Missions Our Mission
December 2nd, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
MISSIONS, OUR MISSION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-2-79 10:50 a.m.
I do not know how you do it, but every Sunday you are better than the Sunday before. And our choir has gone clear to the stained-glass windows up there on that side; and they are almost to the stained-glass windows on that side. I asked, "Why aren’t they as numerous on that side as they are on this side?" And the answer apparently is that there are more sopranos than there are altos. Is that right? What we have got to do is to pray for more girls to be born with a bass voice. That is what we’ve got to do. Oh, it is just glorious, just to look at you. You are so pretty and sweet and squeezable and lovable, and that goes for the men too. And next Sunday night we begin our living Christmas tree. When you come to church Sunday morning, why it will be up there clear to the sky, and I will be preaching out there among the pews somewhere. And every night thereafter you can invite your friends and neighbors to enjoy that beautiful celebration of the nativity of our Lord.
It is a gladness on the part of our First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the thousands and thousands of you who are watching this service on television and who are listening to it on the two radio stations that bear it at this hour. This is the concluding week; this is the concluding day of our week of prayer for the evangelization of the world. And in keeping with that commitment, our Lottie Moon week of prayer, and our Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions, the sermon is dedicated to that subject. It is entitled Missions, Our Mission; or, The Message is Missions.
If we could find, if we could discover, if an archaeological spade could reveal to us one word of our Lord, the whole world would rejoice in it, and it would be heralded to the ends of creation. Even greater would be the interest in the last words of our Savior. What did He say, the last words that He spoke to us in earth? When I was a senior at Baylor University, when time came for us to be graduated, Samuel Palmer Brooks, the illustrious layman president of the university, lay dying. Any moment was to be his last. And we watched so breathlessly when announcement was made how far down through our certificates, our graduating certificates, he had signed. I remember how happy I was when the announcement was made he had gone through the C’s. Finally, God gave him strength enough to sign all of those graduating degrees. But there was one thing that our class of 1931 so desperately wanted, and that was a word from the president. But no word was ever announced. And President Brooks died, and his funeral memorial service was held in Waco Hall; and no word from the president. When time came for us to graduate, to our infinite gladness, Dean Allen took out from his inside coat pocket a sheet of paper, and announced to us that President Brooks had written a last and final word to the graduating class, and thus there was read to us the last words of President Brooks. You’ll find it in bronze in the foyer of Waco University.
So it is with our Lord Jesus: before He returned back to heaven, what did He say? What was His last word to us who believe and have called upon His name? Now, there are one, two, three, four, five – there are five records of what Jesus said in those last and climactic moments. Matthew says this is what He said:
All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, to the end of the world.
Mark, what did the Lord say, the last words that He spoke before He returned to heaven? And Mark replies, "And Jesus said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" [Mark 16:15]. Luke, what did the Lord say, His last words? "And Jesus said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" [Luke 24:46-47]. And John, what did the Lord say before He ascended into glory? And John replied:
Jesus said unto them, Shalom, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.
And He breathed upon them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit:
Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.
And in the Acts of the Apostles, what was the last, final, concluding word of our Lord before He ascended into heaven? And the Acts of the Apostles answers:
Jesus said, John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence . . .
And He said unto them,Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth.
[Acts 1:5, 8]
And we could add to that the last words of our Lord as they are written in the Apocalypse, and as we come to the last page of the Bible:
I Jesus have sent Mine angel unto you to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,
He which testifeth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly –
and then John writes in an answering prayer –
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
In this Criswell Study Bible, there is a little bullet, they call it, at the end of verse 17, which means there is a note on that verse. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come" [Revelation 22:17]. And this is the note:
Appropriately, the Revelation, the Apocalypse of our Lord concludes with an invitation. Indeed, the Apocalypse was not written merely to comfort suffering Christians, as some interpreters say; but, like the whole Bible, the book was written with a view to the conversion of the lost. The last hymn of appeal features a trio consisting of the Spirit, the church, and those who hear. And in common consent they make the appeal, "Come, take the water of life freely." Even in a book weighted with awesome judgments, the merciful and loving heart of God manifests itself in this concluding invitation to all men.
