Go therefore and make disciples

Why is it that we have a fatalistic, pessimistic, cynical, faithless view of the future of the gospel in this world?
Why is it that we have no hope in the power of the gospel to transform the lives of sinners, let alone whole nations?
Why is it that we have no expectation that the kingdom of God will advance until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea?
Why is it that we only expect things to get worse and worse and worse until the church is dead, Christians are a small minority, and all we can do is hunker down and wait for the end?

Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because we do not know the Bible; it’s because we are slaves to the assumptions and the fads of our culture; and it’s because we as American evangelicals have been completely shaped by a system of doctrine that has no place for the church, no place for the power of the gospel to transform and to sanctify, and no place for an authoritative proclamation of a universal Lord before Whom every knee must bow. And so our hope is weak, our boldness is nonexistent, and our obedience to the commands of Christ is pitiful.

If we knew the Old Testament, we should read the Great Commission and think, Well of course—what else could He have said? This commission is the only thing Jesus could have said. “I am the King of kings and the Lord of lords, I am the Maker of heaven and earth, I am the crucified and risen and majestic Lord with all authority; I have purchased a kingdom and I will take My power and reign; so go. Go and make disciples. Not just of little ragtag, pitiful ghettoes of scared, timid, weak Christians here and there. Go and make disciples of all the nations, because they’re all Mine.” And the apostles actually got it.

Unless we recover and relearn the biblical hope of the gospel, unless we recover and relearn the biblical power of the gospel, we will remain faithless, hopeless, useless…

The 2011 ClearNote Fellowship Conference was titled The Great Commission. Here is Pastor Stephen Baker’s sermon, titled Go Therefore and Make Disciples.

(This is sermon 2 in a series; see also sermon 1, sermon 3, sermon 4, and sermon 5.)


Outline

Introduction: Where do these hymns come from?
1. The kingdom of God will advance to all nations by means of the preaching of the gospel
2. The rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ will extend to all the nations now
3. Why don’t we believe this?
3.1. Cultural reasons: we hate authority
3.2. Theological reasons: dispensational premillenialism
Conclusion: Believe Jesus Christ, and believing, obey

Introduction: Where do these hymns come from?

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Behold the islands with their kings,
And Europe her best tribute brings;
From north to south the princes meet,
To pay their homage at His feet.

There Persia, glorious to behold,
There India shines in eastern gold;
And barb’rous nations at His word
Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.

–Isaac Watts (1719)


Christ shall have dominion, over land and sea,
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be;
They that wilds inhabit shall their worship bring,
Kings shall render tribute, nations serve our King.

Ever and forever shall His Name endure;
Long as suns continue it shall stand secure;
And in Him forever all men shall be blest,
And all nations hail Him King of kings confessed.

Unto God Almighty joyful Zion sings;
He alone is glorious, doing wondrous things.
Evermore, ye people, bless His glorious Name,
His eternal glory through the earth proclaim.

–The Psalter (1912)


We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.

We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
That shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
A song that shall conquer evil
And shatter the spear and sword.

We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
Who the path of sorrow has trod,
That all of the world’s great peoples
Might come to the truth of God.

Refrain

–Ernest Nichol (1896)


Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

–Isaac Watts (1719)


Where do those hymns come from?
What kind of faith gives rise to such hymns?
What kind of doctrine gives rise to hymns like that?

Were any of those hymns familiar to you? The only one that is certainly familiar to all of us is Joy to the World, and when we sing that we think of babies and mangers.

Why is it that we don’t sing like this anymore?
Why is it that we do not expect that Christ shall have dominion over land and sea, earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be? At least most of us as American evangelicals have no hope that that will ever happen literally on this earth in this age. If it means anything at all, it’s just poetic fancy about the world to come.

Why is it that we have a fatalistic, pessimistic, cynical, faithless view of the future of the gospel in this world?
Why is it that we have no hope in the power of the gospel to transform the lives of sinners, let alone whole nations?
Why is it that we have no expectation that the kingdom of God will advance until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea?
Why is it that we only expect things to get worse and worse and worse until the church is dead, Christians are a small minority, and all we can do is hunker down and wait for the end?

Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because we do not know the Bible; it’s because we are slaves to the assumptions and the fads of our culture; and it’s because we as American evangelicals have been completely shaped by a system of doctrine that has no place for the church, no place for the power of the gospel to transform and to sanctify, and no place for an authoritative proclamation of a universal Lord before Whom every knee must bow. And so our hope is weak, our boldness is nonexistent, and our obedience to the commands of Christ is pitiful. And what I hope to do today is to help us to recover the ears to hear the meaning of Christ’s command and to open our eyes to the plain meaning of this command. This is Matthew 28:18 and the first part of 19,

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”

And so this is what Scripture teaches:

  1. The kingdom of God will advance to all nations; and
  2. This advance will happen by means of the preaching of the gospel.

1. The kingdom of God will advance to all nations by means of the preaching of the gospel

Now. Are you ready? I’m about ready to turn on the fire hydrant, and a lot of it’s going to land on your shirt, ok? I’m going to give you passage after passage after passage after passage, so stay awake and follow along and I just want you to be overwhelmed with the teaching of Scripture about the kingdom of God and the nations. Are you ready? Here we go.

Genesis 26:4, this is God talking to Abram,

“I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed”

Psalm 2:1-9, psalm of the resurrection of Christ, we read in the New Testament:

Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!”
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me,
‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.'”

Psalm 22, the psalm of the cross, this is what Jesus quotes, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is the psalm that says they pierced His hands and His feet, they cast lots for His garments. This is the cross. And at the end of this psalm, this is the confident declaration:

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
For the kingdom is the LORD’S
And He rules over the nations.

Psalm 67,

God be gracious to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us.
That Your way may be known on the earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You…

That word ‘peoples’, that doesn’t mean people. It means nations, groups of people,

Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy;
For You will judge the peoples with uprightness
And guide the nations on the earth.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
The earth has yielded its produce;
God, our God, blesses us. God blesses us,
That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.

Psalm 86:8-10,

There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And they shall glorify Your name.
For You are great and do wondrous deeds;
You alone are God.

Psalm 96:1-13,

Sing to the LORD a new song;
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the LORD in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the LORD, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Psalm 117,

Praise the LORD, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
Praise the LORD!

Isaiah 2:2-5,

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:1-10,

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And He will delight in the fear of the LORD,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth…

With His Word,

…And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea.
Then in that day
The nations will resort to the root of Jesse…

This is speaking of Jesus Christ,

…Who will stand as a signal for the peoples;
And His resting place will be glorious.

Isaiah 25:6-8,

The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined, aged wine.
And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 42:1-12,

“Behold, My Servant…”

Again, a prophecy of Jesus Christ,

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
“He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
“He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”
Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
Who gives breath to the people on it
And spirit to those who walk in it,
“I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
“I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.
“Behold, the former things have come to pass,
Now I declare new things;
Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”
Sing to the LORD a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!
You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it.
You islands, and those who dwell on them.
Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices,
The settlements where Kedar inhabits.
Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud,
Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the LORD
And declare His praise in the coastlands.

Isaiah 52:10,

The LORD has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God.

Isaiah 60. You all still with me? Alright. Isaiah 60:1-3. Are you getting a theme here?

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.
Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Isaiah 66:19-21,

“I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan…”

These are all pagan lands.

“…to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. “Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the LORD, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. “I will also take some of them…”

These Gentiles,

“…for priests and for Levites,” says the LORD.

Daniel 2:44-45, this is Daniel’s interpretation of the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had about the statue made of different kinds of metal and the feet of clay—if you know Daniel you’ll remember this—and this is the end of that interpretation that Daniel gives him. He says,

“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

A kingdom that will crush all other kingdoms.

Daniel chapter 7, Pastor Bayly read this yesterday, last night. 13 and 14,

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.”

Micah 4:1-3,

And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war.

