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MESSAGE FOR APRIL 6, 2003

(First in a series on the mission of Christ’s Church)

 

            Several months ago, we spent 23 weeks on a series of messages on the nature of the church of Christ.  We used several of the biblical titles for the church such as the body of Christ, the army of God, the bride of Christ and many others to shed light on what a glorious creation the church of Christ is.  From that series it was hoped that we would see the very high view of the church contained in the Scriptures. One of the implications of that high view of the church is that we as a local church must set our sights very high in terms of how we should think and live and minister.  This morning, we want to begin a new series on the church that is very much related to the earlier series but this time we want to spend a concentrated time thinking about the mission of Christ’s church.  My goal behind this is for the truth of Scripture on this crucial topic to change our church radically.  I don’t want us at Mount of Olives to be just more missions conscious, as if missions were one of the important aspects of our ministry.  I want us to see ourselves as a treasure house—filled with the treasure of God’s gospel message and to know that the world—here and abroad is populated with people who are dirt poor.  I want us to see ourselves as a huge food pantry, overflowing with the bread of life in the gospel and to know that the world out there is starving to death.  I want us to see ourselves as an army Special Forces unit scorning the risk and boldly moving into enemy held territory to free those who are held captive and who are being ruthlessly tortured.  And the reason I want us to think of ourselves that way is because that is precisely who we are. 

What is the church’s mission on earth?  As we doubtless have all heard before, if the purpose of the church was simply to be saved from hell, then the moment we were regenerated there would be no purpose for us—we would have achieved our purpose and God could beam us up to heaven at that point.  What is the church to be about?  One of the fundamental, foundational broad purposes of the church Jesus tells us in John 20:21.  After his resurrection, he appears to his disciples and says, “Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."   Jesus came to earth as One who was sent on a mission and after his resurrection he tells his disciples that in like manner, he is sending them.  He doesn’t in that context tell them what he is sending them to do but we know from other texts some of what Jesus was sending his disciples (and by extension) we, his current earthly disciples to do. 

            The best-known text in this regard is the Great Commission.  This command is given after Christ’s resurrection in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  There is much we will have to say about the Great Commission in the week’s to come but first we need to get a context for this and the reason we need to see the context is that word opening verse 19 is, “Therefore.”  As I was reminded recently, the Great Commission is NOT “GO and make disciples” it is “THEREFORE go and make disciples.”  When Jesus says, “Therefore” he is inextricably tying the commission to verse 18 where he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  THEREFORE go.”  Jesus wants these men to know that their mission is inseparably connected to his authority.  As modern day missionaries, we should NEVER separate our mission from His authority.  If you break off Christ’s commission from Christ’s authority, you have effectively stripped off the basis of The Great Commission, which is rooted in the fact that Jesus has been given all authority on heaven and on earth. Verses 19-20 grow out of verse 18.  If we separate Christ’s mission from Christ’s authority, we will be timid, confused, ineffective missionaries because we have been told to do an absolutely impossible task without any assurance of the authority we have in Christ.  Verse 18 is the backbone of the Great Commission.  It gives it it’s support.

Let me illustrate just how important this authority is to us.  If you are walking downtown and you come upon a street fight where six guys are beating each other up, your response to that scene will be very different if you are a casual onlooker than if you are wearing a policeman’s badge.  The reason is, although you may very much want to stop the fight as an onlooker, you have no real authority—you must be content to CALL on someone with legal authority.  If however you are wearing a badge, you have been granted authority to do something about that and you have mace and a gun with you if someone doesn’t choose to recognize or respect your authority.  In the command of the Great Commission, our badge to carry out this task is this implied promise in verse 18.  The power found in our weapons of enforcement, (if you will) come from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Too many Christians see their responsibility to spread the gospel in word and deed here and to the uttermost parts of the earth.  They will also be able to tell you they have been given power to do that in the Holy Spirit, but haven’t got a clue about the authority they have access to do that.  Consequently, they have no backbone.

