Hey, church. Good morning. If you can, grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew, chapter 9. If you don’t have one, we have some on the seat in front of you. While you’re doing that, I want to share with you a story that has been really impactful for my own life. It’s a story about two Baptist missionaries named Adoniram and Ann Judson a little over 200 years ago.
The story of this couple began when they boarded a ship and headed by way of India to Burma, where this couple would spend the rest of their lives and, over the course of their lives, experience incredible hardship, suffering, and trial on the mission field but also experience unbelievable success.
Today, we look at the Judsons and say they would be considered to be pioneers of the modern mission movement. Before they were missionaries on the field, when Adoniram was pursuing Ann to be his wife, he wrote a letter to his would-be father-in-law asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and I want to read an excerpt from that letter.
It says, “I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.
Can you consent to all this for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
This letter would eventually prove prophetic, because the Judsons did, in fact, experience much of what he proposed here. Not long after this letter Adoniram wrote to his would-be father-in-law, Ann wrote to a friend of hers in corresponding and basically shared her take on what Adoniram was proposing.
This is what she said: “I feel willing and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me.”
Ann’s father never saw his daughter again, but today there are over half a million Christians in Burma because of the work the Judsons pioneered there. If you’re like me, you immediately hear a story like this and begin to place these people in the categories reserved for heroes of epic stories or the truly extraordinary.
That tends to be how we deal with something that feels impossible to us. We make it singular or special. But the passage we’re going to read today at the end of Matthew 9 and chapter 10 is going to press against that. This is going to say what we just read about the Judsons isn’t extraordinary. It isn’t singular or special. As a matter of fact, it’s normative for the followers of Christ.
Honestly, that has been the most difficult part for me in preparing for this sermon. I actually had a completely different sermon planned and text chosen, and while studying for that the Lord took me to this passage in Matthew 9 and 10, and upon reading it, I realized immediately this is what the Lord has for us.
A growing conviction in my heart for our church and our community is much of how we spend our days is actually antithetical to how the Bible talks about the Christian life. I think much of the experience of the Christian life of many people in this room has left you frustrated, disappointed, and bored. So when I read this passage I knew, “This is it. This is what the Lord has for us.”
The hardest part in studying this passage and reading it over and over again… It kind of built up, and one morning I was sitting at the kitchen table studying this, and I had to just push back from the table. I took my headphones out, and I looked at my wife, who was sitting across from me, and I said, “Baby, I can’t preach this passage.” She said, “Why can’t you?” I said, “Because, honestly, our life doesn’t look like this.” She said, “Well, what part?” I said, “Well, if I’m honest, the whole thing.”
So what I need to confess to you is the more and more time I’ve spent in this passage, the more frustrated I’ve grown with my own life because I have begun to see how domesticated my own faith has become. Since we preach best about what we need to learn most, what I’ve been asking the Lord for as I’ve prepared for this message is that he would begin to make my life look like this. So I’m going to make an attempt to preach this message as hard as I can at myself in front of you and hope that, by God’s grace, he might even make our community of faith look like this.
For our purposes, we’re going to be reading through a large chunk today. It’s 43 verses, starting in Matthew 9:35 and going all the way into chapter 10, but I want to break it down into three different sections, kind of progressive. The first one is Jesus begins by beckoning us to pray, the second is a section where he summons the disciples to go, and the last one is where he calls us to die. Let’s read through all of this together so you get the big picture, and then we’re going to dial in.
There’s much of what he’s going to say in this that we’re not going to be able to dive into specifically. There are some things you’re going to see when we get to the summons of the disciples, where he’s going to start with some directives that are very specific to this group of disciples, but then those directives are going to begin to fan out and be talking more generally to the church. Let’s read through this together, and you’ll get an idea of what I mean when I say that. Chapter 9, starting in verse 35:
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ’The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, ’Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ”The kingdom of heaven is at hand.“ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.
And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” Let’s pray.
