First Read: John 20:19-21
The opening speaker at the National Gathering last week was Dr. Ed Stetzer who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College. He has held a host of other positions and written a number of books, but it is not his resume that I want to share with you this morning. I’ve read some of his writings and was tentatively looking forward to hearing what he would have to say – after all the opening speaker sets the tone for the entire conference – and I wanted to see what sort of direction he would go.
His message last Tuesday morning fit right in with our current theme on a Brief Biography of God – and so I’m going to borrow from his message a bit – ok – a lot – because he brought together a number of passages of Scripture in a way I had not previously thought of – as he spoke about the Commissions of Jesus – or as it fits into our theme – the God Who Commissions.
If you were to do a “man on the street” type interview asking Christians what it means to be in Christ I have no doubt that you would hear answers like these:
- We are saved – sometimes they might even add “by grace through faith.”
- We are loved.
- We are not alone.
- We are people of hope.
- We are forgiven.
- We are going to heaven.
- We are chosen/elect.
- We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
- We are being sanctified.
- We are holy.
- We are part of a family, etc., etc.
Yet seldom do you hear from Christian people the important affirmation that: WE ARE SENT
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
One thing that the Bible clearly teaches us is that the coming of Jesus was first and foremost an act of obedience to the will of God the Father. We are all familiar no doubt with the words of John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever beleeves in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But the thought does not end there – it continues into the next verse: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
A little later in this same chapter (John 3:34) the Apostle John repeats this same thought: For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.
In John 4:34, after the woman who Jesus met at the well has gone back into her town, the disciples are encouraging Jesus to eat something and he responds by saying: Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
In John 20 we are reminded that just as Jesus was sent, so too We Are Sent, just has Jesus had a mission, so too we have a mission. New life in Christ means that we are on a mission trip for a lifetime.
Do you know the difference between a mission trip and a mission tour? Often churches say, “We are going on a mission trip to this country or that city or some location.” But what they are really doing is taking a mission tour of the work for Christ being done in that place. Many years ago we were at a seminar and they took us out into the countryside to visit a mission project that worked with Mountain people. It was a rough place to be – most everyone had been impacted by the brewing and consumption of moonshine – the mission had worship and Bible classes, counseling services, clothing and food distribution. It was fascinating to hear from the director all that they did – but we didn’t do any mission that day – we just toured the mission to learn more about what they were doing. Mission involves rolling up your sleeves and getting involved. It involves becoming involved with people and relationships – and working to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Charles Spurgeon is often quoted for the to-the-point sayings that came out of his preaching. One such quote is this, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter!” We are either living out our commission of being sent as Jesus was sent – or we are just pretending to be a person of Christian faith.
So God commissions us by sending us – WE ARE SENT — but where??
The answer is found in the Commissioning passage in Matthew 28 – what is often called the Great Commission.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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 observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…
There has been some interesting talk about “nations” in the political world recently. Some nations have favored status – some nations are on the “do not visit” list – others are what we used to call “third-world” countries or worse – some are our Allies and trading partners. But when Jesus used the world translated as “nations” here – he was not speaking about empires or places with defined borders – he was really talking about all peoples – all sorts of peoples from all sorts of places. And as he spoke to this early collection of disciples – who were all of Jewish heritage – he especially meant that they were to make disciples not only of Jews but also of all sorts of Gentiles as well. Last week we were talking about the God who surprises – well, this would have been a surprise to his disciples. There is no doubt that from the earliest Scriptures God made it clear that his kingdom would include all types of peoples, but by the time of Jesus, Judaism had become very exclusionary – there was “us and them” – Jews and Gentiles.
The commission Jesus gives to his followers is to go beyond the artificial boundaries that we would set and include all peoples. Too much the Christian Church divides itself up – it wants to reach out but often only to those who fit in the same cultural categories as we feel comfortable in.
To get back and forth from the airport to the hotel where the National Gathering was held we needed to take a taxi. On the return trip on Thursday the hotel valet desk whistled us a taxi and after loading everything up we headed for Hobby Airport – which was only about 9 or 10 miles from the Hotel. On the way we engaged our taxi driver in a bit of conversation finding out along the way through his somewhat broken English that he is Ethiopian, that he really likes Houston, and that he is married and not too long ago he and his wife had their first baby, a little boy. At some point in the conversation I noted that he had a big wooden cross hanging from the rear view mirror and I asked him if he is a Christian. He seemed happy to tell us that he is and that we told him that we are also.
