famous aphorism attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary" – what? "Use words." Our society, I think though, has this allergic reaction to the Gospel, to the preaching of the Gospel, particularly to the exclusivity of the claims of Jesus but also to everything that He spoke about sin, about repentance, about our weakness, the judgment, hell, even His resurrection. It's quite simply offensive to the world that is perishing. It's not just offensive. Many say it's hateful. And so it's pretty inexplicable that we would speak these things that go against the grain of the culture, that goes against the grain of what society says.

 

But what it seems to me, unfortunately, is that the church has capitulated to some degree. We simply don’t share with anyone else that which is of ultimate value to us, that which we believe to be true. Why is it so hard for us to speak? Why is it so hard for us to share this good news? Whose job is the great commission? Who is supposed to be proclaiming it? And Paul’s understanding in this passage and Jesus’ understanding in giving the great commission to the church is that the whole church is to be proclaiming the whole Gospel to the whole world. When you signed up for Jesus, you signed up for mission; you signed up for this job! But why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we doing this? Why is it so hard for us?

 

And I think Paul gets at this at the very end of this chapter – verse 18 and 19. He says, “For we do not look to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” There are some that look to the things that are seen and there are some that look to the things that are unseen. And I think one of the biggest deceptions, and such an easy thing to believe, is that this world is our home, that this world is our home. That what we see, that which is transient, is what we live for. And what Paul is saying is, “Absolutely not. We live for another world. We are people that are bearing a message from eternity and proclaiming it into this temporal world.”

 

In a recent Barna study on evangelism – it came out last month on the church and evangelism – it found that 50% of millennials, that’s the generation just below me, 50% of millennials don’t just not talk about Jesus with their friends, they actually believed – and these are Christian millennials by the way, churched millennials – they believe it’s immoral to share their faith. And that’s incredibly scary to think about the future of the church being without an evangelistic witness. Not just without an evangelistic witness, but with a people that are actually turned off by that and think it’s immoral to talk about your faith.

 

Several years ago, Maggie and I were in The States visiting some of our really good friends from seminary and my good friend, Hutch, he's the husband, we went through a lot of life together, he sits me down and he says, "I need to tell you about something that's absolutely changed my life, something that's helped me, it's transformed me, it's transformed our family. It's called CrossFit!" How did I respond to him? "Mind your own business, you bigot! Don't you try to force your cultic fitness regiment on me! How dare you!" No! I wanted to hear about. I wanted to hear about. And he was eager to share it with me. Why would he do that? Why would he want to share that with me? Well, because it changed him. It made a difference in his life. And he wants me, his dear friend, to experience the joy of CrossFit. Here's something that is big for him, here's something that is important to him. It's not immoral to share that. There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, he would share that. That's obvious. Of course, I would want to know about something that he loves so much. I wanted to experience it with him so he took me to his gym. I experienced CrossFit with him. And I threw out my back and it took a whole month to recover!

My friend, Hutch, believed, and so he spoke.

 

If you believe, as verse 14 says, in the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus, if you believe that He died on the cross for your sins and was buried for three days and rose again from the dead, that His resurrection precedes your resurrection, that you will be risen with Him one day, that you too will pass through death unscathed to eternal life, wouldn't you talk? Friends, for a Christian whose life has been radically changed by Jesus, it's perfectly natural, it's, in fact, impulsive and reactionary for you to share about it. You have to. We believe, therefore we speak.

In our church in —————-, we actually find that non-Christians, when they become Christians, are more compelled to share the Gospel for that first year of their Christian life than those who have been Christians for a long time because it’s new, it’s fresh. They are experiencing that transformation at a rapid pace.

 

Speaking Leads to Salvation and God’s Glory

But the speaking, according to Paul, is not in and of itself the end. Look what he says. You don’t speak and preach and evangelize and send missionaries just for the sake of doing it. It is the God-ordained means to accomplish the ultimate purposes of God and the salvation of sinners and ultimately for “the earth to be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” Look at verse 15 with me. Paul says this, “For it is for your sake, that as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” Why do we preach? Why do we evangelize? Why do we share the faith? Why do we do Missions Conferences? Why do we bother spending millions of dollars every year on missions and ministries of mercy and justice? Because if we believe in the resurrected Christ, if we believe that God has called His church to be the evangelization of the world, the mission of God on earth, the sharing of the good news of the Gospel to all those who do not know it, if we believe these things, how could we do anything else? Friends, this is the mission of the church. This is the vision that God has set – the course, the trajectory of all of history. This is where history is going – to the worship of God. This is what everything is moving towards. Missions is not a committee. Missions is not a budget item. Sharing the Gospel with your neighbors is not a type of Christian. It’s not the weird kid. It’s not reserved for InterVarsity of CRU or Campus Outreach or RUF. It’s something that churches do. It’s something that churches have to do. It’s what we’re called to do. It’s what we’re all called to do.

 

You think that all of this is just for us? No, follow Paul’s thinking with me. “It’s for your sake, so that, so that grace extends to more and more people. So that God will receive more and more glory.” You see that? God cares about His glory and He wants more of it. He wants more of it from all of His creation. This, my friends, is the purpose. This is why we preach the Gospel.

 

Christians Endure Suffering with Joy for God’s Glory

But he gives us a second, inexplicable thing in this text – that Christians endure suffering with joy for the glory of God. We looked at this a little bit this morning but there's a bit more on here that Paul speaks about. Living a life far from pain and suffering for the Gospel is actually quite easy if you keep your mouth shut. But when you open your mouth, there's friction. Right? When you open your mouth, there's friction. So Paul says, "We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." Now, remember Paul is in the thick of persecution for his ministry. And part of the context of all of this is that Paul's apostleship is being questioned by skeptics. They're saying that "Since Paul is suffering and he's claiming to be a messenger of God and that God is with him, then why in the world is he going through all of these trials? If God is so great, then why has He not delivered Paul from his suffering?" Those are the questions.

 

And later on in this book, Paul describes the extent of what he has endured. He says this. “Five times the forty lashes minus one. Three times beaten with rods. Once stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. A night and a day I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles and toil and hardship through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food.” And then later in his life at the height of his career, Paul is plucked out of ministry, thrown into jail – trial, execution eventually. Anybody looking at this man’s life would say, “God cannot possibly be with him. What’s the explanation for all of this?” But Paul recognizes that his sufferings are actually serving the purposes of God in this world, that the sufferings themselves are actually a confirmation of God’s work in him and through him. Not a dismissal but a confirmation of it.

 

The first sort of way we are to understand this is that we should not be surprised that you are being persecuted when you open your mouth about the Gospel. You should not be surprised by that. One of the results that your work is good is that there is worldly opposition. We looked at this a bit in the morning service. In Philippians, when Paul is in prison, he says, "My chains have actually served the purpose of advancing the Gospel." In Acts, he says, "Through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of heaven." See, living in a society where the Gospel is mainstream and accepted is not the norm. That's the exception. Paul's expectation is that if you rub your hands against the grain of wood you're going to get splinters. The norm is for us to experience persecution when we preach the Gospel. The norm is for us to experience the roughness of this world when we preach the Gospel. And that's what we should expect.

 

Remember when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Saul, Acts 9 – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.” What if we told our new members or new converts that when they became Christians? Expect to suffer for the name of Christ. Let me show you what that looks like in our context in ———. A young man in our church in ———–, upon becoming a Christian from the Hindu faith, converting from the Hindu faith, is cut off from his family inheritance, loses all his land, loses all his finances, simply because he became a Christian. A young formerly Hindu woman in our congregation who was recently baptized and married to one of our pastoral interns, was recently married to one of our pastoral interns, she was cut off by her father and mother and they refused to have any relationship with her anymore. One of our elders in our church leads a major technology team at one of the biggest software companies in the world. He’s a quiet, soft-spoken man. He wanted to be a witness at his workplace so he started simply keeping a Bible on his desk every day. His coworkers noticed and started mocking him and jeering at him. He’s been punched for it. He’s almost been fired for it.

 

An older woman in our church had been serving as a medical missionary doctor in a jungle tribe in —————. She’s an ————— woman. Her husband died within the first few years of their ministry there. The village she was working in tried to kill her; the villagers tried to kill her multiple times by poisoning her, by releasing cobras in her home, accusing her of forcing conversions, beating her. She’s been there faithfully serving for several decades now. She’s suffered multiple heart attacks through the years because of the dismal conditions she lives in and because of the stress of her work. The doctors say the next heart attack will kill her. She left our church recently to return to the village where she says she is willing and ready to die.

Countless others all over ————– have lost family, friends, finances and many of their lives for following Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that “When Jesus bids a man to follow Him, He bids him come and die.”