Father, we know the goal of every Christian, ultimately, is not to die for you, but it is certainly to live for you, but in order to live for you we do have to die to us, so we ask that you would take these few precious moments we have together and prune the hedges back, that we might see in full. We know there are millions of Christians gathering around the world today to celebrate, praise, and worship you as King. We also confess you deserve more. You deserve your glory filling the earth like the water covers the sea. So seal that in our hearts today. Prune those hedges back, that we might see a bigger picture of you. We ask that in Christ’s name. For his sake, amen.
Let’s dive in here first at the end of chapter 9. Verses 35-38 are what I’m going to be talking through. In this first section, Jesus is beckoning his disciples to pray, but before we get there, it kind of gives some context as he’s entering this conversation with his disciples.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
In Matthew 9, this last part is closing out a series of stories of Jesus’ healing ministry in the region of Galilee. What do we know about that region? It’s a pretty large rural region, about 200 villages. Estimation of population puts it around three million people, and Jesus is doing some healing ministry, traveling throughout this region.
When he says, “When he saw all of these people, these great crowds,” that’s what he’s referring to, this region he has been doing ministry around and all of these people he’s interacting with. It says he had great compassion for them, for their condition. Why? Because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
What I love about this passage is we really get to peer in and get a picture of Jesus’ heart. He sees this sea of lost people around him, going about their everyday lives, and what he sees is a bunch of people who are weary and frantic, who are directionless, hopeless, frenetic, and empty, and he wasn’t frustrated with them. It says he was moved to compassion for them.
Then out of that compassion, what does he then say to his disciples? “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” What is Jesus doing? He sees this vast crowd of lost people, harassed and helpless. He says to the disciples, “Let’s pray.” He looks at the crowd, vast amounts of people, of which his disciples, I’m sure… The task of reaching each one of them was overwhelming to them.
He doesn’t say, “Grab an EvangeCube. Let’s go to work.” He says, “Let’s pray. Let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest that he’ll send out laborers into his harvest.” Why does Jesus start here? Why, amidst so much work to be done, does Jesus call his disciples to pray in this way? I’m going to argue what Jesus is trying to teach to his disciples is that, in God’s economy, human exertion is not the most valuable currency. We see this in other places. In Mark 4, when Jesus is teaching on the kingdom, he tells a parable.
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
First Corinthians 3:7 says it a little bit more directly. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” We see this modeled in the life of Jesus. Over and over again, when there’s so much work before them to do, what does he do? He pulls away to pray. I want to stop here for a second and talk about a particular struggle this is going to begin to expose.
A couple of weekends ago, at our elder-led prayer, we said the elders just wanted to take that night and dedicate that night to praying for those who are asking the Lord for physical healing. We said, “We wanted to dedicate this night and have a prayer team here. If you have been walking through some really difficult physical pain or you know somebody, a loved one or someone you know, who also needs prayer, we just want to open tonight and dedicate tonight to do that and ask the Lord to show up in power and heal.”
My wife and I were up here, and we got to pray with six different couples, and every single one of them… The Lord just prompted me to ask this question before we would pray. They would kind of share what was going on with themselves or somebody they knew. All of the ones we talked with, it was themselves, and they were dealing with some really, really difficult physical ailments, some of them for a number of years.
I asked each one of them right before we prayed… I said, “We’re going to pray and we’re going to ask the Lord to heal this, but I first want to ask you, is there any lie you are believing that you just need to confess?” Every single one of them said the exact same thing, and this has continued to be a common thread in the life of our church. Each one of them said, “Yeah, I don’t feel worthy of God’s love. I don’t know that God sees me.”
Why this particular struggle is important to understand is that if you don’t feel worthy of God’s love, you also probably don’t feel very useful for God’s purposes. If you don’t understand why God the Father would want to commune with you, it’s probably difficult for you to comprehend that he has great purposes for you. I think this is why Jesus is placing such a big urgency on prayer, because obedience to the Father’s commands has to come out of communion with the Father.
Prayer is the place where the sheep hear the shepherd, where the lies that we’re not enough, that we’re not worthy of God’s love, that he doesn’t see us, get muted by the voice of the Father who says, “I see you…you. I love you. You’re enough. I know the number of the hairs on your head. There is not a sparrow that falls to the ground that I don’t know, and you are of more value than many sparrows.”
