RPM, Volume 19, Number 25 June 18 to June 24, 2017

From Darkness to Light

Acts 26:17

By Reverend Philip Ryken

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with thanksgiving; know that the Lord is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture." Let us worship Him.

O Lord, almighty King, triune God, You are the sovereign and everlasting God who governs all things in heaven and earth. You both hide and reveal, and You can change our darkness to light. Mercifully meet with us this day. Speak to us by Your word. Quicken us by Your Spirit, receive the prayers and praises and worship of Your people. Grant us Your peace all the days of our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord. O heavenly Father, You are able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, Your power, the power of Your Spirit. So to You be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. For we offer these things and all our prayers in Jesus name. Amen.

Will You please turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts, chapter 26, and as you're turning there I want to say how wonderful it's been to be in Jackson, Mississippi for the last several days to experience first hand southern hospitality. It really is true. People are friendlier in this part of the country than they are in Philadelphia, that's for sure. It's been great to be with you and particularly to be at a church that we admire so much, and so grateful for the ministry that your senior pastor exercises, not just here at this church, but the leadership he provides to our denomination and also to other churches around our country outside our denomination. We continue to look to you for encouragement and inspiration, your commitment to the word of God, and to glorifying God in your worship the way we have done this morning, and to taking the good news about Jesus Christ to the ends of the world. That's something we want to keep in mind as we turn to the Scriptures in acts, chapter 26, beginning actually at verse 16. This is the word of God. The Lord Jesus is saying to Paul, who at this point was still know as Saul,

Rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to You for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant in witness to the things in which you have seen me, and to those in which I will appear to you; delivering you from your people and from the gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

And may God the Holy Spirit give us His illumination, as we hear, not only the reading but also the preaching of God's word.

On August 1 in the year 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew set sail from London aboard the ship Endurance. They were bound for Antarctica where the famous explorer hoped to traverse the continent on foot. Shackleton never made that trek, because before the Endurance could reach land the ship became hopelessly lodged in the polar ice cap. And from this point on, the goal of the captain and crew became simple survival. Shackleton and his crew faced many hardships in the months that followed; freezing temperatures, near starvation. But of all the frozen terrors they faced, none was more disheartening than the darkness of the long polar night. The winter began to set in, the light began to fade, and the ship's crew grew very uneasy. And then, in early May, the sun vanished altogether not to be seen again until the end of July. In his comments on this experience, Shackleton's biographer wrote:

In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It was a return to the ice age. No warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether; and it has some driven some men mad.

Now as maddening as it was to be on board the Endurance, I want to speak to you this morning from the Scriptures about a deeper darkness, that leads to a much greater despair, and that is the spiritual darkness of living in the world without Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and so anyone who does not have a personal saving relationship with Him is, as the Scripture says, walking in darkness. And it was this kind of darkness that Jesus Himself had in mind when he said to Paul, as we have heard in the words that have been chosen as the theme of this world's missions conference, "I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light."

Jesus spoke these words to Paul as he was on his way to Damascus. And here in Acts chapter 26, Paul is reflecting on what happened that day, and he's explaining what happened to him the day that God changed his life forever. And I suppose that many of you know the story. That Paul was in such spiritual darkness that he thought it was his religious duty to attack anyone who believed in Jesus Christ. He really thought that killing Christians was a way of doing God a favor. And that's why he was on his way to the city of Damascus to persecute the church. But if you know the story, you know that Jesus met Paul on the way; that he appeared, and you can see this if you look back at verse l3, he appeared to Paul blazing like a light from heaven, brighter than the sun. And all of a sudden, in that moment, Paul found the light, the glorious light, the dazzling light of the risen Son of God. And from that moment on, from that moment that he first came to Christ, Paul was called to be a light bearer. That is to say, a missionary. And Jesus said to him, "Get up. Stand on your feet. I'm sending you to turn people from darkness to light."

You see, Jesus wanted to do the same thing for other people that he had done in the life of Paul. He wanted to bring them out of the darkness into the light, and he wanted Paul to help do that. This was his mission, to open people's eyes so that they could see Jesus. Now as we think about that mission we need to understand that it's based on the assumption that until people come to Christ, they are still in the dark.

What do we mean by "the dark?" What is Jesus talking about here? What kind of darkness is He speaking about? Well, obviously it's a spiritual darkness, not a literal darkness. Jesus is talking about that heart of darkness that blackens the soul so that people cannot see the truth about God.

