The Command to Baptize

Baptism is more than just a tradition or ritual. It is part of the Great Commission, the last command that Jesus gave before ascending into heaven.

Matthew 28:18-20: Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What is Baptism?

Baptism is a sacrament, meaning a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. The other sacrament commanded in scripture is communion. Understanding communion is helpful for understanding how baptism works. Without faith, communion is nothing more than bread and wine. But with faith, communion becomes a profound reflection upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The spiritual truth that Jesus died on the cross for our sins really hits home when it is manifested in the physical realm through the bread and the wine which represent his physical body and blood. The physical nature of communion makes the spiritual truth come alive.

Similarly, baptism without faith is nothing more than a quick bath. But with faith, baptism is a profound experience of being born again. Just as Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, so baptism symbolizes our own death, burial, and resurrection. The believer is submerged in water, symbolizing the death and burial of the old carnal self and its sinful nature. The believer is then raised out of the water, symbolizing new life in Christ.

Romans 6:4: For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17: This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Baptism is a commitment. It is usually done when a person first becomes a believer and is willing to make a commitment to follow Jesus as Lord. Through baptism, the new believer is essentially saying, “I am making a commitment to follow Christ. I am confessing my faith in Jesus in the presence of witnesses. I am repenting of my sins by putting to death my old sinful nature, and being being raised up to newness of life in Christ.” Baptism should be performed in the presence of witnesses who can hold the new believer accountable to the faith.

Because baptism is a commitment, only an adult can make the decision to be baptized. So-called “infant baptism” does not count as real baptism because an infant is too young to understand the significance of baptism and make a true faith commitment. There are no examples of infant baptism in the Bible. Believers must make their own faith commitments, and no one else can make it for them. This is why baptism requires maturity and the presence of witnesses. Baptism should always involve immersion in water. Scripture says that Jesus “came up out of the water” (Matthew 3:16) when he was baptized, proving that he was fully immersed under water. So-called “sprinkling” is a dumbed-down version of baptism that is not biblical.

Where Did Baptism Come From?

John the Baptist is the first person in scripture to baptize. Under divine inspiration from God, John baptized people “for repentance” to prepare the coming of Christ. Although the significance of baptism as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection had not yet been revealed, baptism was still a powerful symbol of repentance – a public profession of the decision to put to death one’s sinful ways.

In John 3, John the Baptist is informed that someone else has begun baptizing, and is baptizing even more people than him! This new baptizer, who baptized more people than John, is Jesus of Nazareth.

John 4:2 clarifies that Jesus did not baptize believers personally, but sent his disciples out to baptize on his behalf. Nevertheless, baptism was clearly a major part of Christ’s ministry from its earliest days. When John the Baptist heard that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than he was, he replied, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30).

Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus sent his disciples out with the Great Commission, commanding them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19).

Baptism continued in the early church, with many baptisms recorded in the Book of Acts. At the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were baptized!

Acts 2:38-41: Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

In Acts 8, an angel sends Philip into the wilderness to witness to an Ethiopian who is trying to understand the scroll of Isaiah.

Acts 8:35-38: So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

The Apostle Paul was also baptized in Acts 9:18. Previously called Saul, he had been struck blind when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Then Ananias visited Saul, placed his hands on him, and Saul received his sight. Immediately after receiving his sight, Paul believed and was baptized. In fact, this baptism marked the moment when Saul became Paul – the death of the old man, and the resurrection of the new man in Christ. See Acts 9 for the complete record.

Baptism continues in Acts 10 (three chapters of baptisms in a row!) with the first recorded gentile baptisms:

Acts 10:45-48: The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

In Acts 16:15, a woman named Lydia was baptized after she responded in faith to Paul’s message. Later in that chapter, Paul and Silas even baptize the jailer who was holding them in prison (Acts 16:33) after sharing the gospel with him in jail!

Even in a jail cell, Paul and Silas did not pass up the opportunity to carry out the Great Commission through teaching and baptizing!

Acts 18:8 records that many of the Corinthians who heard Paul speak were baptized.

Baptism is a biblical tradition that stretches from the first century to the twenty-first century in a single unbroken chain. Throughout all of Christian history, from the earliest days to the present, Christians have always baptized.

Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

Is following Jesus necessary for salvation? Consider the words of Jesus in Luke 6:46: “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” Jesus commanded baptism, and as we have seen in the Book of Acts, the early church took his command to baptize seriously, baptizing literally thousands of individuals.

