Before we hear the Word of God and meditate on it together tonight, I would really like to take the first 5 to 10 minutes here and pray for a particular group of you. I’m trusting there will probably be more in this service than the other three today, but I’d love to pray for those of you who are graduating this week. I know those of you who are in grad school (I think the ceremonies are Thursday or Friday) are going to get hooded or whatever happens at those.
I’ve never been to one, but I’ve heard the word hooded used, so whatever that is, that’s going to happen to some of you. Then undergrads, of course, are graduating. I think all of them are Saturday at the Super Pit, and I’m going to stay away from that area but be there with you in spirit in celebrating with you, but just staying completely away from that area. So we want to pray for you and celebrate this rite of passage in your lives.
If you’ve been here for the last few years, and even if you’ve just been here for the last year, you’ve most likely heard us talk about our hope, our desire, our prayer that God would make us, as a congregation, a community of his people, a city of his people, who are here in the city of Denton who are faithful witnesses to the glory of God in our city. That’s what we’ve prayed for, hoped for, and asked God to do among us and in us and through us from day one, since Grace Temple and The Village Church came together to make The Village Church in Denton.
We’ve been asking God, “Oh, God, would you make us a city of your people within our city that is faithful to just be a witness to the message and mercy of Jesus Christ here to our neighbors?” In particular, one of the visions we’ve really tried to cast for those of you who are college students is for you to, however long God has you here, whether it’s a semester, whether it’s two years, three years... Some of you have been here for like six years and you’re still studying. That’s great. We’re glad you’re taking it slow, or you’re just taking it again and going through it again, but however long God has you here, really set your mind to think about how you might do more than just use the city of Denton.
Of course, having TWU and UNT, although the culture is changing a bit, there’s still this large commuter mentality where this idea of, I’m going to come in, and I’m going to get my degree, and I’m going to make my friends, and I’m going to have my memories, but in terms of really thinking intentionally about how I can leave the city of Denton better than I found it, in response to what Christ has done for me, for the good of my neighbors…
There was very little thought to that, and so we tried to cast this vision for you. While you’re here, be here and really seek the welfare of this city with our congregation, and don’t just use the city but be here for its good. Let God use you for the good of our city, for the good of our neighbors, that they might know more about Christ and what he has done through you.
Some of you we even encourage to stay after you graduate. I’ll admit a lot of that’s selfish. I don’t want any of you to move. I want you all to stay here forever. I’ve now realized that’s not going to happen, but we did cast that vision, and many of you, many people within our congregation did stay. We had college students who were coming. They thought they were just going to get a degree and go wherever else, but they decided, in God’s mercy, to stay here and be with us. Many have gotten married and bought homes, and now are having children, and yet the reality is most are still leaving.
Most of you who will stand here in a moment, who we’ll have the opportunity to pray for, are going to go out, and I have gone from just lamenting that to actually seeing it as a gift of God. I feel as if we as a congregation have the opportunity, and really the privilege, to steward you being entrusted to us for however long God has entrusted you to us while you’re here. Hopefully, by God’s grace, we have modeled (as imperfect as it may be) for you what it means to be part of a church, what it means to be a church, and what it means to be a church that’s seeking, by God’s grace, to love our neighbors and to share the gospel with them through our words and our deeds.
The hope I have, the great hope, is that for however long you’ve been here, you’ve had those things modeled for you, you’ve grown in your faith, and now, wherever it is you go, you go equipped to do the same things you’ve been doing here, that we’ve called you to do here. Wherever it is you’ll go, whatever job you’ll be in, whoever your neighbors are, and whatever city God sends you to… I’ve come to that place, so I really want to celebrate those of you who are graduating, and pray for you.
So if you’re graduating this weekend, whether you’re a grad student or an undergrad, will you just stand up so we can rally around you and pray for you? Well, if you feel comfortable, if you’re near them, will you stand up and just put a hand on their shoulder? Let’s just pray for these brothers and sisters. Those of you who are graduating, who were actually the first to stand, this is just a symbolic and simple way we’re attempting to say we love you.
We thank God he has had you here for however long he has had you here. For some of you, it has just been a few weeks, but we’re so thankful, and we just want to bless you in the name of the Lord. Some of you are going to stay; others of you are going to go. This is your last week in town, assuming you pass your final, so do that, and may the Lord be with you as you go. We just want to pray a blessing over you, and if there’s any way we as a congregation can serve you and help you as you transition, please let us know. Church, let’s pray for them.
Father, we are grateful for these men and women who you have brought into our midst. Some of them have been here for years. Others of them have been here for just a short time now, but we thank you for them, and we pray that as they approach this rite of passage, this season of transition, you would help them to not lean on their own understanding, but that they would acknowledge you with the help of your Spirit and your church, that they would look to you and depend on you, and that in your mercy you would direct their paths.
I pray for those, especially, who are concerned and tempted to anxiety about what lies ahead in the job market, where they’re going to go, and where they’re going to live. I pray that those moments of anxiety would actually lead them to a prayerfulness where they end up trusting you more, oh God. So I just pray you’d bless them, that you’d give them clarity, that you would help them to know you are with them and you love them.
God, we just bless you for them, and pray in every way that you’d bless them, that you’d strengthen their relationship with you and their faith in you, and then as they go wherever you’re sending them, whether they’re staying or going across the world, that you would use them as you’ve used them here, that you would help them to be faithful to love and to serve those around them for the glory of your name, for their joy, and for the good of their neighbors. We pray and we ask in Jesus’ name, amen. Amen.
Thanks for standing and letting us pray with you. If you have a Bible, turn to Acts, chapter 20. That’s where we’re going to camp out. We’re not actually going to camp out there. We’re going to be there at the beginning, and then we’re just going to hit the ground running to a bunch of different texts. Matt is obviously gone. He has been in Washington, D.C. this week. He preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church this morning.
Capitol Hill is a great, great congregation that meets right there, as the name would suggest, on Capitol Hill, and so I’ve actually had the privilege of being with those brothers and sisters a number of times now. Mark Dever, who’s the pastor, I’m actually going to quote directly tonight. I trust Matt’s trip was good, and at the same time, I’m really glad we have an opportunity tonight to meditate on a passage of Scripture together, and to consider the implications of it for our lives corporately as a congregation and then also individually as Christians, just trying to live out our faith.
If you’re a guest here tonight, I do want to just say right up front, I’m actually going to primarily be speaking to our congregation tonight, those who are covenant members of our church, so if you’re new here, or if you’re a guest, I’m so glad you’re here. I hope what I’ll say to you, whether you’re a Christian or whether you’re not a Christian, will be informative to you, and helpful, if you’re a Christian, to your faith somehow as we talk about the kingdom of God and the reality of gospel-centered multiplication, but I am speaking primarily to our congregation, and so I’m really glad you just get to listen along, and I hope it’s of benefit to you. I wanted you to know that, though.
Acts, chapter 20, is a text that has, for a lot of years, been close to my heart, and something that really, over the last few weeks, I have just felt provoked to spend our time meditating on together tonight. The big picture of where I’m going tonight is I’m hoping and praying that God would give us more moments like we’re going to read about from Acts 20, as a church. That as a corporate body, as individuals, God would provide more Acts 20 moments for us where we are, as brothers and sisters, through tears, sending people off, multiplying out as a congregation for the good of other people, for the sake of the glory and the kingdom of God.
So before we read Acts, chapter 20, I want to frame it just a little bit. If you’ve never read the book of Acts, it’s really a tremendous part of the Bible to read. It’s just a narrative that is filled with action, and you really get to see the implications of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on full display as the church is born and as it begins to flourish. One of the key figures in the book of Acts is a guy named the apostle Paul, this man who was radically saved by God.
He had an experience with the risen Christ. He was radically converted to Christianity. He went, in one moment, from being an enemy of Christians, literally persecuting the church of God, finding men, women, and children, and putting them in jail so they would be put to death for their faith… He went from doing that to actually being a believer in Jesus Christ, one who became an apostle, one sent out to preach the gospel to those who had never heard of it.
You see this all through the book of Acts. What Paul would do is go into these regions. He would go into these cities and he would preach the gospel. He would usually start in the synagogue and preach the gospel to the Jews there, and show how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, and many people would come to faith in these cities, and then he would actually disciple these new converts and begin and establish a church.
One of the cities he did this in was the city of Ephesus, this metropolitan city. You read, in Acts 19 and 20, the story of the church at Ephesus. The apostle Paul came into this city. He found some disciples, and he began to teach them about Jesus Christ (who he is, what he had done), and he actually spent three years in this city. It’s the longest time he spent with any church, at least that we’re aware of, and so Paul had a great affection for these brothers and sisters.
He poured his life into them. He toiled and struggled and labored to see them grown up into the church of God. You can actually go read some of the things he wrote to this church in a different part of his life in the letter he wrote. It’s called the letter of Ephesians. He wrote it to that church, and of course, it was a letter that many think was circulated to a number of churches, but you can get a sense of all he had in his heart toward this body of believers there.
Paul lived in Ephesus, and he taught them daily in the city, equipping these young Christians and helping them to grow and mature in their faith. As the church grew up together, as Ephesians 4 talks about, as they began to build one another up in love, as they were equipped and empowered to walk in their gifts and grow up together in their faith, as they began to understand God’s love for them through Jesus Christ at deeper levels and really believe it in their heart of hearts, as their zeal for the kingdom of God, and for others to know of this God they were now worshiping grew, God used their church in amazing, profound, powerful ways.
You know, we talk about wanting to be a city within a city here. That happened in Ephesus in the most profound ways imaginable. Spearheaded by the apostle Paul, many people, as Paul was preaching the gospel, as the church was living out the faith, came to faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, in Acts 19:10, Luke says, “…all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord…” That’s unreal, that God was doing such a mighty work in this congregation, through this group of people in Ephesus, that all of Asia heard the Word of the Lord. It spread like wildfire. In addition to just the ministry of the Word being powerful to change hearts, there were miraculous and powerful healings that took place. You can go read about this.
There was actually radical repentance and revival that happened in the city. Now we throw those words (repentance, revival) out in Christian circles a lot, but truly radical repentance and revival happened through the ministry of the church in the city of Ephesus. So impactful, in fact, and so powerful was the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul and through the church in Ephesus that it actually, at one point, incited a riot in the city of Ephesus.
People were radically repenting and walking away from their sinful lifestyles to such a degree that it actually impacted the economy of the city. The demand for sinful merchandise, idols that were made out of silver, went down to such a degree that the shop owners who were selling these idols understood the reason the demand went down was because the supply had disappeared because people were becoming Christians, and they got so angry that they wanted to kill the apostle Paul.
Needless to say, the church in Ephesus was being used by God in profound ways, led by the apostle Paul. It was beautiful. It was really a missionary’s dream, a pastor’s dream that Paul was getting to walk in, to see God answer his prayers, to see revival sweep through. Yet this is what Luke wrote right before the story about this riot that took place. It says although all these things were happening, the apostle Paul resolved in his spirit to leave, to depart from Ephesus and to go to Jerusalem, and eventually to Rome.
The reason he left, and that he was compelled to leave is because although what was happening in Ephesus was a beautiful thing, although what was happening in Ephesus was something he prayed for and no doubt blessed God for, he knew there were others who had still not heard the gospel. He knew there were neighboring cities and neighboring countries that were not experiencing the power of God like the people in the city of Ephesus were, and his burden for those who had not yet heard was so great that even though what was happening was beautiful, he was willing to give it up and leave and go to those who had not heard it.
So we get to see, read about, and really have a first-row seat to this moment where Paul left Ephesus. He actually left and he went to a couple of other towns, and he was coming back through on his way to Jerusalem, and he stopped by and he actually called for the elders in Ephesus to come meet him so they could pray with them, exhort them one last time, and say goodbye. We have that recorded in the Bible, and it’s amazing, so we’re going to read that tonight, and again, just pray that God would produce more of these moments in our own lives, personally and corporately as a church.
As much as you can, I want you to try to get on this beachhead (assuming it was a beachhead). Paul is with these men who he loves, who he has toiled with, and who he’s now leaving for the sake of the gospel. I would say this as well. The Ephesians were letting go of him, letting him go for the sake of the gospel. Really try to wrap your mind, and the eyes and ears of your heart, around the emotions that would have been present in this scene we’re about to read.
I wish I was like James Earl Jones and I could just read this so dramatically and make it wonderful. I can’t. I’m going to try my best, but work with me here as we read this, and just try to imagine being here at this scene, this beautiful, beautiful scene of what the gospel does in terms of multiplication when it changes hearts. Acts, chapter 20, verse 17. Let’s read together.
Luke writes, “Now from Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: ’You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks [Gentiles] of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ”It is more blessed to give than to receive.“’”
This is the part I really want you to look at. “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” He got on the boat and he made his way to Jerusalem, and he eventually made his way to Rome, where he was beheaded under the emperor, Nero, and they never saw him again. Let’s pray and ask God to minister to us.
Father, we thank you for this text you have left in your Word for our edification, for our good, individually and as a congregation. We pray tonight, oh God, that you would use it to burden our hearts in a greater way for those who don’t know you, those who are not members of your kingdom. We pray, oh God, that you would make us more like Paul, and even more so, make us more like the Lord Jesus Christ, both of whom were willing to leave a great thing for the sake of your kingdom, for the sake of others knowing who you are. Oh God, would you begin the process of making us into a church that has many more moments like the one we just read about? We pray and we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.
I want to just give you a biblical theology of gospel-centered multiplication. I just want to walk you through the Scriptures here. I have Mark Dever to thank for much of this work. Jesus himself once taught the disciples, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?” In other words, “What’s a tangible illustration I can use to teach you about what the kingdom of God is like?”
He said, “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” That’s what the kingdom of God is like. It’s like this little, bitty seed that falls into the ground and then grows up to be the biggest plant in the entire garden.
From the very beginning, God’s plan for his kingdom, God’s plan for us, his people, has been multiplication. That’s what Jesus is describing here. That’s what the kingdom of God is like, and that has been the plan of God all along. He actually wove it into the fabric of creation, and you see it at the very beginning of the Bible.
You read, right there in Genesis 1… We find God commanding even the creatures of the land and the sea to multiply. If you remember, in Genesis 1, verse 22, it says, “God blessed them [the creatures] and said, ’Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” It’s multiplication, woven into the fabric of creation, designed by God, even among the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air.
Of course, he gave that same command, and many more, to Adam and Eve, just a few verses later. In chapter 1 of Genesis, verse 28, it says, “…God blessed them and said to them, ’Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Not just with the animals (the birds of the air, the fish of the sea), but with man, this is God’s design from the very beginning, and you see this thread all throughout the Old Testament narrative of God’s people.
A few chapters later in Genesis, after God had wiped out the entire world in judgment with the flood, the very first thing God commands the sons of Noah to do is to, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). As you keep reading through Genesis, you see that God promised Abraham the very same thing, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, that they would be great and increase. When the children of Israel went down into slavery in Egypt, they multiplied, the Scriptures said, and increased in number. Again, it was a sign of God blessing them even though they were in captivity.
God blessed them again when they went to the Promised Land. Even when God sent his people into exile because of their disobedience, what do we see happening? Well, we see the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 29, saying to his people, “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there [while you’re in Babylon]; do not decrease.”
It’s this refrain found over and over and over again in the Old Testament Scriptures. Mark Dever says, “One thing we learn from the Bible about growth is that the kingdom of heaven will grow.” This was prophesied in the Old Testament, and Jesus (as we’ve already read) promised it as well. In fact, we sing that prophesy around Christmastime every year from Isaiah 9:7, in which the Lord promised this.
He promised that the kingdom of his Messiah would grow, saying, through the prophet Isaiah, “Of the increase of his government [the government of the Messiah] and peace there will be no end.” It will increase to no end. “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
Exactly as it was prophesied in the Old Testament, and exactly as Jesus himself taught, after the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, after he (being the Seed that fell to the ground) died, he was raised up from the dead. What you see are these promises coming to fulfillment. These commands of God from the very beginning are coming to fulfillment as the church of Jesus Christ, in the book of Acts, begins to flourish and multiply and grow.
Again, you find this refrain in the book of Acts over and over and over again. The promises of God are coming true. The prophecies of God are coming true in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, who was buried and was raised up from the dead on the third day. I’ll just read a few verses from Acts. Acts 6 says, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing…the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Acts, chapter 12, says, “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” Acts, chapter 13, says, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” Acts, chapter 19, says, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” Multiplication is God’s plan. It has always been his plan, and it’s a good plan. Just push pause here for a second and let me speak to those of you who are non-Christians. I’m assuming some of you in here are not Christians tonight.
If you’re not a Christian, and you’re hearing these things (even, maybe, for the first time), if I was in your shoes, I’d be asking the question, Why is that good news? Why is it a good thing that God’s kingdom is multiplying? It sounds to me a little bit like a totalitarian dictator. It’s like Jesus is kind of one of these guys who is after power and he just wants to take over the world. It just seems like this totalitarian mindset. Why is that good news? We’ve seen how that has ended. That never ends well.
If I was in your shoes, I’d be asking that. It’s a very legitimate question. Why in the world would the King of the World, Jesus Christ, want to take over the world, and why would that be good news? Here are a couple of thoughts. I don’t pretend this will answer all of your questions, but maybe this will just help you process tonight.
Number one, Christians believe Jesus is actually God. He is God who became man without ceasing to be God, so Jesus is God in the flesh. He’s not like these other earthly rulers who are grasping after power. He’s God, and so he already has all power and authority. He’s not going after something he doesn’t already have. He already has it. He’s already the King. He already owns the world.
So there are many categorical differences between some of these totalitarian rulers (who you might want to point to and try to compare Jesus to) and Jesus. It’s more complex than that. Christians believe Jesus is God, and so therefore, he’s not an insecure man who’s just groping after power because he’s needing to fill up some void that’s lacking, like he has Short Man syndrome or something, okay? That’s not his deal. He doesn’t have any syndrome. He’s God in the flesh. He’s perfectly sufficient within himself, and he’s already the King of the universe.
Secondly, why is it good news that Jesus is the King and he has established and inaugurated a kingdom that one day he will bring to completion, that heaven will come to earth, and God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Why is that good news? Well, that’s good news because, as we just read in the prophecy of Isaiah, the foundation of the kingdom of God is justice and righteousness. The foundation of the kingdom of God is that the Christian God has died for his enemies. That’s the foundation of the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ, the King of the world, who has all authority and power, came to earth. He set aside his privileges and his rights, and he died on the cross so the enemies of God might become sons and daughters of God. That’s why it’s good news. He was buried, and three days later, he rose from the dead, and in doing so, he inaugurated this kingdom that will have no end, that will one day finally and fully come to bear on earth as it is in heaven, and it will be justice and righteousness finally and totally flooding the earth.
So what that means is the abuses of power and the evil that remains unrestrained in our world, like we just heard about in the testimony of Rachel, will be finally and utterly vanquished because the King has come and his kingdom has come without end, and that’s good news. It is good news that Jesus Christ is the King, that he has a kingdom that he has established, and that it’s multiplying and flourishing until one day, ultimately, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The kingdom of God, the multiplication of it is a good thing.
Christians, I would even say it’s not just a good thing, but that multiplication is actually a sign of health in the lives of individual Christians and in the church corporately. A healthy church is a church that multiplies. A healthy Christian is one who is multiplying and reproducing themselves spiritually by discipling other people. Where there is health in the church, there is multiplication. To say that more negatively, where there is not multiplication in the life of a church or in the life of Christians individually, it may just be a sign that there’s not health.
Perhaps a human illustration, a physical illustration, will help, maybe even thinking of giving birth spiritually as parallel to giving birth physically. My wife is now about 39 weeks pregnant, which, for those of you who don’t know what that means, that means she is expecting a baby any day, and could actually be going into labor right now. I hope not. I’d like to be there with her, but it could be happening, okay? We are on alert, and any day now, she’s full term. Baby Elliot, our little girl, could be coming into the world, and so we’re really excited.
You know, it’s an amazing thing, for those of you who have never been able to walk through the process of having your wife be pregnant and to anticipate welcoming a child into the world. To know this little girl has been, for the last 39 weeks, being formed and fashioned inside my wife is unbelievable to think about. God, in his grace, has been good to keep her health sustained. As far as we know, the little girl has been healthy. My wife has remained healthy.
It has been a great pregnancy, and my little daughter has been growing. She’s still growing. She’s getting bigger and bigger. Her little butt now pushes this ribcage of my wife, and her feet now kick this ribcage, so, that being the case, as she has grown, matured, and gotten healthier inside the womb, it’s now time for my wife to give birth. I’ve never been pregnant, but what I hear from those who have (my wife, most especially) is there’s a day when it’s like, Okay. I’m ready, now, to have a baby. It has kind of been neat, here and there, but now I’m ready for this baby to come. It’s uncomfortable. She’s kicking me in the ribs. I’m just ready for her to come.
We’re now at the point where it would actually be unnatural and extremely unhealthy for my wife to not give birth to my daughter. We’re at that point. She’s very pregnant, and what’s right and normal and healthy for very pregnant people to do is to give birth. When they don’t give birth, it doesn’t go well for anyone involved. What I want you to consider with me tonight is that perhaps it’s the same way spiritually.
When you have a Christian who has matured, who God has poured into and raised up, who is, in a sense, pregnant spiritually, who refuses to give birth and multiply out, it’s not healthy. When you have a congregation like ours that’s healthy, that’s pregnant, and we’re unwilling to give birth and to multiply spiritually, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for us, and it’s for sure not a good thing to those people who are not yet a part of the kingdom, who we could multiply our lives out and share the gospel with.
This has really been driven home to me over the last few weeks. You know, we’ve had a number of men and one woman come onto our staff with a group called Campus Outreach. Many of you know them or have heard about them. If you’re involved here, you should know about these brothers and sisters who are on our staff. They’re fulltime evangelists over on the UNT campus. Do you know how they got here?
They got here because a church in Memphis called Second Presbyterian Church was pregnant, spiritually speaking, and knew they needed to give birth and multiply, and they came as a part of that giving birth and multiplication. They came from Memphis, and they came here, and they’ve been laboring on the campus. In response to that happening, I think about 20 or so people have come to Christ over the past year, all because of multiplication.
So about two weeks ago, Mike Turner, who will lead us in prayer here in a few minutes, and I, and a couple of our elders went to Memphis. We flew in on a Saturday morning. We were there for a day. We met with a couple of their elders, and a member from their Campus Outreach team, prayed with them, and sort of made the handoff official, where we said, “Okay. They’re now sending this group of staff to us formally and officially. They are cutting the cord, so to speak, and they’re now here as a part of our family.” It was a moment of multiplication. It was an Acts 20 moment that I got to actually sit at the table at.
You know, it was unexpectedly emotional. I thought it was going to be a good meeting. We had some ribs. Apparently, Memphis is known for ribs, so we had ribs from a great place, and we got to tell stories, and it was neat to hear what God had done. But I was not prepared for how emotional the meeting was going to be, because these men had relationship with Mike spanning back 10 years. Mike had actually been led to the Lord through this ministry, and he was really the last of the first generation that remained in Memphis, and so they were sending him out.
Much like it was for the Ephesian elders to send out the apostle Paul, it was an intense moment. It was a beautiful and intense moment where they were saying, through many tears, “I love you, brother. I wish nothing more than that we could continue to labor together in this ministry here, but for us to not give birth here would be unhealthy, and so you need to go. It’s time to go.” One of the things one of the brothers from Memphis said that really stuck out to me, I wrote down.
He said, “If we ever, as a church and as a ministry, get to the place where we’re unwilling to cry these tears and say our farewells for the sake of the gospel, and for the good of other people’s souls, in this case, other people who do life right across the street… If we’re unwilling to do that for the sake of the gospel, then we are not in a good place. We are no longer thinking about the things of God. We’re thinking more about our own lives and our own comforts.”
We have to be willing to let go, even through tears. Why? Because multiplication is part of the very essence of what it means to be a Christian and to be a church. Multiplication, giving birth, and making disciples who make disciples who make disciples… As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I want you to entrust these things that I’ve taught you to faithful men who will be able to teach other men also.” Make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. Multiply. As the Lord Jesus said, “Go and make disciples in all the nations and you watch this little mustard seed grow into the biggest tree you’ve ever seen.”
We, brothers and sisters, are a part of this now. We have joined in and have the opportunity, more fully and comprehensively, to join into this long line of gospel-centered multiplication that is the very reason we are in this room tonight. So I just want to read you a timeline of Christian history, just sort of an overview of some key dates, and get your mind thinking about multiplication and how it ends, or how it has wound us up all together in this room tonight. Let me just read you through a timeline here, and maybe give you a sense of what we’re swept up in, and what we have the opportunity, as a congregation and as individuals, to join along with.
