When the Great Commission is No More

By / Feb 23

I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Revelation chapter 5, not 15 as it says in the bulletin; Revelation chapter 5. As you’re turning there, it’s on page 1030 if you’re using the Bible in the rack in front of you. 

As you’re turning there I want to make just one more brief Mission Conference invitation. You should have already received in the mail, if you attend her regularly, this Mission Conference booklet along with a pledge card and a letter from our committee which includes the schedule, statistics, the stories, the faculty speakers. But one part I really want to draw your attention to is on the inside back cover. It’s called “The Great Commission Quotient,” and it asks, “What is the great commission quotient of this church – First Presbyterian Church?” I’ve drawn from an article written by Robertson McQuilken who was a pastor, missionary, professor and president at Columbia International Seminary. I learned after the first service he preached our Mission Conference twice over the last several decades in this church. Some of you may even remember him being here. But he says, “How do you measure how you are doing?” Is it that we have lots of flags? Is it that we get excited? We enjoy eating Indian food, which I invite you to come Wednesday evening – we’ll have the best Indian food available in Jackson served in our kitchen and chicken strips for those of a more refined palate! But it’s coming and we invite you to come. You don’t have to sign up for Wednesday; we’ll have plenty of food. 

But McQuilken asks, “How do you measure how you’re doing in mission?” And his answer is – here are the metrics – “100, 50, 10 and 5.” They’re not drawn from specific verses in the Bible; they’re drawn from the whole sweep of New Testament teaching on the spread of the Gospel. One hundred is 100% of our people are praying faithfully for the spread of the Gospel around the world. Would that be you? Fifty, 50% of all the money that comes into this church goes right back out for the spread of the Gospel across the world; 50%. Ten, 10% of our people leave to take the Gospel to places that the rest of us don’t have access. And five, 5% growth every year of new people coming to faith in Christ by profession of faith and they are baptized because of the faithful witness of people in this church. Meaning that for every twenty people in this church they are leading one person to faith in Christ each year. One hundred, fifty, ten, five – you can read about it in the article. There’s a link to take you to the longer article that McQuilken himself wrote. It’s well worth reading. It’s sobering, it’s challenging, and it will rearticulate and refocus our passion for the mission that Christ has set before the church.

The question then would be, “What would it take to motivate us toward growing in that quotient, growing in each of those four metrics? What would it take? What would motivate us?” And that’s what led me back to Revelation chapter 5. You may remember that this past Christmas, right after Christmas at our Winter Grace Service, we looked at Revelation 5 from the perspective of weeping in heaven – how grieving defines so much of the Christian life that even unthinkably in the presence of the Lamb in heaven we find weeping recorded. We’ll read about that in just a moment. But for today, I’d like us to look at Revelation 5 from a different perspective, from the perspective of mission and its endpoint. What would it look like to get to the final culmination, the goal, the target of mission? What will it look like when the Great Commission is no more, when we finish the mission? Revelation chapter 5 gives us a beautiful picture of what that will look like. 

I began thinking about that question years ago when I read John Piper’s book, Let the Nations Be Glad. And there’s one paragraph that’s been quoted over and over again, and you’ve probably heard it, but listen to its focus in terms of the end of the Great Commission. Piper says, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the Church, worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not mission, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, mission will be no more. It is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever.” So what will it be like when the Great Commission is no more, when we don’t send out missionaries any longer, when we don’t pray for missionaries anymore, when we don’t sacrificially raise money any longer to support them in places that we don’t currently have access to? What will that be like?

I thought about that question again as I was flying back from Dubai a week ago, having been really shocked by the reality that the Gospel is today going to some of the hardest, some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The Gospel is making progress even there today. You may have seen these books all around the church – The World Watch List 2020. Every year this book is published. You’re welcome to take however many you want and use them for yourselves or others you know as a prayer guide. It lists the fifty countries where it’s most dangerous in the world today to live as a follower of Jesus. I was invited to go to Dubai to participate in training men who came from numbers two, five and eighteen of the most dangerous countries in the world to live; men who came from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. And they came because they wanted more specific training in evangelism and church planting, which they are already doing in their home countries. I thought I was going to participate in training them. I was not prepared for them training me and the sobriety that settled in when I heard story after story of these men watching their colleagues, family members, loved ones, co-laborers killed, brutally – decapitated, dragged from vehicles, shot on the side of the road – because of their witness for Jesus. And yet here these men were saying, “Tell me more. I want more. I want to do this better. How do I do this effectively?”

And I asked the question, “What makes them go back in? Why would they go back, realizing every time they leave their home and kiss their wife goodbye, it might be the last time they see their wife or their children, not just because they themselves might be killed, but because their wives and children might be captured and taken and sold into slavery because of their witness for Jesus? What makes them go back in?” I believe this chapter gives us such a clear picture of the “Why?” behind their commitment. I want us to think about this passage from the perspective of when the Great Commission will be complete. Before we read this passage, let’s pray.

Father in heaven, would You please have mercy upon us. By Your Spirit, open our hearts, open our minds, open our eyes to see wonderful things in Your Law so that as we leave this place we will surely know that we have done business with the King of the universe. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revelation 5 verse 1:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’

And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

This is God’s Word.

As Jesus finished His earthly ministry, the end of John’s gospel, just before the ascension, He gives one final word of instruction and command to His disciples, and through them to us. He says in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Here’s the fact – we’ve been given a mission. It’s a profound mission. We’ve been given authority for that mission and the culmination of the mission to make disciples of all nations is reflected here in Revelation 5. It’s reflected as people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation worshipping the Lamb and celebrating the infinite worth of His glory. Revelation 5 is the culmination of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations” – and here they are, falling on their faces in worship; people from every tribe, tongue and nation celebrating the worth of the Lamb. This is the target of what we are doing in all these countries represented by the flags above and around you. This is the goal toward which all of mission has been headed.

But it’s not a straight line path. Is it? It never has been. There’s an element here that is part of every mission endeavor. You see it in verse 4. John says, “I began to weep loudly.” What you’ll discover as we work our way through this study is that weeping and grieving and sacrifice and loss and risk has always been part of the mission endeavor. There is no mission without weeping. It goes all the way back to Psalm 126. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come home with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Weeping has always been part of the mission. It was certainly true of Jesus’ mission and it will be true of us as we enter into His mission as He has commanded us to. The fact is, in the unfolding of God’s sovereign plan, His kingdom building mission, there will be obstacles, there will be opposition, there will be grieving and sacrifice and risk and loss and weeping.

And you see that more clearly when you look at John’s weeping. A question is asked for which there is no answer and John weeps. “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” is asked in verse 2. “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” verse 3. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it and he begins to weep loudly. Think about this. John weeps because something is blocked, something is inaccessible, something is unreachable. Does the language sound familiar at all to our thinking about mission as we think about carrying this message of redemption to places that are now blocked, closed, unreached, inaccessible? It’s a very similar image. And John weeps because the message of this scroll, which is beautiful, that is redemptive, is blocked; it cannot get where it needs to go.

If you really want to understand John’s weeping you have to go back to chapter 4 where in verses 1 and 2 you realize that this is a throne room scene. John is actually in the presence of the King of the universe. Chapter 4 verse 1, “After this, I, John, looked and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven with one seated on the throne.” Now that language of the throne is a picture of rule. It’s repeated sixteen times in Revelation 4 and 5. It’s a picture of sovereign, unchallenged, unstoppable rule. When he describes the one who is seated on that throne, verse 3, he says shockingly little. He says he had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. That’s all he says about what he sees, except for one other thing. In verse 1 of chapter 5 he says he has something in his right hand. Not a scepter, not a sword as you might except, but something far more important. He says in his hand he was holding a scroll.

And this is profound because that scroll is repeated thirteen times in the rest of this chapter. It speaks of God’s plan for His people – a plan of judgment and rescue; a plan to restore and redeem and heal, a plan to make all things new. John says it was written on the front side and on the back, meaning it is completely filled; nothing can be added to it. It’s a complete plan. And he says it’s sealed with seven seals, meaning that it’s absolutely authoritative. It will be accomplished. But yet because it’s sealed so tightly it’s inaccessible. And he begins to weep because he knows it’s a good thing, he knows it’s a story of rescue, he knows it’s God’s very best for His people, but it is sealed up entirely. And he recognizes that opening the scroll is not just the unveiling, the revealing of what’s there, but it’s actually the deployment, the launch, the participation of what’s there. It’s the enactment of what God has planned. And so he weeps.

And we don’t know how long the weeping lasted, but in verse 5 everything shifts when one of the elders says to him, “Weep no more. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, he has conquered so that he can open the scroll and all seven of its seals.” So John raises his still tear-filled eyes and instead of seeing this triumphant Lion, this Lion of Judah, this Root of David, this one who has conquered, instead of seeing this victorious Lion, his eyes fall on a vulnerable Lamb – one still bearing all the marks of the brutal suffering and death he has endured. And it is this Lamb that approaches the throne and takes from the hand of the one who sits upon it the scroll, and as he takes the scroll all heaven breaks loose and the most exuberant worship you could ever imagine is unleashed. 

And the rest of the chapter is the display of that worship. Verses 8 through 4, the new song that all creation has been longing to hear; verse 9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransom people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.” Verse 12, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Worth is the Lamb!” 

Do you realize that for 2,000 years that has been the battle cry of mission? Every apostle who has gone forth, every martyr who has died, every missionary who has been sent, every preacher who has proclaimed, the backbeat has been, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Of course the mission is clear, the authority has been given, but Jesus Himself said, “Don’t expect that they will celebrate your coming as you go forth in mission.” Jesus Himself has said, “As they treated Me, they will treat you. If they hated Me, don’t expect them to love you as you carry out the mission.”

The point is this – no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult it becomes, no matter the sacrifices, the risk, the cost or the suffering, He, the Lord Jesus, is worship, He is worth it, which is why we worship. It’s why we go forth in mission. The Lamb is worthy. If you’re a follower of Jesus, this will be your song for all eternity and it’s your song today. 

So here’s the practical question – “What does that mean for us today? What does that mean, that the Lamb truly is worthy, today as we think about mission – not just the mission across the world but the mission here, our mission as a church?” We exist to glorify God by making disciples along the North State Street corridor, across the greater Jackson area, and across the world. What difference does it make that the Lamb is worthy? Answer, quite simply this – in every place of heartache, in every place of risk, grieving and loss and sacrifice, the Lamb is worthy, truly worthy. Not just worthy to take the scroll and break its seals, but worthy of my trust, worthy of my sacrifice, worthy of risk, worthy of anything that it may require for Jesus not just to be made known but treasured by all those for whom He sacrificed His life. The Lamb is worthy.

So what might that look like in our own experience? Well let me give you a couple of pictures that I hope will resonate with you. They’re all true stories and I’ve gotten permission to share them with you. One is Sam who lives in a major city in our country who worked as a very successful attorney and his goal was to retire early. So he worked hard, he set aside a significant amount of wealth, and at the age of fifty-nine, he retired. And he really wanted to invest, volunteer in ministries he had heard about and that he had supported over the years of his working as an attorney. And he began volunteering both his time and began really investing his money, sharing with greater and greater generosity in these ministries where he was investing, so much so that ten years later, ten years after retirement, today at sixty-nine, he’s gone back to work because he has so enjoyed being extravagantly generous with these different ministries in which he has invested his time that he now wants to earn more money so he can maintain his level of generosity. After ten years of retirement, choosing when he does and doesn’t want to work, he says, “No, I need to work because I want to keep being this generous.” He can quit right now and be comfortable for the rest of his life, but because the Lamb is worthy he smiles and says, “There’s so much more.”

Second picture. Next week you’ll be hearing from Mack Stiles who is scheduled to be our Mission Conference speaker. He is a pastor who lives and serves in northern Iraq. I spent part of my trip a year ago in his home, listening to his stories and learning from what they’re investing in. I so enjoyed him that I said, “You have to be our next Mission Conference speaker!” And he’s planning on coming. He’s also speaking Friday evening for our evangelism training seminar. It really will be worth your time to come, to register, and learn; to get one more tool for your tool belt in sharing the Gospel. This Friday. You need to register because there is a meal. But Mack sent me an email last month because I needed to finalize some details with him about the conference and I’ll just read to you what he wrote to me.

Mack said, “My wife’s mom passed away on December 12.” I received this email last month. “We returned to The States where I spoke at the funeral. We were preparing to return to Iraq on Sunday, January 5, when the news broke of drone strikes and conflict in Baghdad.” Now I’ll pause. You may remember about a month ago the U.S. military launched an attack that killed the top Iranian general responsible for a lot of the terrorism that had been carried out. And immediately there was a fear of retribution and the great fear was that Iran’s primary enemy, Iraq, and with them the United States, would be the target of that retribution. And when I was in Mack Stiles’ home a year ago I sat in his apartment and on his balcony you could see the U.S. military base beneath him so you know how close their apartment is to a U.S. military target. 

Going on with his email. “We prepared to return to Iraq when the news broke of drone strikes and the conflict in Baghdad. Iran was threatening retribution. Many were calling and texting me and telling us not to go back. So imagine this…I’m sitting in a wonderful worship service in Louisville, my eighteen month old granddaughter is sitting on my lap, my family is all around me, and people are coming up to us and telling us to stay. Don’t go back. It’s way too dangerous. And after all, we’re still grieving the loss of LeAnne’s mother. In my mind’s eye I was reminded of how we see the U.S. military base from our apartment in Iraq and the fear of the unknown, the fear of hardships, the fear of afflictions began to creep into my soul. Most of all, I feel the strong temptation to stay in warm fellowship and sweet safety that I find among my people. But then in the middle of the worship service we rose to sing this song.” 

I’ll just quote a few of the lyrics. You can look this up on YouTube. “I will trust my Savior, Jesus, when my darkest doubts befall. Trust Him when to simply trust Him seems the hardest thing of all. I will trust my Savior, Jesus, trust Him when my strength is small, for I know the shield of Jesus is the safest place of all.”

He keeps on writing. “Before we had finished the song I knew what we needed to do. I knew we needed to trust Jesus in the midst of dark doubts and my weak faith, knowing that Jesus is our shield and His way is best, and LeAnne and I needed to get ready to return to Iraq.” A day later they left for Iraq. Two days after arriving in their apartment, rockets fell on their city. “I preached at our church in Iraq the following weekend,” he writes. And he says, “I’m so glad we came back. Would you keep us in your prayers? Pray that the church will remain strong and hold out the hope of the Gospel. Pray that we will shine like stars in the midst of a dark and depraved generation.” 

Here’s my question. Why would he leave a church he loves, why would he leave his grandkids, his children, people who know him and love him and are encouraging him to stay, when no one would fault him for staying where he was, why would he go back? Of course you know the answer. The Lamb is worthy. Or as Revelation 12:11 says, “He did not love His life so much as to shrink from death.” The Lamb is worthy. 

Last picture – and I did get permission to share this. Two men from Memphis graduated from college at the same time, Alan and Tom. Before they started their businesses they made a pact with their wives and with each other to live radically generous lives, to mimic the generosity of their father – their father on this earth and in this culture. They agreed to cap their salaries at $150,000 a year no matter how well their businesses would do. Now remember, these guys had just gotten out of college; $150,000 a year seemed astronomical. But they said, “We’re going to cap it. No matter how God blesses us, even though we’re only making $35,000 a year now, no matter how God blesses us we won’t take more than $150,000 a year salary. The rest we’ll give away. We’ll invest in the spread of the Gospel.”

Over time, the Lord did more than they could have ever imagined. Each of their businesses is now generating over $500 million per year; each of their businesses generating over $500 million a year. And to this day, they are still being paid $150,000 a year. Consequently, each of them is giving away millions and millions of dollars each month for the spread of the Gospel across the world. They’ve taken it one step farther. They’ve put each of those companies into a donor-advised fund, governed by an independent board of governors, directors, so that they’ll be even more free to invest that money as they had initially designed. To this day, these two men meet every Saturday morning to walk around their modest neighborhood to remind each other of their pact and to celebrate the stories of what God is doing through their generosity.

Why would they do that? They’re worth extravagant amounts of money. They could live in opulence. Why would they live in relative ordinariness? Maybe because the Lamb is worthy? Think about it. How much money could God entrust to you before you would start living a really self-absorbed life – more houses and more stuff and more displays of the wealth that God has entrusted to you. These men live their lives the way they do to very clearly say, “I’m not an owner. I’m not a consumer of this wealth. I’m a steward, temporarily. It’s God’s money and we want to accelerate the return of the King however aggressively we can.”

What could God entrust into your care without you becoming very self-absorbed? The Lamb is worthy. Or turning it around another way – of what would the Lamb not be worthy of in your life? Where would you draw the line? “I’ll sacrifice this, this and this, but I draw the line with my kids. Don’t You dare take my grandkids away!” I heard of someone saying to their mother, “I believe God’s calling us into ministry into this different country,” and the mother said, “How dare you do that to me!” Where would you draw the line? Of what would the Lamb not be worthy in your life? 

See, there’s a point coming when the Great Commission will be no more. We won’t send out missionaries anymore. We won’t have mission conferences anymore. It will be done! And the Lord Jesus will gather us all up, we who claim to know Him and celebrate our belonging to Him, and He’ll say one of two things and only one of these two things. He will say, “Well done! Well done, good and faithful servant!” Or absent that, He’ll say, “Well, you done.” And that’s it. The Lamb is worthy. Those who go forth weeping, carrying their seed with them, will doubtless come back with shouts of joy and victory, resounding in their homes and in their lives. What resounds in your life as you look at the flags, as you read the Mission Conference booklet, as you hear the stories? Of what is the Lamb worthy in your life? Let’s pray together.

Father, we are reminded of what the apostle John declares in Revelation 7 – the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our Shepherd and He will guide us to springs of living water, eternal springs of living water, and You Yourself will wipe every tear from our eyes. No matter what the weeping, no matter what the grieving, the loss, the risk, the sacrifice, You will make good on Your promise so we, with joy for all eternity, will proclaim, “The Lamb is worthy!” Would You help us to live lives that display that declaration today? – “Worthy is the Lamb!” We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.



The Fuel for Mission

By / Feb 23

Well this evening we’re going to be taking a short break from our series in the Beatitudes to look at what ought to be a very well-known passage of Scripture to many of us since it is our theme verse for the year. So let me invite you to turn with me to Peter’s first epistle, 1 Peter chapter 2, and we’re going to be reading from verse 9 through to verse 12. 

In these verses we’re going to notice and we’re going to explore how Peter, he outlines, I think quite marvelous, some of the elements that God has, in His sovereign mercy and grace, He has gifted and given to the church, to us as His people, to act as a fuel for mission, as a fuel for mission. And part of the reason that we’re looking at this and considering this and reflecting upon this, this evening, is in light of our upcoming global Mission Conference that begins on Wednesday. We’re heard a lot of details about that both at the morning service and Wiley has reminded us this evening. Once again, pick up one of the brochures that’s around the place and just get involved, if nothing else, but at least be knowing how you can be praying for our missionaries and the conference at large. 

Now many of you will know that the vision of First Presbyterian Church is to glorify God. It’s to worship and adore the One who is the Lamb who is worthy and who was slain. Ed expounded that in quite some detail this morning. But we are to glorify God by making disciples. And where are we commissioned to make those disciples? Well, it’s on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and of course around the world. And this implies that if we as a church exist to make disciples, which is the heart of God in Matthew 28 and throughout the New Testament and it’s rooted in the book of Genesis, but if that is why we exist, is to make disciples, then we also need to admit that the church really has very little to do with the place and the building. This is the hub where we gather to worship and exalt the risen Christ. It’s the place where we are equipped as brothers and sisters, as saints, in order to go out and fulfill that which God has commissioned to us as His body. And so it concerns people living together in covenant relationship through the grace of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Just as a quick aside, that’s partly what we witnessed just last week’s Sunday where men and women professed their faith, covenanting before God and us as the community of faith here at First Pres, to be gathered and to be used of God in the explosive expulsion of the Gospel to the ends of the world. It’s for the glory of God and for the good of the world that the church exists. Nothing more; nothing less. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing that has been entrusted to us by the Lord Himself.

Now let me take you back a little bit to the book of Acts. Just after Pentecost, you will remember that the church was growing. In fact, it’s very clear that we could say that the church was a church that was on mission, where mission began in the family and in the neighborhoods in which they lived. It began in the marketplaces. It began in the schools. Every relationship was impacted by this new identity that had been given to the men and the women who had been changed for the sake and the cause of the Gospel. They understood that the world that they lived in did not know the Lord Jesus Christ and they also understood that the world that they lived in needed the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s that combination that fueled them to go and tell despite the cost. Their world, it certainly wasn’t free and as hospitable as it is here in the United States; not at all. In fact, if you lived as a Christian you marked yourself as an enemy of the state, an enemy of Nero. 

And it’s into that context that the apostle Peter is writing this letter that, as many of you know, David has been working through over the last few months in the morning services. One author summarized the first few centuries of the church as follows. He said, “They strove to spread the Gospel and stay alive.” It’s not what we think are the two phrases that would go together, but you just think about what happened in Jerusalem when the persecution came. There was this explosive expulsion as missionaries went out to Asia Minor. They went east into India and they went south to Africa and the Middle East. And we know from the records outside of Scripture and in Scripture that many of those new communities began to face the persecution of the Roman State and the growing Roman Empire. Many of them found themselves living in caves and in the forests because they were committed to spread the Gospel message and stay alive.

