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MESSAGE FOR JUNE 29, 2003

(10th message in a series on the message of Christ’s church)

 

            This week, before we takes two weeks away from this series of messages on the mission of Christ’s church, we want to summarize what we have seen from the scriptures up to this point.  We need to do this because these truths are is so central that we must internalize them and internalizing them does not happen unless we learn them well and we learn well when we hear things repeatedly.  We know the apostles practiced this kind of repetition because Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.  So, if you have been here every week for the past three months, this will be review and if you have not--fasten your seatbelts because we are going to cover a lot of ground today.  Next week, we will have what I trust will be a very inspiring service of testimony.  God is breaking out in many ways in our church body and we want to come together to hear the good reports of his work in our midst.  After I return from vacation, we will finish our messages on the mission of the church as we conclude with what are perhaps the most motivating biblical truths about the mission of Christ’s church.  We began this series with two messages telling us what is the message we in the church are to spread to others and the amazing authority that Christ has entrusted to us to give the message.  The last seven messages in this series centered around two major biblical themes.

            The first theme centers on the biblical truth that the mission of Christ’s church is at the very core of who we are as individual believers, as a local church and as part of the universal church.  Many believers think of missions and evangelism as ministries of the church and they tend to mentally divide the ministries of the church into a pie graph of some sort.  For those who are more missions minded, the piece of the ministry pie given to missions and evangelism is a big piece.  For those who are not particularly missions minded the missions piece is smaller.  We have seen from the Scriptures that this pie-graph paradigm is not rooted in the bible.  The ministries of the church should never be plotted in our minds like a pie graph because Christ’s church is not fundamentally an organization with various tasks to perform.  The church is a living, spiritual body with one major task—that is, to glorify God by manifesting the character of Christ and continue the ministry he began on earth.  In Acts 1:1, Luke reflects on the gospel he had written of Jesus’ earthly life and says, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” Jesus began the ministry of making disciples while on earth and now his church continues his ministry.

            The church is not a pie to be divided into sections; it is an incandescent light, radiating the glory and brilliance of Christ in a dark world.  The mission of the church is not fundamentally something the church DOES; its something the church IS as part of its very essence.  Mission is not simply a good idea or a worthwhile venture for the church, its who we ARE as new creatures in Christ.  We looked at several lines of biblical evidence to establish this.  First, we traced through redemptive history in the bible and discovered that the central theme of the bible is God’s passion for spreading his glory primarily through his earthly kingdom reign.  He initiated this plan in Adam and after the fall in Genesis 3:15 it took on a redemptive tone.  He broadly outlines his plan to spread his glory through his earthly kingdom in general terms in Genesis 12 with his covenant with Abraham.  The rest of the bible is the progressive refining and detailing of that outline into a masterfully crafted, theologically unified expression of what his kingdom is—its character and supremacy and the revealing of the King--King Jesus, who reigns over it all for the glory of God the Father.  Because that’s the message of the Old Testament, when Jesus comes onto the scene his message is seen in places like Matthew 4:17, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  The King had come bringing to earth the fullest expression of his kingdom rule to earth up to that point. 

            Beyond the argument from redemptive history for missions as intrinsic to who we are in Christ we said also that not only the Great Commission but also the Great Commandments teaches this truth.  Jesus said the entire Old Testament message is summed up by “loving the Lord your God will all your heart and with all you soul and with all you mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.”  Implicit in loving God with everything within you is having his priorities, his passions, his agenda deeply embedded in your heart.  How can we say we love him with all our hearts unless our hearts reflect what is on His heart—loving what he loves and hating what He hates?  That means that since God’s passion is to spread his glory through his kingdom reign to all the earth, we who love God as we should will share that passion of his.  As it relates to the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus describes a neighbor in his parable of the Good Samaritan as “anyone who has need and whom we have the power to help.  The fullest expression of being a neighbor to another person is to work to meet their deepest, eternal need and what greater need does another human being have than to know God through Christ? That means that as we are working out the implications of the Great Commandment in our lives to love God and love our neighbor then we will by default also working to fulfill the Great Commission as we go to our neighbor here and in Uzbekistan to spread God’s kingdom to all the earth.

