“For men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm…”
In 1971 I made a trip to Russia. I was studying literature in England and hitched on to a discount side trip in November. Of special interest to me was the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. I had read his War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection. Knowing of his Christian faith as well as his literary ability, I was drawn to all things Tolstoy.
You can imagine my joy in visiting “Bright Glenn,” Tolstoy’s country estate. Some of his original manuscripts were stacked in a corner. One, then, could leaf the pages, scrutinize his penmanship, observe his strike overs. I sat at his desk, in his chair, even held his quill pen in my hand. I even fantasized that Leo himself walked into the room, greeted me heartily and asked me to work with him on his newest novel!
That would be some invitation, wouldn’t it? To co-labor with Tolstoy. A commission to co-author the latest Russian classic!
But, alas, there was no risen Tolstoy, no voice of commission. Only silence broken by the shrill November winter winds sweeping across the Soviet plains. And to this day I remain an un-commissioned artist.
There is in my life and yours, however, a genuine commissioning that, if you think about it, far outshines any other possible call to art. It is the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. “Go,” God commissions in Matthew. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” In I Kings 8:42, it is said of God, “Men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm…” God, it seems, wills to work with us to create a people for Himself.
Genesis 1-2 explains how the Lord creates the heavens and the earth and all life to enjoy it. Then on the seventh day He rested. Somewhere in time humanity sinned and all of life fell to ruin. But God rolled up His sleeves and went to work with a divine redeeming strategy that spanned the years and ultimately included Christ, the cross, the resurrection, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
This makes today theologically the Eighth Day of Creation. The Lord is at labor setting this abnormal world right again. And He invites us, He commissions us, to co-labor with Him in this divine enterprise.
Now, just how is it that, as the text says, “Men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm?” Historically, there are four means of fulfilling the Good Lord’s plan.
The first is when God’s people voluntarily go. Acts 13:1 following speak of the early church in Antioch. A great host of people had leaned of God’s love in Jesus and embraced God by faith. A vital church community had formed and matured in knowledge, relationships, and ministry skills.
It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke reminding the church that there were others “out there”, in other cities, in other nations, on other continents that knew not of God nor His ways in Jesus. So it was that Barnabas and Paul were called on to voluntarily depart the church and carry the gospel to regions afar.
The early church didn’t hoard the good news. It shared it with breathless excitement. And it did so by sending two beloved men— active, proven, and mature.
In the past, the modern church has sometimes been slack in sending missionaries. And when we do get round to doing so, we all too frequently send under-trained, immature misfits. More than I care to remember, I have seen untested men, unuseful here, discontented with job, see the mission field as an answer to boredom, a chance to flee their problems, to live the great adventure. And with self-will they head for the third world! And, sadly, their ministry on the field was as big a bust there as it was here.
I spoke with a national pastor in Nepal about missionaries the church sends out. He said, “Stephen, if you won’t miss them, don’t send them to us!”
The early church sent Paul, and Barnabas. They sent their best! We should do no less.
I recall Michael Murray, a bright young freshman at Duke University. He hardly missed a service in the church. He came early and stayed late mixing in with people. When we were short a song leader at the college ministry, he jumped in with his guitar for a whole year. He worked a six month internship for the church to learn preaching and administration. He got a masters in linguistic. He made numerous short term mission trips to China. He married a nurse willing to live in the foreign field. God built Michael very thoroughly. And one cold winter’s Sunday night we went as a church out on the front lawn. There Michael and Yolanda Murray knelt down and we laid hands on them sending them out to far regions. That was fifteen years ago. And the Murrays today are preaching and living grace among a needy people still to this day.
The gospel spreads when we volunteer to go. It also spreads another way— when we involuntarily go.
When Babylon conquered Israel in battle, the year was around 588 B.C., thousands of Jews were deported 500 miles east as slaves. In their captivity they carried their knowledge of God with them. And many a gentile thus learned of the Lord.
Psalm 137 was written during this exile. Hear their lament as Jewish slaves living in a pagan land. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee Zion. On the willows we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs… how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
There have been many led against their will to foreign lands. But they went with Jesus and evangelized the people to whom they were brought captive.
A Welshman named Sucant was abducted by pirates in 403 A.D. The sixteen year old Christian lad was taken to Ireland and enslaved for five years by the cruelest of Irish chieftains. Eventually Sucant escaped to join a monastery in Southern France. There he changed his name to Patrick, and intended to live out his years in the orderly monastic life of a monk.