Now brothers and sisters, God is always at work in the hearts of men and women. He is at work in ways we just can’t always perceive and we don’t understand. He is on mission to redeem the other sheep that are not yet a part of the fold. The same God who condescended to redeem us in Christ, the One who has promised and told us in Scripture that He prepares a home for us, He is the same one who calls and who burdens and who sends His church – local congregations, ordinary men and women in local congregations – into the world to bear witness to His grace, making the Gospel of Christ clear and compelling to those who have not yet heard this good news. 

And what we’re going to see in these verses as we look at verses 9 through 12 is that Peter tells us that a church on mission thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. Thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. And so without further adieu, let us turn to God’s Word, and as we read it, we will then pray just afterwards. This is God’s holy and inerrant Word. 1 Peter, chapter 2 from verse 9. Peter writes:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Praise be to God for His Word. Let’s bow our heads as we go to the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we give You thanks and praise for the revelation of truth that You have entrusted to the church. Father, thank You that You have shone the light of the Gospel upon our hearts. And we pray, Lord, that this evening, that You would continue to open up the Word of truth. Draw us in. Cause our hearts to be stirred so that we may love Jesus Christ all the more. And Lord, that our desire, our sole desire would be to do that which He has called us to do. And we pray this and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Mateo Langat was a man, a very young man, when he first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his mother tongue when a couple of missionaries came through his village and they settled there for a couple of years learning the language, and eventually understanding the language sufficiently they then explained the good news of the Gospel. And it is said that he was one of the early converts to Christianity amongst the Kipsigis people in Kenya. As he matured and as he grew up, he went on to be a preacher and a pastor amongst the same community, amongst the same community in which he grew up, and in one of his sermons that was translated into English in 1976 he gives this analogy. He says, “Here in Africa, one person cannot cultivate with oxen by himself. There must be people in the field to guide the oxen on each side as well as one who holds the plow. Likewise, one cannot be the church by himself. He must call others who are in Christ to work together.”

I think in some sense it’s quite a beautiful analogy of what we’re going to be looking at this evening. It’s this united witness of the body, the united witness of the church that impacts a rebellious and a fallen world. That’s the testimony of the early church. They were thinking and speaking and acting consistently with that which they read in the Gospel and in the narratives that had been left for them. They had been so changed by it. And we have these records given to us throughout the course of church history which will tell us similar stories and similar details in various countries. One of the great church historians of the 19th century, Kenneth Latourette, he writes with regard to the missionary advance that was propelled out of Europe and out of North America, in other words, the transatlantic protestant community. He writes this. That, “The missionary advance of Christianity into a global religion was the result of sacrificial, unconstrained donations of many millions of individuals, both people and resources.” It was being gripped by something larger than themselves, something of heaven we might say, and binding themselves together to be involved in reaching those who have not yet heard the good news, who are still in spiritual darkness.

By the way, we live in a day and age where we think that most people have heard about Jesus Christ, but there are nations around the world where there are very few Christians, if any in some of those communities. So many of the languages of this planet still need to be translated into their mother tongue. The mission is not finished. 

Now as we have already mentioned, Peter is writing this letter to a community who are under persecution. He’s writing to them who face the prospect of increasing and greater persecution if they stick with their convictions. And even though he knows they are facing increasing persecution, he does not write to say and ask them to back off. But in actual fact, in the midst of this clear and present danger, he gives them further instructions to stand their ground and press on with what God has called them to do. So firstly, the church on mission thinks consistently. We are to be governed by who we are in Jesus Christ, knowing our identity so that we think consistently and in light of that. 

A Church on Mission Thinks Consistently

Peter presses this home I think for us in verse 9 of the text where he uses a series of identity descriptors regarding the Christian where he says, “You are a chosen race. You are a royal priesthood. You are a holy nation. You are a people for His own possession.” One of the things I was reminded of just this afternoon as I was reflecting on this again is the Trinitarian language or the implications of the Trinity that are given to us in those phrases. A chosen race. That’s part of the work of the Father. A royal priesthood is part of the work of the Son. And then you’ve got a holy nation. That’s part of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. And then he wraps it up by saying as a result of the work of the Trinity, He has made you “a people for His own possession.” He holds you together. He has you in the palm of His hand, and so much more.

These are remarkable, if not even astonishing statements, these phrases. This was a Jewish man who, in his day, was writing to a mixed community of Jew and Gentile believers and he was giving them the label that is deeply entrenched in that which God called His people back in Genesis and Exodus. And he’s doing this intentionally; using historically rich and Biblical language to remind the Jews of their history, but secondly to remind the Gentiles who have now been grafted in, “You have the same identity as the people of God because you are a true Israel.” And of course, Romans 9 verses 3 through 11 goes into much greater detail with regards to that. 

What was so important about this? Because in a world where different groups, people were being divided by race, where one tribe steeped in its own cultural traditions was pitting itself against another tribe with its own cultural traditions, where people would distinguish themselves on the basis of socio-economic issues and many other issues – here comes Peter and he says to them, “Oh, you all, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” And he tells them, “You are one in Christ.”

Now to understand the terms, these terms of identity, we have to go back to God’s call to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 where God says through His Spirit, or He speaks to Abraham and He says that through Abraham’s offspring the nations will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, the nation of Israel itself had been the recipients of God’s abundant mercy and grace. But that mercy and grace was never meant to end with them. They were always meant to be the conduits of mercy and grace – “As you have received, so you are to give as well.” And then in Exodus chapter 19, right before God gives Israel the Ten Commandments, He says in verse 5, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant you will be My treasured possession among all peoples.” And then in verse 6, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” 

Do you hear what Peter is doing? He’s picking up on the terminology that was given to God’s covenant people in the old covenant, in the Old Testament, and he is applying it to the new covenant community. They were always meant to be a light to the nations, Isaiah 49 verse 6. But that doesn’t happen. The record of the Old Testament tells us that. Israel failed, and in some sense we might say Israel failed dismally. God did not choose Israel because they were bigger or better or brighter than the other nations. No, He chose them because He placed His love upon them. But unfortunately, what happens all too often is that Israel misconstrued God’s mercy, thinking that God preferred them over the other nations; that God loved them and did not love the other nations. And with that, they lost sight of the mission that had been entrusted to them. And the result was that they thought more highly of themselves, they forgot God, they forgot God’s purpose, they forgot the plan of redemption. They became dark like the surrounding nations as they became inward focused, living as if they had not received mercy and certainly appearing as if they had not come across as God’s people, set apart. And so as they turned their back on the covenant, guess what happened – God judged them and the record of that is in the Judges and of course throughout the prophets. 

Brother Andrew, he was a smuggler of Bibles amongst other things back in the days of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, he took, I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of Bibles behind the scenes. But he once wrote this. He said, “Persecution is an enemy the church has met and mastered many times.” What was he saying? He was saying and he was trying to communicate that when persecution comes to the church, the church, after it reorients itself, it knows where to turn to find refuge – and that is in the arms of the Savior. But then he continues in that quote. He says, “However, indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe.” What’s he saying there? When we don’t recognize the mercy and grace of God and give thanks and praise and adoration and worship to the One who is worthy and who is on the throne, when we assume these things were due to us, we become indifferent to those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness and on the path to hell. 

Let’s extrapolate this to the 21st century. Is it possible that the reason that the Western church – and I’m speaking broadly here – but is it possible that the Western church is in such a dismal condition where spiritual poverty abounds and where willful and unconstrained sinfulness is flaunted as good under the banner of the church, is it possible that we too have lost sight of God’s overarching, massive and glorious vision to reach the nations with Jesus Christ, and our focus is turned inward instead of actually seeing what God can do through His church, by faith, with an expulsive power of a new affection?

Friends, having been given our new identity in Christ, let us be a people who boldly pray that God would renew and refresh our thinking and our mind so that our thinking would be consistent with that whom we have been declared to be in light of our union with Jesus, so that when we pursue our daily bread, when we go about the regular routines of life on the North State Street corridor and the greater Jackson area that we would truly grasp that we are set apart for His purpose, for His glory; therefore, our lives will exude worship, adoration, and that we are living for our great King of kings and Lord of lords. This is what Peter is pressing home for us – a sense of our identity, to think consistently in light of the Gospel in who you are.

A Church on Mission Speaks Consistently

And that brings us to the second point. And for those of you who were worried, the first point is always the longest so you can relax! So secondly, the church on mission is to speak consistently. It’s to speak consistently. We have a message to proclaim. The message is given to us in the revelation of God Himself, but the message is also something that we embody because we have experienced the transformation ourselves. You know, when you think of the epistles of the apostle Paul, one of the traits that characterizes his letters is he always begins with his name. That was the traditional way of beginning 1st century letter writing or the format. But immediately after giving his name he would, in many cases, describe an aspect of his identity in Christ. And so some of the examples would be, he says that he is “a servant of Christ, an apostle of Jesus, he is called by the will of God.” Why does he do that? I often wonder whether he introduces himself and then immediately reminds himself that his identity constrains that which he is going to write about and that which he is going to call the Christian community to obey. You see, our thinking has an impact on our speech and on our actions, hence, we are called to dig down deep into the Scriptures and understand who God is, all that He has done for us, and of course all that He has made us to be. 

In our text in these verses in 1 Peter, Peter reminds us that the message includes our experiential knowledge – three things. That God has sovereignly called us out of darkness and into His light; that there was a time when we were not God’s people but now we are God’s people. That there was a time when we were under God’s wrath because we have not received mercy, but now we are a people who have received God’s mercy. And you see, it’s these three sets of antithetical statements, this figure of speech, that reminds us of the two paths that every single person is on one or the other. There is no middle ground. It’s either darkness or light. It’s mercy or no mercy. It’s God’s people or not God’s people.

And so this speech, this message, this antithetical use of language that is given in these terms, in these phrases, that ought to be something that fuels and shapes our own conversations with people. Do you remember what it was like to be searching for truth and yet be walking in spiritual blindness and darkness? Now some of you have grown up in the church and we praise God that there had never been a moment where you have not known the good news of Jesus. But there are many of you here who can testify that there was a season when you were walking in spiritual darkness; even though you were hungering for truth, you could not find it. And so you would turn to the philosophers of this age, you would turn to other religions, you would turn to false gurus and there would still be no hope until God came down and He opened your eyes, and like the apostle Paul, it’s like scales fell from your eyes and all of a sudden you’ve got it because God had done the work in the heart to bring you to repentance and faith.

You see, when He opens our eyes to grasp true truth, this Jesus we recognize He is the light who dispels our darkness. Don’t ever forget that. That’s a part of your testimony that people who are in darkness; they need to know that’s what it was once like, but I also am now on the other side and I can testify to grace and mercy and love and all the other traits with that. Let your remembrance of His mercy towards you propel you to herald Him to be the light of the nations. Friends, when this message collides, this message of mercy, this remembrance of mercy, when it collides with your abiding love for your fellow image bearers – whether they be in your family, whether they be friends, whether they be in your community – when the message collides with love for those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness, it produces a longing within us; a longing to pray for them, a longing for them to know the mercy that you yourself have been a recipient of; the One who is all merciful in a very merciless world. We long for them to be enveloped into God’s people, to have a new identity and to understand what that means, where they can drop the facades that the world has pressured them to take on and that they can simply rejoice in the glory and the grace of who this God is. And so we pray, we remember our testimony, and we wait for opportunities to weave our testimony of mercy and grace into the conversations of everyday life, entrusting that God, in His perfect timing, will use our lisping tongues to bring light in the midst of the darkness of those who are still trapped at this very point in time.

A Church on Mission Acts Consistently

And so Peter presses home the importance of thinking consistently and speaking consistently and then thirdly, he reminds us that the church on mission acts consistently. We are to live godly lives. Peter now, intentionally I believe, draws our attention to two spheres of action – the one is positive and the one is negative. The negative one, he says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and the positive one is, “Act honorably,” so that even when they criticize the message that you embody, they still can say, “It’s good to have Christians in our neighborhood and community because of their acts of mercy, because of their love, because of their grace, because of their peace” and many of the other fruit of the Spirit and so much more. “It’s good to have them here.”

Friends, using the language of Peter is verse 11, as a sojourner and as an exile, you are passing through this place. You do not belong here, if you belong to Jesus. Your true home is in heaven. Do not get too comfortable here please. Comfort can bring the rot of immobilizing the church. And so he says to us, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh.” That’s the negative injunction. Flee from that which was consistent with the path of life that you once were on – the path of darkness. And for those of you who have been reading the chronological Bible this past week, you will know that a number of injunctions were given to us in Leviticus where God was saying, “Don’t do this. Flee from this. Abstain from this.” That’s what Peter is referencing and he’s calling it to mind. 

Let me ask you a quick question. If you and I are on the path of life, why do you want to pick at the rotting carcass of your sin on the other side of the road? That’s meant to be a stench to us. We want nothing to do with it. Flee from those things. Abstain. It’s what Paul is calling us to. Friends, it’s not just that by nibbling at a little bit of sin here and there is going to have an effect in terms of giving us a virus or bacteria. Look what Peter says. He says these passions of the flesh, they wage war against your soul, and ultimately it compromises the witness of Christ to the world. But then he doesn’t just give us the negative; he also gives us the positive where he says, “Live out that which is consistent with your new identity and your new home. Don’t do that. Do this. Flee from that. This is what you should be pursuing and asking God to grow you in.”

Let me close with this. As you look at these four verses, the progression of Peter’s thought and his argument for me is pretty magnificent actually. And it’s very possible that Peter’s own rambunctious pilgrimage has given him a deeper understanding of what he is writing to the church. I mean, how many times does Peter say something on the spur of the moment or do something on the spur of the moment and Jesus has to rebuke him? But immediately after rebuking him, Jesus Christ restores him with gentleness and in grace. And when Peter, after the resurrection, truly understands who Jesus is and who Jesus has made him to be as a disciple of Christ, his speech and his actions were forever changed and he was emboldened by the Spirit to go and do whatever he was called to do, whatever the cost, sacrificially. 

Friends, have there been inconsistencies in our thinking, in our speech, in our actions? I think that every single one of us can say, “Absolutely there have been inconsistencies.” And it’s a reminder to us that there is only One who is perfectly consistent in all that He has ever done and said and thought, and that’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He’s the One that lived the life that we could not live and He laid down His life for us so that we would find life, and life in abundance. But the point here is, in the midst of the inconsistencies of our thinking, of our speech and our action – are we a people who are quick when God brings that to our conscience, are we quick to repent and come back to the Savior and say, “Father, forgive me”? But not just to leave it there. “Now, quicken and embolden me and give me a desire to go and be the person amongst Your people that You have called us to be.”

Friends, our great King is advancing His kingdom. The mystery is that He has entrusted the mission to the church and it’s a beautiful thing. And as a church that’s on mission, my heart cry is that we would be a people who pray fervently that God would reform and refresh and revive us in our thinking, in our actions, and in our speech; that the consistency would be evident to a watching world because of our love for the Savior. And so, this fuel for mission, these elements that are fuel for mission, ultimately they need to be ignited by the sovereign hand of God. And we can pray for that as we ask God to send revival perhaps, and to reform the church. 

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, if you have been saved by God’s grace then let me remind you once again that “You are a chosen race, you are a royal priesthood, you are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” You and I are recipients of mercy upon mercy upon mercy and grace upon grace upon grace. And we’re going to be further reminded of that as we come to the Table in a short while. Aren’t we? That we get to gather around this table as the community here at First Pres, but let us not stay with First Pres because this Table extends across the world where millions, untold millions are gathering and have gathered. And it crosses the space-time continuum. And part of the reason that we come here is to feed on Christ by faith, to be strengthened, to be emboldened so that we must go and tell the message to the sheep that still need to be brought into the fold. Let us pray that God would impress that upon our hearts as we enter into global missions conference week, and that would be in our own lives that we would have a growing desire for fuel for mission as well and to go and do that. 

Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Shall we? Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, we give You praise and we give You thanks. We adore You for sending Your Son, the Lamb who was slain. Father, we thank You that in these few verses You once again remind us of what You have called us to think, to speak, and to act as Your church and ultimately to be burdened with a desire to see the good news of the Gospel that has penetrated and changed our lives, to see that go out to the nations. But Father, may we not take our eyes off the fact that there are people in our own neighborhoods who are not yet in the light. Father, commit us to prayer. Open our eyes; may we be fervent in looking for opportunities so that Jesus Christ may be praised. And we ask this and pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.



Understanding Islam

By / Mar 6


Reading the Bible Differently

By / Mar 5

 

Thank you! I am so glad to be back at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson. I was actually here for four years – 1973 to 1977 while I was at Belhaven College. And I want to thank you, First Presbyterian Church, for the mark that you left in my life. You see, it was at this church worshiping every Sunday, sitting right about there, four rows back, that I faithfully heard the preaching and teaching of Don Patterson. You know you can’t sit under Don Patterson without having your missions vision focused and clarified and energized. But most importantly, I attended the Missions Conferences. And do you know what I learned about? I learned about Faith Promise. I learned about sacrificial giving. And for the first time in my life I took a risk and made a pledge as a college student. And I figured if I worked all summer, I’d be able to keep that pledge. Well halfway through the summer I got sick; I was sick for half the summer. And I said, “Well how am I going to make my pledge being sick?” And miraculously, through some circumstances, I came across some money and the money that was given to me, as you know, was how much? The exact about of money that I had pledged for the Faith Promise here at First Presbyterian Church. And so thank you so much for the mark that you left on me and the hundreds of other people who have been through here and have been blessed by you and the ministry of this church. So thank you so much.

 

Now this morning I want to ask the question, “Why do you read the Bible? Why do you come to church?” For many of us, it’s because there is something wrong in our life and we’re looking to the Bible to correct that problem. We hope that the principles in God’s Word will improve our marriage, that if you’re a husband, “It will help my wife;” if you’re a wife, it will help your husband. If you’re a parent, that it will help your children. That if you’re a young person, it will help your parents. Or you’re here because, you know, you’ve been trying to live the dream but that dream has turned into a nightmare and you want to find a “How do I live a full and contented and happy life?” And so you come to the Bible and you look for the principles that will guide and direct your life. But I want to tell you that when we come to the Bible as a self-help book to improve our life, it’s happiness, give us success and give us a full life, we do great harm to ourselves.

 

Now it is true that if we believe God’s Word we will be changed; our life will be full. But these are secondary and not the primary purpose that our heavenly Father has revealed His Word to us. You see, when you read the Bible looking for your own personal happiness, you are living a self-centered life. And all that life is, is another manifestation of our rebellion against God. So you could be here this morning in absolute rebellion against God trying to apply His principles to your life. Why? Because you just want God to serve you and make your life better. The problem with that is the end result is a religiosity without Christ’s righteousness, a spirituality that is, at best, carnal, the product of our own efforts and not the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. And you say, “Well who would ever do that?” Well the Pharisees would do that, wouldn’t they? And those were the people that Christ was hardest on.

 

Now it’s not exactly our fault that we read the Bible this way because in far too many churches, not this one, when the Bible is preached it’s taught as a book of principles – a self-help kind of book that if you apply these principles to your life, you’ll be changed. You’ll hear sermons like, “Five Principles for a Better Marriage,” “Six Ways to Raise Spiritually Healthy Children,” “Seven Lessons for Financial Success,” “Four Lessons on Leadership from the Life of David.” Now it is true that the Bible contains many principles, but the main purpose of the Bible is not the application of those principles. So if you think the Bible is about you, I’ve got some very bad news – it’s not! The Bible tells us another story.

 

And so this morning, I hope to teach you how to read the Bible differently. I hope to give you a whole new perspective from which you can understand the Scripture. I want you to be able to see that there is a theme that you must always bear in mind when you go about interpreting God’s Word. And what is that theme? What is that perspective? It is a missiological perspective. And you’re probably thinking, “Of course John, you’d say that; you’re a missionary! And all you’re doing is reading into the text the very thing that you want to get out of the text!” But of all the approaches to the Scripture that I’m most opposed to, it’s that one – that we read the Bible in such a way that we get out of it exactly what we want to. The approach, this missiological approach, is just not my approach. This missiological approach is just not the approach of First Pres. Jackson. The missiological approach is not just the approach of the PCA or of the reformed faith. This missiological approach, like all of our reformed theology, comes from the Scriptures itself because we have a great doctrine that tells us how we interpret Scripture. We interpret Scripture with Scripture. And how do we come to understand all of Scripture? By learning from our Lord how He Himself taught us to read God’s Word.

 

And so you might be saying, “Where is that, John?” Well, turn with me to Luke chapter 24, verse 36 to 48. Now in this passage, Jesus has risen from the dead, He has appeared to His disciples in the upper room. They don’t quite know what this is. Is He a ghost? A phantom? He shows them His wounds; He asks them for something to eat. In their confusion, He says, “Let me explain things to you.” And He says this, starting in verse 44:

 

“’Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their eyes to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

 

Now the traditional way of understanding this passage is that Jesus basically took them through a kind of a proof-texting of the Old Testament where He showed them the verses that prophesied about His coming. This approach to understanding the Bible this way is often called the crimson thread of Scripture. It comes from that story about Rahab, the harlot, who was to hang a crimson thread in her window. And when you talk about the crimson thread of interpretation it’s that like of prophecies throughout the Bible that talks about Jesus. So it is suggested that Jesus would have done something like this. He’d have turned to Genesis chapter 3 with His disciples and said, “Look, I’m the promised child of Eve who will be bruised by the serpent but will crush his head. I am the one who is prophesied in Micah chapter 5 to be born in Bethlehem. I was He who was promised to be born of a virgin in Isaiah chapter 7. I was from the tribe of Judah, promised in Genesis 49. I’m the King to sit on David’s throne from Isaiah chapter 9. You knew that I would be rejected, crucified between criminals, and buried among the rich from Isaiah chapter 53; that I would be a sacrifice offered on behalf of my people. You would know that if you read Micah chapter 4 that I am the one who is to be preceded by Elijah, that I’d be called the King, the Son of the Most-High, in Psalm chapter 2. That I would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek in Psalm 110. That I would be betrayed in Psalm 41. That the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced in Psalm 22. And I would be forsaken and I would suffer a horrible crucifixion, all prophesied from that psalm. That from Psalm 34 it’d be prophesied that the soldiers would not break my legs but they would pierce my side.” And then in Psalm 16, He would show them that He is the Messiah who would be raised from the dead.