Now before we move on we need to speak about this issue of Christ’s authority.  When Christ says, he has been given “ALL authority in heaven and on earth,” we need to see that within the broader teaching on Christ’s authority in the gospels.  This statement does NOT mean that Christ was saying, “Now that I am resurrected I have authority.”  Jesus always had authority. He taught with authority, he had authority to heal, he had authority to cast out demons and when he died on the cross, he did so because he had authority to do so.  He said in John 10:18,  No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."   Christ said to his disciples after washing their feet in John 13:13, "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is [present tense] what I am.”  He was Lord while he was on earth.  He wasn’t promoted to the position of “Lord” after his resurrection.  The difference between the authority Christ had previous to his resurrection and after his resurrection is the fact that he says his post-resurrection authority is in heaven and earth.  This is the only place in the gospels that speaks of Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth.  Now, what is meant by heaven here?  This word in the original can mean either the material, visible heavens which include things like the sun, moon and stars or it can mean the heavenly realms where the angelic powers and where God live—the spiritual, heavenly realm.

I believe Christ is speaking of this spiritual realm for two reasons.  First, within the context of Christ giving the Great Commission it would seem to be less relevant for Christ to assert that his authority, his Lordship was now—post resurrection--over all the material universe than assert his authority over the spiritual darkness in the heavenlies.  He wasn’t calling them to reach Pluto with the gospel; they were trying to reach the nations of this planet.  As we heard earlier during worship, it IS inspiring to hear of the vastness of God’s power displayed through his authority over the heavenlies.  Nevertheless, given the context of this charge to reach the nations, it would seem to be less encouraging than the spiritual meaning of the word for heaven.  That is—“I have been given a new level of authority over your main obstacle in this task I am calling you—the dark spiritual realm which will be in your face every step of the way.  We, through the resurrected Christ have been given authority over that realm.

The second reason I think Christ’s post-resurrection authority over the heavens refers to unseen spiritual powers is because of other related texts that point in this direction.  Ephesians 1:20 speaks of God showing forth his mighty power by raising Jesus from the dead and he says that power is like that “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, [same root for heaven as in Matthew 28:18] far above [in the place of authority] all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”  I believe this is a more detailed restatement of what Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 when he says that he has been given all authority in heaven has been given him.  What he means by that is, “I came down to earth to redeem you from the power of sin and death.  While I was on earth, I was tempted by the devil, attacked by the devil through the false teachers and others he used against me and finally Satan worked to get me on the cross in the hopes that I might sin against God in that.  While I was on earth, I was placed in Satan’s domain and he had power to do all sorts of evil things to me including influencing people to put me on the cross.  In this sense he bruised my heel.  But I NEVER need to do that again.  I repeatedly took his best punches and I crushed his head.  I defeated him—I have nothing more to prove where he is concerned—I will never stand toe to toe with him again—I defeated him and I have been seated far above him.”  I believe that is what Jesus primarily means when he says in the Great Commission “All authority in heaven…has been given to me.”

In Ephesians chapter two Paul refers to Christ’s resurrection but he is speaking of its significance to us.  He makes this stunning statement in verse six, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.    Where He is, we are spiritually.  Finally in 6:12 Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Now let’s put those three texts together.  First, God’s resurrection power was seen when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.  That means that Christ was raised above all these and that includes demonic power.  He was raised to that position of authority.

            Second, all those who are in Christ have been raised with Christ and have been seated WITH HIM, which means that because of our position in Christ we are with Christ above the spiritual dark forces.  Because we are in Christ and have been seated with Him, we have his authority.  It is not native to us, it is his but since we are united with Him it has become ours.  Third, Ephesians six tells us that our struggle in life is with THEM, not other human beings.  That means that the dark powers were soundly trounced and Christ’s victory over the darkness was confirmed in his resurrection and even though we struggle against them in this life, we are assured victory over them because we are already seated in the heavenlies with Christ above them.  Do you see how encouraging this is and why it would be so important for Christ to buttress his command to go and make disciples with this promise that he had all authority in heaven and on earth? 

Think about it.  Picture a boxer who is getting the snot beat out of him and he is only in the second round.  He is bloodied and his left eye is already swollen and at the end of the round he goes to his corner throbbing in pain and discouraged, wanting nothing more than for his trainer to throw in the towel. (That’s the way it is if you are serious about making disciples—that is what happens to you when you are serious about plundering Satan’s kingdom for the glory of God. —You sometimes get the snot beat out of you.) But this boxer’s trainer has a secret weapon that will energize his man to go back out in the ring and fight with everything he’s got in him.  That is, he has a mini DVD player and playing on it is a video of this very fight fast forwarded to the end of the 15th round.  And on the video is his bruised, bloodied man standing in the middle of the ring looking over his fallen opponent as the official raises his hand in victory.  His victory over his opponent is assured and he knows it beforehand!  Do you think that wouldn’t encourage that fighter to go back out and slug it out? That’s what Christ authority does for us as his church.  In Christ, we have already been declared the victor.

