RPM, Volume 19, Number 14, April 2 to April 8, 2017

Obedient to the Last Command

Acts 1:8

By Reverend Mr. David Meredith

May I say first of all a very warm and sincere word of thanks to you all for your hospitality and kindness. I honestly say that grace and kindness pours from every single area of this congregation. It's most certain that I have experienced it in the last few days.

We are encouraged by the relationships being formed between the PCA and my own denomination. Actually, perhaps over a hundred years ago, relationships between the old Southern Presbyterian Church and Scotland were very warm, were very close. And for perhaps over a hundred years it fell away, and it is good seeing these bonds being restored.

And what a thrill it's been, meeting so many of the Missions Faculty, men and women who are, in spite of what they say, heroes of the faith. These people are pioneers, and we give God thanks for them.

Let's bow our heads as we pray.

Our gracious Father, we thank You this evening again for this opportunity to gather together and worship. We thank You that this is the day the Lord has made; we shall rejoice and be glad in it. We ask that You would give illumination from Your word. We recognize that we cannot understand it unless the Spirit Himself gives us illumination. The natural man himself cannot understand the things of the Spirit, but Lord, we do thank You that we are spiritual men and women; not because of anything that we have done, but because of Your love that sought us, Your love that's chosen us before the very foundation of the world, and Your grace which will bring us safely home. Bless this dear congregation. Be with Dr. Duncan and the rest of the staff. Be with the ruling elders, be with the deacons, with the whole congregation. May they know a taste from on high, that they would know the Spirit of God come in power. Bless all the members of the Mission Faculty, and though we may never meet again on earth, we pray that we will meet in heaven, and that thousands and millions who gather with us around the throne exalting the Lamb and even giving thanks for this day and our experience. Forgive our sins. For Jesus' sake we ask it all. Amen.

Turn with me, please, to Acts, chapter one, verse eight. You will find that on page 1293 in the church Bible.

"...But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This week I think we have enjoyed a tremendous Missions Conference. And most certainly I've been at one or two of these over the years, and it has been great to hear how God has been working all over the world. It's even great to have a Missions Conference in the congregation, and indeed it's through what we have seen in the PCA that my own congregation the last year had its very first Missions Conference.

But friends, this evening we must recognize that we are in the center of something big. I want us to get a perspective this evening as we come together. I want us to realize where we are in the scale of things, that we are in the middle of something big, and it's something big in terms of history. This is a movement which started at the beginning of the first millennium, and you know the history of the church, and indeed the existence of the church, is in many ways something, yes, to praise God about, but in many ways something to laugh about in the sense that these men had dreamed, because remember the commission that Jesus gave — Jesus looked at that eleven men, and He said that you will be the means of taking the gospel into the whole world.

Now that was an absolutely impossible commission; it simply could not be done. And yet here we are today realizing that it can be done in the power of God, because the gospel came from Jerusalem right here to Mississippi. And it's big in terms of world impact. The Christian faith is the most global of all faiths. The Christian faith is not limited to "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants." The Christian faith is one that's suitable and appropriate for people all over the world. It is not an ethnic religion. It is not bound to color, and indeed, ironically is not bound to creed, because Christ breaks men and women free from the chains of false creeds and brings them under the redeeming power of the Lord Jesus Christ. And indeed, now we know that there is a Christian witness in all political nation-states, and in fact, in the world there are only ten political nation-states without a church in them. And it's big in terms of numbers. The statistics vary, but arguably the church is bigger today than it has ever been in the whole history of the world added together. And here we are, right in the middle of it!

This is a great verse: "You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth." That means very clearly that God is working here. God is working all over the world. Jackson is Jerusalem! The USA is Judea, and we've been meeting this week with men and women who come from the uttermost ends of the world.

And the thing about this verse is that it includes everything that we've been looking at just now, as we've been looking at the local and the Mississippi prisons, and the universities in Mississippi and Louisiana; it's looking a little bit further on in the wider United States, and it's looking also to the very ends of the world. And so we see here that God had given us the gospel to take over the whole world.

