The Glory of God, the Lostness of Man, and the Gospel of Christ
Desiring God 2011 National Conference
Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples
This message appears as a chapter in Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged.
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150)
There are an estimated seventeen thousand people groups on the planet, and God deserves praise from every single one of them. Yet thousands of these people groups have yet to be reached with the gospel. Hundreds of millions of men and women who have rebelled against the sovereign glory of God have never heard about the saving grace of God. So what does this mean for our lives? And what does this mean for the church?
Gospel truths permeating Isaiah 6 reveal deafening realities that compel us to lead our churches and give our lives — and lose them, if necessary — for the spread of the gospel among unreached people groups. Indeed, the glory of God among the nations is not simply a reason for a conference or a book; the glory of God among the nations is the reason for which we have breath.
THE VISION OF ISAIAH 6
In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, we have the following well-known vision of God’s glory, given to us from the perspective of the prophet himself:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (verses 1–13)
This awe-inspiring narrative reveals life-altering realities that, if we really believe and actually embrace them, change the trajectory of our lives and our churches, particularly regarding our focus on those not yet reached with the gospel.
THE GLORY OF GOD
The foundational truth of Isaiah 6 is clear: we have an incomprehensibly glorious God.
King Uzziah had ruled over Judah for fifty-two years. Americans are accustomed to a president in power for four or possibly eight years, but for fifty-two years Uzziah had been the only leader the majority of God’s people had ever known. For most of his reign, he had sought God and prospered. But now, after Uzziah’s prideful fall and subsequent death, the people of God found themselves amidst crisis. Amidst tragedy, Isaiah was gripped by a vision of triumph. The real King was still on the throne.
Throughout history, leaders have come and leaders have gone. Kings have come and kings have gone. Presidents have come and presidents have gone — and they will all continue to go. But one King will always remain. This King is continually surrounded by angelic attendants, seraphs, whose name means “burning ones.” These angels are virtually ablaze with the adoration of God. They live and burn to worship the Holy One. Multitudes and myriads of these angels engulf his throne, all of them flaming with pure, nuclear-powered praise of God.
“There are an estimated seventeen thousand people groups on the planet — God deserves praise from every single one of them.”
Consider this: while you were sleeping last night, this choir of angels was trumpeting the glory of God. When you awoke this morning, they were still singing. As you sit here reading this book, these angels are persistently shouting his praise. And when you go to bed tonight, their chorus will not stop.
What is their song selection? It is “Holy, holy, holy.” It’s as if the angels are pulling on the leash of language to try to find a word to express the nature of the One who is before them, and the only word that comes out is, “Holy, holy, holy.”
HOLINESS IS MORE THAN PURITY
What does it mean for God to be holy? In one sense, it means that God is without error. He is perfect — period. There is nothing wrong in our God. He has never had a wrong thought. He has never done a wrong deed. He has never had a wrong motive. Everything in him is right and righteous, unadulterated and pure.
But we must be careful to think not only of purity when we think of holiness. There is a sense in which similar things could be said of the angels who are surrounding God’s throne. They are not a part of sinful man or fallen angels. In a real sense, they are also without sin. So we know that God’s holiness signifies more than his only being without error. For him to be holy means that he is without equal.
God says in Isaiah 40:25, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?” In other words, “Who is my equal?” He echoes this in Isaiah 45:5, declaring, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Indeed, there is no one like our God. It is folly to compare anyone or anything to our God, for he is incomparable.
His holiness is fittingly terrifying, and his sovereignty is total.
Isaiah exclaims, “The whole earth is full of his glory.” All of creation is a continual explosion of the glory of God. God is sovereign over all of nature, down to the point of bringing out the starry host one by one, and calling them each by name (Isaiah 40:26).
He is sovereign over nature, and he is sovereign over nations. Isaiah 36 paints a portrait of a historical interlude in the middle of this prophetic book. The Assyrians had overtaken the northern kingdom of Israel, and they were pressing forward violently into the southern kingdom of Judah. After demolishing villages and towns, they came to Jerusalem and surrounded the holy city with 185,000 troops.
