The Genesis of Missions: The Genesis of Missions: The Very First Missionary Movement

Sermon by Iain Campbell on February 20, 2008

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Midweek Bible
Study and Prayer Meeting

February 20, 2008

Missions
Conference 2008

“…That all
the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)


Genesis 1:3

The Genesis of
Missions


The Very First Missionary Movement

The Reverend Dr.
Iain D. Campbell

Dr. Duncan: Amen. Please be seated. It is my joy to
introduce to you the Reverend Dr. Iain D. Campbell, of the Free Church in Back,
on the Isle of Lewis, not far from Stornoway, the Western Islands, the Hebrides,
of Scotland. It’s been my privilege to know Iain D. for closing in on twenty
years now. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a published author, very prolific
in his writing…writes for the newspaper every week, but has written so many
wonderful theological books. What I love most about Iain is he’s a faithful
preacher of God’s word. Derek and I have been talking over the last few weeks —
we can’t imagine anyone who is more faithful and gifted in the preaching of the
word of the living God in Britain today than our friend Iain Campbell. And we
look forward, dear brother, to sitting under your ministry in these days to
come.

Dr. Campbell: Well, thank you very much. And thank
you for the invitation to be with you at this Missions Conference. If I had any
worry that my accent might be a problem, it was completely dispelled when young
Jennings told me today that I speak like Dr. Thomas! I’m not sure who received
the compliment in that statement, but it is good to be with you and to share
God’s word with you, not just because of our common interest in missions, but
particularly because of a shared interest we have in Uganda. I know that you
support very much the work that Palmer Robertson is doing in the Africa Bible
University as it is now in Uganda, and one of our own elders has been helping
with the construction work there on campus. So it’s good to have these shared
projects.

And we are here because of a shared project. We are
here because the gospel has brought us together, and I hope as we come to study
God’s word and to hear missionary reports and to learn about the work of the
gospel in our different cultures that it will generate in us a deeper
appreciation of what God is doing. This is His mission, through His word, by His
people, in His word, and for His glory. So I do thank you for the opportunity to
be part of the Conference here.

I have given my sermons the general title of “The
Genesis of Missions” partly because they’re all going to be from the book of
Genesis, and also because we do need to recover our theological roots way back
at the very beginning of the Bible story. I wonder if I were to ask you what the
very first missionary passage of Scripture is what you might suggest. Some
people might suggest, well, the call of Abraham in Genesis 12, and that’s a
strong contender, I think. There is God calling one man to be a means of
blessing for the whole world, what Gerhard Vos called “a particular means for a
universal end.” It’s a great missionary impulse, is it not? Some have even
suggested that the Great Commission at the end of Matthew is really just a
christologizing of Abraham’s call.

Some might even press further back than that and go,
for example, to Genesis 3, to the protevangelium, to the very first
gospel message preached after the fall, and say, well, there’s our first
missionary text. And what a contender that would be! What a sermon that was,
preached by God to the whole human race and the devil, explaining that one day
the devil will be crushed. And everything that has ever happened outside of the
Garden since that point has happened because of what happened in the Garden. And
the whole Scripture is really a footnote on Genesis 3:15, and it’s still being
worked out, and God is saying to us one day soon the God of peace will crush
Satan under our feet.

I actually want to push even further back this
evening, as I suggest that the very first missionary movement is recorded for us
in the very opening words of the Bible. They’re familiar to us, but let’s just
read them together.

Let’s turn to Genesis 1:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth
was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the
Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God
saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God
called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening
and there was morning, the first day.”

These verses record for us the first spoken words of
God. God said, “Let there be light.” It is a magnificent moment. It is the
moment in which this universe, which bears on every part the stamp of the glory
of its maker, comes into being. God says, “Let there be light,” and there was
light. And here is something quite distinctive that is going to be before us at
every point of the Bible story: the fact that God exists eternally, and we exist
in time; and He is sovereign God, and we are creatures of a moment; and there is
distinction to be made and to be drawn between the God who makes all things and
everything that is made. Everything comes from Him and everything is for Him. It
shows His glory, and it is for His glory, and it is programmatic for everything
that takes place in the whole of human history, running right through the
Scriptures. God says, “Let there be light.”

And I am simply suggesting this evening that the
very first missionary movement is this one, where God Himself moves to create
the universe, and does it first of all by saying, “Let there be light.”
So
let me just highlight one or two things this evening.