 

The Warp and Woof of All of Scripture

And so if we read Scripture like this, yes, Christ might be a crimson thread that runs through Scripture that occasionally breaks out into the warp and woof of the tapestry, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s saying, “I am the warp and woof of all of Scripture! That this whole thing is about Me.” Turn with me again to our text. Look at verse 45. It says, “Then He opened their minds to understand Scripture.” You see, Jesus didn’t just point out an occasional verse to them and what that meant; He gave them a whole new way of reading this book, of understanding this book. And I would imagine that most of us here, at some time in our lives, when we like Paul who were once blind and those blinders fell off by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, when we had read the Book before that we said, “What is this Book about?” But once Christ had become real in our hearts, it all made sense. Did that ever happen to any of you? Did that happen in your own life when you came to know Christ?

 

The History of Redemption

Well, what Christ is teaching His disciples is that there are not a few prophecies about His coming, but He taught them to read the Bible in an entirely different way. He said He’s teaching us that all of Scripture has one central point; that every passage, all of them, speak of His person and His work. And so the Bible is not a book of many different stories. It’s a message of one story. Now theologians call this story the history of redemption. It’s the story of what God is doing in the world. So that everything from Genesis to Revelation points us to God, His plan, and calls us as His people to trust in Christ and to join Him in this work. Now, this changes the way we read and understand Scripture, doesn’t it? It does it the very same way that a good mystery novel does. If you’ve read a great mystery novel what makes it great is you have no idea who the perpetrator is until the very last chapter. You know you’re thinking, “Who did this?” And then when you read that last chapter you say, “I should have known!” And the whole book takes on a different perspective, doesn’t it? And you say, “I’m going to read the book again!” And when you read the book again, you begin to see that there were evidence and clues and clear themes throughout all the book that should have made it absolutely clear who and what this mystery was about.

 

Jesus in the Old Testament

And so that’s what we find in the Bible. That as clear and as evident as Jesus is on every page of the Book, it’s not until He came and revealed how it all fits together that it truly, truly makes sense to all of us. In the same way, Jesus is teaching us that the Bible is not a book of many different stories. Yes, there are stories of Abraham and Noah and Abraham and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and the Judges, Saul and David, but all of these stories point to the one story of Jesus Christ. There are prophets, priests, and kings found throughout the Old Testament, but all those stories who us how they failed and that we need a true Prophet, a true Priest, and a true King and that is only found in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is the story of God’s people Israel. They are at one place called “His son.” But they failed. And so this nation of Israel points to the one true child of Abraham, the true seed, the true covenant-keeping Son, Jesus, who became everything Israel was not. The law described in detail the sacrificial system, how the temple was to be built; all the religious system points to one person, one sacrifice, one Savior. They all point to Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus says that the Old Testament law is prophetic. Look with me at Matthew chapter 5 verse 18. Jesus says, “Not one jot or tittle shall pass away from the law until all has been fulfilled.” And so every law in the Old Testament, all 613 of those laws were to point us to Jesus Christ. Yes, they showed us that God is a holy God and they warned us that as unholy people we cannot approach Him in our own righteousness. It showed us that we need a righteousness that comes from Christ and is now his own. It showed us that we need a Lamb of God who takes away the world of sin that fills our hearts. All the laws in the Old Testament, then, point us to Jesus Christ.

 

But notice Jesus didn’t stop there. Look at verse 44 in our text. He says that “From the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms, everything must be fulfilled.” Now, this is the Jewish division of the Old Testament. You know we divide our New Testament up in the gospels and the epistles. In the Old Testament, the Jews divided up their Old Testament in the law, the prophets, and the writings. And Jesus is saying that “All of these three parts of Scripture spoke of Me. All of them pointed to Me.” It isn’t a few verses in the prophets that speak about Jesus; it’s the entire message of the prophets. It’s not Isaiah chapter 53 that just reveals Jesus to us; it’s from the beginning to the end of that prophecy. It’s not one psalm, like Psalm 22, that shows us about the crucifixion, but every psalm that points us to Jesus who is both the singer and the one sung about in the Psalms. The Proverbs is not a book about human wisdom and if we apply it to our lives we’ll live happier and better lives. No, it introduces us to the wisdom of God, the logos through which God made the heavens and the earth. And Paul tells us that all the treasures of wisdom and glory are found in Jesus Christ. Ecclesiastes is not just a book that tells us of the vanity of life without Christ. It points us to Him and says that life only makes sense when He is our Lord. And then the book of Solomon, the Song of Solomon is more than a book about the beauty of love between a husband and a wife. It speaks about our divine Husband, Jesus Christ, and it tells us how much He loves us as His bride, the Church.

 

So that all of these things, in every way, in all of Scripture, point us to Jesus Christ. Again, this isn’t my opinion. Listen to Martin Luther. He said, “The function of all interpretation is to find Christ. Christ is the heart of the Bible.” Calvin said, “Christ is the end and soul of the law. Whoever then desires to make great proficiency in Scripture ought always to keep this in mind.” Ed Clowney said, “He who preaches the Word must preach Christ.” The great truth and purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus Christ. Now, this approach to the reading of the Scriptures is called the Christological principle of interpretation. Let me repeat that. It’s called the Christological principle of interpretation. That is, in every passage, in every verse, in every story, you are to find Christ and how that part of the story points us to what God is doing to prepare us to receive the Messiah and accept that message from Him. You have not preached a Christian message from anywhere in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, if it does not take you to the cross and if it does not take you to Christ. And that’s how Jesus taught us to read the Scripture.

 

The Mission of the Church

But here’s my problem! Almost everyone I know stops right there and says, “Yes, there is a great Christological principle. All of Scripture must point us to Jesus Christ.” But that is not all of what Jesus said in this passage about what all of Scripture taught. He goes on to say that “Everywhere that the Scripture teaches about Me, it also teaches about God’s mission for the world.” Verse 47 – see, that passage doesn’t stop at verse 46. It continues. It says, “and that repentance and faith, that repentance and the forgiveness of sin should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.” So what is Jesus saying? He’s saying that the mission of the church, for you to go out and make disciples of all nations, has been proclaimed and preached throughout the entire Bible.” Now you might be thinking, “Well if that were true, then why didn’t the Jews understand that?” And I would suggest to you that the Jews did understand that and Jesus cursed them for it. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! You traverse” – what? “The land and sea, trying to make a disciple, but when you do, you make the twice the son of the devil as yourself.” They understood that everywhere in the Old Testament it points them to Jesus. Jesus teaches that not only His life, ministry, death and resurrection are taught all in Scripture, but also that all in Scripture we are taught to take this message to the world.

 

A Missiological Perspective

Do you know what this means? It means that the Great Commission verses are not just an add-on to the end of the ministry of Jesus Christ. It’s not that Jesus, before He left, He thought, “You know, there was something else I wanted to say. What was it? I can’t quite remember. Something about the world; it’s not that important. Oh yeah, this is what it is – Go and make disciples of all nations.” You see, that’s the capstone of everything Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 5. And when we understand this, we see that the mission of the church isn’t simply just quoting the five Great Commission passages found in Matthew 28 or Mark 15 “to make disciples of all creatures” or Luke 24, “to preach this Gospel in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.” Or in John 20:21, “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” Or in Acts 1:8, “You are witnesses of these things. Go and make disciples of all nations.” No, it’s taught everywhere and all places. They are, then, the central application of everything that was taught in all of Scripture and throughout the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. This means that we must read our Bible from a missiological perspective because this is the way that Jesus taught us to read the Scriptures.

 

Now it should be enough. I could end the sermon here and say, “Go and do likewise.” But let me give you another reason why we must read the Bible missiologically. The greatest missionary in the New Testament after our Lord Jesus Christ was who? The apostle Paul. And the greatest missionary treatise in the Bible is the book of Romans. Now what’s fascinating to me about Paul is that why was he so committed to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Now you might answer that question by saying, “Well he was so committed to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth because the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, he was blinded, and he said, ‘You’re going to be My witness to the Gentiles.’” But that’s not why he was so committed to missions. That had something to do with it. He was so committed to missions because of all of those early followers of Jesus Christ he was the only one who had a formal, theological, and Biblical education. He was a Bible scholar. And when Jesus opened his blind eyes for the first time, he understood what all of Scripture was all about – that it pointed to Jesus Christ – and it thrust him out into all the world.

 

Romans 15

How do we know that? Well, because he tells us so. Turn with me to Romans chapter 15. We said that Romans was the most, the greatest book that Paul wrote that we have in the New Testament. What was Paul’s purpose in writing this book? Well, it was to convince the church in Rome to join him in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Romans is not a systematic theology of what you need to know; Romans is a theology of missions – what we need to do. And why does Paul write this book? Well in verse 24 he says, “I write this book hoping to see you in passing as I go to Spain that I may be helped by you on this journey.” The book of Romans is much like these reports that we’ve had today by these missionaries who said, “This is what I’m doing. This is why I’m doing it and this is why you should join me.” And so what is the great testimony, what of the authoritative witness that Paul uses to convince other people that they must join him in taking this Gospel to the ends of the earth? It isn’t that fact that God appeared to him in a vision and He said, “Go be a missionary.” No, the authoritative witness is that he takes the people to the Scriptures.

 

Missions to the Nations

Look at verse 9 in chapter 15. He says, “As it is written, therefore I praise you among the Gentiles and sing to your name.” Verse 10, “And again it says, Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” Verse 11, “And again, praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” Verse 12, “And again Isaiah said, The Root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles. In him will the Gentiles hope.” Now here’s what’s most-fascinating about these four verses! Guess what part of the Old Testament they come from? They come from the three major divisions of the Old Testament – the law, verse 10 comes from Deuteronomy; Samuel and Isaiah are verse 9 and verse 12, the prophets. And then verse 11 comes from the psalms. This is not a haphazard kind of handling of God’s Word by Paul. This is an intently systematic approach to saying to us that, “I’m so committed to missions because everywhere in God’s Word it takes us and calls us to be missions to the nations!”

 

You see, Paul is saying the very same thing that Jesus said. Paul is saying the very same thing that Jesus showed His disciples. He’s saying the central message of the Bible points us to Jesus and the application of that message is for us to take this Gospel to the world. Missions isn’t found in one part of the Bible; it’s found in every chapter of the Bible. Paul quotes from the law, the prophets, and the psalms because he is following the example of Christ. And let me show you how this might work its way out as we learn to reread our Bible. Let’s go back through the Scriptures and see how to reread it.

 

Isn’t it interesting how the Bible ends and begins? It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth and it ends with the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Now you would think that a Book that begins with the world and ends with the world is all about the world. And you’d be correct by making that decision. It begins in Genesis where God is looking for two people, Adam and Eve, in a garden, and it ends when He finds His people and gathers them from all the nations of the earth. And that heavenly Jerusalem in the middle of it is Central Park, a Garden of Eden, in which the tree of life dwells and we have access to. The temple itself and the religious system in the law showed Israel that they were to expect and include foreigners in their community. You see, Israel was not an ethnic group. Israel is not a band of people who said, “We are one people because we share the same blood.” No, Israel was a nation because they were committed to the same covenant and anyone who wanted to make that commitment to God could be part of that nation. And this is what the law teaches. It says that when aliens come to live among you, they have all the rights and privileges that you have and you’re to love them and treat them as a native born. And they’re to be engaged in all the religious activities of Israel.

 

The Church’s Mission in Religious Structures

But we also see this mission of the church involved in the religious structures. Think about the temple. The temple was made up of several courts. The smallest court in the temple was the holy of holies. Then you had the court of the Gentiles, the court of the men, the court of the women, and the court of the Gentiles. Did I say that? Are y’all listening! Listen, y’all should be happy because I’ve slowed down a lot! This morning I was racing through this! The holy of holies and the court of the Gentiles. Now what is the largest of those four courts? The court of the Gentiles. Does anyone know how large the court of the Gentiles was? Do any of y’all remember? How big? Very good! You were listening! Thirteen acres. Thirteen acres! Do you know how many people you can get in thirteen acres? Over 300,000 people. Now why would they build a court that could hold 300,000 people if they did not understand that God was going to call all the nations of the earth to Himself? You see, they believed it and made room for it!

 

You know we don’t believe much here at First Pres. because we don’t have thirteen acres to receive people! Well, maybe they’re not going to come! The Jews didn’t believe it either. What did they do with all that thirteen acres? “Gee, we’ve got all this open space. You know, we should fill it with money changers so our life would be easier.” Yeah, they used it as a shortcut across Jerusalem so they wouldn’t have to go around it. And what did Jesus say? “Why have you turned my house of prayer into a house of commerce? When the nations come here, there’s not going to be any place for them. You’re supposed to make a place for them.” So even the temple itself said the world is going to come and worship.

 

The Hymnbook of God’s People

The Psalms is the hymnbook of God’s people. And did you know that there are over 175 universal appeals in the psalms? That is, statements about calling the world to come and worship God with Israel. Now what’s so unusual about that – 175 appeals in the Psalms? What’s so unusual about that is that there are only 150 psalms! So that means several times in many of the psalms you get this continual reminder to bring the nations with you when you come to worship. If God gave us that to sing over and over again in our hymnal, you’d think we’d get the idea that maybe we should have brought someone with us this morning when we came to church. Here are some examples: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.” As a young person when I’d say that psalm, I thought they were talking about the land. You know, the rocks. And it’s true. Jesus says, you know, “If the children don’t cry out, the rocks will cry out.” But He’s not talking about land crying out; He’s talking about the people of the land crying out. “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come before His presence with joyful singing.” Psalm 100 is a missionary psalm calling the world to join them. Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name. Tell of his salvation day by day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous work among all peoples!” Now in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word, “declare,” is the Greek word that we get the English word, “evangelize” from. So you could translate verse 3 as, “Evangelize the nations.”

 

The Prophets

And what about the prophets? In the prophets, we see this great vision that God is going to call all the nations of the earth to worship Him on the holy mountain. Isaiah chapter 25 verses 6 and 7 it says, “On the mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich foods, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich foods full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. He will swallow up this mountain, the coverings that have cast over all people, the veil that has spread over all nations.” God is going to do this work. Psalm 19, verse 23 through 25, it says in those days there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria and the Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians will go to Syria. What will they be doing? Well, we keep reading in verse 24, “In that day, Israel will be a third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands!’” And what He’s saying is, all the world is going to be worshiping. The problem with that is, God kept telling the Israelites to only build one temple. But now when all the nations are coming, thirteen acres will not be big enough. And so He says, “We’ve got to build more temples! We need one in Assyria to the east and we need one in Egypt in the west and we need one in the middle in Israel so that all the nations will come and worship!” Why? “Because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea and they will worship their King.”

 

The Absolute Monotheism of the Old Testament

Another reason why missions is the central message of the Old Testament is the absolute monotheism of the Old Testament. You see, everywhere in the Old Testament we are reminded that God made the heavens and the earth, that all the gods of the peoples are idols. And when you know that, you only have one message for that nations. That is to turn from your false god and worship the true God, the God who made the heavens and the earth. The central message and purpose of Scripture it to point us to Christ and the simple application of that message is that having received Him and His grace, to take that message to every part of our world and into every corner of this world. The central purpose of the Scripture calls us to Christ and sends us out in the world to be missionaries. Because this is the central message of the Scriptures, it should be the central purpose of your life. It should be the central purpose of this church and it must be reflected in the way we live and act and how we spend our time, our talents, and our money. You see, you can’t say that you are aligned with God’s purposes if you’re reading the Bible as a book about you. Do you see how deadly that reading of the Scripture is when you understand God’s greater purpose?

 

The Central Message of the Bible

I began this message by warning you to be careful about making God’s Book a self-help book, using it to find self-fulfillment, contentment, and wholeness in your own life. But what we’ve found, when we understand that the central message of the Bible is missiological, we then understand how important everything in our life becomes. We understand that it’s important that we have a good marriage and that we apply those principles to our life because our marriage now has a purpose. That purpose is to extend the rule and reign of God through our marriage. We understand why it’s important to have strong Christian families because our families become missional; we become a home that is to be a light to the nations in the way we live and live as husband and wives and fathers and mothers and children. We become living examples of everything that the Gospel is supposed to be around us because the central message of the Bible is missiology, missiological, then missions must be the central purpose for which we live. And when we align ourselves with those purposes, you know what’s going to happen? No life is richer, no life is fuller, no life is more rewarding because you will not be living for yourself but you will discover the purpose for which you have been made. You will be fulfilling the plans and purposes of God in your life.

 

You might have come here this morning thinking, “Well, I guess it’s that time of the year when we are reminded about missions. It must be a little important since we consecrate a couple of Sundays a year to it.” But I hope you leave here thinking, “This is why we come here every week.” We’re committed to the central purpose of God in all of Scripture. We want our lives to reflect that purpose. We want the way we spend our money to reflect that purpose. We want to structure what this church is all about by this central purpose of the Bible. You see, the truth is, this book is only good news because it isn’t about you; it points us to a Savior and directs us out into all the world.

 

Let’s pray!

 

Our God and heavenly Father, we thank You for this new way of reading the Bible. Thank You for delivering us from reading the Bible as a message about ourselves. Would You help us to lift our eyes to that great vision of what You are doing so that we would get up out of our own way and out of our own problems and align our lives with Your purposes for our own? Please deliver us from our little vision and our worldly thinking so that we might live for You. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.



A New Look at Jesus’ Words to the Canaanite Woman

By / Mar 5

 

Let me say again how thrilled I am to be with you here at First Pres. Jackson to renew old friendships, some people I haven’t seen in a number of years, and to make new friends. I am truly thankful to have had this opportunity to share with you. Our Scripture lesson this evening comes from Matthew, Matthew chapter 15. We’ll be looking at verses 21 to 28. Let’s pray.

 

Heavenly Father, would You open our minds to understand Your Scriptures that we might see the lessons that You have for us in it. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Hear now the Word of the Lord:

 

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

 

Not a typical message, not a typical passage you’d expect to be read at a Missions Conference. I was teaching a Bible study for a group of men and there were several non-Christians in that group and after we read the passage one of these non-Christian men said – one of the reasons I like studying the Bible with non-Christians, they tell you the things we don’t dare say, he said, “It doesn’t sound to me like Jesus was acting very Christian in this passage.” This is one of those hard sayings of the Bible. How are we to understand what Jesus says here in light of everything else He says because this seems to be the exact opposite of everything He teaches in every other part of the Gospels. Well, I’m going to suggest to you that that’s the exact way we must understand the words of Jesus. In other words, we are not to take Jesus’ words literally, but He is speaking the exact opposite of what He means in order to make His point more clear and vivid.

 

Now, do we ever talk that way? Do you ever say the exact opposite of what we mean in order to make the exact opposite point? Well of course we do. I did it a couple of years ago when I was standing in the library of Westminster Theological Seminary. We just had our second snowstorm in a matter of a week and we had a lot of snow on the ground and I was standing next to a colleague and I said, “Oh great! Just what we needed – more snow!” Now, what did I mean by that? Well, if you had been reading those words without the context, you would assume that “Well, John loves snow. He’s happy to see another snowstorm on the way.” But I said, “Oh great! Just what we need – more snow!” in order to emphasize, by stating the opposite, that I really hate snow and wish there wouldn’t be any more of it.

 

Well, I’m not to not just suggest to you that’s the way we’re to read this passage; I hope to prove it to you in three ways. First, we’re going to look at the purpose of Matthew. Secondly, we’re going to look at the universal themes in the book of Matthew. Third, we’re going to look at the intricate structure of the narrative from Matthew 13:53 to 16:20. And hopefully, we’ll, in this way, understand the words that Jesus spoke to this Canaanite woman.

 

The Purpose of Matthew

 

Now it’s very important for us to understand that there is a purpose to the book of Matthew. In fact, Matthew is called “the disciple-making gospel.” It’s a disciple-making gospel because it’s all about making disciples. In fact, Matthew 28:19-20 is the capstone of everything that’s taught and said in the book of Matthew. “Go and make” what? “Disciples.” Jesus comes as the master Disciple. He does exactly what a disciple is to do in the opening parts of the book. He comes and presents Himself to be baptized. He then goes out and faces temptation and succeeds and then He goes and He preaches the Gospel. Jesus is making His disciples. It’s interesting that scholars in the book of Matthew will say that Matthew is divided up into five major discourses. Why five major discourses? You have the book of Moses, the Law, which contains how many books? Come on; you’ve got to speak to me. (Five) Very good; thank you. And so this is Jesus’ Torah. He’s making His disciples in these five major discourses in the book of Matthew. And so Jesus is making His disciples and they, in turn, are going to make disciples.

 

Jesus is Making Disciples

Now, what does He want His disciples to be like? What does He want us to know? How does He want us to live? And He mainly teaches us this in opposition in contrast to what group of people. To the Pharisees. You see, Jesus’ whole point is, “Don’t be like the Pharisees!” In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, “Don’t pray like them. Don’t give like them. Don’t fast like them.” But most importantly, what Jesus teaches us about not being like the Pharisees is He said, “Don’t be so hard-hearted and compassionate less as they are.” Remember all those times Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice”? And so that’s the whole point of Matthew’s gospel is that he is writing this gospel showing us that Jesus is the master Disciple and the master discipleship maker and showing us that we are not to be like the Pharisees but we are to be like Jesus who is the exact opposite of what the Pharisees were. So that’s the purpose of the book of Matthew – Jesus is making disciples.