I looked online and was surprised to discover that Ethiopia is only about a third Muslim. In fact, Christians make up nearly 63% of the population of Ethiopia – 44% are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, about 1% are Roman Catholic, and nearly 19% are Protestant Christians. When I paid him at the airport I gave him a little extra tip – telling him that I hoped God would bless him and his wife and new son – and he shook my hand and I thought he was going to cry.
We had just left a gathering of 1600 Christians, most of whom were culturally very similar. In the cab ride to the airport we were once again reminded that God’s grace is extended to all peoples – and that is by His design and it is by His will.
So – WE ARE SENT — TO ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLES
Is there more to it than that – of course there is — 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 observe all that I have commanded you.
WE ARE SENT — TO ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLES — WITH A MESSAGE
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and 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. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
…he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures — You are witnesses of these things — everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled — repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name…
We are commissioned with the message of the Gospel according to Jesus Himself. What is our mission? – First and foremost to proclaim the Gospel – and the Gospel as defined by Jesus Himself. It is God who defines who we are – how we are to live – what we are to say and do… Stetzer put it this way: “Don’t let your church be a cul-se-sac on the Gospel highway…”
Several of the speakers at the Conference made note of the popular consensus that the Christian church is disappearing. But that is just the popular view point – in contrast those that do research into these kind of things tell us that the Evangelical church is actually holding pretty steady – though it is more and more embattled by the culture. What the research shows is that it is those who identify more as “nominal” Christians, if you will, who are leaving the church. Each year it is those who identify their religion as “none” who make up the fastest growing category – in part because nominalism is dying in our cuture – though that is not necessarily a bad thing.
As this passage from Luke 24 reminds us, from the lips of Jesus himself, our message is to be grounded in the Scripture, proclaiming Jesus Christ – and particularly repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name. This is the heart of the Christian faith – not “finding your story in His story” – not “self-improvement through Christian principles” – not the “me” focused message so often proclaimed in 21st century institutional Christendom.
People often ask – “What is God’s will for my life?” The answer begins with us hearing His words – that WE ARE SENT – ALL OF US WITH THE SAME GOSPEL AS DEFINED BY JESUS – it is only to which peoples that remains for us to work out – but through all Christians together, it is to all peoples.
Perhaps this all sounds rather difficult – frightening even. How is that we are able to get beyond ourselves and to be concerned for the sharing of the Gospel – for the carrying out of our Commission as Christian believers. It sounds simple to say – but it happens only by the grace of God and through the specific actions of that Grace in our lives – in particular by the fact that if we are in Christ – we are: EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
This is a fascinating passage. Notice what question was upon the minds and hearts of the disciples – “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” This is more than just a question about political power and position – it is really a question about the end times. Not so much different than our day and age – or any other day and age for that matter – we always want to know about the end times. There is a playful saying that teachers of the Bible will often cite: “If you want to build a big crowd then teach on “the end times.” The other way to build a big crowd is to teach on “sex.” And, if you want to build a really big crowd, then teach on “is there sex in the end times??””
Notice that Jesus said that we the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. What kind of power? Through the Holy Spirit it would be the power to be His witnesses – first in Jerusalem — then into Judea — onward into Samaria, — and finally to the ends of the earth.
We often look at this verse like it is talking about concentric circles – but it is not. It begins in Jerusalem where Jesus’ enemies seemed to have their greatest victory – in his arrest, trial and crucifixion – and then into Judea – into the heart of where the Jewish people lived. But next they are to go into Samaria – Samaria – these disciples wouldn’t want to go to Samaria – at least not if they were setting the agenda. Samaria is the place where the people you don’t like live – they would spend hours and hours walking around that area rather than taking the road through it so they wouldn’t have to interact with the people there.
It was only by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that they were able to get beyond their own prejudices and the cultural divisions built up over century after century. It was only through the Holy Spirit that they could put their fears and anxieties aside and spread the Gospel.
In Ephesians 3:10 – Paul tells us that God uses the church – meaning Christian believers – to fulfill his purposes. “…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…”
God is the one who Commissions His people:
WE ARE SENT
TO ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLES
WITH A MESSAGE
EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT…