MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 7, 2003

           

            This morning we begin to wind down our series of messages on the mission of the church.  Next week, Lord willing, Chad Peterson, who our church is helping to send out to be part of a pioneer mission work among the Muslims in Northern India will be brining a message on what the bible tells us about God’s priority in global missions.  In two weeks, I will conclude the series before we move into four weeks of biblically anchored stewardship messages.  This week, we want to ask one final time the question that has (I trust) sent us again and again back to the bible to help us think about this centrally important issue to God and to the church.  That is, since God is impassioned about the mission of the church and since a healthy believer and/or healthy church is zealous for the global mission of the church, why is it that we are often NOT impassioned about the mission of the church?

Up to this point, we have supplied several biblical answers to that question.  The one we want to look at today is seen in Acts 1:6-8.  Jesus and his disciples are having a discussion immediately prior to his ascension and verse six says, “So when they [Jesus and the 12] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

            These verses point to another reason why we are not as impassioned about the global cause of Christ (this morning we will focus most on the global cause, but this reason does have local implications as well).  It’s a very subtle sin—a very stealthy stumbling block to the global spread of the gospel but it’s a huge problem for us and we see it actually demonstrated by the disciples in this text.  We see it specifically in verse six when they ask Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  When most people read this question and the response Jesus gives to it, they dwell on the time element of the question.  They focus on the truth that no one will be able to pin down the exact dates pertaining to Christ’s return.  Jesus tells them, “It’s not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”  Translation—“Only the Father has the end-times chronological chart so don’t waste time making one of your own.”  But what we often miss is that Jesus’ response to the question is a two-part response and the second half of Jesus’ response to their question is in verse eight where Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  This very familiar verse is the second part of a two-part answer to the disciple’s question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

            The TIME of Jesus’ return was apparently the only thing on the disciples’ radar screen at this point but in verse eight Jesus responds to the assumptions behind the disciples’ question.  In verse eight Jesus implicitly corrects the disciples because the question they asked in verse six about the kingdom was incomplete and indicated some very bad theology.  Think about it—when the disciples asked the question, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” they had at least two wrong presuppositions about the kingdom underlying that question.  The first on was, “Jesus alone would restore the kingdom.”Lord, will YOU at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  The disciples were still confused about the coming of the kingdom of God and HOW it would come.  Notice in verse eight Jesus corrects that when he says, “But YOU will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon YOU, and YOU will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  They still do not understand that God was investing THEM (and by extension, US) with a significant role in bringing God’s kingdom to earth.  It’s as they (and us) witness to the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel that the kingdom will come.  Jesus said as much earlier in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed through the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  The disciples had left a huge piece out of their end time thinking.  Namely, that before Christ could come again, the gospel must first be proclaimed to all the nations.  For them the kingdom was geographical—national Israel—it was a matter of restoring the national kingdom of Israel.  For Christ the kingdom was spiritual. —The establishment of the reign of God in individuals and people groups throughout the whole world and this kingdom reign begins when people and nations obey the gospel.

            That’s how the kingdom would come and that was something these apostles would be doing and that mission required supernatural power.  So Jesus in verse eight foretells this apostolic mission of bringing this spiritual kingdom and he refers to the spiritual power required for the kingdom to come—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….”  Jesus says implicitly to his disciples, “It’s not ME who’s going to bring the kingdom of God into this world, its you and you will receive all the power you need for that God-sized mission.”  In the second half of verse eight he corrects the other wrong presupposition they had and that was, “this kingdom of God will be a restored national, political, geographical kingdom.”  As to the location of the kingdom Jesus says, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  The disciples simply assumed the kingdom would be restored to national Israel, when in fact in verse eight Jesus broadens that truncated vision and tells them the kingdom will come locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.  We must hear in verse eight Jesus is correcting their wrong thinking about the geopolitical nature of the kingdom of God.  The disciples are stuck in national Israel and Jesus is telling them that their vision is much too provincial—to parochial.  They weren’t looking past their own nation.

            The astonishing truth is that given what Jesus and the Old Testament had taught them, they should have been quite ready to embrace a global vision of the kingdom of God since the Messiah had now come.  The Old Testament, that they had heard read and which they had been taught from their infancy, clearly teaches the kingdom of God would ultimately, through the Messiah be expressed not ONLY over national Israel, but also over the whole world.  We see this in many places.  Psalm 22, that great messianic Psalm, which by this time they had doubtless applied to Jesus as God’s crucified, atoning sacrifice—this Psalm about Jesus says in verses 27-28, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.”  The meaning of that verse is straightforward.  All the families of the earth would one day turn to the Lord and the reason for that is because God is not simply the King over puny little national Israel, but because he is in fact the King over all the earth and he will assert that Lordship over ALL the nations.  The Old Testament in many places clearly taught these disciples (and us) that Christ’s kingdom would be for the nations.  Isaiah 11:10 says of the Messiah, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”  The Messiah would establish an international kingdom.