            We saw one final proof that the church is at it’s essence missionary in Acts 1:8.  Jesus has at this point accomplished his mission.  He has purchased a people, a kingdom of people for God with His blood on the cross and he promised the Pentecost that was to come.  He says, “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.”  Jesus is not ordering the disciples to go out and witness to people.  That’s not what he says.  He doesn’t speak to them about what they are supposed to DO.  He says, “Here is what you will BE.”  You will be my witnesses locally, regionally, nationally and globally.  The Holy Spirit was sent to enable God’s people in an unprecedented way to GO and fulfill our purpose as God’s people by spreading his glory through his kingdom rule to the ends of the earth.  This isn’t just something we are to do.  With the Holy Spirit living within us—in a new and better way than ever before in salvation history--this is who we ARE as God’s people.  We are essentially, intrinsically witnesses to Christ and his kingdom rule on the earth. 

We have not been given the Holy Spirit fundamentally so we won’t sin as much—though that is important—NOT so that we can be happier people—though that is also important.  We have been given this supernatural power for the purpose of fulfilling our central purpose as Christ’s church--mission.  As we think about being people who have been given the Spirit and the supernatural power He brings to our lives, do we think first and foremost about how that divine enabling applies to mission?  We should because that’s why God gives Him to us.  For a person who has been given the Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ and not utilize that power for the purpose of mission is a horrible misuse of divine resources.  That’s like using a bar of solid gold bullion as a paperweight.  Many people in the church are living defeated lives in part because they are living with the Holy Spirit within them but are not living with a missions mindset, which is WHY the Holy Spirit is within them.  They have a tank full of gas, but never fire up the motor for the purpose it was installed. 

It’s so easy in our self-centeredness to try to use the ministry of the Holy Spirit exclusively for our own personal needs rather than for God and the needs of others.  That is not only a waste of divine resources; it’s also a formula for living a defeated Christian life.  God didn’t send his Holy Spirit to be some sort of personal spiritual fitness trainer.  Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in John 16:14, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”  He sent Him to us so that we could with supernatural power be authentic witnesses to the character and kingdom reign of Christ and continue his ministry of making disciples.  THAT should be on our hearts---HIS glory, HIS Name, HIS fame, not only our personal holiness.  Our personal holiness should be sought for the purpose of being His witness as if to say to the world, “do you want to know what Jesus is like? —He’s like me as I am living in holiness.” Do you hear the utter centrality of mission to the church of Christ?

            In light of the biblical record about the essential nature of the church as a missions organism empowered to witness to Christ and spreading his kingdom through the gospel, we have repeatedly stressed a crucial truth.  That is, that if we as individuals and a church are NOT impassioned about spreading the gospel to our local and international neighbors then we are actually betraying not only the Christ who commissioned us but also part of our essential, core identity as new creatures in Christ.  This is why Charles Spurgeon, when asked about whether people who had never heard the gospel will go to heaven said, “It is more a question with me whether we who have the gospel and fail to give it to those who have not, can be saved.”  Spurgeon knew his bible and had come to the inescapable conclusion that mission is such an essential part of the heart of the believer that for a believer to not be impassioned in that area is not just a personal deviation or a weakness, it’s a gross internal spiritual inconsistency at the very deepest level.  If we as individuals and as a church do NOT have this passion for the spreading of God’s kingdom through the gospel then at best, our hearts are deeply sick.  We must see this.  The bible makes it unmistakably clear that a healthy believer and a healthy expression of Christ’s church WILL have a passion for the spread of his kingdom.  That passion can be expressed in a myriad of ways here and to the nations, but the presence of this passion is not an option for the Christian. It’s standard operating equipment.

            We cannot escape the biblical conclusion about the essential character of Christ’s church, but neither can we escape the conclusion that most professing evangelical believers simply DO NOT have this as a passion for their lives.  Our lives generally speaking do not reflect the biblical priority or the character of the new nature God places within people at the new birth. Less than one percent of North American churches are growing due to conversion growth and the North American church is being put to shame by other countries in the global cause of Christ by nations with only a fraction of our resources.  Given those kinds of facts, we have spent the last few weeks examining the Scriptures to discover some reasons given in the bible as to WHY we are not impassioned about the greatest cause.  Our hope has been not only to highlight these reasons from the texts but, as we meet ourselves in them, to repent of our sin and move on in the grace of God for his kingdom.

