Stewardship Challenge 2020

By / Nov 7


Steward’s of God’s Varied Grace

By / Nov 3

Well as you’ve heard, today is “Commitment Sunday,” the second Sunday of our stewardship season, and to help us think about our giving, the stewardship committee of our diaconate identified 1 Peter 4:10-11. You’ll know if you’ve been with us on Sunday mornings we’re working through 1 Peter. We’re sort of skipping ahead to consider this verse because of its subject matter and we will come back to it again in due course in our ongoing studies in the letter. But 1 Peter 4:10-11 do have something to say to us about our stewardship. We’re going to think about the teaching of the passage under five headings. First, the perspective that we need. The perspective that we need. Then, the presupposition that we doubt. Then, the purpose we must pursue. Fourthly, the pattern we must follow. And the priority we must maintain. The perspective we need. The presupposition we doubt. The purpose we must pursue. The pattern we must follow. And the priority we must maintain. Before we read the passage, let me invite you to bow your heads with me again as we ask for God to help us. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we know that our hearts are open books to You. Our lives, in all their varied needs and all our blind spots, all our besetting sins, are known perfectly, comprehensively to You. We can’t hide from You. And so now with Your Word open before us, we pray that You would, by the work of the Holy Spirit, take Your Word and apply it to our hearts, to our lives, to make us like our Savior, in whose name we pray, amen.

1 Peter 4. We’ll begin the reading from verse 7. You can find it on page 1016 if you’re using one of our church Bibles:

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Well if you knew the world would end tomorrow, what would you do? It’s an often-asked question. Martin Luther, probably apocryphal, but Martin Luther is alleged to have answered that question, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Whether Luther said it or not, the point being made, I think, is a sound one. If you knew that the end of all things was at hand, would that make you do crazy, injudicious things? Would you rob a bank? Would you eat yourself sick? Would you binge-watch endless hours of Netflix? Would you collapse in despair? What would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? Well the Christian can say calmly, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant my apple tree today.” Or to put it in slightly different terms, since we are to live every day in the certain knowledge that the end of all things is at hand, our duty today is the same as it was yesterday and the same as it will be tomorrow. We are to live each day, every day, today in light of the soon approaching end of all things.

If you look back at 1 Peter 4:7 where we began reading together this morning, you’ll see that it stands at the head of a section of the letter of which our text today is a constituent part. We’re going to be focused on verses 10 and 11 of 1 Peter 4, but that comes in a series of exhortations that follow on from the proposition of verse 7 – “The end of all things is at hand; therefore…” And in verses 7 through 11 he gives us a string of exhortations about how to live in light of the end of all things being at hand. “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” And then our text, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,” and so on. So here, first of all, is the perspective that we need.

The Perspective That We Need 

If we’re going to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, if we’re going to be faithful givers, diligent Gospel servants, bold Christian witnesses in the world, this is the vital perspective that we need. We must learn to live in light of the soon-coming end of all things. We don’t know when it will be, but for believers in Jesus Christ that doesn’t throw us. The prospect of the end does not throw us into panic mode. It should inform each new day’s commitment to steady, faithfulness to the call of God in Jesus Christ, to live for Him. If we’re going to live generously and serve sacrificially, go boldly not just for a little while, you know, because its stewardship season at church, but as the settled pattern of our lives, we need this perspective to be bolted firmly into place in our thinking. The instinct I suppose many of us feel at the thought of the question, “If you knew the world would end, how would you live?” would be to say something like, some version of, “Well we would want to squeeze the most out of every remaining moment.” Right? And that’s the right instinct. But Christians know, or at least they ought to know, what that really means – to make the most of every remaining moment. 

Jonathan Edwards, the great 17th century New England theologian, I think captures the spirit of it really very well. He wrote a series of resolutions across the course of his life. His sixth resolution reads like this. “Resolved – to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved – to live with all my might while I do live.” He’s living in light of the certainty of the end, seeking to make the most of every moment. How shall we make the most of every moment knowing that the end of all things is at hand? Well it means that we must strive to obey the Lord with every breath, resolve to serve one another with all our strength, to give ourselves to worship and ministry and witness, to work at our daily vocations, to practice patience with our spouses, with our children, with our friends and neighbors, to give our time and our talents and our treasure, to support the cause of Jesus Christ in the world through the local church. That’s what it means. And that is Peter’s point here. If we’re going to understand stewardship, there is a perspective that we need. If we’re going to be good stewards, this is a vital perspective. The end is at hand. Time is short. Make the most of every opportunity. Give generously. Serve one another. Spread the Gospel. The perspective that we need.

The Presupposition That We Doubt 

Then secondly, there is a presupposition that we doubt. A presupposition that we doubt. One reason that we do not give generously or serve faithfully or reach out boldly is because we don’t really believe 1 Peter 4:10. Do we? Look at 1 Peter 4:10. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” There’s a command and there’s the presupposition upon which that command rests. What is the command in verse 10? “Use your gift to serve one another” – there’s the command. And what is the presupposition? Verse 10, “Each one has received a gift.” Don’t we doubt that all too readily, that each one has received a gift? We discount ourselves and we think that we have nothing to offer because we’re not Bible teachers, you know. We’re not office bearers. We’re not upfront leaders. “I’m just an ordinary Christian,” we mumble, and by that we typically mean, “I don’t have any gifts to speak of that I can harness in my Master’s service.” 

And look, that’s always wrong-headed but it’s sometimes an expression of misplaced humility, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t really in the end little more than an excuse. You see, if I have nothing to offer, I can’t be expected to serve. If I have no gifts, then I needn’t engage in ministry. I can be a mere consumer, a passenger, a spectator. I can linger here at the fringes of things and never really get involved. I can hang back and take what I need and not feel too guilty about not giving anything back. But the Scripture says if you’re a believer in Jesus, “each has received a gift.” God has wired you in certain unique ways, shaped you by nurture and nature and by super-nature, if I can put it that way. He’s given His Spirit to you to take your natural abilities and to elevate them and to sanctify them and make them useful as an instrument of blessing to others in His service. And He is still free, we confess, from time to time as He pleases, to endow us with gifts and abilities even beyond our natural capacity that He might be glorified and His people edified. 

Look, if you haven’t noticed it before now, I am a terrible introvert. The longest walk of my week is the walk from this pulpit to those doors back there. It is an agony to me. You all want to make eye contact, you know, and smile and have a moment, and I just want to run and hide most of the time! I think I’ve told you this before. It was illustrated for me the difference, I guess between Brits and Americans, certainly between me and Billy Dempsey. When Billy was assisting one Sunday and you know we meet down here and we’re walking down the aisle, and Billy was high-fiving people and I was sort of hiding like this! So I’m an introvert! It was particularly acute when I was a teenager, so if back then you had told me I would stand in front of any group of people for any length of time to talk about any subject, I would have laughed in your faces – if I could have looked in your face at the time. But God works in us. Right? That’s the point. And He shapes us and He renovates us and He gives gifts to us, to each of us, and then He calls us to use them. And we’ve got to get over ourselves is the point and learn to obey. So here I am and here you are, and God has a call on our lives to take what gifts we have, however small and meager we may think them to be, and use them in His service.

If you deny the truth of verse 10, you are giving yourself an out. You are letting yourself off the hook. But when we take God at His Word, that we each have received a gift, there really only is one option left. We must use it. Why don’t we give generously? There may be lots of reasons. Why don’t we serve sacrificially? I’m sure there are many – I was going to say “excuses,” but perhaps “reasons” is less pejorative, that we would offer to explain why we do not serve sacrificially. Why don’t we witness boldly? I think part of the answer is because we think our resources don’t matter. We think our meager abilities won’t help. We think our words won’t get through. But brothers and sisters if I can say this in love, that is just plain unbelief. And 1 Peter 4:10 calls us all to repent of it. 

So there is a perspective that we need. Do you see it? We’re to live in light of the end. The end of all things is at hand. There’s a presupposition that we too often doubt. God has given to each a gift and therefore has a call on our lives to serve Him.

The Purpose That We Must Pursue 

And that brings us, thirdly, to the purpose we must pursue. If we accept the clear teaching of verse 10, well then what will that mean for us? What does the text say? “As each one has received a gift, use it” – how? To make a name for yourself? To collect favors? To garner the approval of your peers? For what purpose has God gifted you? Look at the text. Use it, he says, “to serve one another.” If you were with us last Lord’s Day evening you will have heard an excellent exposition by Ed Hartman and he pointed out that this is the pattern provided for us by our Savior, isn’t it, who “came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many,” and gave us the great picture of that in this enacted parable in John 13 in the upper room when none of the other disciples thought to wash the feet of the group. It was a customary, you know, basic courtesy, and they all thought it beneath them. None of them were willing to stoop to it. And so Jesus rose from supper, took off His outer garment, wrapped Himself in a towel and did the menial task. 

And He gave us two explanations for it. First He says, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” He was really saying, “This is a picture of the true cleansing that I came to provide – not with a bowl of water washing the grime from your feet, but the cleansing that I will provide from the grime and filth of sin by means of the washing of My blood. I will shed My blood, give My life to make you clean. And unless you receive that cleansing that I give, you have no part in Me.” And then He says secondly, “Now then, since I have washed your feet, I have given you an example that you should do likewise.” You see what He’s saying. If you have received the cleansing blood of Jesus, if you are clean in His sight by His grace through the cross of Jesus Christ, having been served, now you must serve. God has been gracious to you. Hasn’t He? More gracious than you deserve. Me too. And now He says, “Okay, having received the gift of His grace and having been given gifts to use in His service, I want you to use it to serve one another.”

That’s what stewardship season is really about, you know. It’s not about guilt-tripping you to dig deeper into your pockets for more money to pad the budget. It is about serving one another with the riches lavished upon us. The perspective we need – the end is at hand. Live in light of eternity. The presupposition that we doubt – we think we have nothing to offer, but God has given to each a gift and so the purpose we must pursue, we must use our gifts to serve one another.

The Pattern That We Must Follow 

And then fourthly, the pattern that we must follow. Look at the text again. Verse 10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” How? According to what rule shall we use our gifts to serve one another? What does the text say? “Serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Do you see that phrase in the text? A steward – you may know this – a steward in the ancient world was typically a slave who worked in a household or on an estate in the management of its business and economic affairs. In 1 Corinthians 4:2, Paul says the key thing that you should always be on the lookout for in a steward is reliability. “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Faithfulness is the mark of a good steward. And Peter says we are, every Christian, we are, all of us, “stewards of God’s varied grace.” Notice that carefully. Not consumers. Not connoisseurs of God’s varied grace, but stewards of it. That is to say, we are slaves in the Master’s household and it is necessary that we be found faithful in the wise use of the varied grace of God lavished so freely and generously upon us. 

And if you look at the text, Peter even goes on to show us what that will ordinarily look like. In verse 11, we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace and so, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; and whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength God supplies.” He’s mentioning here the two great categories of ministry gifts that the ascended Christ has given to the church – gifts of speaking and gifts of serving. Now it’s clear, isn’t it, that while we are not all Bible teachers and preachers, we are, all of us, nevertheless required to use our words in Christ’s service. We all have some measure of speech gifts to be harnessed in His service of King Jesus. 

And the same is true also with regard to service. And notice what Peter says about speaking – in Christ’s service, for Christ’s glory and cause. He says, “Sure, you may not be a preacher, but you have gift enough to open your mouth and speak for Christ to some loved one or family member or colleague.” You can’t all teach the Bible in a Bible class or before a crowd, but you can teach your children about Jesus. Can’t you? We can give a reason to anyone who asks us for the hope that is within us with gentleness and respect. Can’t you? Only Peter says in this area of speech, make sure when you open your mouth that you fill it not with your own words and your own ideas and your own empty ramblings, but you fill it with the oracles of God. That is, speak the Word of God. Here is the refuge, you know, for anyone who says, “The reason I don’t share my faith is because I don’t know what to say.” Peter says, “Well then, store up Bible and speak Bible to people. Learn the Word of God. Memorize the Scriptures. That way, when you don’t have words of your own, you have His words, wonderful words of life.” Speak as the oracles of God. Point them to Christ. Open the Scriptures. Suggest that perhaps they might like to take a gospel and begin to read it. Suggest that you would read it with them. “Let’s read Mark together and we’ll have a conversation about it. Let’s see what you make of it.” Speak as the oracles of God. Let your message be God’s. Let His words fill your mouth. That’s how to be a good steward of God’s varied grace in this area of speech.

And then, Peter says we must all serve. Of course not everyone will be an elected deacon, as we’ve seen recently. We may not all be elders. We may not all go around the world as a career missionary, for sure. And yet, our service may be equally valid and true. It may be quiet service, often unnoticed service. Maybe you have the ministry of telephone calls, the ministry of writing notes of encouragement. Many of you make meals or visit shut-ins. Some of you quietly pray and pray and pray and pray. And how can you keep going? How do you serve like that, especially when it’s unnoticed and unrewarded and unremarked? How do you keep serving like that when it’s hard and slow, you don’t see a lot of fruit, you feel like you’re running out of stamina and energy? What does Peter say? How can you go on doing good and not grow weary in well-doing? He says, “whoever serves, as one who serves in the strength God supplies.” Have you been serving in your own strength, trying to tough it out and push through and you haven’t really been looking to God? He has resources of strength for you and He invites you to cling to Him and rest on Him and depend upon Him and then go in obedience to His service.

Our service to others may be small, it might be small because our resources are slight. We don’t have great, dramatic, spectacular gifts – just little, quiet gifts. And yet, God promises to lend His strength to feeble gifts. Don’t say, “Jesus, I only have five loaves and two fishes, and look at the need.” Don’t say to Jesus, “I only have five loaves and two fishes.” You know what He does with five loaves and two fishes. He can take your little gifts and multiply them to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine. Look to Him. He has grace, He has strength to make of you, make of me, a good steward. 

The perspective that we need – live in light of the end. The presupposition that we doubt – we think we have nothing to offer, and so we don’t need to serve. How wrong we are. God has given to each a gift. The purpose we must pursue – since we have gifts, we are to serve one another with them. The pattern that we must follow – we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace, so be faithful in speaking His word and not ours, in serving others in His strength and not ours. 

The Priority That We Must Maintain 

And then finally, there is a priority we must maintain. All the way through all of this, there is a priority we must maintain. Look at verse 11 again. What is the final objective of a good steward, the singular priority at which we must take aim in our generosity with time and talents and treasure? We do it, Peter says, “in order that” – so here’s our goal; here’s our priority, our great focal point. We do it, “in order that in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Peter, he’s really saying please don’t give merely to prop up the institution of First Church. He’s saying give because you long for the glory of God to be seen and known through the Gospel of Jesus Christ through this church, in our city, and around the world. Give for the glory of God. A passion for an institution, you know, will only take you so far, but a radical commitment to making the glory of God the great priority of your life – in your finances, in your service, at home, at work, at play, in conversation, what you do with your pocketbook, what you do with your eyes and your hands and your mouth and your time, making the glory of God your great priority, your chief ambition, your heart’s true desire, that changes everything. Then you’ll begin to be able to say, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all. I see what has been done for me by my Savior and I long in response for nothing so much to glorify His name and that has colored how I think about my money, how I think about my time, my week, my relationships, my words, my home life. It’s changed everything, you see.” 

Why give and serve and go? Well, do it, Peter says, because the end is at hand. We need to learn to live in light of eternity. Do it, Peter says, because each of us has received a gift and we must learn to be good stewards. And so serve one another with it and be faithful. And do it because we want, above everything else, in light of the grace of God in the cross, to bring glory to the name of the living God. Well may God give to us the help of the Spirit of His Son that we might be faithful stewards of His varied grace indeed. 