Zechariah 8:20-23,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘”

Zechariah 9:9-10,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
And the bow of war will be cut off.
And He will speak peace to the nations;
And His dominion will be from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Malachi 1:11,

“For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.

You see, over and over and over and over again—and believe me, we could have spent more time doing this—Scripture declares that the kingdom of God will spread to encompass the nations, all the peoples, the Gentiles, the coastlands, all the ends of the earth. And this kingdom of God will spread to the ends of the earth not in some future age that is different from today. The rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ will extend to all the nations now, in this age, through the power of the gospel preached by the church. Not by some evolutionary advance where everything is getting better all the time—nothing like that. Not because men are inherently good and will just keep getting better and better—nothing like that. But by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the message of the Old Testament.

2. The rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ will extend to all the nations now

Now, how do we know?

We know that the prophecies of the Old Testament point to the victory of the gospel in all the nations because that is what Jesus said they meant. As Jesus was walking along with His disciples after His crucifixion and resurrection, He told them what the Old Testament meant. We don’t have to guess!

Luke 24, yeah, 45-47, listen to this,

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

Now what Scriptures is He talking about? The Old Testament, the Scriptures I just read to you. Ok? That’s all there was. He opened their minds to understand the Old Testament Scriptures;

…and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

According to our Lord Jesus Christ; according to the Author of Scripture; according to the One who knows what it all means, because He wrote it; according to Jesus Christ, all of those prophecies that I read to you are about the gospel being preached to all the nations. That’s what He says! It’s about the gospel being preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. That’s why so often it says, “The word will go forth from Jerusalem,” “The word will go forth from Zion”—it literally is true!

All of those statements about the Word of the Lord going out from Jerusalem, all of those promises that the nations would stream into the house of the Lord in the City of God, all of those prophecies about universal peace, universal worship, universal obedience, are fulfilled in the gospel being preached to all the nations and the nations believing it. They are not about some distant future other age. They are not figures of speech, even though many of those prophecies use figures of speech.

What they all point to, according to the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 24, is that “the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That’s what they mean. And that is why Jesus can say with all authority and certainty in Matthew 24:14,

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

But not before! Not before. That’s why Jesus can say in Luke 13:18-21, these parables of the kingdom of God,

“What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? “It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES.” And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? “It is like leaven…”

Yeast,

“…which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was…”

…kind of, sort of minimum–minimally leavened. Is that what it says?

“…until it’s all leavened.”

That’s what the kingdom of God is like.

It’s why Jesus says in Mark 13:10,

“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.”

It’s why the Apostle Paul can say in Galatians 3:8,

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”

All the nations being blessed—what God meant when He said that to Abraham was “the gospel will be preached to the nations.” And they’ll believe it.

That’s why the Apostle John wrote in Revelation 7:9-10,

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count…

How many is that?

…from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

That is the fruit of the power of the gospel. Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, and His authority is proclaimed in His Word, it is declared in His gospel, it is displayed in His church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it. And these words of Jesus Christ as He’s been crucified and buried and raised up by the power of God, as He’s about to ascend to the right hand of God the Father Almighty—these words are not empty words!

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”

Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 are not empty words,

“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

And as we’ve seen, these words are not novel words, they’re not new words, they should not be surprising words, if we knew the Bible! If we knew the Old Testament, we should read the Great Commission and think, Well of course—what else could He have said?

This commission is the only thing Jesus could have said. “I am the King of kings and the Lord of lords, I am the Maker of heaven and earth, I am the crucified and risen and majestic Lord with all authority; I have purchased a kingdom and I will take My power and reign; so go. Go and make disciples. Not just of little ragtag, pitiful ghettoes of scared, timid, weak Christians here and there. Go and make disciples of all the nations, because they’re all Mine.” And the apostles actually got it.

Acts 13:46-49, Paul and Barnabus are preaching to the Jews, the Jews reject the gospel, and Paul says to the Jews,

Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [Jews] first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Listen to what Paul says about his ministry in Romans 15:7-12. He says,

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision…

That’s the Jews,

…on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” Again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.”