God’s holiness signifies more than he is without error — it signifies that he is without equal.
Just imagine being in Jerusalem at that moment. You have heard about the dreaded Assyrians and the destruction they’ve wrought. Now they are here, outside of your home, 185,000 strong. Hezekiah is telling you to trust in God, but somehow faith seems hard to find when surrounded by this potent army.
At that moment, an Assyrian commander came before God’s people to taunt them. His words were clear:
Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? (Isaiah 36:18–20)
This confident Assyrian commander had no clue concerning the depth of his own arrogance. At this point, God entered the conversation, and his words to Assyria were even clearer:
Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your servants you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon, to cut down its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses, to come to its remotest height, its most fruitful forest. I dug wells and drank waters, to dry up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.
Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins, while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.
I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me. Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came. (Isaiah 37:23–29)
Not long thereafter, the Lord backed up his word with his wrath:
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: “He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed [as well he should] and returned home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. (Isaiah 37:33–38)
In this brief yet devastating narrative, God clearly established that Assyria was in his hands. Babylon was in his hands. Israel and Judah were in his hands. Indeed, God is sovereign over all nations.
“All of creation is a continual explosion of the glory of God.”
This, in and of itself, is good news. It is good news to know that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran is not sovereign over all. Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamid Karzai, and Barack Obama are not sovereign over all. The Lord our God is sovereign over every single one of these leaders, and he holds their nations in his hands.
God’s holiness is terrifying, and his sovereignty is total. Let this humbling reality grip your soul: we worship an incomprehensibly great God.
THE LOSTNESS OF MAN
So what was Isaiah’s response to the glory of this God? His reaction was not, “Wow,” but, “Woe.” “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isaiah 6:5). Why would he say that?
Think about the testimony of Scripture to the lostness of man. Only three chapters into the Bible, man deliberately chooses a rebellious and wayward path. Just moments after we read of unhindered communion between God and man, Adam and Eve are slandering God’s goodness and spurning God’s authority. “Let’s eat from the tree; God doesn’t know what’s best for us. We know better than him. Even if God did say, ‘Don’t eat from the tree,’ we’re going to do it anyway. He’s not Lord over us. We can do what we want.”
Keep in mind that this is the God who beckons storm clouds, and they come. This is the God who says to the wind and to the rain, “You blow there, and you fall here,” and they do it. This is the God who says to mountains, “You go here,” and to the seas, “You stop there,” and they obey. Everything in creation responds to the bidding of the Creator until you get to man, and you and I have the audacity to look at him and say no!
We slander God’s goodness, spurn God’s authority, and question God’s Word. The tempter in Genesis 3 ushers sin into the world with the provocatively perilous question, “Did God really say . . . ?” Oh, it is a dangerous thing to subject God’s word to man’s judgment. Here in Genesis 3, man discounts divine truth with misplaced confidence in human thought.
One of the most tragic chapters in all of Scripture, Genesis 3, ripples throughout the rest of the Bible. From one man’s sin comes condemnation for all men (Romans 5:12, 18), and the portrait of man’s lostness pervades every page of Scripture. We are cast out from God’s favorable presence (Genesis 3). We are alienated from God and hostile toward him (Colossians 1:21).
We are cut off from God (Romans 11:22), condemned by God (Romans 5:10), and at enmity with God (James 4:4). We are separated from Christ (Ephesians 2:12). We are slaves to sin (John 8:34) and dominated by Satan (2 Timothy 2:26). We are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and lovers of darkness (John 3:20) who have been darkened in our understanding (Ephesians 4:18). We live in impurity and lawlessness (Romans 6:19).
The lostness of man affects each of us individually and all of us collectively. Our minds are depraved. Romans 1:21–23 makes clear that our claims to be wise are full of foolishness, for we have exchanged “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Our minds are debased (Romans 1:28), blinded to truth by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Our emotions are disordered. Our hearts are sinful (Romans 1:26) and the wicked passions of our flesh wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). Our minds are depraved, our emotions are disordered, and our bodies are defiled. We degrade our bodies with one another (Romans 1:24). Hear the humbling testimony of Paul in Romans 3:10–18 as he draws upon Old Testament truth:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In our lostness, we are morally evil. The start of Scripture describes how every inclination of our hearts is evil from childhood (Genesis 8:21). According to Jesus, we are spiritually sick (Matthew 19:12). In the end, we are all continually perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:9).
Do we realize all of this? Our problem is not simply that we have made some bad decisions. Our problem is not just that we’ve messed up. Our problem is that we are — at the very core of our being — sinfully lost, cut off from God, condemned by God, and consequently destined for hell.
Our sin before an infinitely holy God warrants infinitely horrifying judgment. This is the clear truth of all Scripture. Scottish professor James Denney once said, “If there is any Scripture at all, this is true — that those who stubbornly refuse to submit to the gospel, and to love and obey Jesus Christ, incur at the Last Advent an infinite and irreparable loss. They will pass into a night on which no morning dawns” (James Denney and Alexander Maclaren, The Epistles of St. Paul to the Colossians and Philemon, Expositor’s Bible, vol. 31 [New York: Armstrong, 1905], 300).
We say things like, “We had a hell of a time.” Or, “We played a hell of a game.” Or, “That was a hell of a song.” The way we talk about hell shows that we have no idea what we are talking about.
Hell is a place of fiery agony. Hear Jesus in Mark 9:43–48: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. . . . And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” In the words of Revelation 20:15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Similarly, Revelation 21:8 envisions hell as “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.”
You say, “Well, isn’t fire just an image in these passages? Aren’t these verses symbolic?”
Maybe. But if they are symbols, what are they symbols for? A wintry retreat or a summer vacation? No, these are symbols that stand for something much worse. Surely burning fire and smoking sulfur are not symbols for a nice place to be. They are symbols for a terrifying place to be.
Hell is a place of conscious torment (Luke 16:22). It is a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13). It is a place of divine destruction where people are separated from the presence of the Lord and the power of his might (2 Thessalonians 1:9). And most horrifying of all, hell is a place of eternal duration.
“The way we talk about hell shows that we have no idea what we are talking about.”
John writes about the unbelieving being punished in hell in Revelation 14:11, saying, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” Thomas Watson said, “The wicked in hell shall be always dying but never dead; the smoke of the furnace ascends for ever and ever. Oh! who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? The word ‘ever’ breaks the heart” (Thomas Watson, quoted in The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, [Moody, 1975], 137).
Listeners of George Whitefield were “urged to consider the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which they would realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place” (Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait, [Vintage, 1973], 240).
Oh, who of us can even begin to grasp the everlasting horror of hell? We are not just playing games here. There is real, everlasting wrath awaiting lost sinners before a holy God. We cannot be ignorant of this, and we must not be indifferent to this. We must refuse to be numbed by the temporary pleasures of this world in a way that prevents us from feeling the eternal weight of heaven and hell.
This is why Isaiah said, “Woe is me, for I am lost.” His lostness is not his own. It is shared by all humanity, including hundreds of millions of unreached men and women. They — and we — are sinfully lost apart from Christ. Cut off from God, condemned by God, enemies of God, slaves to sin, dominated by Satan, children of wrath, lovers of darkness, with depraved minds and disordered emotions and defiled bodies, morally evil, spiritually sick, continually perishing, and destined to hell. This is the condition of man before God.
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
God is incomprehensibly glorious, and man is sinfully lost. The stage is thus set for good news as Isaiah cries out in depravity, and the Lord responds in mercy.
God commands the seraphs to take a live coal from the altar and touch Isaiah’s lips, and then he says these words: “Behold . . . your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Consider the scandal of such a statement. Isaiah is guilty. He is a responsible sinner in the presence of a righteous God.