Let’s pray together.

Abba Father, we worship You for Your extraordinary grace and gift in Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has served us with His lifeblood. Please will You forgive us for taking Him, taking the Gospel, taking Your grace for granted, living as if we were entitled to it and every other blessing and benefit we enjoy besides. Instead, O Lord, melt our hearts anew by the wonder of Your grace that we may learn to be faithful stewards, giving and going and serving, using our five loaves and two fishes and seeing You multiply them for Your glory and praise. Here we are, O Lord. Make use of us and do it that men and women, boys and girls, here and around our city and all over the world may join us in adoring You and glorifying Your name, to whom indeed belong all glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen.



1 Sunday 2019 – Joint Sunday School Class

By / Oct 27


To Him Who Is Able – Part 2

By / Nov 11

Well as you’ve already heard, today is the second week of our stewardship season. This is Commitment Sunday and we are returning to the passage that our deacons have chosen for the stewardship verse this year – Ephesians chapter 3, verses 20 and 21. Do turn there with me please, if you would take a Bible in your hands. Ephesians chapter 3; you’ll find it on page 977 of the church Bibles; verses 20 and 21.

 

We began considering these two verses last week and we saw there are four themes. The first two we looked at last time were the divine priority – that is to say, for Paul, God is first. He wants God to be first in the lives of the Ephesian Christians and he wants God to be first in our lives. So he's writing, "to Him, to Him be glory in the church." And we connected that with stewardship because we understood that if God were first in our lives then everything that we are, everything that we have will serve Him; will be for Him and for His glory. If God is the hub of the wheel around which everything in our life rotates, including our finances, it will serve His glory. So the divine priority. That was first last time. Then secondly last time, we considered the divine presence. In the twenty-first verse, Paul speaks about "glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." And we saw that likely in the background to that expression is the image that Paul develops at the end of chapter 2 where he says that the church is the "temple of God." You remember that in the old covenant era the temple in Jerusalem was the place where the glory presence of the Lord shone out, signifying His presence by His Spirit in the midst of His people. And Paul teaches us that now there is no longer a temple – this is not a temple – where God dwells physically, as it were. Rather, the temple is the church; it is the people of God, and the Spirit of God, the glory presence of God, dwells upon and among the people of God, the church.

 

And in verse 21, with that theology of the presence of God in the back of his mind, Paul now tells us since the presence of God rests upon the church, the praises of God rise from the church.  The glory of God rests upon the church, and so glory to God ascends from the church. We are for God and for His praise and for His glory. And everything that we have is to be given up in pursuit of that great end and priority, including the way we use our money. So the divine priority and then the divine presence.

 

Today we’re going to look at the remaining two themes. The divine power – “He is able,” Paul says. The divine power. And then finally, the divine praise. We’re going to think about that theme a little more. Particularly we’re going to notice the missionary character of the praise of God toward which we should give for His honor and glory. So those are the two headings we’re considering today. The divine power and the divine praise. Before we look at them, we’re going to read the passage, and before we do that, we’re going to pause and ask God to help us understand His holy Word. Would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

 

With the psalmist we pray, O send Your light forth and Your truth. Let them be guides to us and lead us to Your holy hill where Your dwelling place is, that we may meet with You and give You praise and glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

Ephesians chapter 3 at verse 20. This is the Word of God:

 

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

If you were with us last week when we began to consider this passage you might remember that the message started by surveying the Biblical teaching on Christian giving. Let me just quickly rehearse it again for you today. The scriptures we saw call every Christian to give with what we called radical, sacrificial generosity. The tithe that we often talk about, that was really primarily the old covenant pattern in the Old Testament scriptures; to give a tenth of our income. But we looked at 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and the example of the Macedonian Christians where we saw that the new covenant, the New Testament pattern is even more challenging than that. The new covenant pattern, the pattern for us, calls us to give until it costs us something, which for many of us might actually mean giving more than a tenth. To give until you have to make a lifestyle adjustment to do it. That’s the principle. Give until you have to economize or cut back somewhere. To stop your donations, perhaps, to some other worthy cause or to delay that purchase or even to postpone that trip so that the church of Jesus Christ can have first place.

 

And we saw Malachi chapter 3 verse 10 – that we are to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. That is to say, we are not wiser than God and we ought not to subdivide our tithe among our favorite fifteen ministries, just one of which might happen to be the church. No, God loves the church. The church is His priority, and that ought to be reflected in the way we live, the way we serve one another, the way we commit ourselves to attendance upon the means of grace Sunday by Sunday, and certainly in the way that we give. That’s the teaching of the New Testament scriptures.

 

Now I don’t know about you, but as I survey that teaching, probably the biggest issue for me – perhaps for many of you – when it comes to facing up to it, is fear. It’s fear. We worry, don’t we, that if we were to give with radical, sacrificial, costly generosity like this that takes the tenth as a rule of thumb as a starting point but may well exceed it, “Well then perhaps I won’t be able to do other things that I like. Maybe I’m worried I won’t be able to pay the bills or just make things work. It just feels like a big chunk of change that frankly, I’ve built my lifestyle around having pretty much to myself. And so the thought of changing my giving patterns, that’s scary.” And if that’s who you feel, I completely get it. It is scary.

 

But while all that is swirling around in our heads and in our hearts, I wonder if you have clarity enough to see that actually the Biblical teaching on money and giving is forcing to the forefront a critical issue in our discipleship. It’s not really about money at all. Money is the presenting symptom. The deeper issue has to do with trust. It has to do with trust. Or let me put it differently. It is about whether or not you are a thoroughgoing supernaturalist. Do you really believe that “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”? Or is your Christianity just talk. That’s the question. Are you a supernaturalist so that you take God at His Word when He says the Lord Jesus says to us, “Your Father in heaven knows what you need before you ask Him, so seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well”? Do you believe Ephesians 3:20, “He is able”? That’s the question our passage pushes to the fore.

 

The Divine Power

It’s not just the question of the divine priority, “Is God first?” That’s vital. We considered that last time. Is God first in your life? If He is, that will be reflected in what you do with your time, your energy, your money. That’s vital. The divine priority – is He first? It also raises the question of the divine power. Is God able? Do I trust Him in His supernatural might to provide for me? Is He able?

 

He is Able

Well, I want you to look with me at verse 20 again and see how Paul answers that question, "Is God able?" We could probably break it down this way. Look at verse 20. First, Paul is saying to us we must claim the solid ground of the divine sufficiency. God is able. He really is able. "To Him who is able," he says. There's no unexpected circumstance that you can face that will leave God astonished and unprepared. There's no trial into which you can descend beyond the reach of His arm to rescue you. There's no need in you, none – no deficiency of wisdom, no failure of strength, no loss of income even – that could ever begin to test resources of God. “Who has ever given to God,” Paul will sing out at the end of Romans chapter 11, “Who has ever given to God that it should be repaid to Him?” You can’t put God in your debt. You can’t out-give God. No, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever, amen.” So He is able, Paul says.

 

But more than that, look at the text, He’s able to do “more than we ask or think.” That is a staggering promise. You can’t imagine, we cannot imagine more than God will give. Are you tracking with me? Did you get that? We can’t imagine more than God will give in His grace. Paul actually says even more than that, doesn’t he? Verse 20, He is able to do not just more than you ask or think, “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” There is superabounding grace in God; inexhaustible, extravagant, generous. You know, sometimes when we come to God with urgent needs, we are concerned that our prayers are too bold, too big, too much to ask for, and so we don’t ask. We’re worried. I picture it like a child, you know, at the beach, pretending or trying to empty the sea with his little plastic bucket. When we worry that somehow we’re asking too much of God as if somehow we could exhaust the vast ocean depths of grace He has ready to pour out on us. All we need do is ask. James says, “You have not because you ask not.” We’re like someone who has never visited the seaside, and so they just have a hard time even imagining a body of water that vast. We worry, don’t we, we really doubt somewhere deep in the operational centers of our hearts, the deep motivations, the deep structures of our thinking, we worry that maybe God’s grace isn’t that vast, that limitless, that generous. “So maybe I shouldn’t ask. Maybe I shouldn’t pray these bold, risky prayers.”

 

I think I probably heard this story first from Tim Keller, and it’s likely to be apocryphal, but it’s useful, so we’ll pretend it’s true. Okay? You’ve probably heard this before. It’s a story about Alexander the Great, the great Macedonian Greek conquering king. He had a general once who came to Alexander and said, “I’ve been a loyal soldier for you all my life and now my daughter is being married. And I would like you, if you would be willing, to pay for the wedding.” That’s a pretty bold prayer. And Alexander said, “Fine. I’ll do it. You’ve been a loyal and faithful soldier. So just go to my treasurer and tell him what you need and he’ll give it to you.” Which is precisely what the soldier does at the general. And when the treasurer learns just the extraordinary, extravagant sum that the general asks for, he comes spluttering to Alexander and says, “Did you tell this man he could ask for anything he likes?” And the general says, “Yes.” “Well do you know how much he wants to spend?” and he tells Alexander and he steps back, you know, sort of bracing himself for the explosion when Alexander learns just how much is being asked of him. But it doesn’t come; the explosion doesn’t come. In fact, Alexander says, “Give it to him.” “Why would you do that?” says his treasurer. “Don’t you know what an honor this man is doing me by asking for such a ridiculous sum? He shows he believes that I am both rich and generous.”

 

God is not dishonored by big, bold, audacious prayers, by risk-taking Christians who expect much from God and attempt much for God. He is exalted and glorified by them. You are showing that you really believe Ephesians 3:20 when you embrace William Carey’s famous model. We talked about it last week – Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. You really show that you believe He is able when you pray big, bold prayers, when you given sacrificially and generously, and when you go outside of your comfort zone across the street and around the world to open your mouth and speak for Jesus about His saving grace and love for sinners. When you do such things leaning upon Him, you show you really believe Ephesians 3:20. You show you are a supernaturalist, that you are living not in your own strength but in His, because “He is able.” He has the power. I don’t have the power. He has the wisdom. I don’t have the wisdom. He has the strength. I’m running on empty. But He is able and so I trust Him and I obey. I give, I pray, I go. Are you a supernaturalist? Do you really believe that He is able?

 

A Doxology

Before we move on, look at the second half of verse 20. This is just so challenging to me and so helpful. Paul is singing a doxology, “to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or thinking, according to the power at work” – now how would you finish that sentence? According to the power at work when, with a word, He hung the stars in their places and spoke the universe into being” – perhaps. “When with an outstretched arm, He caused the rains to fall and the floods to rise in the days of Noah” – that’s the power of God. “When He split the sea so that the Israelites may cross over on dry land and then deluged the Egyptian slave masters redeeming His people” – there’s the power of God. “When the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho and blew their trumpets and shouted and the walls came tumbling down” – there’s the power of God. “So He is able to do far more than we ask or imagine according to power like that, according to supernatural, spectacular, pyrotechnics, lightning and thunder” – is that what Paul says?

 

It’s so counterintuitive. Look at what he says. “He is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think according to the power at work within us.” The power at work already in your life today if you’re a Christian; today, right now in fact. Because that’s where Paul points us because he’s talking about a power already at work within us. Isn’t it true that we tend to overlook that? We think it’s small, meager, inadequate for the challenges. “If we’re talking about power, I want more. I need more. It doesn’t feel like power,” and so we overlook it.

 

Resurrection Power

But I want you to see how Paul thinks about this power at work within us. So if you go back to chapter 1 in verses 19 and 20 you’ll see how Paul thinks about this power. Paul doesn’t belittle it or minimize it at all. He’s reporting to the Ephesians that he has been praying for them and he tells us what he’s been praying. He is praying that they may know – listen – “the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” This power that we overlook, that we think so very little of at work in our lives as Christians, is resurrection power. It is the power that broke the bonds of death and brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ. Or a few verses before our stewardship verse in Ephesians chapter 3, in verse 16, Paul says it is the power that “will strengthen us through the Spirit in our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.” It is the strength, he says, “to comprehend, together with all the saints, the love of Christ – the length and breadth and depth and height of it – to know the love of Christ that passes understanding and be filled with all the fullness of God.” That’s the power, he says, that is at work right now in you. Resurrection power. Power to know Jesus. To feel the strength of His love at work in your heart.

 

In other words, here’s the message. Here’s what Paul is really saying to us. He’s saying please do not measure risk in the service of God by your own strength, by your own wisdom, by your own resources. That’s not the yardstick by which to make an accurate assessment of the risks involved when He calls you to sacrificial generosity or to bold going or audacious praying. No, he says measure the risks of generosity and giving and going. Measure the risk by the power of God. You may not know, you may not always feel that it’s always at work within you, but it is. It’s the power that rolled the stone away and caused our Savior to step alive from the tomb. And now He is seated at the right hand of God to judge and is coming to judge the quick and the dead. That’s the power of God that He has deployed in your life. You are a Christian today because of that power. You persevere in your faith today because of that power. And that power will keep you, it will supply what you need. “He is able.” The proof is the empty tomb. And when you begin to measure risk, the risk, the apparent risk of obedience, of risky obedience, of sacrificial generosity against the provision of the power of God, is there anything you would not do if He called you to it? Is there really any such thing as risk in the Christian life when behind you stands the omnipotent might of the one who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that you ask or think? So the divine power first. Are you really a supernaturalist understanding there is no risks when the power of God is at work and so you give generously? The divine power.

 

The Divine Praise

Then think with me lastly, secondly, about the divine praise. Verse 21 again. Verse 21, “to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen.” Last time we said that glory, praise to God, arises from the church because the glory presence of God has descended and rests upon the church. He’s here. He’s with us. And so we adore Him. At this time I want to return to this theme of praise, of worship, and I want you to notice the missionary character of the praise that Paul is offering here. Now scholars will tell us that Paul often uses the phrase translated “forever and ever” in the New Testament scriptures, but he almost never combines it with the phrase, “unto all generations,” which is probably a little better translation than “through all generations.” And so by including, “unto all generations,” there’s something purposeful happening here. This is unusual for Paul. This is an unusual expression. And so he intends something by it.

 

Infectious Worship

Here’s what he intends. Praise is not to be confined to us. We are not to keep it to ourselves. It’s meant to be infectious. Worship is to spread like a contagion. I guess a happy contagion if there is such a thing; a happy disease. We’re all supposed to be walking Gospel disease vectors, you know, spreading the contagion till more and more are infected with joy and gratitude at the wonder of the good news. When you strike a match, you know, and then put it back in the matchbox, the whole thing goes up. That’s what we are to be like. It’s meant to spread from generation to generation till the whole world goes up in a blaze of worship and praise to God. That’s our task; that’s our calling.

 

You may well know by now the opening line of John Piper’s excellent little book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad. I’ve used it before; let me read it to you again. Piper says, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church; worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. And so worship,” Piper says, “is the fuel and the goal of missions.” Which is really just another way to say the reason we are here is to bring more and more people, men and women, boys and girls, to join us in exalting the living God for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 

Vision

A previous generation here at First Presbyterian Church caught that vision and they were set alight by it. And they gave. They gave with such a vision for the expansion of the kingdom of Jesus and the spread of His praise from generation to generation that they planted churches and they sent missionaries and the Reformed Theological Seminary was born right here. They started a school. They built the Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center. And if you look on the back of the bulletin at the rest of benevolent ministries in our city and beyond, very many of them were seeded by people captured by a vision for the Gospel and the extension of the kingdom in this place, in this congregation, in a previous generation. And because they did, because they gave with such sacrificial generosity in order to spread the fame and the praise of King Jesus, there are many thousands of people today all over the world, many already in heaven, worshiping Jesus Christ. More praise to God rises because they gave with this big vision in mind. Heaven is fuller today because of their radical generosity. More lives have been changed by the Gospel because they gave as they did.