            Isaiah 56:6-8 is perhaps the most intensive statement of this.  God says, “And foreigners [Gentiles] who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  The Lord GOD, who fathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”  The message could hardly be more clearly stated.  God will bring foreigners—non-Jews into his covenant—they will be welcome in his temple to pray and minister and in fact he will gather them himself.  The disciples doubtless knew of this text and in fact their Master had quoted it in their hearing in a quite unforgettable context.  Weren’t they paying attention when Jesus quoted this text when he cleansed the temple?  Mark 11:17 records Jesus saying it.  Where were they when Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 56:8b?  “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered?”  Doesn’t that sound quite a bit like what Jesus said in John 10:16 when he said in the context of the Jews, And I have other sheep that are not of this [Jewish] fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice…”  Do you hear how Jesus is leaning on Isaiah 56 when he says this about bringing in others from outside of national Israel?

            Many Old Testament texts reflect God’s desire to be worshipped by ALL nations.  Psalm 67:1-5 is clearly enough.  Firs the Psalmist prays, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,…notice the reason for that blessing..  2that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.  3Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!  4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. 5Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!”  The Holy Spirit inspired psalmist pleads for God’s blessing on Israel SO THAT God will receive the worship of the nations.  Is that why we ask for God’s blessing on us—so that the lost here and to the nations may, when they see God’s blessing on us will want to know our God?  That’s what motivated the Psalmist’s plea for God’s blessing.  His heart cry is that ALL the nations would praise God.  What did the disciples not understand about that so that they were prompted their question in Acts 1:6?

            Why didn’t they see that this was now time for the fulfillment of prophetic texts like Zechariah 2:11?  “And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that and shall be my people.  And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.”  It wasn’t as if this part of the Old Testament was shrouded in mystery. We know that an old man named Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit took baby Jesus in his arms and quoted among other texts, a part of Isaiah 49:6 which says of the Messiah,  “…I will make you (the Messiah) as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”  Simeon knew something of the impact this Jewish Messiah would have on the global expansion of God’s kingdom when Jesus was eight days old.  Why didn’t the disciples show this awareness of his mission before Jesus’ ascension?

Were the disciples simply not paying attention when Jesus said to them in Matthew 8:11-12? “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the out darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  There Jesus not only makes the point that this kingdom will be global with non-Jewish people coming from the four winds, but he also adds the sobering truth that the “sons of the kingdom”-- most national Jews will NOT be part of this kingdom but will instead be thrown into hell.  So, not only was God going to graciously include the Gentiles in His kingdom, but most of the national Jews would be excluded.  With all that teaching and much more besides giving us a context of what the disciples had been exposed to, listen again to the disciple’s misguided question in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  I want us hear that question in the context of the Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching in the gospels.  I want us to ask the question, “Why did they ask that question when they had enough information to ask a much more informed question?” 

We must know that when Jesus in Acts 1:8 speaks of the kingdom being spread to the uttermost parts of the earth he was only continuing in the same line he had already taught to them and what the Old Testament teaches about the global nature of the kingdom of God through the Messiah.  In light of the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ, they should have asked something like, “Lord, tell us how we are supposed to spread your kingdom reign to the ends of the earth as you and the prophets have spoken?”  They didn’t ask that question, they instead asked about the time of national Israel’s restoration.  Why?  There are probably several reasons but part of the reason is vitally important to us today because it points to another significant reason why we like the apostles here in verse six do not often enough have on our radar screens the global spread of the gospel.  One reason why the disciples were surprisingly clueless and why we are often so out of step with God in his passion to spread the gospel to the nations is our hearts are given to short sighted and self centered parochialism. 

The burden of the apostles, which their wrong-headed question betrayed was for national Israel when in fact God’s burden was for the nations.  We, like them are often guilty of being apathetic about anywhere beyond our immediate families and neighborhoods.  The great problem in addressing this sin of parochialism is it is so hard to tell we are guilty of it because it comes so naturally to us.  We are by nature more concerned with the people we know and have some affinity with than with those who are half a world away from us and live in a very different culture than us.  It is so natural we don’t even notice it.  Let me give you two examples of my own parochialism this week to help you to perhaps see your own.  This past Thursday, I received in the mail the latest issue of Christian History magazine.  It only comes four times a year and I can’t wait to read it when it comes.  Church history is a fascinating area and I especially like the way this magazine focuses on one area of church history in each of the articles per issue.  Past issues have been devoted to things like “the Great Awakening,”  “The Pietists,” or prominent figures in church history like Charles Spurgeon or John Wesley. 