Yet in 432 A.D., at the age of 45, the Holy Spirit called Patrick to return to Ireland and carry the gospel to his former tormentors. This Patrick did, investing the remainder of his life in the Irish. During the next 31 years he baptized more than 120,000 people into Christ!
Still today the Irish say of Patrick, “He found Ireland all heathen. He left it all Christian.”
So, according to our text, “Men will hear of your great name…” And how shall this be? As we go willingly or unwilling to the nations.
Yet this is not all! For there is still a third way good news spreads, and that is as others voluntarily come to us.
I Kings 10:6-7, 23-24, tells of the Queen of Sheba traveling from Africa to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon. Fascinated by his religion and wisdom she came to swill it all in. “And she said to the king, ‘The report was true which I heard in my own land of your affairs and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it; and behold, the half was not told me.’”
Roman soldiers on duty in Palestine, men like Cornelius, willingly came to serve in war. While there they inquired of the gospel (Acts 10).
Here in the United States today foreigners are coming in droves to attend our colleges. They are the brightest and best of China, Zimbabwe, Australia, Russia, the Sudan and beyond. Not counting diplomats, spouses, children and business travelers, foreign students number well over half a million souls. 87% return to their nations upon graduation. Most assume positions of leadership. And they take with them so much of what they learned here.
Over the nine years I led a Bible study on Elon College’s campus I met and had in my home youth from Holland, Israel, Peru, Iran, and Germany. I tell you, the world is coming to our doorstep and we have opportunity to serve them. Perhaps many will convert to Christ and go home like the Queen of Sheba, saying, “Behold, the half of it wasn’t told me! For, indeed, there is a God in Jesus Christ!”
So, we may willingly or unwillingly go. But the gospel also spreads when we willingly come. And, finally, there is a fourth means of missions: unwillingly coming.
Paul the apostle was imprisoned for his faith. Yet in jail he evangelized and mentored soldier converts and wrote much of the New Testament epistles.
African tribes fought in the 1600’s. Those defeated were delivered to Muslim traders who sold them to coastal slave merchants
bound for North America. Bad as this all was, many a slave became a Christian. And the gospel has flourished.
I know of a Christian in Brazil thrown into prison on unjust charges. At first he fought to extract himself from such a hell hole. He was unwilling to come to such a place! Then God opened his eyes and he saw 4,000 men with him in the dungeon. And he began to testify and minister. Today, after eleven years in prison, his ministry is fruitful beyond what one can imagine! And no one else could have even gotten into the jail to bring such light! “Things turn out for the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out,” he says.
If you study the history of missions, you find a big push in the early church to evangelize the Mediterranean world between 40 A.D. and 350 A.D. And they did it without radio, T.V., fax machines, church buildings, cars, phones, and huge budgets.
By 350 A.D. the church had stagnated and grown comfortable in the world. Come 500 A.D. Christianity was actually shrinking in number.
That’s when Islam began to spread across Asia, Europe and Africa. By 700 A.D. it looked like Muslims would rule the world! It was a dark age.
Slowly, however, the church began to reawaken. In 1492 Columbus encountered the New World. In 1517 Luther began the Protestant Reformation. And by 1600 the Colonial era began.
Up until now Christianity was only a Western religion. But now it leapt to a global faith as missionaries carried the gospel to China, India, South America and beyond.
Schools like Dartmouth College in New Hampshire were founded to evangelize Indians. They took John the Baptizer’s motto as their own, “A voice crying in the wilderness.”
Still today, however, there are unreached peoples. Fully one half of the world’s population hasn’t heard the gospel.
In 1930 an American Christian missionary to Japan wrote home to his church alarmed about Japanese militarism. He pleaded, “Send me 2,000 of your best sons as missionaries or in 10 years send me 1,000,000 men as soldiers.”
It’s chilling, isn’t it? If we do not willingly go, God may send us unwillingly.
Make no mistake. God’s middle name is “Go.” We have been commissioned! As the text says, “Men will hear of your great name!” And by our going and their coming the world will know.
Let this be our truth: that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world. And He is our Lord.
And some of us must go.
Some of us must let go of our sons and daughters and friends.
Others must help go with prayer and funding.
But all of us must get going!
For we’ve a story to tell to the nations!
Lord, here am I! Send me!