 

Universal Themes in the Book of Matthew

 

The second thing we learn from the book of Matthew is its universal themes; its universal themes. Now what’s fascinating about the book of Matthew is that it’s the most Jewish of the book and it’s also the most anti-Jewish of the books, of the gospels. It’s the most Jewish in its flavor and nature but it’s the most hostile to the Jewish people. And one can understand that because Matthew was a tax collector so the Jews didn’t like him to begin with and then when he was converted to a Christian they liked him even less. But what we find in the book of Matthew is that this remarkably Jewish book holds the Gentiles up in very high esteem. In fact, when the gospel of Matthew opens it opens in a very Jewish way with a genealogy. But this genealogy that is very Jewish is very un-Jewish in a lot of ways because there are four women in that genealogy. And you know those four women. Two of them are Canaanite women, then you have a Moabite and you have the wife of Uriah.

 

Gentiles Portrayed Positively

What’s also interesting is that throughout the book of Matthew what we find is that the Gentiles are portrayed in a positive light but the Jews are portrayed in the very negative light. So for example, the first people to come and worship and recognize Jesus Christ is who? It’s the Magi. Those people have come to the East. Think about the contrast with that with the people in Jerusalem – Herod and the people of Jerusalem. When the Magi showed up in Jerusalem and they announced, “We’ve come to worship the King who has been born. We saw His star in the East,” it says, “And all of Jerusalem was troubled.” And so when they saw the star and worshiped the child in Bethlehem, it says they did so “with exceedingly great joy,” while at the same time Herod was extremely disturbed. In fact, the response of the Magi is that they gave Him gifts. The response of Herod is that “We’ve got to kill this challenge to my authority.”

 

Irony in the Book of Matthew

Now when is the last time that Jewish children were being killed by a king? In Egypt. The irony in the book of Matthew is that where does Jesus have to go for protection? Egypt. You see, Israel is dangerous; foreign lands are safe. Now it’s interesting when Jesus is brought back by His father and mother they want to settle in Bethlehem but they dare not, because, Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, is there and he’s worse than his father. So they have to go up to Galilee. That’s interesting because Galilee is described in the book of Isaiah as “Galilee of the…” What’s the word? It’s “Galilee of the Gentiles.” See, that’s not pure Jewish lands. It’s kind of marginal, liminal space. And it’s just not the place that good Jewish people want to be but it’s the only safe place for Jesus to hide. And instead of Jerusalem being the city of the great king, when Jesus comes to the top of the hill and overlooks Jerusalem for that last time, what does He say? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I long to gather you under my wings like a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city that” what? “Stones and kills the prophets.” You see, Jerusalem is a dangerous place and it will prove to be just that.

 

The Gentiles Great Faith

What’s interesting as you read through the book of Matthew is that it’s the Gentiles that have great faith. The only two Gentiles, the only people who are ever said to have great faith in the book of Matthew are a Roman centurion, the New Testament enemy of God’s people, and a Canaanite woman in our story, the Old Testament enemy of God’s people. In contrast to their great faith, what does Jesus say about the faith of the Jews? That they have no faith. “You demand a sign.” But they don’t believe. Also, what’s interesting in contrast to the great faith of the Gentiles is how are the disciples often described – people of “little faith.” And so the Gentiles have this very positive role in the book of Matthew, whereas it’s negative when it comes to the Jewish people themselves. So we have these very positive roles of the Gentiles in the book of Matthew.

 

Jesus’ Universal Message

Also what we find in the book of Matthew is that Jesus is that Jesus’ teaching is universal. What’s interesting is that Jesus is always teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Now what’s interesting about that phrase is that the other gospels, synoptic gospels – Luke and Mark – refer to it as the kingdom of God. Matthew refers to it as the kingdom of heaven. Now what scholars will tell you is that the reason he uses “kingdom of heaven” is because he’s protecting himself from violating the commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain so he uses heaven rather than the name of God. I would suggest that there’s another reason that he uses that term. He does not want God’s kingdom to be confused with an earthly kingdom because, you see, the Jews believed that what was most important was the earthly kingdom that God was going to establish through them. Jesus said, “No, this is not about your earthly kingdom. This is about a heavenly kingdom so you can’t get confused with an earthly kingdom.” And now this teaching on the kingdom of God has no ethnic dimension to it. It has not ethnic dimension to it. In fact, when John the Baptist shows up he says, “Who told you, scribes and Pharisees, to repent? God doesn’t need you as sons of Abraham. If God wants sons of Abraham, what will He do? He will raise them up from these stones.”

 

Jesus’ Call Has No Ethnic Dimension

And throughout the book of Matthew what we find is that Jesus’ call has no ethnic dimension. In the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes say nothing about where one comes from. It’s, “Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” When He calls His disciples, there’s no ethnic dimension to that. He says, “I will make you fishers of men.” When He speaks about those who follow Him you have the trees that bear good fruit and the tree that bears not good fruit. You have the net that’s thrown into the sea and it catches all kinds of fish. You have those who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ and those who save their lives for their own sake. There’s no ethnic dimension to this new people of God. And Jesus actually blows this whole thing that somehow these people are special because of the blood that is in them rather than the blood that is one them, that is, the blood of Jesus Christ when He redefines the family.

 

You will remember in Mark chapter 12 when Jesus is preaching in a little house and it’s full and Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters are outside and they send word to Jesus that, “Your mother and brother and sister are outside and they want to come in.” Now, why did they do that? You see, they believed that because they were related to the preacher they’d have front row seats; they’ve had backstage passes. They’ve have some type of special access to Jesus Christ. But what does Jesus say? “Who is My father, mother, sister and brother? Is it not those who do the will of My Father in heaven?” And on the last day in the day of judgment, Israel has no special place on that Day of Judgment. In fact, all Jesus says is that the nations will be called before Him and He’s going to – what? Separate the sheep from the goats; the sheep from the goats.

 

We Are All Brothers

So in this universal teaching of Jesus Christ, the most radical part of this teaching is the thing that we take most for granted. We say it all the time in the Lord’s Prayer when we call God “our Father.” You see, Jesus said, “We all have one God who is our Father and we all are brothers.” Now let’s not confuse that with the old liberal teaching of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind, but the point is, is that it’s not about our DNA; it’s about Christ who is our Savior. So we find that Jesus, through His teaching, this universal teaching, blows the ethnic understanding of the people of God completely out of the water.

 

The Intricate Structure in the Narrative of Matthew

 

Now the next thing that we see in this passage is that Jesus has created through this new description a new category of humanity because He is calling people to join His new assembly, the Church. He’s calling people to join that new assembly. Now, this brings us to the handout that you have before you. We’ve looked at the purpose of the book of Matthew is to teach us how to be disciples. We’ve looked at the universal teaching in the book of Matthew. And now we’re going to look at the intricate structure of the passage that we’re looking at this evening. This passage in Matthew is a section of Scripture that begins in Matthew 13:53 and it ends this way – “And after He had finished saying these things.” The end of the parables of the kingdom. It ends in Matthew 16:21 where Jesus says, “From that time on.” Or Matthew says that. So what you have in this section is two clear markers of where it begins and where it ends. Furthermore, those who have done a lot of study in synoptic gospels will say that Matthew has been very free with the material about Jesus’ life and teaching. But when it comes to this section of Scripture, it’s almost as if Matthew just cut and paste the whatever documents they were using about the ministry of Jesus Christ. So Matthew now returns to a very traditional structure.

 

A Chiastic Structure

Now, look at this structure with me. I believe there is a chiastic structure in this section and it’s rather remarkable because the section begins with a confession at Nazareth. What’s the confession? Well, the confession is, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Now, what was Joseph? A carpenter. I don’t like that translation. The better word would be he was a “construction worker.” If you have a picture of Jesus sitting at a little woodshop making chairs with tables, that’s not what Jesus was. He was a construction worker. A construction worker at the time of Jesus would have been working with what kind of things? Stone, beams, wood. This is important because this section begins with a confession of the people in Nazareth and it ends with a confession of Peter. It says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then what does Jesus say? “No longer are you to be called Peter. And upon this” – what? “Rock I will build my church.” And so Jesus is proving Himself to be the son of the builder but who is that builder? It’s the great building God of the Old Testament who promises He will build the walls of Jerusalem.

 

Now, what’s interesting, at the beginning the people in Nazareth want to kill Him. At the end, Jesus talks about His death. Then you have two feedings. You have the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand. This is very important. In each of those, you have the disciples being people of little faith. Then you have Jesus healing many people before and after. Then you have the tradition of the elders contrasted with the story of the Canaanite woman. And if I redesign this chiastic phrase I would suggest to you that the turning point of this chiastic phrase is this story about Jesus declaring all food clean. Because do you know what separated Jews from Gentiles? What separated them? Food! The fact that they were unclean. Here’s the great irony! The thing which most separated the Jews and the nations was a table. But in the church of Jesus Christ, what brings the nations together? The Lord’s Table. You see, we gather at that table to eat.

 

And so what you have in this particular passage of Scripture, I call it the hinge of the book of Matthew, you have the whole story of Matthew turning right here. Just like in the story of Peter in the book of Acts, when is Peter sent to his first Gentile to evangelize him? Right after he has what? Right after he has a vision that declares all food clean. And so what you have is Jesus declaring all food clean. It’s not the food that Jesus is declaring clean; it’s who? It’s the people.

Now what’s interesting is that you also have a geographical turn in this story because in this story what we find is that Jesus is the furthest away from Jerusalem that He will ever be in the book of Matthew, in Caesarea Philippi, the far north. Then He turns His face like a flint towards Jerusalem. So you have that real turn and then He starts heading for the cross.

 

Now also notice some of the themes that we find in this passage. Of the twenty-one times, bread loaves and crumbs are used in the book of Matthew, fourteen of the twenty-one of them are found right in our text. And if you look at your chart you’ll see where those are found. Also what we find is this idea of eating to one’s full. Now, do you know why I don’t go to the Old Country Buffet or the Hong Kong Buffet? You know why I don’t go there? Because I eat myself sick when I go there! It’s almost like I’ve been eating myself sick here every day! But the people, they ate themselves sick both times. They had everything they could ever want. Notice the contrast with those people eating everything they want, what does all the woman ask for? A few crumbs.

 

The Theme of Compassion

Now notice the next theme is compassion. Compassion runs through this section. In chapter 14 verse 4, Jesus is filled with compassion and what does He want to do? “I have compassion on this people. I don’t want to send them away. Let’s feed them.” He says the same thing in chapter 15 verse 32. “I feel compassion for these people. I’m not going to send them away. Feed them.” The disciples lack compassion in 14:15. They say, “Send the people away.” In chapter 15:5, the Pharisees lack compassion because they’re not even going to help their families that come and ask for help. In chapter 15:23, the disciples don’t want to help this woman; they’re compassionate less. In chapter 15:23-26 it seems like Jesus has no compassion at all. Then in chapter 15:32, “Jesus filled with compassion.” Notice there the contrast of faith. No faith by the people in Nazareth, little faith by Peter, little faith by the disciples in chapter 16, in chapter 15:28, “great faith.” People kept taking offense of Jesus. Jesus is withdrawing. What is fascinating in this passage is that Jesus is in His hometown and what do the hometown people want to do? They want to kill Him so Jesus withdraws. John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod. Herod hears about the ministry of Jesus Christ. He’s interested in getting ahold of Jesus; Jesus withdraws. In chapter 15 Jesus offends the Pharisees who come for the first time to hear Him from Jerusalem and Jesus offends them and He withdraws. Jesus is constantly withdrawing for His own protection. And then notice the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is clearly revealed right here in this passage.

 

Painting the Scene

So we have this very intricate structure in this passage and the very middle of it Jesus says these things that we do not understand. So let’s try to put the story together. Let’s paint the scene. Jesus has withdrawn to the border of Tyre and Sidon because people are out to get Him. So He goes there for safety. Now my problem is, is that when liberals look at this passage they say Jesus has a problem. “He’s not quite sure of who He is and what He is to do because all He is, is a 1st-century misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic.” He sounds like a Republican, doesn’t He? Well, we think Jesus is a Republican, don’t we? “And so He’s not quite sure what He’s supposed to do and so Jesus has a problem and this woman helps Jesus with it. Isn’t it nice this woman helps Jesus with His problem?” Evangelicals say Jesus is trying to show the great faith in the woman and so this story is about bringing the great faith out of the woman. You know what no one ever says? What this story is really about. It’s about you and me; it’s about the disciples of Jesus Christ. And Jesus is testing them to see what they have learned because pretty soon they’re going to be on their own and He’s got to see how they’re doing. And all throughout this passage, Jesus has been testing His disciples. And so when Jesus, when this woman comes to Him and shouts out, “Help me! My daughter is cruelly demon-possessed,” Jesus is quiet, because, a great teacher, when He’s teaching and doesn’t say anything, He’s quiet because? Because? He wants an answer! He’s quiet. “Let’s see what you’ve learned.”

 

Jesus Tests His Disciples

Let me show you where Jesus has been testing His disciples. In the feeding of the five thousand in John chapter 6, it says, “And Jesus said this to Nathaniel to test him.” Jesus sends His disciples out into the lake knowing there would be a storm in order to test them. Peter gets out on the water and Jesus says, “Come on,” in order to test him. Jesus will ask Peter, “Whom do the people say that I am?” in order to test them. Now how did the disciples do when Jesus fed the five thousand? What did they want to do? “Send the people away!” Failed that test! When they were out on the boat filled with fear; Peter walked on the water for a little while so we’ll give them a “C;” an “s-e-a”! He got it! He got credit for the first question – “Thou art the Christ; the Son of the living God.” But then he challenges Christ. He becomes the stone upon which Christ can build His church but when he says, “No, Lord, you can’t go and die,” he becomes a stumbling block. So all throughout this section, Jesus is testing His disciples. This is a test. Jesus wants to know what His disciples have learned. And what’s happening? This woman is crying out, “Help me, Lord. Help me, Lord. Help me, Lord.” What do the disciples say? “Send her away! Send her away!”

 

Now it’s fascinating in the Greek that the two phrases are identical. The way the woman is continually pleading for help is the same way the disciples are continually pleading to send her away. What’s fascinating in this section of Scripture, what we learn is that the disciples are more responsible for sending more people away from Christ than bringing people to Christ. So Jesus answers – we don’t know who because it doesn’t say – and He says, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” I’m going to answer that in just a minute, but at that time He must have stopped because what happens? The woman comes around in front of Jesus and what does it say that she does? She kneels before Him. Now that’s a poor translation. It’s the same word used for the Magi who come in and kneel before Jesus offering Him His gifts. But this kneeling before Him is really that she throws herself at His feet, she collapses at His feet, and what does she say? “Help me, Lord.” So imagine this woman is at the feet of Jesus, she’s looking up at Him saying, “Help me, Lord.” What are the disciples saying? “Send her away!”

 

The Great Irony

Now here is the worst part of this entire story. Do you know in this section of Scripture there is a disciple of Jesus Christ at the feet of Jesus with his hands in the air and he’s crying out, “Save me, Lord!” And when this woman is at Jesus’ feet doing the very same thing, he’s saying, “Send her away!” Can anyone tell me who that disciple was and what happened? It’s Peter in the water, just in chapter 14. How do you imagine that picture? Do you see Jesus just kind of floating over the waves a foot or two like this? How far down do you think Peter gets before he cries out for help? The waters have come up to his neck, so here’s Peter up to his neck in this water holding his hands out to Jesus and what does he cry out? “Save me, Lord!” What’s the woman asking for? “Help me, Lord!” And here’s the great irony. It’s that what Jesus did for Peter in saving him in that situation, he has no compassion to see that the woman is in a similar situation and he says, “Send her away!” This has everything to do with Matthew chapter 18 and the story of the unmerciful servant where one servant is forgiven a great debt and another servant is forgiven a little debt and what Peter shows is that he is the unmerciful servant; that the grace he has received in Jesus Christ he refused to give to this woman. Have you ever seen the connection between those two stories before – Peter and this woman?

 

The Coming of the Nations

Now let’s deal with what’s said! Jesus said, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” I think what Jesus is doing here is He is putting a voice to the objections of His disciples. “We don’t want to help this person because she is not one of us.” Now it is true that Jesus sent His disciples out in Matthew chapter 10 and said, “Only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but that’s only a theological half-truth. You see, what we learned this morning and what we’ve learned probably in this Missions Conference is that when the Messiah comes to Israel the nations are going to come and worship God. What’s unbelievable for the Jews is that long before they received the Messiah the nations are coming anyway. The nations were the first to come in the Magi; they continue to come to Jesus. And the irony is that Israel doesn’t want its own Messiah. The rejection of Christ by Israel does not thwart the coming of Christ and His Messiahship.

 

Now let me ask you – Do we use theological half-truths to be disobedient to the will of God in our lives? Absolutely! We’ve got the greatest theology in the world to be disobedient and hide behind. We’re reformed! Do you know what that means? I don’t have to pray because God’s got it all worked out. I don’t have to evangelize because God’s already elected who’s going to be elected! I don’t have to do anything because what’s going to be is what’s going to be! And so we hide our sin behind theology. And I would say that Jesus is saying that. Now if you had been with Jesus that day, you should have corrected Him. “No, Jesus! Don’t You remember what You said to the Roman centurion? You said that many will come from the east and the west and dine at the table with the Lord. You’ve taught us how to read the Bible that nations are going to come and worship You. So that’s not the whole story.”

 

Folk Wisdom

Now the next thing that Jesus says is folk wisdom, not theology. “You can’t take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” You know why you don’t take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs in ancient times? Because you are one crop failure from starvation. The fact that you had enough to eat today doesn’t mean you’ll have enough to eat in three months because if your crop fails your family will die. You look around your table at the three or four children that you have; by summer, one of them is not going to be there, or maybe two or maybe three or maybe all of them. You see, when Jesus said, “Go into your room and pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’” you were praying for your daily bread because the cupboard was bare. And so Jesus says you can’t take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

 

Now when Jesus says that right here in this passage, why should you laugh out loud? Why should you laugh out loud when Jesus says you can’t take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs? It’s because they’re spread everywhere. Jesus just said five thousand people; how many baskets left over? Twelve. Jesus will after this feed four thousand people and seven baskets will be left over. Where are those twelve baskets of leftover bread? Now I know they’re not with the disciples because in chapter 15 they’re going to the grain field picking grain. But I like to imagine each disciple having a large basket of bread and Jesus says, “You can’t take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs! There’s not enough bread to go around! If we give bread to you, there’s not going to be enough bread for us!” And the disciples, with their big basket of bread, “No, not enough bread here for us! Not enough bread here for you!”

 

Do you know what’s so foolish about saving bread? It’s no good after a couple of days! Did you know that when we lived in France, every night our dog got every piece of bread in our house! Do you know why? Because in France in the morning they bake new bread! You get warm bread! You get good-tasting bread! And what the disciples should have said is, “Jesus, yes, she may be a dog because she’s a Gentile, but we’ve got lots of bread.” In fact, in the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand, there are the communal overtones to that because He takes bread, He breaks it, and He blesses it. And so these are spiritual blessings. And what Jesus is saying is that the spiritual blessings of God do not have to be rationed in the kingdom of God. Contrast that with what the Pharisees do in chapter 15 when they say they can’t help their own parents.

 

Our Lack of Compassion

You see, this passage is a rebuke to each and every one of our hearts because what it tells us is that we are far too compassionate less and we don’t really care about people who are not like us. If you have compassion for your own, are you really compassionate? But also, Jesus says you’re not people of faith because you believe the blessings of God are rationed, that there’s not enough to go around. You know, it’s amazing to me the faith that your Missions Committee in step of faith they are taking in asking you to give generously and sacrificially to the missions budget. It’s a step of faith. And there’s probably people here thinking, “You know, there’s not enough to go around.” But you know the blessings of God aren’t limited. They are in abundant supply and there’s plenty for everybody. And so Jesus says you can’t take the bread and throw it to the dogs. And what does the woman say? “Oh, even the dogs eat the crumbs from the table.” And if you were there you would say, “Well Jesus, what You said to the Roman centurion is that many will come from the east and the west and they’ll not eat crumbs on the floor; they’ll sit at the table of our Lord!”

 

Well you see, I believe this passage shows us that the disciples needed a lot of work. And if you read this chapter thinking there’s something wrong with Jesus or there’s something wrong with this woman and you don’t see that this passage is really about your heart, if you didn’t say when Jesus said that, “No, Lord. You said the nations would come,” or if you didn’t say, “No, Lord! There’s plenty of bread to go around,” then there’s a lot of work that Jesus Christ has to do in your heart as well. Jesus’ words to this Canaanite woman must be taken as the exact opposite thing they meant because of everything that’s going on in this chapter. The good news is that the blessings of God are not limited by our resources but by a God who gives us all that we need when we need it. Would we be people of faith this evening, would we be people of compassion like our Lord Jesus Christ, and would we reach out to all knowing that we’ll have everything we need when we do His work.

 

Let’s pray!