There is one common denominator in these great last words of our Lord, and it is this: the soul-winning, evangelizing, soul-saving, witnessing ministry of God’s people is incumbent upon us and mandated to us by everything Jesus has done and said.
We have three things to remark about these last mandating words of our living Lord. Number one: it is clear in its statement. Each one that I have read, it is plain; no equivocation or misunderstanding about it; it is clear in its statement. Taking the Great Commission in Matthew [Matthew 28:18-20], there are four verbs in that mandate. Three of them are participles: pareuthentes, "going"; baptizontes, "baptizing"; didaskontes, "teaching." But there is one imperative in this Great Commission: matheteusate is in the imperative mood. Going, baptizing, teaching; the imperative is "make disciples"; a literal translation of matheteuō. We are in the last commanding, commissioning words of our Lord demanded, commanded, assigned to make disciples, to win people to Christ, all of them, everywhere, all over this world [Matthew 28:18-20]. And in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the commission is spelled out, "in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" [Acts 1:8], for all of the brethren and sisters, who were in Jerusalem, a hundred twenty of them the Book of Acts says [Acts 1:15], upon whom the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. The commission is clear in its statement. It is to all who believe in the Lord Jesus: the apostles, the women, every believer, all of us alike are to share in this wondrous assignment of making known abroad the good news in Christ Jesus.
Number two. First, the statement is very clear; there is no equivocation in its understanding. We are men and women under authority; we have a worldwide assignment [Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8]. Number two: there is no doubt about its interpretation. What did these believers and disciples and apostles of Christ do after the Lord returned to heaven? [Acts 1:9-10]. That’s my second observation: it is clear in its interpretation. The Lord said to His disciples, in John chapter 14 and John chapter 16, the Lord said to His apostles, "When I go away the Paraclete, "the Holy Spirit" will come [John 14:26, 16:7-8]; and He will guide you into all truth. He will take the things of Me and show them unto you. He will not speak of Himself; He will glorify Me" [John 16:13-15]. The Holy Spirit always points to Jesus, always. His assignment in the earth, in our hearts, and in the convocation of God’s people in the church, is to lift up the crucified and risen Christ. So the Lord said to His apostles, in John 14 and 16 that "When I am gone, He will bring to your remembrance the words that I have said; and He will open to you their meaning, their truth" [John 14:26. 16"13-15]. Consequently, when we look into the Acts of the Apostles, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and in the epistles, we find what Jesus intended, the interpretation, the meaning for us.
An illustration of that is, when I was preaching in the mountains in Kentucky, why, there were those there who belonged to Hardshell Primitive Baptist churches who said there are three ordinances: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the washing of feet. For the Lord said, they said, "Ye ought to wash one another’s feet." Why don’t we have three ordinances in our New Testament church? The reason we do not is this: the apostles interpreted by the Holy Spirit what Jesus meant in the words that He said. And when the Lord said, "Wash one another’s feet" [John 13:14], the apostles did not observe that command as an ordinance. The apostles only observed two ordinances: baptism [Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-5], and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. Therefore we know by the interpretation that the Spirit gave of the words of Jesus to the apostles that the example of the washing of feet was just that: we are to be humble, and in deference preferring each other; and we’re not to lord it over God’s heritage. In spirit and in manner and in life we are to wash one another’s feet.
I use that as an illustration of what Jesus meant when He said, "After I am gone the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth. And He will take My words and show them unto you" [John 16:13]. That’s what the Holy Spirit did when the Lord returned to heaven [Acts 1:9-10]: He came upon in great moving power the disciples and the apostles and the believers of the Lord, and He guided them into a tremendous interpretation and realization of what Jesus taught [Acts 1:8].
