We’ve been hearing much in recent weeks about different aspects of the Christian life—marriage and spiritual warfare and prayer—and how these aspects of the Christian life are impacted by our understanding of the big story.
Today we come to perhaps the biggest question of all: what is the purpose for the Christian life in the first place? Why is there such a thing as the Christian life? Why are we here right now? What is the reason for this stage in the biggest story ever told, and what is the part that we’re supposed to play in it?
The answer to those questions is that the church has a mission. We’re not just here passing time; we’re here because we have a job to do. And that job, that mission, is to bring glory to God by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to, and making disciples of, all nations. In other words, that passage we just read from Matthew 28. The Great Commission is not a side project for some Christians to engage in. It is in fact the mission which all of us have a part to play in fulfilling.
The Mission in the Old Testament
Now as we begin to explore these things, let’s remind ourselves that this mission did not come from nowhere. As we’ve walked through Scripture this year we’ve seen that God’s concern has always been global. God commanded Adam and Eve and then Noah after them to fill the earth and subdue it. And God revealed His concern for all the peoples of the earth when He made His covenant with Abraham, promising that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).
Abraham was chosen and blessed for the sake of the nations. This global mission was fulfilled partially in God’s covenant with Israel. At the foot of Mt. Sinai He told them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6).
Israel was to be a nation of royal priests, representing God to the nations. That’s the reason for the patch of land they were given, which was right at the crossroads of the major superpowers of the ancient world. People were passing through there constantly for trade and communication.
And so Israel was on display for all the nations to see. Everyone saw them. And their mission was to obey God and enjoy His blessing so that the nations around them would see and be drawn to become worshippers of God themselves.
This global mission is celebrated several times in the Psalms. Just listen to these words from Psalm 96:
“Oh 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 from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity’” (Psalm 96:1–10).
Or think about Psalm 67, which we read this morning and sang together in that new song. Did you notice how verse 1 & 2 connect together? Verse 1 comes right out of the blessing that the priests would speak to the people. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:24–25). These words sum up all of God’s covenant blessings for them.
And what was the point of this blessing? Why was God blessing them? Verse 2: “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:2–3).
Those aren’t just nice religious sentiments that don’t really mean anything. Nothing in the Bible is. This is articulating the truth at the heart of God’s purpose in the world. Israel’s mission was to glorify God so that real people from all nations would praise their God. And we know that many times, this happened—with Rahab and Ruth and the Queen of Sheba and Naaman the Syrian.
And yet, for the most part, Israel tended to ignore this mission. Like we heard last week in Ezekiel, instead of glorifying God among the nations they profaned His name among the nations. And so God promised a New Covenant in which all of His promises would be fulfilled and His glory would be vindicated in all the world.
Christ, the Offspring of Abraham
And so we come to Jesus, High Priest of the New Covenant and promised Offspring of Abraham who brings blessing to the nations. And like we saw back in December, the blessing that He brings is the blessing of the gospel. The blessing of being justified by faith and adopted into God’s family. The blessing of the Holy Spirit coming to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are the blessings that He brings.
Galatians 3:14 says that Jesus died “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
Now this verse reminds us of something important: the blessings of Jesus don’t flow to the nations automatically. People need to receive these blessings through faith. Which means that the nations need to hear about Jesus and believe in Him to experience these promised blessings.
Like Romans 10 says, “…there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:12–15).
The Great Commission
If the nations are going to be blessed in Jesus, then they need to be told about Him. And so that’s why, shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus stood on a mountainside in Galilee and said to His disciples, “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” (Matthew 28:18–20).
There’s three important things we need to notice about these words of Christ called the Great Commission.
1) First, in the old covenants, God gave Israel some land at the crossroads of the world and invited the nations to come and see. But in the New Covenant, Jesus sends us out to go and tell.
2) Second, we need to notice that this phrase “all nations” is a direct quotation from Genesis 22:18, where God promised Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” It’s the identical phrase in the Greek versions. And so the Great Commission is the way that the promises to Abraham get fulfilled. The nations of the earth are blessed in Jesus when we go and make disciples of them.
3) Third, this word “nations” does not refer to political nations, like Canada and Ukraine and Zimbabwe. The word is ἔθνη, and a different way to translate it would be “peoples.” “Make disciples of all peoples.” Revelation 5:9 says that Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” That rounds out the meaning of “nation” a little better. This isn’t talking about lines on a border but about language groups and people groups.
