Monday, June 13, 2011

All the Families of the Earth

God promised Abraham saying, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Isaiah foretold a day when, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). John foresaw a day when there would be "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9).

It seldom gets reported in the news (secular or Christian) that God is actually doing what He promised to do. But He is. Really. Consider the following:

Today there are approximately 6.7 billion people on the earth, comprised of approximately 24,000 people groups (ethnicities.) Of these 24,000 people groups, about 16,000 have embraced the Gospel of Jesus and now have solid, thriving churches committed to evangelizing their own people. This leaves about 8,000 people groups who lack churches, evangelists and scripture (in their own language.) Not bad considering where the church began 2000 years ago.

At Pentecost the disciples of Jesus were an infinitesimal portion of the human population (approximately 120 out of 170 million souls). But look how the church has grown in proportion to the general population!

By A.D. 100, one in every 360 people was an active believer

By A.D. 1000, one in every 270 people was an active believer

By A.D. 1500, one in every 85 was an active believer

By A.D. 1900, one in every 21 was an active believer

By A.D. 1970, one in every 13 was an active believer

By A.D. 2010, one in every 7.3 was an active believer

Now, as noted above, there are still about 8,000 ethnic people groups to be reached. But the good news is that the number of churches per unreached people group has gown dramaticaly over the last hundred years. Viz.:

In 1900 there were 20 churches/unreached people group

In 1970 there were 150 churches/unreached people group

In 2010 there were 1000 churches/unreached people group

This is not an excuse to “let go and let God.” Rather, this is a call for us to find our place in this incredible story of redemption that God is writing; to pray, give, send and go until the number of those who love and worship Jesus is, as John foresaw in his heavenly vision, beyond human reckoning.

*Statistics from the U.S. Center for World Missions

Great Commission Both/And

As Spurgeon and others have noted, the doctrines of human respsonsibility and divine sovereignty have no need to be "reconciled" simply because (at least in God's mind) they are already "friends." A good example of this is the two ways in which the the New Testament speaks of the Great Commission and its fulfillment.

At the end of Matthews's Gospel Jesus gives the Great Commission as an imperative when he commands his followers, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19)

But in Luke's account of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus speaks of the Great Commission as something that will certainly be fulfilled when he informs his disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

So which is it? Is the command to disciple the nations a directive for us to fulfill, or a certainty which God will sovereignly accomplish? Yes, and amen. And neither to the exclusion of the other.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gospel Priorities

My dear wife Ellen, my "minister to the minister", is constantly on the hunt for quotes and resources to stoke the fires of my teaching and preaching ministry. She is also an ardent fan of Alistair Begg from whom the following George Smeaton quotes were gleaned:

"When we lose sight of the grandeur of the Gospel, the passion for the lost will cease."

"To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of a whole kingdom from temporal evil."

Following the above quotes, Pastor Begg paraphrased Smeaton by saying, "To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of Sub-Saharan Africa from the problem of AIDS."

This might, at first glance, seem like an overstatement. But when you "do the math" it really is not. The suffering experienced by untold millions from the horrors of AIDS is, for all its pain and grief, finite suffering. The suffering of one sinner in hell, because of its severity and duration, is infinite suffering.

Smeaton is right, when we lose sight of the greatness of the Good News, we cease to care for those who are perishing in their sin. We cease to be distressed at the prospect of our neighbors spending an eternity in hell. But the opposite is just as true: When we are daily reveling in the gracious extent of God's saving mercies, enjoying sweet communion with God, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and walking consciously in what David termed "the joy of our salvation", then we are filled care and concern for the lost and are moved, not merely by duty, but rather by joy to invite them to love, worship and enjoy Jesus as we do.

May God restore to us a vision of "the grandeur of the Gospel."