            Now that we’ve said all that by way of background, let’s look at these two dimensions of Christ’s authority and see how they impact us as those he has charged to go make disciples here and to the nations. The first dimension of Christ’s authority is in the heavenly realm and that means authority over the evil one and his minions.  We’ve already alluded to this but think about it.  Christ has defeated Satan.  He has crushed the serpent’s head.  That serpent-crushing authority is ours as we struggle against the darkness in our mission of making disciples out of people who are right now servants of Satan.  Satan does not give up his servants easily—so for those who are serious about making disciples it requires grit and determination and a willingness to suffer.  Sometimes it requires death.  Church history, if it teaches us anything, teaches the truthfulness of Tertullian’s statement, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  I agree with the missiologists who believe that in order for the Muslim world to be won for Christ a lot of missionaries are going to have to spill their blood on the hard ground where Islam now ruthlessly rules.  The Muslim world is like the beaches of Normandy in World War Two and many of the first line combatants in God’s army will die for Christ taking that hill for God.  This is NOT defeat.  God is glorified when his children are willing to suffer and die for His cause and the ultimate end of missions is not winning people to Christ but glorifying God.  If a missionary dies in their pursuit of fulfilling the Great Commission he hasn’t been defeated—he has glorified God in the highest and perhaps most powerful way.

            So for a time Satan has been given limited authority by Christ, for God’s glory, to bring persecution and suffering and death to many who would be faithful to the Great Commission both here in America and to the nations.  But the fact that Jesus through his resurrection has been given authority over Satan and the power of sin and death should be like a thick layer of Teflon over the hearts of those who are in the business of making disciples. Millard Erickson gives one reason why when he says of Satan, “What more can the forces of evil do if someone whom they have killed does not stay dead?”  Isn’t that a glorious question?  The authority of Christ that he promises to us is the authority over the spiritual enemies of sin and death.  Satan can, with God’s permission, kill you but he can’t make you stay dead.  He doesn’t have that authority.  He can put your body to sleep (which is going to happen to you anyway) but he can’t make death anything more than a door you walk through on the way to heaven.

         We have said that this serpent-crushing authority is ours but I would place two qualifiers on that.  The first one is one we have just spoken of and that is, Christ has also given Satan a limited amount of authority to bring suffering and death to Christ’s followers for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself.  This means that this authority is not some sort of blank check we can endlessly draw on to keep us physically safe but it IS a guarantee of ultimate victory.  The second qualifier is, we mustn’t forget the context of Christ’s implicit promise of universal authority.  This authority is for the benefit and use of those who go out and obey the Great Commission.  There is much empty-headed triumphalism in a church far too ignorant of spiritual warfare.  Yea, the battle is over—Christ has won—Satan is a defeated foe—I have authority over him, the victory is mine. Yuk, yuk, yuk.  Now, hand me a cream soda and that TV remote so I watch another golf tournament today.” 

This authority is given and will be manifest as we go and make disciples.  That’s the implicit truth the context gives to us.  If you want to see the authority of Christ over the heavenly realms in your life—obey the Great Commission.  Get on the front lines of prayer for this cause, give money sacrificially to this cause, teach a bible study, pray for your unsaved boss or co-worker, write to the missionaries, train for the gospel ministry or, if God calls you GO to the nations.  THEN you will see the authority of Christ over the demonic hordes.  If we are NOT involved in this mission of the church then what business do we have expecting this authority and to be truthful, why do we NEED this authority?  Its not a trophy you hang on a wall, it’s the badge you wear as you walk into a dark alley.

         The second dimension of authority those who are obeying the Great Commission can count on is Christ’s authority over the earth and the hard hearts of sinners.  Christ has the authority over the hard hearts of his elect and we share in that authority as we bear the gospel message to lost people.  One aspect of this authority is the authority to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Jesus, in Luke’s version of the Great Commission says in 24:46, “…This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.”  Jesus first stresses the events of the gospel—the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ and that is where we should all start.  That is the heart of the biblical presentation of the gospel.  Here Jesus also says this gospel will be preached in his name—that connotes authority.  This gospel will go out in the authority of Christ and at the center of the message is repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Repentance is a turning away from the rule of this world with its independence from God. It’s a turning away from the ruler of this world and our own sin and coming to Christ and willingly accepting HIS kingdom rule in our lives.  Forgiveness of sins is at the root of this—we cannot serve the holy King with a truckload of unforgiven sin—he will not accept as a servant anyone who has not been forgiven of sin.