Now, at this point there may be some ironies. I don't know your heart and you don't know mine, but a great irony may be this: that there may be some folk this evening in this building and they don't know Christ. The irony is that you've gathered to support a movement of world evangelization, when the shame is that you yourself have never closed in with the Lord Jesus. It could be that your relationship with Christ is social. It could be that you have simply gone with the flow of Bible Belt culture. It could be that you yourself do not enjoy that relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, if that is the case this evening, I would plead with you to be honest in your own heart and now seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is indeed near. Remember that great quote, that quote that's on the wall of one of your pastor's studies: You're in the building this evening — you're either a missionary or a mission field. And so as you walk out these doors, that's what you are. You're in one of those two great categories. You are a missionary, or you are a mission field. And so we have here the gospel as a great message.

This evening I want to warn against parochialism. Last year in the United Kingdom, the BBC (that's the local broadcasting television network) revamped the weather map, and there was a huge scandal because when the weather map came on, England was vast, and parked on the end of England was a tiny little blob called Scotland, and a little dot called Ireland. And we — you perhaps realize the significance of this — but we thought that is typical: the BBC hierarchy are dominated by London and the southeast; that's all there is, and everything else is a mere dot. Maybe we suffer from...

I did one of my famous internet searches. I had heard that the number of US citizens who hold passports was remarkably low, and I decided to find out...is it true? And I discovered the unbelievable statistic that only 20 percent of US citizens hold a passport, and I hope that this evening in a congregation like this that every one of you at least hold a passport not simply to go on vacation, but even when you do go on vacation, be world Christians. Go to church if you can find a church. Many of you will not be able to find one. If you go to France you will probably not find a Protestant church. If you go to Italy you'll struggle to find, again, a gospel-preaching church. But I am saying, do not be parochial! There is a world beyond Jackson, and that's what this verse says. This verse goes, yes, start in Jerusalem, then go to the uttermost ends of the earth.

Well, let's turn to this passage this evening and let us notice again three things. As we look at the verses here, the first thing we notice here is this:

I. The church is often distracted and world mission is forgotten.

The church is often distracted and world mission is forgotten. There's a famous saying: "Jesus' last command is the church's first instruction." And that's what we're looking at tonight, Acts 1:8, "You will be My witnesses to the ends of the earth."

But have you ever thought of the context? Remember what we're saying: the church is often distracted and world mission is forgotten. The church is distracted here because the disciples ask a question which reveals an obsession which carries on to this present day. The question was, "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" That is an obsession about dates and times. That's an obsession about when the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come. During the period between His resurrection and His ascension, the dominant theme of our Lord's teaching during that period between the resurrection and the ascension, the dominant theme was the ingathering and the inauguration of the kingdom of God. But they thought that instead of a spiritual kingdom that it was going to be a political kingdom. They did not see that it was a spiritual kingdom which was gradually going to be revealed and expanded, that it was a kingdom which had come, but it was a kingdom which was yet to come. There was this glorious tension.

But we find here that these folk are obsessed. They're obsessed by the Second Coming. And it's now, if you will forgive me, one of the obsessions of the American church. I've been in a few Christian bookstores in the last few days, and the walls are covered with books about speculating about this Second Coming. I've been listening to Christian radio stations. Some of the Christian radio stations I seriously thought were comedy stations, the views were so utterly preposterous I started laughing, and I thought, "This guy's a great comedian!" and then I realized he wasn't. He was being deadly serious. These are books which ought to be "left behind," because all we have here is an obsession about things that frankly are none of our business. "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Every new development in the Middle East sends our Philadelphian theologians right into the depths of Daniel, where they're going to speculate in some strange numbers game. Yes, quite truly, the church is often distracted by issues, as we would say in Scotland, are beyond our ken. Dr. Duncan will tell you that means some other time, beyond our knowledge, the Lord said these things are not for us to know.