In prayer, God roots his love in you, and what we know about God’s love is it never terminates on you; it always turns outward. I love how Andrew Murray talks about that. He says, “We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the heavenly world and can bring its power down to earth.” Jesus beckons us to pray to the Lord of the harvest for the purpose of knowing him and the glorious goal of making him known.
As we wade into chapter 10, we get into this summons. Jesus is summoning his disciples to go. It’s this next large chunk of verses. As we wade into this, what you’re going to see is there’s going to be a series of very specific directives followed by some very specific warnings. Now this series of directives at the beginning are going to be very specific to the disciples. He calls these twelve disciples to go in, first, not to the Samaritans, not to the Gentiles, but to the house of Israel.
We’re not going to cover all that, but as the directives begin to fan out, they begin to get more applicable to the church. He’s speaking first to the disciples, and then (just envision it this way) he’s beginning to preach to the masses. We’re going to pick it up here in verses 7 and 8 when he begins those directives, but I want to share just a little bit to help us frame what he’s doing. He’s giving some directives, and I want you to put yourself in this position.
You’re about to leave the country for the first time and go to a country you don’t know, and somebody is sitting with you and helping debrief you on understanding what to expect when you get there. You don’t know the culture. You don’t know what the people are going to be like. You don’t know what the travel conditions are going to be like, any of those kinds of things, and they’re trying to brief you on what to expect while you’re there.
That’s the frame of mind we need to have when we’re looking at what’s transpiring. Jesus is trying to help his disciples understand, “You’re going out. This is how you go where you should go, and this is what you should expect when you go.” He ends it with some very… We’ve already read through, and I’m sure it stuck out to you. He ended with some very extreme warnings. I’m sure we passed right over them, and we probably did what all of us do when we see things that seem so extreme. We’re like, “Okay, that doesn’t pertain to us.”
The best way I can explain that… Have you ever been somewhere where you’ve seen a sign, an actual physical sign, that says something so extreme and preposterous that, at your first glance at it, you think it has to be a joke? Like, “There’s no way they’re really warning me about that.” Except then you kind of sit back and look, and you go, “Oh, wait a minute. I guess that could happen or maybe that did happen, and that’s why that sign is here.”
Let me give you another example. We were at Yellowstone National Park a couple of summers ago, and my wife and I were at the top of a waterfall, just a beautiful waterfall with a big, steep drop, and we’re kind of on this point overlooking it, and it’s gorgeous. I look over to my right and there’s a sign. I’m not lying to you. The sign says, “Long falls can kill people. Stay on the path,” and it has a picture of a man falling in front of the waterfall. I’m serious.
If that wasn’t enough, we’re driving down the road through the park, and there was another sign that said, “Bears and other large animals can be hazardous for your personal safety.” We laugh when we see that sign, but here’s the deal. Those signs don’t get put up unless somebody somewhere (probably here), somehow (probably this is how), failed to recognize the dangers of the environment they’re in. That’s why those signs are there. Somebody didn’t recognize, “Oh, this is where I’m at.”
When we read through what we read through, when we get to those parts of Jesus’ warnings to the disciples, that can be our first reaction. “Well, that’s extreme.” You can easily justify that wouldn’t pertain to us. Right? That’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s helping his disciples understand, “This is the environment you’re going into, and you need to be aware of the hazards that do exist for you. Why? Because the environment you’re going into is hostile to God and the gospel.”
Together, these directives and warnings help paint a picture for us, as we go, of what to expect and what we’re in. Let’s start in verses 7 and 8, these directives. This is where the directives begin to get more broad and applicable to us. He says, “Go where there is great need.” Jesus said, “Go, tell them, ’The kingdom of God has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.”
Notice he didn’t say, “Go find the wealthiest, most affluent, powerful group of people and befriend them in every town.” What did he say? He said, “Go to the diseased, the despised, the dying.” He sends us out to those the world has ignored or oppressed. Why? Because the kingdom of God is almost always going to go against the grain. It’s the song we just got done singing. “When I had no worth, you paid it all for me. You leave the ninety-nine to chase after the one.”