How, then, is it possible for this holy God (who does everything right and is in all ways just) to look at a guilty sinner and declare, “You are innocent”? No matter who we are — whether we’re conservative, progressive, or liberal, or carry some other label — we have a sense of right and wrong. We expect right to be praised, we expect wrong to be condemned, and we expect God to do the same. So how can God, in his perfection, look at that which is totally rebellious and say, “You are perfectly righteous”?
This is where Isaiah 6 doesn’t give us the complete story. We need to travel over to Isaiah 53 to see the continuation of this portrait of a God who takes the altar of sacrifice and turns it into a place of salvation. It’s a picture that God had set up among his people for generations through offerings, feasts, celebrations, and special days.
Remember the Passover. Families would take a lamb into their homes and then slaughter it only days later. They would take its blood and put it over their doorposts to show that the price for sin had been paid — death.
Fast-forward to the Day of Atonement and you see two offerings. One is sacrificed, its blood sprinkled over the atonement cover to show that the penalty of sin — death — had been doled out. Then the priest would take the other sacrifice, the scapegoat, and place his hands on the goat’s head to symbolically show the passing of sin from the people onto the goat.
After the priest confessed the people’s sins, the sacrificial goat was taken into the wilderness, outside the camp, never to return again. It was a picture of God removing sins — taking sins away — and the same Hebrew word that is used in Leviticus 16:22 (“the goat shall bear”) is used in Isaiah 53:4–6 (“he has borne our griefs”) to describe what Christ the Servant will do for us:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
In this sobering prophecy of a suffering servant, we discover that Christ will endure the penalty of sin. All the physical suffering we see on the cross is a visible demonstration of the penalty for sin.
But that is not all. The servant will not only endure the penalty of sin; the servant will stand in the place of sinners. Isaiah draws us into this passage by repeatedly using the first-person plural pronoun. No less than ten times in three verses, we see what Jesus will do in our place — in our stead. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We esteemed him stricken. He was pierced for our transgressions. Crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
DOES GOD HATE SINNERS?
Not long ago, I wrote a book called Radical that attracted publicity in a variety of different places. In one local news article, a Birmingham News reporter took a quote from the book and wrote: “While it’s a common pulpit truism that God hates sin but loves the sinner, Platt argues that God hates sinners.”
Indeed, it was a direct quote taken from the book, but the article obviously included no context from which the quote was taken. So church members started e-mailing me, asking, “Pastor, do you believe that God hates sinners?” People in the city e-mailed me, not so kindly, saying, “You’re preaching hatred in that church and all over our city.” This is one of those places where I found myself in a bit of trouble for quoting the Bible.
Does God hate sinners? Look closely at Psalm 5:5–6: “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
And this is not an isolated statement in Scripture. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we see God’s hatred toward the sinner, his wrath toward the liar, and so on. The Old Testament does not stand alone here. In John 3 — that chapter where we have one of the most famous verses about God’s love — we also have one of the most neglected verses about God’s wrath (John 3:36).
All of this begs the question: Is it true that God hates the sin but loves the sinner?
Well, yes, of course, in one sense. But not completely. Think about it.
When we see God’s holy hatred of sin and God’s righteous wrath upon sin, this sin is not something outside of us. We have a tendency to think that when Jesus went to the cross, he died for our lusting, our lying, our cheating, and our doing this or that, as if our sin is outside of us. But sin is not outside of us; it is at the core of who we are.
When Jesus went to the cross, he wasn’t just enduring the penalty of sin; he was standing in the place of sinners. When he was crushed and bruised and literally pulverized under the weight of God’s wrath, Isaiah 53 says he was doing this in our place. He was taking the full payment due you and me as sinners. In this way, we must be careful not to lean on comfortable clichés in Christianity that may rob the cross of its meaning.
The startling reality is clear: we are sinners. In the words of Isaiah, “We all like sheep have gone astray.” Obviously there are many preachers today who would say, “You’re good. You’re fine. Trust in yourself. Believe in yourself.” Don’t believe them. We are dumb sheep. Even the smartest, most intellectual reader of this book is a dumb sheep lost in sin and walking his own foolish way apart from Jesus. We are all sinners, and God is completely holy, possessing righteous hatred toward sin and sinners alike.