            The first reason we examined why some are not impassioned about the spread of the gospel is because perhaps we ourselves don’t personally treasure the gospel.  Many Christians have a misconception about the role of the gospel message in their life.  They know the message of the gospel—the truth that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a sin atoning, rose from the dead so that we could through faith and by the grace of God be forgiven of our sins and brought into relationship with God through the blood of Christ.  We know the message but it is easy for us to wrongly see that message only as the launching pad from which we begin our Christian life.  It’s the initial starting point of our life in Christ but from there we move onto deeper teachings like Christian ethics and sanctification and the end of the world.  That’s simply not biblical.

            When we studied the book of Romans we saw the entire theme of the book from start to finish was the gospel.  The theme verse of the entire letter is Romans 1:16-17.  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."  He says the gospel is “the power of God for salvation.  He’s not simply speaking of the initial new birth when He speaks of “salvation.”  He’s speaking about our past experience of salvation through the new birth, our present experience of salvation through sanctification and our future salvation when we will be glorified.  All that saving power is found in the message of the gospel. 

The truth of the gospel is not just the launching pad for our salvation, it’s also the solid rocket booster and thrusters that keep us on track, moving forward for God with joy.  That means we must treasure this gospel message—it should become more and more precious to us as we more clearly see the depravity of our flesh and our ever-expanding understanding of the depth of God’s grace and mercy seen in the gospel.  We should daily delight in the truth of the gospel the way child delights in a new bicycle or the way a mother delights in her newborn baby.  All we are, all that we have that is truly important and eternal comes to me through this gospel.  It’s the lens through which we read the bible, the lens through which we live our lives.

            If that is my attitude toward the truth of the gospel then I wont need to be coerced to share it with others.  The passion with which we share the message and give our lives and our money to have it shared with others is probably proportionate to the importance we ourselves place on it. If we treasure this gospel message as we should, we will be sharing it with others.  If we don’t treasure it, we need to ask Jesus to move in our hearts and cause us to repent of the other earthly treasures we have allowed to displace our love for the cross and to help us fall in love again with His Son and what he has done for us.

            A second reason why some of us are not impassioned about spreading the message of the Kingdom is because we simply don’t care all that much about the plight of lost people.  Our primary motivation for spreading the gospel must be found in God himself and we will see that more in a few weeks, but the bible teaches that Jesus was a friend of sinners.  His heart is moved with compassion at the plight of sinners and if we are to fulfill the Great Commandment to love our neighbors we must love sinners too.  The bible portrays the lost person in the most miserable terms imaginable.  Whether they are rich or poor, genius or fool, talented or not they are, apart from Christ, in a state of utter spiritual futility.  Paul says in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  Lost people not only have no capacity to find God—they aren’t even looking for Him apart from the grace of God.  Paul says in Romans 3:12-18, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."   13"Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit."  "The poison of vipers is on their lips."   14"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."   15"Their feet are swift to shed blood;  16ruin and misery mark their ways, 17and the way of peace they do not know."  18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."  Rather than searching for God they are in rebellion against him, spitting in his holy face.  If there are a million wrong paths to God they will try every one and intentionally avoid the one true way to God.  That’s pathetic and it should help impassion our hearts to reach them with the truth.

            We said the bible teaches that the sinner lives in helpless captivity—imprisoned by sin.  The only key to unlock their prison cell is the glorious promise of the gospel yet billions languish in spiritual confinement with no one to even bring them the key.  Finally, we saw that the sinner is on a one-way pathway to hell.  Jesus, who gives us 75% of what the bible has to say about hell, describes it in the most gruesome, horrific terms possible and that is where these people apart from Christ will spend all but the tiniest percentage of their existence.  Jesus died to rescue people from that eternal fire.  We should be struck by the horrible state of even the nicest lost person.  They are in the worst possible place to be.