 

But that was a previous generation. And look, I don’t want to give offense if any of that generation are still sitting in the pew, but many of them now have gone ahead of us to glory and joined the great cloud of witnesses. Praise God for those that remain. For all that they can teach us. Some are at home watching on television or on the internet. But most of them actually now have finished their race. You can see some of their pictures wearing military uniform in the Greeting Courtyard outside after the service. We’re so grateful for the legacy they’ve entrusted to us. But that was the previous generation; what a generation it was! How thankful we are. We are benefitting from their generosity and their labors. But Paul is asking us, since glory in the church and in Christ Jesus is to rise from every generation, he’s asking us, “What about you?” The baton is being passed. The baton is being passed. A new generation must take it up. It’s your time now. What will you do for Him who is able? What risk will you take for Him who can do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think? What sacrifice will you make for the One who gave His all for you?

 

First Presbyterian Church Jackson exists to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and around the world. That’s our vision. Today’s Commitment Sunday and the baton is being passed, placed in your hands. And so the question for us is, “Will we commit to the mission of God in this place? Will you pray and will you go and will you give that glory in the church might arise from a new generation and a generation yet to come, unto all generations forever and ever?” The mission we’ve been given is to multiply praise to God unto all generations. Will you give yourself to the fulfillment of that mission? May God use us, this generation, to do precisely that. Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, we confess to You how often fear gets ahold of our hearts, especially when it comes to our money. And instead of radical, sacrificial generosity, we’re slow to give, we are conservative with our giving, we are reluctant to give. Forgive us also for the way that we have made the church compete with any number of other worthy causes when the church is Your priority. Forgive us when it’s not been ours. Help us to see that You are here with Your people, that You are to be first in our hearts and You are always with us, and so we owe You all and we gladly surrender all in praise and adoration. Help us to see that there is no risk in Your kingdom when omnipotent power stands poised to supply all our need according to Your riches in glory in Christ Jesus. And help us as a new generation to labor and work and give and go and pray that Your glory and praise may spread like a happy contagion to the ends of the earth. For we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.



1 Sunday 2018 – Joint Sunday School Class

By / Nov 8


To Him Who Is Able – Part 1

By / Nov 4

As you’ve already heard a few times now, we have united our morning services because we are always looking for ways to encourage our sense of unity, the reality of our oneness together in Christ, and to practice fellowship together as a congregation of the Lord’s people. Most of us attend one or other of our two morning services, which means we often miss each other on Sunday mornings. So we thought it good and wise to mark and to celebrate our unity in Jesus by gathering today as one assembly of God’s people and I trust that there will be, and already is, a real sense of the blessing of God and of His favor as we join together to worship Him in this way.

 

It also so happens, as you’ve also discovered, that the date chosen for our “1 Sunday” celebration, is the first Sunday of our stewardship season. And so we’d already planned to be together as a joint Sunday School and we had also planned to break from our regular series working through the letter of Paul to the Colossians to focus on this whole subject of stewardship. Stewardship is one of those fantastically Christian words; code words. We sometimes use it in church. A nice, polite piece of Christianese. What we really mean is the duty of every church member to provide adequate financial support for the many and varied ministries that go on every day and every week here at First Presbyterian Church. But we are polite Christian Mississippians and it’s uncomfortable to be that direct. So we’ll call it stewardship and hope you get the message! But I’m not a Mississippian so forgive me if I’m a little more blunt with you!

 

As you may know, in places like 1 Corinthians chapter 16 verses 1 through 4, the Bible teaches us that every member of the local church should give a portion of their income as the Lord prospers them. In the Old Testament scriptures, the proportional amount was known as a tithe, a tenth of our income. It may surprise you to know that the New Testament principle is even more challenging than that. Second Corinthians chapter 8, for example, Paul holds up the churches of Macedonia as a model to the Corinthians. He says of them in a severe test of affliction their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part for they gave “according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints. And this not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then by the will of God, to us.” And so the New Testament pattern is broader than the Old Testament model. They gave according to their means, Paul says. There’s the principle of proportionality. And they also gave beyond their means. There’s the principle of sacrificial generosity. The tithe is a good starting point. But the New Testament envisages Christians giving more, giving so much in fact that they have to adjust their lifestyle in order to do it. It is costly, do you see. It is radical, sacrificial generosity. That’s the teaching of the Scriptures.

 

And let me say this before we move on because I think there's quite a bit of confusion about this. From the New Testament perspective, the proportional and sacrificial contribution that we have prayerfully decided upon to give is to be given entirely to the church. The question of who gets our tithe is really not in debate, Biblically speaking. We are not, after all, radically autonomous individuals, giving to whomever as we determine privately, subdividing our tithe among our favorite fifteen ministries, only one of which might be your local church. No, you remember that in the Scriptures the church is the bride of Christ, it is the temple of God, it is the light of the world. The church is the only institution ordained by the Lord for the evangelization of the nations and for the equipping and maturing of Christians. We do not know better than God. God's priority is the church and that same priority should be reflected in all sorts of ways in our own Christian lives, shouldn't it? In our attendance on worship in your own congregation, Lord's Day by Lord's Day, as long as providence permits. In the way we bear one another's burdens, praying for and with each other. And not least of all in our giving. And if the Lord should prosper us to the extent we find we have more money to give beyond the amount that we've already committed to give, of course then we are free to apportion that to anyone as we choose. But as Buz Lowry reminded us earlier, Malachi 3:10 famously challenges us to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse."

 

Now I’m saying all of this up front because it’s not a comfortable subject for me, really; maybe not for you either. And I find that in circumstances like that when something is a little delicate it’s best to address it head on and be direct and speak plainly about our responsibilities as Christian people. But I’m also saying it up front like this because I want you to feel what I certainly feel, and that is the bite of a stinging conscience. Giving is a challenging subject, isn’t it? And if we’re honest with ourselves, if you’re like me at least, you will find yourself being a little defensive, maybe making some excuses, even perhaps taking offense when the subject comes up. But when Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” He was reminding us that the way we react to the claims He makes upon our pocketbooks and our bank accounts actually reveals what comes first in our hearts and in our priorities. How you think about money reveals what you’re living for. Think about your expenditure. What does it reveal? What comes first? Is it Jesus Christ or is it your comforts? What has your heart? Your pleasures, your leisure activities, or your Savior? Nothing reveals the answer to that question quite so effectively as what we do with our money. And that stings. Doesn’t it? I feel the bite of that challenge for sure; it’s convicting. So what do we do about it? Is there any encouragement? Any help or hope for us?

 

Take your Bibles in hand please and turn with me to the stewardship verse that has been chosen by our deacons – Ephesians chapter 3, verses 20 and 21. You’ll find that on page 977 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. Such a helpful couple of verses to consider as we wrestle with our giving because these verses help us reexamine our priorities. Our giving will follow our priorities. And these two verses help us think again about our priorities. We’re going to consider the passage this week and again next week under four headings. Two this week, two again, God willing, next time. This week we’re going to think about the divine priority; that is, the priority of God. And the divine presence; the presence of God. That’s this week. And then next week, the divine power and the divine praise. So this week, the divine priority and the divine presence. Ephesians 3:20-21. Before we read it, let’s bow our heads again as we pray.

 

O Lord, now before us is Your holy, authoritative Word. Give to us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to Your Church and a heart ready to respond in new obedience clinging to Christ. For we ask it in His name, amen.

 

Ephesians 3 at the twentieth verse. This is the Word of God:

 

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

William Carey, the great pioneer missionary to India, had, as you perhaps know, as his personal motto this phrase – "Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God." Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. He was willing to risk everything, to give everything, pour himself out in bold, audacious service because of a deep conviction that God was able to do far more abundantly than all that he asks or thinks. And of course, that means Carey is simply mimicking the example of the apostle Paul and learning the lesson of the two verses now before us.

 

If you’ll look at the passage you’ll notice in verses 14 through 19, just prior to our text, Paul prays an extraordinary prayer; a prayer of such extravagant audacity that it really ought to take our breath away. Look at it with me for a moment. He prays that the Ephesians would be given strength and power through the Spirit that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. He prays for strength to comprehend, together with all the saints, the love of Christ in its incomprehensibly vast dimensions. And in conclusion in verse 19, here’s the extraordinary climax of an extraordinary prayer. Just when you think he can ask for nothing greater than the comprehension of the length and breadth and depth and height of the love of Christ, he prays that we might be “filled with all the fullness of God,” filled with God to the fullest extent imaginable. What a prayer! And you may even wonder, “How could Paul dare to pray it?” It’s almost presumptuous in its extravagant boldness in just what it’s asking for. He’s not asking for a little bit of help here and there. He’s not asking for guidance. He’s not asking for a modest encouragement from God once in a while. He’s praying for God to fill the Ephesians; for Christ to burst in upon them by His Spirit. For the love of Christ to overwhelm them like endless ocean depths engulfing them. This is a big prayer. How can he pray it? How can he pray it?

 

Divine Priority

Take a look at our passage in verses 20 and 21; this amazing doxology. Here’s how Paul could expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. Or to make the connection with stewardship and giving, here’s why anyone would risk giving with radical, costly, sacrificial generosity like the churches in Macedonia did. Paul could pray like this, William Carey could go as he did, we can give in a New Testament pattern with radical, sacrificial generosity because first of all, because of the divine priority. The divine priority. Paul, remember, is the servant of the church. He’s given his life to plant churches all over the Roman Empire, to help new believers grow up into Christian maturity. There is really nothing that he has not surrendered, no comfort that he has not relinquished, no hardship he has not willing endured, all for the sake and the good of the church. But the church, our passage teaches us, the church is not his focus. The church is not his priority. What is Paul’s great priority? Verse 20 – “Now to Him who is able,” verse 21, “to Him be glory.” The divine priority rules his heart. God is first. He prays as he does for the Ephesians with this almost presumptuous boldness, not because the Ephesians are special – though he loves them dearly – but because he wants the Lord to get the glory in their lives. He’s animated by this overriding Godwardness. Paul lives “to Him who is able; to Him be glory” and he wants the same for the Ephesians and the same for us.

 

Did you notice, by the way, in Paul's prayer that the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus Christ, and the fullness of God the Father are all carefully mentioned; all three persons of the blessed Trinity are invoked with care as if to remove all ambiguity that what characterizes Paul and what Paul is after for them is a comprehensively Godward life; a Godward life. Every life is like a bicycle wheel; your life and mine, we're like bicycle wheels, spinning around an axel. When our giving is lackluster and unplanned and indifferent and casual at best, it's almost always because the triune God of glory and grace has been reduced to just another spoke in the wheel of our lives; but He's not the hub of the wheel. He's not the center of things. If God were, first, if you saw again His love for you in Christ, if He came to take central position, everything else would begin to revolve around Him; it would all serve Him. Including how we think about our money. And our great question then would be, "How can I use what I have been given for Him, for His glory, and for His praise?" There is a divine priority that Paul models that we need to recover. To see again the infinite worth of God for whom those who see it gladly give up all, sacrifice all, risk anything, go anywhere, expect great things from this God and attempt great things for Him. When He has first place, giving and going, praying and serving cease to be problematic burdens and start to be at last expressions of our delight in a God whose glory and worth surpasses our ability adequately to adore. The divine priority. It animates Paul, he wants it to animate the Ephesians and to animate all of us.

 

Divine Presence

And then, secondly, I want you to think about the other end of the doxology. God willing next week we'll think about the heart of it, but we're thinking today about the beginning and the end of it – the divine priority; it is focused on God – "to Him be glory." And the other end of the doxology – the divine presence. The divine presence. Notice Paul says in verse 21, "to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." Now if you backup to the end of chapter 2, you'll see Paul is likely echoing themes that he speaks about there at the end of the second chapter. There he says of the church that it is built "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself, being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by His Spirit." So the image Paul is working with, the metaphor, is of the Jerusalem temple, which during the old covenant era, in which God was pleased to make His presence known. The outshining of the presence of God, the Shekinah glory it's called, filled the temple. And Paul says now, today, in the new covenant that same glory is seen and known not in a temple made by hands but in the church, united to Jesus Christ, filled with the presence of God by His Spirit.

 

The Glory of God

Now that is an amazing thought. Isn't it? It's amazing. We may not always feel the depth of this reality, but Paul says the glory cloud, the Shekinah glory that was the great emblem of the Spirit of God filling the holy place, that glory now rests on the church. That is to say, God is here, right now. He's here. We are in His presence. In the old covenant, the glory presence of God was deadly. You couldn't get near it. To be exposed directly to it would really mean the obliteration of sinful humanity. But today, Paul says, now that Jesus has come and the temple curtain has been torn in two – you remember, at the crucifixion; torn in two from top to bottom. The way that marked the entry into the holy place where God's presence is to be found, that temple curtain is torn. Because of the cross, we can go all the way into the glory presence of God and have fellowship with Him – bold, full of joy, communing with the triune God in Jesus Christ. That's the reality taking place in all the mundane ordinary things in the life of a local church. The glory presence of God unseen, sometimes unnoticed to our shame, inhabiting the people of God and the praises of God and the ordinances of God.

 

And it is that electrifying thought that causes this doxology to erupt from the pen of the apostle Paul in the closing words of chapter 3. If the Shekinah glory, the glory presence of God, fills the church because of Jesus, well then what should the church do? The church, Paul says, to should exist to return glory, to return praise to this great God. God, he says, comes down to fill the church with His glory by His Spirit, and therefore the Spirit of God helping us, glory rises from the church in praise to our great God. The presence of God inhabits the church and so the praise of God rises from the church. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.

 

Clear Vision

You know we have a vision statement; we try to talk about it as often as we can, wherever appropriate, but you remember our vision statement is not that "First Presbyterian Church Jackson exists to make disciples on the North State Street corridor, in the greater Jackson area, and around the world." That's not our vision statement. Our elders were wise in the way that they framed that statement, that sense of purpose and divine calling on our church's life. No, what is our vision statement? Our vision statement is: "First Presbyterian Church of Jackson exists to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, in the greater Jackson area, and around the world." And that makes all the difference, doesn't it? That is Paul's point here precisely. We have a clear purpose. It is not to perpetuate our institutions, much less is it merely to make more Presbyterians or to enlarge our particular tribe. Our purpose is the glory of God. "To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." That's our purpose; that's our vision statement. That's why we are here.

 

Our evangelism, our church planting efforts, our internationals ministry which is extraordinary, our school – what an amazing ministry; Buz mentioned it earlier. Our camp and conference center, our women’s ministry, our choir who blessed us so marvelously earlier, the preaching and teaching of the Word of God from this pulpit and in our classrooms every week, and all the other extraordinary things that God is doing here almost every single day in any given week of the year, all of them serve this one vision. We want the world to know the glory of God. We want Jackson to know it. We want the North State Street corridor, our community, to see it – the glory that shines in Christ Jesus. The presence of God that is accessible to sinners of every background and circumstance, we are bold to proclaim has come all the way down in Jesus Christ. He has bled and died and risen and reigns and is a Savior to any and all who come to Him. The glory presence of God is here in the church, by the Spirit, in Christ Jesus, and we want you and your friends and your neighbors and the ends of the earth to know it. That’s our vision.

 

And so when you hear us talking about giving, please don’t let the cynicism of the age warp the message. We don’t want your money simply to keep the lights on, or merely to grease the wheels of an organization. Please don’t give to that. Listen, if First Presbyterian Church Jackson exists simply to perpetuate itself, we should close the doors right now and walk away. We exist for God, for His glory, to spread His praise by bringing as many people as we can with us into His presence through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s His promise to us when we gather in His name. Give to that. The promotion of the glory of God in the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. The exaltation of God in the making of disciples here and all over the world. Give to that.