I. God’s purpose of
mission.

Let me suggest first of all that in these
words God is actually indicating a purpose of mission.

He is under no obligation to do what He is doing at this
point
. There is no intrinsic necessity on God’s part to create a world.
There is no need in Him that is going to be met by the creation of the world.
There is no lack in God’s being or in the fellowship of the Holy Trinity that
creating a world will address. And yet, God does it. He is Himself in existence
in a fellowship of persons, and we worship Him as we worship them. And we think
of the one, and we think of the three. And as we think of the three, we think of
the one, and the perfect harmony and unity that exists in the Godhead.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word is face
to face with God, and the Word is God. And the remarkable glory of the gospel is
that it is precisely into fellowship with the Triune God that grace brings us.
“God is faithful,” says Paul, writing to the Corinthians, “who has called you
into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” So, in this great and
glorious life of the Triune being there is a perfection and there is a
completeness that does not require anything outside of itself to make it better.
God exists and He is perfectly, divinely, unchangeably, eternally happy in that
existence. And yet He says, “Let there be light.” He is in the light; He is
light; but He says let there be light elsewhere. And He’s looking outside of
Himself and outside of the parameters of this being who is infinite and has no
parameters, and He is saying let light be there.

And all of a sudden, there is some purpose deep in
the divine being now being realized: not a need that is being met, but a
purpose that is being intimatedthat God is going to exist now in
relation to something outside of the divine fellowship that is the life of God
.
And so God says, “Let there be light.”

Francis Turretin puts it like this:

“The first work of nature is creation, by which God formed out of nothing as to
its whole being this entire universe and all that is in it. Hence, it is called
the beginning of the ways of God because,” says Tarryton, “having come forth
from the secret sanctuary of His eternal majesty, He willed to communicate
himself ad extra by it, and manifest himself unto men.”

God is coming forth from this secret sanctuary of His
eternal majesty, and He is going to communicate the glory of what He is and who
He is to a world that has always existed in His own mind and purpose, and is now
going to exist in reality. That’s why I want to say that from the very
beginning, from the moment God creates the world, this first action that He
performs outside of Himself, resplendent with all of its glory, has as its
ultimate view that He will relate magnificently, gloriously, and savingly to the
world that He is going to make. So He says, “Let there be light.” And He is
indicating His purpose to move outside of himself and to relate to this world.
He is indicating a purpose of mission
.

II. God creates the possibility
of mission.

But then let me say, secondly, that by saying, “Let
there be light,” God is now actually creating the possibility of mission.

He is going to create a world not in order to
leave it; not to wind it up and just let it tick away: He is making it so
that it will be His world, and it will be the theater of His glory
. That’s
what He’s doing when He’s making a world. He’s constructing this magnificent
stage upon which He is going to do some of His most glorious works. And however
glorious this particular work is, this work of creating the universe…however
much His own glory is stamped upon it, what He is going to do in it and what
He’s going to do for it is going to be an even greater conduit of His glory, and
He’s going to display it before men in this world that He’s making.

All the world is a
stage, and it is God Himself who will be the principal actor on that stage, and
He will drive forward the great drama of His redemption until at last it reaches
its consummation and its ultimate goal
.

That’s why it’s so magnificent, and so magnificently
exciting to be here this evening! Because the very first word is not spoken by
any man, it’s not spoken by any created angel: it’s spoken by God Himself, and
He’s now putting everything in place so that this word will become the arena of
His glory to be displayed and His attributes to be paraded before a watching
universe, so that men will rejoice in Him and come through faith in the Son that
He will send into this world to become His people and give Him glory forever and
ever. So He’s creating the possibility of mission.

III. God’s principle of
mission.

But I want to move on to express, thirdly, that these
words actually set before us a principle of mission, because what God does in
the creation of the universe is in a sense what He’s going to keep on doing as
He drives the great drama of His salvation forward.

“Let there be light,” He says. That’s the very first
creation principle. Without the light, there will be no world. And without light
the world cannot be sustained. And God’s first creative act is to separate the
light from the darkness, and to name them, and to give them their different
spheres. “Let there be light…let there be light.” That’s the principle of
creation
, and I’m saying we need to translate that and make it also
the principle of mission
, because in a fundamental sense this world is
soon — very, very soon — going to be plunged into an altogether different kind
of darkness. Not the darkness of night, but the darkness of spiritual alienation
and the darkness of hostility against its own Creator.

