Good morning, Flower Mound. I need to give a shout-out to our friends in Southlake and Fort Worth this morning as well, as they’re following us on the stream. For those of you who I haven’t had an opportunity to meet yet, my name is Brian Walck, and I serve in two different roles here at The Village Church. The first is as an elder at the Southlake Campus, and then for about the last 14 months I’ve been serving here in Flower Mound as the director of global missions under Trevor Joy.
Trevor was supposed to be standing here this morning, and I was supposed to be standing in Southlake, but Trevor has the flu. We found that out yesterday morning, so we decided to do it this way. It’s my joy to be here with you this morning as we open the Scriptures together on Nations Sunday. The last week of our Epiphany series is on the nations. Last week, Matt opened up by pointing us to that great scene in Revelation, chapter 7, beginning in verse 9. It goes this way:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ’Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
A great multitude from all tribes and peoples and languages is being gathered together to praise God for all of eternity. That’s the great end toward which everything is moving. That is the great story of the Bible: God is calling for himself a people from every culture, every language, every color, every religion, out of every kind of sin, out of every kind of circumstance, a people who will praise him for his great work in salvation for all of eternity. That’s where we’re headed.
Over 2,000 years ago, on a mountain in Galilee, Jesus gathered his followers and gave them his final instructions before he ascended into heaven. In Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19, we read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In Mark’s gospel it’s said this way: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Or as some translators render it, “To every creature.” This is how God has ordained that that Revelation 7 vision should come to pass: by the obedience of ordinary men and women like you and me, obeying that last command Jesus gave to his disciples to make disciples of all nations, to proclaim the gospel to every creature.
So if that’s our task, I just want to take a few minutes this morning to ask the question…How are we doing? How are we doing as the church at carrying out Jesus’ last command to make disciples of all nations? By some measures we’re doing pretty well. Let me share some stats with you. All of these come from the Joshua Project, by the way.
Globally, an estimated 50,000 people become Christ followers every day. About 3,500 churches are planted every week. Around the world, Muslims are coming to Christ in unprecedented numbers. The number of evangelicals in the world has grown from 90 million in 1965 to 680 million today. That means today evangelicals comprise about 9 percent of the world’s population. That’s up from 4 percent in 1965, and evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world at about 2.6 percent. Islam is second at 1.9 percent.
That sounds pretty good. Right? There has been amazing progress of the gospel around the world. There are now believers on every continent in almost every nation, but there is reason to be concerned as well. Of the 17,000 people groups in the world… By people groups we mean a group of people united by unique language and culture. For example, the country of Nigeria is one nation made up of 544 different people groups.
There are 17,000 people groups in the world. Of those people groups, 10,000 have been reached with the gospel. What we mean by reached is that there’s a healthy reproducing church within each of those people groups capable of continuing to take the gospel to the rest of that people. But that leaves 7,000 people groups still to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even more heartbreaking than that is those 7,000 people groups are comprised of something along the lines of 2.5 to 3 billion people, something north of 43 percent of the world’s population.
Let that sink in for just a second. There are 3 billion people, 43 percent of the world’s population, who have little or no access to the gospel; few, if any, Christians living among them; no churches; no Bibles; no hope of experiencing the salvation and healing each one of us has received in Jesus Christ. For every 10 new believers in the world, there are 45 people added to the world’s population. In absolute terms, that means we’re actually losing ground. There are more people alive today who don’t know and have no way to know Christ than at any time in history.
Folks, that just needs to be unacceptable to us. It needs to be unacceptable that we enjoy so much, such an embarrassment of spiritual riches, of churches, of Bibles, of preachers and teachers, of resources, of podcasts, of programs like Recovery and Steps, things like Home Group and rich fellowship with one another and incredible life-giving worship like you experienced this morning…
It needs to be unacceptable to us that we have all of these things when 3 billion people in the world have yet to hear the gospel even once. So what’s the answer? I think Paul in Romans, chapter 10, reminds us that the answer is simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Let’s have a look at the apostle Paul’s challenge to us this morning. Romans, chapter 10, beginning in verse 1:
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
But the righteousness based on faith says, ’Do not say in your heart, ”Who will ascend into heaven?“’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ’or ”Who will descend into the abyss?“’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? ’The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ’Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ’How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ’Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
So what does this passage have to say to us? What is it going to take to see the 7,000 unreached people groups in the world reached with the gospel? First, it’s going to take a burden for the lost. Look at verse 1 with me. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Paul’s desire is that people who don’t know Christ would know him. He prays and he acts toward that end.
