Ministering In Missions
November 29th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
MINISTERING IN MISSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-29-81 10:50 a.m.
Now we want you to turn in the Bible to the First Gospel and the last chapter, Matthew 28. Then we are going to the last chapter of Mark. Then we are going to the last chapter of Luke. Then we are going next to the last chapter in John; then were going to the first chapter in Acts; and you move from one to the other.
Get your Bible. If you do not have a Bible, there is one in the pew in front of you; or borrow one. Just take your neighbor’s Bible. Let him scrounge around for himself. Now we are going to read the great commandment of Jesus. And that is the title of the sermon Ministering In Missions. And you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, get your Bible and turn with us. All right, the last chapter in Matthew, verses 18, 19, and 20 [Matthew 28:18-21]; Matthew, the last chapter, the last three verses; now, let us read it out loud together:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
Now let us turn to the last chapter of Mark; the last chapter of Mark, the Second Gospel, and verse 15; Mark 16:15. Now that we have found it, let us read it out loud together; the last chapter in Mark, the fifteenth verse, “And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15]. Now let us turn to the last chapter of Luke; Luke chapter 24. We read verses 46, 47, and 48 [Luke 24:46-48]; the last chapter in Luke, beginning at verse 46. Let us read it out loud together:
And 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.
And ye are witnesses of these things.
Now John 20; the last chapter in the Gospel of John is 20. Chapter 21 is an appendix, it is an addendum, written long time after the Gospel was finished. John 20, we are going to read verses 21, 22, and 23; John 20:21-23, out loud:
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.
Now the first chapter of Acts, verse 8 [Acts 1:8]—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts; the first chapter of Acts, verse 8; now reading it out loud together:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you:
and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea,
and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth
Never ever could there be anything more emphatically plain than that. That is the Great Commission that closes the Gospel of Matthew [Matthew 28:19-20]; closes the Gospel of Mark [Mark 16:15], closes the Gospel of Luke [Luke 24:46-48], closes the Gospel of John [John 20:21-23], and introduces the great worldwide missionary endeavor recounted in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 1:8]. And yet, would you believe this? Could you believe this? And yet for centuries and centuries, the Great Commission was denied and debated and refused by the church. Can you imagine that? It was set aside as something impertinent to the present generation. They took the commission of our Lord and defined it as something that belonged to another era, another dispensation. And for hundreds and hundreds of years, the church made no effort at all toward the evangelization of the world. You can hardly think of such a thing.
In 1798, in the Northamptonshire Baptist Association, there was a preacher; a Baptist pastor, had a little congregation, couldn’t pay him enough for him to live on, so he cobbled shoes; he repaired and mended shoes. Like Paul; Paul was a tent maker, he supported himself with the work of his hands until the Philippians sent him a gift that liberated him to give his full time to the gospel [Philippians 4:10-20]. And that is where the Philippians came from—the book in the Bible. It is a love letter of gratitude to the Christians in Philippi who sent Paul a gift, a gracious gift.
This shoe cobbler, on one side of him had a map of the world, and on the other side of him he had an open Bible. And when that Northamptonshire Baptist Association met, they had a habit of debating; that is the way the old Baptist groups used to do here in America. Their associations would meet and they would debate theological subjects, blinding their eyes to the lostness of the world, and they gather together to debate. So John Ryland, a pastor, was the moderator of that Baptist Association, and he asked if any one had a proposition, a theological proposition to be debated. And that young pastor named William Carey stood up, the shoe cobbler, and he proposed that they discuss whether or not the Great Commission was obligatory on ministers of all generations. When he said that, John Ryland, the moderator, answered, “Sit down, young man. Sit down. You are a miserable enthusiast. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.”
The next year, at 1790, in that same Northamptonshire Association, this shoe cobbler was preaching the associational sermon. And he delivered the message; it was a famous one. From Isaiah’s text he preached the sermon, “Attempt Great Things for God: expect Great Things From God.” It took him two more years, but on the second day of October in 1792, in a little town named Kettering, in a room in a widow’s house, there were about twelve Baptist ministers met together, and they formed the first modern association for the support of the missionary enterprise. And they sent out William Carey to India, and they themselves sought to “hold the ropes,” as they called it, “as he went down into the well.” I have been in that little room in Kettering. I have been to Serampore in India, just north of Calcutta, where William Carey spent the rest of his life. At that time, no missionary ever came home. When they went, they stayed until they died. Thus began the great modern, missionary evangelization of the world.
