Why is it that when you and I became a Christian, when we bowed the knee and accepted Christ, when our past sin was washed away and our names were written in the book of life – why, at that point, didn’t God bend down and scoop us out of this world and take us to Himself?
Paul answers this very question …
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
I believe the reason you and I are not in heaven right now is because He has a job for us to do, I have heard it said (I think it’s Jack Hibbs) that, “we are immortal on this earth until we’ve accomplished all God has for us to do”.
God’s plan is and has always been that His people are a blessing to the nations. This was what he said to Abraham at the start in Genesis 12:2,3 : “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
It started in the Old Τestament. God desired that His people, the nation of Israel and Judah would be a light to the nations – most clearly seen in Isaiah 60:1-3.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”.
But it doesn’t stop here, Jesus says this:
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”.
I believe that one of the fundamental reasons you and I are still on this planet is because God chooses to allow us to partner Him in the awesome task of proclaiming the good news to the world!
When we think of proclaiming the gospel to people, particularly elsewhere, we tend to use the term ‘mission’. So that is what we’re talking about here…
Mission What – The Great Commission
I was listening to a podcast this week where something was said which really struck me. I’ve tried to find the podcast again so I can quote hime verbatim, but can’t find it, so my approximation will have to do.
Basically the podcaster (I think it was Greg Koukl) was talking about being in a church service where a missionary was home and preaching. What the missionary said was this: “I’ve been on the mission field for 25 years — and God didn’t call me there”. He repeated it. Greg talked of being surprised, having encountered lots of people called to the mission field and not going, but it’s the first time he’s met a missionary who wasn’t called!
Here’s the punchline … The missionary pointed out that God doesn’t have to call people to something He’s already commanded them to do!
That hit me right between the eyes! One of the clearest instructions given to believers in the Bible is known as ‘the great commission’. Although the term itself (‘the great commission’) doesn’t actually appear in the Bible, it comes from 5 verses from the Gospels and Acts:
- Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- Mark 16:15 “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”.
- Luke 24:47,48 “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.
- John 20:2 “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
- Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The great commission has a number of characteristics…
- all nations,
- all creation etc.
So there is an element of
- Going and preaching
- Proclamation of Forgiveness
- Teaching and Discipleship
So we are called to Go, we are called to proclaim the Good News, we are told to make disciples and baptise, and we are given an audience to preach the message to
Mission Where – All Nations
The great commission passages mention “all nations” in Matthew and in Luke, “all the world” in Mark, and as we have already seen, God wants the Nations to hear the good news, one of the first verses I ever learned was Acts 1:8.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
These are pretty much the last recorded words of Jesus before he ascended to be with the father. Just think about what it means:
Look at the progression in Acts 1:8:—
- Jerusalem = City where they lived;
- Judea = their nation;
- Samaria = neighbouring nations;
- To the Ends of the Earth.
See the progression?
Mission lectures – E1, E2, E3 evangelism – explain
two extremes to avoid
I have been in churches where people have neglected concern for the world because of the need to hear the gospel around them (they use the “charity should begin at home” reasoning), though interestingly, they rarely reach out to their neighbours either.
I have also seen churches where the focus is so much on foreign mission that they neglect sharing their faith with their neighbours (and often the foreign interest is restricted to just reading a prayer letter and having a usually very poorly attended missions prayer evening to boot).
I believe that every church should have a heart for the world, AND that a heart for the world should start at home – but it should never STOP there!
Read Acts 1:8 again, then tell the story of the founding of the early church, found in the first couple of chapters of Acts. Ask the question:
‘At what point did the witness of the first Christians move from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth?’ Note that it is a “cop out” to quote the fact that visitors from every nation were in Jerusalem because the passage doesn’t say you will be my witnesses to people “from” (ἀπό), but just plain old “in” (ἐν). The answer is this – when the persecution came and they got scattered.