            A third and final reason why we are not impassioned to spread the gospel to the nations we found in Matthew chapter ten.  Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out and spread the news of his kingdom and says in Matthew 10:22, “All men will hate you because of me but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  We aren’t impassioned about the greatest cause because we are not willing to be hated by the world for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus makes us a promise that is as true as any of the other promises of the bible.  That is—all men will hate you because of ME.  They hate the followers of Christ because they hate Christ.  As much as they may argue to the contrary, they hate the real, biblical Christ.  They don’t hate the Christ they have fashioned for themselves who tells them they have a right to express themselves sexually as long as it’s in the privacy of their own bedrooms.  They love him, but the REAL Christ says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  The biblical Jesus came to fulfill the law including the statute in Leviticus 18:22 that says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  Jesus through the Spirit authored that law and the world hates Him and if you follow him there or any one of a thousand other places, they will hate you as they hated him and when you experience that he says, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Matt 5:12]

            We are afraid to be hated by the world and so Jesus, as he prepares his disciples for being hated, three times commands them to not be afraid.  With each command, he gives an eternal promise to equip them to not fear.  First, he tells them that they should not fear the hatred of the world because in verse 26 he says, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”  That means that even though we live in a dark world where truth is hidden and concealed from sinners, at the judgment, the truth will be revealed to all and the truth and all those who faithfully bore the truth in this life will be vindicated.  The debate over the Person and work of Christ and what it means to people will not ultimately be resolved in this life but it will be in heaven and truth will be vindicated along with all those who stood for truth.  Jesus says we are to take courage from that fact and with that truth in your heart be emboldened to share the gospel to a largely unreceptive world. 

            A second reason why we must not be afraid of the world is because we should allow a healthy fear of God to trump our fear of the world.  In 10:28 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  If we allow our fear of man to close our mouths to the gospel we are believing the lie that those who can kill our temporal bodies are to be more feared than God who can throw our body and soul in hell.  We should allow our fear of God to embolden us to speak the truth to people who can by contrast do comparatively very little to us by murdering us.  We should take great comfort from the fact that all the world can do to us is kill us.  That may sound ridiculous to us who have never suffered much persecution but it’s a very biblical attitude. 

Those first two reasons involve having an eternal perspective.  Matthew chapter 10 is laced with this eternal motivation for missions.  We see this again in verses 32-33 where Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever shall deny me before men; I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”[NASB]  Jesus here says our eternal destination depends upon our confession or denial of Jesus on earth.  We spoke about what it meant to confess Jesus and deny him.  We saw from John chapters nine and 12 that our silence about Jesus when we have a good opportunity to speak of him is a denial of him.  Jesus teaches in Matthew 10 that we must allow the eternal truths about heaven and hell, future reward and future wrath to act as powerful motivators for us to spread the truth here and to the nations.

            A third and final reason we are commanded to not fear the world from John chapter 10 is because God providentially cares for his children in all circumstances.  God rules this world by his providence—that is, “his intense and sovereign guidance over the circumstances of this world.”  Jesus tells us just how intense God’s providential care is when he says in verse 29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Notice Jesus grounds the disciples’ reason not to fear in the fact that their Father knows about and exercises his sovereign reign in this world even to the point of the sparrows that fall to the ground and the numbering of your individual hairs.  The point is, if God is in those small, comparatively mundane things, then how much more is he providentially caring for his children who are by his grace willing to stand and tell his good news. So, do not fear.

            Up to this point we have seen that the bible teaches that spreading the gospel through personal evangelism, GOING to the nations and SENDING others to the nations lies at the very heart of the message of the bible, of God’s purpose for us and who we are as believers in Christ.  If we are not impassioned about this we are at best unhealthy and we must repent of our faithlessness and ask God to show us how we can cultivate a heart that beats with His.  Second, we have tried to give the Spirit room to diagnose our spiritual sickness by looking at three possible reasons why we are not impassioned about the greatest cause.  As we finish up the series when I get back, we will examine one final area of the biblical record concerning the mission of the church.  Until then may God give us the grace to know who we are and be bold to confess Christ here and to the nations.

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