A healthy diagnostic for us is to ask the question whether we really love lost people. Not just people who are like us but people who are not like us. Matt talked a lot about this last week when he talked about racial reconciliation. How are we doing with this? Do you love those rebellious teenagers who keep leaving crap all over your yard? Republicans, do you love Democrats? Democrats, do you love Republicans? Do we love immigrants, both legal and illegal? Do we love people of other races? Do we love people of other religions?
A few months ago, I was telling a neighbor I was on my way to Beirut in Lebanon to explore it as a base for sending long-term missionaries to the Arab world. I was shocked by her angry response. “What are you going over there for? There’s plenty to do here.” Her implication was clear. “Those people don’t deserve saving.” You know what? She’s right. They don’t deserve it, and neither do you, and neither do I, but God in his mercy saved us, and most likely he did it through someone who loved us. Just speaking personally, he did it through people who loved me even when I was pretty unlovable.
You know what? God is saving those people. On a recent trip, I met a young man who was a former fighter with an ISIS-like group in East Africa. Now he’s a Christian. Why? Because someone whose life has been transformed by the love of God loved him enough to go tell him about Jesus despite their fears. How about you? Where would you be if someone hadn’t loved you enough to step outside their comfort zone and share the gospel with you?
Folks, if you have no burden for the lost, then you have to question whether you even know Christ. Why? Because we’re to be known by our love. If we really believe what the Bible says about the fate of the lost and it doesn’t burden us, how can we say we truly love people? No. Love for the lost produces a burden in us, just like it produced in Paul, a burden that results in prayer for the lost and taking action on behalf of the lost.
So, the first thing we need is a love for the lost and a desire to see them come and know Jesus. The second thing we see in this passage is that there is no salvation apart from hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 9.
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ’Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ’everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
The good news of the gospel is that God so loved the world and sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins. When we believe, we are justified, which means Christ’s righteousness is given to us. God’s just wrath against our sin is paid for by the blood of Christ. We are saved by faith, by calling on the Lord, by confessing the Lord, not by works.
Paul goes on to say in verse 14, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” Folks, if you don’t know who Jesus is, you can’t call on him. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what a “good” person you are. It doesn’t matter that you faithfully practice your religion if it’s false. All other paths other than the path of faith in Christ are the path of works.
Paul writes this whole entire section of Scripture to explain that the Jews, the people of God, did not find salvation because they attempted to gain it by works rather than by faith in Christ. Look at how he ends this paragraph in verse 17. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” People can’t believe in someone they’ve never heard of. They must hear the gospel in order to believe and be saved.
So, the first thing that’s needed is a burden, a love for the lost. The second thing that’s needed is to recognize there’s no hope for them apart from actually hearing the gospel. Therefore, Christians go and proclaim the gospel. Verse 14 again. How can they hear without a preacher? Unless someone tells them about Jesus, then they can’t believe in him. So someone has to go and proclaim the gospel. Right? Your response to hearing that may be, “Yeah, someone has to go, but not me.”
You know what? You might be right. You might not be called to go to the unreached. Maybe you’re just called to go to your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, your family members, but some of us are called to go to the unreached, and I suspect, just maybe, that might include some of us who are saying, “Not me.” I get it. It’s hard. It’s a sacrifice. It can even be dangerous, but here is what I truly believe: if you’re called and you say no to God, you’re missing out on whatever God might have had for you, and whatever you’re replacing it with…job, money, security, family…pales in comparison to what you might have had, because God’s plans for us are always better than our own.
Here’s what I think God is asking us to do: he’s asking us to pray. Jesus said in Matthew 9:37, “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.” Can we just pray this? Pray the Lord would raise up workers for his harvest. Pray the Lord would raise up more missionaries for the unreached, and would you be willing to ask God whether the answer to your own prayer might be you?
Let me talk for a minute about the requirements of someone to go. First of all, you need to be called. This isn’t something you just go do. God needs to call you to do this. You need to be equipped. You need to develop an abiding walk with Jesus Christ, because spiritual fruit only comes out of spiritual activity. You need to be resilient. You need to be able to persevere through trials for the long term, because as I said, what needs to be done is simple, but it’s not easy.
The 7,000 people groups who are left are still left because some of them are the most resistant people on earth. They’re in some of the toughest places to access, places like India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Vietnam. But listen. No one can resist God when he’s calling them. There’s no place on earth that’s closed to God. There are no closed countries to God where God can’t give us access. Did you know that?
The Reformer Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ’Mine!’” God owns it all. He opens and closes as he wills. Do you feel a burden to go someplace? Trust him to open the doors to that place.
Now let me say a few things about who can go. First of all, anyone can go, old or young, single or married, kids or no kids. All of these things are considerations, but none of them are showstoppers. I can say this. We have families with kids of all ages in hard places. We just got back from East Africa visiting an incredible family there, husband and wife, four young children. The oldest is 7. Working with an incredibly resistant Muslim people group in a really hostile place.
They have persevered for the long term. They have seen team members come and go, but they have stuck it out, and now they are beginning to see the fruit of their labor. I sat down with some of the early believers from this particular people group, some of whom had seen the Lord in dreams and visions and he had sent them to missionaries to hear the gospel. They’re experiencing the joy of seeing God move and the fruit of their hard work.
Do you know what’s the most encouraging thing to me? Just to see how their family was thriving. Husband and wife, healthy marriage, happy together, meaningful work, a business that has been started, four healthy, happy children who are not missing the trappings of North Texas at all. So if you want to know what it might look like for a family to go, we can connect you with families like this and with others.
The next thing I’m going to say might surprise you a little bit. What we really need most are not more people with Bible college or seminary degrees, or at least not just Bible college and seminary degrees. Although, yes, we want them to be biblically and theologically trained, you don’t need to go to seminary. What we need most are professionals: doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women, CrossFit instructors, restaurant managers, teachers, administrators, accountants, investment professionals, engineers, and tradespeople.
Why? Because the places that are left are hard to get to, and they don’t give out missionary visas, so you’re going to need another reason to be there. Typically, that’s going to be starting a business or finding a job and maybe, probably, raising support on top of that. You can use your professional skills to advance the kingdom. Yes, you can do that here, and you should do that here, but I love what J.D. Greear had to say about using your professional skills to advance the kingdom. He said, “Do what you do well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”
How will they hear without a preacher? Somebody has to go. Would you pray and ask the Lord whether that might be you? If you’re married, sit down with your spouse and ask whether he’s calling you to go as a family to some of the 3 billion people in the world who have no access to the gospel today. If you sense God might be calling you to go, feel free to come talk to us. We’ll help you walk through that.
That brings me to my next point. Look again at verse 15. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” Apparently, missionaries don’t just go; they’re sent. My question is…Does God send missionaries or does the church send missionaries? The answer is both. In Acts, chapter 13, we read the following about the church at Antioch, beginning in verse 1:
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ’Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
We see that the Holy Spirit revealed not just to Paul and Barnabas but to the church that they should go and that the church should send them. Then we see those same missionaries returning in Acts, chapter 14. In verse 26 we read:
“…and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
The missionaries reported back to the church the progress of the gospel. So what does it look like for the church to send out missionaries? Well, first, it means the church helps missionaries discern their calling; secondly, the church helps equip missionaries; thirdly, the church prays for its missionaries; and fourthly, the church supports the missionaries, both financially and practically, by caring for their needs both here and on the field.
Now notice I said the church sends, not the church staff. If you haven’t been called to go to the unreached, then by default you’ve been called to be part of sending those who are. What we need is an all-hands-on-deck mentality, a recognition that each of us has a vital role to play in finishing the Great Commission. If you’re called to go, let us send you, and if you’re not called to go, help us send those who are.
There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think that’s an appropriate metaphor for the announcement I want to make today. About a year ago, we were approached by our friends at the Austin Stone Community Church, along with Redeemer Church in Lubbock, and asked if we would partner with them to see teams of missionaries formed, raised up, and sent with the goal of seeing church-planting movements started in 100 unreached people groups. It’s appropriately called the 100 UPG Cooperative.
Imagine how amazing that would be, partnering together with other churches to see missionaries raised up and sent so that 100 people groups might be impacted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m super excited about this. You’re going to be hearing much more about it in the months to come, but let me just say this is a God-sized vision. This is not something one church can do. It’s not something three churches can do. We’re going to need to see God move in a powerful way among us if we have any hope of seeing this dream realized. Would you pray with us for this task?
Paul concludes his argument with this beautiful poetic statement in verse 15: “As it is written, ’How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” In my opinion, feet are not typically beautiful, at least not most people’s feet, and certainly not mine. So what makes the messenger’s feet beautiful? It’s the message they carry, of course, and what makes the message so beautiful to the hearers is that it answers some sort of heart cry in their heart.
Imagine that you’re in prison and the message that comes is “You’re free to go.” How beautiful would that message be? Or you’re living in a war-ravaged nation and the message comes, “A peace treaty has been signed.” There would be dancing in the streets. Or you or your child is facing an incurable disease and you get the message from your doctor, “We found a cure! Your child is going to be healed.” How overjoyed would you be?
Imagine that you’re far from God and without hope in a fallen, sin-filled world and you receive this message: “You can have life. You can have abundant life through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Your sins can be forgiven. You can have eternal hope. God sees you. God cares for you.” Oh, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.
Don Richardson was one of the great missionary statesmen of the last century. He just passed away two days before Christmas 2018. I tell this story to honor him as well as to cement my point. In 1952, as a 17-year-old young man, Don came to faith in Jesus Christ. He described his conversion and initial call to ministry this way:
“…I had experienced for the first time the new life, the love, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ in a personal way. A crisis came, I called upon him, and suddenly he was there, alive! In fact, two thousand years had not aged him a bit! I found he still had the same power to transform men’s lives and hold their loyalty that he had manifested in the Gospels two millenniums before.
Now the old, threadbare, archaic-sounding chapters and verses began to explode with new meaning, as God gave me a heart to understand what they had been saying all along. With Christ at its center, the universe began to make sense. By serving him, life could have eternal meaning. Knowing him and sharing him with others would henceforth be my consuming purpose! And if sharing him where his name was already known was a privilege, sharing him where his name had never been heard must be an immeasurably greater privilege!”
Ten years later, in 1962, Don and his wife Carol, a trained nurse, with their 7-month-old son Stephen set sail from Vancouver, Canada, to Netherlands New Guinea, which was the home of approximately 300,000 people from a score of Stone Age tribes. Upon their arrival, they caught their first glimpses of these Stone Age warriors, complete with bones through noses and stone axes, and they found out the people group they were going to go invest their lives with, a people called the Sawi.
Don decided to build a shelter for his family at an accessible point along the river near where the Sawi were living, and then he packed his wife, his 7-month-old son, and his belongings in a canoe and headed up the river. Here is how he described his arrival:
“We were not prepared for what we saw! About two hundred armed warriors thronged the shore, looming into stark silhouette against a red-gold horizon. Feathers bristled from their hair and fluttered from their spears. Further back, and closer to the small cut-pole house [we] had [built] three days earlier, an equal number of women and small children watched us, exclaiming in hushed tones over our strange appearance. Our paddlers grew silent as we glided in and struck shore at the feet of the armed multitude.”
Here’s what they knew about the Sawi before they arrived. They were one of the few tribes in history known to be both headhunters and cannibals. They were extremely violent, and their neighbors were extremely afraid of them. They actually used their victims’ skulls as pillows to sleep on. Here’s what they didn’t know until they got into the culture. Not only were the Sawi headhunters and cannibals but they prized deception.
Not only did they kill and eat their victims but they delighted to do what they called “fatten them with friendship,” which meant they lulled them into a sense that they were becoming friends. They invited them in, they gained their trust, just to see the terror and shock in their eyes when they learned they had been tricked and were about to be killed. Can you imagine that level of wickedness and depravity?
They didn’t know those things, but God did and orchestrated their arrival at the perfect time. The Sawi had seen how the neighboring tribes had benefited from the coming of the white man who brought with him medicine and iron knives and axes. So when the Richardsons arrived that day, the village erupted in celebration. The party on the shore had been a welcoming party. While Carol used her nursing skills to minister to the physical needs of the people, Don set to work learning the language and beginning to share basic gospel truths with them.
Imagine his surprise when he got to the part of the story where Jesus is betrayed by Judas and the Sawi thought Judas was the hero. Jesus was this guy who had been deceived by the better deceiver. Every effort to show them how wicked this worldview was failed until Don and Carol one day witnessed an extraordinary event. See, all of the benefits the Sawi were receiving from the Richardson family made the tribes around them jealous, so they began to move in next door.
So you literally had the Sawi with their enemy tribes living next to one another in this little riverside community. Needless to say, it created a lot of tension, which began to erupt in frequent outbursts of violence. In despair, Don and Carol tried to get them to stop but were unsuccessful, and they realized the only thing they could do would be to leave so these tribes would once again separate and stop fighting.
They made their intentions known to the leaders of these tribes, and they were so upset they vowed to put a peace in place. What Don and Carol witnessed that day was the exchange of two infant children, two infant boys, one from each tribe, given to the other. Each infant was called a peace child. The peace child’s role was to keep peace between the warring tribes. As long as that peace child lived, there would be peace between the tribes.
Don saw in this an analogy to the gospel, and he began to share with them that Jesus was God’s peace child and Judas had killed the peace child. The Sawi were horrified. How could anyone kill a peace child? Things flipped 180 degrees. The Sawi began to come to Christ in droves. He was able to translate the Scriptures, establish leadership, and several years later they were able to leave the Sawi in place to continue the work on their own, which they did.
Fifty years later, Don and his sons were able to go back and see the progress of the Sawi, and what they saw astounded them. There was no trace left of all of the violence and conflict. The tribal enmities had been forgotten. The Sawi had reached out to their neighbors with the gospel, and they now lived together in peace and were even intermarrying. There’s a video that captures this on the Pioneers website called Never the Same. In that video, Steve translates the testimony of a childhood friend who is now named Moses, appropriately.
This is what Moses had to say: “When your parents came more than 40 years ago, we were still living in darkness. God’s Word has been planted here. The gospel has been received. The place is full of peace. It’s a safe place to live. We are very blessed. I want to give thanks to God because the gospel came here, and I want you to know when you leave on the plane tomorrow that we’re going to stay faithful to the gospel as long as we live. It’s everything to us.”
How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. From darkness to light, from death to life, the message of the gospel carried by the Richardson family to that dark and dangerous tribe has transformed them for eternity. Brothers and sisters, there are still 3 billion people out there in that condition, living in darkness with no hope, no access to the gospel, waiting for beautiful feet to arrive. Here’s the hard truth: we have the resources.
The church has the resources. We have the people. We have the money. With God’s help we even have the strategies, but do we have the Lord’s heart for the lost? Do we have the courage and the perseverance to do what we know has to be done? It’s simple, but it’s not easy. We need to go and we need to send. How will they believe in whom they haven’t heard? How will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you that you did not leave us living in darkness, but for each one of us you brought the gospel through an individual, through a church, through a missionary. Father, because of that we have been redeemed and brought near by the blood of Christ. I pray for my brothers and sisters here, Lord, that you would stir our hearts collectively with your heart for the lost, for the 3 billion who have no access to the gospel, Lord, that we would go, that we would send.
Lord, if there’s anyone in this room today who senses that call, I pray you would continue to fan that into fire, and for the rest of us, Lord, that we would continue to send, to pray, to support, to give, Lord, that the word of the gospel might go forth into darkness. I pray all these things in the precious name of your Son Jesus, amen.