In about the year AD 40, in Acts 15, if you want to go read this, the council at Jerusalem decides that those who are not Jewish can become Christians. They didn’t actually decide this; the Spirit of God decided this, and they just affirmed it and said, “Yeah, this is not a Jewish thing. This is a whoever-wants-to-put-their-faith-in-Christ thing. All peoples can now be a part of the family of God.” That was in AD 40 at the Jerusalem council.
In 42, Mark goes to Egypt to proclaim the gospel and the glory of God to the Egyptians. In 49, Paul heads to Turkey. In 51, Paul heads to Greece. In 52, the apostle Thomas heads to India. In 54, Paul heads on his third missionary journey to share the gospel with those who still haven’t heard it. In 174, the first Christians are reported in Austria. In the year 280, the first rural churches emerge in Northern Italy, and Christianity is no longer exclusively in urban areas.
In the year 350, 31.5 million people, or 53 percent of the Roman Empire profess to believe in Christ. That’s amazing. In 350 years, the kingdom of God multiplied from an outhouse called Galilee in Israel to the White House in Rome. That’s amazing! What Jesus promised, what the Old Testament prophesied, is coming true. In 432, Saint Patrick headed to Ireland to share the gospel there. In 596, Gregory the Great sent Augustine and a team of missionaries to what’s now England to reintroduce the gospel.
These missionaries settled in Canterbury, and within a year, baptized 10,000 people. In 635, the first Christian missionaries arrived in China. In 740, Irish monks reached Iceland. In 900, missionaries reached Norway. In 1200, the Bible was available to 22 different languages. In 1498, the first Christians were reported in India. In 1554, there were 1500 converts to Christianity reported in Siam, which is now Thailand. In 1630, an attempt was made in El Paso to establish a mission to the Manso Indians.
In 1743, David Brainerd started his ministry to the North American Indians. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded. In 1857, the city of Denton was birthed. The very next year, First Baptist Church was planted. March 6, 1949, members from First Baptist, Denton, started Grace Temple Baptist Church, and began meeting in Stonewall Jackson School until they were able to purchase this property at 1106 West Oak Street, and they began meeting as their first church home in a frame house. In 1962, First Baptist Church, Lewisville, planted Lakeland Baptist Church.
In 1978, Lakeland Baptist Church decided the pagans in Highland Village needed a church and planted Highland Village First Baptist Church. In 2002, Highland Village First Baptist Church became The Village Church. In 2005, The Village Church planted Providence Church in Frisco. In 2006, The Village Church planted CityView Church in Keller. On September 16, 2007, The Village Church and Grace Temple Church met publically for the first time as one new congregation, The Village Church in Denton.
Here we are, five years later, in 2012, as The Village Church (Denton), and by God’s grace, our congregation is a healthy, and in many ways pregnant, congregation. In God’s great mercy, he has given us the privilege and the opportunity, I believe, to multiply, to join in this long list of people who were willing to leave comfort, willing to leave their friends, willing to leave whatever it is they were holding onto for the sake of the gospel and for the good of other people. So my pastoral burden, for my own life and for our lives corporately and for your life personally, is that we would be willing to do this.
That God would birth, grow, and nurture within us a desire to give birth spiritually, to multiply, both individually and corporately. I just want to pause and say I think this is happening, so this is not a sermon where I’m sort of mad and I’m thinking about this and going, Man, we as a congregation just aren’t good at this. I think God, in his mercy, is multiplying us in significant and beautiful ways. What I’m exhorting us to, and what I’m hoping for, is more. I’m actually just being very jealous for more of what we’re already seeing.
We’re already seeing many of you get into groups of three or four, these discipleship clusters, and pour into one another and grow up together in your faith. We’re already seeing home groups growing because you’re inviting people into your groups. You’re sharing the gospel with them, or at least you’re welcoming those who are on the fringes of Christian community into your home. Your group is growing, and so it’s forcing you to give birth and to multiply out and create new groups. People are being discipled in your group and leading new groups.
We’re already seeing a number of young men who feel called to pastoral ministry be discipled here. Some of our staff are taking them aside and trying their best to model for them pastoral ministry, so one day we’ll be able to equip them, empower them, and send them out to plant churches and to pastor dying churches and hopefully revitalize those churches, to be on existing church staffs. You’re seeing dozens and dozens of college students leave every year, like we’ve already prayed for tonight.
So multiplication is already happening here. We see missionaries. I talked to a young woman this morning who is going to go to Ethiopia in a few months. We have people in China. We have people in Thailand. We have people in Burma. We have people in harder-to-reach places that are sort of illegal to talk about. We have people who are in the United Arab Emirates. We have people who have moved to different cities in our nation.
We have missionaries all over the place that are going, but I’m praying and I’m hoping for more. I’m praying that you’re praying with me and hoping for more. I would love to see more discipleship groups. Some of you who are more seasoned and mature in your faith, not necessarily because of your age, but just because of the good work God has done in your life and the ways others have poured into you… Man, I’m hoping and praying, if you’re not already, that you would turn and walk with two or three others and give your life to them. Take what you’ve been entrusted and share it with others within our body so we can be built up in the faith.