 

Our great God and heavenly Father, we ask that You would bless us because we are a needy people. We stand guilty and condemned before You like these disciples who are too quick to say, “Send them away; they’re not our type. We don’t want them here.” And would You help us to have this faith of knowing that there’s plenty of bread to go around? There’s plenty of resources to go around that You give us what we need as we need it. We ask all these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

 



Making Room for Missions

By / Feb 26

 

Well good evening. I’m back! And I’m tired! I’ve had a full day. You guys have given me a full day and I will invoice you tomorrow! This evening I want to talk to you and I hope that it will be a little more conversational. This morning we talked about from 1 John our motivation for missions. First of all, we have a hard time really understanding our motivations at all anyway. And that’s okay. And not to be contemptuous toward ourselves about that, but actually to understand the kindness of God and to allow the kindness of God to just say, “You know what? Okay, my motivations are mixed. I’m selfish a lot. And you know what, because I’m created in God’s image there’s a lot of joy that I have in just being connected with others and that’s a good thing, and that’s within me,” and blessing a lot of things that are within us as well. But the motivation for missions is, the motivation for sharing our faith, is so that our joy might be complete, that our joy might be full. In other words, salvation, if we want to share our faith so that someone might come to know Christ, we’re really wanting them to come to know Christ because Christ is the only one, and the only news that can help the walls that divide us come down so that we can actually connect with one another in vulnerable love. The aim of our charge is love. And love is not a one-way street but a two-way freeway where both we are giving and receiving.

 

And that joy is the motivation for our missions because you know why? It is good to enjoy people. It feels good to enjoy people, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. And doesn’t it make you just rest a little bit more knowing that that is our main motivation for missions? That you don’t have to become a superstar, you don’t have to read an autobiography and do all the things that these men and women did, but what makes you a great missionary lies deep in the fabric of your being because you’re created in the image of a God who loves to enjoy you, loves to enjoy God in the fellowship of the Trinity and created you and He loves to enjoy you. Yes, we are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but we are also created to be enjoyed by Him forever. How does that make you feel, that He enjoys you, He delights in you? He’s up in heaven while you’re sleeping waiting for you to wake up. “Look at my little girl. Look at my little boy. Watch what he and she are about to mess up today!” Right? And it’s just a wonderful thing that this joy is a motivation.

 

We hear joy when we hear Paul and we see joy in Jesus. “For the joy that was set before him.” The only problem is, is that most of us really don’t have a capacity for joy. We don’t really know what to do with it. C.S. Lewis wrote a lot of stuff on joy because joy is a really hard thing to handle. Amen? And the reason why we don’t really enjoy joy, we don’t really handle joy very well, is because we don’t do the hard work of sorrow that accompanies joy. Sorrow is the shovel that digs the heart out so that joy can fill in the cavity that sorrow digs out. If you don’t do sorrow well, you can’t do joy well. We heard it – “If we have ears to hear” – David talked about sorrow and joy when he was up here. He talked about having to leave his little girl. That’s sorrowful. What I long for is to be with my little girl and see her face, but I am not able because of my limitations, because of my poverty, because I can’t be in two places at once, I’m not able to be in the same place.” What I long for and what I’m actually able to have are not connected and the middle road between those two is called sorrow. And what will we do when we are sorrowful when we have these longings but we are dependent upon another to meet those longings, we are dependent on the free actions of others to actually meet our longings and desires? We are dependent on others for joy.

 

Now that’s complicated in a world where we are limited and it’s complicated in a world that’s subjected to futility, but because of Christ, we can actually take part in that. What I’m going to do is, I’m going to actually read Hebrews chapter 13. And what I’d like to do today is explore why we don’t have a capacity for joy and some things that we can do to dig out our capacity for joy so that when other people come to us we can actually soak them up and enjoy people. Chapter 13, verse 1:

 

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say,

 

‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’

 

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

 

Heavenly Father, we ask by the power of Your Holy Spirit and through the amazing mediation of Your Son, I ask that You would illuminate our eyes are hearts and ears so that we might see and hear and behold wonderful things from Your Word. Let it be so, in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Remember Your Leaders

 

When he says here, “Remember your leaders,” what he’s saying here is – I’m reminded of what Paul, when he writes Timothy, he says, “I long to be with you.” Do you hear that? He has spent time with Timothy training him in the Gospel, and he can’t be with him geographically. And he says, “I long to be with you so that my joy may be full.” And so Paul is doing sorrow well. He’s communicating his longings. He’s communicating his desires. Isn’t that a good thing? And Jesus, when He, right before He was about to die, I’m always amazed by thinking about this, he decided to have dinner with His friends. I mean, if the crucifixion is on your calendar for the next day, would you want to have dinner with your friends? He did. And they sang a hymn together. And guess who was in that room? Judas was in that room. And so Jesus felt the tension between, of enjoying the people in that room but also knowing that one of them would betray Him and that all of them would actually forsake Him, even Peter. How do you and I deal with people that we know have betrayed us or even will betray us? We have a hard time even staying present in the same room. We have a hard time even making eye contact. But Jesus dined with them; He longed to be connected with them. But He was also sorrowful when He knew that the betrayals would happen when the distance would happen. He did sorrow well. He did joy well.

 

What I want to do is I want to build these categories and help us understand these categories and the categories focus on verses 10 through 14. If you look here, it says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” And so you have this, these categories of there “inside the tent” and then there’s “outside the gate.” And the writer is talking about how we have an altar and that altar is the cross of Christ that was burned outside the camp. But there are those that like to remain inside the tent. They remain inside the tent, inside what I’m going to call the fortified city, the fortified camp, where everything is very predictable. The sacrifices are done. Everybody prays the prayers and everything is very predictable and manageable. Listen to what one commentator says:

 

“This letter may not have been written to a company of Christians who are about to apostatize, but rather to an insular Jewish-Christian group who had become exclusive and isolationist in their attitude keeping the Gospel to themselves. Afraid of drawing attention to their distinctive Christian message, they had minimalized it, living too much in the Jewish part of their Christianity. In this way, they had built secure walls around themselves, ignoring God’s purpose that they should be a missionary, people. It is an attractive interpretation and if the thesis is correct, the exhortation to go forth to Him outside the camp has even more striking appeal. In that case, it is not addressed to heroic Christians who have been cast out of the synagogue but too hesitant Christians who prefer to stay within it.”

 

Inside the Tent

I hope you see the categories here. There’s inside the tent and then there’s outside the camp. And that word tent, the inside of the camp, that word is a fortified city; it’s a fortified camp. And I hope that you and I, I hope that we can build these categories because, like I said this morning, we have these longings but we don’t want to trust that these longings can be met by someone else. And so what we do is, we build these fig leaves, we build these fortresses, we build these fortified camps where we then start to manipulate our way through life. And we start feeling like we need to actually take over because we don’t trust that God or anyone else can actually receive us with kindness, give us kindness. And so we’ve got to begin meeting our own needs and so we have these fig leaves. We retreat, we protect ourselves, we depend on ourselves for our own self-protection and gratification; things like that.

 

There are the fortified camps and then there’s outside the camp. If you can think back in those days, life inside that tent, inside that fortified camp where the Jews were very safe and secure – I think of a military base. Now when you go into a military base or when you go, let’s just say you’re going to boot camp, what is the first thing that everybody does when they go into a boot camp? Everybody gets their head shaved, right? Everybody puts on the same uniform. Everybody learns how to march. Your feet have to move at the same time. It’s like, “Left, left, left, right, left.” Everybody follows the same code. Everything is safe. Everything is predictable. Nothing is lost. All of your belongings – in the box. Your bed has to be made at the perfect time. You wake up at a perfect time, at the right time; you eat a meal at a right time. You only have a certain amount of time to eat that meal and after that’s over, off to do push-ups at the same time. Right? Everything is very predictable. Why? Because when you are trying to stay safe, anything out of the ordinary, anything unpredictable is very scary. Amen?

 

Be Strengthened by Grace

Look, it’s the reason why we love taking control of life. We don’t like anything to be lost. We have the same place we put our keys when we get home. We have the same routines that we have. We make friends that follow the same cultural norms that we do. We like to retreat into these fortified camps where everything is safe and predictable and where we are not vulnerable. Fortified camps are the things that we are devoted to, that promise us protection and gratification. The writer talks about here, it’s, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” See, he’s talking about the heart; he’s talking about the soul. To be strengthened by grace. Grace means that you are special and you didn’t do anything to merit that. You are the apple of God’s eye. He delights in you, He enjoys you, not because of all the things you’ve made of yourself but because He just loves you. Deuteronomy – “I love you because I love you. I’m watching you while you sleep because you’re absolutely beautiful. And guess what? While you’re asleep, you’re not manipulating the world to make yourself be someone you’re not.” Isn’t that the most humbling thing that he loves you while you’re sleeping, not while you’re doing things? “Be strengthened by grace,” that His eyes over you are kind.

 

“Do not be strengthened by foods which have not benefitted those devoted to them.” And I’m going to add to that – foods or anything in creation that you can manipulate; anything in creation that you can devote yourself to. Anything that we devote ourselves to, to try to keep ourselves safe, to try to keep our world in order, to try to keep everything manageable and predictable. Anything that we’re devoted to – are you ready for this? That’s not personal. Because you can manipulate creation, you can manipulate even your Bible studies. You know? You can set the clock. You can read. You can gain knowledge. You can do all of these things. And now I’m kind of digging up all in our business because these are the sort of fortified cities that we have. Right? But here’s the thing. If you devote yourself to a person, if you devote yourself to Christ, you can’t manipulate Him. He doesn’t follow our rules. There’s no, “if, then” with a person.

 

I’m going to break away from my outline real quick and just let you know that I’m a bit jumbled in my brain right now. Can you pray for me? Because I feel like I’m having a hard time communicating. I really want to do well. I want to finish this day out well. That is my desire. And so I’m communicating my desire for you, but my body is just like, “Scott, I’m about to tap out here!” You know? So let’s try to get through this together, okay? Because I need to hear this Gospel as well.

 

The Purpose of Our Fortified Camps

The original purpose of our fortified camps is to fulfill our desires, alright are you ready for this – without being vulnerable. We actually think we can have our desires met without being vulnerable. That’s the lie. That’s where we miss the mark. That’s the purpose of them. They promise that. We have all sorts of fortified camps. We have doctrine camps, right? Where we are so cuddled in our fortified camp, not outside the camp where things might get a little bit chaotic, but we have – here’s the thing, you can’t look upon this with all contempt. It’s only contemptuous what we have when we just cling to it, but when we tuck away, let me ask you who’s on your bookshelf. Are there any other cultures on your bookshelves? Can we listen? Do you find yourself only teaching and only reading the people that you agree that are good for you to hear? You might have a mentally fortified camp. Are you threatened by other ideas? Does it make you a little uneasy when someone from a completely different culture – I mean, how many authors from Japan are on our bookshelves?

 

Shusaku Endo, his work on the life of Christ, A Life of Jesus – has anybody in here read that? Endo on the life of Jesus. The creativity and the history that he knows to actually bring to a portrait that he paints of Christ – I’ve never seen anything or heard anything like it. African-American authors like the Harlem authors back, you know decades ago – James Baldwin – I’ve never read anything more anthropologic, just more beautiful in describing humanity. I’ve never read another author who could describe his heart so well, what he was doing, and is so kind with himself to be able to describe the things that were a bit off but also the things that were good. When we tuck away in our fortified camps we don’t even hear that. We don’t even have them on our shelves. Who do we have on our shelves? Everyone that’s got the same uniform on as we do, everything that’s got the same ideas that we do; everybody that’s marching to the same beat of the drum.

 

Our Situational and Geographical Camps

We have situational camps, geographical camps. There’s no criticism here, but we build societies that are very homogenous where everyone is pretty predictable. We live in neighborhoods where everyone follows kind of the same rules that we follow, where vulnerability is not even an issue. Everything can be controlled, everything can be predicted, everything can be…And we have even camps that are existential in nature where, in our relationships, we tuck away into the recesses of our own heart and we will not give ourselves to anyone. We won’t describe our feelings. We won’t communicate our desires. That’s why one reason I think he says, “Let marriage be honored among you all,” when he’s talking about this because marriage isn’t a place for you to manipulate your way with another person to meet your own desires. Marriage is a place where your desires are actually discovered. Marriage is a place where the walls are so strong around it, your fortified cities can be exposed and demolished and you freak out and you’re still safe. Right?

 

How to Recognize Them

But how do we recognize these camps? So let me sort of paint this for you. Our hearts are longing because we’re actually experiencing sorrow. Right? What we long for, we’re not getting. And so what we do is, we build these worlds around us where we think we can manipulate our ways to meet our longings. Do you see that? And so here’s the thing. We’re longing for a filet mignon, but we’re dependent on other people to get that filet. But we have the means by which we can get Cheetos. Okay, now you’re seeing examples that I give in Trinity Gardens because everybody likes Cheetos. Hot Fries! Everybody likes Hot Fries in Trinity Gardens! And so you know, but we have the means not to get the filet but we can eat Hot Fries all day long and the second we get a little bit hungry – Hot Fries! Hot Fries! Hot Fries! – because we can’t handle being hungry for any length of time. And so we never allow our hunger to grow at all and therefore we’re not sensitive at all to things that smell good and things that are good – to the filet as the aroma of the filet is cooking off in the distance and we can actually smell it but we can’t smell it because we’re smelling Hot Fries. So we have no capacity for joy because in our fortified camps we’re just sitting there snacking all day long because we don’t trust that our longings are going to be met by another. I hope that makes sense!

 

How to Surrender Them

And so we need to recognize those fortified cities so that we can surrender them. We need to know that we actually have them. And here is the wonderful grace of God – that fortified camps don’t last. They do not work. What does he say? “Let your heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods which have not benefitted those devoted to them.” Things that you devote yourself to other than Jesus, they will not, in the end, benefit you. So how do you know that you’re in your fortified camp? How do you know that you’re tucked away and not making yourself vulnerable? Let me ask you some questions. Alright? Are you ready? Do you get defensive a lot? When somebody criticizes you, do you get critical back? If you do, you’re in a fortified camp. Do you find yourself critical and oversimplifying people? Are people described by one-word names – tax collector, sinner, criminal, this or that? When we oversimplify people we know we’re in a fortified camp. People are complex. People are beautiful. There are more reasons – when you see an African-American being shot by a police officer in Minneapolis, if you find yourself going, “Well if he would have just obeyed the cop that never would have happened. I obey the police and it never happens to me.” You know you’re in a fortified camp. It’s more complex than that. What about the twenty times when he was a kid and he obeyed and he found his face shoved in the cement? It’s more complex. There’s history there.

 

The Need for Diversity

I’m about to get a little more particular. Do you have diversity in your life? Do you have people that don’t look like you? Are there people that might not have the same values or follow the same cultural norms or rules that you do? You might be in a fortified camp. Authors, neighbors, people that will speak into your own heart – do you have people that will speak to your soul? It’s a real question. People that see you, they know you, and they speak to your soul. I’m going to dig a little deeper now. In your missional efforts, are you always the giver and never the receiver? In your missional efforts, is it even a category that you’re going because you are the one that needs to receive? Then you might be in a fortified camp if receiving is not an option; if you’re always the teacher and never the one taught. Because you know love goes both ways. Do you become agitated when the person you are loving doesn’t respond the way you want them to or expected them to? See, this is why working with the poor is so crazy. It exposes your fortified camps all over the place because poor people never respond how you want them to. They don’t play your game. Right? “Wait a minute, I gave you this! You didn’t appreciate me!” Something like that. “The way I wanted to be appreciated!” You might be in a fortified camp.

 

Fortified Camps Lack Profit

Do you struggle with anger? Do you struggle with lust? We get angry when our fortified camps don’t provide what we long for. So you remember the older son when he came back, right? And he was like, “What’s going on?” In the prodigal son – Luke 15. He was like, “What’s going on? Everybody’s celebrating inside.” And there’s a celebration happening. And he’s asking the servants because the servants know but the older brother doesn’t. And he’s like, “What’s going on inside?” And the prodigal, the one who didn’t follow all the rules, is actually getting a celebration. He’s being celebrated. The prodigal is being enjoyed. The prodigal is being loved. Everything the older son desires and longs for are being enjoyed by the one who was lawless. Right? And so the father comes out and the father says, “Come be with me!” He entreats him. “Come be with me! Come stand next to me!” And the older son, in his anger, you know what he says? He says, “I’ve followed all the rules! I’ve never disobeyed any of your commands!” Can you hear the fortified camp? “Here’s what I’ve done in order to get what I desire. And what I desire is, man, I wish you would have killed a young goat and I wish you would have thrown me a party with my friends!” Those are good desires, but he went about getting the desires in a manipulative way. And guess what? The manipulative way didn’t pay; it didn’t benefit him. And he’s looking in on a party with a person that didn’t follow any of those rules and he is enjoying and he is experiencing what he actually longs for. We get angry when our fortified camps fall apart and they don’t provide, they don’t benefit.

 

Here is the blessing of your anger, because when you get angry now you know you’ve got one.

Did you know that you can look upon your anger not with contempt but with kindness? That’s a strange thought, isn’t it? What do we do in our cultures when we get angry? We’re like, “Good Christians aren’t supposed to be angry! I don’t need to be angry.” But if you know that God is kind and compassionate toward you, the most endearing words of the father came after the son got angry with him. Doesn’t that speak to your heart? So when you get angry in life, it’s probably because something you’ve devoted yourself to, other than Jesus, didn’t pay, didn’t produce.

 

Son, You are Always With Me

And so instead of becoming contemptuous with yourself or becoming contemptuous, actually let the father’s words guide you down into your soul. And it’s not necessarily what you’re mad about. I always say and tell people it’s what you’re sad about. And the father didn’t enter into that critical mind. He didn’t enter into that contemptuous language. He said, “Son, you are always with me and whatever I have is yours.” In other words, “You didn’t have to do all of those things. You could have just asked me.” But do you see how vulnerable that makes us? “I desire to be in a relationship with you. I desire to be enjoyed by you. I desire to be loved by you but if I leave it up to you to meet those desires, you’re free to not meet them as well and I don’t know if I can handle the pain.” That’s vulnerability. And we have a Father that will always meet our deepest desires.

 

How to Leave Our Fortified Camps

So how do we come out of our fortified camp? Jesus invites us out into what I’m going to call sacred space outside the camp. And there’s a reason why I’m going to call it sacred space. Ed, can I ask you a question? When am I supposed to be finished here? Okay. Alright, I’m going to get pretty vulnerable with you here because my camp is to be knowledgeable, it’s to be wise, it’s to be able to see and understand deep truths and be able to communicate them simply and well to people. That’s what I’m good at. That’s where I’m gifted. And that’s where I feel safe and protected and that’s where I feel like I’m not going to be harmed. But there are conversations in my marriage that are very difficult for me to have. And so when my wife, in her beauty, comes to me and begins to talk about ways in which I need to grow or ways in which, on a good day ways in which I need to grow, on a bad day ways in which I’m not being a good husband! All of a sudden, everything in my mind gets cloudy. And when she’s saying, “What’s going on with you?” all of a sudden I can’t say a word! I say, “I don’t know” a lot. Is anybody with me there? Does anybody know what I’m talking about? Say, “Amen,” if you do! Okay good; you’re with me!

 

And so I’m talking to my counselor about that. I go and see a counselor a couple of days later and we’ve had this argument and in the argument I am confused and I can’t describe anything that’s going on, especially anything that’s going on in my heart. And I’m telling him this. And he goes, “Wow. That’s sacred space.” And I’m like, “What? What are you talking about?” And he was like, “That space where everything feels chaotic, unpredictable and lost for you – and guess what? That’s outside the camp, and that’s in the wilderness. That’s where Jesus is. It’s called sacred space.” That’s where transformation happens. That’s where my longings can no longer be met by my manipulations because I can’t knowledge my way to be satisfied there. And so I have to trust that the longings of my heart and the safety and security will have to be met by another. And my testimony is, is that Christ has met me there. And I have felt His presence there and it’s real.

 

Sacred Space

And so how do we come out of our fortified camp? We go out into sacred space. We go out into the place outside the camp where Jesus is, where His blood was shed, where He pays for our sins, where we know that Jesus, because of the joy that was set before Him, He made Himself vulnerable, He made Himself seeable and hearable and touchable all because of the joy that was set before Him. For the joy of being in fellowship with you, He made Himself vulnerable. He lived in the wilderness. He never retreated back to the camp and stayed back there with hidden motives in order to protect Himself. He made Himself killable.

 

I keep going back to what was the tension in Jesus’ heart when Judas kissed Him on the cheek. Can you feel that? What a wilderness. Not necessarily a physical, geographical wilderness, but what a heart wilderness when someone that you love and you’re longing to be in relationship with them because they are an image bearer and he comes up to Jesus and He feels the warmth of Judas’ cheek on His cheek and He doesn’t go, “Get away from Me!” and He doesn’t just sort of fatalistically go, “Just go ahead and do what you’ve got to do!” He’s actually, Jesus is in the tension, His heart is being wrenched out of all the sorrow. At that time, He’s a man of sorrows because at one point He’s going, “Do what you have to do so that My Father’s will can be satisfied and be done,” but at the same time, “Judas, please, no!” And it’s this tension of wilderness where everything feels like it’s being pulled in two. And we’re not just totally dismissing someone and we’re not going running after them, but we’re staying in the tension and we’re trusting in the free actions of others to meet our desires or not. I hope that communicates. But when we know that the grace of God is with us, that there is no darkness in Christ, we can actually move outside, outside the camp. Why? Because that’s where Jesus is.

 

Now, this is how the author here starts inviting us outside the camp. And I’m going to start in verse 1. We’re going to walk through that and then we’ll be done. “Let brotherly love continue.” In other words, don’t let it recede, don’t let it reduce; don’t take yourself away from vulnerable connection with others where love can actually be established between me and you. Let’s enjoy one another. Don’t, in your fear retreat, but knowing that you’ve been paid for, take a step out there and be vulnerable. Let brotherly love continue.