The Duke of Wellington, the Iron Duke of Wellington, who won the battle at Waterloo, was asked by a fellow Englishman, “Do you think we ought to preach the gospel to the heathen?” And the duke replied, “What are your marching orders?” If we have any marching orders that I can understand at all, they are that we are—that we are responsible for the evangelization of the world.
You notice in the Great Commission of our Lord, stated five different times from His own words—you notice He has no ways of our turning aside or our refusal. He never said anything that we were not to go, or not to try, or not to evangelize, or not to preach, because of—and then name every discouragement you could ever think of: persecution, hardship, poverty, need, sickness, disease, distance, the irresponsive heart on the part of the people to whom we are to go. There is no indication of any reason for not obeying the great mandate of Christ. It is universal to us who are Christians and it is universally applied.
I think of the marvelous poem of the poet-laureate of England, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In the Crimean War, an officer gave a wrong order to the Light Brigade, and the faithful and brave Englishmen, six hundred of them, charged to their death. And the poet-laureate of England immortalized the obedience of those soldiers to the command in a poem the world could never forget. What is it that somebody blundered?
It was not theirs to reply,
Theirs were not to reason why,
Theirs were to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Bravely they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred
[from “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1854]
We are men under authority. However the difficulty, however the cost or the price, we are mandated for the evangelization of the world [Matthew 28:18-20]. There must be some reason for the sense of urgency that we find in all of these Great Commissions, and in the dedication of the apostles, in obedience to that last mandate. There is, there is a reason for the urgency of it. It is very plainly and simply stated; namely, the world is lost without Christ. All humanity is lost without our Lord [1 John 5:12].
This thing of damnation and hell and judgment is not a theological fad. It is not something that was acceptable to the human mind or heart in 1740, when Jonathan Edwards preached his great sermon on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but today it is not acceptable to cultured ears. There is no fact more awesome than this: that humanity, the whole world, is lost without God, without Christ, its redeeming Savior [John 3:36].
I can never forget that it was Jesus who took little children in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16], who gave His life for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. I can never forget that it was Christ Himself that spoke most, and most solemnly about hell, and judgment, and damnation, and lostness. He said in the sixteenth chapter of Luke, concerning a man that spurned the witness of the Scriptures, “In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment” and crying for a drop of water to cool the burning of his tongue [Luke 16:23-24]. It was the same Lord Jesus, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, who describes all nations gathered before Him [Matthew 25:31-32], the great final judgment, and then speaks of these who are sent away “into everlasting punishment, prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41]. Jesus did that. Nor did the apostles deviate from that awesome and terrible truth, that we are lost without Christ [1 John 5:12; John 3:36]. The apostle Peter, preaching to the Sanhedrin and the leaders of the temple in Acts 4:12, answered saying, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved.” The apostle Paul stated in burning language in 2 Thessalonians 1: 7-8: “when Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who believe not God and accept not the gospel” [2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8].
I suppose one of the most searing of all of the passages of the Bible is written by the author of the Book of Hebrews in the tenth chapter, verses 26 to 31[Hebrews 10:26-31]:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins,
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and damnation, that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, who hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unworthy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace.
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
“For our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. And in the passage that we read together, the twentieth chapter of the great Revelation, closes: “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15]. It makes you tremble for yourself and for the whole world.
The liberal theologian says, and I quote him directly, word for word, verbatim: the liberal theologian says, “If the doctrine of damnation were written on every leaf of every page of every Bible in the whole world, I would not believe it.” Fine. Beautiful, beautiful. I don’t see any joy or any gladness in seeing a man damned. All I know is this: that from reading the Bible, and from human experience, there is no truth that is more tragic or dark than the truth that men are lost without God [John 3:36; 1 John 5:12]. Whether you say it theologically, or philosophically, or speculatively, or economically, or maritally, the great abiding answer that is written across all history is this: that we are lost without God [John 3:36, John 5:12].