I’m praying and hoping that more of our home groups will multiply, that some of you, even though it will be hard to leave your friends in your home group, would be willing, for the sake of those who continue to come into the kingdom of God here in our city, that they can be brought in and experience what you’ve been experiencing. Listen. I know this is hard stuff.
We planted a home group about a year and a half ago, knowing full well the plan was to eventually spin off another home group from our group, and do you know what? We’re getting to that time where it’s time to do it. We’re approaching the fall, when we’re going to launch another group, and it’s sad. There are some in our group who just don’t want to do it, but the kingdom of God is what’s in view here, and it makes it worth it.
So to be willing to do that for the sake of others, for the good of others, to be willing to let go like we saw Paul and the Ephesian elders do is what I’m praying for. I’d love to see more healthy gospel-centered congregations birthed in neighborhoods in neighboring cities. Listen. I’m not talking about campuses. I’m talking about congregations. Coming from east of here, there are 60 members and about 150 attendees who drive in every week. There are like five or six home groups that meet out there.
I’m so thankful for these men and women who come in from the East. Many of them were in the last service. I thank God for them. I’m glad they’re here, but do you know what would be more ideal? It’s if we could raise up a group of elders and a pastor to go lead and start a congregation there in their neighborhood so when they invite their neighbors to come to service with them on Sunday, they’re not inviting them to drive 30 minutes.
By the way, I don’t know if you’ve talked to many non-Christians. Most aren’t into that. They’re just not. That’s a legitimate hurdle, and if what we’re after, ultimately, is more people knowing the gospel because we’ve come to know the gospel and be changed by it so much, God, that would be so ideal to have a congregation meeting right there where perhaps you could invite them to drive a couple of minutes, maybe even to walk to the meeting time.
We have about 31 members and about 100 attendees who are coming from the North, so think Gainesville. I talked to a woman from Oklahoma this morning. Aubrey, Pilot Point…that area. There are about 150 people coming, and it would be great to raise up a group of elders and a pastor to go out there and start a congregation there. We have about 85 members, 120 attendees, and about 15-20 home groups south of here in Lake Dallas, in Corinth, and the areas there.
I’d love for God, in his mercy, even perhaps from among our own staff here, to raise up men who can pastor a flock there, elders who can go and care for the church of God, and members who are willing to go for the good of the neighborhood, for the good of those cities. So there are over 200 members and 500 attendees…about 700 people…who drive in here on a weekly basis. Listen, we’re a very local congregation at this campus. There are like 250 members who live in this neighborhood. I would probably guess there are 300-400 who live right here in the surrounding area, not necessarily this neighborhood, so we’re about as local as a church can be in this day and age, and I thank God for that.
I love just walking my boy around the block and bumping into you and hearing about how you’re loving your neighbors and how we’re praying for our neighbors, and how we’re having the opportunity to serve those around us, and even getting to do that together some through GroupServe and other things like that. But man, wouldn’t it be great for these neighboring cities to have that same reality, to have a congregation that’s meeting there together?
So this is what I’m hoping: for more missionaries, for more pastors to be raised up among us and sent out. Not that we’re holding onto one another and saying, Oh, how great it is that so many people are coming to The Village, but we’re actually stewarding that so we can send them back out for the good of other people. God is not doing what he’s doing here so we can remain pregnant and never give birth. That is not his intent. It has never been his intent. I trusted what he’s doing here so we could steward it and multiply as others have done, and so why wouldn’t we do this? It’s a great question.
Well, I think there are a number of reasons why we would struggle to do this. I’ll list a few, and then we’ll pray. Here are just a few potential setbacks to multiplication. We can talk more about these things in the days ahead. Three of these things are universal. They’re not specific to The Village, so I’ll talk through those three first, and then I’ll give you two that I think are specific and that will hinder our multiplication here, at least from my pastoral perspective, what I’m seeing.
1. Unrepentant sin. Not just sin (we all have indwelling sin, and if multiplication was dependent upon whether or not we were sinless, there would never be multiplication), but unrepentant sin. Sin that is in the dark that we’re unwilling to confess will cripple our ability to reproduce, both individually and corporately as a church, and so we have to walk in the light. We have to confess our sin.
2. Disobedience is another thing that will cripple our ability to multiply. When the Holy Spirit comes and says to your heart, “I’m talking to you. I’m placing on your heart, for my glory and for the good of others, this vision, and I want you to follow me here,” and you say, “No, thank you,” that will obviously hinder gospel multiplication, individually and corporately.
3. Fear. Fear of man, fear of losing touch with others we’ve built relationships with… Again, it’s very valid. Just to be candid, I fear that. I already confessed to you that part of what I’ve lamented for five years and I’m just now getting mature enough to understand and see the beauty of is that so many of you will not remain here. It makes me so sad. It’s like right when Kimberly and I feel like we’ve walked with you for enough seasons, we’ve walked through enough hardship with you, and we’ve walked through enough celebration with you, it’s time for you to go, so I get that. The fear of losing touch, fear of losing comfort…just fear.