3. Why don’t we believe this?

Now. Why don’t we believe this?

Why don’t we get this? Why are we almost hopeless when it comes to the advance of the gospel and the power of the gospel to conquer kingdoms and to make disciples of the nations? Why don’t we get this? Well there are cultural reasons and there are theological reasons why we don’t get this.

3.1. Cultural reasons: we hate authority

Culturally, we hate authority! as we heard last night. We hate distinctions. We hate situations where there are winners and there are losers. We hate intolerance. We hate exclusivity. Right? We hate the idea that other religions are evil. Evil! Not neutral, not interesting to dialogue with, but evil. And we hate that idea! And that cultural mindset has flooded the church.

For example, I’m going to to read to you from a book that was written by a man who is called “One of America’s most influential evangelicals”. Alright? This is from Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian. I was in Goodwill the other day, looking for whatever and there’s a shelf of books and I see this book, “A New Kind of Christian;” I open it up; the first thing I open it up to is a chapter called “Yeah, but what about the other guys?” And that’s the title of the chapter. This book is this imaginary dialogue between a pastor—an American, Protestant, evangelical, conservative pastor—and a former pastor who’s enlightened. That’s the whole setup for the book. And so I’m going to read to you some of this dialogue. This is the pastor speaking: “Neo,” (which is the former pastor. “Neo.”)

“Neo, what does a guy like you say about other religions? I mean, do you believe Jesus is the only way? Do you believe good Buddhists and Muslims will be in heaven?”

“Dan,” he said, “I feel that my only goal in life is to help people love God and to know Jesus, and not to hate the Buddha or disrespect Mohammed. The fact is, to have some televangelist with erect hair make snide comments about the Buddha, that isn’t my idea of Christian maturity.”

For some reason, his answer angered me.

(This is the pastor speaking.)

Not that I am overly fond of televangelists…

Oh no, no, no.

…or that I have anything against the Buddha…

No, no, no.

…I suppose I felt betrayed.

“So,” I responded, with something like cynicism in my voice, “you’re more or less a pluralist then! Whatever people believe is ok as long as they are sincere, that’s certainly a popular and convenient attitude.”

Neo squirmed. “Dan, I don’t know what you intended, but the tone of your voice brings back some pretty bad memories for me. It seems like we just switched gears from two friends talking sincerely and openly to a kind of inquisition. Did you mean to sound that way? Are you testing me? Is that what this conversation is all about?”

I instantly knew what he meant. I had felt the same thing more times than I wanted to remember. People who were church shopping asking, “Are you Spirit-filled?” Or, “Do you believe in inerrancy?” Or “What’s your position on homosexuality?” It’s a cheap feeling to answer a test question of that sort, like you’re selling yourself. So I apologized…After a few minutes, as if nothing had happened, Neo plunged right back into our conversation.

“Dan, when it comes to other religions, the challenge in modernity was to prove that we’re right and they’re wrong. But I think we have a different challenge in postmodernity. The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. And it strikes me that goodness, not just rightness, is what Jesus said the real issue was. You know, good trees produce good fruit, that sort of thing. If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think that more people would believe we were right.”

I was intrigued, but not satisfied.

“Of course I agree with you that goodness is important, Neo, but I wonder: are you saying that questions of truth are passe?”

He responded, “No, it’s just that the old notions of truth and knowledge are being–hmmm, I was going to say deconstructed, but we don’t need to get into all that vocabulary. The old notions of truth are being questioned. New understandings of truth and knowledge that might improve on them haven’t been fully developed yet, so Dan, I’m not in any way saying truth isn’t important, but I am saying that truth means more than factual accuracy. It means being in sync with God.”

“Well how do you evangelize then, if you don’t try to convince people of truth? I remember that old quote from St. Francis about telling his followers to go everywhere and preach the gospel and if necessary, use words–is that what you mean? Let your good deeds preach?”

