May 31, 2014 | Brian Bill
I heard about a church that put on an Easter Cantata. When they came to the concluding scene of the Ascension of Christ, the actor playing Jesus was slowly hoisted out of sight through an opening in the ceiling.
The flight upward was progressing smoothly, until the stage crew briefly lost their grip on the rope and the actor nearly dropped back to the stage. With enviable stage presence, he remained in character as his feet dangled inches from the floor and his bewildered disciples looked on in horror. Without skipping a beat he said, “Oh, and one more thing…love your neighbor as yourself.” Immediately the rope yanked him up into the ceiling and out of sight.
While Jesus certainly wants us to love our neighbors, His final words reveal that we must also love the nations.
Here’s where we’re headed today. We’re going to be in three main passages – one from the Gospels, one from Acts and we’ll conclude with a passage from one of Paul’s letters. We’ll discover that God wants us to go global by starting where we are and then going everywhere with the gospel.
Let’s begin with what is known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
our mission mandate is mandatory
These words contain our marching orders for living on mission. In short, our mission mandate is mandatory. Jesus tells us what we’re to do – go and make disciples. Actually, it literally says, “in your going” or “as you go,” make disciples. In Jesus’ mind, it’s a given that we will go! And we’re told to go global – to all the nations. This word for “nations” refers not to geo/political entitites but to “people groups,” of which there are about 13,000 in the world. Mark 16:15 adds that we are to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Unfortunately, the Great Commission could be aptly called the “Great Ommission” in many churches. Or, as the title of a brand new book puts it, we’re “Out of Commission.” This was confirmed this week in an article in Christianity Today that highlighted the seven year slide in baptisms among Southern Baptist Churches, the largest evangelical denomination in America.
Here’s a stunning stat: One in four Southern Baptist churches reported no baptisms at all in 2012 and 80 percent reported only one or zero baptisms among younger adults ages 18-29. Reflecting on this, Thom Ranier, president of LifeWay Christian resources, made this comment: “I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness.”
How can this be true of one of the most evangelistic denominations in the world? Listen. If we don’t live on mission by embracing the Great Commission, the same thing will happen here at Edgewood.
Are you aware that of the 250,000 Protestant churches in America, 200,000 or 80% are either stagnant or declining and 4,000 churches close their doors every single year? You might not be surprised that Brazil is the number one receiving nation of foreign missionaries in the world but you might be shocked about what country receives the second highest number of missionaries – the United States.
If we get off mission, we’ll be in a mess. How then can Edgewood maintain its evangelistic fervor? I’m glad you asked. Please turn to Acts 1. Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, he makes our mission even more specific as He tells us how the gospel is to go global.
Let’s begin in verse 1: “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” Acts is actually the second part of a two-volume history written by Dr. Luke, who was a close friend and companion of the Apostle Paul. As Luke introduces us to Acts, he brings us back to his first book, the Gospel of Luke.
Notice that Luke refers to what he wrote in his gospel as “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” Underline the word, “began.” That’s interesting isn’t it? Luke says that this was just the beginning of what Jesus was going to do and teach. Let’s be clear. Jesus completed everything that needed to be done for our salvation.
His work of salvation is complete and yet, as John Piper says: “He is not finished. He is not done with His work and with his teaching. He is doing and teaching…and the rest of what he came to do…is the point of the book of Acts and it is why we exist as a church.” That means when we come to the end of the Gospels, it’s really not the end but the end of the beginning.
The New Testament describes the continuation of how Jesus did His work in the first century and you and I are now charged with finishing His work until He comes. In the Gospels Jesus ministered in His human body; He now continues His doing and teaching through His spiritual body, the church.
Verses 2-8 give us three phases to follow:
1. Embrace the Message of Christ (2-3).
The first phase is to make sure that we are completely committed to Christ and His commands. Verse 2 tells us that He “through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles….” Before Jesus went back to heaven he wanted to make sure that there was no confusion. He mapped out His mission with absolute clarity.
Verse 3 helps us see that not only do we need to be certain about the message, and committed to His commands, we also need to be convinced that Jesus rose from the dead: “After his suffering by many infallible proofs…”
The first phase is to embrace the message of Christ. The next phase is to make sure we’re plugged into the power behind God’s purposes.
2. Embody the might of the Holy Spirit (4, 8a).
Look at verse 4: “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me.”