And the Scriptures say that the responsibility to tell men about the Lord is mine, ours, individually and personally, whether we go back to the days of Cain who answered God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]; or all through the centuries to the prophet Ezekiel, who quotes God as saying, “If thy brother fails and falls, his blood will I require at your hand” [Ezekiel 33:6-8]; to the day of the apostle Paul, who having poured his life into those great missionary journeys says, “I call all men to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men to this present hour” [Acts 20:26-27]. I cannot escape that responsibility; when I was born, I was born into it. Whether that man is saved or lost, whether he knows Christ or not, is my responsibility and accountability. And it is no less true with the church, an ecclesiastical responsibility.
That is why churches die. In the second chapter of the Apocalypse, in the fifth verse, God said to the church at Ephesus, “You have left your first love. . . . Turn, or else I will come and take thy lampstand from its place, except you turn,” except you change” [Revelation 2:4-5]. And the Lord God said that to Jerusalem, and the church at Antioch, and the church at Constantinople. Have you been to Ephesus? Have you been to Constantinople? Haven’t you been to Jerusalem? Have you been to Antioch? The churches have died, and the churches are dying in the whole earth. In 1900, twenty-five percent of the world’s population was evangelical Christian. Today, it is less than five percent. By the year 2000, it will be less than one percent.
How long off is it to the year 2000? Is it about eighteen years, about eighteen years? In 1981, today the world population is four billion. By the year 2000, eighteen years from now, it will be beyond seven billion. To maintain the same Christian ratio as of this moment, five percent; to maintain the same ratio of Christians to non-Christians, we would have to baptize sixty-two and one-half million converts each year. How may converts do we baptize each year? We baptize about one-half million; five hundred thousand.
If you lined up all the lost people up in one line, that line would reach around the globe thirty times. And the line is growing twenty miles longer every day. Assume we started today to drive down that line and gave everyone of them a New Testament. If we drove fifty miles per hour for ten hours each day, it would take four years and forty days to get to the place where the line ended on the day we began because the line would have grown thirty thousand miles during that one trip. We are living in a day and in a time when the Christian is becoming an increasingly smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller minority in the earth. And if when the year 2000 comes we number less than two percent, what shall it be in the course of the twenty-first century, and who is responsible?
Our Lord was a master strategist, and in the eighth verse of the first chapter of Acts, our Lord outlined the strategy; how we are to convert the world. Beginning at Jerusalem, then to Judea, then to Samaria, and then to the uttermost part of the earth [Acts 1:8]. Where do we begin? We begin with us. We begin with you; with you. We begin here. He said the same thing in the Great Commission in Luke 24, beginning at Jerusalem [Acts 24:47], beginning where we are, beginning in our Jerusalem, Dallas.
You know we have the strange conclusion that at Pentecost, the fire fell upon Simon Peter and he was the witness. Nothing could be more a misunderstanding of the Word of God. The fire fell and the lambent flame burned upward over the head of each one of them [Acts 2:3-4]. They all were witnesses. They all testified [Acts 2:5-13]. Simon Peter was just one of them [Acts 2:14]. They all witnessed to the grace and the glory of the risen Lord. For us to think that somebody else has this responsibility but I don’t, is one of the tragic, mis-services by which we don’t honor and obey our living Lord.
It is not how many sermons have I preached lately, or how many songs have we sung recently, or how many lessons have I taught in the last several weeks, but the question God asks is this: how many people who are lost have you witnessed to in recent days? How many people have you brought down that aisle and said to the pastor, “Pastor, by God’s grace [Ephesians 2:8] and in the mercy of Jesus [Titus 3:5], this is a brother, or a sister, or a youngster, or a young person, that I have brought to the Lord Jesus?” How long has it been since you did that? Did you ever do it? In all of your Christian life, did you ever come down the aisle with anybody and say to the pastor, “Pastor, by the grace of God, this is a family, or a youth or even a child, that I have won to the Lord”?
We don’t try. We don’t witness. We are smug in our own conversion and in our own living, and the whole world perishes. There are thousands and thousands and thousands in this city that do not know Jesus as a personal Savior, beside the millions that are lost in our state; the multiplied millions that are lost in our America, and the billions and billions that are lost in the world. And we hide our eyes from the great mandate from our Lord [Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21-23: Acts 1:8].
