Last week I watched an interview on an Arabic broadcast network SAT-7 with English subtitles with the brother of two of the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded in Libya two weeks ago. The slain brothers’ names are Bishoy Estafanos Kamel and Samuel Estafanos Kamel. Their brother said, “I am proud of them. They make me walk raising my head up in pride. . . . ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. . . . I thank ISIS that they didn’t cut the audio . . . Believe me when I tell you that the people here are happy and congratulating one another.”
Within 36 hours after the release of the video a new Christian tract went to press in Egypt called “Two Rows by the Sea” and 1.6 million copies have been distributed.
This is what it means to be undaunted by the darkness. Hooded killers cut off the heads of 21 Christians — for being Christians. Response? The families and churches say, “ISIS has helped us strengthen our faith.” And the Bible Society of Egypt prints two million tracts to give the Christian response of gospel hope.
Just before each of the Cross videos that have been playing online for the past several weeks there is a black screen with these words:
Cross exists to mobilize students for the most dangerous and loving cause in the universe: rescuing people from eternal suffering and bringing them into the everlasting joy of friendship with Jesus.
I love that summary of what we are about. We are about students and those around that age. We about risk in the presence of danger. We are about love for people who have no access to the best news in the world. We are about rescuing those people from eternal suffering. We are about everlasting joy. And it is the best of all joys because it is the joy of friendship with the Creator and Sustainer and Savior of the universe, Jesus Christ.
There isn’t any greater cause or any greater calling in the world. There are other great callings and great causes. For example, we didn’t plan it this way, but God did, that today is the international “Shine a light on slavery day,” sponsored buy a coalition of partners called “End It.” They’ve encouraged people put a red X on their hand to say: I join the coalition in the hope of bringing awareness, prevention, rescue and restoration for the sake of 27 million people trapped in slavery. That is a great cause. If God calls you to give your life to it, it is a great calling.
And there are many great and worthy causes and callings in the world. Every life lived, in justice and love, for the sake of bringing joy to others, and relief to their suffering, in the name of Jesus, is a truly great life — whatever the suffering. We love to say at Cross that Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Christians are people who, because of union with Jesus Christ, by faith, have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ. Colossians 1:13: “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
So Christians live in two worlds: the world of this age, and the world of the age to come. The kingdom of the world that is coming to and end, and the kingdom of that world which will never end. “We have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Our bodies are in this world. Our hearts are in both worlds. We feel the pain of this world. And we see the world to come, with its great chasm between its everlasting suffering without Jesus, and its everlasting joy with Jesus.
So, yes, there are many great causes and callings in the world. But none greater than the calling to spend your life breaking through impossible spiritual and cultural barriers at great risk, in order to rescue people from eternal suffering, and bring them into the everlasting joy of friendship with Jesus.
In fact, every other truly great cause and great calling gets its true greatness from its relationship to this cause. Every truly great cause is energized by this passion, and aiming toward this purpose — rescuing people from eternal suffering and bringing them into the everlasting joy of friendship with Jesus. Wherever a great movement loses its roots in a passion for people’s everlasting joy in Jesus, and ceases to reach for that greatest gift, it has lost its soul, its true greatness.
But if you live your life, in a just and loving way, in the face of opposition and danger, to rescue people form any suffering in the name of Jesus, in the hope that this will lead them into everlasting joy, you will have lived a great life. No shame.
But I do not hide the fact that my aim in being part of this Cross movement is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the truth of the word of God, to persuade as many of you as I can to give your life to bring the gospel of God’s grace to the people groups of the world who have no Christian witness, and no access to everlasting friendship with Jesus. The massive Christian impulse behind the “End it” movement can get no traction among these peoples, because there is no Christian impulse, no Christian gospel, not Christian church, no Christian faith, and no hope. Christian missions to unreached peoples is the planting gospel seedbed for every transformative and Christian movement and in the end everlasting joy in friendship with Jesus. That’s what I’m after — for you to plant that Christ-exalting impulse in the heart of a people.
My title is “Undaunted by the Darkness: Invincible Joy for the Sake of the Nations.” And we are already well into it. We have seen the word darkness in Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). This world apart from faith in Christ is shrouded in spiritual darkness. We see it again in Ephesians 6:12, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).
No matter how glitzy the Oscars are, no matter how extravagant the Super Bowl halftime show is. No matter how white and shiny the Apples stores and Microsoft stores are, the world is covered with darkness. Paul calls says, “Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). And John says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). So when the title says, “Undaunted by the Darkness” we are not talking about a local thing, or recent thing. It is global, and it is ever since the fall of Adam and Eve.
And the meaning of the coming of Christ, the Son of God, into the world to live a perfect life, and die in the place of sinners, and to be raised from the dead, is the coming of light into the world to penetrate and turn back this global darkness. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christians are people whose blindness to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ has been overcome. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And now that we see the light, we are the light. The beneficiaries of the miracle become the agents of the miracle. “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4–5).
And since you Christians are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), as Jesus says to Paul in Acts 26:17-18, “I am sending you to open their eyes — the eyes of nations, an impossible task, except that he will be with us — so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18). Indeed a place of safety from eternal suffering and everlasting joy in friendship with Jesus.