 

Jesus is Better

But is it worth it? Is it worth it? How do we not lose heart with such opposition? And here’s the promise that Paul gives us – how God’s grace strengthens us to help us not to lose heart. See, friends, this is why we do not lose heart. We are not witnesses of Christ and His death and resurrection because we have some sick desire to suffer, to be persecuted, to find glory in being rejected by the world. We do this because Jesus is greater, Jesus is sweeter, Jesus is better. Look at Paul’s progression of thought. In chapter 3 he speaks about the giving of the law that has nothing to compare with the glory we already have in the Gospel. Now Paul is saying that this glory we have in the Gospel, which is like treasure of immense worth in a clay pot, is worth nothing compared to the glory that has yet to be revealed. And here’s his thought. Believing the Gospel means proclaiming the Gospel, which extends more grace to more and more people, which in turn brings more and more glory to God, which brings more and more suffering to us, which is preparing more and more an eternal weight of glory beyond anything that we could ever imagine. That’s his glorious vision.

 

Made More Like Jesus

There are two ways this is happening. The first way God is using the suffering in Paul’s life to make him more like Jesus – he is being renewed day by day. This is so important, friends. What I want you to see is that it’s not despite Paul’s present circumstances that he is experiencing transformation but it’s in fact because of his present circumstances. The persecution that he’s facing is changing him, it’s transforming him, it’s making him more sanctified. See, it’s the evil itself that is used by the Spirit of Christ that is the means of transformation for Paul. He is being persecuted for preaching the good news of the Gospel. He knows that. He’s confident that these trials are themselves being turned by the very hands of God into the instruments of His sanctifying work in his life – refining him, growing him, changing him, making him more like the man that he needs to become, more humble, more loving, more forgiving of his enemies. More like Jesus.

 

You know most of us experience sanctification as a slow, incremental sort of gradual growth in the Lord from one degree of glory to the next. But it seems to me, from Paul’s life and from the lives of many believers that you and I may know who have gone through intense suffering and persecution in their life, that God uses those things to accelerate the growth in His children, the growth of sanctification.

 

Maggie and I recently had the privilege to visit a church planters' meeting in —————. And our friends from all over the world were there sharing about the Lord’s work in their countries. And one of our friends from China got up to share. It was probably the most sobering testimony I’ve ever heard as they shared about the immense suffering and persecution the church is facing at the hands of the government. The imprisonments – many of you have probably heard of these in the news. The intimidation, the re-education camps where they took Christians and locked them away; many of them are still even there. But then he said something that shocked me in his report. The Chinese church leaders, he said, do not want you to pray that God would bring an end to the persecution. “We do not want you to pray that God would bring an end to the persecution. We want you to pray that God would use that to further refine the church. We want you to pray that we would remain faithful to God through the suffering. Not to remove the suffering but that we would remain faithful to God in it.”

 

What a perspective! What a perspective! But isn’t that true? What we really need is not for our circumstances to change – they, Paul says, are “light and momentary.” But for our perspective to change to see that no matter what is happening to us, we have a loving heavenly Father who means only good for His children and who will only give them good gifts. And this is His plan for you. This is His story for you. Whatever it is that you are going through right now, I know it’s hard to believe and hard to trust, but what God is saying to you is that it is renewing you. It is making you more like the person you need to be in Christ.

 

An Eternal Glory

But it’s not just a present transformation that Paul’s sufferings are achieving. He says that when he sees all the suffering here on earth, all the pain, all the death, disease and heartache, all of it – and he’s seen a lot of it – it is worth it, he says. It is more than worth it because of what it produces in eternity – “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” These are momentary and light afflictions when set next to the eternal weight of glory.

 

This morning in the worship we sang a wonderful missionary hymn, “O Zion, Haste!” And the last verse says, “Give of thine own to bear the message glorious. Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious. In all thou spends, Jesus will repay.” That’s a wonderful hymn but it’s not fully true. It’s not just that you live and you die and then you get heaven as a consolation prize for enduring the difficulties of life. That’s not what Paul was saying, that heaven somehow makes up for all that you had to go through, that you get back what you put in. That’s not what he’s saying. Paul is saying that the evils themselves, the evil of life themselves, that one day we’ll look back on it and see that everything we’ve gone through were being turned in the producers of greater glory and greater joy for us and glory for God. See, we don’t escape the evils of this world narrowly. The suffering and evil that you and I experience, it presses us deeper and deeper into an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. God doesn’t cancel the suffering. He doesn’t repay you for what you put in. He leverages us to serve His purposes in bringing greater glory to Himself and greater joy to us. That’s why Paul says, “I rejoice in suffering. I desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection that I may share in His sufferings.” Because he knew that these sufferings were preparing something far greater for him.

 

My wife’s favorite author, Frederick Buechner, captured the idea beautifully when speaking of similar things. He says this – “I cannot tell in full but this much I will tell. What’s lost is nothing to what’s found; in all the death that ever was, set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.” And isn’t the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ proof of that? Here the Lord and Creator of the universe, the only one not deserving to die, dies a sinner’s death. The greatest evil of history is slaying the only innocent man in history. But look how God turns that on its head. The greatest evil in history becomes the center of history and the means by which God accomplishes His purposes in bringing many sons and daughters to glory. He faced the greatest evil so that you and I wouldn’t have to. He traded His eternal weight of glory to be crushed under an eternal weight of sin of this world. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer. And though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” That’s Isaiah.

 

You see how that evil is leveraged to achieve God's ultimate purposes in the redeeming of sinners for Himself? "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all these things?" Because of the cross, friends, we know that all suffering is worth it. Because through it, we get Christ. And apart from faith in Christ there is no explanation for why we would not otherwise lose heart. Amen. Shall we pray?

 

Father, we thank You so much for the world that You have created, for Your desire and intention to redeem it, to change it, to transform it into a new creation, and that You choose to do that through us – broken and sinful people who You've given the Gospel to. We pray, Lord, that even today as we go from this place that, Father, our lives would be lived as a people whose faith apart from which there is no explanation. We thank You for this time together. In Christ's name, we pray.



I Will Build My Church

By / Mar 6

The Reverend Dr. David Strain: We have Mr. Sandy Wilson who is a dear friend to many of us personally. Many of you have sat under his ministry both here and at Second Pres in Memphis. Second Pres is a sister congregation to our own, closely connected to us, and so it feels very right and natural and is a great joy for all of us, I know, to have Sandy come and open God’s Word to us now. Thank you, brother.

 

The Reverend Dr. Sandy Wilson: It is, indeed, a pleasure to be here with you and just to get a few minutes with David and Sheena is worth the trip itself, and Ed Hartman and this tremendous missions committee and your missionaries who are here. Such a great privilege and honor to be with you. And of course, Second Presbyterian in Memphis and First Presbyterian in Jackson are all intermarried anyway! And so it’s good to see some cousins and in-laws while I’m here! I bring you greetings from a lot of people there, but also from the church in Birmingham where I’m serving, at Covenant Presbyterian Church. It’s great to be in this broader family.

 

And Michael, what a treat to hear what is going on in Indonesia and just through your ministry. Think of that – 100 people mobilized into church planting, 32,000 times of sharing the Gospel, 800 professions of faith! That’s almost amazing as what Bill Wymond did to get this white, Presbyterian choir to sing a song like that! I’ll tell you what, when I hear music like that, my foot just won’t stop! I was preaching one time in an African Methodist Episcopal district meeting. And it was a congregation about this size – say downstairs filled up with several hundred people. And you know how excited we get in the African American church. And about halfway through my sermon, I think the bishop had signaled them, “This is time for the sermon to be over,” so they just started getting up and dancing in the aisles, the organist got on the organ and was playing and accompanying my sermon, and before you knew it, we just had a hallelujah party! And my sermon was indeed over; that was it!

 

And I went from that experience right back to Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis’ staff meeting. Talk about going from the sublime to the all-out boring most experience of your life! So I go back to the staff meeting and I say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. I know I look like I’m Caucasian, but I’m not. Full disclosure, I am thoroughly African American!” And I will always be that! Have you ever thought about what the American church, just the church, much less the culture at large, would be like without our African American brothers and sisters? I cannot feature such a thing. We’d never have a song like that without them. And so I find myself when I'm worshiping in dominantly African American churches, I just thank the Lord for our family. And that's the joy of the missions process and the missions enterprise because we’re just bringing more people into the family.

 

And if you could travel with Michael as Rick and Rachel have a lot, and I have just a little bit, in Indonesia, you would see the glory and the beauty of this mosaic of our family members around the world that you have reached out to through people like Michael. And when you’ve got people like Michael, let me tell you something, $1 million is not much. I mean I’d give you $1 million just for Michael! This is a great ministry going on, you have other ministries going on, and it is wonderful to see the fruit of it. And I encourage you, as you think about your own strategy – we’ll talk about that tonight – about the strategy for your own personal life and how to walk with Jesus and live a missional, personal life, I want to talk with you about that tonight, but as part of your strategy, think about getting to the field and laying eyes on something of what Michael is talking about. Get down to Mission First and Neighborhood Christian Centers and see with your own eyes and touch with your own hands what God is doing through this church. It’s really, really phenomenal. And then you’ll find yourself very eager to reach back there in your pocket and write a check or get involved personally. And $1 million will not be much in the future for First Presbyterian, and I know it hasn’t in the past either.