They might have thought they were ready for ministry but Jesus slows them down. Even though they had embraced the message they had to embody the might of the Holy Spirit. Power had to accompany truth. They didn’t have long to wait because 10 days later, the Holy Spirit would be given on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
The Holy Spirit is our counselor and teacher and He is also the might behind the message. Look at the first part of Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” The word “power” is the Greek word dynamis.
Friends, the Holy Spirit provides an explosive, life-changing dynamic when the Gospel message is proclaimed in His might. Ordinary people like you and me can accomplish extraordinary things because of the mighty Spirit of God.
Phase one is to embrace the message of Christ. Phase two is to embody the might of the Holy Spirit. That leads to the final phase.
3. Embark on the mission of God (8).
When we come to verse 8, we’re given the last recorded statement of Jesus in the Bible. This final command must become our first concern: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This verse begins with the word “But” to show us that Jesus is giving us an alternative aspiration; a roadmap, if you will, that will point others to redemption. What He is about to say should concern us and consume us. This verse answers the “who,” “how,” “what” and “where” questions of life.
People. The “who” is you and I: “But you…” Jesus continues His work today through individuals and the institution called the church.
Power. When we wonder “how” we’re to fulfill His purposes, we’re told that we have the power of the “Holy Spirit.”
Plan. After we welcome the message, and wait for the power, the “what” is fairly simple. God’s plan is for us to be “witnesses.” That’s it. We don’t have to be expressive evangelists or persuasive preachers.
A witness is one who has seen and heard and experienced the explosive life-changing power of Christ in their life. Jesus said it this way in Luke 24:48: “You are witnesses of these things….” Luke describes the work of witnesses in Acts 4:20 when Peter and John answer those who tried to keep them quiet: “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Here are a few verses from Acts that help us see that we can do the same thing:
- Acts 2:32: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
- Acts 10:39: “We are witnesses of everything he did…”
- Acts 22:15: “You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”
I don’t mean to imply that this is always easy to do. In the Greek, the word witness is nearly identical to the word for martyr.
Place. While He wanted the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the power and then to be His witnesses there, Jesus never intended the gospel message to stop there. We start in our neighborhoods and then we go to the nations. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. Actually, we’re responsible to reach all four spheres – our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Look at the last part of Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Here are three observations:
- This is the key verse in the Book of Acts and serves as the outline of the geographical spread of the gospel. In chapters 1-7, the focus is on Jerusalem; in chapters 8-12, the gospel moves out to Judea and Samaria; and in chapters 13-28, the message resonates all the way to Rome. [show PPT map]
- While the gospel moved out from Jerusalem, it took persecution to shake the believers loose from their comfortable surroundings. In other words, God sent hard times their way in order to get them back on track. Look at Acts 8:1 (just reverse the numbers from 1:8): “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Sometimes we need a push before we will commit to God’s purposes, don’t we?
- God’s goal has always been for His glory to go global. I was reminded of this on Friday in my Bible reading from Psalm 65:8: “So that those who dewll at the ends of the earth are in awe of your signs.”
Now, how do we fulfill this command today? It helps me to see it this way:
Jerusalem The community
Judea The county
Samaria The country
Ends of the earth The continents
God wants us to go global by starting where we are and then going everywhere with the gospel.
The State of the World
I think it’s helpful to assess how we’re doing at going global. Here are some up to-the-minute statistics that I pray will be motivational for each of us.
- Most missionaries are no longer Americans. In the 19th and 20th centuries, missionary ranks were filled mostly by Americans, Britains and Canadians. Today there is tremendous growth in churches in Latin America, Africa and Asia comprised of tens of millions of believers that came to Christ largely apart from any western influence.
- It’s hard to get our hands around how huge the world is. This may help. If you could shrink the earth’s population to one village of exactly 100 people, here’s how the village would look:
- 60 would be from Asia
- 80 would be non-white
- 67 would be non-Christian
- There are still approximately 6,900 unreached people groups
- Most unreached people live in what is called, “The 10/40 window.” This is a band across Africa and Asia stretching from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees north of the equator. Here’s a stunning statistic: Of the 55 least evangelized countries, 97% of their population lies within the 10/40 window. And only about 2.4% of the global missionary force is working there.
Tim Keesee writes about an experience he had in the Horn of Africa, where Islam is losing ground among the Oromo, a people group numbering 30 million. He traveled with a young Oromo missionary to a remote region of Ethiopia, where gospel advance has often been met with violent opposition from the terrorists of al-Shabab. As he talked with this missionary about how churches were being planted, many of which could be reached only by foot or hoof, he asked the missionary a question, “Given the vastness of the territory, the limits of your resources, and the Islamic threat, which villages do you target?” The missionary looked at him, puzzled as if the question had never crossed his mind. “All of them,” he replied matter-of-factly. “We don’t skip.”