The church is often distracted and world mission is forgotten. The Obsession One is dates and times.

Obsession Two is again parochialism. "Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" They've just not got it. They don't realize this is big! They don't realize the kingdom of God is world-wide. Do not be among those American citizens who think that foreign news is Canada and Mexico! Look beyond that. Listen to what the world is saying. Listen to the needs all over the world. Do not be parochial. As churches, we can be parochial.

I was excited when I saw the crane at the site demolishing the old sanctuary, preparing a new. We hope we're going through a similar process in our own congregation in Scotland. But dear friends, can I ask you? See this congregation here, this building, as a ship. And see it — please do not see it as a luxury liner. I was thrilled to see as I walked through the corridors of this building every square inch being used. I was thrilled to see — again, please take this as a compliment — a rather worn look; the fact that people use it, and that the church is somewhere that is being used.

A church is not a luxury liner. First Pres/Jackson is a hybrid between a fishing boat and an aircraft carrier. It's a fishing boat, yes, for the parish, for the community round about in Jackson, but these dear missionaries have found it an aircraft carrier also. What does an aircraft carrier do in a war zone? Just now in the Gulf they will stand off in the sea; they will stand off hostile territory, and the troops are able to fly in. They get resupplied, they get reinvigorated, and they are able to go back into battle. First Pres, please be an aircraft carrier. Never ever be a luxury liner. It is encouraging that that new sanctuary is being built. There is a real blessing from God. But pray that it will be filled with men and women who are missionaries. Do not be sidetracked into the Jew obsession of dates and times, the obsessions with parochialism. And so we see the church is often distracted, and world mission is forgotten.

II. But then secondly, we notice here the church began in a very small way but its ambitions were global.

You must remember the early church knew a very small world. Look at the maps in the back of the Bible. That was their world. For them Europe only went as far north as Spain and as far south as North Africa. From Jerusalem to Rome it was a very, very small world. This massive movement began with eleven incredibly dysfunctional men. Probably not one of them would get through a PCA church-planting assessment program...certainly wouldn't even look at MTW! And yet, the great thing is that God took these eleven men, as we saw on Wednesday evening, these eleven men with all their faults and all their foibles, and He used them to change the world. And these early disciples, all through The Acts, it was a small church but their ambitions were global.

Dear friends, even on the scale of things, this is a small church. Sure, 3.000 members, but in the scale of things that's small. And yet, I hope and pray that your ambitions are global, that you want this church to make a difference for God, that you want this church not to bolster up its own reputation, but you want it to see God worshipped in all of the world. You want that, you've got that holy jealousy for its welfare.

Have you ever heard of the "butterfly effect" Edward Lorenz was a physicist at MIT, and he devised a program which would predict the weather. One day he made an error. Instead of going to six decimal places (those of you who are sad enough to be interested, it was 0.506127). He only entered .0506. A small error — one part in a thousand, but the outcome of that small error was known as the "butterfly effect" because the whole weather pattern that he predicted was radically different. He said this was "the flap of the wing of a butterfly in Peking started a hurricane in New York."

Is it too much to ask that tonight we hear the flap of a butterfly wing? Is there someone here — not one of the high-profile members, maybe someone who is at the fringe of the congregation — but as that butterfly wing flaps, under the power and sovereignty of God that out of what you do for God that it will be the beginning of a revival in one of the nations of the world. Who was the guy who preached when C.H. Spurgeon was converted? I forget his name, to my shame. He was an old man in a little country church. Maybe you are the butterfly, but God is the effect!

Friends, we're doing with fire here; we're doing with power here; we're dealing with a supernatural force, and the very best of Reformed theology has not been something which has been dry and cerebral. The very best of Reformed theology has recognized this supernatural power of God, as God in all His graciousness breaks hard hearts. And a hard heart in Clinton, Mississippi, is no harder than a hard heart in Bangkok, Thailand, is no harder than a frat boy at LSU who's getting stoned out of his mind every Friday and Saturday night. This is what we need. This is what we hope for. And if you want to go, go somewhere. If you want to be a career missionary, if you want to help in the short-term mission field, folks, don't think of your own weakness! Remember God's butterfly effect.