So there’s a divine priority. We’re called to check our hearts and ask ourselves who really comes first. Nothing reveals that quite like how we use our money. Who really comes first? For Paul, it is the Lord. “To Him, to Him be glory.” Who’s first in your life? Does that bear scrutiny. If we were all to get our checkbooks out and examine our expenditure – who’s first? Who’s really first? And then there’s the divine presence – His glory inhabiting His church through Jesus Christ. And we want the world to come and see it. We want the neighborhoods outside these doors to come and see it, to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. If that’s a vision that you find yourself buying into, give to that. May the Lord help us, humble us, bring us to repentance, and then use us for His glory as we begin, like William Carey, like the apostle Paul, to expect great things from God and attempt great things for Him.

 

Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, as we bow before You, we do confess to You that the way we use our money really is a reflection of spiritual apathy in all sorts of areas of our lives. We are a backslidden people. We have fallen far from the zeal for Your glory that ought to have consumed us. So we ask You please to have mercy on us. Today isn’t really ultimately about giving; it’s about the surrender of our whole selves anew on an altar of worship, presenting our bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. Please have mercy on us for holding back, for holding things in reserve for ourselves. No, You gave Your Son to redeem us to Yourself. We are Yours. We have been bought at a price. We are not our own. And so now before You, as we adore You for the Gospel, we pray for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bring renewal, revival, starting with repentance in our hearts, for the praise of the name of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 



Christ’s Vision for the Church – Part 2

By / Nov 5

As we’ve already heard from Spence Flatgard, today is Commitment Sunday, the second Sunday in our stewardship season. And our Scripture this year was chosen because it directs our attention not so much to the means, the finances that we need to accomplish the work of the church, as it does to the vision. We want to focus on the task committed to the church by the Lord Jesus in the conviction that, without clarity on where we’re going, there really is very little sense in issuing calls for help getting there. We want to know where we’re going. And so we’re focusing, if you’ll remember from last week, on the last words that Jesus spoke to the apostles just prior to the ascension. If you’ll like, these are our marching orders. Our congregation’s vision statement, which are in these blue brochures – excuse me; I almost lost my voice last Sunday morning. Several of you are hoping I’m going to lose my voice any minute now! It’s a real possibility! If you would pray for me, I still have a sermon to do tonight. But these vision brochures, if you don’t have one, they’re available at the exits. The vision statement is also printed in the bulletin. Our congregation’s vision statement, established by our elders, is really nothing more than an attempt to take Acts chapter 1 verse 8 and to think through how to apply that and implement it practically and in concrete ways in our specific context and location here in Jackson.

 

So that said, let me invite you, if you would, to take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and to turn with me to, we might say, “Jesus’ vision for the church.” Acts chapter 1. You will find it on page 909 of our church Bibles. We began considering this passage last time under three headings. We looked, if you will remember, at the mission Christ was giving us; exactly what it is we’re called to do. We have a spiritual mission. We looked at the membership of the kingdom. Who is it that we are sent to reach? Who may belong? People from every tribe and language and nation. We’re to go the ends of the earth. And we looked at the method. How will God, in His sovereignty, get the work done?

 

This week, as we consider Acts 1 verse 8 a second time, we want to think about three more points. We’re going to think about the power we will need to accomplish the mission, the project that is integral to the vision Christ has given us, and the program according to which the vision will be realized. Now I’m feeling very pleased with myself because I squeezed six points out of one verse and all six of them alliterate! So, you know, granted I may have to force the matter a little bit to make it all work, but bear with me! The power, the project, and the program – all in Acts chapter 1 verse 8. This is the vision Christ has given to us; this is the work, the task to which we are called. Before we read it together – we’re actually going to read all of verses 1 through 11 – before we do that, we’re going to bow and ask for God’s help first. Let’s pray together.

 

O Lord, would You give us ears to hear what Your Spirit is saying to the Church as the Scriptures are opened, read, and proclaimed, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

Acts chapter 1 at the first verse:

 

“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy and authoritative Word.

 

A good friend of mine is an airline pilot. He was a fighter pilot and he once explained to me the importance of the pre-flight briefings when his squadron were about to make a flight together. Each pilot had to be sure of the coordinates, they needed to know the destination with precision, and plot the trajectory carefully. And to be sure, a tiny error, perhaps over the first few miles, really would make very little difference. Everyone would still be flying in formation along broadly the same trajectory. But over 100 miles, or over 1,000 miles, the difference of just one degree at the beginning, which may have seemed like a minor difference, over 1,000 miles, you were 100 miles away from target when you finally arrived. You were 100 miles off base.

 

Before His ascension to glory, we might say here in the upper room in the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus calls a pre-flight briefing with the apostles. And He gives them a carefully plotted route. All the coordinates are here, and our task is to be sure we are flying along the flight path He has given us. That is what the vision statement is really all about. As part of our prayer for our church during this stewardship season, I know this is Commitment Sunday and you’ve heard an appeal for financial pledges, and don’t misunderstand, we really do need you to fill out a pledge. Go to your phone, do it in the app, if you haven’t done so already, and put your pledge in the plate. Go home and prayerfully consider how the Lord has prospered you and make a pledge. It really does help us and it is important to us. But I want you to think of your pledge as more than just a commitment to give financially. I want you to begin to see it as a way to say, “I stand with my brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church as we seek together to accomplish the vision the Lord Jesus is calling us to.” It is a commitment not just of treasure, but of time and talents also, of yourself to the work to which we have been called. So Christ has mapped out the trajectory, the coordinates for us in Acts 1:8. Our job is to carefully follow that trajectory and stay on the flight path.

 

Power

Before I torture that metaphor any further, let’s dive into the Word of God together. Shall we? We have a spiritual mission we saw last time – to bring in members of the kingdom from every tribe and language and people and nation; to go to the ends of the earth, according to God’s method and God’s plan. But there are still some outstanding questions that need to be answered if we’re going to get the work Jesus has entrusted to us completed. And the first of which has to do with the resources available to us for accomplishing the task. That is to say, it is a question of power. Where do we get the power to do the job, to finish the work, to complete the mission?

 

The Challenge

And before we answer that question, let’s just take in the scale of the challenge, the scope of the task that Christ gave to the Church. Look at verse 8. The disciples were called to go not just to their backyard, to Jerusalem and Judea. They were not to neglect it; neither are we. We are to go – in your vision statement you’ll see it – we are to go to “the North State Street corridor” – Fondren, Belhaven, Midtown, Downtown. If we neglect our own backyard as we seek to be faithful to the claims of Jesus and to bring the Gospel to bear on the lives of those who desperately need Christ, if we neglect faithfulness in our own backyard, we will not likely be faithful elsewhere. And so we can’t neglect the North State Street corridor. Jerusalem and Judea – the disciples were sent to their own backyard.

 

But they were sent beyond that, actually quite a bit out of their comfort zone. Notice they’re to go also to Samaria. If you know much of the New Testament, one of the things that’s very clear is that Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix. Samaria is hostile territory. So, for example, in John’s gospel chapter 4, you may remember the marvelous story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well near the village of Sychar in Samaria. Jesus is making a mission trip and He has to go through Samaria. He stops at the well in the middle of the day, He’s parched; it’s baking hot. There’s a woman there drawing water from the well and Jesus asks her for a drink. And a conversation ensues which eventually leads her to faith. She is saved as she trusts in Christ to be her Messiah. She goes back to the village and brings everyone to meet Jesus and there’s a revival, there’s a great awakening in that village on that day. But right at the beginning of the conversation, when Jesus asks her for a drink, she is astonished. “Why is it that you, a Jew,” she asks, “ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” And John puts in this little editorial comment. He says, by way of explanation, she was so amazed because “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” This is enemy territory, enemy territory. Samaritans and orthodox Jewish people are like oil and water; they just don’t mix. They were considered unclean.

 

And yet here is Jesus, calling the apostles to go to their neighbors who were not like them; into a place of real discomfort and challenge. They don’t feel safe, they’re not comfortable; this is awkward. And yet, actually, they do obey. If you read through the narrative of the book of Acts, finally and eventually, although it takes some significant proddings from the providence of God as we’ll see, they do go to Samaria. Philip goes to Samaria in Acts chapter 8. He preaches the Gospel, some are converted. Peter and John go down, are sent by the church in Jerusalem, when they hear news that the Samaritans seem to have believed in Jesus, and they’re amazed and blessed and minister to the Samaritans. And then Peter and John return to Jerusalem and they preach in every village of the Samaritans and there’s a remarkable and widespread spiritual awakening among them. This is a big deal! You read through chapter 8 in about a minute and it’s easy to miss the significance, the moment that attaches to what is taking place as the Church breaks a massive cultural and ethnic barrier and straddles the divide for the Gospel’s sake.

 

But of course, that's just the first of a series of breakthroughs as the good news marches onwards. The revival and the mission in Samaria really were only preparatory for the worldwide, globe-spanning, boundary-shattering mission of the Church to the ends of the earth. So that is the task Christ is calling the apostles to. It's a massive, massive task; enormous.

 

The Men

And then think about the men Jesus tasks with that mission. There’s an extraordinary, vast vision He gives them, and He gives it to eleven men who are a pretty ragtag bunch of misfits and ne’er do wells, truth be told. Judas is dead; he committed suicide after his betrayal of Christ. But these eleven, very similarly actually, all abandoned Jesus, remember, in the crucible of His sufferings. They all deserted Him and they consistently have misunderstood Jesus. And even now, in this moment right before us, here is the risen Christ – He is alive again, from the dead – standing there. They can see the nail marks in His hands. He spends forty days with them teaching them and training them and discipling them. That must have been an amazing seminary experience for these men – those forty days, being trained and schooled by the risen Christ. And yet, verse 6, they still do not understand the nature of the kingdom of God, the nature of Christ’s kingship, His reign, or their citizenship within the kingdom. These guys are messed up! They don’t understand. They miss things that seem to us, as we read the text, to be obvious. They are weak, flawed, broken men. Failures every one. And to them, Jesus gives the mission, so that we are left asking, when we think of the scale of the task and the men who are to get it done, it leaves us asking, “How in the world does Jesus really expect His vision to be fulfilled?”

 

Our Calling

And actually, that's a question we need to face honestly for ourselves even today. Isn't it? After all, the task facing us is still massive. We've been in this part of Jackson for how long? About a hundred and eighty years. If First Presbyterian Church were just simply gone tomorrow, would Belhaven miss us? Would Fondren? Would Midtown? Would they care that we’re not here anymore? Would they even notice? Maybe they would be glad that we’re not here, you know, parking in their driveways and cluttering the streets. Whether it’s justified or not, the truth is, we probably all know this, we don't have a very good reputation in our neighborhood and among our immediate neighbors around here. And yet we have been called, we have been called – this is our backyard, Jerusalem, and Judea – we have been called to reach them with the good news about Jesus. It's hard. And we live in a city that is, what, 75%, 80% African-American. Take a look around. How are we doing? What does it mean for us to reach across ethnic barriers, cultural barriers, socioeconomic divides? We haven’t mentioned the growing Latino and Asian populations in our city either. That is part of the enormously difficult, complicated, not straightforward, often uncomfortable work to which the reigning Christ has called our church, has called us – me and you.

 

We are a church with the resources to make a national and a global impact. Are we deploying those resources in a way that is consistent with what the Bible says is at the very heart of Jesus’ plan for the evangelization of the world? The whole of Christ’s plan, His entire strategy to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth, is local churches. It is the church. Are we planting churches? When was the last time we planted a church? And are we going – Elias Medeiros, I don’t know if you know him – professor at Reformed Seminary – a wonderful, joyous man who loves the Gospel and loves to equip men to preach the Gospel, likes to say that we have been called, by the Lord Jesus ourselves, “to go across the street and around the world.” That’s what Jesus is saying in Acts 1:8, isn’t it? That’s the mission. It’s big, scary, uncomfortable, awkward, outside of our comfort zone. But that’s the task.

 

And then think about who it is who has been called to do it. Are we all that better off than those eleven men in the upper room that day? If we’re honest, aren’t we afraid? Don’t our weaknesses, our liabilities, our cultural blinkers, our insecurities, our prides, our fear get in the way sometimes of being a witness? Aren’t we intimidated by evangelism? I am. Are we scared of being rejected? Don’t we pull our punches because we don’t want to give offense? Aren’t we scared we’ll say the wrong thing? And so the question isn’t merely historical, of historical interest, is it? “How are we going to get the work done? By what resources does Jesus realistically expect this extraordinary, vast, challenging mission to be accomplished when His servants are weak, flawed, broken, confused sinners like me or like you?” It’s not a matter of more money. Sorry Spence! It’s not a matter of more money, not really, not in the end. It’s not a matter of the right staff. It’s not a matter of a beautiful building fit for purpose. It’s not a matter of a sophisticated media strategy or any number of helpful things that sometimes gives us in His grace, has given us largely in His mercy. If we trust those things, in the end, actually we will fail to get the task done and we will certainly fail to bring glory to the name of Christ.

 

The Holy Spirit

So how do we have hope? Where will the power come? Where are the resources to fulfill the mission? Jesus tells us, doesn’t He, right there in verse 8. Look at the text. Verse 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” He’s already told them back in verse 4 to stay put in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit is given to them. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father. And here’s what that baptism, that promise will do when the Holy Spirit is given to the church. It will empower and equip God’s people to be witnesses all over the world in fulfillment of Christ’s vision. The gift of the Spirit will enable and propel mission. When we think about the work of the Holy Spirit, too often, I think, we focus on experiences and emotions when we think about the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church’s life. But in Acts 1:8, Jesus says the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to propel ordinary, average, broken-down, often confused, usually stumbling, falling, sinful believers outward to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. That’s His work.

 

Now we do need to say that when the Spirit came in fulfillment of this promise in Acts chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost, it came in a unique, never again to be repeated manner. The gift of the Spirit in the way in which it came in the book of Acts is unique. It is the once for all donation of the Spirit to the Church. And we ought not to expect Pentecosts again. And yet, there’s another sense in which the book of Acts tells us that much of what happens at Pentecost happens over and over and over in the life of the apostolic Church and ought to happen in the life of the Church in every age. The Holy Spirit comes upon the church, oftentimes on the same people who were right there in Acts chapter 2, to empower them at critical moments where they need boldness and courage and strength to press on and continue to preach Christ in the midst of persecution and hardship and difficulty.

 

One example – Acts chapter 4. You remember the story? Peter and John were arrested for preaching Christ. They are hauled in front of the Sanhedrin to give an account. When they’re released, the church gathers for a prayer meeting. That’s another interesting phenomenon in the book of Acts. At every critical juncture, the church’s instinctive response is to get on their knees corporately in prayer. Those two things, as I’m going to point out, the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit propelling mission and the church that prays together, are profoundly connected. So here is the church, at Peter and John’s release, on the brink of real persecution for the name of Jesus and for the preaching of the Gospel, they gather together and pray. If you look at Acts chapter 4, you’ll see a remarkable prayer. They don’t ask to be delivered from opposition, persecution, or hardship. They don’t say, “Oh, Lord, please will you take this away!” Rather, they pray, “Oh, Lord, sustain us in the middle of it. Equip us as persecution comes to be bold in proclaiming Christ.”