 

So I want to say to you, a church that we all hold in very high regard, who is an example for so many of us, you all keep it up and step it up, because the only way you can keep it up is if you’re stepping it up. That’s the only way to go. You can’t stay in neutral. You’re either going forward and developing and getting stronger and better at what you do, or you’re falling back. And this church is too important to us all for you all not to be continuing to step forward in your work in missions. I’ve read your mission’s philosophy for your international work and your domestic work. I don’t know where you can get anything any better than that. I don’t know where you can make a better investment than that. So I encourage you, if you’ve already filled out a little card with a little number on it, you can always put in a second card with a bigger number on it. They’ll take that! Through experience, I’ve learned that!

 

Well, we are looking at the Scriptures and Matthew chapter 16. Please take your Bibles and turn there with me. We'll spend a few moments looking at one verse. We're going to study verse 18. There's so much in it, we don't have enough time this morning even to study that verse, but we're going to give it our best shot. But we want to read the context. And you'll remember the context. Jesus is developing His disciples and after they'd been with Him now about a year and a half I would say, about eighteen months, He's going to take them on a retreat. You know we do this in officers' retreats. You even do this in your businesses. And when you go on a retreat, it's so that you can just think from a different angle. You can think new thoughts. You can brainstorm together. So you usually go off to another venue just to change things up so that you’re thinking more freely. This is the way we do spiritual retreats. This is exactly what Jesus is doing. Caesarea Philippi, where this takes place, is about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus and His disciples spend most of their time. So Jesus trained them around the Sea of Galilee; that’s where He taught and discipled them. But here, we’re on a retreat.

 

It’s also interesting that Caesarea Philippi, named after Caesar, obviously, Tiberias Caesar, by Herod Philip who built the city, it’s a rather recent city, but it’s a crossroads for travelers and many different types of people. And whenever you have a crossroads, you not only have the little corner store and a river with some water in it or a stream, but you also have the temples where you can worship in this little town at the crossroads. Caesarea Philippi was like that. And the most famous temple was the one to Pan, P-a-n, the god of them all, the Roman god. Jesus takes them on this retreat to a place where there are other options for your devotion and worship. And it’s there that He asks them, “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” So they choose Christ, among all the gods of the world.

 

But what’s most interesting for us this morning is Jesus’ response. And in the first instance, He tells Peter, “You didn’t do this on your own, Peter. I know you well enough. This came to you because My Father revealed it to you. So it’s by the Father’s grace that Peter is able to make this famous, high confession. And then Jesus, in verse 18, our text for the day, you’ll see He tells them something very important not only about who He is but what He’s up to. We’re going to see what He’s up to. What’s His big strategy? What’s the game plan here?

 

So let’s look at it together. I’m going to ask you to stand with me as we read this text and let us pray together and ask the Lord to turn the light on in our brain and in our hearts.

 

Father, we thank You for every text of Scripture and we thank You for this one set before us this morning. We thank You for Jesus Christ our Savior who now speaks through sinful preachers by the power of the Spirit as we look and expound Your Word. Speak, O Lord, for Your servants listen. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Matthew 16 verse 13. Hear the Word of God:

 

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”

 

All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Amen. Please be seated.

 

As many of you know, this is coming up in April, April 4 to be exact, is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis. And so, therefore, those of us who have Memphis connections are very aware of this, and there are many activities that have been going on. There's a deluge of interest from some journalists. In fact, on my way to Jackson yesterday in the car, I was being interviewed by one journalist who said, "Tell me, what's it like to do ministry in Memphis? It looks like it's so difficult there and so little progress is being made. How do you carry on?" And I said, "Well, who have you interviewed?" And she said, "Well, I interviewed a woman who's been working in the streets for twenty years in Christian ministry." I said, "Well what did she tell you?" And she said, "Well she told me that after twenty years of ministry, her neighborhood is worse than it ever was before, there are more gang members, there's more crime. And I asked her, ‘How do you carry on?’ And she said, ‘I just carry on.’” And so the journalist asked me, “Is this the strategy? You just carry on?” I said, “Yeah, that’s a good part of it.” I said, “You know, Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ and we’ve got them, and they’ll always be here. And when you’re working with lost and poor people you have to realize you don’t see response visibly to everything that you do, especially when you’re working with the poor. It just seems to go in this big, dark hole and you wonder sometimes, ‘Why am I out here?’”

 

The Church is the Key

And she said, “Well what’s the key to this strategy?” And I said, “Here’s the key. It’s the church.” She said, “What?” I said, “It’s the church.” I said, “In Memphis, we’ve looked at our one hundred twenty-seven neighborhoods and tried to analyze all of them with respect to job creation, housing, garbage pick-up, security, education, ownership of businesses in communities. But what we’ve found is that none of those neighborhoods is healthy unless they have a healthy church or group of evangelical churches in our neighborhood. Do you want to know how neighborhoods around the world are primarily under-resourced? They’re under-resourced with living, vibrant, Christ-centered churches.”

 

Now, this sounds like an odd thing to say when you look at sort of the cultural dialogue that's going on. For example, you could go in the bookstore here in Jackson I'm sure and see some of these titles: Why I’m Never Going Back to Church Again. Another title, How I Left the Church and Found God. Another title, Why Men Hate the Church. Another title, Why Teenagers are Leaving the Church. And my favorite title of all, Why the Senior Minister’s Wife Left the Church and Isn’t Coming Back. That’s only funny to us pastors! We could all write a chapter, I’m sure, in such a book!

 

The dialogue now is, “Let’s get around the church. You know, the church is part of the problem.” Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to notice first and foremost in this verse 18. Jesus says to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock, I'm going to do something." The word "Peter" means "rock" in both Aramaic and in Greek, actually. And so He says, “On this rock, Peter, I’m going to do something.” You say, “What? He’s going to start a ministry center, He’s going to have an evangelistic crusade? What’s He going to do?” “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” That’s the reason when you hear someone like Michael talk about his ministry of church planting in one of the most difficult religious contexts of which we are aware, in the Muslim context. You’re saying, “That’s our business. We don’t know a lot, but our business as church people is the church and our business is to evangelize and lead people into the church.” This is the reason.

 

For example, when you get to the end of this gospel account, Jesus has His last words with His disciples. You know what He says to them? He says, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” And then what does He say? “Baptizing them.” You don’t baptize someone if you don’t have a church in which to baptize them. So He says, “I want you to go make disciples and I want you to baptize them into the church and then I want you to teach them." Teach them what? "Everything that I have commanded you." What has He commanded you? The book of Matthew! Matthew has five sermons by Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount being the most famous, chapters 5 through 7. Chapter 10, sermon on mission. "I want you to teach them that," He says. Chapter 13, the sermons on the parables that tell us about the nature of the kingdom of God. "I want you to teach them about the kingdom and how it works." You get to chapter 18 and what does He teach them? About the church and about relationships. He's saying you cannot be a disciple without being discipled in church life. This is our business. And then, of course, you get to chapter 24, 25, and He teaches them that the whole mission of the church is couched in this urgent moment of eschatology. We are right on the edge, waiting for the coming of Christ. What are we supposed to be doing? He says, "The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. So teach them that.” That’s what He’s saying that we are to do as we make disciples. The church is His strategy.

 

Now, for those of you like myself, who’ve been in the church for a few decades, we can imagine the angels listening in on this and saying, “Ah, Father? Does the Son have Plan B? I mean, I’ve been watching this church for a couple of thousand years and they ain’t been doing so well! There’re crazy people down there and they don’t obey all the time and they split up and get angry with each other and all kinds of things! Are You sure this is Your primary strategy?” Jesus said, “You’re Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church.” That’s His big strategy. And I can say to you, it’s not just true in Memphis and Jackson; it’s true all over the world. What the most desperate nations in the world need are Christ-honoring, Bible-believing, healthy, evangelical churches. That’s our business. And as Peter Drucker would say, “How’s business?” We have to ask ourselves over and again, “How is the business of the church going on?” It is to plant churches.

 

The Builder

That’s the reason I’m so thrilled to be here on this particular year of your Missions Conference when the committee and Ed and the Session and all of you together are saying, “We want to be planting churches.” Now we’ll talk a little bit more about that even tonight. But for now, let’s look with this Jesus strategy of planting churches. And it’s important for us this morning in this brief text to discover three things that Jesus says about Himself relative to the church. And it’s vital for us to know these things. The first one is, “I will build.” So Jesus is the builder. He didn’t hire it out to someone else. He didn’t ask some flunky like me to go dream up what a church ought to look like, come up with your best plan, and go start a club or a society; you can call it church if you want to. No, Jesus said, “I’m going to build it. It’s going to be according to My desire. I’m going to take the raw material and I’m going to put it together.” And ladies and gentlemen, when He says, “I’m going to build the church,” I’ve got some new for you. He’s going to build it!