When I got home Thursday, I saw the magazine sticking out of the pile of mail and I became excited as I saw only the magazine’s banner, “Christian History.”  I quickly pulled it out of the pile of mail and saw this entire issue was devoted to the topic, “The African Apostles—the untold stories of the black evangelists who converted their continent.”  And I am ashamed to admit that my immediate response was to frown and think something like, “Why did they devote an entire issue of my magazine to THAT?  I don’t know ANYTHING about African church history—it’s so far away and different—the names are impossible to pronounce and they process their faith differently—what a waste."  Parochialism!  I didn’t care about the African church—I wanted to read about someone like ME(!)—someone from the west—someone I could more easily relate to.

The truth is, in the past 100 years, God has been much more powerfully at work building his church in Africa than he has in America or Europe.  It’s not even a contest.  While the European church has been dying a rapid death and the American church, though growing in numbers, is waning in integrity and cultural influence, churches have been exploding in Africa and the continent has been dramatically impacted by the gospel.  “In 1900, there were 8-10 million Christians in Africa, which amounted to 8-10 percent of the total population.  Today, there are 360 million—nearly 50% of the population.” [p.2] There are far more professed Christians in Africa than there are people in the United States.  In Congo-Zaire a century ago the Christian population amounted to 1.4% of the population.  In 2000 Christians made up 95.4% of the population.  Angola reports that same kind of dramatic cultural transformation followed closely by countries like Swaziland, Zambia, Kenya and Malawi.

Do you know how I know that?  Because I read that magazine.  I read about Samuel Crowther, the first African Bishop in the Anglican church and his courageous ministry and fight against racism.  I read about William Wade’ Harris’ astounding evangelistic ministry in the Ivory Coast where in an 18-month period in 1913-1914 he baptized 100,000 converts.  The historians record that his ministry was attended by dramatic healings and miracles.  This man is a hero of the faith—I should be reading his biography to my children but I had never even heard of him.  Why?  The same reason the disciples asked an ill-informed question about the restoration of their homeland Israel—parochialism.  I frankly didn’t CARE about Africa and deep inside I believed that what God was doing here was more important than what he has been doing in Africa for the last hundred years and the reason was because I KNEW more about what has been happening here.  That’s parochialism and it’s godless.

The Jews couldn’t believe it when God started saving the Gentiles—God is giving His Spirit to the uncircumcised?!  That’s parochialism and it’s is insidious.  We all are like this and we not only don’t realize it, we don’t realize that it is sin and is a complete betrayal of who God made us to be as people who should be impassioned about his global glory.  This ignorance and amnesia we have about the rest of the world outside America is sinful.  In this day of CNN and the huge international media outlets, we are today more accountable to be global Christians than any previous generation.  Philippians 2:3-4 is not a missions text but the broad principle Paul gives there certainly does carry over to how we view the rest of the world. Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others [“others” would include those beyond our shores] more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  If its true that we are to be humble on an interpersonal level with each other and that humility will show itself in counting others as being more important than ourselves, then doesn’t that apply to other people groups too?  Aren’t we, out of a God-born humility, to count the people in Africa as being more significant than we are?  Aren’t we to look not only to our own local interests but also to the international interests of others?  Are WE any more important to God than the people in Africa or Pakistan or Afghanistan?  We aren’t.  When Peter heard the testimony of a Gentile named Cornelius in Acts 10:34, “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  “We’re just parochial, that’s all.

Here’s another example.  When we read First Corinthians chapter 12 about spiritual gifts, most of us immediately think about how those gifts are seen in a local church and more particularly in OUR local church.  The problem is, in that section Paul is not writing primarily to the local church, but the worldwide church.  After Paul opens the chapter with a list of the gifts he continues in verse 12-13, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  Paul is talking about the universal body—the gifts are for the worldwide body of Christ, not just the local body.  Here’s another indictment on our parochialism from the same chapter.  In verse 26 he says of the universal church, “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  If that’s true, then why is it that we don’t suffer for the 450 followers of Jesus who will TODAY lose their life for Christ?  I was reminded this week that 450 believers worldwide die daily for Jesus and many of them die painfully and leave behind families who love them just as much as we love our families.  Most of us know about the persecuted church—why don’t we suffer with them as Paul says we should?  Why don’t we pray for them?  One reason is because we are parochial.

What do we do about it?  Here’s one way to be less self-centered and self-worshipping.  Read a magazine on African church history.  I am more concerned about Africa’s church now than before I read that magazine.  One reason is because I put some of my treasure—some of my time and energy into reading about African church history.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Put your treasure—your time, your money, your energy into the nations and God will use that to warm your heart to the people groups outside our own.  Patrick Johnstone has written a book called “Operation World” which takes you through all the countries of the world on a daily basis so you can pray for them.  Buy the book and use it in your prayer time.

God has called us to be missions minded and he has placed his Holy Spirit within us to empower us and impassion us for his Name to be worshipped here and to the nations.  May God give us the grace to look beyond our own local and region and national concerns to the grievous needs of others for whom Christ died just as much as he did for us.

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