 

“Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Not people that you know and are predictable, but strangers; people that you don’t know. Aliens and strangers; immigrants. Those who we have no idea if they’ve got hidden agendas in their back pocket or not. We have no idea who they are but when we see them we’re like, “You’re an image bearer; I’m intrigued by you. But you’re a stranger; I have no idea what you’re going to bring to me.” Can you see the tension that the author is inviting us to? Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers. Don’t neglect to put yourself out there to strangers and give to strangers, but remember, it’s a two-lane highway. Listen how amazing the writer brings it in here. “For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Oh my gosh!

 

It’s like there’s a tornado. If you’re a stranger and you’re coming down to be with me it’s like a tornado coming my way. You don’t look like me. I have no idea what you’re going to do with me once you come over here. I’m intrigued by you because you are an image bearer of God. I’ve been doing this whole sorrow thing and therefore I’m very sensitive to your presence. I’m very sensitive to what you might bring into my life that I can’t get anywhere else because you are a special image bearer. But you’re like a tornado. And man, when I see a tornado, I want to go run off into the cellar. I want to go deep down into the ground. I want to lock it down. I want to go up under the stairwell and put a mattress over my face. But at the same time, I want to look out the window and see it. Is anybody like that? You want to hide from it but you want to see it. I guess nobody else is like that. I’m like that! I want to see it but I want to hide from it. Strangers are like that because he says you might entertain an angel. In other words, you might be graced by the presence of an angel. He keeps you in the tension. You’re like, “Oh my gosh! There’s a tornado coming! I want to run! But oh my gosh, you might be an angel so I need to come close!”

 

And you’ve got this picture where two worlds are colliding. There’s the darkness coming and it’s only dark because we have no idea what’s coming. And we’re walking out to it outside the camp and guess what happens where the two kingdoms collide. You get a rainbow when the sunshine and the darkness meet. You get a rainbow there. That’s where Jesus is. That’s covenantal space. That’s paid-for space.

 

Remember Those in Prison

“Remember those who are in prison as though in prison with them.” In other words, we need to be able to feel the pain of those in prison. Why do we need to be able to feel? Because prisoners are sorrowful. What they long for is on the other side of the bars. I went to see – somebody you can pray for is Broke. B-r-o-k-e. It’s Punkin’s brother. He’s the only person in this world with a Trinity Family tattoo. He’s got “Trinity” on one side of his leg, “Family” on the other side of his leg, and our logo on his kneecap! And he had that done in prison! And I go and I visit him just last Sunday and he’s talking to me about what he longs for in his own language. Do you know any prisoners because prisoners break laws? If they don’t break, you know, just laws, they’ll break cultural laws or even civil laws that we put in place. In other words, we don’t really know what’s going on with them. We have to be in a relationship with them. And so here again, we’re invited into that. “And those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.” And so you see how the writer is inviting us into that sacred space.

 

We can go into that sacred space because that’s where Jesus is. I hope I’ve given you an idea that, in our fixations, we try to protect ourselves but when we open ourselves up to relationships – guess what? People aren’t predictable. But we can move forward in vulnerability in our relationships. Why? Because Jesus paid for us. And as we surrender our fixations and as we surrender our fortified camps, we open ourselves up to sorrow. Our longings that are now not being met by ourselves but we’re trusting that they’ll be met by another. And guess what happens when you open yourself up to sorrow like that? It grows. And your longings grow. And then all of a sudden when an image bearer of God comes close to you, you can feel it. And you can enjoy them. And we can enjoy them. That’s the beatitudes. I just gave you the beatitudes. Surrendering your fortified cities is called meekness.

 

What would it look like if we allowed ourselves to vulnerably enjoy strangers? That’s the question. What would it look like if we allowed ourselves to vulnerably enjoy people that don’t look like us? What would it look like if we confessed that in this room we have a special display of God’s glory, but not the only special display of God’s glory? And what would it look like if we confessed that over across the street there’s a whole community that glorifies God in a whole other way? And unless you open yourselves up to a vulnerable relationship with them, there’s a wonderful display of God’s glory that you can’t get anywhere else. And so before you go across the street, you have to say, “You know what? I’m going to put a sign up on my whole giving thing and I’m actually going to receive and open myself up to the possibility that I have everything to gain across the street.” What would it look like if we opened ourselves up to vulnerability and we went over there and just fell flat on our face when we tried to do relationships with strangers? And guess where relationships are built? When you fall flat on your face with relationships? Isn’t that great news? Because I fall flat on my face all of the time!

 

Alright, First Pres, it is with great joy that I’ve been with you all day today. Your smiles, your encouragement, have filled my heart. And I will say that as I drive home either late tonight or tomorrow morning – I haven’t decided yet – it will be with sorrow that geography will separate us. But I’m coming back Tuesday afternoon and I’ll see you Wednesday. Let’s pray!

 

Father, we thank You for Your Word that gets into the deep parts of our lives. It’s a sword. Swords cut, Lord. But one in the hands of a compassionate Father also heal. And so, Holy Spirit, give us the grace to believe that You are kind. Holy Spirit, give us the grace to know that we can take a step outside our fortified camps into sacred space. Give us the grace to listen to ideas of others. Give us the grace to go to places that might be uncomfortable. Give us the grace to step out even in the fortified camps of our own heart and just talk to our spouses or our friends in vulnerable ways that we never have before. And Jesus, meet us there. You are always with us. You will never leave us or forsake us and that is what Your Word has just told us. We trust You. Amen.



Our Motivation for Missions

By / Feb 26

 

Well it’s a privilege to get to share with you from God’s Word, just a passage of Scripture that has really been soothing to my soul as I learn more about myself and as we do this work that we are calling missions. It’s good to know what our motivations are. It’s good to know more about who we are as people. It’s good to know that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come and Your will be done,” that that’s also a conversation with God that is very much like an invitation that God is using us in the world to be co-creators in the world and to image His glory and to let the whole earth be filled with His glory and that we have something to do with that.

 

I went to RTS to get an education on that stuff and it stayed up here. And I know that a lot of you can follow with me that we learn a lot of stuff and it’s that whole divide between the mind and the heart and how it actually sinks into our heart and how we can translate it in a way that our heart can really wrap around it and understand it and say, “Yes, this is what I’m doing in the work of the kingdom.” For me, the work of the kingdom has not been as much – I’m really bad at writing newsletters, so if you were getting newsletters from me a lot in the beginning, you haven’t gotten newsletters from me a lot. And a lot of that is because I’m lazy about it. A lot of it is because the majority of the kingdom work that I see is just not anything that you normally would write about.

 

There’s a guy in our neighborhood; his name is John Jones and he’s seventy-five. And when I walked into his yard one day to look at his garden, he was in his garden, working the garden, and he’s done it for years, for thirty years. And he was immediately skeptical of me. And he’s a better anthropologist than probably most people in this room, even me. And he was very skeptical and he was like, “What do you want from me? Where’s your badge?” Like, “Where’s your badge? What are you selling? How are you, basically, going to take advantage of me to where – ?” And I talked to him; I told him my name was Scott Moore and this and that and we talked about a garden and how I wanted to plant a garden next to my house so we could have guys working the garden. And he was still a little skeptical. Well two or three weeks later, he came up to me at the community center and I didn’t recognize him because he didn’t have his gardening hat on. And he tapped me on the shoulder and goes, “I want you to know my name’s John Jones and I want you to know that I’m sorry.” And I said, “Why are you sorry?” And he goes, “Well I did my research. I looked you up.” And he goes, “You didn’t tell me you were a pastor!” And I’m like, “Well I didn’t think that that was important!” And he goes, “Well I don’t like pastors!” And I’m like, “Well I’m glad I didn’t tell you I was a pastor!” And for years, for the last two or three years, he and I have built a wonderful relationship and there’s nothing that overjoys me more than to go sit underneath his carport and just talk and listen to him talk. And to watch the joy that comes on his face when he knows somebody’s actually listening because I do enjoy listening to him.

And I wanted to make one of our kids in our afterschool program to have a garden that they could work and keep and create with and I didn’t have anybody to do it. And I wasn’t going to do it. I’m a pastor, not a gardener! You know it’s like, “I don’t know how to do this!” And so I was looking at him and I was like – and he was turned around doing something – and I said, “Man, I want to get a garden in the back of the church so these kids can have something to do and I’m just really looking for somebody like, retired, and who knows how to garden.” And he’s shaking his head like this the whole time and I never said anything about it again. I shook his hand, I left, and about four hours later I’m studying at my desk and he calls me and he goes, “Would you get your butt back out here in the back of the church so we can build this garden?”

 

I want you to feel what you’re feeling in your body right now. It’s called joy. Because it’s a story of how two people who are very diverse, who are very traditionally disconnected, are connecting and having fun with one another, and out of that joy we begin to create. And out of our creation together we can look back and say, “Man, this is really good. These kids get to pick collard greens.” Do you feel it? Because that’s what John tells us is our reason for missions. Salvation, yes, but salvation for what? Somebody asks you, “Why are you sharing the faith with me?” You say, “Well because I want you saved. I want you to spend eternity in heaven.” “See you later.” But John says, “No, we are proclaiming these things to you,” if I can read it:

 

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life –  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” – and here is the “so that,” the reason – “so that you too may have fellowship with us.”

 

What I just gave you a story about was a story of fellowship that the Gospel makes possible.

 

“And indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

 

Joy! The reason for missions.

 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we ask that not that You would be kind to us because You are already kind, but You, by the work of Your Spirit, would allow us to believe it in the depth of our soul for just a few moments as we hear from Your Word, so let it be. Amen.

 

So as we talk about our motivations for missions, let’s just go ahead and stop pretending and let’s go ahead and confess that we are a people in our day and time that are not very good at defining and even naming or even knowing our motivations for anything. Can we just rest by acknowledging that? Everybody say, “Amen!” If anybody asks you – this is how you’re going to stump me; this is why marriage is frustrating for me. My wife is like, “You did this; you did this. Why’d you do it?” I can talk forever, but why are you doing this? What are the motivations of your heart? And you can almost know for certain that when a person just gives a one word answer, this is the motivation, this is why I’m sharing my faith, “Because I want you to be saved,” this simple reason we can almost know that we don’t really know what’s going on down there, in the depths of our soul, what’s really driving us. And here’s why. Because we’re not robots. We’re not binary programs where our motivations are always this or that. We are very complex creations of an almighty, intimate, good God and we are very complex. On any given day at any given time, our motivations for doing anything are very complex. Could you agree with that?

 

The Reasons Why I or We Do Missions

Ed asked me to talk to you about the reasons why I do what I do. If I were to tell you the reasons why I do what I do or why we do missions, I’m going to tell you things like, “Well, because I want to be the man. And it’s really cool to do ministry in a neighborhood like ours.” Because I love stories and I love feeling the joy of spending time with John Jones. Because I love God’s Word and I love to teach it. It’s what I’m made to it. Because, you know what, it provides an ability for me to have a sense of purpose and things like that.” The man different motivations. But the motivations, what I’d like to do today, just help you at least and help us to go deep beyond down into our soul and discover and even question and investigate the motivations for why we’re doing missions. And what I love about the Word of God is that He tells us what our motivations are and that, “Look, there’s a joy that you feel.” He’s not asking you, “If you want to be a good missionary go out here and get ahold of this and spend all this energy and resources to go and be that so that you can be a great missionary like everybody we’re reading books about.” No! What He’s saying is that deeply woven into the fabric of your being is your reason for missions. And you only need and I only need to be liberated. The motivation for missions is already there. You told me that when you lit up when I told you a story about joy.

 

A Relational God

But it’s in the fabric of our being because we are created in the image of a relational God. What I love about our doctrine of the Trinity and what I love about the truth of the Trinity – and I’m on the examinations committee in our presbytery and I always ask the candidates this question – “What is the practical implication of our doctrine of the Trinity, our Three in One?” And what I love to hear and what I love to communicate is that it just helps me describe the longings of my soul to be in relationship with people. It helps me understand why I struggle with loneliness. It helps me to understand why disconnection feels so hard. It helps me to understand why connection feels so good because Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer in John 17 talks about, like, “Father, I desire that they whom you have given me,” and I’m paraphrasing this by the way; I don’t memorize well and if you’re like me, I rejoice with you because I have a hard time memorizing! But something like this, “I want them to be, all those that you have given me, I want them to be with me where I am so that they might behold my glory, the glory that you gave me before the foundation of the world. Why? Because you loved me.”

 

The Fellowship of the Trinity

And so we get a window into the relationship, the fellowship of the Trinity when the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father who loves the Spirit who loves the Son. And are you ready for this? They love and they are loved. They enjoy and they are enjoyed. And then all of a sudden when in joy and in that love, what do they begin doing? They create. And, “Let there be light. Let the earth be filled with plants and birds” and all of these awesome creatures that they make. And then, “Let’s celebrate after we make all of these things and say, ‘It’s good. It’s good. It’s good.’ And then we make man in our image. Let us make man in our image. Let’s form Adam,” Genesis 2, “out of the dust.” And God breathes life into him like a father, a parent breathes, and just that intimate knowledge of and giving life to a person.

 

And so you’ve got love and then joy flows on the highways of love. And then out of that joy you have creation. And after creation and co-creating, right, there is a celebration. “It is good. It is very good.” And then He puts the man in the garden and says, “Be like Me. And if you want to be like Me you’ve got to be relational. It’s not good for you to be alone. So be in union with Me but be in union with her. Work the garden.” And man, when you work a garden – has anybody ever grown watermelon, for instance? Like if you work that garden, it’s going to take over your hard and it’s going to grow all over the globe. And then, “Be fruitful and multiply.” That naked and unashamed. That intimacy that’s creative intimacy. And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. This is the one in whose image we are created.

 

Man’s Relations With God

This describes my little girl’s longing when I’m trying to get some rest and I tell her to go play with play-doh she tells me, “Daddy, I want you to play with me!” I’m like, “Okay, I don’t want to play right now; go color.” “Daddy, will you color with me?” Nobody wants to create alone. Nobody wants to color alone. We all want to be in fellowship and we want to look another person in the eyes and we want their eyes to light up and do what our eyes are doing. That’s called connection; it’s called fellowship. It’s called attunement. When we weep, we want others to weep. When we rejoice, we want others to rejoice. It’s called “You’re with me.” That’s why the prepositions in Scripture are so great when we talk about redemption in Christ, with Christ. It’s God always closing the gap, drawing near, and we’re created in this God’s image. Isn’t that great? And so it’s this relationship.

 

Man’s Fall From Grace

But then we see that there is a rupture in the relationship. Do you know where I’m going? In Genesis 3. And the rupture comes on the heels of the serpent. It says, “Then they were naked and unashamed.” And then it says, “The serpent, who was more crafty than any other beast of the field.” And the word, “naked” and the word, “crafty” in Hebrew, there’s just a slight difference in vowel pointings and so what you see here is that there’s nakedness, there’s vulnerability. And then the serpent comes in with his craftiness. In other words, he’s acting like he’s vulnerable but there’s hiddenness to him; there’s darkness in him. He didn’t come and with a threatening, predatorial look, gaze; he came with an endearing gaze. “Did God really say? Oh, you surely won’t die. For God knows that when you eat of the fruit you’ll be like him.” And then drawing her in, getting her thinking critically in her mind, and then the hiddenness comes around and stabs her in the back. And then in that fall, all of a sudden man and woman knew that they were naked and they began covering themselves. They began hiding.

 

And here’s the most tragic part. It’s that God comes and walks through the garden and instead of His children coming and running up to Him, they run away. All the prepositions, all the movements of God toward, and now all of a sudden His creation, His children – away. Now if you’re a parent, some of you parents know the pain of approaching your children with kindness and they don’t trust that you’re kind and they run away from you and hide. You know what that pain feels like. And the older our children get and the more we feel that the more painful it gets. Amen? So imagine God who delights in His creation, the creation that is very good, like an intimate Father that He is, moving toward Adam in the garden and instead of Adam going, “Yes, I love you!” in fellowship and in enjoying one another, Adam runs away from Him. And He says, “Where are you?” What hard words to say – “Where are you?” And Adam said, “Well, I heard you coming and I was naked.” In other words, “I was vulnerable, therefore I was afraid.”

 

Hiding From God

So somewhere it got lodged in the mind of Adam that this God, there’s hiddenness in Him! “I can’t be vulnerable with Him because if I’m vulnerable with Him and if I’m not hiding those parts of me that I’ve deemed bad or if I’m not hiding my fallenness, then He will not approach me with kindness but it will only be with contempt. And so I hid myself. I covered myself.” And now there’s distance in the relationship. And if all of us are honest, it’s the reason why we stay superficial in relationships. Amen? It’s because we don’t fully trust the motivations of others when we get into a relationship. It’s scary. I’m drawn to you because we’re created in the image of the same God but you’re different than me. So if we get into a relationship, I don’t know if you’ve got darkness in you; I don’t know if there are hidden motivations in you. I don’t even know my own motivations so this could go wrong.

 

Man’s Vulnerability

And do you see how this tension, now all of a sudden man and woman, they are left being the critical judge of the world that’s coming to them? We’re vulnerable in a world and in relationships that cannot be trusted to be good. Somehow that was their belief. They were tempted by Satan and they believed it and they sinned, they took, and they ate. So here are the beliefs of their heart and here are the beliefs of our heart – “I’ve got to critically judge everything and everyone as being either good or bad for me. Therefore, I need to manipulate it to ensure my own protection and my own fulfillment in this world. I’m alone. I’m an orphan.” And this is the life we build. These are the fig leaves that we build. We hide and we manipulate. We are awesome manipulators. So subtle manipulators. We love people in order to be loved. That’s manipulation, right? We are really good because we want people to be good back. It’s an “if-then.” It’s, “If I do this, then you do this. If you get close to me then you might hurt me, therefore I’m not going to get close to you. I’m going to hide from you.” It is the ongoing chess game that our wheels are always turning in what we’ve been duped into thinking is the game of life and we’ve got to stay protected and we cannot be vulnerable.

 

But here is the problem. Our longings to love and to be loved, our longings to be in fellowship and enjoy people and to be enjoyed by people, our longings to work with people to create goodness and to create something that’s purposeful and valuable, and our longings to celebrate once that happens, to be celebrated, they all remain. All of us have those longings in our heart, those deep longings in our heart. Amen? Okay, I’m going to try that again and look, you’ve just got to sound like my church just once. Amen? Yes! I needed that connection! I needed it! I needed your eyes! I needed your words! I needed something! See, I’m being vulnerable with you. I needed that. I was starting to feel a little disconnected up here. I’m already tall enough, alright?

 

We Must Repent

So our motivations now move from joyful connection and love to fearful protection and promotion and self-gratification. And this is where a lot of our motivations for missions come out of. So how do we step out? How do we move out? Well, this passage tells us the key. And it’s first to repent. Now when I say repent I’m not talking about an 180-turn. I’m even going to qualify the term; call it relational repentance. Because repentance isn’t, “God is over there with a critical, condemning eye and I need to, in my isolation repent, and therefore He comes close to me.” That is what most of us believe. We try to – you know, you can’t manipulate Him closer that way. Rather, it is what? It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Repentance always comes after we have seen and beheld the kindness of God. That we know that if we confess our sins He is what? “Faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” What kindness are we talking about here? How can we get from hiding and doing everything to stay away from people to stepping out and being vulnerable and offering ourselves for that communication and that joy and all of those things, those wonderful things that we were created to do? We first have to know that our relationship is secure with the Father. And it’s secure because He came to us.

 

Christ Made Himself Hearable

And that’s what John gives us here. “That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands.” He says it over and over and over again. In other words, this isn’t just some theological truth; this is the existential and the situational truth that Jesus made Himself seeable. God in Christ made Himself hearable. Do you know how painful it can be to be heard and not listened to? Most of us never communicate our deep longings because no one listens. Amen? And so our longings are like, “Man, I wish you would hang that towel up. I wish you would wash the dishes,” or something like that. No, that’s not really the desire. The desire is, “I really wish you would value me. I desire that.” But we can’t hear it.

 

Jesus stepped out. He made Himself seeable. He made Himself hearable – able to be misunderstood. Seeable – able to be made fun of and mocked and ridiculed. He made Himself touchable. And that word in the Greek is gropable, like a blind person in the dark clinging onto something. Which means He made Himself killable. He made Himself subject to the actions of human beings who are crafty, who are hiding, but who are also intrigued by His beauty, who want to lay on His chest but who also want to try to kiss Him and stab Him in the back. That is our vulnerable Christ. He comes to us not with condemnation but with kindness. And so to repent, to go beyond the mind – literally metanoia; to go beyond the mind, after the mind. After the critical mind where it’s “If, then; if, then; if, then. If I do this, then this” – going to the deep parts of our soul to where our longings reside and that’s where the repentance takes place as we surrender our motivations and our wicked motivations and our craftiness and our darkness.

 

Jesus Makes Himself Seeable to Us

How can we do that? Here’s the reason why we can do it. This is what I love about this passage. “This is the message that we have heard from him and proclaimed to you, that God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” In other words, when Jesus makes Himself seeable to you, when He approaches you with kindness, He, unlike the serpent, has nothing in His back pocket. There’s no darkness in Him. There is no wicked motivation that He’s drawing you close only to hurt you. Therefore, you can trust that everything in His providential ways that come to you – are what? For your good and for your transformation. For our good and for our transformation. We can make ourselves vulnerable in a world upon which and over which God is providential because we can trust that there is no darkness in Him. Even in a painful world. Amen! That is the Gospel. Therefore, we can move forward without fear. He’s paid for our sins. Any pain and any of the suffering that we’ve been through and all of us have been through, any of the betrayal that we’ve been through and relationships that make it very difficult to get into relationships anymore, we can trust that it is for our good. Why? Because He’s paid for us. He’s atoned for us. It’s not His condemnation. Only His kind eye over us now.