 

And you can look at the nation of India where William Carey went to sleep one day, went to death, and you could have put his converts in a small kitchen somewhere. Now you just look at northern India where the Dalits are coming to Christ hand over fist, two hundred years later! Why? Because Jesus said, “I’ll build My church!” You can look at China, where Hudson Taylor went, and struggled and suffered and did all of his work as a missionary. And then you look at that great nation now and most missiologists believe they have more real Christians than we do – in China! Why? Because Jesus said, “I will build My church!” Where is the most rapidly growing Christian community today in the world? Do you know where missiologists tell us it is? Iran! Of all places! Do you know why? Because Jesus said, “I will build My church!” And so I have a message for Syria and Somalia and Afghanistan. Your walls are coming down because Jesus is the church builder and He intends to do it in every nation of the world. So we can take great comfort from this.

 

We also get challenged because, still sticking with this first point of His building the church, you have to notice His building material – Peter! It's a joke! It'd be kind of like my saying, "We want to restart the moral majority and the CEO of our movement will be Donald Trump!" I mean you just laugh at this! It's a complete joke. It's hilarious. It couldn't be. It's impossible. It's a contradiction in terms. It's an oxymoron. Peter? You're going to build Your church on people like Peter? Well, You can just give it up then! No. Why? Because Jesus is doing it. He's going to take flunky, failed, Christ-denying Peter and make an apostle out of him. And Peter, along with James and John and Andrew and Thomas and the apostle Paul, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, are the foundation of the church. This is apostolic foundation. It's Peter personally along with the other apostles. This is an apostolic church. It's built on the foundations of those men with the chief cornerstone being the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "That's what I'm going to do."

 

And so you and I can look at our lives, the weaknesses in them, the failures in them, the dumb, stupid, idiotic – I’m sorry, kids. I used the “s” word again – the dumb things that we’ve done in our lives, and say, “God couldn’t use me.” Oh yes, He can! You know why? He’s building a church. It’s His work. So we engage in it not because we are self-confident, not because First Presbyterian has a great strategy and a lot of money and a lot of really fine people. We engage it because we believe what the choir just sang. "Trust and don't doubt. Jesus will bring you out. He's never failed me yet!" He's going to build the church through people like us. So that's the first thing we should notice in this text – this amazing determination by the Lord Jesus to you sinners to create this international church. It's incredible.

 

The Owner

Now secondly, notice in the text He’s not only the builder of the church; He is the owner of the church. And some of us here, especially have you have a little gray hair, you need to hear this. This church does not belong to you. Session members, you especially need to hear it. This is not your church. Our Westminster Confession of Faith says it very well in chapter 25. “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the head and the owner. It’s all His. You may have a plaque on a pew, you may have your name on a stained-glass window, you may have a room named after you. It’s not your church. It’s His church!

 

When I retired from Second Presbyterian Church about a year ago, maybe a year and a month ago, I initially spent my first several months consulting churches. Now churches that want to be consulted are churches that have problems. Right? You don’t call in a consultant if you can’t dream up any problem that you might have. So I’m consulting five or six churches. Let me just give you the bottom line. In every case where there was a problem, I’ll tell you what the problem was – pride. That’s the number one problem. The number two problem is pride. The number three problem is pride. It’s either senior pastors, typically, or powerful elders, typically, having a sense of entitlement that they’ve been here, they’ve kept the nursery, they’ve done this, they’ve done that, they’ve been around, they know the ropes, and they become the source of division within the church. And Jesus gives us the answer for this. “I will build My church.” And those of us who are in leadership, especially, need to remember this.

 

I remember I was in a church one time before I was a minister, and I noticed that the people, some of the elders, were talking about how they really need to replace the Sunday School superintendent, but if they did, she would really have her feelings hurt and they didn’t know how to solve that problem. Could that happen to you? People really think you need to move aside, but we don’t know how to solve the problem of your hurt feelings. You know why your feelings are hurt? Because you think this is your church. It’s His. He’s the owner. He’s the sole Lord. When we are planting churches here in urban neighborhoods in America, north Boston, east Los Angeles, or Bangalore, you’re planting the number one symbol of the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ over His creation.

 

When Lesslie Newbigin, who ministered in India for a number of years as you know probably, wrote the book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, what did he say about the church in his experience in India? He says the number one apologetic tool for evangelism in the church. People see the visible church, they see people loving each other, worshiping God, living a sort of order, caring for each other, relieving each other of their suffering, weeping with each other, rejoicing with each other, and they ask the natural question just as they ask Peter on Pentecost Sunday when fire was on their heads – they wanted an explanation for the fire! And Newbigin said they’ve got to have an explanation for the church! And the only explanation is Jesus Christ!

So if you don’t have a church in Jackson, if you don’t have a church in Bangalore, you don’t have the greatest apologetic tool you need to reach the mass number for Jesus Christ. It’s His church, and when you plant it, you are planting His ownership around the world. I’d encourage you to keep it up and step it up.

 

The Triumphant Leader

Now lastly, notice in verse 18 He not only is the builder and the owner, He is the triumphant leader of the church. The triumphant leader. As we heard from Michael just a moment ago, we don’t just persevere because we’re stubborn. I think Michael may be a little stubborn, but that’s not the reason that he keeps going! I got an “Amen” out of that! In a Presbyterian church that’s rare, Michael, and so we ought to remember that you gave the “Amen” today! But we plant them because He says the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. And most scholars believe that when He says “gates of hell” He means the “gates of death.” And you can’t kill the church.

 

Now I have to say, as a pastor and someone invested in missions all my Christian life, for forty years plus, I have found myself in tears many times as I look at the sufferings of Christians around the world. And some of them in the country where Michael serves. Some severe things are happening to people. Let me tell you, we believe we are losing about 90,000 Christians a year to martyrdom, today – 90,000. You could look at us and say, "You look so weak. You look like a bunch of losers. All this vain effort to send your children around the world and they're just going to get butchered. Why are you keeping this up?" Well, the reason is, first of all, because Jesus told us to and that’s enough for me. But secondly, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve lost more people because they’re Christians in the last 150 years than all the other years combined. And we’ve seen the church expand over these 150 years like we’ve never seen before. And I tell you, these two things go together! You can’t expect a church to expand into India and Bangalore without somebody getting killed. How do you expect to reach the Muslim world if your children aren’t willing to die? And so Jesus is saying, “I will build My church, and you disciples need to know something. Death can’t overcome this! The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church! The church will go on.” And what we need in a Missions Conference is a congregation full of people who believe that.

 

I close with this. These past two weeks, of course, we’ve all been grieving and remembering gratefully the life and ministry of Dr. Billy Graham. My own life included. I could tell you stories about how I’ve been influenced; I know you have been too, so many of you. And the older you are, the more influence, probably, you’ve had from his life. And I just noticed a couple of things here recently. One was, USA Today, on the day that he died, they had an article. I read it, and then there was a little video clip, some of you may have seen it, with Billy Graham and Woody Allen, of all people, in 1969. Well you know I punched that thing. I wanted to hear that! Because Woody Allen is crude and I can’t watch most of what he directs, but the guy is so funny. And one of the least open people I would ever think to the Gospel. So here's Billy Graham and Woody Allen. I'm watching this interview. And they're both very funny, Woody especially, but Billy's funny too. And it's clean, so you can listen to it. But then at one point, someone from the audience asks a question of Dr. Graham. They said, "Dr. Graham, have you ever seen a Woody Allen movie?" And Billy says, "No, I haven't," which was to his credit I think, but he said, "After this interview, I think I will go see one of his movies." And Woody said, "Well if you'll go to one of my movies, I'll go to one of your crusades!" And Billy said, "Put her there!" And they shook on it! You know, probably most of us would think Woody Allen is a lost cause. But Billy always knew something – the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, her people, and her Gospel. 

 

And some years ago, I was for some reason traveling through Ashville, North Carolina. I was in the airport. It was pre-security days. You younger ones wouldn’t know what that was like, but you could just move freely all over the place. I was waiting to take off on my plane to go to Boston and in comes somebody who had to be a celebrity because everybody was backing up and shooting flash pictures of whoever was on the other side of these people backing up. So I was really curious to see who this was. I happened to be standing, can you believe this, with Dr. Ed Clowney at the time this was happening. So Ed and I were looking on. Well, it was Billy Graham coming home to Ashville for the weekend! Do you know who was with him? Mohammad Ali. What do you think they talked about when they got in the rocking chairs up in Montreat? Why do you think Billy had Mohammad Ali come to Ashville to visit? Just to find out more about boxing, maybe?

 

No. You know what he was doing. He would go into the roughest places, the least likely places, the hardest people, because Billy knew something we all need to know again. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for the Jew first and also for the Greek. And the gates of hell cannot prevail against his work. So when I'm interviewed yesterday about Memphis or Jackson or Bangalore or anywhere on the planet, do you know what the secret is? The church of the Lord Jesus Christ planted everywhere. Let's pray.

 

Father, we need You every hour. We pray even now You'll help us as we step forward with our own lives this week for the advancement of the Gospel around the world and the planting of Your church in city after city after city. And we would pray that You would take this great church that You planted in 1837 and bring her to fuller flower every decade that rolls by. And use her, O Lord, not only to plant churches but to encourage other churches to do the same, here and around the world. Pour out Your blessing by the power of Your Holy Spirit upon these people as individuals and families and a congregation, that through them, Jesus Christ would be praised. We make our prayer in His name, amen.