And it is also a satanic darkness. Notice the two parallel phrases at the beginning of verse 18. Here's Paul's mission: It's to turn people from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. You can see the connection between those two phrases. Satan lines up with the darkness, and God lines up with the light; and so Jesus is talking about the kind of spiritual darkness that ultimately comes from the power of Satan. Satan's always trying to keep us in the dark. He's trying to keep us from reading the word of God; trying to keep us from praying to God; trying to keep us away from church and from spiritual things. He's trying to keep us from asking the really good spiritual questions that ought to lead to the right scriptural answers.

And this darkness is also a sinful darkness. Jesus goes on to say that when people turn to the light their sins are forgiven. Which implies that before they come into the light their sins are not forgiven. The Bible often speaks of sin in terms of darkness. It says that without Christ we are darkened in our understanding and separated from the life of God. It also says that our foolish hearts are darkened. And so sin is darkening the mind and the heart. It's keeping us from knowing God, and loving God. Like some kind of infectious mold, or like an insect under a rock, or like a midnight prowler, sin loves to hide in the darkness. It lurks in the shadows. And because we ourselves have a sinful nature, that is where we like to hide. Think of the words of Jesus when he says, "Light has come into the world, but men love darkness instead of light." And why did they love the darkness? "because," He says, "their deeds were evil." So often sin is committed in the dark and gloomy places where no one else can see, and the darkest place of all is the human heart, which shuns the light so that it can conceal its sin.

The reason all of this that we see in the Scriptures about the darkness is relevant for us this morning is that people are still living in that kind of darkness today. We need to understand that the apostle Paul had a special calling and a special mission to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. But we also need to understand that we too have been given the same basic mission. God has sent us out into the world to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. And so it is said of us, as it is said of Paul, that we have been sent to open people's eyes and turn them from darkness to light.

In order to sense the urgency of that light-bearing mission today, I just want to see if I can help you feel the power of the present darkness in the world today. Consider, for example, the darkness of Islam. In the world today there are one billion people whose hearts are darkened by the teachings of Mohammed. They have no assurance of salvation. Only a sort of desperate hope that if they do everything right, maybe Allah will forgive them. But there is no promise of mercy for them. And the result, as you surely know, is a dark religion, abusive of women, terrorizing the free nations of the world.

Or consider the kind of darkness we see in mainland China where Communist atheism is driving the church underground, and every year claims the lives of millions of babies through infanticide.

Or consider the darkness descending in Pakistan where Christian women have been raped and burned, and where Muslim clerics only just a month ago were calling for the death of all Christians.

Consider the darkness in India where Hindus have burned Christians alive, and Indonesia where Muslims have attacked entire villages of Christians.

Or consider simply the vast numbers of people who have never heard the gospel. It is estimated that as many as three billion people have never had the gospel presented to them in any form. And there are still perhaps ten thousand unreached people groups in the world, cultural communities in which there is no significant Christian presence. No church to bear the gospel to others. And all of these people are living in the darkness. They are under the power of Satan. Their hearts are darkened by sin.

And I suppose it's very easy for us to sit in a bright church like this one on a Sunday morning, even when we're having a missions conference, and to forget the great darkness enshrouding the world in sin. I was reading only this week that there are now almost a billion people in the world who do not consider themselves religious at all. That is to say they are living in such darkness that they don't even know there's a God.

And then consider all of the spiritual darkness here in the United States; the bloody violence, the raunchy sexuality on television. Consider the precious lives squandered every day through abortion. The godlessness in so many ways, not entirely but in so many ways, of the media and the educational system.

Or consider this. Consider all of the ordinary middle class people living in ordinary middle class homes, working in ordinary middle class jobs, raising ordinary middle class families who do not really understand what life is all about because they don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Consider, I am saying, the people that you know. Some of your own family perhaps. Certainly some of your friends and neighbors. Consider the darkness they are living in because unless they have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, then no matter how nice they are, or how well they dress, or how much they're making, they are living in spiritual darkness. And when you begin to speak to them about spiritual things you find they really can't understand the Bible. They're not interested in talking about Jesus. They don't even know that the reason they're here is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And in the end, unless they receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, their lives will end in darkness.

