And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.
The most important event that has ever happened since the creation of the world is the coming of Jesus Christ, God's Son, into the world. Therefore the most important thing anybody could ever learn, or any church could keep clear in its vision, is why Christ came. If Christ is the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe as the Scripture says (1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16–17; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:3), and if the purpose for which he came is not yet completed, and if the church is his bodily instrument for finishing that purpose, then no knowledge is more important than the knowledge of why Christ came to this earth.
Why Christ Came to Earth
Therefore on this point God willed that the Bible speak with unmistakable clarity. Luke 19:10, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Mark 10:45, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many." Romans 15:8–9, "Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." Then, to show that this has been God's purpose from generations past, Paul quotes from 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah. God's purpose is to be glorified among all the nations for his mercy. First, Paul quotes 2 Samuel 22:50, "I will praise you among the nations and sing to your name." Then, he quotes Deuteronomy 32:43, "Rejoice, O nations, with his people." Then, Psalm 117:1, "Praise the Lord, all nations, let all the peoples praise him." Finally, he quotes Isaiah 11:10, "The root of Jesse shall come, and he who rises to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope."
The point of these Old Testament quotations in Romans 15:9–12 is to show that God's purpose in dealing with Israel was always to reach the other nations and to be glorified in them for his mercy. Therefore, when God sent Christ into the world, the purpose was not only to confirm his promises to Israel but also through that to cause the nations to glorify God for his mercy.
So why did the most important event in world history happen? It happened in order that the nations—the Aborigines of Australia, the Gola of Liberia, the Yambasa of Cameroon, the Gypsies in Yugoslavia, the Hispanic and Lao and Hmong and Ojibwa and whites of Minnesota—that some day "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14). The purpose of Christ's coming is that all the peoples of earth might glorify God for his mercy. And what is this mercy? Simply this: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost; Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Putting it all together then: God sent his Son into the world to save sinners from every nation so that they would glorify him for his mercy.
The Purpose of Christ's Coming Is Not Yet Complete
That truth is as clear and sure as anything in the Bible. But there is another truth just as clear and sure: this purpose of God in sending his Son has not been completed. There are hundreds of peoples on the earth to whom salvation has not been preached and thousands more where his witness is faint and no band of believers spread his salvation and glorify him for his mercy. Since 1979 the Missions Advanced Research and Communications Center of World Vision has published a whole book of Unreached Peoples every year. The purpose of Christ's incarnation is not complete. That is clear.
Christ's Mission Is Passed On to the Church
And a third truth is clear. The mission of Christ to seek and save the lost has been passed on to you and me, the church. Jesus said to his disciples in John 20:21, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you." Few things could be clearer—the purpose of the body of Christ is to extend the mission of Christ in the world. Someone may ask, "How do we know that the words, 'Go and make disciples of all nations,' were not intended just for the apostles but also for us?" The answer is that the supporting promise was, "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20). This age is still going on. The apostles are dead and gone. But the promise remains: "I will be with you to the close of the age." So the "you" in that promise and the command it supports cannot be limited to the apostles. That promise belongs to the church until the close of this age, and the reason it does is to empower us to complete the Lord's charge. "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations."
But someone else might object: "No, the mission of Christ to seek and save the lost was not passed on to the church but only to the clergy, the vocational ministers and missionaries. It doesn't apply to everybody." There are two answers to this objection:
- It is unthinkable that the cause for which Christ came, lived, suffered, and died should not be the cause of everyone who loves Christ.
- 1 Peter 2:9 says to the whole church, laity and clergy: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." And two verses later Peter commands us all (v. 12), "Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that . . . they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
So the objection will not stand. "As the Father has sent me, so send I you" means that the unfinished mission of Jesus Christ to seek and save the lost so that redeemed people from every nation glorify him for his mercy—that unfinished mission is our mission, not just the apostles', not just the clergy's, but yours and mine as those who have already been saved through faith.
We Must Have Strategies to Pursue the Lost
These three truths lead to an inevitable conclusion about the priorities of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
- Truth one: God sent his Son into the world to save sinners from every nation so that they would glorify him for his mercy (Romans 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:15).
- Truth two: this purpose of God has not yet been completed.
- Truth three: Christ has passed on to the church his mission to seek and save the lost. As long as this age lasts, our charge from Jesus is to tell of his salvation with our lips and show his love with our lives so that people from every tongue and tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9) will be saved by faith and give him glory for his mercy.
The conclusion that follows from these three truths is that strategies and actions to seek and save the lost (especially where they have least opportunity to hear the gospel) must have high priority in the life of our church.
