By Pastor Glenn Pease
Charles W. Ranson in his book That The World May Know tells of his excitement when he graduated from Trinity College in Dublin with high honors.
He went immediately to his tutor to share the good news. His tutor was a distinguished scholar who had hopes that he would devote himself to classical studies. When he shared the news the tutor said, "Well my boy, and what are you going to do now?" Ranson replied that he had decided to become a missionary, and after further studies go to India. His tutor was shocked and said, "Good God, man! You can't do that! There's no future in it."
It is amazing how many Christians set in the seat of the scornful when it comes to missions, and like this tutor they feel there is no future in it. What they fail to realize is that according to Jesus the whole of the future is in missions. They fail to grasp what Thomas Wieser said in an issue of Christianity And Crisis. He wrote, "The church exists for those who do not yet belong to it." Christians are in constant danger of focusing their attention on the petty instead of the precious; the trivial instead of the tremendous, and the insignificant instead of the indispensable. May the prayer of the German mystic Maria Schuallenvack be ours as we consider these words of Christ on missions.
Light of Eternity, Light Divine,
Into my darkness shine,
That the small may appear small,
And the great, greatest of all.
O Light Of Eternity shine.
I. THE BASIS OF MISSIONS-HIS COLOSSAL CLAIM. v. 18
The disciples gathered at a mountain site in Galilee after the resurrection, and Jesus appeared to them. Many feel that this is the appearance to the 500 that Paul refers to in I Cor. 15:6, for it is noted that some doubted as they worshiped. We know this could not refer to the 11, for their doubts had all been resolved by this time, but for the others, it was their first experience of seeing their risen Lord. For a Jew to worship anyone but God was the greatest sacrilege, and so we can understand the mixed feelings of many of them in worshiping Jesus. Then in verse 18 Jesus assures them that they are not breaking the first commandment by making the most colossal claim conceivable, showing that he was God, for only God could make such a claim.
Jesus makes the most clean cut claim to deity we find anywhere when He says, "All power has been given me in heaven and on earth." Note the tense, for in the Greek this is important. It is past tense, and He is saying, "Has been given." It refers to a specific point and time at which He received this power. The context of the claim being right after the resurrection makes it obvious enough, but Paul leaves us without doubt when he says in Rom. 1:4, "And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead." In the strongest language possible he writes in Eph. 1:19-21, "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."
There was no commission to go into all the world until after the resurrection, because there was no message relevant to all the world until after Jesus conquered death. It was only worth taking the risk of death if you had a message that was relevant beyond death. It was the resurrection that made missions relevant to all people. By His resurrection Jesus proved His sovereignty over all forces of evil. He could only make His colossal claim of having all power when he had demonstrated it by overcoming man's most powerful enemy, which is death. Now, says evangelist Reg Dunlap, "Let us go forth with the Crusading Christ, clothed with His power, convinced of His program and confident of His presence."
Human language could not make it clearer that Jesus is now King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that He is now on His throne where He must reign till all enemies are put under His feet. This colossal claim is the basis for missions, and it is why there is power in the Gospel. Peter's sermon on Pentecost that moved 3000 to yield to Christ ended with these words after describing the ascension of Christ: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Jesus wants His disciples to go in the assurance that they are serving one who has the keys of death and hell. The cross and the resurrection have already decided the outcome of the battle between light and darkness. Jesus has done all that was impossible for man to do for his salvation, and He was now giving the responsibility of carrying that message to the world to the church.
When the church loses sight of the position of Christ at God's right hand, and ceases to listen to the colossal claim of His power, it lacks the assurance it needs to be the church. It becomes like some of those first disciples before they were assured of Christ's power. They had doubts even while the worshiped. Without the assurance of the Lordship of Christ missions seems like a hopeless task. We have to go to lands where Satan has ruled for ages, and where the gods of this world have blinded the minds of millions. There is widespread pessimism in some circles that the church, like Israel of old, will fail because the powers of darkness are too great. This philosophy stems from the fact that they have lost the basis for missions because they have become problem conscious and not power conscious. They no longer hear the words of Christ's colossal claim.
This has happened before in the history of the church. Men have lost sight of God's plan to use the church to win the world, and so they have left missions up to the sovereignty of God. Their attitude can be summed up in these lines of the poet: "Sit down, O men of God, His kingdom He will bring, whenever it may please His will; You cannot do a thing." A false view of God's sovereignty led to a mission-less church. Jesus always finds someone to restore His church to a true understanding of His will. In 1792 He spoke to the heart of William Carey, who was a cobbler in England. He gave him a burden for the lost in foreign fields. Carey studied the Bible and saw clearly that God's plan demands man's cooperation. He wrote the book And Inquiry Into The Obligation Of Christians To Use Means For The Conversion Of The Heathen. In a meeting of Christian leaders Carey pleaded with them to organize a mission society. Dr. Rylands said to him, "Sit down, young man, when it pleases the Lord to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine."
