RPM, Volume 15, Number 52, December 22 to December 28, 2013

History's First Mission Conference

By Robert Petterson

A teacher at a Connecticut prep school, ranked as the best in America, gave a pop quiz to students in a Bible as literature class. Some of their answers on multiple- choice questions are downright hilarious:

When asked to identify Sodom and Gomorrah, several said that they were lovers.

  • Jezebel was Ahab's donkey.
  • Golgotha was the giant who slew the apostle David.
  • Matthew, Mark, Luther, and John wrote the gospels.
  • Eve was created from an apple. Moses baptized Jesus.

The Tonight Show host, Jay Leno is famous for his on-the-street interviews of passersby. One night he chose to quiz people on the Bible. He asked a young lady, "Can you name one of the Ten Commandments." After thinking for the longest time, she replied, "Freedom of speech." Another question: "Complete this sentence: Let him who is without sin…" The person replied, "have a good time." He asked a man, "According to the Bible, who was the prophet eaten by a whale?" The guy answered, "Pinocchio." Jay asked a couple, "What is the opening line of the Bible?" After conferring with each other, the husband responded with the opening lines from Star Wars: "In a galaxy far, far away."

I figure that fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ at Covenant are much brighter, so here are five Bible questions that are much tougher. At the beginning of our Annual Mission Conference, here's the first:

Having field-tested this question to folks around Covenant this past week, I found most scratching their heads. Before you give up, here's a hint: just three persons attended it.

So where was it? Let's allow the Bible to answer this question.

Before they leave the Last Supper on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prays for his disciples. Within days he will give them his Great Commission to take the gospel to the world. But his prayer isn't just focused on those disciples in the Upper Room. He looks forward, across more than 2,000 years into the future. You and I are on his mind. He is praying for everyone who will ever come to Christ because of his disciple's message:
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." —John 17:20&21

This is a missionary prayer for the salvation of all those yet to be born. But he not only looks forward into the future, he also looks backwards into eternity past. In verse 21, he speaks of the oneness that has always existed between him and his Father. What is that oneness? Let's go back to the beginning of his prayer.

In verse one he prays, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." There's oneness of purpose: both the Father and Son live to glorify each other. What glorifies the Father? In verses 2&3, Jesus says this about himself to his Father: "For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

God sent Jesus to the world so that the world might make it to heaven. God was going to be glorified by our salvation. Jesus goes on in verse four: "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." But Jesus is speaking by faith. He hasn't yet finished that work. What he has to do over the next three days is horrific beyond comprehension. He who has always been sinless in perfection must take on all the sins of God's lost children, and become sin itself. He who has always existed in heavenly glory must endure the grossest kind of earthly shame. He who is the source of all life must experience death.

But he holds on to a single hope. Look at verse five: "And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." He will triumph at the cross, defeat the grave, rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and once again stand in his Father's presence with the glory they both shared before his earthly body was conceived as a two-celled zygote in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

We seldom think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before history began. But they have always existed in eternal oneness and glory. Before a single star spangled the night skies, they enjoyed unimaginable fellowship and joy together. But the Father wanted to create a universe to bring glory to the Triune Godhead. In his foreknowledge, he also knew that Adam and Eve would disobey him and plunge the world into sin. He could have put a stop to his plans before they came into existence. But he didn't, because the salvation of a lost universe would bring him even more glory. So he called the first mission conference in history—actually, even before history began. When we hold our mission conferences today, we are re-enacting what took place in heaven eons ago.

God had a chosen people—lost sons and daughters that he wanted to rescue from every tongue, tribe, and nation. In verse two Jesus speaks of giving eternal life to all those that the Father has given to him. What is eternal life? He defines it in verse three: "…that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." That's why Jesus came to this earth, and that's why all of his fully devoted followers must also go to the whole earth. When Jesus came to the house of a notorious gangster named Zacchaeus, religious folk were scandalized that an upstanding rabbi would darken the doorway of such a lowlife. But Jesus replied in Luke 19:10, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Jesus was on a mission.

That was the purpose of the first mission conference in heaven: to seek and to save the lost. Later in his Upper Room prayer, Jesus prays for all his disciples—those then, and all of us 2,000 years later—that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…" What is that oneness? It is to be the same as the oneness between God and his Son! It is a oneness of purpose: people coming to Christ, whether it is across the street or around the world. Most churches lose their unity because they lose a singleness of purpose. That's why our vision begins with "A loving family…" and ends with "…reaching out in mercy." This mission conference, like the first one before time began, has a single unifying and electrifying purpose: to glorify our Father in heaven by bringing as many people as possible home to God by giving their lives to Jesus Christ!

