What an exciting day this is for the church. Sunday School has started again for another season and almost all the teachers are in place. That is great! This past week the youth programs began and this coming week AWANA starts again. A lot of people have already put a lot of effort into all of these Christian training programs and are planning to invest in them throughout the coming year. Why this great investment? We believe we have an important message from God which must be proclaimed to everyone. Since it is such an important message from God, what makes us think that we have the right to proclaim it and if it is such an important message that it has eternal implications for everyone who hears it, how can we do it so that we do not hinder God’s work?
These are the questions which I would like to think about with you today. They are questions which pertain to everyone involved in all the different ministries of the church, but today is special for another reason and that is that we are commissioning Scott and Debbie to the task of youth pastor couple in our church. That also is an important role with significant implications for all the youth who will come through the program in the next few years. The same questions must be presented to them – what is the important message you are teaching? What gives you the authority to proclaim it? And how will you be able to do it well?
In order to answer these questions, I would like to direct your attention to two passages of Scripture, II Corinthians 3:4-11 and Romans 10:9-17. Both passages are part of larger arguments in their context, but contain some beautiful words which pertain to the thoughts before us today. I won’t read the complete larger passages, but will only read the portions which pertain to our theme today. I would encourage you to read the larger passage so you get a flavor of the whole text.
As the church of Jesus Christ, we have been entrusted with an incredible message. These passages make reference to this gospel message several times. Let’s read several verses which speak about God’s message. Read Romans 10:9-13 and II Corinthians 3:7, 8.
The central argument of both of these passages has to do with the gospel - what it is, what is included in it and what God has done.
First of all the message we have to proclaim has to do with salvation. In these verses various aspects of salvation are referred to with the use of different words. We read here about justification, salvation and not being put to shame.
When we had the Rosenort VBS I participated by taking a group of boys on a little canoe outing on the river. I knew that there were trees across the river in some places because the water was getting low, so in the afternoon before the outing, I went to those places to try to clear a path for us to paddle on. I walked into the water and immediately sank into mud up to my thighs. Perhaps that is a good picture of the situation every person on earth is in – sunk deep in the dirt of sin, in fact stuck deeply in sin without any hope of getting out. Remaining in sin is a shameful place. Remaining in sin leaves us unrighteous and therefore unacceptable to God. Remaining in sin leaves us stuck in deadly trouble. The message of the gospel which we have embraced and which we carry to others is a message which proclaims that Jesus came to make us righteous, to save us from being stuck in sin and to lift our heads above the shame which overwhelmed us. The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the way which gives us hope and salvation.
Another part of the powerful message we have to proclaim is that it has to do with a risen Jesus. Romans 10:9 says that salvation comes when we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. The II Corinthians 3 passage speaks about the glory of the new covenant which has to do with a life in the Spirit. Both of these concepts, which are connected, have to do with a reality of life which goes beyond what we can see. Jesus is alive and the living Christ has given the living Spirit to abide with all those who put their trust in Him. The message we have to proclaim is very different than the message which was given in the Old Testament. It is not only a written word, but a living and life giving word which proclaims Jesus alive and the Spirit present.
Sometimes we act as if all we have for the world is a word from God. We do have a word from God, but it is so much more. It is a message accompanied and empowered by the presence of God both in its presentation and in the difference it makes in a life.
Thirdly, the glory of the message we have is that it has to do with eternal things. In II Corinthians 3 the comparison is made between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. It acknowledges that the Old Covenant had glory, but it’s glory was fading. It was a covenant which had to do with words written on a stone tablet. When Moses brought it, the people could not look at his face because it shone for having been in the presence of God. But the glory faded as Moses was away from God’s presence. It faded as people forgot the words on the stone tablets. The New Covenant surpasses the old as II Corinthians 3:11 says, “…how much greater is the glory of that which lasts.” This reminds us that the message we have to proclaim, the life we have to offer is an eternal message. The work we do in helping people get to know Jesus and to live in Him is work that will last for all eternity.
This is indeed a powerful message. It is a message which meets the most basic need of every human being. It comes with power through the resurrection of Jesus and with the presence of the Holy Spirit and it pertains to things that will last for all eternity.
In these passages, we also have words which remind us about how this word from God is to be received. Romans 10 speaks about faith. Those who come to God must believe in Him and trust Him. It speaks of confession. Those who come to God must admit that they are sinners and must declare that they understand and accept the solution to their sin which God has given in Jesus. It has to do with calling upon the Lord. Instead of continuing in self sufficiency and self centeredness, the gospel invites people to put their trust in Him. This trust and calling upon the Lord is not only as an initial act in order to receive salvation. It is a trust and calling upon the Lord which becomes a way of living.
This gospel message is very great and although it has only been briefly presented this morning, I hope you have caught just how significant it is. It is God’s desire that everyone will accept this message, but how will that happen? Romans 10:14-15 answers that question.(read text)
This passage raises a series of rhetorical questions. It asks, “How will people call on him if they don’t believe?” Then it asks, “How will they believe if they have never heard of Him?” It goes on to ask, “How will they hear unless someone proclaims the message to them?” And finally asks, “How will they proclaim the message if they are not sent?” The next line is an affirmation that God’s blessing is upon those who proclaim the message when it declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
God has always operated by calling people to be His servants. The leaders and prophets of the Old Testament were sent by Him to the tasks he gave them. Jesus was sent by God to accomplish all that He accomplished. Jesus extends that calling to every person who follows Him when he says in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...” Harrison says, “We are saved to serve, and the paramount element in that service is to bear witness to the saving power of Christ.”
