MESSAGE FOR MAY 4, 2003

(Fourth in a series on the mission of Christ’s church)

 

            This week we continue to take up the topic of the mission of Christ’s church.  Last week, we asked the question, “Why are we as individuals and a church not more impassioned by and faithful to the global mission of Christ’s church to make disciples?”  Underlying that question is the assumption that if we as individuals and a church are NOT significantly impassioned by and faithful to the global mission of the church then something is wrong with us.  Last week, we tested that assumption from the scriptures to see if it was true.  We did this in two ways.  First, we looked briefly at the redemptive plan of God in the Bible that forms the main message of the bible.  We were reminded that God’s plan of redemption stretches from Genesis to Revelation and that from very early on in biblical history, God disclosed his plan to spread his glory to the nations through his people and we have been reminded of that this morning in the youth’s recitation of Psalm 96. Verse three, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”  Verse eight, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. “  Verse 10, “Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns." The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. This matter of spreading his glory globally through the gospel is clearly very dear to God’s heart so therefore; it should be dear to us who follow Christ and whose lives have been given to us for the purpose of bringing glory to God.

            A second way we proved from the Scriptures that there was something seriously wrong with a follower or church of Christ who did not share God’s passion to bring him glory through the gospel was by the use of two of the biblical designations for the church of Christ.  We saw from two titles God uses for the church in the Scripture that fulfilling the Great Commission was part of the essential, inherent nature of the church.  We first saw that in John 15 through his use of the fruit bearing branch image for the church.  We are branches on the Vine of Christ and we are to bear fruit for him.  Though that includes the kind of fruit seen in how closely our lives resemble His morally and ethically, it also speaks to the fact that we are to bear fruit in the form of new converts.  Jesus says in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”   We were chosen and placed in the Vine so that we could GO and bear lasting fruit.  The idea of going to bear fruit in the context of the gospels implies being sent to bear the fruit of new converts.  Given the fact that it is   inherent in a healthy branch to bear fruit, if a branch—a church or a person does not bear fruit it is not acting consistent with their inherent nature.

            The same dynamic is true for the designation used for the church, the army of God.  We saw that the church is sent into the world by God as a militant body armed with the liberating truth of the gospel for the purpose of setting captive sinners free.  Sinners are enslaved to the lie of sin through their own sinful hearts that suppress the truth and by Satan who blinds the minds of unbelievers to the light of the gospel.  The church is an essentially militant organism that has been empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s role is to, in response to the prayers of God’s people, miraculously transform hard, truth-suppressing hearts and tear the Satan-placed blinders off the eyes of sinners.  The church’s job is to move in on the offensive with the truth of the gospel that sets people free from the lie of sin.

            There are other biblical designations for the church that point to our essential character as impassioned about taking the gospel to sinners here and to the nations.  These include being salt and light and the bride of Christ as well as several others that each in some way communicate that the church is essentially about spreading God’s kingdom through the gospel.  Because the Bible’s frequent and consistent message is that God is impassioned about his glory being spread to the nations and the church by her nature shares that passion, if we as a church or as individual believers do not, then something is seriously wrong with our hearts.  That’s the biblical assumption we bring to the rest of the messages on the mission of Christ’s church.  This morning our task will be to look at the first of several possible reasons why we are not more impassioned about spreading the glory of God to the nations.  The reason we will explore this morning is—perhaps we do not personally treasure the gospel as we should.

            The only thoroughly biblical response toward the gospel is to prize it—treasure it.  If we don’t treasure the gospel then there is something wrong with our hearts. We see this in Matthew 13:44 where Jesus speaks of the way people should treasure the kingdom of God or, in Matthew’s terminology, the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like the treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Jesus’ point is when you see the glory and preciousness of the kingdom of God, that will so far eclipse the value you place on anything else that you will sell everything else to get it.  Its preciousness to you is much greater than the sum total of everything else you have.  So much so that when you sell everything you have to get it, you do so with joy.  You have hit the ultimate jackpot when you find the kingdom of God.  It is to be prized or treasured above everything else combined.

            How do you find the kingdom of God?  Through the message of the gospel!  Paul tells us in 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.  For 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.  The message of the gospel is the key that opens for us the door into the kingdom of God.  Apart from the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we would have no way into God’s kingdom.  Apart from the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us we have no hope of entrance into, or remaining in the kingdom of God.  The gospel is the key that opens the door to the kingdom of God.  How valuable is that key to you?  How do you prize it?  Do you have as your treasure this kingdom of God as it spreads to the nations?  Jesus says anyone who understands what the kingdom of God is will treasure it far more than all other things on earth combined and if we treasure the kingdom we MUST by implication treasure the only key we have to get into God’s kingdom—the gospel. 

