Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, "THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME." 10 Again he says, "REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE." 11 And again, "PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM." 12 Again Isaiah says, "THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE." 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In a week and a half we will asking you to vote on a vision called Education for Exultation that includes an 9-million-dollar building addition, some fairly radical debt-free funding proposals, and a way of "growing without growing" over the next decade that will call for some major adjustments in our thinking. Everything in these Sunday morning messages and in the material in the three-ring binders and in the focus groups and in the mailings is meant to help you see clearly what this vision for our future is.
My job is mainly to lay the great Biblical foundations for the vision. Without this, all is in vain. So we began with God, then spoke of Jesus Christ, then the death of Christ on the cross, then the life of faith in Christ, then last Sunday, the Word of God. Along the way we lifted up a model of the vision of "growing without growing" as we called for people to join with Rick Gamache and Randy Westlund and their families in the move to Grace Church Richfield. We will send them in two weeks.
Exultation of the Nations
Now this morning we take another decisive step in unfolding the vision of Education for Exultation, namely, the announcement that the "exultation" that we are going to be educating for in this new building is the exultation of the nations - especially the unreached, non-Christian nations of the world.
From the great day of Ola and Minnie Hanson in the 1890s to the quest for 2000 by 2000 (at the end of this year), Bethlehem has been a world-missions-mobilizing church. We are a people who believe that those who do not know and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will finally perish under the judgment of God. We believe that God intends to gather worshippers for his Son Jesus from all the peoples of the world. So we take heed to lists like the Joshua Project 2000 list of untargeted peoples (Mission Frontiers, January, pp. 33-34 - also available at http://www.ad2000.org/peoples/) -187 people groups with 10,000 or more people who not only have no Christian church in their culture, but have no mission agency or church aiming right now to put one there. They are neglected.
We see this situation and we say: This cannot remain. If Jesus is Lord of the nations and has ransomed men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9), and has all authority in heaven and on earth and has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, and has promised to be with us to the end of the age in this great enterprise, then we will not rest until the mission is done.
And to that end we will educate. Education for Exultation -among the nations. This vision, this building, is about the glory of Jesus Christ among the unreached nations of the world. To draw out what this means, let's look at the text in Romans 15.
From Church Relations to the Glory of God among the Nations
The first point I want to make is found in the flow of thought in verse 7 and into verses 8-12. How does the thought flow? It flows from the nitty-gritty personal and relational to the infinite and theological and global. You find this sort of thing all over the New Testament because it is such a God-soaked book. Notice in verse 7 that the issue is at first a very practical and personal one: "Therefore, accept one another." Christians should accept one another. We should be welcoming and loving and helpful and supportive. That is so down-to-earth. So practical. So personal.
But now watch the flow of thought as the verse continues: "Therefore, accept one another," and then it continues, "just as Christ also accepted us" - and so the relations between Christians is lifted to the level of Christ's way of accepting. Measure your relationships by the way Christ related to people. So our little relationships are magnified into mirrors of something very great, namely, Christ and his love for us.
But then there's more. Paul doesn't stop there. He tells us particularly how Christ accepted us, namely, "to the glory of God." "Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." Now we have lifted our relationships not only to the level of portraying Christ in his love on earth, but even to the greatest reality in the universe, the glory of God.
But that's still not all. Paul goes on now in verses 8-12 and illustrates how Christ accepts us to the glory of God. He does this by becoming a servant to the circumcision, that is, he becomes a Jewish man among Jews (verse 8) - to confirm God's truth and promises in the Old Testament. But that's not all; he comes not only for the Jews, but also (in verse 9) for the Gentiles (that is, the nations!). And the wording there is crucial: "for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy."
Now connect the wording of verse 9 and verse 7. In verse 7, Christ accepted us "to the glory of God." And in verse 9 the reason Christ came was so that the Gentiles might "glorify God for his mercy." So one of the ways Christ accepts or receives people, to the glory of God, is by pursuing them among the nations. And then in verses 9-12 he backs this up with five Old Testament quotations about the Gentiles praising God.
Now here is my first point: Just as the flow of Paul's thought moved from practical, personal church relations to Christ to the glory of God to the global concern for the nations, so let all our practical church relations in Education for Exultation move in this same direction. Let all our relationships and all our structures and all our buildings and all our education flow to Christ to the glory of God to Christ's global commitment to the nations. Let Education for Exultation be exultation among the nations.
Woe to us if we ever become so fixated on our personal relationships or our buildings or our educational strategies that we lose our passion for the glory of God among the nations! Let me illustrate this with a personal word and with a word about our church missions giving.
As I prepare to enter on my third decade - and probably last full decade at Bethlehem - I am keenly aware that life is short and there is not much time left. As I think about what I want to give my life to in this last decade, if God gives me life, the words of J. Campbell White, the Secretary of the Laymen's Missionary Movement in 1909, come back to me as very powerful:
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.
