Welcome, once again, to missions week. Make sure you take some time to thank the missions team for their work in making this week happen and, more importantly, for consistently keeping God’s missionary charge in front of us. As you probably already know, the banner over this week and this sermon is, “The Insanity of Missions”. With a slogan like that, I owe you two definitions right off the bat.
Missions as we understand it is “crossing a significant cultural or language barrier to glorify God by calling others to follow Jesus by the power of His Spirit.” Or, missions is partnering with God to spread His glory and salvation to the ends of the earth.
Insanity as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary is, “Extreme foolishness or irrationality”.
We, of course, do not mean to suggest that missions is actually an insane endeavor. We do mean to suggest, however, that (1) apart from a biblical view of the world, missions appears insane, and that it is, nevertheless, (2) part of God’s plan to be glorified in saving the world. Let’s pray and then consider those two main points (in reverse order) as a means of growing in our glad-hearted, sacrificial missions-obedience.
MISSIONS IS PART OF GOD’S PLAN TO SPREAD HIS GLORY AND SALVATION
Once again, I have to main points: (1) Missions is a part of God’s plan for spreading His glory and saving mankind from his sin and, (2) rightly understood, this appears insane (extremely foolish or irrational) both to the watching world and to many in the Church who are confused about God’s Word.
In order to help you see that both of those points are deeply rooted in God’s Word, I’d like to lead you through a number of passages on each; beginning with the fact that missions is part of God’s plan to spread His glory and salvation to the world. To that end, I invite you consider three of the main ways this shows up in God’s Word: (1) In the many passages that speak of God’s commitment to the spread of His glory to all the earth, (2) In the many passages in which God explicitly commands His people to engage in missions, and (3) In the many passages that describe the early Church’s missionary efforts.
God Determined that the Whole World Would Glorify Him
We see the fact that missions is a part of God’s plan to spread the good news of His glory and salvation throughout all the earth in the biblical passages that tell of God’s determination to do that Himself.
Psalm 8:1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Isaiah 6:1-3 [Together, the seraphim] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Psalm 67:1-7 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
1 Chronicles 16:8–34 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!
14 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. 24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods. 26 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place.
28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; 30 tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” 32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! 33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 29:10-12 “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.
The determination of God to be glorified in all the earth isn’t even limited to the earth!
Psalm 19:1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
I included more passages on this first point within the first point so that you’d see how prevalent it is in the Bible and since the rest of this sermon rests on it. God will be glorified in all the earth, and missions is mainly God’s means of including us in that. Indeed, it is only because God is determined to make His glory known among every tribe, tongue, and people group, that missions makes any sense at all. Grace, you will never grasp missions, much less engage properly in missions, if you don’t begin with the understanding that at the very heart of missions is God’s determination to fill the earth with His praise. Likewise, you will never grasp missions, much less engage properly in missions, if you are not first convinced that the glory of God is what the world most needs and the only thing that truly satisfies. Settle on this, Grace, if you are ever to engage missions rightly.
God Commands His People to Spread His Glory
And that leads to the second way we see missions as part of God’s plan to receive glory in saving the world: God commands His people to join Him in spreading His saving glory—both to go and to support those who do.
- Consider with me a few of the Bible’s commands to engage in missions; in going to the nations with the gospel.
Acts 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Romans 10:14-15 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
- Consider also God’s commands to engage in missions by supporting those who go. There are many examples of God’s NT people supporting the missionary efforts of others (especially Paul), but the clearest one is found in 3 John.
3 John 5-7 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
We see that missions is a part of God’s plan to save the world in the many passages that speak to God’s determination that the whole world glorify Him, and in the specific commands to engage in missions. Finally, then, we see it in the actions of the early Church.
The Early Church Glorified God Among the Nations
There are many places we could look to find missions in the early Church, but none are easier to see than the missionary journeys of Paul. From the time of his conversion, he spent the majority of the rest of his life traveling the known world as a missionary, declaring the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
It is generally understood that Paul took three missionary journeys. The first is recorded in Acts 13-14 and lasted between 2-3 years. His second missionary journey lasted between 3-4 years, covered a much, much larger area in both Asia and Europe, and is recorded in Acts 16-18. What was likely his third and final missionary journey (he may have made a fourth, shorter one as well) lasted longer (4-5 years) and covered more ground still. We read about this in Acts 18-21.
In many ways Paul summarized his thoughts on all of that at the end of Romans.