Three Biblical Priories in Ministry
Now let me put this priority in a wider context and then spell out some practical implications that I get excited about. For three weeks now we have been unfolding and supporting three biblical priorities of ministry to guide and measure our success as a church.
- The first priority was going hard after the holy God.
- The second priority was helping each other endure to the end, or meeting together to stir each other up to love and good works.
- The third priority, today, is moving out beyond our Christian fellowship to seek and save the lost that the peoples might glorify God for his mercy.
You can test your growth and maturity as a part of Christ's body by how you are doing in each of these three relationships. Are you going hard after God in prayer and meditation and worship? Are you meeting with other believers in a group small enough to give and receive personal biblical exhortation and encouragement for faith and love? Are you planning and pursuing your own personal strategy for how to seek and save the lost for the glory of God?
I regard it as extremely important to see how these three priorities relate to each other: worship toward God, exhortation toward each other, and witness toward the world. In one sense, growth in each of these priorities intensifies growth in the other two.
- The deeper your adoration of God in worship, the more precious to you will be the assembly of his people and the more compelling will be his purpose to seek and save the lost.
- Giving and receiving biblical exhortation in a loving support group will cause your heart to long more to go hard after the holy God and will give you courage and excitement to plan your life for the cause of witness and missions.
- The more you strategize and fight to liberate Satan's captives in the world, the more you will be driven back to your fellow believers for prayer and encouragement and the more you will delight in God when you see him show his power through you.
So in a sense, each priority in our philosophy of ministry intensifies the others. Genuine growth in one area leads to growth in the other two. And no one should ever say he is called only to one or two of the priorities. All are essential to Christian obedience.
The Starting and Ending Point of All Ministry
But the most important thing about how the three priorities relate has not yet been said. The most important thing to say is that priority 1, adoring the glory of God from a heart of faith and going hard after more and more of God, is the starting point and ending point of all ministry. It is love for God that enables us to come together in small groups as fellow-believers. But those groups are a failure if they don't cause us to love God more. Priority 1 is the starting and ending point of all Christian nurture (priority 2).
The same is true for Christian witness and mission to the world. We would never undertake it if we had not first met and trusted and loved God. Our joy in his mercy is the starting point of witness and missions. But what is the goal of mission strategy and personal witness? To seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Yes! But the driving motivation for witness and missions is not fully known until we say with Paul that the goal is for the nations to glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:9). Love for the glory of God is the starting point and ending point of personal witness and mission strategy.
But I don't want us to make the mistake here of separating the desire for people's salvation and the desire that God be glorified. Think for a moment: What happens when a person who is lost becomes saved? Objectively, they pass from death to eternal life, from condemnation to justification, from alienation to reconciliation with God. Subjectively, they cease to rely on themselves or good works or idols and rely on God's mercy. They cease to glory in themselves and begin to glory in the cross of Christ and the grace of God. When salvation comes to the lost a new heart is given which glorifies God by trusting in him and enjoying him and obeying him.
Do you see what this means? Seeking the glory of God and seeking the salvation of the lost are not two distinct goals. The salvation of the lost is the new creation of persons who glorify God for his mercy. If you love people, you will want for them more than anything else the maximum eternal joy of knowing God as Savior in Jesus Christ. And if you love God, you will want nothing more than that his glory be known and enjoyed and magnified by the salvation of as many people as possible. It is the genius and beauty and wonder of God's redemption that the pursuit of the lost and the pursuit of God's glory are one pursuit.
Five Practical Suggestions for Pursuing the Lost
Let me draw things to a close now with some practical suggestions for how to move out in priority 3, our commitment to seek and save the lost, especially those who have least opportunity to hear the gospel.
1. Pursue the Fire
Every Christian has tasted the fire of adventure, the thrill of a new idea, a new way to invest your life with joy and meaning. Pursue that fire, because Satan has his hell-hoses directed against it all the time. It may mean getting up in the middle of the night and listening to a John Michael Talbot album like Tom did, or reading The Crest of the Wave (Peter Wagner) or In the Gap (David Bryant) or a great biography, or going to Urbana '84 or the A.C.M.C. annual conference. Find what fans the coals of your heart for missions and pursue it. God touched us last November during the missions conference. I'll never be the same. And I am reading and praying and fasting to keep the fire hot. I strongly recommend that you build regular times of fasting prayer into your lives to help you preserve a sense of urgency about the battle we are in. For myself, I don't know any other way to maintain a wartime mentality with my shield poised and my sword flashing for the liberation of Satan's captives.