 



The Church…Everywhere

By / Mar 6

David, thank you again. And once again, thanks to you and Sheena for your warm hospitality and to this church and the missions committee. If you’ve treated your missionaries the way you’ve treated me this weekend, I know they can’t wait for next year to get back to First Presbyterian Jackson! I mean, I got to my hotel room last night and you had these cookies and all these sweet things! I ate one whole box of them and then I realized what I was doing and I’ve got them in my bag to take them home to my wife! But you’ve been so kind to us. And Wiley and Molly, thank you for your hospitality today at lunch. And the Hartmans, thank you for yours this afternoon. It’s been such a pleasure to be with you. It’s always encouraging simply to be with folks who take the Great Commission seriously, who really want to pursue it. We are a family. I’ve just found through the years that my closest friendships are those with whom I’m working on the Great Commission. And so God has met my social needs and my psychological needs, hopefully, and so many of my spiritual needs. Just be engaged in His mission. And what we find as we give and we go and we pray, that we’re the ones who are being so mightily blessed and encouraged in the Lord as we do so. So I know that you’re here with that motivation. It’s just a pleasure to be with you.

 

Well, during these Missions Conferences, churches like First Presbyterian sort of re-up yourselves for another year of commitment to the Great Commission here in this country and around the world and it’s just a joy to see you doing that. I want to encourage you in it. Churches like this, as I said this morning, not only need to keep it up but step it up because we look to these leadership churches as being those that are always changing. You know, we are reformed and always reforming. We are giving and always giving more. And I know that you’re doing that and I encourage you in it.

 

And tonight, I want us to look at a text of Scripture that I think helps us plan how to do this. And it’s hard for me to imagine a better example, other than the Lord Jesus Christ, than the apostle Paul who I consider to be the greatest evangelist and church planter in world history. I doubt we’ll ever have another one quite like him. I’ll make some mention of that tonight, but I want primarily to look at one of his texts with you if you’ll turn to Romans chapter 15. And while you’re turning, and before we read the text, let me give a little background on Romans.

 

My assignment this coming week is to be with about a hundred young adults who will meet twice this week at five-thirty in the morning for two hours and once at seven-thirty at night, and they want me, in six hours, to take them through the book of Romans. Haha! That’s a joke! I’m going to talk fast when I get to be with them. Fortunately, I get to look at one text with you tonight. But I’ll be telling them, of course, that Romans is perhaps the greatest piece of literature ever written. It’s hard to say that when all the Bible is inspired, but the letter of Romans, of course, we camp out there over and over again just because we find the heart of the Gospel there; we find Paul speaking to so many relevant doctrinal and ethical issues. And of course we know Romans that way. We realize that a letter like 1 Corinthians is written ad-hoc. It’s written to a particular set of circumstances and you can feel the apostle interacting with them, even arguing with them at times, about either thing he’s heard or things he’s observed in Corinth in which he’s engaging. But often, we think of Romans as kind of being some sort of pure, ethereal, doctrinal deposit that God made through the apostle without any ad-hoc circumstances behind it. And I beg to differ with that. I think Romans is very ad-hoc.

 

And the first way in which it is, is that obviously Paul had never been to Rome. Of course, you get to Romans 16 and you find out how many friends he's got. And once again, they are friends of the Gospel ministry which he knows and which he's met and he sends greetings all back and forth, which also tell you something about the way in which he did ministry. It was always in group, in church, with partners. And that's what First Presbyterian has been doing and is trying to do in the future. But Paul had a particular concern about them. Number one, you notice from Romans 9 through 11 in particular, and you also pick it up big time in Romans 14 and 15, Paul is concerned about how folks from different ethnic and religious backgrounds are going to do church together. So he’s very concerned about relationships in the local church in Rome. And specifically, they consist of a lot of Jews and a lot of Gentiles. And these folks have very different backgrounds. They look at ethical issues differently. They tend naturally to exclude each other as they just cluster with one another.

 

And you can notice this even in churches with the kind of homogeneity that we enjoy in these Presbyterian churches. If you have someone who’s from Jackson, well that’s different from being from northern Mississippi, you know. There are these little ways. Or if you’re in one of the historic Jackson clans, you know, you fit into historic Jackson. These new-comers, you know, they’re different! Well even in places where we have homogeneity, we notice that we get clannish at times. Well, you've never seen anything like the clans that the Jews would create and the Gentiles. They thought of the world very differently, and Paul was teaching them, "You are one church under the Lord Jesus Christ."

 

And we’ll see how desperately important this was to him as a Jewish man, converted to Christ, whose commission was to be a minister to the Gentiles. And so he always had to teach Gentiles and Jews to get along together. Now the way in which he does that, of course, is to teach them the Gospel. That’s the reason you get this powerful, systematic presentation of the Gospel in Romans 1 through 8. Paul is setting them up to understand that every single one of us are reconciled to God in the same way. It has nothing to do with your Presbyterian heritage or your baptism here. It has everything to do with the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It has to do with your being brought into union with the Lord Jesus Christ by His predestinating grace in your life. And that being the case, you now have the theological foundation to treat each other as brothers and sisters who came in the door the same way with no special privileges given to anybody else on any other grounds. So when you see his ad-hoc interest in Jew and Gentile relationships, you can understand why he wrote this exquisite explanation of the Gospel in detail so that there could be no confusion here how we all came to know the Lord Jesus Christ and how He has made us family. Now I think that’s one of the pressing concerns in the letter to the Romans.

But there’s another one, and we get it in chapter 15. Paul is intent on hopscotching from Rome to Spain. Now he’s been intent on getting to Rome for years and he’s been promised by the Lord that he would get there. I don’t think Paul planned on getting there the way he got there – as a prisoner and then shipwrecking – but nonetheless, he knew that he would get to Rome eventually. But here we see that, yes, he’s going to Rome, but Rome is not his ultimate destination. He’s a missionary. He’s a church planter. He’s an evangelist. He’s thinking broadly about the lost peoples of the world and he has a passion, an ambition as we’ll see, to get to Spain. “And you folks in Rome have a pretty prosperous church over there.” And so he writes to the people in Jackson – I’m sorry, Rome! And he says to them, “I’m coming your way. I’m looking forward to it. It will be wonderful to see you.” And then we’re going to see that this is a missionary prayer letter and he is writing them to say, “I’m giving you the Gospel so that you can relate to each other and have good intra-church relations. But I’m writing to you because you need a Missions Conference and I’m going to be your missionary.” And he gets real direct about it, as we know the apostle is.

 

Well, I can’t be as direct as he is, but I want us this evening to hear this Word of God as the Word to us. What is the Lord saying to you tonight about your engagement in the mission of the world? The question that each one of us has to ask tonight and during every Missions Conference, I think, is this – “Is your life your best answer to God’s Great Commission? And if it's not, tonight is the night to resolve to change your life so that your life is your best answer to the Great Commission, because the Great Commission is why we’re here.” Ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to do everything better in heaven. You’re going to sing better – and you sing well. You’re going to love each other better – you love each other well. But everything you do here, you’re going to do it better there, except for one thing – evangelism. And the reason is, there will be no sinners there. Eternity is a long time. It’s all stretching out before us. You have your three-score-and-ten, or by measure of strength, four-score, or if by further measure of strength you’re Jim Baird and you get to four-score-and-ten, it’s only a moment. It flies by. And then you’re in the presence of the Lord never to see a sinner again. In all of your eternal history, this is your only moment to relate to sinners. Let’s get it right. Let’s invest ourselves well.

 

That’s the reason for our time together in the Word tonight. It’s so that you and I might take another hard look and say, “Have I planned this short moment in my eternal history so that my life is my best answer?” And I’m assuming that all of us will go back before the Lord and ask Him, “Lord, do You have my checkbook? Lord, do You have my prayer life? Do You have the passion of my heart? Lord, do You have my life? And am I willing and ready and yes, even eager to lay it down for You?” And there ought to be more and more young people from this congregation going around the world. Dan Burns, who’s the missions pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, told me not too long ago, he said, “Well, about a third of our missionary force now is from Second Presbyterian.” I said, “Dan, good job!” He said, “Oh, we’re not finished. We’re shooting for half!” And that doesn’t mean you just automatically support your own kids and put them on your missions program. What it means is, the high standards that you’ve got for your missionaries, your kids are reaching, aspiring to, qualifying for the field under your standards. And then you enthusiastically support them.

 

These are the kinds of questions that we need to ask tonight. And here’s why. We’re believers. This church, for years and years, since 1837, has believed the Bible as the Word of God. And in the Bible, we are told clearly what happens to lost people. It’s not an attractive picture. Jesus says at the end of the age, everyone’s on the right as a sheep or on the left as a goat and there are no “geep” in the middle! There’s no such thing! It’s one or the other. And the only way you become a sheep is by putting your trust in Jesus Christ. And the only way you put your trust in Christ is to hear the Gospel and believe. That’s the reason Paul says in Romans 10, “How shall they hear? How shall they believe unless they hear? And how will they hear if no one is sent?” It’s a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious – they won’t! They won’t believe if they don’t hear, and they won’t hear if no one is sent. So the only way we can be in Christ is to hear the Gospel and believe in what we hear.