And as Paul explicates and opens for us the great
implications of man’s fall, isn’t that exactly what he says? “They changed the
glory of the Creator and gave glory to the creature.” And that’s the very
essence of the rebellion…what happened on the stage ought not to have been.

Man’s fall is the greatest absurdity of all: that
with everything going for him, with Paradise in his hands, man should believe
the lie that by disobeying God he can improve what he has. And he soon discovers
that there is nothing on the path of sin but loss, and ultimately death. And
suddenly in this glorious, bright paradise, everything becomes dark. Man becomes
alienated from God and his understanding becomes darkened; and professing
himself to be wise, he becomes a fool.

And everyone in Adam has done the same ever since
these terrible, terrible things happened in the Garden. We’re still doing it,
and we’re still shrouded in the darkness. And men love the darkness rather than
the light precisely because their deeds are evil. And the distinction still
exists between the light and the darkness, between the light that is in God and
the darkness that is in us.

And yet, God says, “Let there be light.” And God
sets before us the very principle on which all mission is based, and by which
all mission is driven
. And even given the darkness into which man
brings himself by the fall, God says, “Let there be light for man in this
darkness.”

And the first rays of
gospel light begin to shine into man’s darkness with that primitive gospel
declaration that at last, at last, the seed of the woman will come and crush the
head of the serpent and wage war with that old enemy the devil, and triumph over
him at the cross
. Only by entering into our darkness…. And isn’t it
remarkable that at the cross itself, in all the mystery of this incarnate
redemptive Savior who has come into this creation, that He should be shrouded in
darkness at the point of His dying, precisely because God says, “Let there be
light”?

And there can be light in no other way other than
this Jesus, who dwells in the light from all eternity in the fellowship of God,
being made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. So
when He says, “I am the light of the world,” it is the most glorious thing in
the world. God does not leave man to perish in his own undoing, because God has
a purpose of redoing and remaking and setting things right again, and He has
said, “Let there be light.” And He sends the light into the world, and John,
echoing these great opening words of Genesis, reminds us that that’s why the
Word becomes flesh and dwells among us:

“In Him was life, and His life is the light of men. And the light shines in the
darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

And it is the most glorious thing that the mission of
the gospel is predicated on God’s saying, “Let there be light,” and man is not
going to be left in darkness.

God says to a lost world, ‘I give you Jesus. Let
there be light.
And He sends that message out with His people, makes
them the bearers of the good news, continues to say, “Let there be light.”

Jesus says to the disciples, does He not, ‘You…you are the light…you are the
light of the world. Let your light shine in the darkness. Don’t let anything
obscure it. Don’t hide the candlestick, but make sure that it shines and that it
shines faithfully, and that it shines brightly in every area of your life and
conduct and behavior.’

God is still saying, “Let there be light,” and
He is saying it about His people. And He is making them, as the image-bearers of
Jesus and the sharers of the word of Jesus, He’s making them…He’s making
you, He’s making us…the missionaries of this dark world, and He’s saying ‘I want
there to be light in this darkness.’
And the only light that there is is
the light that His people carry as they live for Jesus in all their various
callings in life, and all their various responsibilities of life.

And we’re either tonight in the darkness and needing
the mission to reach us, or we’re in the light and the very bearers of it. So we
need to make sure tonight, my Christian friends, that the God who says, “Let
there be light,” is speaking to us: to you young believers in here tonight, to
give all your energies and all your interests to living for Christ, where He has
put you and where He has called you; to you homemakers in here this evening,
bringing up your children for the Lord, let there be light in these homes. Your
children are naturally, natively, spiritually in darkness. “Let there be light,”
God says. You’re their pastor. You’re responsible for their souls. This is the
flock God has given to you, and in your home and in your family. God says, “Let
there be light.” And in your workplace, with so much evidence perhaps of the
darkness all around–maybe you’re the only Christian there–that you’re there
because God does not want that place to be absolutely dark. He says, “Let there
be light,” and He’s put you there for that very reason, so that you will let
your light shine, and men will see your good works and glorify your Father who
is in heaven. And with the words you speak and the steps you take and the work
your hands do and everything about you, you communicate the glorious gospel of
the blessed Lord, and you let the light shine.

And fundamentally God says, “Let there be light,”
because He’s given us His word. And He says this is the light men need: this
great body of truth
. There is no book like this in the whole of the world.
This is God’s book, God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant book from beginning to
end. It breathes God and it declares God, and it reveals God in all His majesty
and magnificence, and God says, “Let there be light.” Let this book go into
every corner of the world. Pray for its translation and pray for its
distribution, and pray for every place where it’s read and where it’s sung, and
above all where it’s proclaimed.