2. Plan Your Personal Strategy
We are all different. And none of that is accidental. All your inferiorities and superiorities fit you to make a contribution to priority 3 that no one else can make. But it won't happen if you don't plan. Get yourself a dream team to brainstorm with you about what strategies are just for you. Think about every part of your life and ask, How should my commitment to priority 3 affect what I wear and eat, what I do for recreation, what I read, what I watch on TV, where I buy a house, what job I take, what groups I belong to, how I pray with my children, which way I walk to the store? It is far too vague to simply say, "I live for the glory of God." All of us need a more specific integrating vision for our lives. Streamlining and strategizing how to be uniquely you in personal witness and frontier mission will provide very specific direction for your life, and bring more glory to God than any other integrating vision.
I'm sure some of you feel like saying, "You talk like we're all spiritual thoroughbreds raring to break out of the box and run for Jesus with all our might. If you knew the mess my life and my family were in, you wouldn't call us to the front-lines for battle. You'd take us to the infirmary." You may be right. I might. The healing, nurturing role of priority 2 is very important.
But I want you to consider a possibility. Could it be that part of the reason you and your family are in such a mess is because your life is lacking a noble adventure? You don't have a cause big enough to live for. You go through your daily routine and it all seems so unimportant in terms of what really counts. And so you feel frustrated, often guilty, then fearful, then irritable—and life is an ever-downward spiral of boredom, meaninglessness, and petty problems. Could it be that the infirmary you need is the front-lines, or at least a plan and a strategy so that you can see more and more of your life as essential support and back-up for the front-lines? I really believe that more family and personal problems than we imagine would be healed indirectly if individuals and families turned outward and threw themselves into the greatest cause in the history of the world.
Pursue the fire. Plan your personal strategy. And, third,
3. Participate in Some Group Devoted to Outreach or Missions
Steve leads teams of our members every Monday night in visitation. He provides training and help. There's fellowship and support. You are welcome tomorrow night at 6:45. Call Steve if you have questions. Then there is the Frontier Missions Prayer and Study Group which meets monthly, open to everyone with a heart and hunger for Missions. Contact Mike Rowe. Toshavim has its own missions ministry team. And I am praying that the upshot of last week's and this week's message will be the formation of some small groups with the double focus of support and outreach.
Pursue the fire. Plan your personal strategy. Participate in an outreach or missions group.
4. Perform Some Specific Act to Put Yourself in Touch with Unbelievers
Invite neighbors for dessert. Go for walks in the neighborhood. Watch for needs you can meet. Start an investigative Bible study. Read some simple books on basic Christianity and buy some extras to give out. Play racquetball at the Y. Eat lunch with a different colleague. Do some volunteer work in the community. There are hundreds of ways for your paths to cross the paths of unbelievers. If you find the ones that fit you and pray that God will use you, it will amaze you how Christ still loves to seek and save the lost through you.
5. Join in the Dream of Leadership Development
The fifth and final suggestion is that you join me in a dream I have for Bethlehem—a dream that's already coming true.
I am convinced that Bethlehem should and will have a uniquely strategic role to play in leadership-building for the cause of missions in the Baptist General Conference and beyond. I think the reason Jesus crossed the sea to the country of the Gerasenes (in Mark 5:1–20) is because he had a strategy. Just across the sea from Galilee lay the Decapolis, a cluster of Gentile cities with no witness to his saving power (Mark 5:20). Jesus and his disciples devoted themselves to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6; 15:24). But he had a heart for the unreached Gentiles of the Decapolis. So he crossed the lake, and healed a demon-ridden man. When the man wanted to accompany Jesus back to Galilee, Jesus said in effect, "No, I have at least 82 missionaries covering the land of the Jews. You are uniquely fitted to reach your own people. They have no witness. I send you as my first missionary to the Gentiles. Go, tell them how much the Lord has done for you." That's what I call strategy.
Given the way I have felt about the gross imbalance of how many Christian leaders there are in America as compared to other lands, there is no way I could stay here if I did not believe we could do at Bethlehem what Jesus did for the Decapolis. In a mighty act of power and commission, he prepared and sent a witnessing leader to an unreached people. More and more of my planning will take this direction for Bethlehem—the building of a leadership training ground (a seedbed, a launching pad) for the sending out of men and women who go hard after the holy God with all their might, who exhort one another every day to keep the faith, and who count their earthly lives of no value except to seek and save the lost (Acts 20:24).
That's my dream for how we can best benefit a lost world and best honor the Lord we love. And I know it will come true if you pray with me the prayer he commanded: "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."