 

So when Christ comes we can say, “Man, I love you.” And He can say to you, “I love you too.” And you can say, “Man, I want to be enjoyed by You.” And He says, “Well it’s in your confession, son. You were created to glorify Me and enjoy Me forever, but you were also created to be enjoyed by Me forever and I enjoy you, my little boy.” Isn’t that wonderful news because we want to be enjoyed and He enjoys us. And therefore we can move forward with others. We can walk in the same way in which He walked – vulnerable. And here are missions. Are you ready? We can make ourselves heard. We can make ourselves seen. We don’t have to live with the fig leaves anymore. We can make all of us seen. In missions, it’s not perfection. The best stories in missions are stories of failure. Right? And how can that happen? Because when we walk in the light, what does John tell us? The blood of Jesus the Son cleanses us from our sin. Isn’t it so wonderful? We can make ourselves seen, we can make ourselves heard, so that when we go up to somebody and we say, “I just want to share my faith with you,” and they ask, “Why?” we can say, “Well, that’s a loaded question. I have probably some selfish reasons because I’ve been in relationships before and they haven’t turned out well and so I’m a little hesitant, but there’s something about you and your life that I want to know more about you and I want to be able to share. And the only way that I know that over time we can get below the surface of things, into our heart, is that both of us need to know that we don’t have anything to be afraid of, even when we get nasty with one another.”

 

Isn’t that great? That’s our motivation for missions. We can move forward with vulnerability. Because He enjoys us, therefore we can enjoy others. Amen? Let’s pray.

 

Father, we ask that You would bless the preaching and the hearing of Your Word. Father, we thank You that You are so kind to us. Help us to trust as we continue in this service and as we move forward in our day. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 



Compelled to Be on Mission

By / Mar 7

 

Please open your Bibles to 2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:14. A very familiar text, great text. Let’s pray as we begin.

 

Lord, the preacher is weak and needy. I bring my own weakness, my own sin, my need of Christ, my great High Priest, need of the Holy Spirit. All of us sitting here, we’re the same; we need You. Lord, You are our hope. We have no other. Thank You for this great Gospel passage we’re going to look at. We do pray Your Spirit would work in all of our hearts and we would be compelled to this mission that You have called us to. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

2 Corinthians 5:14-21:

 

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this:  that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

 

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

 

My son, Danny, came home from his baseball team and he said, “Dad, it was really weird.” He was in sixth grade. He said, “The coach made us all bow to the ground. It was like we were worshiping the ground. You know, we all line up and we bow to the coach,” and that’s like a handshake in Japan, “but then Dad, it’s so weird, we turn and face the baseball field and everybody bows to the ground like we’re worshiping the ground and it’s weird, Dad.” And I called a Japanese pastor I knew who had been studying to be a Buddhist priest before he became a Christian, and he said, “Oh yeah, Japan is pantheistic. You know, there’s not the Creator and the creation; it’s all one. And yeah, they’re worshiping the ground. Your son can’t do that.” And we were reading the book of Daniel in family worship and we jumped ahead to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and they didn’t bow down. “Danny, go back!” It was not real Gospel-push to do the right thing. “Just go obey God. Don’t bow down!” And he comes back and he said after the next baseball practice, “Dad, I don’t think I did the right thing.” “Well what did you do?” He said, “Well, when it came time to bow, you know we bow to the coach, that’s okay, that’s the handshake, and when it came time to bow to the ground, Dad, I’m sorry, I think I did…” “What did you do, Danny?” He said, “Well Dad, I finally have friends, I’m the only foreigner in our school, the only one in our neighborhood…” “Well what did you do?” He said, “Well, when it was time to bow to the ground, I flipped off my baseball cap, it fell to the ground, and when everybody bowed I bent over and picked it up.” And I said, “No, Danny, I don’t think you did right! You know, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they didn’t throw their, ‘Okay guys, we’ll put our Babylonian coins down in the dirt and when they blow the trumpet, you know, we’ll get down and pick them up and no one will know that we’re not really…’ No,” I said. And so we prayed for Danny and we sent him back to baseball practice. And I wish I had time to tell what happened as the coach used all the pressure, the peer pressure of Japan, making all the kids bow again and again, trying to get Danny to bow and worship the dirt.

 

We talked this morning about the veil in Isaiah 25 that’s over the nations, the veil over these kids who have never ever heard this Gospel of Jesus. People all around the world. I saw a CNN special this past week on what ISIS has done to the Yizidi people. Anybody see that? You know, the darkness, the veil, the covering that is over the nations and the need for the Gospel of light to come into the world. This is a great passage to end the missions conference on because it talks about being compelled by this Gospel to be a part of doing something about that by being radical givers and radical goers and radical prayers because of this radical Gospel that this passage, this familiar passage, talks about. Commander Fuchida was a ruthless man who became a new creature in Christ. He led the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was, I mentioned this morning, he woke up on his aircraft carrier praying that the ships would be in the harbor and they were. And you know, praying to his gods. And killed 3,000 Americans that day, the 300 planes. The next morning, that morning, December 7, 1941, a man named Jake DeShazer was in California, army air corps, and he was so angry. He said, “I want to kill Japanese people!” And he threw his coffee cup against the wall and broke it. When he heard, he volunteered for a secret mission; it turned out to be the Doolittle Raid, and just a few months later, you know, the American B17 bombers took off from aircraft carriers – you know they’re not supposed to do that; they’re too big – with hardly any gas, just enough to go and bomb Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, the three places MTW Japan works in Japan today; the three biggest metropolitan areas. And then they all flew on and crash landed in China for the Chinese underground to take care of them. We don’t do kamikaze Americans, but it was close to that, you know, and he got captured. He was in prison, Jake was in prison in Nanking. He was brutally tortured. He hated his Japanese captors even more because of what they were doing to him. And it was awful. He just was so full of hate.

 

But they let him have a Bible. Strange! And he read the Bible and he got to the story of the cross where Jesus prays for His captors and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Jake DeShazer was converted in his prison of war camp there from reading the Bible. No one to talk with him about the Gospel, he kept reading and as he changed he began to love his captors. And he began to pray, “If I ever get out of here,” and this was the beginning of the war so it was a long time and a lot of them didn’t get out of there as you know, “If I ever get out of here I’m going to…” What do you think? What do you think he committed himself to do? What do you think? He said, “I’m going to go to Japan and tell this Gospel, this Gospel, to these Japanese people!” Isn’t that incredible? He became a new creature in Christ like this text says, compelled by the Gospel, to go on mission. It’s what we do. God made him to be that way.

So then, the story gets better. In Japan, Commander Fuchida hears about a young missionary girl that grew up in Yokohama and her parents fled to the Philippines in 1939 and Japanese soldiers killed her parents in the Philippines in 1943. And Peggy was 20 years old in the States, like we send our kids back to the States for college, and Peggy, after the war, Peggy, because she’s a new creature in Christ on mission, she hears the word they need people who speak Japanese to come back to Japan and work in the hospitals in Japan, and Commander Fuchida’s mechanic for his plane meets this young girl, Peggy. He’s wounded in a hospital and Peggy is there serving. She loves him and loves these Japanese soldiers and he hears that our soldiers killed your mom and dad. And he tells Commander Fuchida this story. He says, “I don’t understand this.” It’s changed, new creations in Christ, on mission. Commander Fuchida went, knocked on Jake DeShazer’s door, the missionary, and said, “Tell me about this Gospel.” He became an evangelist in Japan telling the good news of Jesus Christ until he died. This is what we do. God made them both new in Christ and in Christ He reconciled them to Himself and to each other. These enemies became best friends! That kind of speaks if we have problems with people. If these two, killing each other’s countrymen, could be reconciled to each other in Christ, how about us and our little problems? That’s another sermon! And He put them on mission; that’s the sermon. That’s what this passage talks about. People new in Christ on mission.

 

Yes, new in other ways too. I always knew verse 17 as being new in Christ but I didn’t think about it in terms of the context of this whole text which is being in mission. The context is mission – 18, 19, 20, right? In college when I memorized this verse, I remember a new desire for holiness as a new creature in Christ. I wanted to be holy. I remember thinking, “I want to be sexually pure.” All these applications of being a new creature in Christ, and that’s all true, but if we look at the context of 18 to 20, immediately after being a new creature in Christ what does it say? We’re new in regards to mission. We’re all “ministers of reconciliation.” This is what new creations do. The duck goes in the water because it’s a duck. Christians go on mission because we’ve been compelled and changed by this Gospel. Your missions conference is so important; it really is. There was a missions conference for me in your town here, thirty-one years ago, what was Westminster Presbyterian Church near the seminary and the Lord had been working in my heart through the whole three years of college. And God spoke to me at that missions conference just through the Word, a sermon on Matthew 28:19. I wrote in my Bible that night, “Okay Lord,” I was honest, I said, “I do not want to go.” My wife was ready; I wasn’t. “Lord, but willing. If you want us to go, we will go.”

 

Missions conference at your church the same year was a dangerous missions conference. I understand people came forward that year at the end of the missions conference. One of the ones who came forward that year was the senior pastor here, Don Patterson. He walked down from up here and came forward to commit himself – how many were here that night? Were any of you here? That night everyone was shocked, right, I’ve heard, and we heard about it at the seminary. The senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church committing himself to go where God wanted him to go to preach the Gospel. Jake DeShazer was new in Christ. He wanted to tell this news to Japan. We become new in Christ, we want to disciple our kids to be involved in mission. That’s the best thing that we can do for our kids. They grow up saying, “Mom and dad,” they don’t just say they believe in true bread, they don’t just say Jesus is the true bread, they don’t just say, “Yeah, we believe in missions,” they act like it by the way they pray, the way they give, by the way they live. We want our kids to grow up that way. It’s the best thing for our kids to see mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, new creatures in Christ on missions.

 

  1. The Gospel Message

 

It’s a great text, real briefly. The Gospel message is so clear in this text. The whole passage, let’s quickly review it. You know it’s good news. Jesus gave His life, verse 15, Jesus gave His life for me. We’re moved by true stories of people giving their lives for others, aren’t we? I remember after the tsunami, five years ago next week, this story, I was moved to tears of a lady in the Minami Sanriku town on the third floor and she hears that the wave is coming, the wave is coming, and she had the job of the loudspeakers to tell everyone that the city – that the little town has loudspeakers all over it for tsunami warning – and her job on the third floor is to warn everyone, “Go for the high ground! Go for the high ground! Run for the high ground!” And her fellow workers are saying, “Come to the roof! Come to the roof! It’s the biggest wave, you know, in a thousand years.” The biggest one in a thousand years. And she’s on the third floor and her family hearing her voice as they’re running for the high ground, all of a sudden her voice stopped because she was killed and swept away by the tsunami on the third floor of the town hall of that city. I remember hearing that story and I wept thinking of this lady giving her life for her town. We’re moved, aren’t we, when people give their life. This is a text that tells us greater life. She didn’t give her life for her enemies; Jesus came and gave His life for His enemies. He makes us new creatures, verse 17.

 

Good news – 18 and 19, He reconciles us to Himself. It’s repeated twice! We have this incredible position being ambassadors of the King. And then verse 21 – maybe the best Gospel summary in the Bible. You know it well. “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus became sin for me. You know it. It’s easy for it to get old, for us to get used to it. This last year, this Gospel has affected my family and brought us to be able to see our family sins in a deeper way and to confess them to each other, parents to children. I’ll tell about that in a minute. And it’s because this Gospel is so powerful. The first part – He took our sin. Remember our son, Danny? Same one I told the stories on; the oldest boy. Danny, he was sick; he disobeyed. He ate something out of the refrigerator he was forbidden to eat and he had been told this is a spanking if you do this – the just punishment of his sin. And he finally owned up to it, he lied first, but he was sick and feeling so bad and we had heard of a pastor we knew who had gotten his wife to give him the spanking as substitute for their son. And we were new parents and we thought, “Well that sounds like a pretty good idea! Yeah, Danny’s sick, he deserves the spanking, but I’ll take it. Okay Carol, you get the spoon,” and Carol gave me the spanking in Danny’s place. Now I’m not recommending this! This isn’t a child raising talk or anything! We never did it again! Carol seemed to enjoy it a little too much! She hit me a little too hard! But Danny got the message. Today, and he’s a PCA pastor church planting in inner city Atlanta, and in his testimony he tells how he vividly remembers that day. It’s the only time we ever did it with nine kids! You know, lots of spankings, thousands probably! And only that one, you know! The wife enjoyed it too much! But yeah, Danny remembers that – the vivid picture of his father taking the punishment he deserved. I see some kids talking to their fathers, “Hey dad, how about you do that next time?”

 

But the second part of this is so wonderful too and it’s the part often lots of folks don’t talk about – that Jesus not only took our punishment, He gave us His perfect righteousness. I love my dad; he taught me this. I’m going to go see him the day after tomorrow. I get to fly up to Norton, New Jersey to see my eighty-eight year old dad. Thanks for inviting me to your missions conference to I can take a little side trip and go see my dad. He taught me to love the Gospel. He would always say this righteousness of Christ given to us, when we’re up it doesn’t get any better, when we’re down and do those awful sins we do of commission and omission, it’s the same, it’s the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ. This last year my wife and I were really challenged with our family generational sins and to summarize briefly, it’s really family idolatry. Big family. The kids know Christ. Good things become idols, don’t they? It’s really been an idol in our family. I don’t have time to go into it and we heard a message about this and we wrestled with it and we said, “We need to talk to our kids.” And a second family sin is ministry success and overwork, supposedly for the kingdom, and it is, but also for us and our reputation. Anybody understand what I’m talking about? And we really came to grips with it in a new way and began to confess, not two minutes, “Hey forgive us. We worked too hard.” But, “Here, listen to my twenty minute talk kids, adult children, about where we failed as parents because we really did. Please forgive us.” And explain. “And we think we did this.”

 

And you know, we have five that are married, and the spouses participated, the five spouses participated in several family meetings where we talked about these things and one of the spouses said, “This was wonderful. I want my family to be able to do this, but I don’t think they can yet.” But she said, “If you didn’t have a robust Gospel like this talks about, you couldn’t do this.” Right? This will scare you. My wife was really moved. She’s on Skype, skyping with our kids around the world, saying, “I’m not ready to do that yet!” but we did it because of the Gospel. We can look at our sin, we can confess it to God and to each other, because we have the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and this puts us on mission. We’re moved by this. The second point. The message, the mission, and the motivation here. We’re made new to go on Gospel mission. This is what happens to us when we get the Gospel. If it’s not, something’s wrong.

 

  1. The Gospel Mission

 

How many of you saw the movie, Unbroken? How many of you read the book? Okay, you know the story. Same thing. It’s similar to the Jake DeShazer story. Louis came to Christ and he wanted to go back to Japan to find his captors and to forgive them and to tell them about Jesus. This is what happens when we’re changed by the Gospel. An interesting aside is that the rightest in Japan, where there’s no Gospel and have no clue you can’t face your sin in Japan. And they tried to work to keep the movie and the book from coming into Japan. Isn’t that something? But it shows what a Gospelist society is like. You can’t see your sin and say, “I’m sorry,” but we can because of Jesus. This is this ministry He gives us. Verse 18, “He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He reconciled us and gave us this ministry to do. It’s word and deed; both legs, of course. After the tsunami, we immediately started going north taking water and gasoline so people could escape from the Kashima plant. And you know, people saw that 300,000 foreigners were fleeing Japan. And RTS Orlando sent a team immediately to help us. The first team that came was from RTS Orlando. My son, missionary kid, came back to Japan with a team to help. People saw that and they said, “Why are they doing this?” A lady, seeing all the trucks go north from our church building in Chiba, Japan, people flying into Naida, more than 1,000 people came through to help over the first three years. It was incredible. And this lady, Mrs. Shikamazan, she saw it and she came to our church. She wanted to – it impressed her that all these people not running away, coming to help her country at a time of need.

 

But those good deeds were not enough to bring her to faith. This says in verse 19, “the message of reconciliation.” You know, we do the works of deeds of course, let’s not put them in a dichotomy, but here it says it’s this message of reconciliation, other translations, “the word of reconciliation.” But seeing those good deeds affected her. She came, she began to hear the Gospel, study the Gospel, came to Christ. We had the great joy of baptizing her last year as she came to Christ because of this powerful word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. Do you know who the ambassador for Japan is? You know? It’s Caroline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s daughter, and she speaks words as the representative of our president. We are ambassadors to take this message to the world.

 

  1. The Gospel Motivation

 

Third thing – Gospel motivation. Look back at verse 14 and 15, “for the love of Christ controls us. And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” My first month at RTS here, right out of the Marine Corps, short high and tight haircut – I had hair back then, not much because I was a marine – and I heard a preacher at chapel and I got so mad. It was a missions sermon and he was a missionary and he was talking about the Lordship of Christ. He said, “If you’re not willing to go, you’re not qualified to stay.” If you’re not willing to go, you’re not qualified to stay. I got so bad! “God doesn’t want everybody to be missionaries! Who is this guy? What’s he trying to…” as I sat there in Grace Chapel. But then I got to thinking about what he was saying. It was a great sermon on our response to this Gospel. If you’re not willing to go – yes, he’s talking to a bunch of future pastors. If you’re not willing to go if Christ calls you – he’s not saying everybody was supposed to go; he said if you’re not willing to go, you’re not qualified to stay and be a pastor because the Lordship of Christ is in question. Yes. And over time I began to say, “Yes, my response to this Gospel is to say, ‘Yes, Jesus, my wallet’s Yours, my life is Yours, my kids are Yours.’” As we go out into this mission, the love of Christ controls us even to death, as the missions pastor was sharing a few minutes ago. You know, the anniversary of the famous martyrs in South America.

 

John Paton was a famous missionary. He was going to go to the South Sea Islands and his friend came up to him and said, “John, don’t go. Don’t go, John. It’s dangerous there. You’ll be eaten by cannibals!” And he famously replied, “My friend, you are old, soon you will be in the grave and you will be eaten by worms!” And he said, “I’d rather go and serve Christ, taking the good news to a place that has no church, that people don’t have this good news and be eaten by cannibals.” And you read the stories of his family, what they went through; it’s incredible what happened to them and their struggles. Maybe some of your pastors need to come to Japan. You know I mentioned this morning the PCA glut of pastors – 200 applying for one position. In Japan we have 200 cities that need a church and no applications, you know? Kind of an over simplification but it’s really worse than that. Maybe, like Don Patterson thirty years ago, one of your pastors will, after this missions conference, say, “Here I am. Send me to go somewhere where we’re needed.”

 

We don’t have too many PCA martyrs. I know one. Do you know any PCA martyrs? I know one, Michael Cardarelli. You read about him a few years ago, several years ago in Afghanistan. He was on a medical mission over the mountains. He knew what he was getting into. He was, in the name of Christ, to go to a remote village, and when they came out of that village he and the whole group of ten were killed. He’s from Covenant Presbyterian Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Fine young man; came to Japan several times on mission trips to serve Christ; loved Jesus, knew the risk. And that, we’re called to say, “Jesus, here we are. What do You want us to do?” You know, we live near D.C. when we’re on home assignment; we take a lot of our Japanese friends who come visit up to D.C. and near the Jefferson Memorial there, there’s this plaque that says, “We pledge our fortunes and our lives” for what? “For this new country that’s going to be born.” Was it a good thing? Is it a good thing? Yes. I’m all for it. But friends, we pledge our fortunes and our lives for something so much greater and for a kingdom that cannot fail. We say, “Here we are, Jesus!” With our giving – we’re the richest church in the world, probably the PCA per capita as I mentioned this morning. I was at a missions conference at Park Cities in Dallas and John Piper preached. And the couple I was staying with, he was thirty-four; their house was so big. It was the biggest house I’ve ever seen. He was thirty-four years old. He had done a $4.7 billion dollar deal with Bear Stearns the year before and he was very, very – he had made a lot of money. And the Lord got a hold of them at that missions conference and he, you know, their house, the assistant pastor there said, “Wow, what a big house. I think there are unreached people groups living in this house!”

 

But the last night, John Piper asked people to come forward and make a commitment, like to downsize your house or to say, “I’m going, Lord, unless You stop me. Not a little, not I’m going to increase my giving from 10% to 11% but radical kind of commitments.” I was sitting in the pew with this couple. They started talking during the sermon. They came forward and they downsized their house. They left Bear Stearns, which later they were really thankful for, and went on mission. Today he’s a bank starter, starting banks. Radical sender. He wants to disciple twenty people to give away a million dollars for the sake of the kingdom, growing the kingdom around the world. Friends, we need radical prayers for this kingdom advancement. We need rope holders. We need people like this friend of ours early on in Japan – we’re so discouraged learning the language, no fruit. Bitzi Cameron, one of our supporters, she said, “I’m going to get up thirty minutes earlier every day to pray for you guys” because she wanted to hold the ropes for us in Japan. This love of Christ is compelling.