“Sure, that’s part of it, an important part of it. Demonstration must accompany proclamation, I guess you could say. But there’s more: instead of saying, ‘Hey, they’re wrong and we’re right, so follow us,’ I think we say, ‘Here’s what I’ve found. Here’s what I’ve experienced. Here’s what makes sense to me. I’ll be glad to share it with you if you’re interested.’ Instead of conquest, instead of a coercive, rational argument or an emotionally intimidating sales pitch or an imposing crusade or an aggressive debating contest where we hope to win them to Christ, I think of it like a dance. You know, in a dance nobody wins and nobody loses. Both parties listen to the music and try to move with it. In this case, I hear the music of the gospel and my friend doesn’t, so I try to help him hear it and move with it, and like a dance I have to ask if the other person wants to participate. There’s a term for pulling someone who doesn’t want to dance into a dance: assault. But if you pull someone in who wants to learn, and
if you’re good with the music yourself, it can be a lot of fun.”

“But don’t you want to critique other religions? I mean, there’s so much that is false there. Are you saying that just any dance will do, it doesn’t matter if it’s the right dance?”

“Yes, Dan, I believe it must be God’s dance. And you’re right, there is so much that is false in other religions. But you know, there’s a lot that is false in here,” he said, pointing to his head, then his heart, “and in here too. My knowledge of Buddhism is rudimentary, but I have to tell you that much of what I understand strikes me as wonderful and insightful, and the same thing can be said of the teachings of Mohammed–though of course, I have my disagreements. And before you mention conversion with a sword and violent fundamentalism and that sort of thing, just remember that Christianity has had the same problems. We have a lot of our own embarrassments to face, and in the long run…”

Here’s the line. Ready?

“…in the long run I’d have to say that the world is better off for having these religions than for having no religions at all, or just one, even if it were ours.”

That is totally, completely, absolutely opposed to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the most influential evangelical in America.

Of course, that’s nothing new for people like Brian McLaren. He’s been saying those kinds of things forever. But it’s not just people like McLaren who say such things! My brother recently got a letter from a missionary in Australia—a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) missionary in Australia, and in his prayer letter it’s very clear who he’s been reading: he’s been reading Brian McLaren. And he says this—this is a letter from a PCA missionary:

Oftentimes all the world hears is truth claims. Actions must speak louder than words or at least authenticate our words. Truth has to be alive, not just in our heads and heart, but in our hands. Show, don’t just tell. The evidence of who and whose we are is in our love, not in our insistence we have the one and only truth claim. If dogma were our ministry, Jesus would have said, “By this they will know that you are My disciples, because you rally around the truth.” Instead, the Lord Jesus said, “By this you will know you are My disciples, because you love one another.” Let’s let the truth of the gospel impel us to love, not insistence…

As if these are opposite things, right?

…Let’s give an account for the hope within us, not the ground we stand on. We don’t have control of that ground anyway. We love because He first loved us, even though we were His enemies. That’s a worldview with currency. It’s about leaving space for people with big questions, people that the church has too often identified as the enemy and postured against accordingly. The enemy they may be, but so were we. Let’s deal with the enemy the way Jesus dealt with us: through love, not with high explosive truthite.

Does that sound anything like the Apostle Paul? Colossians 1:28,

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

2 Corinthians 10,

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…

Acts 18:4,

And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

This is what Paul did: he argued with them and he tried to persuade them. But Brian McLaren and this missionary from Australia tell us Paul’s got it all wrong.

3.2. Theological reasons: dispensational premillenialism

All right. There are cultural reasons why we hate the Great Commission: “Go to all the nations, make disciples.” There are also theological reasons that we do not believe the gospel will conquer the world. For the last 150 years, American evangelicalism has been shaped by a doctrinal system—dispensational premillenialism—that has little place for the church. It assumes that Jesus can return at any moment; therefore the most pressing matter is to make converts, to get people saved, to get as many people as possible to make professions of faith in Jesus Christ, so that they will not be left behind at the rapture. It assumes that things will continue to get worse and worse and worse until the only thing that can happen is for Jesus to return, and that doctrinal system gutted the Great Commission in America.

