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Christian teachers in public schools have an almost impossible assignment. Our government now requires all teachers to teach evolutionary theory as fact even though they are not convinced or believe that God created the universe. The entire LGBT agenda is now an educational requirement. A myriad of other teachings that a follower of Jesus must reject are required lesson material. History is deliberately deleted or adulterated to make it "politically correct" for certain groups which might be offended. Godless political and social philosophies are presented as desirable and biblical standards for the family are called into question or ridiculed as being old-fashioned. How can Christian teachers effectively teach that which they believe to be false or immoral?
By the same token, we could ask how Christians could preach the gospel or teach God's Word if they aren't convinced of it's truth and power?
There are many discouraged and disheartened Christians out there. Probably 80% of all professing Christians are mostly "closet Christians." By this, I mean they seldom give testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ. Nor do they show or voice objection to unbiblical actions, false beliefs or other displays of wickedness in the world around them. They have mastered the art of ignoring, disregarding and overlooking such things. Unfortunately, this is also the situation in their immediate family and marriage relationship. Conversation is limited to matters of mutual agreement.
Of late, more and more churches have adopted the same stance. When churches and missionaries don't see much fruit, they often blame the recipients of the gospel. "Their hearts are hardened." Others blame the message. "The gospel is too old fashioned, too difficult for people to understand or hard to digest." So they water down the message and try worldly entertainment. Truth is replaced by tolerance.
In the standard textbook on missions in Europe, "Let Europe Hear!", Dr. Bob Evans called Austria "the missionary graveyard." Many who felt called to Austria didn't last more than one term. Austria had "hard soil." In the beginning of our ministry, I too experienced what many others must have felt, and if I had not been convinced of my calling, I too might have given up. Austrians generally responded with disinterest, disbelief or they just seemed confused by our efforts to share God's Word with them.
I refused to blame the "graveyard" or the message, but asked the Lord to show me why MY presentation was not effective and how I could improve MY delivery. I reminded the Lord that he had called me to Austria and entrusted me with spreading the most important message in the world. I needed him to show me what I was doing wrong and to teach me how to do better.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
Since missions is based on the "Great Commission," I decided to do an intensive study of this. The great commission can be found in various formulations in all four gospels and the book of Acts. As I studied, God began to open my eyes. Neither the Lord nor the gospel has changed since New Testament times. And although much has changed in this world, the spiritual needs of people are certainly not much different. I came to the conclusion that we, who claim to be God's messengers, have not paid close attention to our Lord's commands. We are the problem, because we don't trust and obey!
My first discovery was that our situation is not a whole lot different from that of the pre-Pentecost disciples of Jesus. They didn't believe, were fearful of the world around them and doubted Jesus.
Mark 16:15 says, And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Now read verses 13-14.
…neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
Matthew gives the commission differently in chapter 28: And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples of ]
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. Amen. Now read verse 17: And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
Luke wrote in chapter 24, verse 36-41: As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
My first thoughts were, "if the disciples who accompanied Jesus for three years and were witnesses of the
crucifixion and resurrection doubted, how can God expect us to believe 1900 years later? Jesus hasn't shown us his hands and feet. We can't even see him, let alone touch him!"
And if we, the messengers, have doubts about the reality of Christ and the truth of the gospel, why should we be surprised that the rest of the world doesn't believe our gospel? This really troubled me.
The disciples had been through a lot in recent days and weeks. Their Master was brutally tortured and killed before their very eyes. Three days later, he reappeared to the disciples and on one occasion, he appeared to 500 believers at once. But only believers saw him after the resurrection and others just heard rumors and conflicting reports. Jesus stayed around for 40 days, at the end of which he instructed his followers to take the gospel of salvation into all the world and make disciples. Jesus also told them that God had given him all power in heaven and on earth. Finally, he promised that he would be with them unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). Now comes the shocker!
After Jesus entrusted his doubting and fearful followers with the "impossible" task of preaching an "unbelievable" gospel and to make disciples in all nations; and after claiming to have all power, and promising that he would be with them until the end of the word, -- he left them! They watched as he was taken up in a cloud and
disappeared from their sight. Christ's ascension into heaven must have sent the disciples reeling!
I hear Christians declare that they cannot preach, teach or witness, but they do it all the time! Our life broadcasts loudly and clearly to all who are within range. What many fail to recognize, is the fact that what we DON'T do or say is equally influential in both positive and negative ways.