I am not suggesting that if we don’t move out into mission that we risk persecution, but I am saying that God’s heart is for us to witness and be involved in witness right across this globe. ok, not everyone can go every where physically, it’s not actually possible for just one fellowship to do that, but there are lots of ways we can get involved, and that will be the subject of my third point…
Mission How – Pray, Give Go
One of the leaders in my first church, George Baxter wrote a mission manual. It was called ‘Pray. Give. Go’ — it was a manual for involvement in World mission. In it he said that every Christian and, by implication, every church should ask 3 questions…
- Do I pray enough for mission?
- Do I give enough to mission?
- Do I go enough on mission?
We Can Pray
Prayer is a very real way of joining with those who are proclaiming the Gospel ….
- Romans 15:30 “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me”.
- Matthew 9:35ff. “The fields are white unto harvest, therefore…”
- Ephesians 6:10. “Our struggle is not against ….”
there are plenty of ways to pray – here are just a few…
- Colossians 4:3,4 :- “pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should”.
- Ephesians 6:19 :- “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel”.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:1ff. :- “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men”.
- Romans 15:31 :- “Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there”.
- Philemon 1:6 :- “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:11ff. :- “we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith”.
If nothing else, I would encourage you all individually and corporately, to pray for mission and missionaries. You will find that it means much more and your prayers are much more effective if you do the following though….
We can Give
Sending / Supporting mission and ministries…
Read Romans10:14,15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
There is a real need for the church to be a sending church – all missionaries go from somewhere – how do they get there? How do they survive whilst they are there?
For some, a local job is a way of supporting yourself and meeting people at the same time (in fact in some countries ‘closed’ to the gospel, this is the only way you can go) this is know as tent making.
But tent making can be negative as well:
- The missionary’s energies are put into supporting himself & his family – not witness.
- He may be taking a job away from a local who needs it more.
- He is also denying his own local ‘sending’ church the opportunity to be blessed by God through it’s giving to his mission.
The number one reason for missionaries to come home from the mission field is that support from the home church has dried up.
“in my first church I introduced a policy to commit to raise our giving to mission until it reached 51% of our income. Didn’t get there before I left (I got it to 1/3 if I remember correctly), but the principle was that as a church we invested more in others than in ourselves. We are close to achieving that here..
Just as with our personal giving, the issue is one of heart. With corporate giving, the issue is also one of heart — the corporate heart of the church. Jesus says we will put our money into that which is important to us “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34 / Matthew 6:21).
We can Go
We have an idea that ‘going’ on mission involves giving up our lives, packing our suitcases and catching a slow boat to some remote unknown part of the world and for some, that may be the case, but there are so many other ways we can go in mission.
Short term missions – a weekend, a holiday, a year out.
There is a phenomenon which is happening worldwide that is called internationalisation – many cities are filled with people from all over the world. In the UK I don’t have to travel to the Africa or India or the Middle East to find people from those nations – they are living in our midst. Likewise, in any major city worldwide there are people living from other nations.
We also believe that we are not suited to mission for some reason, and there are all sorts of excuses people give for that, but I suggest they fall into one or more of the following categories…
- Something in my background disqualifies me (e.g. past sin).
- Something in my character disqualifies me (e.g. fear).
- I have a physical characteristic which disqualifies me (e.g. age, disability).
- I am not able (e.g. education, strength)
What does Paul say about the call of God?
1 Corinthians 1:26-28
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are”.
If God has called us to do something, we can be sure that we already have exactly the characteristics He needs for the job, or that He will equip us for it. That’s what Paul describes as the purpose of the 5 fold ministry in Ephesians …
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
How do we do it?
- Matthew 28:19 – and surely I am with you.
- Acts 1:8 – but you will receive power.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in us will enable us to speak. Pentecost – the HS came on the disciples and filled them with boldness to proclaim the gospel.
Luke 12:11,12 : “don’t worry what you will say for the Holy spirit will teach you at that time what to say”
Finish with the benediction in Hebrews 13:20-21, which I feel hits the spot …
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”.