The answer can be given in a single word: EVERYTHING! Jesus says to God the Father in verse 3, "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…" Jesus was an only Son. When the Father gave Jesus, he gave all that he had. He gave that which was most precious. Because he and his Son were one, he literally gave himself. If you forget everything else I say to you today, please remember this: God only had one Son, and he made him a missionary. Joyce and I only have one child, our daughter Rachael. I can't imagine sending her away to some far off country to face rejection, abject poverty, utter humiliation, and then a cruel and excruciatingly painful death nailed to a cross. If she were in a garden of tangled olive trees, sweating drops of blood, in the throes of suicidal despair, crying out to me, "Daddy, please let this cup pass from me. Pleasssse don't let them crucify me," I would pluck her out of that place and bring her back home. But God the Father didn't, even though his love for his Son was infinitely greater than anything Joyce and I have ever begun to feel for Rachael. If I heard her cry out from a cross, "Daddy, why have you forsaken me?", I would run to her, pull her off that cross and wrap her in my arms. But God the Father remained silent. What did that silence require of God? It cost everything he had! Do you have just an inkling of how much your Father in heaven loves you? Do you know how much he loves lost sons and daughters across the street from you, and around the world?

It surely cost Jesus everything. In this prayer he speaks of the glory he shared with his Father. But he laid that aside. St. Paul says this: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." (I Corinthians 8:9) And we are rich if we are saved from hell and destined for heaven. But, alone with Christ, our heavenly Father has given us so much more: time, talent, and treasure. Why has he blessed us so much? So that, like Christ, we may give it all away to make others rich in Christ. When Jesus finally said, "It is finished!" he had left it all on the playing field. When I die, I want it to be said of me, "He didn't finish everything that needed to be done, but he did all that he possibly could." I want that said of this church. My hope is that each of you could say the same thing. Jesus held nothing back. Neither can we!

The Holy Spirit also gives everything. Before the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit would leave heaven for forays to this earth. But then he would return to God the Father. But Jesus said to his 120 disciples in Acts 1:8, "When the Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Jesus left heaven for 33 years. The Spirit has still not gone home after 2,000 years. He still moves throughout the earth, seeking to bring those who are dead in their sins back alive. He fills every impossibly flawed believer, giving them the power to go to impossible places, and do impossible things, to make the impossible happen: dead folks coming alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit will not stop until every one of God's elect children in every dark corner of the world has been found and brought back into the family. What do mission conferences call its participants to give: not just a faith promise in money, but everything they have. Not long before Indians killed him on the banks of an Amazon Jungle river, missionary Jim Elliott wrote, "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

That's an important question, because we don't want to ask you to do anything that Jesus didn't do. You might say that when God the Son promised God the Father that he would die, there was no faith involved. How can one say that God would require faith to do anything? After all, heaven was so sure that the Son would go all the way to the cross that the Bible refers to Christ as "…the Lamb slain from the creation of the world." (Revelation 13:8) There was never a moment, from the first light at the dawn of creation, that heaven wasn't absolutely certain that the Son would be slain.

And yet, I would posit that the promise of the Son was based on faith. He was not only fully God, but he was going to become fully man—tempted in all ways that we are tempted. Make no mistake about it: he wrestled with the cross that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Everything within him wanted to walk away. His anxiety was so intense that blood vessels by his sweat glands popped. The gospel account says that "he was overwhelmed to the point of death." (Matthew 26:38) In short, the horror of the cross so overwhelmed him, that he wanted to die in the garden that night rather than face the agony of Golgotha the next day. This was suicidal despair. Three times he begged his Father, "Let this cup pass from me!" In other words, "Let me out of my faith promise." There is no faith promise unless it involves sheer, unadulterated, stretching faith. There wasn't for Jesus, and there won't be for you or me!

It means that, if we are fully devoted followers of Christ, we have to do what he did. Of course, we aren't going to die on a cross to earn the salvation of the lost. Jesus already did that, once and for all for every one of God's lost sons and daughters. But we have to go. Jesus prayed this for his disciples—then and now—in verse eighteen: "As you sent me into the world, I send them into the world." In that first mission conference, Jesus made a faith promise: to go to the world to seek and to save those who are lost. He gave everything, as did his Father and the Holy Spirit. He made the Faith Promise of the ages. It stretched his faith to the breaking point. Did he pay it off? You bet! On the cross he cried out, "It is finished." We learned last week that these three words were captured in a single Greek word: TETELESTI—an ancient banking term that means, "The debt is paid in full!" In verse 15, Jesus prayed for his disciples, "…protect them from the evil one." In verse 19 he prays that they might be sanctified, or made holy. He was also praying that for himself. None of us—not even Jesus Christ himself—can pay a Faith Promise without God's help.

Jesus never held back. You and I can't either. I know that our special project with our partner church in India is reaping benefits that are incalculable. For every three dollars spent, a person is converted. I can't imagine I wouldn't pull three dollars out of my pocket to see another person standing beside me in heaven. But to see even more, I think I would take every dollar out of my pocket, go without a new car, scale back a vacation, and stretch my faith promise giving beyond what I know is humanly possible without God's intervention. But I rejoice, because this gives me the opportunity to be just like Jesus who left that first mission conference to transform a lost world!

Copyright February 10, 2013 by Covenant Church of Naples / PCA

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