I was struck this week as I had the privilege to spend time with your ministers in study and prayer, to hear the quotation that Reverend Thomas read for us from Bertrand Russell, who was in some ways a brilliant man, and yet dedicated his life to showing why he wasn't a Christian, and giving the philosophical arguments against Christianity. As he thought about the end of his life, he reached this conclusion, and you see this is what it's like to be without Jesus: "There is darkness without. And when I die," he said, "There will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment and then nothing." Except that Bertrand Russell wasn't quite right about the end of that because it's not nothing after death. No, the Bible says that unless we receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we go to a place of judgment that the Bible describes as utter darkness. A place of distress. I'm reading from Isaiah, chapter 8, "and darkness and gloom, a place where sinners are separated forever from the light of God's glory and grace." And you begin to feel something of the spiritual darkness in the world and in the heart without Jesus. I was trying to think of what I could compare it to. Maybe it's like this. It's like being in a pit at the bottom of a mine, blindfolded, and then stuffed into a black sack, and then put into a trunk, and then with the lid closed. That's how black it is spiritually to be without Jesus. And you know people right here in Jackson, Mississippi, and all over the world are living under the shadow of Satan, and unless someone shows them the light, they will simply be swallowed up in the black hole of their sin.

And you see, that's why we need a world missions conference. A world missions conference where we are thinking about the great light that God has sent into the world that is a life changing light. The Bible says that we are called, every one of us, to shine for Jesus so that people, this is 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 9, "will come out of darkness and into his wonderful light." And here in Acts chapter 26 we get a description of what it means to come into that light. What kind of light is it? Well it is, of course, a divine light. It is a light that comes shining from God. And if darkness represents the power of Satan, then light obviously represents the presence of God. And to come into that light is to know the truth. It's to understand that the Bible is the very word of God. And when you come into the light, when you read the Bible, now it's like God is speaking directly to you. To come into the light is to know God's Son. The Bible says that God has made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. So when you come into the light, You can see Jesus, and you know who He is. You know that He's the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and you have a relationship with Him like a friend with a friend.

And furthermore, to come into the light is to know God's will. So often people want to know what they're supposed to do in life, and Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." And so when you come to Jesus in so many ways you know where God wants you to walk in the world.

And then there is this. This divine light is also a merciful light. Notice again why Jesus wanted to turn people from darkness to light. It was for this reason: so that they could receive forgiveness for their sins. He said to Paul, "I am sending you to turn them from darkness to light so that they may receive forgiveness of sins." You see, as long as you walk in darkness you're under the black guilt of your sin. Without Christ there's no forgiveness for sin, there's no mercy, there's no pardon, but when you come to Jesus and you trust in His suffering and saving work on the cross, His payment for sin through the offering of His blood and life, then you are completely forgiven. The Bible says that God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves in whom we have the forgiveness of sins. And that's what it means to come into the light. It's to receive mercy from God.

And then beyond that it's to receive from Him a new spiritual light that enables us to walk in holiness. It's a holy light. Jesus also said to Paul, "I am sending you so that they may be sanctified by faith in Me." So to be sanctified is simply to be made holy. It is to be spiritually transformed so that we become more and more like Jesus Christ. And that's what happens when we come into God's light. It's not just that our debt has been paid and that our sins are forgiven, it's that God is filling us with His radiant spirit, so that we come more and more to have the life of God living in us. The Scripture says, Ephesians, chapter 5. "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." And it's so wonderful to come into that light it's like the sunrise dancing on the water after a black night. It's like diamonds on black velvet. It's like the lantern that leads you out of the black cave. It's a light that dispels the darkness and makes everything bright and all of this light comes from Jesus, the light of the world.

And so if you want to come into that light, if you want to receive the knowledge of God and have the forgiveness of sins, all you have to do is come to Jesus. Or maybe if you really admitted it, you'd have to agree that you've been stumbling around in a kind of spiritual darkness, not sure which way to turn. Or maybe you've been trying to study spiritual things, maybe even reading the Bible, and yet it hasn't quite become clear to you. You don't really understand it. Or maybe you are so weighed down with shame for what you've done that it's like there's a dark stain on your soul. Or maybe you're in a kind of black despair because of all your troubles. And you see, Jesus is inviting you, this morning, through the words of the Scripture, and through the words of this sermon to come to Him, and to come into the light. You don't have to grope around in the spiritual darkness. You don't have to feel condemned for your sin, or give into despair. All you need to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and your Lord. And you just say, "Jesus, I believe that You died on the cross for my sins; that You were raised from the dead to give eternal life; and I want You to be the light of my life."