Romans 15:18-20 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation…
This first and main point is that missions is a part of God’s plan to spread his glory and salvation throughout the world. We see that in the Bible in the passages that speak of God’s determination to be glorified in all the earth, in the clear NT commands to engage in missions, and in the actions of the early Church, and especially Paul.
MISSIONS IS INSANITY
All of that, then, leads to the second and final main point of this sermon. You are not truly considering missions if you don’t understand that it is God’s command to join Him in spreading His glory and salvation to every corner of the earth, and you are not truly considering missions if you do not understand that it is insane by every earthly standard. Missions is not rational according to any common-sense measure. Grace, we need to be clear on the fact that missions doesn’t make sense from a financial, safety, efficiency, family, church, or health perspective.
On top of all of that, let’s do a little deeper dive into the insanity of missions (four things…).
God Has Chosen to Save People though Faith in the Gospel
First, missions seems insane in that it is the proclamation of a message that seems insane. Have you ever really stopped to think about how the gospel sounds? The Bible itself says it sounds like folly to many (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 23; 2:14).
There is a God who is invisible, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, holy, and who created, ordered, and rules over all that has been made. For your information, that’s insane (unless it isn’t!). This God made us to delight fully and forever in Him (kind of crazy sounding, right?), but from the very first man and woman, we have rejected God as god and sought to be satisfied in the things He has made rather than in Him. This is sin and the wages of sin is eternal death (that’s kind of hard to get your head around too). But God, being rich in mercy and grace, sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute sacrifice for every sinner who would receive Him in faith; who would trust Him as Savior and surrender to Him as Lord (think about that, really think about that; pretty insane sounding). And to demonstrate the goodness and efficacy of His death on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead and sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in all who believe upon His name. Grace, all of this is true, this is the message of the missionary, and this is insane…until, by the power of God, it isn’t!
God Has Chosen to Save People through Faith in the Gospel Preached by People
As if that were not crazy-seeming enough, missions is built upon the fact that God has chosen to bring this plan of rescue to people, through people. It’d be one thing if God were to bring His gospel directly to people to accept or reject. That way we’d know the message would be perfectly shared and the mission couldn’t be stopped. Instead, however, God has chosen to deliver the greatest, most essential news of all through weak, confused, scared, finite, fallen, and limited people. We can and do get the message wrong. We can and are held up by logistics, finances, faithlessness, opposition, persecution, sickness, and a whole host of other things. Missions seems insane because of the message it is committed to delivering and because of the method of delivery (us!).
God Has Chosen to Save People through Faith in the Gospel Preached by People to People Who Don’t Understand Us or Want Us
Again, all of this would seem crazy enough if when we took this message of the glory and salvation of God to a people who knew they were dead in their sin, could understand our language (or we could understand theirs), and wanted to know how to be reconciled to God. The very essence of missions, however, is that in general none of those things are true. Most of the time in missions, we’re going to a people who do not believe they are enemies of God, it takes a long, long time even to learn how to tell them that they are so that we can tell them how to be rescued, and when we finally do, the response is usually indifference at best and murderous at worst.
A third way that we see the insanity of missions is in the fact that (1) God has chosen to save people through faith in the gospel (2) preached by people (3) to people who don’t understand or want us.
To rightly engage missions, we must begin by acknowledging that it will never make sense from a horizontal perspective. If we try to figure it out on an earthly level, we’ll never go. It is only because we have such a clear, biblical set of commands and examples that we go in faith.
This Kind of Insanity Is the Path to Great Joy
Finally, as if all that weren’t insane-seeming enough, through all of that God has determined to pave the path of greatest joy. Think about that! Maybe, maybe everything else we covered would make some sense if we were called to obediently, but regretfully engage in it. Painfully leave goods and kindred behind. Frustratingly endure the long process of language and culture learning. Grievously encounter people who don’t care about the gospel that cost us so much to bring to them, or really do care in a negative way. Soberly experience relational and spiritual isolation inevitably tied to missions in unreached places. Perhaps, but probably not, it makes sense to endure those things in quiet, sacrificial, somberness; reluctantly persevering because it’s the right thing to do. Grace, the Bible never claims that missions makes sense, but it does, insanely, claim that it is the path to great joy.
Acts 5:40-42 …when [the Sadducees] had called in the apostles [after arresting them for sharing the gospel], they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
Philippians 1:20-21 [While imprisoned for proclaiming the glory and salvation of God in Jesus the Apostle Paul declared,] it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
None of this is to say that every missionary is always happy and happier than everyone else. It is to say, however, that none of the hardships baked into the missions-cake can keep us from experiencing the supreme gladness found only in God; indeed, missions is often, counterintuitively, the straightest path to that gladness.