 

Same son, Danny – last story. Danny was going to school the other side of Tokyo and I got a call from my wife that he got suspended, seventeen years old, senior, he got suspended. And she said, “Dan, come home right away!” And I said, “Let me talk to Danny. Danny, what did you do?” He said, “Dad, could I please tell you when I get home?” This was the boy who, at fifteen, put Sarah’s head in the toilet, okay? He’s a PCA pastor now! He said, “Dad, could I tell you when you get home?” And I said, “Tell me, Danny. It’s okay, tell me. What did you do?” He said, “Dad, I really want to tell you face to face.” And I said, “Okay, I’m hopping on the train. I’ll be right home.” And I remembered when I was about that age my dad telling me, when I had done something very wrong, telling me, “I love you son, and whatever you do can’t change my love for you.” And I remembered that being very powerful in my life. And I told Danny on the phone, “Danny, whatever you did,” – it was a Christian school, missionary kid school, – “I know what you did was wrong but I love you. Whatever you did doesn’t change my love for you.” And I got on the train and I was thinking the worst. You know, I was thinking, “Oh boy, I wonder if he did that? No, it couldn’t have been that; it would have been more than three days!” And we got home and I didn’t appear relived when he told me what he had done. It was bad but it was about three days’ suspension worth and God worked in his heart. That was a great time of him really coming to know Christ on his own. And two weeks later he told me, he said, “Dad, you know on the phone when you told me you loved me? That was very powerful in my life.” Now as you hear this, some of you had fathers who loved you like that, and some didn’t, but all of us today we have our heavenly Father, we have this love of Christ this text speaks of – the love of Christ that constrains and compels and controls us that we know his love and grace and yes, it drives us, compels us to go on mission. Let’s pray!

 

Lord, we thank You for this great Gospel that this love of Christ that does compel us to mission and we want to know You first. We want to know, “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And Lord, we pray as we know more of Your great love for sinners that we would respond and we would love You back, that we would grow in holiness and that we would go on mission for the sake of Jackson and for Mississippi and for the nations that need this Gospel so desperately. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 



A Lavish Feast for all Peoples

By / Mar 6

 

Please turn in your Bibles to Isaiah, chapter 25; Isaiah chapter 25. Great missions text! It’s in your pew Bible, page 586. I love that hymn we just sang together, that last line – “Give of your sons to spread the message glorious, give of your wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out your soul, for them in prayer victorious, and all thou spendest Jesus shall repay.” I remember our first home assignment back from Japan and my mom and dad, we were in worship together, and we sang that hymn. And my mom was poking me on that last verse, “Give of your sons to spread the message glorious.” I remember it was hard for them to send us to Japan, and after the worship we were outside and she said, “Danny, when you were a little boy, I would sing that, ‘Give of your sons,’ and I meant it, ‘Lord, if you want him to go.’” And she looked at me with fire in her eyes and she said, “But I didn’t sing, ‘Give of your grandsons!’” And I told that at a missions conference some years later but I didn’t say that my mom had gone to heaven. And a guy came up to me afterwards and said, “Yeah, this missions thing is one thing – give your money and pour out your soul in prayer – but yeah, to give your sons and give your grandsons, what does your mom think about that now?” And I hadn’t mentioned she had gone to heaven and I told him with a twinkle in my eye, “She’s really for it now!”

 

And that relates to our text today because it’s a text about the true feast, the heavenly feast that in Matthew 8:11 Jesus refers to in the kingdom of heaven. Let’s hear this great text! Isaiah 25 verses 6 through 9. Let’s pray as we begin!

 

Lord, would You open up Your Word to us now by this weak vessel on jetlag, just flew in from Japan. I feel so weak and needy. And in such a brief time to open up this text that You, Holy Spirit, would speak to me and to us to show us this marvelous feast that is for all nations and our part, in taking that good news, that bread, to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Isaiah 25:6-9:

 

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

 

I was on the second floor of our house in Chiba, Japan, right outside Tokyo, and I heard this great big commotion downstairs. The kids were fighting and screaming and I ran downstairs, angry because I was interrupted from my work, and my son, Danny, he was fifteen years old – he’s now a church planter in Atlanta – had my daughter, Sarah Beth, who was eight who is now in Bangladesh with her five grandchildren, and Danny had Sarah Beth and was trying to put her head in the toilet! And what do you call that? A swirly! And I just lost it and I must have learned this from James Dobson on how to parent in difficult situations – I grabbed Danny and tried to put his head in the toilet! I used to be a marine, you know, and I was trying, and he’s fifteen, getting bigger, and my marine muscle went from here to here over the years you know! And he was, “Dad, I was only kidding! Dad, it was only her hair, just a little bit!” And my sin became much worse than his, if his was a sin – I think it was; he was provoking his sister. “The water’s clean, Dad!” At the worst time, I’m trying to do this, and Danny’s not fighting me but he has his hands on the side of the toilet, “Dad, dad, we were just kidding dad!” You guys should really have better, more holy missions conference speakers to come to your church!

 

And at the absolute worst time, this tension-filled house, the doorbell rang. I put Danny down, went to the door, as I was sliding the door I put my pastor’s plastic smile on, you know, and went to the genkan where you take your shoes off to come in, and there was a lady from our church bringing something. And I was just so nice to her. “Oh, doozo ohairi kudasai, please come in!” I only said it once because I knew a Japanese person wouldn’t come in unless you invite them three times, you know, looking at your eyes, do you really mean it. And she thankfully left! And I turned around and there are six of my children looking at their dad and it was as if they had written across their foreheads, gizen-sha, which means, hypocrite! And you know, “Dad, you were so angry and you were so sweet to that lady seconds later!” And the Holy Spirit worked in my heart and brought repentance in the heart of this missionary who lost his temper. Think about it, the PCA sent us to bring the love and peace of Jesus to the people of Chiba. We came to bring the message of the cross and forgiveness and we come to Christ by repentance and we had a “gospel” moment with our kids as I confessed my sin to them and to God and we prayed. And that’s the message that we always need, even as we look at the Word here today, I share that with you so you remember that your missionaries you pray for around the world are sinners like you, who need Christ and who need to live a life of ongoing repentance like Luther’s first theses of the ninety-five theses on the door. The Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance. And for all of us, we need to do that today. And a little later I’ll share a third reason why I shared that story.

 

But as we come to this text we see, as we want to see, “Lord, what are you teaching me? What do I need to repent of?” as we think about “Give of your sons and spread the message glorious. Give of your wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out your soul, in prayer for them victorious, and all that thou spendest, Jesus will repay.” “On this mountain,” verse 6; look at it; “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food.” There’s this lavish feast; the true bread that we know from John 6 is Jesus. And this feast, who’s it for? Jackson, Mississippi! Yes, and all peoples of the earth; peoples, verse 6. All nations, all peoples, the veil that’s over their faces, in verse 7. And the third thing we see, this is a God-centered text – that God will accomplish these things and by implication He invites us to participate in this, the feast, the true feast.

 

A mother pulled up in her beautiful Mercedes-Benz to our church in Japan just outside Tokyo and she dragged her seventeen year old son up to my office and she came in and I’d never met her before and her son looked like a scared animal. He wouldn’t look up; seventeen year old boy. She told me his story. She said, “I’ve taken him to the Buddhist priest, I’ve taken him to the Shinto priest. He was a perfectly normal young man. Five years old we sent him to the best kindergarten, the best elementary schools. We spent so much money on his education.” She was an education mama – kyoiku mama we call them in Japan. And then she said, “And then in junior high school we sent him all the way into Tokyo into the city center to the best school in Japan and he was always number one in his class. Number one! We gave him everything and then the first year of high school, number one, second year of high school, number two, and this year he just shut down emotionally and he won’t even come out of his room.” This was my first heke comodi kid – have you heard that word? It’s only Japan in the whole world that has this. More than a million young children, especially from seventh grade on, who just shut down emotionally. She said, “I had to drag him here today. He never comes out of his room. We’ve given him everything,” she said. “I don’t know what’s wrong, and so I brought him to you.” And it became real obvious to me what was wrong. It was the mother! Do you think that mother loved her son? I do, but she had bought into the false bread, the not-true lavish feast of Japan incorporated, in many ways that they had learned from the United States of America, that all of these other things – the best education and getting into the best college and getting a good job – that these things, these things are the lavish feast.

 

How’s that working for you? It’s not working well for Japan at all. The tsunami killed 20,000 people and in the same year, suicide killed 30,000 people. I know that we have that in the United States and there’s the pain and the struggles of that, but in our country it’s an epidemic and people like this young boy, perfectly normal and healthy, being brutalized in a sense by a culture that says your identity is in what you perform, what you do; no understanding of the true and living God who made you, no understanding of the love of Christ. This mother and this son had never heard anything before in their lives about the true feast of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true feast! Jesus told us in John 6, He said, “Don’t work for the food that perishes.” And the disciples say, “Ok, Lord, give us this bread, the enduring bread.” And Jesus says, “I am the bread.” The country I live in is a country pursuing false bread but this country too, right? This is the problem of all of us around the world. We see this text points us to the true feast of heaven. We think of Matthew 8:11 where Jesus, I believe, was thinking of this passage. “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” This feast is the feast for our souls now as well as for heaven. Looking forward to heaven and the feast, it affects today – how we live, what we give our lives for, what our true identity is.

 

  1. A Lavish Feast

 

It says it’s a lavish feast, verse 6; “rich food,” it says two times. It calls it a “feast” two times. “Good wine” two times. Verse 7 says this covering that was over this mother who had no clue about the Gospel or the covering over the people in American thinking a bigger house – you know the idols are different here, right, but idols nonetheless – thinking these things will satisfy, these things will make me happy. They’re like Turkish delight. The more Edmund ate of the Turkish delight – “How’s that working for you Edmund?” As C.S. Lewis so helps us to see in the Narnia story, that it doesn’t satisfy. It’s for me too! Why did I lose my temper with my children that day? My false bread – we’re in Japan, all these years, there’s so little fruit, it’s so hard at the beginning. Four years no fruit; no fruit. Zero! Four years, virtually that we could see. And my idols, my false bread very much success, back in the Marine Corps but then as a missionary wanting to see, for right reasons but then mixed with wrong reasons, there are churches to grow, churches to be started, churches to multiply. Jesus tells us that He is the true bread we see in Isaiah 55. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. He who has no money, come, buy, and eat!”

 

  1. For All Nations

 

This is the invitation to us today to come to the true feast, to come to the true wine, the lavish feast that is, second point, for all nations. It’s a missions conference. We need to eat of this feast. We need this feast to consume us. This is the feast that matters and we care to give it out to Mississippi and to the whole world. You see in verse 6 it says this is a lavish feast “for all peoples,” for all nations. Verse 7, the covering, the veil that is over all peoples, all nations. My wife and I moved here to Jackson, Mississippi thirty-three years ago from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. My story is mercenary to missionary. I was a hard-charging recon captain, if you know what that is. I never thought I was going to go to seminary. My father was a PCA minister, my grandfather preached in your church around 1970, wrote the hymn you’re going to sing at the end. By the way, y’all don’t have it right. It’s “break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.” He had charged us before he died, “Make them sing it right!” So, whatever! It’s right in the Trinity Hymnal anyway! I don’t know what your choir director’s going to do with that, but anyway! My grandfather preached here. I was from a blueblood Presbyterian family and we came to seminary here to go back to Maryland to start a daughter church. It had not crossed my mind to for one second if you told me my first friend was going to be Hironadi from Japan and when he said, “Please, dansan, come to Japan and help us plant church.” Ha, ha, ha! I’m not going to Japan. He said, “Well could we pray in our prayer group at RTS for my country, Japan, where so few people know Christ?” “Oh yeah, we’ll pray for your country.” That didn’t seem dangerous to me, ha ha! But at the very beginning at RTS if you had told me that my Bible here, the left side would be English and the right side of every page would be Japanese and that we’d be in Japan almost thirty years, you know, I would say, “You’re crazy! What are you smoking? There’s no way!”

 

But very early on we had a missions conference and for three days the preacher marched us from Genesis to Revelation showing the centrality of all peoples. I was a missing “s” Christian! You notice that it’s peoples, all peoples – every tongue, every tribe. From Genesis, like he used so many passages, but Genesis 22:18, “all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s offspring.” Psalm 67, “Let the peoples” – I was a missing “s” Christian, like I said, before coming to RTS. I thought I was a balanced, Biblical Christian, but I wasn’t. We taught our kids the catechism, read the Bible every day, I sang the hymns – “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” and I sang that last verse ten thousand times I’ll bet, “Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball, to him all majesty ascribe and crown him Lord of all!” I never thought, “This is a mission hymn. This is what we care about, that the nations should worship.” “Let the peoples praise you, O God! Let all the peoples praise you!” Psalm 67. Psalm 117:1, “Praise the Lord all nations; laud him all peoples.” We long that God would be worshiped in every tongue and tribe like we’re doing here today. We realize there’s all these places in the world God’s not being worshiped at all; people don’t have a clue about Him. Isaiah 12:4-5, “Make known his deeds among the peoples. Let this be known in all the earth.” And on through to Revelation.

 

And my wife and I, sitting there for three days, ten hours maybe, looked at each other and said, “How did we miss this? How did we miss this? I’ve been reading my Bible my whole life, my dad’s a PCA pastor, my grandfather wrote the hymn we’re going to sing at the end! How did we miss this? Personally, this is going to have to affect how we raise our kids, that they would have a heart like the heart of God for every tongue and tribe, for the places that don’t have this true bread, this true feast yet. If we do go back to Maryland, that church we’re going to start has to be a church that cares what God cares about. So many places without this lavish feast.” I heard this story of Hudson Taylor going down a river in China and he saw one city after another. You know, Hudson Taylor, famous missionary to China was a very passionate man. And he tells how his heart ached as he saw city after city, knowing there were millions and millions of people, city after city as he goes down that river, not one Christian in any of these cities! And his heart ached for God’s glory, yes, and for the lost people. I remember riding a train from southwest Japan where I flew down and then took the train back because I wanted to see that part of the country. Going through, I thought of that story, but I wasn’t on a boat; I was on a bullet train passing city after city of, you know, Japs in Mississippi, 172,000 people, cities you’ve never heard of, of a million and of 700,000 you know, and knowing so few Christians, so few churches.

 

The PCA sent us to a city outside Tokyo. You can remember the name of it, Oyume no. You know how you can remember that name? Answer this question, “Who will build this church?” Oyume no! Got it? Ok? Yes, only Jesus will build this church. Seventy thousand people in the history of the world – God had never been worshiped as far as we know. The first church in the history of the world for 70,000 people; a third the size of Jackson and no church. We’re starting a church with City to City Redeemer New York City in Tokyo City Center; Toyosu is the name of the park where the Olympics are going to be. When you see the Olympics in a few years, this is where we’re starting a church. There’s 120,000 people there; Tokyo City Center, Tokyo and there’s no church! Well there is now, since last April; started Easter worship. Isn’t that exciting? Now God is being worshiped in this place. This is what we’re about – we care that the nations would worship, that we take this true bread to the nations.

 

You know, our PCA, I know of a church that had 200 applications to be their associate pastor; 200 applications for one position in the PCA. And I say we have 200 cities and no applications. Two hundred cities – and that’s kind of an exaggeration; we do have several applications but it’s not an exaggeration. We have more than 200 cities that need a church! How is God calling you to give of your sons and your grandsons and your granddaughters? Or to go? Bob and Sharon Drews came to visit us, retired Navy commander, and as he came to Japan he said, “Hey, God could use a PCA elder in many churches, godly husband and wife.” And they came for ten days, came back for three years, not they’re back semi-career. They keep extending! Being the mentors for our City Center Tokyo church plant. Or the other end of the spectrum – this year, Bret, Laura, and Katie from Virginia and North Carolina doing a gap year, helping us in Japan for eleven months, helping us do this Christian school – the only Christian school for 7 million people in east Tokyo. You think churches are so few? No other Christian school! That’s twice the population of Mississippi – 7 million people and there’s no other Christian school, which kind of reflects how needy our country and so many places in the world. What’s God calling you to do?

And to give – we’re the riches country in the world by far and the richest church in the world may be the PCA and you, First Presbyterian Church, among the richest of the richest of the richest – yes, per capita? Yes! And here we say, “Lord, here I am.” We eat of the feast and we say, “Lord, what would You have me to do in being a part of giving this feast to the nations?”

 

  1. God Will Accomplish This

 

And last, third thing we see from this text is that God will accomplish this. This is a God-centered passage; He does it and we get to partner with Him. The outcome is absolutely certain! The whole passage bleeds God-centeredness. He does it! Verse 6, He provides the feast, the most expensive meal we ever eat, and it’s free like Isaiah 55 that I read. You know, the feast – “Come, you with no money. Come, buy, and eat!” Jesus paid for this feast and it’s provided by Him. God provided His Son. We think of the cross of Christ and what He did in our place. Verse 7, He takes away the covering, the veil. I think of how many people in our church in Japan were like that mother who brought her son that day and the veil of verse 7 was so thick they just couldn’t see. And slowly coming to see their sin and coming to see there is one true and living God and coming to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s the one who does that! Verse 8, He swallows up death; He wipes away tears. What an era we live in! We’re seeing God do this all around the world like we’ve never seen in the history of the church. The last fifty years, friends, way more kingdom advancement than in the first 1900 years. Really! I remember forty years ago we know nothing about what was going on in China. Today if Hudson Taylor went down that river in China, there are tens of thousands of Christians and churches growing. A young guy at RTS told me, he said, “Beijing, you know, the police can’t find to shut down the churches. They’ve almost giving up the churches are growing so fast.” But that’s not happening in India. My son’s in India. Went to visit. Preached in their church. So exciting to see – fourteen different people groups of elite, highly educated Indians in Bangalore and seeing the way the kingdom is growing and spreading.

 

Last week I was in Malaysia with church planters from all over Asia for a City to City Conference and seeing what God is doing. On the plane from Penang, Malaysia to Hong Kong to Japan to get here Friday night in time to be here with you this morning. I really fought hard and worked hard to get here friends! I’m tired! But on the plane there’s a Chinese pastor that sat next to me named, Daniel! My name! You know, we see God doing this all around the world, this kingdom advancement. The feast is going forth all around the world. I haven’t seen this kind of thing happen in Japan yet. Do you think we can believe the promises for Japan? How about for the Muslim world and hard places like that? “His kingdom cannot fail! He rules over earth and heaven.” Yes, we can! Verse 3, we didn’t read it, but if you look back in your Bible verse 3 says, “The ruthless cities, the ruthless nations will come.” I remember on the news since ISIS – can we pray for ISIS, that ISIS and ISIS Muslims would come to Christ? Can we pray it? Yes! With faith that every tongue, every tribe, God’s elect are in every group. Japan was a ruthless nation when we think about what Japan did to Asia and brutalizing Asia and using babies for bayonet practice. A Singapore, Chinese elder told me the story – and my Japanese friend with me almost cried as he told the story of how his father said that the Japanese took over Singapore, they lined up all the men, made them hold their hands out, and they checked all the men with smooth hands. They took them away and they never returned because they figured they were the leaders. And they killed them all! Whereas the men with rough hands they let live. And hearing this story, this is what my country did seventy years ago. I’ll tell tonight about the lead attacker in the Pearl Harbor who lead the three hundred planes that invaded Pearl Harbor – Fuchida, Commander Fuchida, a ruthless man. He prayed that day to his gods on his aircraft carrier that the ships would be in the harbor and that they would kill many Americans. Ruthless nations and men will come, after the war, I’ll tell the story tonight, Fuchida became a Christian, became a pastor! This ruthless man became a lover of Jesus and one who wanted to tell the good news. Strong nations will come, ruthless nation will come.

 

Genesis 22:16, God swears by His own name that this will happen. And some of you say, “But Dan, it doesn’t feel like it’s happening!” It doesn’t, right? You ever think that while I’m saying this? Look at those Supreme Court decisions! Look at this election! You know? But friends, it’s like my uncle I’m named after – World War II, Battle of Midway. He was in the Battle of Midway flying, his plane landed back at Midway Island, he won the Navy Cross in that battle, second highest medal a Marine could win, more than two hundred bullet holes in his plane, one wheel, and he didn’t think they were winning but they were. And it was the turning point of the war. See, that’s what it’s like for us. We take the long view. We see, we read our church history, we read the Bible, we see the kingdom advancement around the world, we know that this feast is going to every tongue and tribe. His kingdom cannot fail! He rules over earth and heaven!

 

And God calls us today – I’ll finish with this story; We eat the feast, we eat it, we raise our children to know this is the only thing that matters, the feast, the true feast, the bread! Not that other stuff – it’s junk food! What’s your junk food? And then we say, “Lord, how do you want me to be a part of taking it to the nations?” PCA pastor friend of mine, his son-in-law came to him, he was going to be the son-in-law, he asked permission to marry his daughter. He said, “But you take care of my daughter or you and I will have problems.” I’ve given away two daughters; I know about that. And a couple of years later the son-in-law came to him and said, “Dad, God is leading, we believe, us to go to City Center Orlando, the worst part of Orlando. The crime is bad, it’s very poor. We believe He’s leading us there to start a church and be involved in ministry there. You know your grandchildren are going to be raised in a bad place. You know you told me I’d better take care of your daughter or you are going to have a problem with me. Are you and I ok?” And my friend, of course, I mean have six grandchildren in a bad part of Atlanta and five grandchildren in Bangladesh. Please pray for them! It’s really dangerous! And five in India. And this is hard and it’s difficult but I learned from what my pastor friend said. He thought about it for a second. “What is the true food? What really matters in this world?” And his answer was a great answer that informs our going, our giving, our praying, and what matters. He said to his son-in-law, “If you don’t go where God is leading you, I’ll have a problem with you.” Isn’t that great? Let’s pray!

 

Lord, we do want to God. Lord, we want to eat the feast, drink the true wine, and we want to go where You’re leading us – with our wallets, with our children and us ourselves. O Lord, may we eat and drink deeply. Forgive us for our sins. Thank You that Jesus died for sinners. Today we repent again and turn to You and ask You to lead us to the ends of the earth for the sake of Your glory by our prayers, by our giving, and by our going. In Jesus’ name, amen.



Personal Testimony of Joe Bynum

By / Mar 4