Lord, Lord, I need to change. I need to do better. This ought to be an hour of great turning around for me, for us. When I think of the time of the year in which you and I are blessed to enjoy, this is the Thanksgiving weekend, how shall I be thankful? How shall I? Shall I be thankful that I have bread to eat while others starve? Shall I be thankful for that? Shall I be thankful that I am well and strong while those over there are sick and weak? Is that the way I am to be thankful? Shall I be thankful that I am affluent and blessed while there are multitudes who live in dire poverty and need and want? Is that the way I am to be thankful? Am I to be thankful that I have had the light of Christ in my heart since I was a boy, a child in a Christian home, while there are thousands who live in impenetrable darkness? Is that the way I am to be thankful?
Tell me, should not I be thankful that I have bread in order that I could share it with somebody who is hungry? I have strength and health, in order that I might be an encouragement to those who are weak or sick? I am affluent, blessed of God, in order that I might help those who can’t help themselves, who are ground in poverty? Thankful that I have the light of Christ, that I might share the glorious light with others who live in darkness? Lord, Lord, shouldn’t I? Is not that the way I ought to be, Lord?
Tell me: if I had a cure for cancer, do not I owe it to the world to stand in this pulpit and proclaim to all mankind, “I have a cure for cancer”? “I have hope for millions who are dying with that indescribable disease, if I had the cure”? If I had a way out of war, shouldn’t I stand in this pulpit and proclaim to the nations of the world, “I have good news; I have a way of deliverance from war”? And if I know the light of God, shouldn’t I stand here in this pulpit and proclaim it to the world, and shouldn’t we share in its proclamation, that the whole world might be able to live in the light of the love and the grace of God our Savior?
I know of lands that are sunk in shame,
Of hearts that fade and tire;
But I know a name, a name, a name,
That can set those lands on fire.
Its sound is a brand,
Its letters flame;
I know a name, a name, a name,
That can set those lands on fire.
[“I Know a Name,” author unknown, c. 1910]
Why shouldn’t I try? Why shouldn’t I give my life beginning here into a ministry of humble witness, and testimony, and intercession, and sharing with these who are lost in the world?
I thought during all the month of December especially, that wicker baskets placed on God’s Word, the Bible there, and in the wicker basket placed on God’s Word, the Bible there; I thought during this month of December, maybe all of us, all of us could make a special offering to our Lord. You can give it to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions. That is what this envelope is. I turned in another one at the 8:15 service. You can give it to anything that you would like to, that it might magnify the name of our Lord in the earth.
When I make appeal, somebody give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], you come and stand by me. Somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; you remain, and we will have a prayer together. Somebody answering a special call from the Holy Spirit of God, you stand by us.
And all of the rest of us, come down that aisle sometime during the month of December and do something especial and unusual and good for God. It will surprise you, the fullness of heart that God will bestow upon you when you do that—what I have, I will share. What I possess, I will give. And in word and in testimony, it will be a revival. It will be a visitation from heaven if our people responded, beginning now.
So the invitation. If you want to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]:, God bless you in the greatest decision you will ever make in your life. If you want to put your life with us in this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], a thousand times welcome. If you want to answer a call of the Holy Spirit, the only thing God has to make missionaries and preachers and witnesses out of is you, and especially our children—if you want to come, any time in the services in this month of December and do something special for Jesus, you come. And you can go back to your seat. Make it, Lord, a great day for Thee and for us. Now may see stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, my own voice rebukes me. I have done so little. There are a thousand times when I should have borne witness and I didn’t; should have talked to a man about his soul and I let the opportunity pass. Lord help me to change, to be different. And we pray for our dear church; in all of its more than a century of being, our church has been a great missionary congregation. May we be more so Lord, mission minded. May it be a care to us whether our city is won to Christ or not. May it be a burden of intercession for us that the lost of the millions of the nations of the world don’t have a preacher. And whether we stand here in a personal witness or give to send somebody yonder, may God bless the dedicated effort.
And in this moment that we make appeal, stay with us here. I will let you go in just a moment but don’t leave in the invitation. Stay during the invitation, and then I will give you opportunity in just a few minutes to go, but stay and pray. And if anyone moves may it be he is moving toward God and toward this altar. And our Lord, thank Thee for the precious harvest You give us, in Thy wonderful, saving, keeping name, amen. While we sing our and make this appeal, down the stairway or down the aisle, “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here I am.” Come and welcome, while we sing, while we sing.