Let me quickly give you two personal examples of the insanity of missions.
Turkey. Shortly after I became a Christian, I found myself sitting in a prayer meeting. Among other things we prayed for God to raise up three guys to go on a trip to Istanbul or the trip would have to be canceled. When the request was shared, it didn’t even register on my radar. As I prayed it, however, I was surprised to feel a deep conviction that I needed to go. That was crazy. It cost more money than I had by a lot. I was a baby Christian. I was still learning the gospel and just starting to learn the Bible. It got crazier still. While there we handed out Bibles and tried to share the gospel with Turks in their broken English. At one point, two of us were detained in a police station for our efforts. God greatly strengthened my faith on that trip, but in the way of Turks responding to the gospel, not much seemed to happen. Fast forward to that summer. One of our friends spent the entire summer there doing much the same work we did. At one point he encountered a student who seemed to be really tracking with the gospel. When he was done sharing it, he asked the guy if he was ready to pray and ask Jesus to forgive and lead him. The guy said no. Confused, my friend asked why. The guy explained that he’d already done so. When my friend asked how that happened, he shared that someone had handed him a Bible a few months earlier, he read it, and was cut to the heart. Insane.
Africa. With TLI we train pastors on how to understand, teach, and preach the Bible. What’s more, TLI only goes to places in the world that do not already have access to this type of teaching. On a practical level this means that we are going to people who usually have very, very little understanding of what the Bible teaches. You can probably imagine that much of what we have to do is undo false ideas of the Bible in order to replace them with true ones. To help speed that process along TLI’s curriculum begins by sharing a number of commonly misunderstood and misused passages and asking the pastors if they’ve every wrongly preached on any of them. After about four or five in a row, one of the pastors humbly recognized how poorly he’d been handling the Scriptures. And, seemingly convicted by the Spirit, he genuinely asked, “Do we need to repent of these things to our congregations?”. It really doesn’t make sense that I was there, but I was. Teaching such challenging things through an interpreter shouldn’t have worked, but it did. In light of the jetlag, rough conditions, my gurgling stomach, and cultural differences, it should have been a burden, but it wasn’t.
The main thing I hope you are able to see in all of this is the simple fact no one who engages in missions does so because it makes sense, because it should work, or because it should be fun. It doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t work, and it should be a burden. We engage in missions, then, as insane as it seems to be, because God has called us to, because He is worthy, and because He brings us inexplicable joy in it. Missions works because in it we are participating in the very work of God—spreading His glory and salvation throughout the earth. And missions is the path to greatest joy because God has determined to poor out a special measure of grace on all who obey.
In conclusion, I want to ask and briefly answer one simple question: What does living in light of all of this look like in the coming week? Let me suggest seven things. I urge you to pick one or two and really go after them.
- Pray and ask God to convince you of the Bible’s teaching on missions. You’ll never engage as fully as God means you to if you are not convinced that He really does call you to.
- Pray and ask God to fill you with an appropriate sense of love for the nations, sadness for the fact that so many have never heard of Jesus, urgency to obey (however God would have you), and confidence in God’s unstoppable, sovereign grace.
- Carefully consider how you might more fully engage in raising/training up missionaries. Perhaps you could join the missions team. Maybe you could take someone through the missions track Perhaps you could lead a group of young adults to the CROSS conference or the immersion experience in MSP.
- Carefully consider how you might more fully engage in supporting the missionaries we’ve already sent. Commit to signing up for and prayerfully reading the newsletters of your DG’s missionaries. Commit to reaching out to each of your DG’s missionaries weekly or monthly. Commit to financially supporting one of our missionaries or supporting them at an increased level.
- Consider carefully whether or not you might pursue being sent as a missionary. If you sense any level of call to missions, connect with your DG leader and one of the members of the missions team to help you work through what that might mean. Connect with one of our missionaries to see if you could visit them and get a feel for life as a missionary.
- Participate as fully as possible in missions week.
- Praise God for being worthy of the insanity of missions.
Our hope in sharing all of this and in putting on missions week is not that you’d feel guilty for not doing enough in yet another aspect of your faith. There is probably an important measure of conviction that we all need to feel in order that we would more faithfully order our lives to the mission God has called us to. But even that isn’t our main aim. Our main aim, rather is to help you all see that God is greater than you’ve ever imagined. As we come to increasingly recognize and appreciate that, we won’t be able to keep His glory and salvation to ourselves. We’ll be unable to not share it with our neighbors and those in the furthest corners of the world. And all of that for the glory of God, in the salvation of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.