Jesus was pulverized under the weight of God’s wrath — as he stood in our place.
Yet God also possesses holy love toward sinners. So how can God show both holy hatred and holy love toward sinners at the same time? This is the climactic question of the Bible, and the answer is the cross. At the cross, God showed the full expression of his wrath. Look at the verbs in Isaiah. He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, crushed, and chastised.
So does God hate sinners? Yes. Look at the cross.
But does God also love sinners? Yes. Look at the cross.
God in Christ does all of this for the salvation of sinners who warrant his wrath. For every sinner who trusts in the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Christ, God declares loud and clear, “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” He remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). This doesn’t mean that God has amnesia. He knows everything. The beauty of the gospel is that God knows every single sinful thought and thing you and I have ever had or done, and by the grace of Jesus, the promised servant, God does not count any of those sins against us.
NO RECORD OF ANY WRONG
I heard a story once about an Englishman who bought a Rolls Royce. It had been advertised as the car that would never, ever, ever break down. So the man bought the Rolls Royce at a hefty price and was driving it one day when, to his surprise, it broke down. He was far away from town so he called and said, “Hey, you know this car that will never break down? Well, it’s broken down.”
Immediately, a Rolls Royce mechanic was sent via helicopter to the location where the car was broken down. The car was fixed, and the man went on his way. Naturally, the man expected to get a bill from Rolls Royce. It was clearly expensive for them to provide such service (not often does a mechanic fly to where your car is broken down!), and he wanted to get the whole ordeal behind him.
So when the bill had not yet come a few weeks later, the man called Rolls Royce and said, “I’d like to go ahead and pay my bill for my broken-down car so that we can get this behind us.” In turn, Rolls Royce responded by saying, “Sir, we are deeply sorry, but we have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong with your car.”
Consider it! For all who turn from themselves and their sin to trust in Christ as savior and king, the God of the universe looks at your life and says, “I have absolutely no record of anything ever having gone wrong in your life.” In fact, because we are clothed in Christ, he says the exact opposite: “I have a record of everything having gone right in your life.”
That is a scandal.
We have a scandalously merciful Savior. And if this is all true — if we have an incomprehensibly glorious God, if we are a sinfully lost people, and if we have a scandalously merciful Savior — then only one conclusion remains. Brother or sister, we have an indescribably urgent mission.
AN URGENT MISSION
Surely this God warrants more than our raising a hand and praying a prayer. Surely this God warrants more than nominal adherence, church attendance, or casual acceptance. This God warrants complete abandonment of our plans, our possessions, our hopes, our dreams, and our lives. We lay everything we have on the table before this God, and we say, “Use me — my life, my family, my church, everything I have and everything I am — for the spread of your glory and this gospel to the ends of the earth.” Indeed, the only logical response to this glorious God of grace is, “Here am I. Send me.”
“Does God hate sinners? Yes. Look at the cross. Does God love sinners? Yes. Look at the cross.”
So let us apply these truths to the unreached, moving from Isaiah 6 specifically to Romans 1. Consider over six thousand people groups comprising more than 2.5 billion people who have little to no access to the gospel. Why must we lead our churches and give our lives — even lose them, if necessary — to spread this gospel to unreached peoples? Why must we go to them with urgency? Consider three reasons.
First, we must go with urgency because multitudes of unreached peoples have a knowledge of God that is only sufficient to damn them to hell. Romans 1:18–20 is clear:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Every unreached person in the world — every man in an African jungle, every woman in an Asian village, every person in a forgotten tundra — all of them have a knowledge of God that exposes the lostness of their hearts. The revelation of God that they have received is sufficient to show them that God is glorious and they are guilty. And that’s all they have.