Although all of us are called, we also see in Scripture that there is a special calling for some individuals. Ephesians 4 speaks of the apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers who are special gifts to the church. They are sent to lead in the church. God has always had those who were specially anointed and even though in the New Testament, we are all called to serve God with the gifts He has given, we nevertheless also have those who have a special calling. It is this special calling which we are acknowledging in Scott and Debbie this morning. How did they come to this special calling? The answer is that the church was involved in the sending. Just as in I Timothy 2:8, Timothy’s call came by the laying on of hands of the elders, so also, we will hear in a few moments how Scott and Debbie have been called by the church and we will affirm God’s sending them to this task.
The sequence referred to in the questions in Romans 10 is that a qualified individual is sent, they proclaim the message of the gospel, people hear it and they come to faith. Today we are acknowledging the beginning of that sequence and sending Scott and Debbie out to do God’s work according to God’s way.
But, Scott and Debbie, what are the implications of this sending? Being sent implies that you are not going out on your own but rather that you are ministering on behalf of another. The other whom you represent may seem to be the church, but the church is only the agent of the one who is truly sending you today and that is God Himself. As you minister, you do so with the authority and the backing of God Himself.
The other implication of sending is that the message you proclaim is not your own message. It is God’s message. This is both intimidating because you have a message that must be accurate according to God’s Word. But it is also encouraging because you don’t have to be innovative or creative in seeking to find the content of the message. God supplies the message you must proclaim, your only responsibility is to find effective ways of communicating that message.
So you are sent by God to accomplish a task for Him that involves proclaiming a message that is so important that it has eternal implications for every person you come in contact with. It is a huge task and a great responsibility. The message is beyond us. How can you adequately communicate this powerful message of God without doing damage to it? How can you faithfully proclaim it in such a way that the example of your life and your words match up? The method is also beyond you. You have the lives of young people in your hands. How will you adequately persuade them? How will you direct them so that they are not lost? If this doesn’t scare you into quitting, I haven’t stated it strongly enough. I hope you have some measure of fear as you have begun to be involved. How will you do this?
I don’t say these things to scare you so that you will either quit or worry. God has an answer for these fears in II Corinthians 3:4-6 where we read, "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
Why does Paul bring this up? What Harris says about this passage is that “Paul realized that to be divinely commissioned was to be divinely equipped.” When Paul wrote II Corinthians it seems he was having problems with some false teachers and was trying to establish accurate faith in the Corinthians. In the early part of this chapter, Paul talks about how they are the evidence that Paul and those with him were faithful ministers of God. He refers to them as the evidence of God’s work through them. In verse 3 he mentions that the Corinthian believers are “the result of our ministry.” Now this seems a rather arrogant statement to make. But in verses 4-6 Paul qualifies this statement acknowledging that when he says this he is not claiming any credit for himself. It is in this context that he gives this wonderful message for anyone who is a servant of Christ in ministry for Christ.
The ability we have to do anything for God does not come from ourselves. God is the one who makes us competent to do the work He calls us to do. I believe that one of the significant lessons on servant leadership is that when God calls us to a task, He also equips us for that task.
Tasker puts it this way, “The trust or confidence that Paul felt in this commendation of his ministry supplied by the Holy Spirit was totally different from the self confidence of the natural man. It was based neither upon a consciousness of his own innate ability nor upon the good reputation he might have acquired with his fellowmen, but was solely due to the activity of the risen Christ.”
“What made the apostle so confident about his ministry, in spite of all the difficulties, misunderstandings and trials that it involved, was the certainty that on his own initiative and by the light of his own unaided intellect he could never have devised or comprehended anything so good or so gracious as the gospel.”
“It was God, and God alone, who had revealed His Son in him, who had illuminated his understanding so that he could comprehend the truth as it is in Jesus, and who had sent him forth to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles.”
In a similar way, God is sending you to this task and as you rely on Him, He will also equip and strengthen you for the task.
So speaking to the youth sponsors, children’s workers, Sunday School teachers and AWANA leaders, I want to encourage you with the words from these verses. You are taking up the challenge of the ministry to which you have been called and this passage directs your thinking. It can be applied to each one involved in ministry. The message we have is a great and amazing message. God has sent you to proclaim this message and equips you to do so.
Although these thoughts can be applied to all of us in this way, I would like to speak them specifically to Scott and Debbie as an encouragement and a challenge as they are commissioned to the work.
These words from God alert you to the huge responsibility you have taken up. You are the bearers of a message that is God’s message to a lost and broken world. But be encouraged. You have been sent by God into this important role. The congregation has discerned His calling in you and His sending of you to serve Him in this place at this time. We also want to encourage you to be aware that He has equipped you and will equip you to do the work. The challenge implied in these statements is that you are to receive the sending you have and you are to rely on the equipping of God and use it to the best of your ability in utter dependence on God to bring glory to His name.
So with these words of encouragement and challenge, we will now commission, or as we sometimes say, install Scott and Debbie as youth pastor couple in our church.