You might object, “But that doesn’t make any sense. Didn’t American evangelicalism send countless foreign missionaries to foreign lands? How can it be that they were not fulfilling the Great Commission?

Well first of all, the largest expansion of western missionaries came from the ranks of churches that believed in the viewpoint that I’ve laid out for you. They believe that the gospel would conquer the nations before Christ returned. That’s what compelled them, that’s what pushed them out, that’s what sustained them when there was no such thing as airplanes that you can get on and come home for little visits; you got on a boat and you went and you were gone. And the only thing that sustained them was this: Christ will have dominion over land and sea.

But secondly, the evangelism of modern American evangelicalism does not match what Jesus commanded. It has no place for the church, therefore it has no place for baptism; it has no place for authority, therefore it has no place for teaching people to obey all that Jesus commanded, and so if it has no place for either baptism or obedience, then it has no place for discipleship. But Jesus’ command is to make disciples, not to make converts. Disciples: people who have been baptized and taught to obey. If you have a short-term view of this world, you won’t have the time for making disciples. All you will do is make converts, get as many people onto the lifeboat as you can, the ship is sinking fast, today could be the day! And so there is no time to think about our children, no time to think about our children’s children or our children’s children’s children—we don’t expect things to last that long, why bother with that? All that matters is getting as many people saved as we can, now.

Certainly no time to think about nations and continents and cultures. No time to build families and justice systems and school boards and churches and colleges and businesses and cities and nations that honor and love and trust and obey King Jesus—there’s no time for that. We don’t have the slightest faith or hope or expectation that any of that is even possible! But look again at Matthew 28:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Think of these words the way the disciples would have heard them. What is Jesus claiming? Absolute, universal authority. Who is He claiming to be? He’s claiming to be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He’s claiming the universe, all of heaven and all of earth as His territory—it’s His. And then what does He do? He commands His troops to go and take it. He commands His troops to go, to advance. He commands His troops to go on the offensive. And what is the goal of this offensive? Clearly, the goal of the offensive is total world domination. Right? “All the nations…”

Why do we even begin to feel awkward about me saying that? Don’t we believe the Bible?

Conclusion: Believe Jesus Christ, and believing, obey

Unless we recover and relearn the biblical hope of the gospel, unless we recover and relearn the biblical power of the gospel, we will remain faithless, hopeless, useless. And we will be stuck in the middle of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things will continue to get worse and worse. The church will continue to diminish. The gospel will feel powerless to us, the culture will grow more and more evil—of course! Because the Christians of this land have given up on the power of the gospel to transform whole continents.

And so I urge you, believe Jesus Christ: “All authority has been given to Me.” Believe it! “All authority has been given to Me.” And believing Him, obey Jesus Christ. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

I want to close with words from John Calvin, who said at the time of the Reformation—think of what he must have been thinking. The whole world is against him, it seemed that everything was against him, whole kingdoms were against him and the progress and the recovery of the gospel—everyone was against him and the reformers. But he says,

Our chief consolation is that this is the cause of God, and that He will take it in hand to bring it to a happy issue. Even though all the princes of the earth were to unite for the maintenance of our gospel, still we must not make that the foundation of our hope. So likewise, whatever resistance we see today offered by almost all the world to the progress of the truth we must not doubt that our Lord will come at last to break through all the undertakings of men and make a passage for His Word. Let us hope boldly, then, more than we can understand: He will still surpass our opinion and our hope.

Let’s pray.

Father, I call on You, we call on You together, forgive our hopelessness, forgive our cynicism, forgive our faithlessness in the power of the gospel to transform. Forgive our unbelief of these clear, clear declarations of Your purposes for the world and for the gospel in the world. Forgive us. Change our thinking about these things. Teach us from Scripture to be filled with hope, and in that hope, Lord, compel us to make disciples of all the nations, starting here. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.

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