 

And fourthly, we know from the Bible that we’re it. We’re the ones to go. If I’d been in charge of heaven, I’m sure that I would have appointed the angels to do this. We need perfect creatures to do this. But, for some reason, Jesus chose us. And I speculate, maybe it’s because we’re sinners just like everybody else and we understand the predicament and the plight of a sinner and we’ve been redeemed and we can tell people about our own experience. Angels haven’t sinned and they haven’t been redeemed. So we’re redeemed sinners telling other sinners how to be redeemed. And Jesus has chosen to do it this way. So with that pressing upon us, we must ask the question, “Is my life my best answer to the Great Commission?” And when we look at the world, there are 7.5 billion people in the world and 2.5 billion of them claim to be Christians. We think maybe a little less than 1 billion actually are Christians. But that leaves 5 billion people who don’t claim to be Christians, and of those, 60% of them, 3.1 billion people, live in what we call “under-evangelized regions.” That means less than 2% evangelical Christians. Which means that they’re not likely to ever hear the Gospel. That’s 3 billion people.

 

You know, I grieve often thinking about the children of the world who are in poverty and there are 22,000 of them every day that die simply of starvation. We’ve easily got enough food to feed the world, but 22,000 children every day die. But you know what I think about more? Is 70,000 people who die every day without the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m an evangelical. I’m a believer in the Bible. I know what the Bible says about that condition. I have to ask myself, “Am I investing myself as my best answer to the Great Commission?”

 

Well with that, let’s look at the life of the apostle Paul. I think it should be an encouragement to all of us, and a challenge. And let’s look at chapter 15, verses 14 all the way through the end of the chapter. And would you please stand with me as we pray and then we’ll read and make some comments on the text.

 

Gracious God, we thank You for raising up apostles and prophets, evangelists and pastors and elders and other teachers and spiritual leaders who have nurtured us. We pray that we may learn from them all, but especially, O Lord, we would learn from You. Speak, O Lord, for Your servants listen. Amen.

 

Romans 15:14. Hear the Word of God:

 

“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written,

 

‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’

 

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

 

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

 

Please be seated.

 

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Amen.

 

In looking at this text, and we’re going to go rather quickly, I just want you to notice two major divisions in it. And I would make that division verses 14 through 19 first of all, in which we understand what God has done. What has God done to propel this mission around the world? What has God done to make it possible for you even to enlist in the service of the Great Commission? What has He done? And I want us to notice two things in those verses. And then when we come to verse 20 through the end of the chapter, I want us to speak for just a moment on three things that we must do. Three things that we must do in response to what God has done as we ask ourselves that question, “How can my life be my best answer to the Great Commission?”

 

 

What God Has Done

Well, first of all, let’s look at what God has done. Two things.

 

Gospel Designed for the World

First of all, in verses 14 through 16, you can’t help but notice that God has designed this Gospel for the world. He has specifically designed this Gospel for the world. You know, other religions, if we take for example the Jewish religion, there are a few proselytes, but generally speaking, if you’re in Judaism, it’s because you are an ethnic Jew. Generally speaking, if you’re Muslim, it’s because you’ve adopted Arabic as your religious language and some customs that are common to Muslim people. And so there’s no way to read the Koran adequately and accurately, they say, unless you read it in Arabic. You must become an Arabic speaker and reader to be a faithful Muslim. But you’ll look at the Christian faith, and ladies and gentlemen, it goes everywhere. And if you just look at it demographically you’re quite amazed that nation after nation on every continent, people group after people group of every language, are able eventually to understand the Gospel in its essence and able to contextualize it in their own culture so that it becomes really their expression of the Christian faith. I don’t think you find this anywhere else but in Jesus Christ.

 

And here’s the reason. The Gospel is designed that way. This is exactly what God intended. For example, Paul says in Ephesians chapter 3 that the very mystery of the Gospel – now there are other aspects of the mystery of the Gospel, but in one sense, the mystery of the Gospel, Paul says, is that Jew and Gentile are included together. That’s of the very essence of the Gospel. And so if your Gospel doesn’t travel, I don’t think it’s the Biblical Gospel. One way you can check your Gospel – see if it works for black and white. See if it works for male and female. See if it works for rich and poor. See if it works for east and west. See if it works for north and south. See if it works around the world. And if it does, it’s very likely you’ve got the real thing. If it doesn’t, you’re off base. The very Gospel is designed that way.

 

Look at what Paul says. He says, “I myself am satisfied about you, but on some points,” verse 15, “I’ve written to you very boldly by way of reminder because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is speaking in priestly terms. When I proclaim the Gospel, I’m actually a priest raising up an offering for God. Have you ever had this sensation when you’ve led someone to Christ? I’m always, of course, totally amazed that someone could become a Christian because I said something. I’m just watching this miracle take place! But as someone comes to Christ, I have this exquisite pleasure of knowing that I’m making an offering to the Lord because this is what His Gospel is designed for – to reach people who are on the outside and bring them into the inside to be family members. That’s what Paul is saying here. That’s the first thing. That our very Gospel that we enjoy here, is designed to be international and multicultural and throughout the ages.

 

Empowers the Gospel for the World

Now secondly, look at verses 17 through 19. God not only designed the Gospel for the world, God empowers the Gospel for the world. And you see this in several ways in verses 17 through 19. Paul says, “Look, I have reason to be proud of my work.” I’ll talk about him in a minute. But he says, “I’m not going to venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me – to bring the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed.” Look at the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God. You see, Paul is saying, “Look, I was a religious terrorist. I was on my way to arrest Christians because they’re Christians. That was the mission I was on when I got converted.” As we were saying this afternoon, some of us, you know, whenever someone is a religious terrorist that terrifies us to death, we should think, “You know, that person would make a good evangelist!” Because that’s where Paul came from! He was a terrorist killing Christians because they were Christians, and look what God did with him. Paul never got over that. He said, “I’m the least of all the saints. He has saved me so that I would be a trophy to His mercy. And everybody would know, ‘If that man Saul can get converted, I can sure get converted!’” Paul says, “I was to be an example to everybody because I was so bad!” And so Paul is here again amazed. It’s not about Paul, although Paul is at the genius level and he was exquisitely gifted, we all recognize this, but nonetheless, what is happening through Paul goes way beyond any cause and effect that can be explained by mere human endeavor. Paul was very aware of that. He says, “God gave us signs and wonders as apostles.” Paul says, “The Holy Spirit came and worked through us.”

 

And you see this again in Colossians chapter 1 when he’s describing how he proclaimed Christ, warning everybody, admonishing everybody in the Gospel, and he says, “We agonized” – it’s “agonidso” in the Greek. He says, “We agonized with all the energy that he gave us by his Spirit.” So we agonize, we do work hard, but it’s what I call an exquisite agony because we’re agonizing not just with native energy; we’re agonizing with divine energy and that agony is actually exhilarating. So the apostle is saying, “Shall I not boast about anything except what God was pleased to do through me?”

 

And brothers and sisters, we have to remember that before God ever sent them out, before Christ ever sent them out to the nations, He said, “Don’t you take the first step until you get the gift.” And He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and then you will be My witnesses to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. But don’t go out without this power. But when you have it, you will be My witnesses.” So I have to ask you, “Do you have the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you experiencing His power? Do you sense that something is happening to you and through you that takes your witness beyond what can be explained by mere human endeavor? Or are we just painting by the numbers? Are we just trying to engineer our Christian lives?”

 

Brothers and sisters, it’s much more than that. It’s a divine work through His people. God designed the Gospel for the world and He empowers the Gospel for the world through us. So when you make your offering, whatever it is, when you make your commitment, whatever it is, you can trust God to take whatever you give and multiply it and use it powerfully around the world in ways you never dreamed. And that’s exactly what we expect out of Him because if He doesn’t do that, our giving and our going and even our praying is useless. So look what God has done. And Paul is very aware of this. The greatest evangelist and church planter in the history of the world is very aware of the Gospel he’s got. It works. It’s made for the nations. And God’s power is invested in the proclamation of it. That’s our starting point.

 

What We are Commanded to Do

Now let's look and see what Paul then does, and what, then, is commanded to us to do. And I'd like to suggest three things. First of all, in verses 20 through 24a, I want us to see that we should be developing a personal mission strategy; developing a personal missional strategy for your life. When you get to verse 24b all the way through 32, I want us to see that we must work as a missions team; work as a missions team. So you have a strategy and you have a team. And thirdly, when we get to verse 33, we’re going to see we have to just trust the Lord with all of this.