Carey had to fight this false concept of God's sovereignty by persuading men from the Word of God that God expected men to use means to win the world. Thanks to his persistence the Baptist Mission Society was founded. It was the first distinctly foreign mission society in the history of modern missions. A box was passed and a collection of 36 dollars and 75 cents was given to begin the work, and Carey was the first missionary sent out to India. Since then the church has woken up to the fact that, "The church exists by missions as fire exists by burning." Lethargy for the lost was abandoned and the church began to take seriously the colossal claim of Christ.
II. THE BUSINESS OF MISSIONS-HIS COMPREHENSIVE COMMISSION.
The first business of missions is to go, and to go everywhere. There is no nation, tribe, language or tongue where the good news of the Gospel is not to go. The book of Revelation assures us that the race to translate the Bible into all languages will not fail. People from every nation and tongue will stand before the throne and sing praises to the Lamb of God, by whose blood they were redeemed. The commission of Christ is comprehensive for it includes all nations, and all that Christ taught. It is not enough just to get people saved, for the business of missions is not complete until people are saved, sanctified, serving and then sending servants to save other sinners.
This great commission puts a heavy emphasis on education and teaching converts all the commands of Christ until they are living lives of obedience to those commands. This includes the command to go, and so when a church is not yet mature enough to be missionary minded it is yet a mission field rather than a mission force. D. T. Niles tells of a native church where each person that is baptized places his hand on his own head and says, "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." That church is on a mission field, but it has become a mission force because it has caught the spirit of the Great Commission. They have come to see that they are not completely Christian until they are engaged in the business of missions, and teaching others what Christ has taught.
Being baptized in the name of the triune God means to break completely with all other gods and religions. The act of baptism is far more significant on the mission field than it is in our land where Christianity is established. On the field it is a testimony to a pagan society that the person being baptized is renouncing his connection with the religion of that society, and that step of faith can be costly, even to the point of death. It is at this point where people feel there is a contradiction in the commission. If Jesus has all power, why is it that missionaries have to labor and struggle to teach the Gospel? They have to learn the language and the history of the people, and often go through heart breaking and self-sacrificing experiences. Often they have little fruit, and what fruit they do produce is often destroyed through persecution. We fail to see the connection between the powerful Lord and the apparent weakness of so much missionary effort. Our problem comes because of a misunderstanding of power. We think of brute force where the world could be won in no time. But if God used brute force there would no need for missions, for man would not have been allowed to fall and need salvation in the first place.
Power is the ability to fulfill purpose. A bull is more powerful in terms of force than any man, and yet a gentle woman can thread a needle where a bull never can. And so if a purpose to be fulfilled is threading a needle, a gentle woman has more power than a bull. If the purpose is to smash through the side of a barn, then the bull is most powerful. Suppose you are a farmer being bothered by crows. You want to show those crows they cannot get by with stealing your corn, and so you rig your field with dynamite. Then you stand in your house until you see the crows land, and then you set off a blast that destroys these pests. You have shown amazing power, but the problem is that this show of power also destroys your corn. You have failed to accomplish your purpose of saving your corn, and that is why scarecrows are more powerful than dynamite in achieving that purpose. The purpose of Christ is that the sharing of the Gospel will move men to freely respond to Christ and trust Him as Savior. It is not His purpose to compel people to believe. If you force someone to submit to the Gospel you do not achieve the purpose of God. His purpose is only achieved when people freely respond and learn, for this is the business of missions.
III. THE BLESSING OF MISSIONS-HIS CONTINUOUS COMPANIONSHIP.
The promise of Christ's presence has meant a great deal to those who have left the presence of their loved ones to go to a foreign field. Dr. John Paton has this text inscribed on his tomb for it sustained him through years of loneliness. In Nov. of 1858 this young Scotsman and his wife landed on the Cannible Island of Tanna. His first impression was one of horror when he saw their nakedness and misery. He wondered how it was going to be possible to even civilize them let alone Christianize them. In 3 months he had to bury his young wife and baby boy. He was left alone as the only white man on the island. He wrote, "Let those who have ever passed through similar darkness-darkness as of midnight-feel for me; as for all others, it would be more than vain to try and paint my sorrows. I was stunned; my reason seemed almost to give way." Yet he went on for many years to labor there in the face of danger. He lived to be 83, and he credits his courage to the promise of Christ's continuous companionship.
Wordsworth paraphrases the promise of Christ: "I shall never be absent from you a single day; I shall never be absent in any of the days of the greatest trial and affliction of the church; but I shall remain with her till the last day, when you will see me again in bodily presence." He will be with us until the day when we are caught up to meet Him in the air. He will be with us for all time, and we will be with Him for all eternity. Nothing could be clearer, the task of missions is the task of the church right to the end. I am convinced that Christ is going to reach the world, and the Gospel will be preached to all nations before the end comes. The church will not fail for Christ will be with the church right to the end to assure her of success. He will always have those who believe His colossal claim, who obey His comprehensive commission, and who experienced His continuous companionship. George Uhler asks
For God so loved the world-not just a few,
The wise and great, the noble and the true,
Or those of favored class or race or hue.
God so loved the world. Do you?