This is the radicalness of the gospel: Jesus didn’t come just to be an addition to our lives; he came to change our lives. He said, “Go to those who are in need.” He says in verses 9 and 10, “As you go out, trust in my provision.” This is crazy. He says, “Don’t take any gold, copper, or silver for your money belts.” Translation: “Don’t take any money, your debit card, driver’s license…none of that.” He says, “Don’t even take any extra clothes.” Why? Because he’s saying, “As you follow me, you’re going to learn I’m going to supply for your every need.” That seems crazy.
We see another example like this in Luke, chapter 9, where the followers of Jesus are getting really fired up, and they’re like, “Hey, Lord. We’ll go with you wherever. Let’s roll. We’re in.” Jesus responds to them and says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Translation: “You can come with me, but chances are we’re going to be homeless tonight.”
His followers kind of start to dial it back a little bit. They’re like, “Okay. Hey, we’re still in, but I really have to go and do this funeral first, then, because if we’re not coming back… If it’s going to be like that, I have to go bury my dad. It’s an important thing, been waiting on it. Got to do that, and then I’m in. I’ll meet you there.” Another one says, “Well, I really have to go and see my mom. I have to say goodbye to her. She’s going to be upset if I leave without talking to her. I can’t text or anything once we’re gone, so I’m going to go say goodbye to my mom.”
Good things, right? But this is Jesus’ response: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for [kingdom service].” “Take it easy, Jesus. This is a bit extreme. I just want to go bury my dad. I just want to go say goodbye to my mom. Why do you have to be so extreme? Why so heavy?” We know why. What does he say next? “I’m sending you out as sheep among wolves. You’re going into danger. This is serious.”
Here we have the three warnings regarding how the faithful will be received. He says we’re going to be betrayed, hated, and persecuted. One of the things we read that makes up this… These are examples. “They’ll drag you into courts, flogging you because you bear witness to me. Brothers are going to betray brothers. Fathers will betray daughters.” He says, “Don’t fear those who can kill your body.” He says, “When [not if] they persecute you…”
What a harsh reality check this is. Right? I know exactly how you’re feeling right now. This is exactly the point where I began to push back from the table and say, “This seems extreme. This language feels extreme.” That’s because it is, but remember the message Jesus is sending his disciples out with. He says, “Go and tell them, ’The kingdom of God has come.’” That’s not small news.
That’s not, “Hey, go and tell them the new Walmart has opened up. We have a new restaurant in town. It’s really exciting. Go and tell them [such-and-such] made the Super Bowl.” (I’m not going to fill in a team. I don’t want to offend anybody.) Those are great things. They may be really, really big in your popular world that you live in.
This is the biggest thing the world has ever seen. “Go and tell them the kingdom of God has come, that the creator God of the universe is on the move to reconcile a fallen creation back to himself. God has entered into history to change it forever.” What bigger disruption could there ever be in the history of the world? Any good or great thing going on in their life then or your life now pales in comparison to the news that the God of the heavens has rendered them and come down.
We kind of get an example of this, if you’ve ever seen the movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when news that Aslan is on the move starts to move through the land. As the characters hear about the news that the promised Aslan has come, they know what comes with that promise: winter is coming to an end. They begin to look around and see the effects of winter… Things are thawing. The sun is coming out. What do they do? They gear up for battle.
We know that later on in this passage Jesus says, “I’ve not come with peace but I’ve come with a sword. This is radical news that will change everything. The kingdom of glory has come to rescue the world from Satan, sin, and death, so it’s time to gear up for battle.” That’s why Jesus is serious. It’s a radical message with a radical call requiring radical obedience leading to radical sacrifice. If I’m honest, church, this is where I push back from the table and go, “This isn’t me. This isn’t the kind of Christianity I’m experiencing.”