         We see this authority of Christ to bring this gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins even more powerfully in another passage from Luke, this time in Acts 5:31.  There Luke says of Christ, “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior [there’s that exalted, post-resurrection authority] that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” Notice that Luke recognizes Christ as a Prince who sits at the place of authority and favor—God’s right hand. He says that one reason God placed Christ in this position of authority is so he can give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel and by extension, the worldwide church as we give out the gospel.  Notice, it is Christ who gives repentance.  We must know that for someone to truly repent of their sins and turn from the rule of Satan to the rule of God in his kingdom requires the gift of repentance.  In 2 Timothy 2:25 Paul is telling Timothy how to handle those people who oppose him in his ministry and he says, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

         Notice that Timothy’s part in dealing with those who oppose him is to gently instruct them but he cannot MAKE them repent and neither is repentance something the sinner can independently do—that is not in these texts on repentance.  CHRIST gives the gift of repentance.  He has the authority to do that—He has the badge of authority over sinners hearts so that he can step into a person’s godless, self-centered, Satan-serving heart, turn that heart to Him and cause them to submit to God’s kingly rule.  He has the sovereign, universal authority to do that to ANYONE because he has authority over ALL the earth—no one can say no to his repentance if he chooses to bring repentance because HE, not the sinner has the authority.  Although each person must choose to be saved, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” That choice of the individual can never trump the Lordship of Christ and part of that Lordship is the authority to bring repentance to whomever HE chooses.  HIS choice is prior to the sinner’s choice of him and HIS choice dictates the choice of the sinner.  We must base our call for sinners to repent on the promise that Christ has the authority to bring repentance.  If our calls to the lost to repent ultimately depend upon the sinner to make the right independent choice, then our appeals are (in the words of J.I. Packer), “not …the expressions of the tender patience of a mighty sovereign, but as the pathetic pleadings of impotent desire; and so the enthroned Lord is suddenly metamorphosed into a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart, which he is powerless to open.” That’s not the gospel and that’s not our Christ.  Our Christ is NOT powerless to open a human heart and grant it repentance—he has authority to do just that.

            Do you hear the earth shattering implications of this authority Christ has over all the earth for those who are serious about carrying out the Great Commission?  When you share the gospel with a co-worker or a sinner half way around the world, Christ has the authority to take that sinner’s heart and, through your faithful dispensing of the word, turn it to himself in repentance.  He can and does cause people to renounce the reign of Satan and turn to Him, yielding to Him as King.  It doesn’t matter how far gone they seem to be—how debauched, how idolatrous, how hardened to the gospel—the depth of their depravity is not the issue because its not ultimately about where THEY are, its about the authority Christ has to turn their heart to himself.  This authority of Christ is the high-octane fuel that keeps the fire burning in the hearts of missionaries among the unreached people in spite of the lack of visible fruit.  This authority of the Prince and Savior is what keeps parents praying with boldness for years for their wayward children.  This authority is what keeps us putting people on our prayer list for salvation for weeks and years.  This authority gives us a sure, rock solid hope that there will be people from every tribe, tongue and language gathered around the throne of our glorious King.

        Is this the hope you bring to carrying out your part of the Great Commission?  Do you root your hope in living and faithfully carrying out the greatest cause in the truth that your Lord has given you authority to triumph over the evil one as you faithfully pursue the lost by word, prayer or giving money?  Is this authority the ground of your hope as you pray for the lost, as you support the missionaries, as you share the gospel with those around you?  Never forget that the Great Commission is not to “Go,”  but to “Therefore, [on the basis of Christ’s authority] go.”  Notice in the Great Commission that before Christ gives the disciples the charge to go and make disciples he implicitly promises his authority.  Too many of us are paralyzed by the difficulty of this task (and it IS difficult) because they don’t know the authority they have been given over the darkness.  The enemy will oppose you every step of the way but we have been given authority and victory in Christ.   Too many of us wrongly believe we speak a message, the acceptance of which is ultimately dependent upon the decision of a fallen human heart.  How does that embolden us to carry out the Great Commission?  May God give us a sure understanding of the authority we have in Christ so that we as individuals and as a church may be faithful to do our part in living and dying for the greatest cause.  Let’s pray.

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