 

Proclaim with Boldness

And then we read these words – Luke says, “The place where they had prayed, the place in which they had gathered, was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.” The great need of the hour, the most pressing, urgent need of the Church, isn’t more money! It is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is for the place where we are gathered to be shaken and all of God’s people to be filled with His Spirit that you and I may go and speak the Word with boldness. That is our great need. How was the Spirit given? It was given as the church cried out to God in prayer together. Brothers and sisters, we badly need to be a people who pray. So as you fill out your pledge – I hope you will – I want you to see it as a commitment to praying. Jesus said that “Our Father in heaven knows how to give and will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” And so as you fill out that pledge, will you join me in committing to pray for revival, for spiritual awakening, that God would send His Spirit that we might be committed – you and I – in our context, in our neighborhood, among our friends, with our colleagues, to proclaiming the Word of God with boldness. There’s a call, a rallying call to prayer for the endowment of the Holy Spirit by whose power alone we may hope to finish the mission. The power.

 

Project

Next, notice the project. What is at the very heart of the vision, the task to which Christ has called us? Acts 1:8, look at it again. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my” – what? “You will be my witnesses.” That’s the task; that’s the project. That’s our great business – to bear witness about Jesus. The language he uses there can be understood in two different directions, the Greek grammar. It could mean, “You will be my witnesses” in the sense that “You will be witnesses that belong to Me. I chose you. I selected you. I equipped you. I command you to go. I protect you as you go. I’m the one who gives fruitfulness as you go. You’re My witnesses.” That is, “The witnesses that belong to Me.” That’s a possible reading, certainly true. I don’t think that’s what Jesus means here.

 

Rather, what He’s saying is, “You will be my witnesses” in the sense that, “You will bear witness to Me.” That is, “The witness, the testimony you give has particular content focused on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You’ll be My witnesses. You’ll be witnesses about Me to the ends of the earth.” In evangelism, a really good thing to do is to tell people your story – where you were in your lostness, in your confusion, in your sin; how God, in His grace, broke in and drew you to Christ. How even now, by His mercy and grace, He bears along with you. And though you often stumble and fall and often sin, He forgives and cleanses and equips you. And He is your joy and peace and hope. What a marvelous thing to do – to tell your own story with your friends.

 

Testify to Jesus’s Work

That’s not what it means to bear witness here. You’re not bearing witness to something that’s happened to you. Rather, you’re bearing witness to something Jesus has done. At least that was the task given to the apostles. And there’s a very real sense in which it is given uniquely and only to the apostles because, after all, they were eyewitnesses to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. More than that, they are His inspired, authorized spokesmen in the world whom He sends to the church to interpret, explain, and apply the significance of the coming of Jesus and of His work in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures. And so there are no more witnesses in that sense because the apostolic witness is finished with their witness to us.

 

However, we have access to their witness today in the New Testament Scriptures. Don’t we? Their witness, their testimony to Christ, has been recorded in the New Testament and we can participate in their witness-bearing to Jesus to the ends of the earth by opening the Scriptures, by pointing people to the Word, by speaking the truth of the Word of God to the world. And so if the first point really challenges us and calls us to prayer, the second point, as we think about the great project, is a reminder and a call back to the Bible. To be people of the Book. People whose witness participates in the apostolic witness as we open the Word.

 

Power is in the Word

Now I don’t know about you, but I often find myself in conversations with unbelievers struggling to know what to say next, feeling the pressure of having the stone-dead, knock-out argument that’s going to suddenly persuade them and it never comes. Or knowing how to respond to that really difficult, challenging question or objection they may have. And I often fail. I think the message of this part of the text really helps take a lot of that pressure off by saying to us, “Of course it’s good to have answers. It’s good to have an outline of the Gospel in your mind ready to go. But it’s even better if you’ll simply open the Bible and read it to them, and say, ‘Actually, that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer. Maybe I can get back to you on that. But here’s what I do know. Let me read to you some words of Jesus.’” And just to open the Scriptures. The power isn’t in my clever argument. The power is in the Word, wielded in the hands of the Holy Spirit for whose help I ought constantly to be praying.

 

I remember when I was a student in art school we took a class trip to Paris and we were all a group of art students visiting the Pompidou Center in Paris, just a remarkable contemporary art gallery. And outside the Pompidou Center in Paris, there's a wonderful plaza. And while we were standing talking, there were some young French Christians doing street evangelism which is pretty unusual. Paris, and France in general, is a deeply secular place. And one of our group was a very bright young Christian girl named Amanda and she was so excited, so encouraged to see these evangelists, off she went to join them! It was a little rash of her because she didn’t have a lick of French, but anyway, off she went to join them! And eventually, poor Amanda found somebody, some victim, who had enough English to have a conversation. And they just came up to her and said, “Okay, so what is all this Jesus stuff about? Tell me the Gospel.” And she was so taken aback by the directness of the question, she didn’t know what to say. And words failed her, she burst into tears, and turned tail and fled. I will never forget the horror in her eyes at how badly she feels she failed in that moment because she did not have anything to say. She couldn’t summarize it. It just didn’t come. She was tongue-tied.

 

And maybe you can relate. I can relate. Our passage, I think, is pushing is to one simple way to resolve that problem – to become people of one Book who store up the Word of God in our minds and hearts so that when we don’t know what to say, when we don’t have the answers, when we don’t have the right words, we can always simply repeat the Word of God. After all, we get to be the instrument of speaking the very voice of God, the very Word of God to the life of someone who doesn’t know Him. That’s a far better strategy, more often than not, than any wise or clever technique we might adopt. What if you were to say to that friend or family member, “You know, what would you think if we read Mark together? We’ll just read a little bit of it and you can ask me any question you like. We’ll just talk about it.” If you let the Word of God go, who knows what God will do by His Word in people’s hearts.

 

It was said of John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, and if you prick him anywhere, his blood is Bibline. He bled Bible. He was immersed in it, saturated; it sort of oozed out of him. Wouldn’t it be great as a church, as individual believers, if the Word of God saturated and permeated our lives such that, whether we feel like we have an answer or not, the first words on our lips, the ready answers and replies that we give, are the very words of God bearing witness, participating in the apostolic witness to the ends of the earth by opening the Bible with people. There’s a radical suggestion. Read the Bible with someone and see what God will do. The power. The project.

 

Program

And then finally, the program. In the book of Acts, you will notice if you read Acts 1:8 – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” – those three stages, and then you read through the book of Acts you’ll see it’s a virtual table of contents. So the first seven chapters focus on the work of the Gospel in Jerusalem. Chapter 8, the Gospel goes to Samaria. Chapter 8 through about chapter 20, you see the itinerant missionary endeavors of the apostle Paul throughout the Roman Empire. Chapter 21 to the end gathers momentum towards Paul’s arrival in Rome, the center of the known world – the symbolic ends of the earth. And there’s Jesus’ pattern in Acts 1:8. There’s a program according to which the Gospel advances until the story is complete.

 

Jesus Propels the Church Onward

But I want you not to miss the nature of the progress according to Jesus’ plan. You see, if you look at Acts chapters 1 through 7, even though He had given them the Holy Spirit to empower the Church, to go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel, they’re not budging. They’re in Jerusalem, the Church is growing, everything is great, they’re going nowhere. It doesn’t look like they have any plan to reach the ends of the earth, let alone Samaria just next door, until, that is, Stephen, one of the deacons, is martyred for his faith. And we read this, “And there arose that day great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of” – guess where? “Judea and Samaria.” Jesus is getting His mission done. And if the church won’t go, He’s going to find a way to propel them outward. And so He, in His providence, in His sovereignty, allows a season of persecution to fall upon the church. And Acts 9 verse 4, we are told that as they went – actually, no, Acts 8 verse 4, “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” The word for “preaching” there is “εὐαγγελίζομαι“. We get our word “evangelism” from it. That’s what they’re doing – ordinary Christians, scattered under the pressure of persecution. Everywhere they went, they literally, they “Gospeled.” They told people about Jesus everywhere they went. They went to Samaria, first of all, and they began to go to the ends of the earth.

 

Persecution unto Evangelism

Here’s the point. In other words, the providence of God, in this case wielding the instrument of persecution, propelled evangelism ensuring that Christ’s program got finished. The great Puritan, John Flavel, famously said that “providence,” the providence of God, “is like a Hebrew word. You can only read it backwards.” Isn’t that true? We don’t really know why this or that is happening to us. Sometimes we never do, but often it’s only with hindsight. Looking back we get to see, maybe only glimpses, of God’s design and purpose in our trials and difficulties and in our triumphs and blessings. “Providence is like a Hebrew word – best read backwards.” But we do need to try and read it and learn from the experience of the Church in the book of Acts and indeed the Church in history, all of which reminds us that what may at first appear to be disaster, may actually be Jesus fulfilling His program for the evangelization of the nations.

 

A familiar illustration of that I’ve used before has to do with the day the missionaries were expelled from China. You’ve heard me say this before. 1952, the last missionary left China, Western missionary, left China. At that point, there were 750,000 Protestant Christians living in China. And the expulsion of the missionaries was a catastrophe. It really was a disaster. It looked like the work was over. Today, there is a conservative estimate, 58 million Protestant Christians in China; 58 million since 1952.

 

The lesson is the same as the one here in the book of Acts, Acts chapter 8 – “What man intended for evil,” persecution, “God intended for good.” He’s working His purposes out as year succeeds to year. Isn’t that precisely the message of the passage? It’s the message of Cowper’s great hymn. Remember he says, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take! The clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break with blessing on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace. Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face." Many of you have experienced that in the hard trials of your own daily life. As is true in our own lives, it is also true for the Church across history on a global scale. What may seem like a setback, what may often appear to us to be failure or opposition or difficulty, as we seek to be obedient to the mission Christ has given us, may in fact rather be King Jesus getting the work done in ways that will surprise us as the Gospel spreads to the ends of the earth.

 

Christ is on the Throne

If we are faithful to Acts 1:8, if we are faithful to our vision statement, we ought to expect it to cost us – certainly in terms of our financial contributions but also in terms of our emotional and physical energy and stamina, cost us in terms of our reputation; may even cost us friendships if we’re going to be faithful in sharing the good news about Jesus. It will be costly; it will be hard. There will be opposition. But “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense. Trust Him for His grace. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take! The clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break with blessing on your head!" You don't know all that Jesus is doing. Providence can only be read like a Hebrew word. It's read in reverse. He may, in fact, be working in ways you did not expect to deploy His servants and get His message to the people who most need to hear it. And so we ought to take comfort in the knowledge that Christ is on the throne, and the work to which He calls us He will equip us for and He will so superintend and govern that it cannot fail. It cannot fail!

 

Let me close with this final illustration. I was reading, Thursday past, in Time magazine, reports of a survey, the results of a survey from the American Psychological Association. They found that 63% of Americans consider the future of our country a source of significant stress in their lives. That is more than any other stressor in American life, statistically. The greatest source of stress for the greatest number of Americans is about the future. Apparently, we are really concerned about an uncertain future. Christians know the answer to that, don't we? We’ve seen the end already right here in the middle of it all. We’re seen Revelation 7 and that final scene when the work is done and the vision accomplished and the mission fulfilled, as a vast, innumerable company is gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb from every tribe and people and language and nation, the ends of the earth adoring their Redeemer. We know the work will not fail. We know the work will be done. And so we don’t need to worry about tomorrow or about the day after that or whether or not we are up to the task or sufficient for the challenge. Of course we’re not. Of course we’re not! King Jesus is, and He gives His Spirit to His children when they cry to Him and then He uses us, in extraordinary and often surprising ways, to get His mission done.

 

Will you join me in giving yourself in pursuit of the vision to which we have been called?

 

Let’s pray together.

 

Lord Jesus, we confess, I confess that we’re often scared to talk about Jesus when opportunity comes. We’re intimidated, we worry we won’t say the right thing, we don’t want to be judged, we don’t want others to feel judged by us. We don’t want to imperil friendships, and more often than not, sometimes we keep our mouths shut when we often speak. So would You forgive us for that, please? For failing to be witnesses when You've called us to be. And would You help us by pouring out afresh the Holy Spirit, that the place where we are gathered might be shaken? And having been filled with the Spirit, we might go to speak the Word of God with new boldness. And as we do that, O Lord, would You do what You did in the book of Acts and begin to add to the number daily those who are being saved? For we ask it in Jesus' name, amen. 



Christ’s Vision for the Church

By / Oct 29

Well as you know, this week and next week we are taking a short break from our studies in 1 Corinthians as a part of our stewardship season, and we’ve designated this morning as Vision Sunday to think about our vision as a church, and next Sunday, Commitment Sunday, as we pledge and give toward the ministry to which we are committed. We want to do a better job of helping you understand what it is you’re really giving to. So you may have been with us in Sunday School hour when we did some of that. Dr. Henson, earlier, did the same. Let me say it again here – you are not giving to buildings and budgets. Those are merely means to an end. We want to show you that when you give to the work of the church you are really giving to the end, and the end is ministry. You’re giving to people. You’re giving for Gospel growth and kingdom advance. You’re giving in pursuit of the vision Christ has given to His Church for the glory of His name and the salvation of all people. That’s what we really want you to see. And that’s what our Sunday School hour was about, that is what the new vision statement – it’s printed in the bulletin; it’s also in these blue brochures which we hope you’ll take away and make use of. God has already done so much that’s thrilling and encouraging and I hope you’ve been able to see some of that and that has heartened you and helped you look forward in faith.

 

And that’s part of what we want to do together now. It’s to look forward in faith and think about the vision. When our deacons were developing ways to connect giving to the vision, at the very same time, in the providence of God, our elders were actually working on the vision statement itself. And both the work of our deacons in selecting the verse of Scripture for this morning and the work of our Session in producing the vision statement were dealing with the same passage, in Acts chapter 1 at verse 8. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That’s our verse, our stewardship verse, that is really talking not so much about how we get there, but about where we want to go about our vision. Our vision, in the bulletin and in the blue brochures, really is an attempt to implement and apply and parallel and work out in our context the implications of the vision Christ has given to us.

 

So I want to ask you, if you would now, to take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands, and turn with me to Acts chapter 1. And we’re going to read verses 6 through 11. And you’ll find that on page 909 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. Before we read it together, let me ask if you would first of all bow your heads with me as we pray.

 

Our Father, we do need to hear from You. There’s no point in me standing here talking, nor is there any point in us being here together this morning if we do not hear Your Word. We’re here not so much for what we can do for You; we’re here because on our own we’re bankrupt and we badly need You. And so we’re looking to You, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pleading the promise of our Savior that we might be filled. We are Your children, to whom the Lord Jesus promised that our Father in heaven, who is good and righteous, unlike our earthly fathers who, though being evil, nevertheless know how to give good gifts to us, He promised that our heavenly Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. And so now we’re asking. Give us the Holy Spirit and wield Your Word, in His mighty power, in our hearts for Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Acts chapter 1. Let’s actually back up and read from verse 3. Acts chapter 1 at the third verse. This is the Word of God:

 

“Jesus,” this is after His resurrection, “Jesus presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, and appeared to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”

 

Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.

 

Let me back up. Here we are right on the brink of the ascension of Jesus into glory. Let me back up to the night of Jesus' betrayal, just before His crucifixion. Jesus was telling His disciples, John 14, that He is about to depart. And He says to them in verse 4, "And you know the way to where I am going." And you've got to love Thomas. Thomas is that kid in the class who puts his hand up and asks the question you want to ask but are too afraid to. He's full of perplexity, doesn't understand a word Jesus is saying, and so he says, "Lord, we don't know where You are going, so how can we know the way?" Thomas' question has been going around and around in my mind all week as I was thinking about Vision Sunday because I suspect many of us find ourselves asking a question like that with regard to the church. We don’t know where we’re going, so how can we know the way? Have you ever found yourself wondering that? What are we trying to get done around here? Where are we going? If I’m going to serve, I want to know what I’m trying to serve for. If I’m taking aim, I need a clear target. Without a target, we’re not likely to hit anything.