This isn’t the kind of Christianity we’re experiencing, if we’re honest. Most of us don’t even receive pushback for our faith. I’m not living in such a way that requires this kind of obedience or invites this kind of persecution. My faith isn’t radical like this. Compared to this, my faith looks restrained. Our experience of the Christian life isn’t radical like this. In comparison to this, our experience of the Christian life looks restrained.
I love the Christian missionary Jim Elliot. When he started telling people about the news that God had called him and his family to move down to South America to reach an Indian tribe called the Auca Indians, people started calling him crazy and extreme. “Why would God ever call you to take your wife and your little kids and move them out of your home, where your family and safety and all that are, and go to a really dangerous place where they don’t know you and could hurt you? That’s crazy and extreme.”
As he begins to experience and come up against this kind of restrained Christianity, this is his response: “We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a power the twentieth century does not reckon with. But we are ’harmless,’ and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. […] We are ’sideliners’—coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us; we are too much like its own. Oh, that God would make us dangerous!”
Before he left, his last entry in his journal was this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jesus ends this discourse with a call to die. Verses 34-38 help us understand why our lives don’t look like this. It’s because Jesus isn’t our supreme purpose. He’s just another thing. He may be a really important thing. He may be a priority on the list, but he’s just another thing nonetheless.
Jesus says here, “Whoever loves his father, mother, son, or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever is not willing to pick up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Is Jesus advocating against the family here? No, he’s certainly not. Is Jesus saying that any Christian life that is truly successful is going to end with a crucifixion? No, that’s certainly not what he’s saying. So what is he saying here?
If you think about the love a parent has for a child, you can begin to unlock what Jesus is saying. I was reading an article the other day about a 61-year-old grandfather in Germany who pushed his 32-year-old son out of the way of oncoming traffic and was actually struck and killed by that car that was aimed at his son. The article quoted the family, praising him for making the ultimate heroic sacrifice to save the life of his son.
I have four kids. When I look at them, I can get my mind around this, because I really believe I would walk into traffic for any one of them. My love for those children runs so deep I absolutely believe I would give up everything for them, my life if necessary. The power of the gospel is that God’s love for me runs so deep he did give up his life.
Everything we have talked about thus far, everything we’ve read, will just continue to be extreme rhetoric or amazing stories of epic missionaries unless we get this last verse. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Church, there’s a disease moving through every home, street, and school in our culture, and the disease is apathy.
Apathy works like a siren. It strokes your ego while it’s killing your soul. Contrary to what this disease tells you, we don’t find our lives in the fleeting pleasures of stuff, safety, and security. That’s not where we find our lives. Honestly, that’s not even where we go to lose our lives. If anything, that’s where we go to have our lives taken from us.
The key to curing this apathetic life, as Jesus says, is to lose it. Why? Because he didn’t come to be an addition to your schedule; he came to be your life. This booster-club way we play church, where we serve and get involved so our kids can play, isn’t the life Jesus called us into. He has called us to come and die, to lay it all down. And what is the end of that? That we might truly live.
One of my favorite books is a book by C.S. Lewis called The Screwtape Letters. The whole premise of the book is it’s a conversation between these two demons. They’re called demon disrupters. The older one is named Screwtape, and his apprentice’s name is Wormwood. The book is a conversation with Screwtape to Wormwood, basically teaching him how to disrupt Christians. How are you going to thwart the plan of God? How are you going to disrupt Christians? That’s the context for it.
This is a quote from Screwtape to Wormwood in teaching him this. He says, “When [God] talks of their losing their selves, he only means abandoning the clamor of self-will; once they have done that, he really gives them back all their personality, and boasts…that when they are wholly his they will be more themselves than ever.” Then he goes on to say, “A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.”
A sure way to neutralize a group of people is to diminish their purpose and divert their attention. You want to neutralize a Christian? Shrink their faith and distract them with stuff. But this is not what Jesus is calling us into. This is exactly the heart of what he’s trying to get to. I don’t know about you, but I really have grown tired of a domesticated faith with no power. I am really ready to trade in this paper-thin experience of the Christian life for something deeper.