 

Personal Mission Strategy

Now first of all, verses 20 through 24a, we must develop a personal mission strategy. Why do I say this? Well, look at the apostle Paul in verse 20. "And thus, I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel not where Christ has already been named." And he goes on to say, "It seems to me that a logical place to go," and I'm sure he had reasons that were logistical as well as spiritual, "a logical place to go is Spain. And the Lord seems to have put that on my heart. And that's my strategy." Now you know Paul had strategies and they didn't always come through. Paul had planned to go to northern Turkey, you will remember, and the Holy Spirit Himself forbade Paul from going to northern Turkey. That's how he ended up in Macedonia is because he got frustrated and couldn't go to Bithynia. And so Paul makes plans, and they don’t always come true, but Paul makes plans. Why? Because if you don’t make plans, you’ll usually hit them. If you plan for zero, you usually hit it. A person who understands the urgency of the hour and the divine resources that God is willing to exercise through His chosen people, we understand we’ve got to take this opportunity and make the best out of it to the best of our ability. And God will interrupt us over and over again. And we’ll salute and say, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Lord. Whatever You say.” And we’ll happily carry out what He gives us to do. But that will never cease us from being ambitious.

 

You don’t have to be an extrovert and you don’t have to be selfish to be ambitious. You simply have to love the Lord and His mission and get ambitious. And He said, “My ambition – you have to plant churches where they haven’t been planted.” You know what I’ve noticed? I think that’s your missions committee’s ambition and I think they’re asking all of us here to take on that ambition with them. That we look at the 65,000 ethnolinguistic groups that don’t have adequate Christian witness in them and we pray, “Lord, help us raise up workers in Your field. Use us if You’re pleased and let’s go to places where the witness is not being expressed for the Gospel.” That’s what your missions committee is saying. I think it’s very Pauline.

 

And think about it. Paul says here that – look at verse 23. This is just a remarkable statement. After twenty years of ministry, twenty-five years of ministry, Paul can say, "But now since I no longer have any room for work in these regions." Do you realize what this man has done with resistance inside the church? So many of the leaders in Jerusalem were not excited about Paul's ministry to the Gentiles and tried to keep him from going. Outside the church, he was whipped and beaten and stoned and thrown in prison on several occasions. He was shipwrecked multiple times. You know, if I was shipwrecked once, I ain’t going on a ship again! Paul was shipwrecked several times. He was paying an enormous price for his ministry. You know Peggy Noonan’s article on Billy Graham the week he died, she said, “Most people don’t realize that after a week of crusades, Billy had bags under his eyes, he had lost fifteen pounds. It took everything out of him.” Well of course it does. And even more so with the apostle Paul and his generation. The apostle Paul stood down kinds and princes, priests in a Jewish church. He stood down counselors, very educated people. He said, “I choose to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and he lifted up the cross wherever he went – alone or with people.

 

And what he’s saying here, is that by God’s grace in which we brag and boast, that there have been churches, communities of believers planted in every major city on the Mediterranean Sea, which was Paul’s venue after only twenty-five years. I’m absolutely staggered at what this man did. But he said, “I’m not boasting about it. I choose not to boast except for what Christ has been pleased to do through me.” But you’ll notice here he has a plan for his life. He is strategizing. He’s looking forward.

 

And you’ll notice that it takes his whole life. And I think it must take our whole life. When you’re strategizing for your engagement in the Great Commission, you first of all look at your own family, friends, workmates, classmates, those with whom you have influence. If you’re a senior in high school, perhaps the freshmen in high school. They’ll listen to you; they’ll be very glad to have your friendship. You look at wherever you have opportunity to influence people for the Gospel and you are God’s chosen missionary to those people. You take up the task of world missions right there in your local community and then we’ll see how you go from there. But you start where you are.

 

One of my missions’ heroes in terms of senior pastors is Harold John Ockenga. I did happen to go to his seminary, Gordon Conwell. But Dr. Ockenga came to Park Street Church in Boston in 1936 during the Depression. Their missions’ budget in 1936 was $6,000, which is the equivalent of $107,000 in today’s dollars. He retired from Park Street Church in 1969 and the missions’ budget was $600,000, which in today’s dollars is $4.1 million. So obviously some good things were happening in the commitment of Park Street Church to the international mission. But Dr. Ockenga said, “We cannot ask people to do in Bangkok what we’re not willing to do in Boston.” And so he was committed to evangelizing his fellow Bostonians. One night after the evening service, some of the trustees at Park Street Church came to Dr. Ockenga – this is back in the 60s – and they said to him, “Dr. Ockenga, do you know what’s happening in the Boston Common just across from this side wall?” It would be this side wall. You go across Park Street and then there’s the Boston Common. And they said, “Do you know what’s going on in Boston Common on Sunday nights?” He said, “No, I’ve never been over there on a Sunday night.” And they said, “Well after the service, you come with us. Get a flashlight and we want to show you what’s going on just a few hundred feet from the church where you’re preaching.”

 

Well, he took the flashlight and he saw more than he ever wanted to see. And he said, "Okay, next Sunday we're going to do something about that." And they said, "Okay." So after the next Sunday evening’s service, Dr. Ockenga said to his trustees, “Would you please get that big oak table, take it out in the middle of the plaza out there in the middle of the common, and so-and-so is a great trumpet player; he’s going to come. He plays in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He’s going to get on the oak table and start playing that trumpet.” He did and people started coming out of the bushes, whatever they were doing, and they started to listen to the trumpeter. And when he got about a hundred people, he said, “Okay, you can step down,” to the trumpeter. The trumpeter got off and Ockenga got on and he preached. And he did this Sunday after Sunday and led people to Christ right in the public square of Boston Common. And these crowds that began to gather eventually were the initial crowds of the famous Billy Graham crusade in the 1950s. So this is in the 50s, the 1950s in Boston. It was that original crowd that Dr. Ockenga was preaching to.

 

Well anyway, after a few weeks of this, he noticed some police cruisers were driving around the Boston Common watching this going on. Eventually, they interrupt Dr. Ockenga’s sermon and say, “Sir, do you have a permit?” He said, “No, I don’t have a permit. Didn’t know you needed one.” “Well, you do sir. You can’t do this.” So the police kept him from preaching. So Dr. Ockenga goes to the city council and asks for a permit. They deny him. Here’s what Dr. Ockenga said to his trustees. “Does anybody here got a blow torch? Anybody here do some welding? I want you to weld a pulpit on the side of this church!” And after every evening service, Dr. Ockenga walked right down that aisle, walked up to the balcony, crawled out a window, and got on a pulpit, a wrought iron pulpit; and you’ll see it there today if you go to Park Street Church on the front of the church. And he preached across the street and continued his ministry.

 

You know why? He knew that his life was to be engaged in the Great Commission and he wanted his life to be his best answer to the Great Commission. And there are lost people here. We start here. We plant churches here when there’s a need. And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul had been doing.

 

Missions Team

But notice that this personal mission leads to missions team partnership when you look at verses 24b through 32. Here, we work as a missions team. Why do we work as a team? Well, because once you get beyond your workplace, your neighborhood, your friends, your contact list, you can't personally be there. So you’ve got to have partners and that’s the reason for all the missionaries that you support. Those are our partners. They’re going to places on this planet where I can’t go. I’m quite aware that I’m responsible for every square inch of the planet. I’m a Christian. Jesus Christ is Lord of all the earth and I’m His messenger. But I can’t be in every place so I’ve got to have partners who go to places I can’t live. I can’t be everywhere at one time. That’s the reason you’ve joined together as a church and you come up with a unified strategy and you invest in it because you’ve got your thoughtful people, you’ve asked them to lead you to come up with a coordinated plan to reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ. Now even Jackson, First Presbyterian, can’t do that! So the church has to have other church partners who have partners. And that’s what the PCA is all about. You make partners with partners and you network to cover every square inch of this world because it all belongs to Him. We don’t surrender one square inch. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. And so we’re dreaming and thinking and praying and investing ourselves. That’s why we’re here. It’s the only reason why we’re here. Everything’s better later on when we get home.

 

Finances

And look what the apostle does. First of all, you can’t help but notice that he talks about finances. You knew I was getting to that! Look at verse 24. “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, oh, by the way, to be helped on my journey there by you! Can’t wait to see ya! It’s going to be fun having these missions lunches together and you know, doing church together! I’m your missionary!” The apostle Paul is not shy. He’s not like some of the faith missionaries of the 19th century who wanted to do their work without ever asking for money. Paul would say, “Why do you do that?” Now I respect those who do that, who chose to live their lives that way; it’s just not apostolic. When Paul knows he’s in an important ministry, he knows it’s important enough to ask the Christians to help him. And I’m glad he does because we get to participate in everything about that ministry.

 

He goes on to say about finances in verse 25, “I’m going to Jerusalem to bring aid to the saints,” and so he was carrying an offering to Jerusalem. And he says in verse 28, “When, therefore, I’ve completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I am on my way. Start the offering plates around now! I’ll be there soon!” This is important. Americans don’t like to talk about money that much. When I first went to Ukraine back in 1991, I was so surprised people would just walk up to me, Christian people in the church, and say, “How much do you make for salary a year?” I’m thinking, “No Jacksonian would ever ask me that! You have southern manners!” But that’s just our culture. To us, that’s a scandal that anybody would ever just ask that point blank. But in the rest of the world, it’s just not that important. “What do you make? What do you do with it?” It’s just like, “What league do you belong to? What sport do you like?” “How much money do you make?” We need to get over this, about being overly protective about of own privacy of money. Money is a spiritual issue. It’s in the Bible over and over again. There’s no issue in the Bible spoken of more often than possessions. And the reason is, we’re inclined to make gods out of the possessions.