            If we do not greatly prize God’s kingdom and the message of the gospel for ourselves, then why would we think it all that important to share it with others?  The passion with which we share a message is consistent with the importance we place on it.  We see this all the time.  If you and your friend are on the phone and he/she is telling you they have come down with a case of athlete’s foot, that is probably not something you are going to pass on because frankly in the grand scheme of things, foot fungus is not all that noteworthy.  But if they tell you they are pregnant with their first child after years of trying, you will pass that on to others with great joy.  If you are in your car and turn on the radio and you hear a news story about road construction in Minneapolis, you probably won’t even remember that much less tell someone else about it.  But if you hear a news bulletin that terrorists have poisoned the water in Lake Superior making it lethal to anyone who drinks it, you will have an urgent need to tell someone about that.  The gravity of the message—the urgency and preciousness of the message to you personally has a direct impact on the passion you have to share it with others.

            If the truth that Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died a sin-atoning death so that you could be forgiven, made righteous, given abundant life in this life and a sure promise of eternity in heaven-if that message has gripped your soul.  If you are regularly thanking God for saving you from your sins—for picking you up out of the miry clay and setting your feet on the rock solid rock of Christ.  If that truth has turned your life around and has made you a different person with a different and infinitely better purpose and future hope—if that truth has reached into every area of your life—if this message has for you become the key that has opened the door of hope and life and joy—if the gospel of the kingdom of God has burst into your heart and gripped your soul as no other truth could, the question that we are forced to ask is, “why on earth WOULDN’T you do whatever was necessary for this message to be shared here and to the nations with those who have never heard it and are hell-bent, living hopeless, futile lives?   

One reason why many believers have no passion about the global mission of spreading the gospel is because they aren’t even personally all that impassioned about the kingdom of God and the gospel.  They know they are saved (they think) they are generally thankful about it and when missionaries visit, they are perhaps inspired by their dedication and God’s call on their lives.  But even though they can be impassioned about the fishing opener, or their kids’ soccer game, or buying a new home, they just don’t have THAT KIND of passion about being in the kingdom or seeing it spread to others.  They may be able to give a three-minute testimony of their own salvation.  They may understand the message of the gospel and be able recite to someone the plan of salvation, but they are only very rarely gripped by the glory of the gospel.  If that is where a person finds him/herself, then why should they be burdened to give sacrificially or pray with tears or go and share the message with someone else?  For those of you that describes, know this—you have a very serious spiritual problem. 

Listen to an allegory about you as an unbeliever and see if God will use this to check your spiritual pulse.  You wake up one morning and find that you have been transported from the comfort of your bed to a narrow valley—only a few feet wide--with steep mountains on all sides surrounding you.  Are you there?  On one side is an immense mountain range composed of huge boulders that reach higher than you can see—it looks as if they go on forever.  There must be millions and millions of them.  Just one of those boulders, were it to fall on you, would crush you as flat as a pancake and as you stand at the foot of that mountain, you are terrified that you will at any moment be crushed to death because that mountain of boulders is unstable. The only thing separating you from the crushing avalanche of those boulders is 10-foot high steel wall that looks from your perspective to be far too flimsy to hold up that mountainous heap.  Occasionally, you will hear the wall creak and groan as the boulders shift against it.  As you survey that situation, you are certain you are only minutes away from certain death as that wall collapses leaving you at the bottom of the pile crushed beyond recognition.  Each one of those boulders represents one of your sins.  Those boulders are the accumulated sins of your life and that wall holding them back is the mercy of God.  Only his mercy is keeping those sins from coming crashing down on your pitiful little frame and sending you to death and the eternal torments of hell.

On your other side is a mountain range just as high as the other but it’s a very different in its composition.  This one is made of pure crystal.  When the sun hits it, the light is blinding.  At the top of the mountain is a Rescuer/a Savior who you can barely see but you know that getting to Him is the only way you will ever escape this lethal situation.  And so you try to climb up to him. In fact, you have tried to climb this mountain a thousand times to get to him to escape this inevitable avalanche but the edges of those crystal mountains are sharp as razors and you are dressed in tattered clothing and your feet are bare.  Your hands and feet and knees are scarred and bloodied by deep gashes from your repeated, futile attempts to climb that mountain to get to God.  You have tried every possible route, but you never get more than two steps before a huge gash opens up on whatever part of your body that touched the surface of that mountain.  You get the picture?  That mountain range is the holy righteousness of God seen in his law—God’s brilliant, blinding standard of righteousness.  In order to escape the inevitable avalanche of the crushing weight of your sin you must get to Christ, but you are so weak from all the blood loss and you have all but given up your feeble attempts to climb that huge wall of razor sharp crystal. 