The beauty for all of us is that this isn’t a rebuke; this is an invitation. The invitation is this: the Sovereign God of the universe is building his kingdom through the saving and sending of his people. Nations Weekend, 2018, what stake do we need to put in the ground? It’s this: First and foremost, missions isn’t a program. It’s not a program because it’s not an option. It’s not an option because the call of God on every man or woman who professes Jesus as Lord is to go.
You can go and experience the greatest joy and purpose in your life or you can not go, cop out, and waste your life. Those are the two options for the followers of Christ. We go because the glory of God is at stake in our going. We go because the story we’re caught up in is not our story; it’s God’s story, and this story ends with his glory filling the earth like the waters cover the seas. We go because true meaning and joy is caught up in our going.
The Sovereign God of the universe, who rules and reigns over all, has saved us from our meaninglessness and invited us into purpose. There’s nothing boring about that life, church. If you’re like me, this feels like we’re standing on the edge of this cliff, and this leap away from the apathetic life into purpose feels like a big dive into the unknown.
I want to read to us this verse, and then I’m going to talk about what this means for us. Matthew 24:14 stands as a promise over that leap. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This is going to happen. The Sovereign God of the universe is building his kingdom through the saving and sending of his people.
Church, this is not a rebuke; this is an invitation. This is what we get to be a part of. This is the life Jesus has called us into. In a minute, we’re going to watch a video to help lay the foundation for what we believe this means for us as a church, but I’m going to invite you, as you watch this… One thing I’m going to come back up and put before us is this means something for every person in this room.
It is really easy for us to stand back and say, “Okay, a testifiable witness in every tribe, tongue, and nation. I’m in. I want to see that happen. Somebody is going to go do that, and that person is going to be a hero, and they’re going to be the epic we celebrate.” That’s not the invitation. That’s where the rebuke comes in. The rebuke is that it’s not for somebody else. The invitation is that it’s for all of us. This means something for every man or woman in this room who professes Jesus as Lord. Let’s watch this video together, and I’ll come back up in just a minute.
Male: Jesus told us 2,000 years ago that our mission is to go and make disciples of all nations. He also promised us that only after we accomplish that task will we receive the blessing of his return. So, how are we doing accomplishing our mission? To answer that, let’s classify the seven billion people on the earth today into three groups.
Let’s start with the Christians. About 33 percent of the world’s population would identify itself as Christian. We call this segment of the population World C. (C for Christian.) It’s important to remember that not all of the people who fall into World C are true believers in Christ. They merely identify themselves as Christian because of nominal belief in Jesus or because they live in a country where everyone is considered Christian, so they would do the same.
Next, there’s the 38 percent of the world that has access to the gospel but has chosen not to follow Jesus. They have Bibles in their language, churches nearby, friends or coworkers who are potentially Christians, or access to other Christian resources in their language. These people have access to the good news but just haven’t acted on it yet. This segment of the population is called World B.
That leaves us with 29 percent of the world, just over one out of every four people on this planet, who not only have never heard of Jesus; they have no chance of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. They have no access to the gospel, no Bibles, no churches, no believers nearby, no chance to learn about Jesus. We call that 29 percent World A.
Now on to missionaries. Only one out of every 1,800 Christians in World C decides to serve as a cross-cultural missionary, so we can pull 400,000 missionaries out of that World C population. That’s our total cross-cultural missionary force worldwide. Did you know that 72 percent of all of our missionaries are going to World C? That’s right. The vast majority of the missionaries being sent out are going to the people of the world who have Bibles and established churches.
Twenty-five percent of the missionaries are sent to World B, where there is already some access to the church and to the Bible. That leaves only 3 percent of the total missionary force to handle all of World A, the section of the population without any chance of hearing about Jesus. Twenty-nine percent of the world has no way to hear the gospel, but we’re sending only a tiny portion of our Christian workers to them.
What about finances? Annually, all of those Christians in World C earn a total of $42 trillion, and, together, they give about $700 billion to Christian causes each year. That includes everything: Christian nonprofits, churches, youth programs, missions, etcetera. Can you do the math? Less than 2 percent of Christian income is being given to Christ’s causes. Out of that $700 billion given to all Christian causes, only $45 billion is given to missions specifically. That’s a little over 6 percent. In fact, there is more money reported embezzled from the church each year than is given to missions.