The disciples locked themselves in a room, closed the shutters and sat there doubting and scared half to death. They were hoping that no one would notice them. It is similar today. The Bible warns of wolves disguised as sheep sneaking into the church (Matthew 7:15), but now we have sheep trying hard to go unnoticed in the wolf pack. Christians are preaching and teaching, but it isn't the gospel of Jesus Christ that they communicate!
Early on in his ministry, Jesus called his disciples and sent them as sheep and lambs into the wolf pack! Read it for yourself! In Matthew 10:16, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, sent his twelve disciples out as “sheep in the midst of wolves!” In Luke 10:3, he sends the seventy out as "lambs among wolves." Wolves travel in packs and eat sheep and lambs for a living. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two into the wolf pack!
Today, the wolf pack has taken control of our government, public schools, the workplace, the media, and in some cases, even churches! And this is supposedly a "Christian nation."
The last words that Jesus spoke while on earth are recorded in the first verses of Acts: He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father…
ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence… 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 Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Jesus commanded his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father. The Heavenly Father (1st person of the Trinity) had promised his Son Jesus (2nd person) to give his followers the Holy Ghost (3rd person).
After saying these things, Jesus ascended into heaven. Luke writes in Acts 1 that the disciples stood "gazing" -- looking steadfastly up into heaven. For how long we do not know, but two men dressed in white appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. They were obviously angels sent from God. They said,
Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?Then they told them that Jesus would return just like he had departed.
The disciples obeyed their Lord and stayed in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit. While they waited, they prayed. About 120 disciples were gathered in the upper room where they "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." (Acts 1:14).
At some point, Peter stopped praying and concentrating on the Lord's promise to send the Holy Spirit. Instead, he turned his attention to Judas. He decided that they needed to choose a 12th disciple to replace Judas. Theologians are divided over whether this was proper or called for. I join with those who think they should have continued praying and waiting. Jesus had commanded them to preach the gospel and make disciples (plural) in all nations, but he chose the original twelve himself. If it had been crucial for his kingdom, I think he would have chosen a replacement for Judas. If the eleven were supposed to do it, he certainly would have given instructions. What ever became of the one they chose? Matthias is never seen or heard from again. Furthermore, the other eleven Apostles also died and were never replaced. Roman Catholics believe that Peter was the first Pope and that there is a succession of Popes, but most theologians agree that there is no succession of apostles.
Then came Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Ghost. Now it was the disciples' turn to act. They had learned from the Master, accompanied him in his ministry, followed his example, witnessed his death and resurrection and finally, they had received their marching orders. Those orders were little different from the instructions given earlier (lambs among wolves).
The disciples had to make a decision. Would they believe, trust and obey? Or would they just go get a job to earn money so they could enjoy life? For the answer to that question, you only need to read the book of Acts. It might also be called, "We did it and it works!" When Jesus sent his lambs out (two by two!) into the wolf pack, many wolves were converted and joined the lambs. In a short time, they had "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).
After Pentecost, the Christians spread out and preached the gospel wherever they went. Those who believed were taught (discipled). Within three centuries, the then-known world had been reached with the gospel. There was much opposition and bitter persecution, but vibrant, growing churches were established on several continents, with large numbers of Christians in Alexandria (N. Africa), Asia Minor (Turkey) and Europe (Rome). Their message (the gospel) was so effective, that false teachers began counterfeiting it and the Roman Emperor decided that he had better join the movement or risk losing his power!
Now we can safely conjecture why only believers saw the risen Christ. It is not seeing or touching Jesus, not audibly hearing his words that leads to salvation. It is faith in God and his Word -- the Living Word and the Written Word, that saves. Truth wins the hearts of those who seek to do God's will and live righteously. Those who choose to do evil, will always hate truth.
One of my favorite verses is a statement of Jesus in response to his critics recorded in John 7:17.
If any man will do his [God's] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:11
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Proverbs 8:17
And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. Luke 4:32
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. John 3:20-21
Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me. John 15:26
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Acts 5:32-33
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Romans 13:2
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
II Thessalonians 2:10-13
You still don't believe? Just do it! Trust and obey! How many miracles did it take before you became a follower of Christ? Or was it just God's lave that sought and bought you? Was it just the truth -- the gospel that placed you under conviction of sin, brought you to repentance and led to salvation and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
Mission impossible? You better believe it! But we serve a God who delights in doing the impossible. That way, he gets the glory and not some self-centered human.