Are you there?  Put yourself right there.  I want you to feel the utter hopelessness—feel the terror and the horrible futility.  That is the life of a sinner apart from Christ and that was YOUR life before God saved you through the gospel.  On the one side is your mountainous sin, which is kept from crushing you only by the wall of God’s mercy. When He decides to remove the wall, it will bring the entire mountainous weight of your own iniquity upon you, squashing you like a slug on a sidewalk and bringing you to a place of eternal death and punishment.  On the other side is the holy mountain of God’s righteousness.  In your desperation to escape your sin—you’ve tried and tried to scale that mountain and get to God but each time you have failed almost before you began—it’s absolutely impossible.  You have no climbing gear—you’re totally ill equipped to even begin climbing that thing and yet getting to its summit is the only hope you have of escaping eternal destruction.  And so there you are--lying in this valley absolutely terrified by the lethal avalanche of your sin that is sure to come down on you, but wounded, bloody and exhausted from trying to scale the other mountain which is your only way of escape.

You have given up thousands of times only to try again and again and you are at the point of complete despair when you see something in the narrow valley.  It’s been there all along but you have never taken note of it—it’s a cross.  You go to that cross and you fall down before it like it was an altar and you cry out in absolute desperation, “Oh God, Oh God, I can’t do this—the weight of my sin is so great its going to crush me any minute —I can’t stomach how wicked I am—how great is the weight of my sin bearing down upon my soul and each sin is against you.  Each boulder represents high treason against you—a righteous and holy King.  I will surely die in my sin if you don’t do something.  I have tried to get to you God—I have tried to do the right thing and be the right person, but even my best attempts only add to the number of boulders that lie in wait to crush me and send me to an eternal hell.  Each attempt leaves me bloodied and bruised—I will never be able to climb this mountain of righteousness and get to you.”

That person, when they collapse before the cross as their only hope and Jesus through the gospel miraculously lifts him to himself through no effort of his own—that person treasures the gospel.  That’s the tax collector who stands before the temple with his head down bowed in humiliation, beating his breast in anguished guilt saying, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus said of him, “I tell you that this man…went home justified before God.”  This is the woman who sits at the feet of Jesus crying for joy at the forgiveness of her sins because she had been forgiven much.  This person is the one Jesus is talking about when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

These are the people who like the apostle Paul never recover from the fact that a holy God who hates sin has instead shown mercy to the chief of all sinners.  Paul treasured the gospel—for it he gave up his comfort, his family, his position as a Pharisee and the high stature he had in Judaism.  He suffered as perhaps no one else has for the gospel and eventually he gave his life for it and he gave it all up with joy.  Do you know why?  He tells us in Philippians 3:8-9.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  That’s the gospel!  Paul treasured and prized the gospel and considered himself especially blessed that God called him to suffer for it and share it with others because it was the key to the Kingdom of God—it was the key that gave him access to King Jesus.  The reason Paul treasured the gospel and the reason he felt privileged to bring the gospel to others was because he treasured Christ above all else and because he treasured God, he treasured what alone could bring Him to God—the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because he treasured Christ and the gospel, he wanted to do anything God asked of him.

The church is inherently impassioned to bring the glory of the God’s kingdom through the gospel to people in Duluth and Indonesia.  One reason for that burden is because we ourselves have experienced the glory of the gospel in our salvation and daily experience it as we receive forgiveness for our sins and reassurance that our position in Christ is due ONLY to His righteousness.  If we have not experienced the glory of the gospel at our conversion and in our daily life then that would certainly be one reason why we aren’t impassioned about the mission of the church.  Why would we be?

Have you experienced the glory of the liberation from the gospel?  I didn’t ask you, “have you prayed to receive Christ?” Did you meet yourself in that valley or was that someone you could not relate to?  Every person who has been truly converted in Christ will have a different story to tell.  God works in thousands of ways to bring people to himself.  But if you were never deeply burdened about your unforgiven sin—if you were never deeply grieved over your inability to be righteous on your own—if you were not filled with joy when someone showed you the key to God through the gospel, then its no wonder you have no burden for the lost.  It could be that you yourself are not converted.  A student of C.H. Spurgeon once asked him if the heathen who had not heard the gospel would be saved and Spurgeon replied by saying, “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.”  For Spurgeon whose life had been transformed by the gospel and who loved declaring it to others, the much bigger question was how a gospel-possessing Christian could fail to give it out.  Am I saying that if you aren’t impassioned about the global cause of Christ that means you aren’t saved?  No.  What I am saying is if you don’t treasure the gospel, you wont be impassioned to see it go to the nations and one reason why you don’t treasure the gospel may be because you have not savingly believed it yourself.

Whatever the reason for not treasuring the gospel, we must know that this indicates something is perilously wrong with our souls and explains why we don’t care all that much about the mission of Christ’s church.  If you couldn’t relate to that person in the valley, something is wrong.  That is where every unbeliever who trusts Christ finds himself—with a frightening awareness of the weight of their own sin and their own inability to get right with God through their own efforts.  If you haven’t fallen before the foot of the cross—do so today.  Cry out to God to save you—even in you’ve been in church all your life.  Receive the gift of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness.  Treasure this sinner-saving gospel and become impassioned about the church’s mission to give it to others—here and to the nations.  May God give us grace to do that.   

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Page last modified on 5/19/2003

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