Maybe the time has really come for you to do that. You've been thinking about Jesus, but you haven't made that commitment yet. And as I thought about that, I reflected on an experience I've had this week as I've been staying here in Jackson. I have a room with wooden shutters. And at night I close all the shutters, and that means that it's dark in the morning, even when the sun comes up. You can barely see just a little bit of light coming in through the shutters. Well, there comes a time in the day when it's time to leave the darkness, to open the shutters, to let in the light. And if it's time for you to do that, then you should open your heart to Jesus this morning.

Now once you've done that, once you've come into the light, God has a job for you to do. And that is to help other people come into the light. Because really, the mission Jesus gave to Paul is the same mission he gives to us. He says, "I am sending you to turn them from darkness to light." And here we are confronted with what I think we have to agree is an amazing truth about the Christian light. That Jesus has called us, of all people, to be His light in the world. You know, Jesus said to His disciples, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." That's John, chapter 9, verse 5. "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

But of course in one sense Jesus is no longer in the world. He's returned to heaven, and He's waiting there to be revealed at the last day in all of his glory. But in the meantime, He has left His light to keep the world from being plunged back into darkness. And we're the light. The same Jesus that said that He was the light also said, and this is Matthew, chapter 5, "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

One commentator on this wrote about this theme, "That the world has no other light than the light which we shed abroad by holding aloft the lamp of the word, and lifting the Lord Jesus Christ and letting Him shine through us." And that means that if people who are walking in darkness are going to come into the light, it will be because they have seen the light shining in us.

This morning as we think about our own part in God's great work in the world, we should see by way of encouragement that for all of the darkness that still needs to be dispelled, there are so many places where the light of Jesus is shining. Now I think I could prove that by giving you some of the statistics. I could tell you, for example, about 50% church growth in North Africa. Or the spread of the gospel in Korea; or the ongoing work of church planting in China. I could tell you about places where more Muslims have come to Christ in the last 20 years than in the entire last millennium. I could tell you, as I read this week, that 70,000 people are becoming Bible believing Christians every day, with more than 3,000 new churches being started around the world every week.

Now that's a lot of light, a lot of shining. But when I think of the light shining in the darkness, I tend to think of the people I know, and the things that they are doing for Jesus. I think of the Presbyterian church in downtown Istanbul, that is baptizing converts from Islam, and has now grown to several hundred believers worshiping in that great city, and now with a strategic plan for sending out church planters all over Turkey, one of the most godless nations on earth. I think of friends who served as missionaries in Colombia, laboring to spread the light in a very dark place among the Inca tribesmen, and all of their efforts seem to be in vain. For more than 20 years missionaries had been going to this tribe, and not a single person had come to Christ. But this year the missionaries received a letter from a member of the tribe who said in effect, "I've never met you, but I heard that you came here to spread the gospel and to spread the light, and it didn't seem like it made any difference, but I want to tell you that even those seemingly futile efforts were part of the way that God was preparing our people to come to Him in faith. And now the gospel has come to our tribe again, and there are 200 converts, and we have established a church." You see, the light was shining in a dark place. I think of a man and his wife who disappear into the jungle for months at a time, secretly going around to church planters and to their wives, and teaching them and instructing them so that they can take the gospel back to their own tribes, in such a dangerous place that we can't even really say anything about the work of this man to our congregation. And yet he is shining with the light of Jesus in a dark place. I think of the Christian work among the prostitutes of Ghana. The missions pastor of our church just came back from a trip there and showed us the pictures. And showed us what was happening there. These women living in darkness and degradation, and yet being invited to come into a Christian program where they receive job training, and where they hear the gospel, and where they are trained in spiritual things. And when they come to the end of their training, these women wear long bright robes that say, in effect, "I have come out of the darkness, and I am in the light of Jesus." Or I think of all of the wonderful churches in our own country, churches like this one for example, that shine with the light of Jesus. Churches where the gospel is preached; where members invite their friends to church; where children are discipled in the faith; and where deeds of mercy are done in the name of Jesus Christ. And I think especially of the people I know who have come into the light of Jesus in recent weeks and months. I think of the brilliant chemist whose wife and friends prayed for him for more than a decade and finally just before Christmas, he came to Christ. I think of the kindergartner who was getting ready for the Christmas program at school, and as he walked down the steps of the family home, he stopped on the staircase, and he knelt down and he prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. Or I think, for example, of the grandmother who was in a coma, and her family belonged to our church, and they had prayed for this woman for years and years and years. She was a lifelong agnostic, and it seemed like she was about to die. Suddenly she opened her eyes. The first words out of her mouth were these, "I have seen Jesus, and he has forgiven me for everything I have ever done." I think of the young professional woman who was in my office this week. She said, as we talked about spiritual things, and about the gospel, and about putting your whole confidence in Jesus Christ, she said, "I'm not there yet. But I think I want to be." You see, if I'm right, then the light is beginning to dawn for her as it does for everyone who comes to Christ in faith. And you see, Jesus is still shining today. He's the light of the world. His light cannot be hidden, and wherever people are shining for Him, that light will spread.