You say, “Well, what happens to the innocent guy in Africa who never hears the gospel?” The answer to this question is simple. Based upon the authority of God’s Word, the innocent guy in Africa who never hears the gospel will absolutely go to heaven. The only problem is that the innocent guy in Africa does not exist. If he were innocent — which is the way this question is normally phrased — why would he need the gospel? He has no sin to be saved from.
However, there are no innocent people in the world waiting to hear the gospel. As we have seen, there are guilty people all over the world needing to hear the gospel, and that’s why we must go to them — precisely because they are guilty. No one is innocent.
As you feel the weight of your lostness that drives you to God’s grace, feel that weight for people who have enough knowledge of God to show them they are lost but nothing more. Over 2.5 billion people have just enough knowledge of God to damn them to hell.
THE GOSPEL: POWERFUL ENOUGH TO SAVE
This leads us to the second reason why we must go to the unreached: the gospel of God is powerful enough to save them for heaven. This gospel of a scandalously merciful Savior is good news for every person and every people group on the planet. And this gospel works!
Consider this true story from an impoverished area in east India. Rajesh is a pastor who lives in one of the most spiritually and physically desolate places in India — home to the poorest of the poor and only 0.01 percent evangelical. The death rate in Rajesh’s area is about five thousand people per day, which means that every day 4,950 people are plunged into hell.
For generations, the spiritual ground around Rajesh has been hard, and the physical poverty has been harrowing. Rajesh was at the end of his rope in his ministry, but he went to a conference on disciple making and church multiplication where he was encouraged, refreshed, and renewed.
At this conference, Rajesh was challenged to walk into a totally unreached village and say to the first person he met, “I’m here in the name of Jesus, and I would like to pray for you and your village.” Rajesh rolled his eyes, thinking that would never work. But because he was at the end of his rope, he agreed to try it. He went into an unreached village, approached the first man he saw, and said, “I’m here in the name of Jesus, and I’d like to pray for you and your village.”
The beauty of the gospel is that, because of Jesus, the God who knows all of our sin does not count any of them against us.
This man replied, “I’ve never heard about Jesus. Can you tell me more about him?”
Surprised, Rajesh responded, “Sure.”
The man said, “Wait, I want to have my friends here, too.”
So Rajesh followed this guy to a home where in a matter of minutes he found himself surrounded by a group of people wanting him to tell them about Jesus. Within two weeks, twenty-five of them had placed their faith in Christ for salvation. Then those new believers decided, “Why don’t we start doing the same thing that Rajesh did for us?” In the days that have followed, churches have been planted in 115 different villages in that area.
This gospel is powerful.
This is why you can go with confidence to the hardest, most difficult places and peoples on the planet. When we send people out from our church, we are sending them out with death-defying conviction that this gospel has the power to save. When we adopt a people group, we know that people group one day will be represented around the throne of Christ in Revelation 7.
So no matter how challenging it may seem, we preach the gospel, knowing that someone in every people group is going to respond in faith. Indeed, there is not a people group on the planet that is beyond the power of God to save. And people who believe this cannot sit on this gospel. People who believe this will eagerly leave their comforts and gladly give their lives proclaiming this gospel among the nations.
THE GLORY OF GOD: GOOD ENOUGH TO SATISFY
We must take the gospel to unreached people groups because their knowledge of God is only enough to damn them to hell, and the gospel of God is powerful enough to save them for heaven. This leads us to the final and ultimate reason why we must take this gospel to the unreached: because the glory of God is good enough to satisfy them forever.
There is coming a day when our scandalous Savior and sovereign King will return, and he will surround himself with a throng from every people group, nation, tribe, and tongue. We will see his face, and together we will be glad in his glory. This is the definitive reason why we rise and say without condition and regardless of cost, “Here we are, Lord, send us.” This is what we live for. This is what we die for. Indeed, this is why we have breath.
More Messages from Desiring God 2011 National Conference
The Galactic God Who Invites Us Into His Glorious Plan (Louie Giglio)
Christ, Courage, and Finishing the Mission (Michael Ramsden)
The Church, the Neighborhood, and the Nations (Ed Stetzer)