All right, what is that? That was my second avowal: it is clear in its interpretation. Under the aegis, and in the power and the outpouring and the filling of the Holy Spirit, those first believers, the apostles, and the disciples, and the women, those first believers made known the grace of God in Jerusalem [Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, 15]. He was crucified for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21]. He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. And they made known abroad in Jerusalem on Pentecost day the marvelous meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord [Acts 2:22-40]. Then it continues: the Holy Spirit sends Philip, a deacon, down to Samaria. And there he preaches the gospel unto them. And there’s a great turning to the Lord, and joy overflows in that whole city [Acts 8:5-8]. And the same Spirit of God guides Philip, that same deacon, down to the desert. And there he makes known the glorious message of the risen Christ to a treasurer of Ethiopia who had come up to worship in Jerusalem [Acts 8:26-39]. Then the Spirit of God sends Simon Peter to Caesarea, in the household of a Roman centurion; and there the gospel is preached, and the people are filled with the Holy Spirit, and there is again a great Gentile Pentecost [Acts 10]. But the Spirit of God is not done. Taking the great meaning of the commandment of our Lord [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8, 15], He sends witnesses to Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria, the third greatest city in the Roman Empire, a Greek, idolatrous, deeply evil city; and the hand of the Lord is with them. And Barnabas goes to Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, brings him down to Antioch, and so mighty is the hand of the Lord in that Greek, idolatrous city, those pagan, heathen Greeks coming directly out of their idolatry into the glorious fullness of the light of the gospel of Christ, those new people there gained a new name: they were called Christians, christianoi, Christians first in Antioch [Acts 11:19-26].
But that’s not enough! While they are rejoicing in the goodness, and greatness, and presence, and blessing, and the saving of God in Antioch, while they are ministering to the Lord, just as we are here today, gathered together in His name, singing His praises, reading out of the sacred Book, preaching the gospel, while they were ministering before the Lord, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul" [Acts 13:2]. Isn’t that amazing? They’re the leaders of a church. "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Just as the Lord laid upon Jimmy Hooten to go to New Jersey; that’s a great missionary outpost for millions of lost people in the New York City area. Set him apart. And what did the Holy Spirit do? They laid hands upon them, they prayed, and the Holy Spirit sent them on the first great missionary journey into Asia Minor [Acts 13:1-15:35]. Then the Holy Spirit spoke a second time, and the second great missionary journey [Acts 15:36-18:22]. This time they crossed the Hellespont into Europe. Then the Holy Spirit spoke again, and this time there was that tremendous ministry in Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia [Acts 19:1-41]; and finally to the imperial city of Rome itself [Acts 28:16-31].
The Holy Spirit is not done. He sent some of those Christians to the British Isles; and our forefathers were saved. But the Holy Spirit is not done. He sent some of those godly people called Pilgrims and Baptists to America; and they preached the gospel on the frontiers of the New World. And the Holy Spirit is not done. He sent some of those pioneer preachers across the Alleghenies, and through the wildernesses of Kentucky and Tennessee, and on to the broad prairies of mid-America. And finally one of those pioneer preachers preached the gospel in the northwestern Panhandle of Texas, where I grew up as a boy; and I heard it, and was saved. And here we are, as a people of God today, under the same mandate and the same commission, sharing in sending the Word around the earth. It is clear in its interpretation [Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, 15].
Last, it is clear in its urgency. I suppose there’s hardly anyone who knows anything in the Bible that doesn’t know John 3:16, anyone. "Whosoever that believeth on Him, shall have everlasting, eternal life." All right, now the next verses: "He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" [John 3:18]. And it closes, "He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" [John 3:36]. Then the interpretation in Acts 4:12, Simon Peter says, "For there is none other name given among men, whereby we must be saved." The urgency of the message: we’re lost outside of Christ. All men everywhere are lost outside of Christ. And it is our mandate, it’s our Great Commission to bring to all the souls that live in this earth the saving hope we have in our blessed Lord [Matthew 28:18-20]. And in that I am under authority.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-15:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek,
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach, except they be sent?
This is the tremendous mandate under which all of us live: to make known to the whole world the saving gospel of Christ.