Here in this upper room is a group of 120 people, and yet they multiplied so that they are a church today. These people were not into maintenance. These people were into mission, not because of their own inclination, but because of the Lord's command.

The Book of Acts was the beginning of this movement. In chapter 5:11 we have this verse: "A great fear seized the whole church." In chapter five, the whole church was the church at Jerusalem. That's all there was in chapter five! Yet by the time we get to chapter nine, verse 31, we realize here then the church through Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened and encouraged with the Holy Spirit. It grew numbers living in the fear of the Lord.

I hear many Reformed churches and they seem to glory in the small. They seem to think that that's a template. One guy and one other guy locked in a telephone kiosk, and one guy is not too sure of the other guy. Friends, that is not the New Testament church. I am sick and tired of a mindset which is small. Yes, there is the remnant. Our theme said that; Isaiah saw the remnant, but what a remnant it was! The remnant that was going to conquer the world, the remnant that was going to turn the world upside down, to use that wonderful expression in the AV, the remnant that was going to populate the glory of heaven.

You see, the picture in The Acts of the Apostles is wonderful. In the Old Testament, the picture was all the nations coming to Mount Zion, and that wonderful picture of all the nations flocking to Mount Zion, but after the resurrection the church goes to them, and Acts 1:8 is a contents page for The Book of Acts. And this picture is used in so many ways today. Yes, the church was small, but it had global ambitions.

Tonight you may be small, but I hope that you have global ambitions, and that even your very first step will be tonight to sign on; and if that is not your style, your first step is tomorrow to apply for a passport and get out of this ghetto of parochialism and tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently in my own congregation, which is much smaller than this congregation...last year we went to a short-term mission in Athens, Greece. The First Evangelical Church of Pyrius in Athens. The first European church to be evangelized, a nation where the official religion is Greek Orthodoxy...and it's protected. Ninety-five percent of the population belong to it. Two percent go to it. And yet there are only 15,000 evangelicals. Greece needed people there on a short-term mission, as a regular mission.

I was amazed at the opportunities you have: Ukraine, China, Uganda, Kenya, Scotland, and what I couldn't believe was the sheer cheapness of the price. The most expensive short-term mission, and you're able to go! The world is shrinking! My home is less than a day away from here. Air travel is relatively cheap. We are mobile. I have friends who work in New York. The world is so small. Many people in the UK live in Scotland and work in the USA. It is amazing. Just as the Romans put down roads and these were used for the furtherance of the gospel, so today we have air travel; so today we have the internet; so today we've got this global expansion.

Dear friends, go to the ends of the earth. Please do not stay here. And if you are the sort of person who boasts that you have hardly ever left Mississippi, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself, and you should repent of that right now because it betrays a self-absorption which is not biblical. If you are physically able to go, if your motive is only to feed yourself...my dear friends, please forgive me for being judgmental, but my desire is that we would fulfill this as a congregation, that you would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

What are the ends of the earth? There are many places in the world which have still not received the gospel. Look a website, www.joshuaproject.net. Johuaproject.net is dedicated to parts of the world which have never heard the gospel. I was reading about a tribe of the Somali people in Somalia. I read this:

"The Juba Somali in Somalia are virtually all Muslim, and at present there are very few believers in their communities. Neither the entire Bible nor Christian broadcast are available in their language, and no mission agencies are currently working among them. Evangelization will be challenging due to the nature of the Arabs' lifestyle and religious belief system."