Throughout the New Testament, baptism is connected with salvation. In Mark 16:16, Jesus said, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

1 Peter 3:21 compares baptism to the flood of Noah, claiming that just as the ark saved Noah, so baptism “now saves you”:

1 Peter 3:21: And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However, these verses must be balanced by the fact that we are saved by grace, through faith, “not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:9). We must remember that baptism is an outward act of an inward faith, and a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. Without faith, baptism is nothing more than a quick bath, and it won’t save anyone. With faith, one can be saved by grace even without baptism.

Consider, for example, the thief on the cross. He was almost certainly never baptized, yet Jesus said to him, “you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The saving grace of God extends to all who believe, even if they are not baptized.

Nevertheless, the plan of salvation laid out in scripture is for a person to believe and be baptized. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly commanded this in the Great Commission. Those saved without baptism are the exception, not the rule.

Did the Coming of the Holy Spirit Make Baptism Obsolete?

Just before his ascension, Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, in which he commanded them to baptize (Matthew 28:19). Jesus gave this command 50 days before the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. Why would Jesus command his disciples to baptize if he knew baptism would be obsolete just 50 days later?

Clearly, Jesus intended for baptism to be practiced even after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and it was!

As we have seen, many individuals were baptized in the Book of Acts. Baptism was often immediately followed by an individual receiving the Holy Spirit as manifested by speaking in tongues. The two go hand in hand. Baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit are both essential parts of our Christian walk. But one does not replace the other.

I’ve Been a Christian for Years But I’ve Never Been Baptized… Why Be Baptized Now?

Although baptism usually takes place when a new believer first makes a faith commitment, it is never too late to be baptized. The important thing is to be baptized with the right mindset. Do not be baptized if your reason for baptism is guilt that you were never baptized or fear that you won’t be saved without it. Baptism is not meant to be a burden, but a gift!

Consider the Sabbath day. If your only reason for observing the Sabbath day is fear that you won’t be saved if you don’t, or guilt that you failed to observe it in the past, then the Sabbath day becomes a burden. But if you view the Sabbath day as a gift from God, it becomes a great blessing, which is what it was intended to be. It was the legalistic Pharisees who twisted the meaning of the Sabbath in order to oppress people. We must never do that with baptism.

Baptism is not meant to be a burden or something we are forced to do even though we don’t want to. On the contrary, baptism is a gift from God. It’s a holy opportunity to share in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, to make a faith commitment in the presence of witnesses, and to be raised to newness of life in Christ.

Baptism is a profound and memorable experience that gives us strength in our Christian walk. Faced with trials and temptations, we can always look back to the moment of our baptism and draw strength from knowing that we have put to death our old, sinful self, and have been raised up with Christ into a new creation.

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Right Here and Right Now

One of my favorite stories in the the gospels is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, found in John 11:1-46. Lazarus was the brother of the Mary and Martha whom Jesus visited in Luke 10. Jesus loved Lazarus dearly (John 11:5) and his sisters must have been deeply distraught when Lazarus fell seriously ill (John 11:1). They immediately sent messengers to Jesus, but surprisingly, Jesus did not go immediately to Lazarus. Rather, he remained in the place where he was for two days, and told the messengers, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (John 11:4).

What good news for Mary and Martha! Jesus Christ had clearly stated that the sickness would not end in death. But only a few verses later, we find a shocking plot twist. Jesus tells his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.” (John 11:11). The disciples thought he was talking about natural sleep, so they said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better.” (John 11:12). They did not realize that Jesus was talking about the sleep of death. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14).

What a shock this must have been for the disciples! I think many of us, familiar with the resurrection of Lazarus, do not realize the full emotional impact of those three words: “Lazarus is dead.” Jesus had clearly said that the sickness would not end in death, and yet, just two days later, he said, “Lazarus is dead.”

Had Jesus failed?

The disciples must have been terribly distressed, so much so that Thomas said, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 KJV).

And so they set off for the house of Lazarus, and when they arrived, his body had already been laid in a tomb for four days (John 11:17). The scene there was one of total chaos. The Lord had said that the sickness would not end in death, yet Lazarus was dead. Mary and Martha must have been horribly distraught and confused. Why had Jesus waited two days instead of coming immediately to heal Lazarus? Now it was too late! Martha and Mary both blamed Jesus, saying, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). Some of those present even mocked Jesus, saying, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37).