And what you need to understand this morning is that it is your job to spread that light. You know, so often when people come to a world missions conference like this one, they think it's for someone else. They think of missions as a kind of specialty, and the missions conference says something for people that are interested in that sort of thing. Listen, this conference isn't for anyone else. It's for you. Because if you believe in Jesus Christ then your mission is to turn people from darkness to light. And missions isn't something that someone else does somewhere else; it's what God has sent you to do wherever you are. What the world needs is for ordinary men and women, and ordinary boys and girls, to shine with the light of Jesus. That means shining for Jesus right where you are. It means making a personal commitment to support the worldwide work of the gospel through prayer and through giving. And Dr. Duncan was right that I wanted to challenge you in this area. I saw the stewardship brochure. It seemed to me that if you were going to make your goal $900,000, you might as well make it a round million. What I didn't tell them was that I had an ulterior motive for doing that, because I had begun to tell our missions commission that they ought to set our missions budget at a million dollars. And we're not quite there yet, but it you made a commitment to do that, I'd be able to go back to our church and say, "You know, down in Jackson, Mississippi, they're trying to raise a million dollars for missions."

Now for some of us it will mean not just sharing the gospel where we are right now, and praying for the work of the gospel, and giving sacrificially to the work of the gospel, but for some of us surely it will mean that God is calling us, either now or in the future, to go to some other part of the world. Somewhere dark, certainly. Somewhere dangerous, possibly. Because that is where Jesus wants to spread his light.

And so let me ask you this question. Are you shining for Jesus so brightly that that light would have the capacity for God to use it to turn other people from darkness to light. Not long ago I received what I thought was a very significant letter from Tom and Cynthia Hale, missionaries who spent a lifetime serving the Lord in medicine. The Hale's letter which came with this title, "Disciples needed for the 21st century" was really a cry from the heart. I want to read you part of the letter. This is what they say, "Our major concern relates to the level of discipleship we have observed during our travels. We fear it is too shallow. The worldwide evangelical church has experienced unprecedented growth, and in terms of the plain numbers coming to Christ, nothing like it has been seen before. But there are troubling signs that many of these believers are following Christ primarily for what they can receive rather than for what they can give. We have a sense that some rapidly growing churches are placing more emphasis on drawing people in than on sending people out. They have been placing more emphasis on the blessings of following Christ than on the cost. The hard teachings are downplayed as if there's a fear of scaring people away." But, they go on to write, "the main work of the church is to prepare those who are being drawn in to then be thrust out into the world as witnesses. And the question is often asked, 'how can we recruit more people to do this?' and the answer we believe is for churches to place greater emphasis on challenging their members to deny self, to forsake all, and to follow Christ with no conditions or limitations."

Are you doing that? Are you following Christ with no conditions, with no limitations? You know, there are so many Christians today, I think especially here in America, who try to squeeze Christ in around the corners of their lives. They are willing to call themselves Christians, they're willing to come to church, they may even be willing to be involved in some kind of ministry as along as it fits in with the rest of their lives. They just don't want Christianity to get in the way of their entertainment or their career, or their hobbies, or all of the things that they have planned to do with their time and their money. But understand that as long as we take that kind of attitude towards Christ and towards the Christian faith, that people are going to stay in the dark. We're not called to flicker for Jesus, but to shine for Jesus with a blazing passion.