I read out of that World War, the Second World War, I read of a homing pigeon that was sent to an American general. And with a message tied to its body, the pigeon soared high above the smoke of battle. And when it arrived, one of its legs was torn off, its beak had been shot off; and one of its eyes was gone; but it delivered its message. That is exactly what Paul says of himself, "Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this hekon, willingly, I have a reward; but if akon, against my will, oikonomia is committed unto me" [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]. Man, what a way of saying it! "If I obey this great command of Christ willingly, the Lord is pleased, and I’ll have a reward. But if I have to do it unwillingly, I have no choice, necessity is laid upon it, for an oikonomia has been committed unto me!" Now you translate that oikonomia sometimes as "a stewardship," sometimes "a dispensation." What the word means is, a master of a house would commit the things in his estate to a steward, and the steward was responsible to his master for all of the ongoing and the care and the administration of the estate.
You know, dear people, in my reading, I came across something a few months ago that I never knew. In all of my schooling, in all of my studying, I had never been appraised of this fact. We look upon the institution of slavery largely through the eyes of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That’s what Harriet Beecher Stowe did for us. We take it for granted that the whole institution of slavery was like that. Took a bullwhip and beat them every day, and starved them to death, and mistreat them, and abused them; that’s what we think. Actually, the institution of slavery was just about the opposite of that: when you see these great plantation houses in the South, you know those beautiful white columned mansions in the South, when you see those big plantations in the South, you know who ran them? Slaves ran them. Slaves ran them. There would be a slave who was responsible to his master for the whole oikonomia, the whole administration, the whole stewardship of the entire effort. They were people to whom great, tremendous authority and assignments were given; slaves.
Now, Paul calls himself that. I love the King James Version of the Bible, but sometimes the beauty of the language will take away the jagged corners of a Greek word that is used, and this is one of them. In Romans 1:1, in Titus 1:1, in Philippians 1:1, you have it translated, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ"; which is beautiful. Actually what he wrote was, Paulos doulos Iesou Christou, "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ"; and as such," he says, "an oikonomia, a dispensation, a stewardship has been committed unto me." What is that stewardship? The oikonomia, he says, is the conversion of the lost, the preaching of the gospel, witnessing to the saving grace of our Lord. And if I do it willingly I have a reward; but if against my will, I still have that oikonomia, that dispensation of grace committed to my care. "Yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel" [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]. We’re all that way.
Sweet people, I must close. I was in a church, waiting to bring the concluding message to the state convention. And I was seated there in the pastor’s study, before going into the auditorium to deliver the message. I happened to be seated by a wastebasket, a trash can; just happened to be there. And I looked over in the wastebasket, and there was a piece of paper, some kind of a publication. And I saw a line in it, and so I picked it up out of the wastebasket. And it so meant so much to me that I picked up that envelope out of the same basket. It says, "Floyd Hitchcock, PO Box 506, Springfield, Missouri." I wonder who that guy is? I picked up that envelope, and I copied these lines from that publication:
The sunset burns across the sky;
Upon the air its warning cry.
The curfew tolls from tower to tower;
O children, ’tis the last, last hour!
The work that centuries might have done
Must crowd the hour of setting sun,
And through the earth the saving Name
Of Jesus our Lord we must proclaim.
[adapted from "The Last Hour" by Clara Thwaites]
I was glad I was sitting by the trash basket. Oh, what an urgency God lays upon us who have found refuge in Him! And all of us are involved till He comes for His own [Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8, 15].
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, there are many assignments that men have in this earth. Some of them run banks, and some of them run nations, and some of them run great corporations, some of them preside over households, some of them raise children, some of them teach, some of them sell goods; but out of all of the oikonomia, out of all the stewardships, none is so vital and so significant as witnessing to the grace that alone can save us from death and present us someday faultless in the presence of the great, great King. And our Lord may this day and this hour be one of salvation, one of turning to God, one of accepting the Lord Jesus.
And while our heads are bowed and our people pray, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, out of that balcony, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today we’re accepting Jesus as our Lord." Or, "Today we want to follow the Lord in baptism." Or, "Today we’re putting our lives in the circle of this dear church." And our Lord, speed them in the way. Give them that courage to take that first step. And then may the angels guide them all the pilgrim journey through. In Thy precious and saving name, amen. Now while we sing, come; make it now.