In the midst of all this confusion, John tells us that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). John does not tell us why Jesus wept, but I believe he wept over their unbelief. Jesus had promised that the sickness would not end in death, yet no one believed him. The one who performed many miracles and healed many people seemingly failed to heal Lazarus before it was too late. They blamed him for foolishly waiting two days instead of coming immediately. They mocked him. They had no faith. Jesus wept.

Yet it was all part of God’s plan. It was God’s will that Jesus wait two days instead of coming to Lazarus immediately. One of the great lessons we can learn from this story is that even when the situations and circumstances of life seem utterly helpless, even in those darkest moments, God is ultimately working all things together for good for His glory (Romans 8:28).

Here is the part of the story I find most fascinating and significant:

John 11:23-26 – Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Contrast the doubt of Martha with the faith of Abraham. Abraham, when tested by God, was willing to offer up his son Isaac, because God had promised to make a great nation through Isaac. Abraham knew that God could not break his promise (Numbers 23:19) and therefore, Abraham believed that even if Isaac died, God would be faithful to raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).

Martha had also received a promise – that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. This means that even if Lazarus died, his death would not be the end. Jesus Christ would be faithful to raise Lazarus from the dead, “so that the Son of God will receive glory” (John 11:4). Martha believed that everyone who has ever died will be raised at the end of the age (Revelation 20:13), but she had lost hope in the power of Christ in the here and now. Before her stood the Son of God who possesses all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) even the power to raise Lazarus from the sleep of death immediately. Jesus had said, “I will go and wake him up” (John 11:11). But instead, Martha was waiting for the end of the age.

Martha put her faith in a future event, instead of in the person of Christ.

Christ’s response to Martha is one of my favorite sayings of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha had put her faith in her theological understanding of the future resurrection, without realizing that Jesus Christ IS himself the resurrection. He IS the life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45) and the fountain of living water (John 4) that heals us today (Isaiah 53:5). Martha had faith in the Kingdom coming in the future, but no faith that the King standing before her could work a miracle in the present!

When this evil age comes to an end, there will be established a Kingdom on the earth where all who are made righteous in Christ will be raised from the dead to live with God forever (Revelation 21). But the Kingdom of God is not only our future hope, but also our present hope as well. Jesus is already King – his victory has already been won, his throne has already been established. From the right hand of God, he is ruling and shepherding his global Body and he’s ready to work mighty miracles if we would turn to him in faith. Thus, Jesus says to us, “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21).

We may have a great understanding of what Jesus accomplished, historically speaking.

But do we know what he is accomplishing in our lives right here and right now?

We may have a great understanding of Jesus, theologically speaking.

But do we know who he is, personally?

Brother Yun is a Chinese Christian evangelist who founded many underground churches in China and was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. In his book The Heavenly Man, he describes his miraculous escape from Zhèngzhōu Maximum-Security Prison.

According to Yun’s own account, each door opened before him and he heard the voice of Jesus instruct him to walk out of the prison. At the risk of being shot to death by the guards keeping watch from the towers, he obeyed the voice of Christ and walked out through the front gate. Miraculously, no one saw him, as if he had become invisible. He is the only prisoner in history to have escaped from that prison.

Brother Yun makes an insightful observation on the story of Lazarus on pages 74-75 of his book Living Water: 

When Jesus informed Martha that he had come to raise Lazarus from the dead, Martha resorted to her theological knowledge by saying, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). This is a chief attribute of Christians who only know Jesus from a theological viewpoint. They know about the history of God’s workings with humankind, and they know that in the future God will make everything right. But they do not know Jesus in the here and now. Jesus has become a historical and a future figure, but not a present figure in their daily lives. Many churches are spiritually dead today because they keep Jesus at a “safe distance” while they control their own lives and make their own plans. Until you realize that Jesus Christ wants to be a major part of everything you do, you will not see revival. Until He is rightfully enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, your plans will continue to be frustrated and you will see little true blessing of heaven on your activities.

We too often intellectualize Jesus into a mere historical figure. It’s easy to think of him as the one who died for our sins, and will come again to rule the world, yet completely forget about the work he is accomplishing right here and right now in our 21st century lives.

I don’t want to treat Jesus as merely a historical figure or settle for merely knowing about him.

I want to know him personally, right here and right now. I want to have a relationship with him!

Most of all, I want to see his power manifested in my life. I want to hear his voice daily and follow his direction in my life. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Do you know Jesus… or do you only know about him?

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He Must Become Greater

 

The message of the Bible is all about Jesus Christ. He’s in every book of the Bible. Only when we center our focus on Christ do we see the spiritual meaning of biblical events. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hinge upon which all of scripture swings. We see it foreshadowed in the bread and wine offered by the high priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14), in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son of promise (Genesis 22), in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) and Jonah (Jonah 1-4), and in Moses’ raising up of the snake in the wilderness (Numbers 21, John 3:14). When we fix our eyes on Christ, we see him on almost every page.

As powerful as the ministry of John the Baptist was, he knew he was insignificant compared to the one who was coming after him – Jesus the Messiah:

John 3:27-30 – John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. This should be the desire of our hearts today. Yet our human tendency is always to take our focus off of Christ and onto ourselves. When we look honestly at ourselves, we realize how hopelessly inadequate we are. By ourselves, we are completely incapable of serving God as he deserves. In and of ourselves, we are incapable of holiness and we consistently fail to please God. Left in our own sinful condition, we cannot enter God’s holy presence. When our focus is on ourselves – on our own weakness, sinfulness, and insufficiency – we cannot help but feel like failures.

Fortunately, our faith is not about us… it’s all about Jesus. We are sinners, but Jesus Christ is sinless. We were separated from God by sin, but Jesus Christ bridged the gap between God and man. We could not atone for our sin, but Jesus Christ paid the price in full when he died on the cross.

When we put our focus on Christ instead of on ourselves, our whole perspective changes. By ourselves, we are slaves of sin… but in Christ, we have victory over sin. By ourselves, we are children of wrath bound for destruction… but in Christ, we have the hope of eternal life. By ourselves, we are separated from God by sin… but in Christ, we can come boldly before the presence of God, being cleansed of all sin not by our own works but by his holiness.

Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Our faith must be centered on Jesus Christ alone. Apart from him, we can do nothing.

One of my favorite stories in the gospels is when Peter walked on water in Matthew 14:22-33. The fact that Jesus walked on water is amazing, but what really amazes me the most is that Peter walked on water! He had the incredible, bold faith to say to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (Matthew 14:28). And then, the awesome faith to step out of the boat and onto the water!

As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, he could walk on top of the water. But as soon as the wind and waves broke his concentration on Christ, Peter began to sink. This story symbolizes the walk of every believer. Like Peter walking on water, we must keep our focus on Christ each and every day. As soon as we allow the troubles of this world or even our own human plans to distract us from Christ, we begin drowning in the mire of this world. Hebrews puts it this way:

Hebrews 12:1-2 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

The desire of my heart is for Jesus to increase in my life, and for myself to decrease. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When people look at my life, I want them to see less of me, and more of Christ. As I walk with Christ day by day and endeavor to follow him, I want his will and his power to be manifested in my life. To really be followers of Christ, we must make him Lord of our lives and keep our focus upon him.

He must become greater. We must become less.

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All Nations

A Witness Unto All Nations

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

There are about 200 nations in the world today, and there are Christians in every nation. But in Matthew 24:14 Jesus was not talking about today’s political entities, nor was he talking about the kingdoms of his day, most of which no longer exist.

The Greek word for nations in this verse is ethnesin, derived from ethne, which is the root of the English word “ethnic.” This word means more than simply “nations” in the political sense. It refers to ethnic and cultural groups – groups of people who share a distinct ethnicity, language, and/or culture. Anthropologists call these groups “people groups.”

Anthropologists estimate there are 11,000 distinct people groups in the world today. If we define a people group as “reached with the gospel” if only 2% or more of its individuals have heard the gospel message, missionaries estimate that 6,000 different people groups are still unreached.

We don’t know exactly how closely the ethne groups that Jesus spoke of match the people groups defined by modern anthropology. But in light of Matthew 24:14, the fact that the end of the age has not yet come seems to suggest that not every ethne has been reached with the gospel message yet.

No one knows when Jesus will return, but according to Matthew 24:14, he will not return until every ethne – every people group – has been reached with the gospel message. This is not surprising when we consider the character of God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) but “wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). For the sake of those who have not yet heard the gospel, God is holding back the coming wrath for a little while so they will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)

It has always been God’s plan to reach every people group in the world with the gospel message, and bring people of every ethnicity, nationality, language, and culture into his Kingdom. This is such an essential part of God’s plan of salvation that the end of the age will not come until every people group has been reached (Matthew 24:14).

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

The Great Commission

Jesus commands us to reach every people group in The Great Commission:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations (ethne) baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

Why does God want us to reach “all nations” with the gospel message? Because God’s plan for salvation extends to all people of the earth. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins of all people for all time, thus tearing down the division between Jew and Gentile. In Christ, all believers form one new humanity, in which all ethnic, class, and gender divisions are eradicated.

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. (1 John 2:2)

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

This is very unusual for a religious faith. Most religions are proudly rooted in a specific culture – for example, Hinduism is deeply rooted in India and Shintoism in Japan. As a result, these mono-cultural religions rarely gain any ground outside of their native culture. But Christianity is a truly global faith not tied down to any one specific culture or country. There are Christians in the big cities of China who worship quite differently than Christians in a rural African village. Nevertheless, both are Christians by faith in Jesus Christ, both are on equal footing before the Lord, and both will be our brothers and sisters for eternity in the Kingdom of God. Through obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, disciples in all parts of the world are carrying out Christ’s redemptive work in the world today.

It has always been God’s plan to redeem not just some cultures but ALL cultures into his Kingdom for his glory. Our Heavenly Father is the God of diversity – proof of this is clearly manifested in the vast diversity of his Creation!

Satan’s Policy of Containment

Each culture in the world faces its own unique challenges for evangelism. We are engaged in a spiritual war, but Christ has already guaranteed us the victory. Regardless of the circumstances, when Christians led by the Holy Spirit step out in faith to do the work Christ has called them to do, there is nothing that can stop them. History attests to the fact that even the worst persecution of Christianity ultimately results in the message spreading further and faster. Satan knows that he is not powerful enough to stop the gospel message from spreading. He can’t stop it from spreading, but he can at least distract us from moving it into new territory.

As long as the gospel message stays within areas already saturated with Christianity, the unreached nations will remain unreached, and the end of the age will not come. Satan knows that once every people group has been reached with the gospel, this present evil age will come to an end, and he will be annihilated at the final judgement. He is fighting this tooth and nail.

I’m certainly not suggesting that it is wrong to share the gospel message with people from our own culture, in our own local communities, in our own people groups. After all, if you don’t reach the people God has placed in your life, who will?

Jesus commands us to preach the gospel to “all nations,” and that includes our own nation. Evangelism must begin wherever we are currently planted. It must begin there, but it must not end there.

Churches should act counter-culturally and cross-culturally to intentionally reach unreached people groups with the gospel message. There are a myriad of ways to go about doing this. But the first step is to recognize that it needs to be done.

What can we do to reach those who have never heard of Christ?

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HUDSON

A little video I shot on my Sony EX1 while sailing the Hudson River at sunset.

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Whosoever

The Bible says “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13) and “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Whosoever means whoever. It means anyone. It means everybody.

Jesus died for the sins of all people, over 7 billion people on the planet, and everyone who has ever and will ever live, past, present, and future. The Bible clearly states:

He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

Jesus loves all people of the world and is actively drawing all people to himself (John 12:32) in accordance with God’s desire that all people of the world repent of their sins and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:32, 33:11).

In light of this, who am I to put limits on “whosoever”? Who am I to put limits on the people who Jesus can and cannot save? Why am I so tempted to think “whosoever… except that guy”?

I think we often put limits on “whosoever” when we share the gospel message with others, or rather, when we choose who we will and will not share the gospel with. I know I am guilty of this. I easily share my faith with people who actively express an interest in it. But it is more difficult to step out in faith to share the gospel with someone who may or may not be interested. But how do we know?

Too often, we  judge people based simply on their appearance, race, socioeconomic status, or cultural background. It is human nature to put people into categories. We look at someone who is like us and we think “I can share the gospel with them, they seem like they would be interested,” but then we look at someone who is different from us and we think, “Don’t bother, I know their type, and there’s no way they would be interested in Jesus.”

But the Bible says “whosoever.”

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus commands his disciples to preach the gospel to “all nations.” We are called to preach to all people, regardless of their background and regardless of what we think of them. We cannot judge whether someone is “worthy” to hear the gospel based on our personal opinion of them – every person in the world is worthy and needs to hear the gospel message, because every person in the world is someone who Jesus Christ loved enough to died for, someone who God desires to reconcile to Himself.

Consider Saul, who dragged Christians from their homes and approved of their execution. He was a persecutor of Christians and a man Christians feared.

He was literally the last person in the world you would want to talk to about Jesus.

And yet, of all the people in the world who God could have chosen, God used Saul (re-named “Paul”) to write a large part of the New Testament. This is radical forgiveness. There is not a single person in the world who is too evil or too deep in sin that they cannot be reached, be redeemed, be forgiven, be reconciled to God, and experience lifechange through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

But as Romans 10:14 says: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

1 Samuel 16:7 says “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” We simply cannot, by looking at a person’s appearance, know anything about the condition of their heart. Too often, the people we assume would be interested in hearing the gospel are not at all interested, while the people we assume wouldn’t be interested are actually dying to know! We simply cannot know the heart of another person, nor can we know the plans God has for that person. We need to stop pretending we know in advance how people will respond to the gospel. The reality is that God knows, but we don’t know.

Instead of only sharing the gospel message with people who are like us, we need to step out in faith to also reach those who are different – even radically different – from us. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, making the same forgiveness available to all people, and therefore placing all believers on equal footing before God regardless of their personal history or background. So we cannot allow barriers of race, class, nationality, or culture to hinder the Great Commission. Paul said: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

We also must be careful not to expect the people we share our faith with to adopt our cultural norms. Rather, we must adopt their cultural norms so we can be a more effective witness. Consider these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23:

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

Questions I ask myself:

  • Why do I act like some people aren’t worth sharing my faith with, when the Bible says “whosoever”?
  • Why do I expect the people I share my faith with to adopt my own cultural norms, when Paul said, “to the Jew I become a Jew”?
  • Why do I assume the people God places in my life don’t want to hear about my faith, when God has already examined their hearts and placed them in my life for a reason? Do I know better than God the condition of their hearts?
  • Why am I so quick to judge people based on their appearance? Why do I think, “I know their type, they wouldn’t be interested in Jesus”? Isn’t this assumption really nothing more than an excuse to not share the gospel?
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The Command to Go

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Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We often think that the Great Commission is only for missionaries, or people with the right training, or people more educated than us, or really anyone other than ourselves. But the fact is that Jesus commands every disciple to go. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out his disciples “as sheep among wolves,” commanding them not to bring anything on the journey, not even a walking stick, because God provides for those who go.

Noah obeyed when God called him to build the ark, and God saved him and his family. Abraham left everything to go where God called him, and God made him the father of many nations. The young boy David stepped out in faith against the giant Goliath with nothing but a few stones, and God provided him with a great victory. The Apostles left everything to follow Christ, and God worked miracles through them. The Bible is filled with examples of great believers who went when God called them to go. But for each person who went, there were also many who did not go.

The rich young ruler in Mark 10 did not go when Jesus called him to sell his possessions and give to the poor. He counted the cost of being a disciple, and concluded that the cost was too high. He was a wealthy and educated man, a man of authority, who had knowledge of the scriptures and knew the commandments of God. I wonder who this young man could have become if he had obeyed what Jesus was calling him to do. Perhaps he would have become the next Paul or the next Peter. Instead, he walked away from Christ in order to cling to his possessions, which have long since decayed into dust. He could have become a great leader in the early church. Instead, we don’t even know his name.

Jesus is calling us to go, and through the Holy Spirit he works in our hearts to lead us and guide us to carry out the Great Commission in our lives. But like the rich young ruler, we are often too caught up in the things of this world to hear the call of Jesus in our lives. Or, sometimes we know that Jesus is calling us to minister to that person, or to help this person in need, or repent of a certain sin, or give up a certain possession. But instead of doing these things, we choose to just go about our own business and ignore the call of Christ.

But the truth of the matter is this: When Jesus commands us to go, going is not optional.

150,000 people die every day, and the vast majority of them go to the grave having never known Jesus Christ. Some of them have never even heard his name. Many of these people are the outcasts of society – the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the widow. These are people who Jesus cares deeply about, who he died for, and who he is calling his church to minister to. Yet many of these people die without ever knowing the love of Christ. Many are people in our own communities who could have easily been reached, but we didn’t go.

Why not?

The sad reality is that often, we don’t want to go. We don’t want to preach the gospel, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, or visit those in prison, even though Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto him. Yet we act like it takes too much of our time. We would rather live life our way, make money to spend on ourselves, and pursue the American dream. All the while, we believe we are following Jesus, but we are really acting more like the rich young ruler who walked away from Christ.

What can we do to become more obedient to Christ’s command to “go”?

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Within the Hour

Luke 24:13-33a That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them.Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem.

The journey to Emmaus in Luke 24 is one of my favorite stories in the gospels. It’s a part of the Easter story that is often overlooked. On the same day that the women discovered the empty tomb, two other disciples of Jesus (one named Cleopas, the text does not tell us the name of the other) were walking seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This journey that would have taken them at least 2-3 hours without stopping.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared and began walking alongside them, but “God kept them from recognizing him.” They talked about everything that had happened in the last 3 days, from the crucifixion of Jesus to the women’s discovery of the empty tomb. These two disciples had not yet seen the risen Lord, and were probably extremely skeptical about the women’s report. Then Jesus “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

What an awesome Bible study that must have been. Yet still the disciples did not recognize that this was Jesus. When they finally arrived in Emmaus, it was getting late, and they invited him to stay the night with them. As they sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them.

Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized that it was Jesus. In that moment he disappeared.

I have always loved the mystery that surrounds this text. But this Sunday our Senior Pastor preached on it from a perspective I hadn’t heard before (see above video). I had always acted as if the story ends in verse 31 when Jesus disappears. But in reality, this was only the beginning. The text goes on to say that “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem.”

Although I have read this chapter many times, I never took the time to consider what that really means. The disciples had just walked for seven miles. They must have been exhausted. Add to that the fact that it was already getting late when they first arrived at Emmaus – by now it was probably night.

By human reasoning, it makes no sense that the disciples would walk for seven miles all the way back to Jerusalem at night after walking all day to get to Emmaus. It was not only exhausting, but dangerous to travel at night. Yet their hearts burned within them when Jesus explained to them the scriptures. When they realized that Jesus was alive, their passion and excitement was too great to contain. There was no way they could sleep that night. They had to immediately go to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples the news: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

God’s timing is perfect, even when it doesn’t make sense by human reasoning. The two disciples walked all night, and arrived in Jerusalem in time to witness the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven (verse 51). Not only that, but Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (verse 45).

Imagine if these disciples had stayed in Emmaus to rest. If they had delayed their journey to Jerusalem, they may have missed one of the greatest moments in the history of the world.

God’s timing often requires our immediate action.

Acts 16:6-10 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

In this passage I’m blown away by two things. First, the direction of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, in guiding Paul and Silas, and giving them specific instructions on where to go. Second, the speed at which they responded to the Spirit’s leading. When Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, he wasted no time: “we decided to leave for Macedonia at once.”

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a moment. Would you leave for Macedonia at once? Or would you question whether the vision was from God, or the pizza you ate last night?

The Holy Spirit gave Paul such incredible clarity of vision that there was no question this was from God. He knew exactly where he needed to go. All that remained was for him to step out in faith and go there. It didn’t matter that Paul had other travel plans. Those plans had to scrapped. God gave him a specific calling for Macedonia.

Consider the way in which Jesus called his first disciples:

Matthew 4:18-22 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

I’m blown away by the simplicity of this passage. Again, try to put yourself in the shoes of Peter and Andrew. You’re out fishing for a living. Would you leave your nets behind and follow a complete stranger for no apparent reason?

Yet there is something powerful about the call of Jesus. Scripture repeatedly tells us that he “spoke with authority” (Luke 4:22, Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). As soon as Peter and Andrew received the call of Jesus, they knew what they had to do. From a human perspective, it made absolutely no sense for them to abandon their nets – their only source of income – to follow a complete stranger. But the calling of God is like that. It often does not make perfect sense. It often requires sacrifice and immediate action.

Luke 9:57-62 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

We often forget that the call of God is time sensitive. These people wanted to wait for a more convenient time to follow Jesus. He rebuked them. His call requires immediate action.

Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What is God calling you to do? How often do we use excuses like “we need to slow down, don’t want to rush things,” or “God’s timing is not our timing” to avoid stepping out in faith right now? Although they may sound spiritual, these are really just excuses for our own laziness. We don’t want to count the cost, drop the nets, and step out of the boat. We don’t want to change our plans so we can follow God’s plan. Although Jesus has clearly called us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to “go and make disciples of all the nations,” often times we just don’t want to move. But Jesus says: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

In the Great Commission we are called to go into the world, to baptize, and to teach. Scripture describes us – the church – as the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12). We are “Christ’s ambassadors” and “God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). God gives us incredible opportunities to represent Christ in the lives of other people. But these opportunities have expiration dates. If we don’t move when God calls us to move, we can easily lose the opportunity to make a difference.

When we think about “calling” we often think about some massive life-long thing. But I think it’s the small callings in life that we struggle with the most. God lays a particular person on your heart for you to go minister to them, encourage them, speak life into them. How often do you put that off? The Holy Spirit urges us to show a random act of kindness to someone, but we feel awkward about it, so we ignore it and hope the feeling will fade away.

By doing so, we are being like the men in Luke 9 who were unwilling to follow Jesus on his schedule. They would rather go about their own business than the Lord’s business. They weren’t willing to keep up with the pace at which Jesus moves.

I think the main reason we fail to act on the small, daily callings of God is because we accept this one lie from the devil: It won’t really make a difference.

How often do we accept that lie, and use it as an excuse for our inaction? I know God is calling me to encourage and speak life into that person, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to bless that person with this act of compassion, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to go introduce myself to that first time guest at church, but “it won’t really make a difference.” I know God is calling me to preach the gospel, but “it won’t really make a difference.” And so we sit on the sidelines and completely miss out on the opportunities Jesus is giving us to represent him in the world.

I love this quote from our Senior Pastor: “I believe that a high five in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know. I believe that a fist bump in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know. I believe that a hug in the name of Jesus is more powerful than you know.”

Sometimes it’s the little things God calls us to do that are the most powerful. Sometimes a simple word of compassionate truth changes a person’s entire perspective on life. And if we’re not being obedient in the little things God instructs us to do, why would he entrust us with greater things (Luke 16:10)?

God has a calling on your life. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out exactly what the calling is, that we never take any steps to accomplish anything. Take one step first, then God will reveal more. He doesn’t necessarily reveal everything at once. He reveals his will for our lives piece by piece as we remain obedient to follow it.

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.

I used to think this verse meant that God would give me whatever I want. But that made no sense. First of all, God has never given me everything I want (and praise God for that, because many of the things I wanted were not what was best for me). Secondly, what if I desire something that is contrary to God’s will? Will he still give that to me? Why would God give me whatever my heart desires, if, as the Bible says, “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

These are tough questions, and for a long time, I never really understood Psalm 37:4. Then one day I read the same words again, yet saw a completely different meaning. It was like scales fell from my eyes so I could see the text clearly for the first time.

God doesn’t give us whatever we desire. God gives us the desires themselves.

As we grow in the process of regeneration/sanctification, the Holy Spirit begins to root out the carnal desires of our sinful nature, and replace them with righteous desires that are pure and holy. God doesn’t call us to do something, and then not equip us for it. He gives us the ability to do it, and he gives us a passion for it.

God has a calling for your life. It’s the intersection of opportunity, skill, and passionate desire. These three things create the sweet spot where God works through you to change the world.

If you’re skilled at something and passionate about it, but God never gives you the opportunity to do it, then you get nowhere.

If you have the opportunity and you’re passionate about it, but God hasn’t given you the skill for it, then you get nowhere.

If you have the opportunity and the skill, but God hasn’t given you a passionate desire to do it, then your heart won’t be in it, and you won’t do it justice. You get nowhere.

Every day my prayer is for God to give me a heart to do his will for my life, to give me the desire to pursue it, to give me the skill to accomplish it, and to give me the opportunity to do it.

Often times, God gives us all of these things in abundance, yet we still don’t move. We count the cost of following Jesus, and the cost seems too great. We don’t want to step out in faith to do something that God is clearly calling us to do, even though it may not make 100% sense from a purely human perspective.

In times like that, I remind myself of the Emmaus story in Luke 24, and how the disciples left for Jerusalem “within the hour.” It didn’t matter that it was dark outside, and they were exhausted. As soon as they recognized Jesus, they moved. As soon as Paul received the vision of the man from Macedonia, he changed all of his plans and he immediately moved. As soon as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they left everything behind and immediately followed him.

Jesus is moving quickly to change the world, and we need to respond quickly to keep up.

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