 

And I want to say to you, if you expect our missionaries to live frugally on the field – and I think we do. Because when they don’t, it increases the missions’ budget. How about us? You know, sometimes I’ve wondered, “Should the missions committee members give their financials over to the missionaries and let the missionaries give them an assessment of how they’re spending their money?” That would be an interesting exercise! Why not? We all must give answer for how we’re stewarding things that don’t belong to us. They don’t belong to you. The dollars in your bank are not yours. You’re the steward of them. You’re the manager. It’s somebody else’s property. So we must be very careful with this and we need partners to help us. We need the apostle Paul. You need the preacher every once in a while who’s going to say, “Okay, unbutton those pockets. Let’s get generous!” It’s a spiritual issue. We need each other.

 

I remember years ago when I was pastoring at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, many of you will know the name, Hugh McClellan, who is the chairman of the McClellan Foundation. His daddy was the chair before Hugh-O Jr. was the chairman. And Hugh-O liked to pull pranks. And he pulled one on my friend, Richard Hostetter. Richard was an elder at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian, about ten years older than myself, and Richard – you remember back in the 80s they had these vans that you could drive around and you could redo them on the inside and get your shag carpet and the swivel chairs, club chairs, and put the little TV screen for movies up and you had your own little refrigerator there? Man, you were hot stuff if you had one of those! And Richard got one because he wanted to drive his kids down to Florida and they would just enjoy this van.

 

His big mistake, however, was driving it to church one Sunday morning. He pulled in that new van right into the parking slot just about, you know, 100 feet from the sanctuary. And when he got out of church, he went back to his van and there, attached to the windshield facing him was a sign that said, “One missionary not sent.” Hahahaha! Thank you, Hugh-O! It was Hugh-O! Hugh-O not only gave generously – and he has said publicly before so I’m not revealing secrets, that Hugh-O gives 70% of his income away every year to the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, and 1% of his assets. He has a plan to divest himself in the kingdom.

 

And I just want to ask you this evening, “Do you have a plan not only for this week and how you’re going to rearrange your finances so you’re living a missionary lifestyle, but do you have a long-term plan?” You know the biggest gift you’re going to make to the mission is when you die. Have you planned that gift? Let me tell you what you can do if you’re a preacher and don’t have much money. I’ve got five children, okay, so they’ve all said, “Dad, we’re all going to really enjoy getting your books!” And they’re figuring out which child is going to get the history section, which one’s going to get the theology section, and so on! But even preachers have retirement income. So I have a 401K. And you know what you can do if you don’t have much money? You can adopt the mission of the church as one of your children. That’s what I did. I now have six children – Drew, Ben, David, Mary, Lizzie, and the Second Presbyterian Church Foundation for Missions. Why don’t you make that plan right now? Get to your lawyer. Let’s get the plan done. Let’s at least adopt the church mission. You don’t need to endow First Presbyterian Church. That’s not even a healthy thing to do in a church with the level of ability that Second or First has. That’s not a good idea. But giving to the mission, the external mission of the church is a really good idea. And you can ask your elders and make them scramble and come up with a plan for you so that it will work. Come up with a financial plan.

 

The Encouragement

Secondly, notice the encouragement that Paul gets from these folks in 24c. “And to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.” I just want to say to Michael and Maria, it was good to see you all today. And you know what? It seemed like you got encouraged by these folks this week. I think you did. And your missionaries will tell you that. They’re out there serving in a Muslim country where there’s great hostility to the Gospel. They come into a room like this, full of people who know the Savior, and they go, “Yeah, it’s true. The Gospel works! Okay, back to Indonesia! Here we go!” We’re here for encouragement. We’ve got these people in difficult places. Some of these church planters, not seeing a whole lot of fruit for several years, they need our encouragement as well as our finances.

 

The Prayers

And then thirdly, of course, you know the prayers. In verse 30 through 32, Paul is not silly. If he believes the Lord has done the work, he knows that we must apply to the Lord to get the next level of work done. And he says, "Please pray for me." Pray! This is not just evangelicalese. It’s not just on the script for every missionary to ask for. Evangelical missionaries know where the power to convert comes from and they do not have this power indigenous to themselves. It’s an extrinsic power. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit and they want you to pray that the Spirit would come down in effusion and power and work through them in their meager resources and abilities and convert a world. Only God can do that, and God has promised to assist His people. So we pray.

 

And I have to ask you again tonight, “Is your prayer life your best answer to the Great Commission?” If you want to pray for the world, I get every day from Operation World on their website, they send me a country every day to pray for. You can get this on Operation World website or you can get their big book. Pray through it every year. Pray for a country. Pray for your particular missionaries. And as you develop this strategy, I suggest you adopt one, or at most two, and pray for them in-depth. When you ask a missionary to give you a prayer list and they know you’re actually praying, you’ll get the list. And you’ll get to know that missionary better than you ever have before because they know you’re committed to prayer. Please, not just your finances, but your prayers.

 

And then you have to notice, of course, that Paul himself was going. He wasn’t asking anybody else to do what he wasn’t doing. Don’t you love the story of the foundation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham? When Frank Barker just got some people together, he had evangelized most of them and led them to Christ, and they gathered in a storefront. And they had been worshipping for about eighteen months and nobody in that brand new congregation had offered themselves for long-term service to the mission field. And you know the story, Frank Barker got up after about eighteen months in the storefront, and he said, "I notice that nobody here has volunteered to go over to the mission field." And he said, "If somebody doesn't volunteer in the next couple of months, I'll just go myself." Well, they had some volunteers! And Frank was not kidding! Now I'm grateful that their volunteers went instead of Frank, to tell you the truth, because Frank was such a wonderful pastor at Briarwood. But it starts with you who are in leadership. 

 

Gentlemen of the session, the most important question you answer in this congregation on any issue is this. “So what do you do?” “The pastor told me I should tithe. What do you do?” “You know, my wife sometimes gets a little cranky. What do you do when that happens to you?” Well you say, “My wife never does that.” Uh-huh, right! You’re a liar too! “So what do you do in rearing children? What schools did you pick? How did you make that decision?” It’s the most important question for you to answer and I have to say, here it is, “You believe in the Great Commission? What’s your plan?”

 

(audio break)

 

The peace is with us when we’re engaged in the mission. You know, some of you are engaged in a number of ways or you wouldn’t be here tonight. And I do this too. I have particular works in Memphis that I just can’t help but be connected to personally. And I do give individually, especially to certain evangelical works in Memphis where I have very close working relationships and I just simply want to give an extra gift. But let me tell you what I don’t do. I would never allow those gifts to substitute the gift I give through Second Presbyterian Church. Why? Because, in God’s economy, He creates church. And you’ll notice Paul here, when he says, “I’m coming to you and asking for your help,” who’s he talking to? He’s not talking to rich individuals. Paul says at the beginning of Romans chapter 1, “I’m talking to all of you who are in Christ.” He’s talking to the entire church. He comes to the church for help. And the church, in its organized manner with elders and deacons and pastors and so on, they rise up as the people of God and they say, “We’re behind you in prayer and encouragement! We’ll go to the field with you! We’ll give our finances to you! We as a people!” It’s the church that plants the church, not some individual agency or some individual person. It’s the church that plants the church. And that’s the reason that we have missions conferences and unified missions’ budgets because it’s the family. Now this doesn’t in any way disqualify prosperous people like Presbyterians from doing all the giving you want to do, but do not displace your family giving because it’s the church that is standing behind your missionaries. What an encouragement to them!

 

Now Paul says, lastly, “Trust the Lord with this.” He’s the one who has designed the Gospel. He’s the one who has empowered the Gospel. I’ll tell you what now, He’s the one who is going to give the fruit of the Gospel. And He is – all over the world. The Gospel is growing and advancing all over the world. There are some hotspots, and they’re very exciting as I mentioned this morning, but the Gospel is advancing, the work is being done, and He’s doing it through you. I commend you, in the name of the Lord Jesus, for taking the time and the energy and the care to make your life your best answer to the Great Commission to advance the Gospel around the world. May He forever grant peace to His people who are engaged with Him in the most important work in the universe.

 

Let us pray.

 

Father, we thank You for calling us to this great work and giving us, by Your Spirit’s aid, the equipment we need to carry out the Gospel. And so we pray, Lord, speak to our hearts, move us nearer to You, move us out of our comfort zones into the zones of need – physical need and spiritual need especially. And may we, even in this generation, see the work of Your mighty hand as You raise up our sons and daughters and send them out into the field and we see a mighty harvest by the power of Your Spirit here and around the world. This we pray in the sovereign name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.



Gospel Renewal Dynamics Part Three

By / Feb 26