How we rejoice that this place is a beacon of light,
only because and wholly because the word of God is proclaimed faithfully from
this pulpit. And how much we need in the evangelical church of our present day
to return to that given of church life and of evangelicalism that we proclaim
the whole counsel of God, and that we preach Christ crucified. God says to our
pulpits, “Let there be light.” And He says to us to proclaim the message that
will bring light, because nothing — nothing! — will scatter the darkness except
the light. And it does not matter what you bring with you into a dark room. You
may be well dressed, but you’re still in a dark room. You may be exemplary in
your conduct, but you’re still in a dark room. You may have great programs and
great activities planned, but you’re still in a dark room unless you take light
with you. And God says, “Let there be light.” Let’s proclaim the great doctrines
that bring light.

Do you remember the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm
43? “Oh, send forth Your light and Your truth; let them be my guides.” And how
much the church needs that prayer. We have new perspectives on absolutely
everything today. New perspectives on every doctrine. New perspectives on every
Bible character. New perspectives on Jesus himself. God says these are only
obscuring the light. Let there be light!

Let’s get back to the great fundamental doctrines
that we received in our Reformation heritage. It’s not without reason that the
Reformation monument in Geneva plasters these great words over the world:
Post Tenebras Lux
— “After darkness, the light.” The light came. The light
came with the Reformed doctrines that spread like a wildfire through Europe!
The gospel was preached and souls were saved. And Christ…Christ in all the
riches of His person and all the magnificence of His finished work, and all the
sufficiency and the fullness of His offices, was paraded before men in the
proclamation of the gospel. And that old, old story carried the light into a
dark world. And I do not know of any substitute, I do not know of anything that
can effect the things that faithful gospel proclamation can effect, because the
light is carried in the proclamation of this word, and God mandates our churches
and all our missionary agencies to go into a dark world and let there be light.

And let’s tell men what they are in reality: dead in
their trespasses and sins; alienated from God; absolutely helpless in the matter
of their souls’ salvation; and yet, wholly accountable to the Judge even for
their helplessness. And let’s proclaim the remedy: the remedy of God’s providing
and of God’s prescribing; the remedy given in Jesus Christ, in the God-man, in
the Word made flesh who dwelt among us…not so that He would dwell among us, but
so that He would die among us and so that He would die on a cross…not because of
anything that He had done, but in spite of what He had not done. He’d never
sinned against God, never broken the Law. Not one indefensible word, not one
unjustifiable action on His part. Absolute perfection: the very embodiment of
God’s Law, and yet He dies on the cross. Why does He die on the cross?
It’s the greatest injustice in the world if it is not because He is carrying
the sins of others
.

Let there be light. Let men know that there is such a
thing as imputation, and it’s at the very heart of the gospel that my sins are
imputed to Him and He dies, not for His own sins, but for mine. And it’s
absolutely just. And because of that, how can God not justify the ungodly who
believes in Jesus? And in that moment, every sin is forgiven and there is peace
with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Let there be light.

Let there be light. Let’s tell the world of this
dying Savior and go to all men without exception and say to them, “Christ is
dead for you at Calvary, and you come to the dead Christ of Calvary and you will
find life, justified by His blood and saved only through that substitutionary
penal atonement at the cross of Golgotha.”

Let there be light. Let’s make sure that the
preaching of the gospel is not driven by the needs of the church, so that we
become just a place for self-help and of therapy in the name of Jesus. Let’s
make sure our preaching is not driven by the deeds of the church, so that people
come just to know what they should do with their lives. Let’s make sure our
preaching is driven by the creeds of the church, so that as we set Christ before
the church of God, deeds will be done and needs will be met as people bow before
the awesome glory of God’s salvation in the Christ He has exalted and made a
Prince and a Savior to grant on repentance a remission of sins to Israel. And
sinners fall down, and say, “I am undone.”

That’s what will give the mission work of the church
its impetus and its impulse in our Post-modern Age. Let there be light. And
let’s make sure we are preaching the light-carrying gospel to a world in
darkness.

IV. God establishes the pattern
of mission.

But I need to come to this. I need to say that
these words also communicate the paradigm of mission, the pattern of mission, by
which I simply mean this.