Remember those 400,000 missionaries? We have $45 billion to support them and their cross-cultural work, but how exactly is it allocated? Well, $39 billion goes to World C every year. Yep. Eighty-seven percent of that missions money is being spent in areas of the world that have Bibles and churches available. Twelve percent, $5.4 billion, goes to World B each year, those who have access to the gospel message but have rejected it. That leaves only $450 million, or 1 percent of all missions money, going to World A, the least reached people of the world.
To put that into perspective, annually, Americans spend more money on Halloween costumes for their pets than get sent to World A. To summarize, only 3 percent of our missionary force armed with only 1 percent of missions giving is going out to reach the 2 billion people who don’t have access to the gospel. Two billion people are still waiting for the good news of Jesus Christ. So here’s a question for you. What are you going to do to change that?
[End of video]
Okay, you can just take a deep breath. Every time I watch that, it’s convicting. This is what we’ve been invited into, church. There is a task to be finished, and that task is a testifiable witness among every tribe, tongue, and nation. What we see before us is great. There are 2 billion people in the world who have never heard of Jesus, never met a Christian, and they don’t have a shot to.
The invitation before us, as a church, and where our elders have really cast our chips in and said, “This is the work we want to be about…” We want to see the Lord use The Village Church to plant churches and reach the unreached, and those are the two stakes in the ground we want to put for you as a church. What we mean when we say missions at The Village Church is planting churches and reaching the unreached.
Why? Because the primary missional strategy of the New Testament is to plant churches…gospel-centered, multiplying churches…in every nook or cranny in this world to be outposts for gospel work among every people so the gospel can be proclaimed to every person. As he said in that video, there are 2 billion people who have never heard the gospel and never met a Christian, and only 1 percent of resources are going to reach them.
I read a quote the other week. It said of those 2 billion people who are still waiting to hear about Jesus, the Bible is an unknown book, the cross an unknown symbol, and Christmas and Easter are unknown holidays. While you and I joyfully await the second coming of Christ, these people have never heard of his first coming. So we’re going to the unreached not because it’s radical but because it’s necessary.
This is the invitation before us, church. Matt is going to come up in a little while and talk about different ways we can get involved. We have a foyer full of missionaries who are out in the field doing this work, sent by us, commissioned by us, who need to feel a church that is behind them and ready to go. Over and above that, I absolutely believe that in a room this size God has been pricking the hearts of some of you to go, that Nations Weekend 2018 would be the day we turned and said, “I’m no longer going to be the pacifist on the sideline watching.”
This is the day we’re going to say yes. We’re going to say no to apathy, and we’re going to say yes to purpose. We’re going to say no to this paper-thin experience of the Christian life we’ve had, and we’re going to say yes to the real life Jesus offers. It means something for every single one of these people. I’m not speaking to just the few of you the Lord will raise up to go and meet this need. This means something for every single one of us, because we are all either going or sending all the time. This is what we do. Let’s pray.
Father, I’ve consistently come to this in my own life and lay my own life over this and say, “This isn’t me, but I want it to be.” I’m grateful that in your grace and your mercy you turn this rebuke into an invitation, that we don’t have to settle for this domesticated faith. Aslan is on the move. The time of winter is coming to an end, so we have to gear up for battle. We know how this ends. It ends with your glory covering the earth like the waters cover the seas. We long for that day. Until that day comes, I just pray that you would poke, prod, provoke every man or woman in this room.
How do we give our lives away for the gospel of Jesus Christ? In our being here or our being there? How do we give our lives away for purpose? Oh, that apathy wouldn’t rob us of joy and that all of these things we’re amassing to be the snapshots of our lives would just be found tasteless and meaningless in comparison to this.
Thank you for rescuing us out of our meaninglessness and inviting us into a life of purpose. May you grant us the courage to turn away from apathy and leap into purpose, whatever that means. We ask that in Christ’s name. For his sake, amen.
© 2018 The Village Church