Those are sort of more general things that will keep us from multiplying. There are a couple of specific things that I see among our body that I think will hinder this.
1. Holding on too tightly to our community. I really do wonder if we have done such a good job at preaching the benefit and the necessity and the cruciality of gospel-centered community to the Christian faith that we have actually elevated it to a point where we’re holding onto it now too tightly. Gospel-centered community is good, but it’s not ultimate, and when we preach and act and live as if it is ultimate, the Christian life becomes very awkward because we’re now unwilling to leave these relationships.
In a very real sense, we’ve idolized them, and maybe even become codependent upon them. What started off as healthy and good and beautiful actually became something that’s now keeping us from loving others to a degree that we’re willing to leave these relationships at some extent, at some level, for their good, and so I really feel like this might be a potential setback. You know, one of the things that were interesting… I sort of have a thesis I’m considering, and you can help me consider it.
Where I really started to notice this was… I’ve gotten in conversations with a lot of people for whom community is such a big deal, and rightly so, but it has been elevated to such a degree that many people are now unwilling to ever miss home group or meeting with their community, whether it’s a home group form or something else. But man, Sunday… Coming on Sunday to gather and to sit underneath the Word of God…they’re fine with missing that. It’s really weird.
I didn’t grow up in church, but I feel as if, from all the baggage Matt talks about, I hear like it’s almost the inverse. Like, you better be there on Sunday, and it doesn’t really matter what you do the rest of the week if you’re in community, but you’re for sure there on Sunday. That was the most important thing. It’s almost like it’s flipped in our minds.
Like, as long as we’re meeting with our accountability group, that’s enough, but God doesn’t really care whether or not we come and gather with the saints on Sunday and minister to other people. He doesn’t really care if we serve the body when we gather. He doesn’t really care if we sit underneath the Word and rejoice and sing songs. That’s kind of secondary, and maybe gravy. Where this comes out is statements like, “Yeah, I just haven’t been coming the last few Sundays. I’ll just grab the podcast,” as if what Sunday is about is primarily and only the preaching. That’s such a distorted and not-comprehensive picture.
That’s a big part of what we do, sitting underneath the Word of God and let God inform our hearts, but it’s this weird thing where it’s almost like community is elevated, which is great, and people are finding it, but to such a degree that you’re neglecting other aspects of the Christian life like gathering together in this form, and like multiplying out for the good of others and letting them experience what you have experienced to such a degree that, man, you’re now wanting to hold onto it really, really tight. So I think that’s one setback. It’s the exaltation and unwillingness to let go for the good of others and for the glory of God, of gospel-centered community. Gospel-centered community is a good thing.
2. An improper view, and an immature view, of what the church is. I could teach on this as a whole other sermon, but mostly what I have in mind here is this mindset of consumerism that most American evangelicals have and take into the local church. Just to be really candid, I think one of the things that will hinder us from multiplying is that we’re just unwilling to leave Matt. We are just unwilling to wean ourselves off of our addiction to his teaching.
Man, he’s a good teacher. I mean, he’s the best. I know of no better. But I think it can be a double-edged sword, and I think many of us are really going to struggle to ever leave, to ever go to another church. We see this all the time with college students who leave. It’s like you have such a difficult time, wherever you go, finding a local church. You can’t tell me there aren’t a dozen local churches that are faithfully preaching the gospel. You just want them to preach like Matt.
That doesn’t exist, by the way. This is crazy talk. There’s one Matt. Thank God, there’s one Matt. But our dependence on him, I think, can be a potential roadblock and stumbling block to us being willing to multiply, and so I’m just praying that God, in his mercy, will push us through these things and give us a vision for this, and that we would come to love it and be excited about it, and ask God to do it in us, individually and corporately.
You know, for years, as I’ve said, my hope, my prayer, my vision I’ve tried to lead us all into and foster among us is that we would be a city of God’s people within our city, and I think God is enlarging my vision. I think what he might want to do through our congregation is to actually plant numerous cities of his people within surrounding cities for the good of our neighbors. I hope you and I are always willing to follow him if that’s where he leads us.
In fact, my wife and I watched, on Friday night, a documentary on sex trafficking, and I was just totally unprepared to have my heart just blown up by it. It was kind of like the first time I really took into account the crisis of orphans in the world, which eventually led us into this process of wanting to adopt, and going down that journey. That was kind of a moment for me. It’s like, I’ve heard the statistics about sex trafficking, but something happened in the course of an hour and 15 minutes of watching this video.
I went to bed that night and lay down next to Kimberly and just said, “Do you think God wants us to go to Cambodia?” I mean I had just got through hearing about these 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old little girls who were just being sold every day by their fathers into sex trafficking, and I just thought, “God, if you want to send me there, I’m open to going. I don’t think you do, but if it ever gets to a point where the most beneficial way you can use me is not equipping, loving, shepherding, and serving the saints at The Village Church in Denton, please let me be ready to go, whether it’s Cambodia or somewhere else. Keep me ready to say yes to you.”