Doesn’t Paul take us back here in his great excursus
on why he is not discouraged? He has every reason to be discouraged. Corinth is
not an easy place for the gospel. And the devil’s busy at Corinth blinding the
eyes of those who do not believe, lest the glorious gospel of Christ should
shine into them. Do you see? He knows “Let there be light.” He knows what to
preach. But he’s up against this terrible, terrible opposition that comes from
hell itself as the devil keeps men spiritually blind in case the light should
shine. But he says, ‘We don’t give up. We keep preaching, and we keep scattering
the seed, and we keep sowing and we keep going out with the gospel.’ Why?
‘Because,’ he says, ‘…because the God who commanded the light to shine out of
darkness shines into the hearts of men to give them the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’

And what a privilege to minister and to mission to
those who are in darkness, and to see God saying, “Let there be light.” And in
every soul that bows the knee to Jesus and in every life that is transformed
through the proclamation of the evangel, God says, ‘I did that. I made a new
creation there, and I brought light into the darkness of this soul. And you see
that man praying, who wasn’t praying before? I did that. And you see that woman
repenting of her sins now, who never repented of her sins before? I did that.’
God says, ‘I said, ‘Let there be light.’

We’re only being the carriers of the message. We’re
only holding the torch and hoping that we can faithfully keep the baton and pass
the torch on to another generation, but it takes this creative sovereign power
that is unparalleled in the universe to make a sinner a saint. But it happens.
And here and there one is born in Zion, and God says in the hearts of men and
women whom He gives to Jesus, ‘I did that. I did that. I said, ‘Let there be
light.’’ And we rejoice after the fact that in this once dark life there is now
light.

You, my Christian friend here tonight, you can
testify of that. Doesn’t Paul tell you? You were once darkness, but now you are
light in the Lord. Walk…walk as children of the light. Oh, I know you need to
mourn over the darkness that is still there and how much more of the light you
would love to experience day by day, but I never forgot these great words that
Andrew Bonar wrote in his diary long ago as he looked back over his Christian
life and said,

“It was not always bright sunshine; but since Christ came in, it was always
light and never darkness in my soul.”

Not always bright sunshine… but the path of the
righteous, as Proverbs taught us, is like the shining light that shines more and
more to the perfect day.

V. God’s promise
of mission — a new day, a new world, and a new creation.

Which brings me at last to this: that these words
actually set before me the promise of mission, and raise my eyes beyond what I
can see around me here to the promise of a new day and of a new world and of a
new creation, where all that Jesus suffered at Calvary is repaid with the
presence, the physical glorified presence of all that the Father promised Him in
a world separated from the darkness, just as at the beginning.

John sees into that new heaven and new earth; sees
the wicked condemned into a place called “outer darkness,” and the redeemed
gathered into a place where there is light. And the city has no need of the sun
or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God lightens it. The Lamb is its
light.

God said at the beginning, “Let there be light,”
because in His mind’s eye, He was fixed on the end, and a place where at last —
at last! — God’s people in the light made new because the light has shone into
their experience, at last know…and for the first time ever they are in a place
with light and no shadow. Light but no shadow…and all the shadows that cut
across their path here, they are gone. The last vestiges of the darkness have
scattered in the ultimate separation when God says finally, “Let there be
light.” And that’s the promise of mission: that at last, through this gospel, He
will have His people in the glory with Him, and they will relate to Him forever
and ever, and walk with Him in the light. And John says, “There was no night
there.”

Tonight I’m not so much interested in the question
“Will you be in the light then?” as I am in the question “Are
you in the light now
?” Because this Jesus is the true light. And if
we walk in the light as He is in the light, that’s where we have forgiveness,
and that’s where we have fellowship, and that’s where we know the blessing of
the God of the covenant. And may we all know the assurance that we are a new
creation, and that into our souls God has come and God has said, “Let there be
light there.” And let’s fulfill our calling, and let our light shine before men.
Amen.

Let’s conclude with prayer.

O gracious God, how we rejoice tonight in the fact
that You did not leave us in the darkness, but You came our way with the light
of grace and of gospel truth. And we pray that we might know the power of that
light in our experience and see its effect in every place where we are called to
live and labor, and work and minister. And for our world tonight we cry to You,
“Let there be light,” and pray that You will come with gospel power to scatter
the darkness so that men and women and boys and girls will enjoy the light of
life. Bless us, we pray; encourage us, we pray; be with us now in our parting as
in our meeting. May grace, mercy, and peace rest upon us all. Amen.

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