You know, we see a clash of cultures just now. These riots over the cartoons from [Norway]. There is a clash of cultures, but you know, I do not see the march of Islam as a threat. God does not see the march of Islam as a threat. Remember who He is! He's the sovereign of the universe! "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall scorn them all." It's not as if God is on His throne frightened that some usurper is going to take over as sovereign of the universe! He's seen them come and He's seen them go. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords! And so let's stop this utterly pathetic feeling that we are sorry for Jehovah! Jehovah shall reign wherever the sun shall set. We sing that stuff, but do we believe it? Or are we just parroting, singing all these great songs of the faith and inwardly we don't believe a word? Is that the reality, or do we believe Scripture inerrant, inspired, inspiring? Are we believers who really take the Bible seriously?

Yes, the church was small, but it had global ambitions.

III. And thirdly, the church spread through the ministry of ordinary people with an evangelistic passion.

As you read The Book of Acts...yes, preaching is mentioned from recognized ordained preachers, men set apart for that task. God uses that. God uses men who are rightly dividing the word of truth, and that's a need for the contemporary mission field because there is a dearth of superficiality out there. We rejoice at what's happening in Africa, but yet much of what is happening in Africa and China is being affected and infected by the virus of superficial theology, and we want to inoculate our new disciples with the word of God. We want them to feast on the word so that their blood will be bibline, as it were. And so, yes, we need recognized men set apart, recognized by the church, ordained.

Now ordination...ordination is not some sort of little ceremony. Ordination is the church saying, "We are sending you. We are praying for you, and you are set apart by us for God." But you read here in The Acts of the Apostles, we find that He is talking to these people in the upper room, and who is responsible for the spread of the gospel?

I don't know if you've ever seen the Niagara Falls. Really quite, quite splendid. There is a hydropower stream a few miles up the river, the river Niagara, which kind of stems the flow, but really it's quite extraordinary. The big thing are not the falls; the big thing are all the small rivers and tributaries all over the United States coming and merging into this great big waterfall.

First Pres, you are little tributaries flowing down into the cascading flow of the supernatural power of the sovereign God. And God will not save folk through technique: God will save folk through His own decree and power.

You know, it's very easy to glamorize the early church. Everyone likes a success story. But there's an interesting theory. There's a man called Ross Patterson. He wrote a book called The Antioch Factor: The Hidden Message of the Book of Acts. I think he's got something (not got everything, but he's got something). His thesis is this. The church at Jerusalem did well at the beginning. It was remarkable for its doctrine, unity, mercy ministry, prayer and worship. Where is it to be found in the second part of Acts? Hardly mentioned. What happened to it? Now, this is perhaps where Ross Patterson may begin to speculate. I don't know what happened to it. There is a church at Antioch which, having been planted, grew and trained and then sent its own members.

You see, some folk say a church can grow up and become settled. First Pres, don't grow up in that sense. Don't become settled. Always be uneasy in a holy way, always be building, always look for new opportunities, always look for new areas. It seems that Jerusalem did a great job in their home parish, but didn't go far beyond. Who brought the gospel on? Men like Philip from Caesarea. And indeed, it wasn't the Jerusalem church which evangelized Antioch, but wandering missionaries from Cyprus and indeed Cyrene. And some of the Jerusalem folk didn't get it.

Acts 15:1 — "Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.'" Who are in the Jerusalem church today? Those who are so happy in their comfort zones that they're dying...those who are so happy in their comfort zones that they're dying....This is God's word tonight to those of us who are in our comfort zones. He's saying to all of us 'I want you to go! You shall be My witnesses in Mississippi. You shall be My witnesses in Utah. You shall be My witnesses in Uganda.' Let's pray.

Gracious God, as we bow before You this evening we pray that we would indeed have had a touch from you. Save us from ourselves; give us a new vision of Jesus, a vision that we have never seen before. Give us a passion that the worship of God would be heard all over the world. In the dwellings of the righteous is heard the melody of joy and strength. We pray that from the dwellings of the righteous people here in Jackson, Mississippi, would be heard the sound of men and women and boys and girls praising the Savior, and that that chorus would be taken up and sung all over the world. Hear our prayers. Amen.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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