So we are undaunted by the darkness. “I will build my church” — my people of light — and the gates of hell — that terrible darkness — “will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And when his mission is complete — and it will be completed (Matthew 24:14), he will step into this dark and embattled world and settle all accounts: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6–8). “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
We are undaunted by the darkness. It will have its appointed end. We have seen the light. And we have that treasure in these frail clay pots of flesh. It will shine through our weakness, until he comes or till he calls.
That’s the first part of the title: “Undaunted by the Darkness.” The second part is: “Invincible Joy for the Sake of the Nations.” And what I want to argue here is that this invincible joy in Jesus is the energy and the aim of frontier missions. Missions is the invincible spreading of everlasting joy in Jesus from one people group to another. And that joy itself is both the power of the spreading and the goal of the spreading.
First, the goal.
When God sent Jesus into the world as the God-Man the angels announced his arrival to the shepherds: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:9–10). Good news of great joy. When Jesus taught he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). And when he died Peter said he “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). As the psalmist said, “I will go to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). In other words, Christ came, Christ taught, and Christ died to that our joy in him might be all-satisfying.
Therefore the psalmist said, this is the message we take to the peoples. “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1). “Shout for joy to God, all the earth” (Psalm 66:1). “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Psalm 67:4).
And the apostle Paul said that joy was the aim of his work as a missionary. To the Corinthians: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). And to the Philippians, when struggling with whether it would be better to remain on earth or to die he says, “To remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:24–25).
So Christ came and taught and died for our joy. And the psalmist call us to take this joy to the nations. And Paul said that his why he remained on the earth — for the progress and joy of faith.
From this I conclude that the goal of missions is joy — the very joy that Jesus had in the fellowship of the Trinity from all eternity and to all eternity. The joy he means when he welcomes us at the last day and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). The aim of missions is to bring the nations in to the joy of the Son of God.
And the joy we bring is better and longer than any other joy they could get. Longer because it is everlasting. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And better. “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). Why is it better. It’s better because God created the human soul like his own, to know its deepest and highest joys in persons, not things. Binge drinking is a pitiful substitute for Psalm 36:8, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8). God himself is the river. We were made enjoy the greatness and glory of persons. And God is the greatest person. So the joy bring to the nations is better and longer than any joy they could find anywhere.
Don’t every lose sight of this — in all the trials of your live and mission — never lose sight of this: that you can stand before every unbeliever, friend or for, Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Sikh, or Jewish, or atheist, and say, “My aim in life, my passion, is your everlasting joy in Jesus. I am not against you. I am for you. God has made a way for his enemies to be reconciled to him so that we might enjoy him through his Son for ever” (Romans 5:8-11). Missionaries live for the joy of the nations. Don’t ever forget that. In all your sorrows you are there the everlasting of the joy of the people. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Recall we said, that invincible joy in Jesus is the energy and the aim of frontier missions. In other words, that joy itself is both the power of the spreading and the goal of the spreading. We’ve looked at the goal, now the power, or the energy.
Jesus said: “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). So the joy we have is the joy that Jesus. Only now, by the Spirit it is in us. Our enjoyment of God is the very enjoyment Jesus in us enjoying the Father. It is supernatural. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9-10), pours the Christ’s joy into our hearts.
And what did the joy of Jesus enable him to do? It was an energy in him. A power. For what? Hebrews 12:2, “For the joy that was set before him Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The joy that Jesus saw beyond the cross streamed back into Gethsemane and Golgotha and sustained him.
And that’s what the Spirit enables us to do. In Romans 5:2 Paul says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” So we see a great glory coming. Not yet fully here. And we have the joy of hope (Romans 12:12). And then Paul says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2–5).
Which means that because of the joy set before us in the glory of God, the Holy Spirit transforms present sufferings into joy because those very sufferings attach us more fully to the coming joy. So just like Jesus the joy set before us, streams with power, by the Spirit, back into our lives transforming suffering into joy and sustaining us in a lifetime of missions.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–4). This is the great need in missions: steadfastness. O for steadfastness, perseverance, endurance. Where does it come from? From undaunted hope in the Treasure of Christ. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12). Undaunted hope in the greatness of our Treasure is the key to joy in the face of suffering. And what does that unleash. Hebrews 10:34, “you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). You joyfully endured this affliction because you “had a better possession and an abiding one.” Better and forever. Better and forever.
This is the joy that sustains and energizes the sufferings of missions. And this is the joy we take to the nations. This is the energy. And this is the aim. And it is invincible because it is the very joy of Christ that carried him through the cross and fills him today in heaven. Whether we face 21 Christians martyred in Libya, or 220 kidknapped in Syria, or 20 Kachin Christians killed in Myanmar, or Missionary Phyllis Sortor kidnapped on Monday in Nigeria, or increasing hostility to Christians in America — one thing remains unshaken. The joy of the Lord is your strength. This is what carries us to the nations. This is what we take to the nations: rescue from eternal suffering and entrance into the everlasting joy of friendship with Jesus. I am asking you to think and pray earnestly: Is God calling you to give your life to this?