Friends, we can’t skip either, can we? I want to show you something really encoruaging.
That’s why Edgewood is a global church. We take our marching orders from Matthew 28 and Acts 1:8. There’s one more passage that captures why we do what we do. Turn to Romans 10:14-15: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’”
We have a lot of faithful missionaries who have beautiful feet!
God wants us to go global by starting where we are and then going everywhere with the gospel.
Sometimes I hear people say that we shouldn’t be evangelizing to the ends of the earth because we have too much work to do here at home. Here are two ways I answer that. First, we already have 1200 Edgwood members who are called to live on mission here in the QCA. We should have the entire area covered, right? Second, are you aware that in North Africa, there is only one pastor or missionary for every two million people? If we take this ratio of Christian workers to the total population that exists in North Africa and apply it to the U.S. and Canada, we would only have about 120 full-time Christian workers living here. Shockingly, there would only be 7 small churches in the entirety of those two countries.
God wants us to go global by starting where we are and then going everywhere with the gospel.
I trust that the Holy Spirit will personalize this message in a way that will mobilize you to go global with the gospel as you embrace the message of Christ, embody the might of the Holy Spirit, and embark on the mission of God.
Here are a few ways to put the preaching into practice so that Christ’s last command will be our first priority. Listen. If we live on mission we will love missions.
- Grow your faith. What next step do you need to take spiritually? Do you need to join a Life Group, get baptized, or join the church? Perhaps you need to make the commitment to read your Bible every day. Remember a witness is one who has experienced Christ in a personal way. It’s more who you are than what you do.
- Move your feet. The basic principle from Acts 1:8 is to start where you are and move outward. Who do you need to witness to? Will you walk across the street and engage a neighbor in conversation? Determine to tell your story to someone this week. When you grow, you’ll go global. Maybe God is moving you out of your comfort zone to serve Him cross-culturally.
- Pick one missionary and correspond with them. Check out the emedia screen in the lobby. Pick up prayer cards. I love reading missionary updates. Steve and Pam Workman minister in Botswana. Just one month ago they held a camp and had 90 Africans attend and 15 of them confessed Christ for the first time!
- Practice crossing cultures in this county. According to one count, the gospels record 132 contacts that Jesus had with people. Six were in the Temple, four in the synagogues, and 122 were out with the people in the mainstream of life. How can you cross from your comfort zone into the world of those who are really hurting? Will you reach out to refugees? They are really the “next-door nations.”
- Free up your finances. Did you know there is enough money in American churches to fully fund missionaries who are struggling and to launch new strategic initiatives that will further the gospel to the least reached places of the world? Maybe God is tugging at your heart to support World Relief, PregnancyResources, or to sponsor a child in another country.
John Piper reminds us that we have three choices – we can go, we can send, or we can disobey.
Friends, one thing I’m sure of. Edgewood has made a great commitment to the Great Commandment and to the Great Commission. And as we live on mission here we will launch missionaries who go everywhere.
When God sent out missionaries in the Book of Acts, they would eventually come back to the churches that sent them and let them know what God had done through their ministry. We see this process in a number of passages but it is clearly seen in Acts 21.
- They returned. After traveling around and watching God at work, verse 17 says: “When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.”
- They reported. We see this in verse 19: “Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”
- The church responded with praise. After hearing all that God had done, the people went into a time of worship. We see this in verse 20: “When they heard this, they praised God…”
And so we see this missionary model: Return-Report-Respond.
The story is told about how the angel Gabriel approached Jesus after He had ascended to heaven and said, “Master, do people know and appreciate how much you did for them?” Jesus replied, “Oh, no! Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Jerusalem know.” Gabriel was perplexed and asked, “Then what have you done to let everyone know about your love?” Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell others about me. Those who are told will tell others until my story is spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of mankind will hear about my life and what I have done.” Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical because he knew all about humans. He then said, “Yes, but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twenty first century people just don’t tell others about you? Do you have a Plan B?” And Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.”
Do people see Jesus when they look at us?
Can Christ count on you? Jesus is going out of view but He’s still in view in His church and in each of us who claim to be His followers. Do people see Jesus when they look at us?
I wonder if some of you are ready to say that you’re “all in” for ministry or missions? Do you need to settle that today? Come up front if you do.