And so let me ask you again, and challenge yourself in your own heart in the presence of God, and with the witness of His Holy Spirit, "Are You shining for Jesus brightly enough to turn people from darkness to light?" Some of you may have heard, just a month ago, about the tragic murder of three Southern Baptist missionaries in the Middle East, a doctor, and an administrator, and a purchasing manager, who were gunned down in a Christian hospital in Yemen. All of them knew the risks involved in serving God in such a dangerous part of the world. And yet they freely gave their lives away for the sake of the gospel. What do you suppose it was that motivated them to serve God in that way? Here's how a leader from their mission board explained it. He said, "It's important to do what you can, when you can, because timing is not in our hands but God's. We cannot decide the place and time of our deaths. But we can decide the place and time of our service. They gave their lives as they could, when they could, so the grace of God would be poured out on those people."

But many Christians don't do that. Many of us want to wait for a safer day, for a more convenient time. "They did not waste their lives," the man from that missionary board said, "but" listen to this, "shined a light into the darkness." You see, those missionaries understood what their mission was. They knew that people were living in darkness, that they needed to come into the light, and they knew it was their responsibility to shine with the light of Jesus in that dark place.

Now do you know what your mission is, the mission that Jesus Himself has given to you, as a church, as an individual believer in Jesus Christ? People are living in darkness. People all around this city, all over the world, including people that you know. They need to see the light. And what Jesus has said is, "I am sending you to turn them from darkness into light."

Our Father in heaven, we pray for a pouring out of Your Spirit upon us, for a filling of us with the light of Your presence, so that we would shine brightly for Jesus. Father, we pray that You would help us by Your grace to turn aside from all of the dark things that are clouding our witness for You. And Father, we pray that You would use us to turn others from darkness to light. It's our prayer for them, Lord, that men and women and children around us, around this city and around the world would come into the light of Jesus, and that You would find us faithful in doing our part to help bring them to the light. And we pray in the name of He who is the light, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Guide to the Morning Service

The Themes of the Service?This Lord's Day begins our annual Missions Conference. Note the theme and focus of the conference, and see how it is reflected in the various elements of the services this week and next.

The Reading of Scripture?Paul told Timothy "give attention to the public reading of Scripture" (1 Timothy 4:13) and so, at virtually every morning service, a minister reads a substantial section of Scripture. In the reading of God's word, He speaks most directly to His people. We are reading through the Book of Acts at present. The passage we will read this morning provides essential substance for the Gospel proclamation we announce when we do the work of missions.

The Guest Preacher?We are delighted to have in our midst, opening our 2003 Missions Conference, Dr. Philip G. Ryken. Phil is a dear friend and is the successor to the great James Montgomery Boice and Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has served since 1995. He received his BA from Wheaton College (IL), his MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and his DPhil from the University of Oxford (UK). He is the author and editor of numerous books, serves on the board of Wheaton College and with me on the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He and his wife, Lisa, are parents to four children.

The Sermon?Today, we pause in our morning series on the Apostles' Creed to reflect on the text chosen by our Missions Conference Committee as the theme passage for this year's conference: Acts 26:17. In preparation for the study of this passage, you may want to read John 1:1-14 prior to the service.

The Psalm and Hymns?All of our psalms, hymns, and songs for the next two weeks will feature missionary themes.

Come, Thou Almighty King

We open our worship today with a trinitarian hymn of praise. The doctrine of the Trinity is the centerpiece of Christian theology, and a defining doctrine of orthodoxy. "It is only when we contemplate this Trinity that we know who and what God is," said the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck

Jesus Shall Reign (based on Psalm 72)

Another of Isaac Watt's famous paraphrases. This hymn is a bold declaration that one day "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord." We sing it in response to the reading of Scripture this morning, appropriately.

O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling

This hymn's author composed it, while caring for one of her children who was sick with typhoid fever! Thomson was born in London and immigrated to the US (Philadelphia, PA) in the late nineteenth century.

Out of My Bondage, Sorrow, and Night

The author was a congregational minister and attended Phillips Exeter Academy, the University of Vermont, and the Andover Theological Seminary. He was pastor of the Summer Street Congregational Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, for over 30 years. The hymn picks up the theme of darkness and light in Acts 26:17.

The Faith Promise Commitment?For many years now, the Session of our church has approved a special way of giving to missions called a "Faith Promise." This giving, specifically for missions, is promoted each year at Missions Conference time. The "Faith Promise" is an ongoing contribution that goes wholly, only, and directly to home and world missions. We will make our commitments next Lord's Day.

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on the various elements of the service.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

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