I think that's right. And I want to be invested in that global work of finishing the Great Commission for the glory of God among the nations. So I cannot imagine Education for Exultation that is not directed to the nations, the unreached peoples of the world.
The other illustration of this movement - from practical church relations and buildings and education to Christ and to the glory of God and to the nations - has to do with our giving to missions as a church.
Why not Give for Missions Instead of for a Building?
Someone may ask: Is building an 8-million-dollar building a good idea rather than trying to raise eight million dollars for missions? That is a good question. But the answer is not easy. How can we know for sure if building the room we are in now was the best strategy for the sake of world missions, and that the one we are about to build is the best strategy to advance missions? Well, I don't know if it is the absolute best, since there are a hundred variables that we cannot predict. But what I do know is this: God has been willing in his mercy toward us to use this building and what happens in it for the cause of world evangelization.
In 1987, we were in about the same place with regard to this building (which was built in 1991) that we are now with regard to the new building. This building, plus the Masterworks building down on Seventh Street, cost us about 3.8 million dollars. We've paid for it. The church has no debt. Should we have not built this and tried to raise that much money for missions instead? Maybe. But when I added up all the missions budget numbers from 1987 until now, the sum came to 6.6 million dollars that have been given to missions (including all ministries outside Bethlehem). Our missions budget has grown from $256,000 just before this building went up to $840,000 in this year's budget.
And the money is only one indicator of God's willingness in his mercy to bless our imperfect efforts. Right now, about 50 of our people are in our missionary nurture program, open and moving toward vocational missions. And 11 Bethlehem short-term mission trips are planned for the months ahead; that 's not counting all the other short-term efforts that many of our people will take part in. There may have been a better way than building, but we thought then, and think now, that what we are planning is a means of something very significant for the nations.
Which leads me to the second point from our text. This point simply underlines something in point one.
Leaving Security to Pursue Exultation in God among the Nations The aim of Christ in coming as a servant into the world was "for the Gentiles to glorify God for his mercy." Verses 8-9: "Christ has become a servant to the circumcision . . . and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy." What is another phrase for "glorify God"? Answer: "Exult in God." "Exultation." Christ took on the incarnation for the sake of bringing exultation in God to the nations. This is what he was pursuing when he became a servant.
My second point is: So should we. In all our education we should be aiming to produce servants who leave the securities and comforts of "heaven" (figuratively speaking) and pursue exultation in God among the nations.
Very practically, what does this mean? Among other things, it means that our vision in Education for Exultation is that our youth will be educated with a view to begetting radical, risk-taking, Christ-exalting lovers of people who will lay down their lives to reach the unreached nations - either by the way they go or by the way they send. There are only three options: you can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient.
This has a direct bearing on the parents in this church. If your preference is for your children to grow up and get nice jobs here with all the securities and comforts and wealth that go with American life, rather than to hear the call of God to missions, you will be out of step with the spirit of this church and with the aims of Education for Exultation.
Our aim in this new building and in all the vision and strategies that go with it will be that children are consecrated by their parents to God for his great purposes, no matter what they are, and that parents become like the parents of John Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides 100 years ago. When he came to a crisis of whether to go to the South Sea Islands where 17 years earlier two missionaries had been clubbed to death and eaten by cannibals, the final assurance came from his parents. They said,
When you were given to [us], your father and mother laid you upon the altar, their first-born, to be consecrated, if God saw fit, as a Missionary of the Cross; and it has been [our] constant prayer that you might be prepared, qualified, and led to this very decision; and we pray with all our heart that the Lord may accept your offering, long spare you, and give you many souls from the Heathen World for your hire. (John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891] p. 57).
That's the kind of parents and the kind of young people that Education for Exultation aims to produce.
Which simply leaves us one last question - the third point. The first point was that the personal, relational, educational inner workings of our church should take our hearts and minds to Christ and the glory of God and the global purpose of God to be glorified among the nations. Woe to us if we become so inward-focused that we lose our passion for the glory of God among the nations.
The second point was that we should aim to produce children and parents who are ready to lay down their lives and their children's lives to bring about exultation in Christ among the nations.
Now third, and in just a word, the strength to do this will come from an indomitable hope in God. Verse 13: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
The way to missions may be hard. It may be strewn with sickness and persecution. But it is not a joyless road or a hopeless road. Our aim in Education for Exultation is "exultation!" Joy! Just look at verses 9-11. "Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles, and I will sing to your name. Again he says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him."
The message of missions is "Let the Nations Be Glad!" (Psalm 67:4). Therefore we must be glad. You can't call the nations to rejoice in a salvation and a God that does not delight and sustain your own heart. So our vision is Education for Exultation - exultation for us and exultation for the nations. May the Lord prosper the work of our hands to this great end.