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.