And when we clarify this, we realize that the Great Commission hasn’t been finished yet. There are about 6,500-6,900 language groups in the world. And right now, it’s estimated that about 2,500 of those language groups have no access to the gospel in their language. There’s other ways of defining people groups puts the number of unreached people groups at over 7,000. And of those 7,000, over 3,000 are unengaged—in other words, it’s a whole distinct nation of people with no missionaries attempting to connect with them.
And this is the unfinished task before us. This is our mission at our stage in the story. This is why this stage in the story even exists. Because there is a 4,000 year old promise waiting to be fulfilled, and the risen Christ has told us to go.
And if this is true, then I think you will agree with me that reaching the unreached peoples of the earth with the good news of Jesus is not just something the church happens to do. It is the whole reason we exist. It is a task of the highest stakes and the greatest rewards and the utmost urgency.
And all I’m really going to do in the rest of this message is ask you two questions: do you believe that this is true? And if so, what are you going to do about it?
Do You Believe This Is True?
Let’s begin with that first question. Do you really believe that all of this is true? Do you believe that the purpose for the creation of the world and the purpose for your life are one and the same: the glory of God? Do you believe that you are alive at this moment to make God look great?
Do you believe that all these stories we’ve been hearing about are real? Do you believe there was a real man named Abraham who wandered around the Middle East 4,000 years ago, and that the Creator of the Universe really met with him and promised him that all nations would be blessed through his offspring?
Do you believe that this offspring did come—a real Jewish man named Jesus, who really walked around the Middle East 2,000 years ago, and who really was executed by the Romans on a hill called Golgotha?
And do you believe that this Jewish man was the Son of God Himself, and that as He died He was paying for the sins of His people from every nation on earth? That He was literally buying people for God like Revelation 5:9 says?
Do you believe that this Jesus walked out of His grave three days later? Do you believe that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, and He been given all authority in Heaven and on Earth? That all the peoples of earth owe Him their allegiance? That He has authority over kings and prime ministers and premiers and mayors? That all authority here in Nipawin, in every civic dealing and in every business and behind every closed door of every home, all authority rightly belongs to Him?
Do you really believe that this Lord Jesus Christ is alive today, and He is really going to come back like He promised? That there is really going to be a day when the trumpet really sounds and He really rides across the skies on a horse and every eye of every skeptic and sinner is going to see Him?
And do you believe that Jesus was telling the truth when He told his disciples that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)?
Do you really believe those words we sang earlier—that Christ must have the prize for which He died, an inheritance of nations?
Do you believe that?
What Are You Going to Do About It?
Now it’s time for my second question. If you believe all this is true, then what are you going to do about it?
What are you going to do about it?
Because we have to do something about it. If we believe it, then we must act.
So what are you going to do about it?
Some of you have an answer to that question already. Some of you are working on your answer to that question already. I praise God for that.
But let me suggest the answer that many people should have to this question. “What am I going to do about it? I’ll go. I’ll go, just like Jesus said. I’ll pack up my things and move to another part of the world, and bring the gospel to people who don’t have access to the gospel. I will actually go.”
That is the answer that many people should have to this question. That is the answer that I’ve been praying numbers of you in this room would have to this question. That you would actually go.
You don’t need to be a special kind of person to be a missionary. I thought that way for years. I thought that the Great Commission didn’t apply to most people. Most of us just get to carry on with life as normal and die in the country we were born and leave this Great Commission work to the missionaries.
Because missionaries are a completely different breed of human, a set of highly spiritual super Christians. You know you’re a missionary because at some point you received a supernatural, unmistakable call from God, and at that moment He gave you the special ability to live off of $500 a month and to write cheery email newsletters.
And if you are one of those really special people, then the Great Commission applies to you and you should go be a missionary. But if you’re not one of those people, if God hasn’t personally descended from on high to invite you to be a missionary, then the Great Commission really doesn’t apply to you, and you can just carry on with your life as normal.
And like I said, I kind of grew up with this idea and just assumed it to be true. But it’s not. It’s not true.
Missionaries are not a special kind of Christian. I know this by experience. I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of different missionaries over the years. Missionaries are profoundly normal, weak people, just like the rest of us. They are just ordinary Christians who said “ok” when Jesus said “go.” And we know this biblically. Who did Jesus choose to be his apostles? Fishermen. A government employee. Normal guys.
Maybe a couple of hundred years ago, when you had to ride on a boat for three months and there were no Malaria pills, and missionaries needed to basically be explorers, maybe then you had to be a special kind of person to actually go. But today, most of that does not apply. Anybody can buy a plane ticket and be almost anywhere in the world by the next day.