 

You remember Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:26. We considered these verses not so long ago together. He said we’re not to “run aimlessly.” We’re not to box “as one beating the air.” We need a target. We need a finishing line at which to aim and for which we are running as a church, as Christians. We need a vision, a trajectory, a sense of direction. And Jesus gives us one in verse 8 of Acts chapter 1. Here is Christ’s vision given to the Church. Here is His mission. Ours is simply a way to echo and implement that vision in our context.

 

This week we’re going to look at three things and then we’re going to come back and look at verse 8 again next week with another three things, God willing. So I have to squeeze six points out of verse 8, so please pray for me. Just be grateful you’re only getting the first three now; I’m not trying to give you all six! The first three we’re going to look at today. Three “m”s. We’re going to look at the mission – what is it we’re trying to do? The membership – who are we trying to reach? Who gets to belong in God’s kingdom? And the method – how exactly will God do this? How is God going to work this out? According to what plan?
 

The Mission

Let’s think about the mission first of all; the mission. What kind of work has Christ called us to? What is it at which we are to take aim? Look at verses 6 and 7. You see the disciples are pretty confused about this question. Back actually in verse 3, we are told, Jesus, while he was with them after his resurrection, before his ascension, spent time talking to them about "the kingdom of God." Do you see that in verse 3? Now here's their question. You can sort of understand their thinking. They've been thinking about the nature of the kingdom, and so they ask, verse 6, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And you’ll see Jesus’ question in a few moments. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” John Calvin – this is Reformation Sunday so I have to quote John Calvin; it’s in the Book of Church Order! You have to quote John Calvin on Reformation Sunday! And Calvin said of verse 8 – sorry, of verse 6 – the question of the disciples, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel,” he said, “There are as many errors in their question as there are words.”

 

Nature of the Kingdom

You see, they’ve been thinking about the kingdom and they have some sense that some momentous new phase of the kingdom is about to break in and they have some sense that Jesus the Lord is the one through whom it’s going to come, but other than that, they get everything else completely wrong. They misunderstand the nature of the kingdom. John Stott is helpful here. He says that “the verb, the noun, and the adverb of their sentence all betray doctrinal confusion about the kingdom.” Those of you who are not grammar geeks, let me help you. The verb, “restore” – you see? Look at their question. “Will you restore the kingdom?” Here’s the mistake they are making. “Restore” implies a political kingdom that had previously been lost but which Jesus will now restore to them. He’s going to restore the kingdom. And then there’s the noun. The noun, “Israel.” “Will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” That implies that this political kingdom that they think Jesus is going to bring will be ethnocentric. They're focused on the Jewishness of the kingdom. That they're looking for Jesus to come and bring a great reversal to Israel's political and global fortunes. They live right now, remember, under the bootheel of Roman tyranny and domination as the Roman Empire has conquered their land. And so they’re looking for a great reversal to the fortunes of the Jewish people in particular.

 

Time of the Kingdom

And then there’s the adverbial clause. Look again at their question – “at this time.” “Will you, at this time, restore the kingdom to Israel?” That implies an immediate kingdom. They thought the consummation of their hopes and expectations for a political, Messianic kingdom on earth was imminent, any minute now.

 

The Power of the Kingdom

And if you’ll look at verse 8, you’ll see that Jesus, in response, offers a significantly different vision of the nature of the kingdom and of the nature upon which He was sending His disciples. Look how He begins in verse 8. “But you will receive power.” Stop right there. You can imagine what’s going on in the disciples’ minds. “Power! That’s what we want! That’s what we need around here – a bit more power! Power to overthrown Roman domination, power to establish a new political order, power to make Israel great again! That’s the kind of power we want.” It’s temptation for political power, of course, is not new to the disciples. You may remember back in Mark’s gospel, chapter 10 at verse 35, James and John came to Jesus with a request. Jesus says, “What do you want Me to do for you?” and here’s what they asked. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They want power. They want prestige and position, personal supremacy and superiority. That’s what they’re looking for. And now, here they are again, on the brink of His ascension to glory. They’ve watched the resurrection, they’ve seen the empty tomb. Here He is alive among them, still bearing the nail marks of His self-giving love, and they still don’t get it. They’re still looking for power; still looking for an earthly, political kingdom.

 

And Jesus has to correct them and rectify their wrongheadedness. He says, “You know, the kingdom is about power, but power of a different kind. Not power for political revolution. Not power for personal supremacy. Not power for national security. It is spiritual power.” That’s what the text says, isn’t it, in verse 8? “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit that will enable you to be my witnesses. Witnesses to me! That is the nature of the mission. It is a spiritual mission.”

 

Temptation of Power

And just to be clear, don’t you agree, that power, the temptation for power, is a temptation the Church has to deal with in every age, including our own. And sometimes it comes to us in rather subtle ways like a serpent full of plausibility whispering in our ear with temptations. Things to be more strategic about to grow your church – “Go after the influencers and the power brokers. Make your church impactful among the cultural elite. Reach them and you will maximize your impact and really extend your influence!” It can sound plausible. But it has very little to do, you know, with the nature of the kingdom of God as it’s described in the New Testament. You remember 1 Corinthians 1:26, don’t you? “Now consider your calling, my brothers. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were of noble birth – not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth – but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” That is the real nature of the kingdom of God. It’s counterintuitive. We look for power. We want to see the person at the top of the pyramid converted and then everyone under him, surely, will follow suit. When actually it’s the least and the lowest Jesus says will be the instruments of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

 

That was certainly His response to James and John that day in Mark chapter 10. James and John are asking for power, prestige, influence, a position of superiority. He replies like this. Listen to this. “Those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you, must be your servant. And whoever would be first among you, must be the slave of all.” “The kingdom of God,” John Stott says, “is His rule in the lives of His people by the Holy Spirit. It is spread by witnesses, not by soldiers, through a Gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force of arms, political intrigue, or revolutionary violence.” Our calling and our vision is – let me say this carefully and clearly – is not to make the world a better place. That’s not our calling as a church. It’s not to clean up the streets of Jackson or fix the broken schools or bring healing to the myriad epidemic problems of society. That may be your calling as a Christian citizen of this great nation, and we want to equip you and serve with you and help you fulfill that calling. And may the Lord use you wonderfully as you pursue it.

 

Spiritual Mission

But our vision as a local church is to glorify God by making disciples. We have a spiritual mission, not a social one, not a political one, not a psychological one, not a medical one, not a philanthropic one. Rather, we have been entrusted with a message. We have good news for the world. The tomb is empty. Jesus Christ lives and He reigns. He is the King and His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. You can enter it by faith, just by trusting Him and turning from your sin. We are naturally shut out from His kingdom because of our sin. But at the cross, the King Himself, the Lord Jesus, paid personally and in full for everyone’s sin that will come and trust in Him. The path to citizenship, you see, in His kingdom, involves no paperwork. You need no qualifications to come and belong except a willingness to bend your knee to King Jesus, to turn from life on your terms and to submit to life on His. To trust Him to be your only Savior and Redeemer and Lord. That’s our message. That is our mission. That is what we are called to spread to everyone who will listen.

 

Now praise the Lord when people hear that message they are wonderfully converted. And when lots of people get converted, their appetites change; their loves change. Their character changes. And when that happens in a community, the community does change by the great grace of God in the Gospel. As individual lives changes, society changes. But let’s be clear. Our mission is not to change society. We’re not preaching the Gospel to make the world a better place. That is a secondary benefit of the Gospel. When you make the secondary benefit of the Gospel the primary reason for the Gospel, you’re no longer being faithful to Scripture. You have reduced Jesus to a mere means to a social end. That is not Gospel ministry; that is idolatry! Jesus Christ will not be a tool we deploy to get the thing we really want, which is cultural and social change. No, Jesus Christ is the end. He’s both the message and the means and the end in view. He’s the pearl of great price. And we preach the Gospel because we want more and more men and women, boys and girls everywhere to come and join us in delighted adoration of Him who has been a Savior to us. That’s our mission. It’s a spiritual mission. May the Lord help us never to depart from that spiritual mission. That’s the first thing to see – the mission.

 

The Membership

Then secondly, the membership. Who belongs in the kingdom Jesus Christ is bringing? To whom are we being sent as we share the Gospel and seek to fulfill this mission entrusted to us? The apostles in the upper room, you notice, in their question in verse 6, seem to think they know the answer. Do you see it in verse 6? Here’s who they think belongs. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They believe that the kingdom of God belongs to Israel. They have no thought for anyone else at this point. But Jesus has, again, a very different perspective, doesn’t He? Verse 8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea” – well, so far so good; that’s home turf. That’s Israel. But He doesn’t stop there. “Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria” – now that’s a little uncomfortable – “and to the ends of the earth.” That is an expansive vision, well beyond this ragtag band of misfits, every one of whom deserted Jesus at His trial and at His arrest.

 

Here they are – weak, broken men, flawed men, twelve of them; actually, eleven of them at this point – and Jesus says, “I’m going to use you to reach the plant, to reach the ends of the earth.” It’s an extraordinary, extraordinary vision that Christ gives to them. We’re not going to deal this Sunday with the power, the power of the Holy Spirit that will enable them. That’s next week. We’re not going to deal with the program according to which the book of Acts unfolds here in verse 8. That’s again, also next week. We’re not going to deal with the project; that’s next week too. “What does it mean to be Christ’s witnesses?” I just gave the game away. Now you don’t have to come back next week! I told you all my three points! We’re not going to deal with those things right now. We’re simply asking the question, “Who have we been sent to reach?”

 

All the Nations

And Jesus’ answer is mind-blowing. It’s really not attainable in our own strength. It’s altogether beyond us, enormous, overwhelming. They’re to go to the world. In the book of Acts, when Paul gets to Rome, the book ends because Rome is the capital city of the empire; it’s the ends of the earth, symbolically speaking. And so the book of Acts ends as though Acts 1:8 had been fulfilled. But we know, read in light of the whole New Testament, that the ends of the earth is an unfinished task. Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to the disciples, “Go, make disciples of panta ta ethne – all the nations.” That’s a phrase lifted directly from Genesis 22 verse 18, the Greek version of the Old Testament, in God’s covenant with Abraham where He says to Abraham, “In your seed, in one of your descendants, panta ta ethne, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Jesus, who’s going to come, the Gospel is going to reach the world – all the nations. And in Matthew’s gospel, before His ascension, Jesus said, “You remember that promise? You’re the ones who are going to bring it to pass now that I have come.”

 

Or John, in Revelation chapter 7 at verse 8, is given a glimpse of the future of the task at last complete, the mission done, finished – the world reached with the Gospel! And he tells us what it looks like. He sees a vision of a vast multitude all gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb, adoring Him, who by His blood redeemed them from sin and death and hell. And where have they come from? He says they have come “from every nation and from all tribes and peoples and languages.” How big is the scope of the mission Christ has given to His Church? As big as the world. As big as the world. Who gets to belong? Who may come and enter the kingdom of Jesus Christ by grace through faith in Him alone? Anyone, anywhere, as they believe the Gospel.

 

This is a big, scary, globe-spanning, boundary-smashing, comfort-shattering, division-straddling, every class, every gender, every ethnicity-embracing vision. Isn’t it? Nobody excluded; nobody shut out. There’s no one who does not belong in the kingdom of Jesus Christ if they will but bend their knee to King Jesus. And it is a vision – I just want you to see – it is a vision that has not been committed to some other group. This is not a call Christ has given to the church that we can duck. This is a vision He has entrusted to us. We are to go to panta ta ethne – all the nations – you and me, with the good news about Jesus.

 

Our Place Matters

So if you’ll look at the Vision Statement just for a minute, our First Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, you’ll see our attempt to try to implement some of that; our aspirations, at least, as we seek to move towards obedience. It says “We exist to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor” – that’s our backyard if you like; that’s our Jerusalem. Think Belhaven and Fondren and Midtown and downtown. Our place, where the Lord in His providence has put us, on the corner of North State Street and Belhaven Street, our place ought to matter to us. We ought to be more than just the shadow our steeple casts across this community. We are called by the Lord Jesus to love these streets, these homes, these people, and to bring the Gospel to bear for His glory and their good.

 

We’re called to “glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, and in the greater Jackson area.” We have people here right now from all the counties of the metro-Jackson area. And we want to equip you to be a witness for Christ in your home, in your workplace, with your friends. We’re actually working on strategies as we speak, as it were, to build into our church’s calendar seasons of evangelism and ways that you can use, tools that you can use to help you be an effective witness where you live and where you work and where you serve.

 

North America

We’re called to “glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and around the world.” We have two groups of elders working on that – one group looking at North America; another group looking at the whole world. Our North American group have been developing a strategy that will seek to put church planting at the very heart of what we’re all about as a church. To train and equip church planters, to send them in order to reach the cities of North America with the Gospel. The Church, remember, is the only strategy Jesus gave to reach the nations with the Gospel. There’s no other plan. There is no other tool. There is no other organization or mechanism ordained by God, found in Scripture, for the evangelization of the ends of the earth. It’s the local church’s task. And so we want to be a church that’s all about seeing churches planted.

 

The World

And we have a Mission to the World committee that has already developed a bold new focus on the unreached peoples of the world. You’ll see both in the blue vision brochures, you’ll have heard it already in Sunday School, one of the great scandals of our age – 6,738 people groups who are unreached. Let that sink in a minute. Forty-two percent of the global population have no church, no Scriptures, and no sustained Gospel witness. For every dollar of American money spent on global mission, one cent goes toward reaching the unreached peoples of the world. One cent for every dollar. You spent ninety-nine cents elsewhere. And so we believe we’ve been called, we believe every church has been called, but we want to face that call to reach the unreached with the good news about Jesus. This is our mission field. This is our mandate from King Jesus. This is the vision – to go to panta ta ethne, to all the nations, in obedience to Him.

 

The Method

The mission of the Church. The members of the Church. Now finally, very quickly, notice the method. How will God fulfill His sovereign plan for Gospel advancement? Look at verse 7. “The disciples asked, ‘Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” They think it’s going to come in some sort of cataclysmic moment of revolution. Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons the Father has fixed by his own authority.” The Father has a sovereign plan – secret, hidden, known only to Him. His eternal decree governs the progress and the advancement of the Gospel in the world. “Times” probably refers to specific moments, to key decisions, to step after step in Gospel service. “Seasons,” on the other hand, is talking about periods and phases in the Church’s mission, globally, across the ages, as it seeks to be faithful to the call of Christ. And Jesus is telling us that both the little baby steps and the great leaps forward, both the day by day decisions that will influence how you do mission and the epoch-shaping moments and seasons of growth in the life of a church, or the life of a church in a nation or a region, all of that is fixed by the sovereign decree, bounded by the Lordship of the living God who reigns and does all things according to the counsel of His own will.

 

Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Now that ought to do two things for us. First, it ought to make us really bold. If Gospel progress, both in the little baby steps and in the great big movements, in the times and the seasons, belongs in the hand of a sovereign God, then we can take big, bold risks. Can’t we? We can fight fear that holds us back from being faithful by remembering that God is sovereign, salvation belongs to the Lord, He will get the mission done; He will! The ends of the earth will see the glory of our God. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. He will get the mission done and He’s going to use weak, sinful, confused, stammering, broken people like me and like you to do it. Times and seasons are fixed by His plan, His decree. And so we can be bold. What risk when God sits on the throne? What risk? What would we not risk in His service when we know the mission cannot, cannot fail? Right? The mission can’t fail! Are you still with me? Okay!

 

Patience

The other thing it will do is it will teach us to be patient. We must not think because we have a nice, shiny new Vision Statement or because we’ve hatched plans for evangelism or because we gave more this year or we prayed really, really hard or we committed to the Internationals ministry or some discipleship program that that is mechanical. We put in our input, turn the crack, and out pops growth! No, no, the times and seasons are decreed by a sovereign God. The plan is His, not ours. And so we ought to exercise patience and humility. God will get His work done in His time and in His way by His means. Our task is not to concern ourselves with growth. Our task is to concern ourselves with faithfulness. Growth is not our vision. We don’t have a vision for growth. We have a vision for faithfulness; a vision for obedience. Growth is God’s business; faithfulness is ours.

 

So the Lord Jesus Christ here is calling us to be faithful, to submit to Him as our King, knowing that God is in control and His mission will not fail. To be bold and to be patient, remembering, of course – if you read through the book of Acts this is clear – that God ordinarily attaches fruitfulness to faithfulness. Not automatically, not mechanistically, and yet when God’s people do what He’s asked them to do, He blesses, the church grows, the Word runs and is glorified; the Word increases. That’s how the book of Acts talks about it. It’s wonderful language. The Word increases. All it means is that the good news about Jesus is capturing more and more hearts as God’s people are faithful. Isn’t that what we want to see? Isn’t that what we want to see as we look around all these empty patches in the pews? We want to see them filled by hungry inquirers longing to know the answer to their soul thirst. We want to see them filled by new believers brought to repentance and faith through your witness. Go be faithful to the vision Christ has given you and the Lord will bless with fruitfulness.

 

Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, we thank You that You reign as King. We pray for grace to remember the sovereignty of our great God, to know that the times and the seasons are in Your hand, and that You are working Your purposes out as year succeeds to year. And would You give us the boldness that confidence in Your sovereignty provides, and the patience to wait on Your time and to go Your way? And as we do that, as we seek to be faithful, would You be pleased to bless us with growth, not for our own sake that we might multiply our own tribe, but that Jesus’ name might be magnified. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.



Who Then Will Offer Willingly

By / Nov 13

 

Once a year, each year, we appoint one particular Sunday to focus our attention especially on the subject of Christian giving. There are so many demands upon us, aren’t there, especially on our finances. It’s helpful to be reminded about why and how we give to the local church. And the verse of Scripture, as Neil Witherow pointed out earlier, the verse of Scripture that has been chosen to help us think about giving this year is 1 Chronicles chapter 29 at verse 5. And so if you would, please go ahead and take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn there with me; 1 Chronicles chapter 29. You’ll find it on page 356 of our church Bibles. 1 Chronicles 29; page 356. In a moment, we’ll read the first nine verses together. Before we do that, if you would, please bow your heads with me as we pray.

 

O Lord, we pray now that You would give us ears to hear what the Holy Spirit would say to the Church from this portion of Your inerrant Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Allow me to set the scene a little before we read and give you just a little context. King David has purposed to build a permanent temple for the Lord in Jerusalem to replace the tabernacle, the tent that Israel have been using since the exodus. But God had told David that he would not be the one to build the temple. Rather, it would be his son, Solomon. And back in chapter 28, we hear David relay that fact to the people of Israel. In 28 verse 6, “He said to me, ‘It is Solomon, your son, who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son and I will be his father.’” And in our passage this morning, after David is charged Solomon with the task to which God had called him, he turns back to the people to ask for the material support that Solomon will need to accomplish the work of constructing the temple. And so we pick up the reading at verse 1 of chapter 29. This is the inerrant and authoritative Word of Almighty God:

 

“And David the king said to all the assembly, ‘Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the Lord God. So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble. Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God:4 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house, and for all the work to be done by craftsmen, gold for the things of gold and silver for the things of silver. Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?’

 

Then the leaders of fathers' houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king's work. They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, in the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.”

 

Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.

 

I read the story this week of George and Dorothy Doughty. They met and were married shortly after Dorothy lost her first husband in World War II and from that day until the day they died – they both died within ten hours of one another – from that day to the day they died, they never spent a single day apart. For sixty-eight years, they were together every single day. It’s a beautiful picture of two people totally devoted to one another, dedicated to each other. They never spent a day apart for sixty-eight years.

 

In our passage, King David is calling on the people of Israel to assist his son, Solomon, in the construction of the temple. Our stewardship text is verse 5 and that’s David’s request to the people, “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?” Now just notice the two parts to that question. The second part explains the first. The offering David is calling for is obviously material and financial in nature. The context makes that plain, doesn’t it? But David also wants to make it very clear that merely giving financially will not do. The gift that the Lord seeks is far more thoroughgoing than that, far more radical. Like George and Dorothy Doughty’s dedication to one another over all those years, David is calling for God’s people to give themselves to lifelong, never-spending-a-day-apart, total dedication to God and to His service forever. “Who then shall offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?”

 

The monetary gifts are meant to be tokens of the surrender of their entire lives to the Lord. And in a moment, I want us to try and think through why God’s people would give themselves first to concrete, material, radical, sacrificial generosity and then even more profoundly to the complete consecration of their whole lives to the service of God. We’ll think for a moment about the “Why?” question, the question of motivation.

 

How God’s People Give!

 

Before we do that and answer that question, it will be helpful to us to wrestle with “How?” How did they give? Let’s take in the manner and extent of their giving first of all. And the very first thing to say about the way in which God’s people gave is they gave following the example of their leadership. Do you see that in the text? David doesn’t simply say, “Solomon, my son, is young and inexperienced,” and then leap to verse 5 asking for the peoples’ help. No, before he asks for help he outlines his own commitment personally to giving to the work of the Lord. He sets an example. He tells them about his own dedication to giving. It’s hard to call the people of God to radical consecration and sacrifice without leaders who will model it themselves. If you are in leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ, that is still an abiding principle you can’t ignore. Ministers, elders, deacons, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, disciplers of men and women, you cannot call for a dedication to Christ in others if you’re not willing to give yourself in dedication to Christ. Are you modeling the generosity and consecration that you’re calling for? God’s people give, in our passage, following the example of their leaders.

 

God’s People Give to the Best of Their Ability

 

Then secondly, notice that we are to give to the best of our ability. That is David’s language in verse 2. Do you see it? Verse 2, “So I have provided,” he says, “for the house of my God so far as I was able.” He’s not making an excuse for giving badly. He’s not saying, “Well, I did the best I could.” That’s not what he means. Rather, he’s saying, “I gave with all my might. I gave to my capacity.” What he could give, he did give. And look how generous he was. Verse 2, “So I have provided for the house of my God so far as I was able, that is, with all of my strength. The gold for the things of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for the things of bronze, iron for the things of iron, wood for the things of wood. And as well, onyx stones, antimony colored stones, all sorts of precious stones, and marble.”

 

God’s People Give Personally

 

Thirdly, we learn from our passage that we should give personally. Again, notice David’s example. Verse 3, “Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have treasure of my own, of gold and silver. And because of my devotion to the house of my God, I give it to the house of my God.” David isn’t using extra cash! He’s not dipping into the public coffers to fund the work. This is his own money and these are his own resources. He’s not giving what’s left over. He’s giving what he has and he’s giving in a way that is costly and sacrificial. Is that how you give, from what you have in a costly manner? Are you giving such that you must make an adjustment to your lifestyle in order to give?

 

God’s People Give Willingly and Joyfully

 

And then fourthly, notice God’s people give willingly and joyfully. Verse 6, “Then the leaders of the fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings as did the leaders of the tribes and the commanders of thousands and hundreds and the officers over the king’s work.” They made their freewill offerings. That is to say, they understood the gifts they were bringing to be an act of worship offered as an offering to the Lord but not under compulsion but freely; they gave willingly. The same point comes out again in verse 9. Look at verse 9. “Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord, and David the king also rejoiced greatly.” Notice the connection. Do you see the connection between a freely given gift and the joy of the people? They rejoiced because they had given willingly. There is joy when you give willingly to the service of God in an act of worship.

 

2 Corinthians 9 at verse 7 makes that very point, doesn’t it? 2 Corinthians 9 verse 7, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves,” we would expect them to say, “God loves a willing giver,” but what he says is, “God loves a cheerful giver.” There’s joy connected with willing, glad-hearted, sacrificial giving. Or 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 11, Paul goes on to say, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” Your generosity will generate thanksgiving. There’s a connection between joy and cheerfulness and thankfulness and generosity in the hearts of Christians.

 

Four Keys to Sacrificial Giving

So when David here calls for sacrificial giving, he is calling for these four things. First, giving must start with our leaders. They must set an example. Second, we’re to give with all our might. Thirdly, we’re to give personally til it costs us something to give. And finally, we are to give willingly and joyfully, not under compulsion but cheerfully, for the glory of God. And the pattern of our giving, verse 5 is saying, the pattern of our giving is to reflect the deeper, underlying pattern of our consecrated lives, our whole selves given up to God. And so the leaders were to be themselves dedicated, consecrated to the Lord and we are to imitate them. We’re to serve the Lord with all of our might as far as we are able, giving ourselves for God’s glory with glad and happy hearts. Romans 12 verse 1, “Therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, I urge you to present your bodies, your whole selves, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. This is your spiritual worship.” Not just your monetary gifts, but your whole selves. That is the answer to the “How?” question. Here’s how they gave.

 

Why Should We Give?

But our initial question still needs to be answered. Seeing that we are to give like this – radically, generously, sacrificially, willingly, cheerfully, with the consecration of our lives and not just our bankbooks – why should we? That question still remains to be answered. Why did they and why should we? And the answer has to do with the temple and its significance. Look again at what David says in verse 1. “The work,” he says, “is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the Lord God.” The temple to which they contribute will be the dwelling place of God Himself by His Spirit. The glory of the Lord will fill it and the presence of the Lord will dwell there in the midst of the city of Jerusalem. It was an electrifying project in which to be engaged. To be participating in the construction of the one piece of real estate in all the universe where the glory of God will reside – what a thing! And so the people gave willingly.

 

The Perspective of the Chronicler

But if you’ll look again at verse 7, we get a glimpse of the perspective of the author of the book of Chronicles. The author of the book of Chronicles is writing about five hundred years after these events take place. And he uses in verse 7, as he’s listing the various units of measurement – talents, where is it, verse 7, 5,000 talents of gold, 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 of bronze, 100,000 of iron – he uses the units of measurement, talents, except for once he calls one set darics. Darics, that’s an anachronism that comes from the chronicler’s own time, 500 years out of date. He’s got his own generation in mind, do you see, as he’s writing. The circumstances in which the chronicler finds himself are not entirely dissimilar to these. The temple that Solomon would eventually build, in the chronicler’s day, now lies in ruins. The people of Israel have come back home to Jerusalem from exile and under the leadership of Ezra, the work of rebuilding a second temple is underway. And so the chronicler is writing for his generation using something from their era as though to connect the dots between this moment and theirs, to say, “You are here in this text. This is your moment. And like your fathers those many years ago, you also are to contribute to the construction work of the temple.”

 

You may see, if you ever visit Italy, if you look at the great Renaissance masters and their paintings, especially of Biblical scenes, you will see them often painting with anachronisms. You know, they’ll paint Babylonian royalty in the dress of a medieval prince or an ancient Roman soldier in the uniform of a 16th-century Italian soldier. They’re not being naïve about that; they’re simply trying to make the point, “We are in these stories. These stories speak to us. They have a contemporaneity about them to which we must all attend.” And that is exactly what the chronicler is seeking to do. He’s using their language, a unit of measure from their day, to say, “This speaks to you!” Now of course even the second temple that was one day constructed, at last constructed, went the way of the first in the end didn’t it? A.D. 70, the Romans destroy the temple.

 

The Temple of Jesus Christ

But even by then, a third temple was already under construction. Not this time a temple made with bricks and mortar and human hands; this time it would be a temple built without hands, built of “living stones” as Peter calls them, built from human hearts and lives, saved by the grace of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ; built together upon Jesus as the chief cornerstone. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, not now a physical building but a world-spanning kingdom embracing every tribe and language and people and nation. The Church of Jesus Christ today is the temple of God. 1 Corinthians chapter 3 at verse 16, “Do you not know,” the “you” there is plural, “Do you the people of God, God’s people together, do you not know that you are God’s temple and that His Spirit dwells in you?” “In Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 2:22, “we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by His Spirit.” We are, and the world Church is, the temple, the greater than Solomon, the Lord Jesus is building. And brothers and sisters, we are engaged in a construction project far more electrifying than that first generation of which we read here in 1 Chronicles chapter 29. We are engaged in the building of the edifice of the temple of Jesus Christ, the Church of God in every land and in every place.

 

And so, as we take the message of the good news about Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners across the street and around the world, brick is laid upon brick as human beings who once were lost in sin bend the knee in repentance and faith to King Jesus. Brick is laid upon brick, living stone upon living stone, as Jesus the Master craftsman shapes of human hearts building blocks until His global temple rises. He’s building the temple and our giving participates in that mighty work. So why should you give sacrificially and generously, consecrating yourself holy to the Lord? You should do it because Jesus is building a temple that makes that first temple of David and Solomon pale and look like a poor show. He’s building a temple from human hearts won by the Gospel of grace, bought by His blood, and saved by sovereign mercy.

 

The Fastest Growing Church in the World

Just one quick example of how Jesus is building His Church and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it. From the global Church, last week I read about the fastest growing church in the world. Do you know where it is? Any guesses? Not China, not Indonesia, not Latin America. The fastest growing church in the world is in Iran. The fastest growing church in the world. When the shah of Iran was deposed during the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were estimated to be about 500 Christians in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands, possibly a million; hundreds of thousands of believers in Jesus living in Iran. Jesus Christ is building His Church. The temple of the living God is rising as living stones are being built one into the next as sinners are saved by grace. He’s doing it over there and He’s doing it right here. I wonder if you know, by the way, what the second fastest growing church in the world is, after the church in Iran – it’s Afghanistan. Iranian believers speak a language similar to the language spoken in Afghanistan and so Iranian believers brought to know Jesus Christ are witnessing to their Afghan neighbors and bringing them to Christ. Jesus is building His kingdom, His Church, right there in the gates of hell. The Gospel is advancing.

 

Jesus is building His temple from lives that once were lost in bondage to sin and Satan. Now they’re redeemed by the free grace of God in the Gospel. And our church, you, are part of that global movement. What Jesus is doing in the darkest, hardest places of the world – places like Iran and Afghanistan – He can do right here. He is doing right here. In our community, across the street, in our backyard, among our friends and neighbors and all across our country. That is our task. That is the mission into which Jesus Christ invites you. So as you hear David’s question in verse 5, we need to be hearing the call of the risen Christ who is busy building His global Temple calling to us, “Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves to the Lord today?” Will you join the Lord Jesus in His global mission building the Temple, right here in our city, in our community, in our neighborhood, in this place? That’s why we give. That’s why we ought to give. Not just sacrificially and generously monetarily, but with our whole selves, given up to the glory of God, living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, our spiritual worship.

 

May the Lord give us the grace to catch a vision of the electrifying work of the greater than Solomon taking place right now as He builds His Temple, the global Church. And as we begin to see it, may we resolve like our fathers in the passage that we have read, to give our whole selves to the praise and glory of God. Amen, and may the Lord bless to us the ministry of His Word!



Sacrificial Generosity

By / Nov 3

Now if you would please take a copy of the holy Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to Matthew’s gospel, chapter 10.  Matthew chapter 10, page 814 in the church Bibles.  The words of our theme for our stewardship season you will find in the second half of verse 8.  In our translation is reads, “You received without paying; give without pay.”  In the New International Version is says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”  We’re going to read from verse 1. Before we do that would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

 

O Lord, our God, we pray that You would open Your Word and deal with our hearts by it.  Would You do surgery in our souls?  Would You slay sin and make us like Jesus by Your Word?  Show us the glory of Gospel service and the beauty and privilege of ministry entrusted to the church.  Help us to see the weight of the responsibility and to look to You for the provision that all the glory might be Yours as we give and go in the honor and for the glory of the name of Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

 

Matthew chapter 10 reading from verse 1.  This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“And he,” that is, Jesus, “called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

 

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.  As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.’”

 

Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

 

Money, Mission, and Gospel Ministry

 

Apparently, Jesus sells. I was reading an article the other day about Matthew Ashimolowo, the pastor of Kingsway International Christian Center in London.  He was investigated by the UK Charities Commission after spending, get this, $120,000 of the church’s money on his birthday celebrations, $80,000 on a new Mercedes.  It’s nice work if you can get it!  A tax specialist examining the church’s accounts said of it, “This is a very well-financed business.”  Apparently Jesus sells.  It’s a story we could multiply again and again from Britain to America to Africa to Asia, to Matthew Ashimolowo to T.D. Jakes to David Yonggi Cho.  All over the world and every day on our television screens there are preachers peddling Jesus, very often to the poor and desperate, and getting extravagantly rich in the process.  It does need to be said, however, that even faithful churches that have no interested in the kind of spiritual Ponzi schemes we’ve been highlighting can still give the impression that the church exists to fund itself.  We need to make our budget.  We have bills to pay, obligations to meet.  We need to steward wisely and plan for the future with care.  But if we’re not careful, isn’t the suggestion terribly easy to convey that our ministries exist to gather funds?  That the end goal of our work is a well-supplied budget and that all is well if that budget is balanced? 

 

And one tragic effect of all of that is that for many of us we experience a kind of instinctive, understandable recoil when the subject of money is raised in the context of the life and worship of the church.  Our suspicions are aroused perhaps; we are instantly on guard because ministry, we know, is not a means to accumulate money.  That’s not what ministry is really about.  And the passage, the chapter before us here in Matthew chapter 10, as you will see with even a casual glance, isn’t about money either.  It is almost entirely about ministry in the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you scan through the chapter you’ll see that emphasis everywhere – in verses 1 through 4 Jesus gathers the twelve apostles and then in 5 to 15 He sends them out in mission with some specific instructions; 16 to 39 He explains the kind of reactions and opposition they’re likely to meet with and 40 to 42 the sort of impact for good they will have in the lives of those that receive and welcome them and their message.  What we have in Matthew chapter 10, in other words, is a class in missiology, Missiology 101, with Jesus Christ Himself as the tutor.  It is boot camp, a training seminar, for those about to be sent on the very first short-term mission trip in history. 

 

The apostles are about to go with the Gospel, and Jesus, in our chapter, is giving them instructions and teaching them lessons that will go on to serve them long after the resurrection and ascension of Christ as they bring the Gospel to the world.  That is the big idea of Matthew chapter 10 as a whole.  It is a chapter about ministry.  And our text this morning in verses 5 to 15 in particular is especially about ministry.  Would you look at it with me please?  Verses 5 to 15 – not money but ministry is the focus of verses 5 to 15, which I hear you say makes it all the more bizarre as a choice for Stewardship Sunday, right?  It’s not about money; it’s about ministry.  A passage focused not on money is an odd choice for Stewardship Sunday but if you’ll look at it carefully I hope you’ll see that actually the passage will really help us think about how and why we give and serve in our local church and in service of the mission Jesus has given to us.  So let’s take a look at it together.

 

I.     The Scope of the Mission

 

Verses 5 to 15 – notice in the first place in 5 to 8 Jesus explains the scope of the mission given to us.  The scope of the mission.  The apostles were to go only to the Jews in verses 5 and 6.  That will change, of course, after the resurrection when the church will go into all the world and make disciples.  And even here if you look down at verse 18, Jesus certainly anticipates the day when the apostles will bear witness before the Gentiles.  But for now, in this initial trip, they are to go only to the Jews, their target audience.  They’re also given, verse 7, a message to proclaim – “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  A target group, a message, and supernatural signs.  The signs of the breaking in of the kingdom of God in verse 8.  Miracles to perform – heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  That’s the scope of the mission.  The people they are to reach, the message they are to reach them with, and the miraculous works that will accompany their ministry authenticating their words.

 

But if you look carefully at those three elements of their ministry you will see that it mirrors perfectly the ministry of Christ Himself.  One example – just look back at chapter 9 verse 35.  “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues.”  Jesus’ ministry at this stage in salvation history is focused specifically on the lost sheep of the house of Israel; He words amongst the Jews.  He, like the disciples, proclaims a message.  What is the message?  He proclaims the Gospel of the kingdom and He too performs authenticating, miraculous signs, signs that the kingdom of God has finally come in the appearing of Jesus Christ, healing every disease and every affliction.  You see what is being done in describing the mission of the apostles in this way?  It is being described really as an extension of the ministry given to Jesus Himself.  The apostles are extending the work Jesus has been engaged in.  The mission of the church is an extension of the mission of Christ.  That was true not just for the apostles here in Matthew 10 but continues to be the case as you will see if you read the opening words of the book of Acts.  Luke, writing these opening words says, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach in the first book.”  In volume one of Luke’s two volume work, Luke’s gospel, he says that was a record of what Jesus “began to do and teach until the day He was taken up into heaven.”  By implication he’s saying, “My second volume, the book of Acts, is about what Jesus continues to do and teach.”  But Jesus has ascended to glory.  He continues to work how?  Through the ministry of the church.  That is the scope of the mission.  We extend the work and ministry of Christ.  What an immense privilege is committed to us.  As the church, in its various ministries, we serve as the ambassadors and spokesmen of Jesus Christ Himself as He brings the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth through the work of the church.

 

II.     The Significance of the Mission

 

Then look down at verses 11 to 15.  First the scope of the mission; now notice the significance of the mission – what’s at stake.  In verse 11, the apostles are to look for “a worthy home” to stay in.  Worthiness in this context simply means they were to look for a household and a family that would welcome them and their message about Jesus and the kingdom of God.  Such a home would become their base of operations as they went from house to house preaching Christ.  In verses 12 and 13 Jesus tells the apostles when they enter each home they are to come in with the traditional word of Jewish benediction and greeting.  They were to speak peace.  They were to say, “Shalom.”  That was more than simply the ancient equivalent of “Hello,” however.  It was a prayer-wish, a desire that God would give the blessings of salvation summarized in that word, shalom, peace to these people.  And of course now that Jesus has come, this was more than simply an empty wish and aspiration.  This was something that was really on offer through the apostolic gospel concerning Jesus and the kingdom of God.  This is what faith in Christ that the apostles preached could bring to every home and to every heart and continues to bring to everyone who will trust in Christ.  Peace, peace with God, reconciliation to God, cleanliness of conscience, rest for a sin-weary soul.  Peace.

 

On the other hand, verses 14 and 15, if contrary to expectations the household rejects the message then the apostles’ offer of peace would be forfeited and they were to withdraw and actually to do what Jews sometimes did when they left a Gentile city.  They were to take off their sandals and shake the dust from them.  To many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, Gentile land was considered unclean and even its dust was something strict Jews wanted no contact with.  It was an act emblematic of absolute rejection and repudiation – shaking the dust off your free from your hometown.  Blunt and direct – “I want nothing to do even with the dust from your streets.”  But here, remember, Jesus has sent the apostles to Jewish people, not to Gentiles, which makes this act of shaking the dust from their feet extraordinary and stunning and shocking. He tells them, do you see, to treat Jewish people like Gentiles, like outsiders to God’s saving community, if they reject the apostles and their message about the kingdom that has come in Jesus Christ.  It’s a dramatic point, isn’t it?  No matter your birth or ancestry or pedigree, if you reject Jesus Christ you stand outside the community of God’s saving grace and today you stand liable to judgment.  And so instead of peace comes the terrible curse of verse 15.  “Truly I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgments for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town that rejects the Gospel.”

 

Here’s what’s really at stake in the mission Jesus gives the apostles, still gives to the church today – the peace of saving grace or the destruction of divine wrath.  That’s the real significance of the work entrusted to us, of the business of the church.  Eternal destinies worked out in response to our labors.  If the scope of the mission given highlights the incredible privilege that is ours we extend Jesus’ work, we are His ambassadors, His spokesmen – what a privilege – then the significance of the mission highlights its urgency and its gravity and its weight.  Heaven and hell are at stake as we go to the world with the Gospel.  The church is not the county club at prayer, trivial, a take-it or leave-it institution to which your connection can comfortably remain casual at best.  No, no, the church is the agent of Jesus Christ in the salvation of sinners.  The great issue of eternity for men and women, boys and girls, is the business of the church and a business in which every Christian is vitally involved.

 

III.     Supplies for the Mission

 

But then would you look down at verses 8 to 11 with me please?  Right in the center of the commission Jesus gives the apostles with the scope of the mission on the one side and the significance of the mission on the other side, there is a section, verses 8 to 11, dealing with supplies for the mission.  Supplies for the mission.  Do you see that in verses 8 to 11? Look at verses 9 and 10 first of all.  Jesus gives, I think, what are quite extraordinary instructions here.  Wouldn’t you agree?  The apostles are told what not to bring with them on this first mission trip.  We tell our missionaries how much money they need to raise before we will allow them on the mission field.  Jesus here tells the Twelve as they are about to leave on their first ever trip what they’re not allowed to do.  They’re not allowed to raise new funds or to take extra supplies – a bag, clothing, sandals, a staff.  If you’ve ever done a mission trip you will know the feeling well of being pushed out of your comfort zone.  It can be intimidating, can’t it, to go to people you may not now to tell them news they don’t want to hear about a salvation they did not think they needed.  How’s that for a definition of mission?  Going to people you may not know to tell them news they don’t want to hear about a salvation they never knew they needed.  It’s scary enough, in other words, without also being told, “By the way, don’t pack and don’t fundraise.”  How many of you would sign up for a trip like that?  I wonder how many volunteers Danny Story would get for the next Peru trip or Bill Stone for the next Scotland trip if these were the parameters.  “Where will we stay?”  “No idea.”  “What should I pack?”  “Don’t worry about it.”  “Well how much is it going to cost?”  “More than you could ever hope to pay.” Are you game?  I didn’t think so.

 

Two Principles for Material and Mission

 

Actually we know from other places in Scripture that raising funds and planning carefully are the ordinary, normal pattern for Gospel ministry and Gospel mission, so why does Jesus do what is in fact an unusual thing and give these especially stringent instructions to the apostles as they go out on this first trip?  I think He does it to highlight some important principles that shape how we think about money and material things in the light of the mission to which we are called.  Bracketing the call to radical selflessness in verses 9 and 10 are two principles about the relationship of ministry and money in verse 8 and then again in verse 10.  Do you see them there, verse 8 and verse 10? 

 

Freely You Have Received; Freely Give.

Let’s look at verse 8 first of all.  Jesus tells them who to go to, what to say when they get there, and what to do – the miraculous signs to perform.  And then He says, “You received without paying; give without pay.”  He’s using money and giving there as a metaphor for the whole work of Gospel service.  All of it, from the giving to the going, is an act of sacrificial generosity motivated by gratitude for the free gift of grace we have already received from Jesus Christ.  Salvation itself was a gift.  It cost Christ everything though you receive it freely.  In light of His grace, what will you withhold as He calls you to service?  There is nothing He cannot ask of you if He has given all on your behalf to make you His.  Freely you have received; freely give.  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all!” Everything, from my pocketbook to my energies to my every resource are to be given for the glory and praise of Jesus Christ.  Freely you have received; freely give.

 

This is Stewardship Sunday.  We call it that rather than Money Sunday because stewardship and the Christian life is about more than what you do with your pocketbook.  It really is about your attitude as you face the call of Jesus Christ to bring the good news about His saving work to the ends of the earth in light of His giving for you.  It really is about how you will steward your resources in a way that will extend the mission and honor the Master, which means that a Christian that is miserly or indifferent in their giving or who will only go and serve on their own terms, demonstrates and reveals how poorly they understand the Gospel of grace.  Someone who lives within sight of Calvary, who sees what Christ has done, will gladly give their all for the honor of the Savior who gave himself for them. 

 

The Laborer Deserves His Food

And then look at verse 10.  Here’s the second principle that informs Jesus’ commission to the disciples.  First it was, “You received without paying; give without pay.”  The Gospel came to you as a gift though it came at Christ’s great expense.  He died for you; therefore give your all for Him.  The second principle now is the laborer deserves his food.  The laborer deserves his food.  God’s people, the disciples here are being told, will take care of God’s servants.  The point this time is that ministry is the target for money. We use our gifts not to prop up institutions, not to maintain organizational structures; we give to people who are engaged in ministry to people.  That’s what you giving is really about, Jesus says. That’s what God’s people should do. They give to support those engaged in ministry to people who need to hear about Christ.  Lives, not institutions, are the goal and focus of sacrificial generosity.  The laborer deserves his food.

 

We give, and your giving supports lives, people; Gospel servants reaching lives, people, with the Gospel of grace.  Whether that’s the pastoral and administrative staff of the church or whether it’s our various benevolences – you can see them all listed on the back of the bulletin.  Think about the Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center just for a moment.  Last summer, around 2,000 from across the United States heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ because you were generous and gave.  Think about the Twin Lakes Pastors Fellowship.  Several hundred pastors from the United States and around the world, some of them coming from desperately hard and challenging circumstances, gather to hear the Word of God proclaimed and were sent back to ministry encouraged and reinvigorated because you were generous.  They came and enjoyed that time for free because of your kindness.  Think about our Day School and the scholarships we are able to provide for families who can’t afford to send their children, where a Christian worldview is set in place in these young lives.  Think about our extraordinary women’s ministry or our growing young adults work.  Think about our ongoing needs.  We need a new youth minister.  We need a new mission and outreach minister.  We want to engage in other ministries and need to build ministries that we have so that people who don’t know about Jesus might hear of Him and pass from death to life.  That’s what we’re really talking about.  Remember the significance of the mission.  There is a hell to flee and a heaven to gain and our giving and our stewardship and our service furthers the salvation of men and women and the discipleship of others that they in turn might partner with us to extend Christ’s kingdom.  That’s the focus of our giving and our labors, not propping up an institution but funding Gospel work with eternal value.  Freely you have received; freely give.  The laborer deserves his food.

 

Sacrificial Generosity for the Cause of the Gospel

Here’s the scope of the ministry.  What an immense privilege that has been given to us, brothers and sisters, to be the ambassadors of Jesus Christ, to extend His work through our work on His behalf. Here’s the significance of the ministry.  How awesome the responsibility to know that as we proclaim Christ’s eternal destinies are being worked out.  And here are the supplies for the ministry.  Freely you have received; freely give.  Sacrificial generosity in the lives of the people of God.  The laborer is worthy of his food.  Giving is not about institutions but about people, about Gospel workers doing Gospel work.  We don’t do ministry to get money but money does serve ministry and we need to realize that as we think about our commitments today.  Money serves ministry, serves the kingdom, furthers the cause of the Gospel.  And so as you contemplate your giving this year think about the people sitting around you, some of them, who are serving hard without much recognition for the glory of Jesus in this place.  Think about the ministries of our church that need your help.  Think about lost, dying men, women, boys and girls, all around us in our city, in our state, in our country.  And above all, would you think about the cross.  Think about the gift God has given you in His Son, freely.  What won’t you give to bring glory and honor to the Savior’s name?  What won’t you give?  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small, far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”  You have received freely; may God be gracious to you that you may freely give.  Let’s pray together.

 

Father, we thank You for Christ who, though He was rich, became poor that we might become rich in Him. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.  Having freely received of His grace and love in Christ, we pray for grace now freely to give, not just financially but with our labors and with our prayers for the extension of the kingdom of Christ and that the lost may be found and Jesus’ name honored.  For we ask it in His name now, amen.