And in today’s global economy, it’s never been easier to go. Anybody with a trade or a marketable skill can go almost anywhere in the world and just set up shop. If you’re a computer tech or a car mechanic you can go be a computer tech or car mechanic in some city where people don’t have access to the gospel. You don’t even need to raise support. You just do your job and become a part of the community and get to know people and tell them about Jesus.
Almost anybody can be a missionary. I know that in talks like this the young people are often targeted. And that’s good: you are making major life decisions, and so often in the past it’s students whom God has used in missions. So kids and high schoolers and 20-somethings, I’m talking to you this morning.
But I also know people who moved to Thailand when their children were in high school. I’ve heard of many couples who have taken retirement from their first careers and shooed their adult children out of the house and are going to unreached peoples as second-career missionaries.
There are so many reasons why you should not count yourself out.
And don’t wait for God to “call” you. That’s another idea that’s not in the Bible. Nowhere does Scripture say “wait for a second personal invitation from God before you obey the Great Commission.” Jesus already called us to go right here in Matthew 28. And we need to obey.
So yes, I am saying that lots and lots of ordinary Christians—including some of you in this very room—need to obey Jesus by going to unreached peoples.
“Take Up His Cross”
Now I know that this sounds scary. It sounds terrifying. It’s one thing to be excited about missions as long as it’s someone else’s job. But really, me? This just sounds too radical. And maybe you’re tempted to dismiss what I’m saying this morning for that reason.
But I would remind you of the words of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25). Being a Christian, by definition, means that we are willing to do absolutely anything King Jesus asks us to do, up to and including death.
Because that’s what “take up your cross” means. People took up their cross when they were going to die on that cross. Jesus invites us to die with him. And many Christians throughout history have done this literally—literally died on literal crosses for the sake of Jesus.
So if you have signed up for that—if you are willing for that—then moving across the world is no big deal. Because to be a Christian is, by definition, to be willing to do anything for Jesus.
And we should have more than willingness. If we really understand the glory of Jesus and the truth of Scripture and if we really believe everything we’ve heard this morning, then our default position should be a desire to go serve on the front lines. Every follower of King Jesus should want to do as much as they can to finish the mission. That should be what our hearts are drawn to.
So the question is not “has God called me to be a missionary?” The question is, “how can I play my part in the mission? What can I do to be a part of finishing the task?” The question is not “Should I go?” The question is, “Why should I not go to the front lines? Why not me?”
Not Everyone Should Go
Now I want to acknowledge this morning that there’s some really good answers to that question “why should I not go?” Factors like age and health might make it impossible.
And also, we need lots of good Christians here in Canada. We need people here to serve and represent Jesus in our homes and neighbourhoods and workplaces and in civic life and in ministries and Bible camps and all of the good work that needs to be done here on the home front.
And we also need people to earn good incomes so that we can support those on the front lines. If Emmanuel Baptist Church is going to send out missionaries at the rate that we are supposed to, we will need lots of generous givers who reject materialism and free up significant portions of their incomes to support those on the front lines.
But please don’t think “Whew! He took the pressure off. Yay, I get to stay with a clear conscience.” Because I really believe we each need to ask the question “why not me?” We each need to ask the question, “Where I can I be most strategic for the cause of Christ?” And each of us must be willing to go.
If you’re not willing to go, if you think that the Great Commission is just someone else’s job, and if you think that staying put is your right, then it will just be too easy for you to settle in to a nice, comfortable North American life full to the brim with hobbies and entertainment and luxury.
You will not be effective at staying until you are willing to go. And if you’re willing to go, you won’t stay by default. You’ll be staying on purpose. Strategic staying. You’ll stay because you believe that staying is the way that you can best contribute to the mission. Like the citizens of Canada and the United States during the great wars, who couldn’t go serve in the trenches, but would have if they could, and so they played their part in the great conflict, adopting a wartime lifestyle, rationing food and gas and trimming their lifestyles and shaping their whole existence to serve those on the front lines.
So to sum it all up, the question I beg each of you to ask this morning is “Where and how can I be most effective for the cause of Christ? Given who I am, given how the Lord made me, the way he’s equipped me and shaped me, where can I serve most effectively and strategically? How can I do as much as I can to finish the task of reaching the nations with the gospel?”
And I pray that as you ask this question, numbers of you to say “Here am I. Send me. I will go.”