It is my joy and honor to be with you today. I bring greetings from Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte and from our entire cluster of seminaries. We are proud of our relationship with our sister seminary, Covenant, and thank God for their witness. I felt I had to say that speaking here in St. Louis! But the truth is that we are partners in the Gospel of preparing workers for the harvest to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I am so thankful for the faculty and staff at Covenant Seminary and bless Christ for their partnership in the Gospel. My prayer is that we may imitate their faithfulness at RTS, encourage them in the Gospel, and go hand in hand into this generation on fire with the Gospel, and with what we like to say at RTS: ‘a mind for truth and a heart for God.’ But to be sure, our work at both RTS and Covenant is about mission, fulfilling the Great Commission as we serve Christ and His Church.
And now I want to focus on your mission. And that leads me to focus on our Scripture passages for this morning and my message that the Lord brought to me for you as I flew home earlier this week from a preaching a conference in Germany. At about 35,000 feet somewhere south and east of Greenland, the Lord hit me with the message in my soul that what He really wants is for us to do what one missionary told me about this week as he was making a change in his direction.
The change might have seemed difficult to some for he was shifting to the local church. But he said that to do so was to follow Jesus deeper into missions, where the source of all missions, from an earthly standpoint, happens: the local church. And so my message began to take shape as I considered your theme: Jesus Christ, the Hope of the World.
My message to you from God’s Word focuses on the challenge, the calling that is thus extended to you as the local church, as an individual believer in this work of fulfilling the Great Commission. And so I was brought back to the call passages. In each of the Gospels we are shown how Christ walked along the shores calling men to follow Him. But in John, there is a call that is so radical that it calls you to not only to leave your old life, but also to look for glory in the midst of missions.
Let’s connect the whole of this redemptive plan of hope and glory from Old Testament readings, a Psalm reading, your epistle theme verse and finally the sea of Scripture where I want to throw my anchor this morning.
First, this is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.
From Psalm 130.7:
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. Psalm 130:7
From the Prophets, Isaiah 58.5-12
Isaiah 58:5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
6”Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
11And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. Isaiah 58:5-12
From John 1.43-51:
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of Him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to Him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:43-51
And your theme verse for this missions conference, from 1 Timothy 4.10:
10For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Tim. 4:10
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40.8
I want to bring your missions message today in a sermon I am calling, “If He is the Hope of the World, Then this is the Challenge of Your Life!” But first let us pray.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Christ our Rock and our Redeemer. And may I preach as never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Introduction to the Sermon
As the earth quakes in Chile and Argentina, and potential tsunamis roar across the ocean towards peoples living in the islands of the Pacific, there could be no better time to speak of the hope of Jesus Christ. But is there not another question at hand, one that is more personal, even costly? Is it not “just” announcing Christ’s hope by having a missions conference but also a call for all of His People to live radically transformed lives seeking practice missions?
Eugene Peterson recently wrote in his new book, Practice Resurrection, convicting words to believers about our life in Christ that grabbed my attention and made me think about this message. Listen up:
“We live our lives in the practice of what we do not originate and cannot anticipate. When we practice resurrection, we continuously enter into what is more than we are. When we practice resurrection, we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is s always ‘from glory to glory.'”
Is that the way you live your life? Is your Christian life going “from glory to glory?” In fact, on this missions Sunday, we could borrow Peterson’s challenging description of the Christian life as taught in the Bible, and apply it to missions:
“We live our lives in the practice of what we do not originate and cannot anticipate. When we follow the mission of Jesus as a church and as individuals, we continuously enter into what is more than we are. When we practice missions, we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always ‘from glory to glory.'”
Is that your life of missions as a church and as followers of Jesus? I would say to you that this is the description of the life of the believer in missions. Going from hope in Christ to seeing glory. But we are not our own in this mission. We have given our lives over to the Lord of the mission. And we do not know where we are going except that obediently we are following Him in this world.
You see, there were many who were close to Him, but missed His glory, who didn’t live in the forward moment of His mission: “Judas” you say. Yes, Judas but also Peter (who would literally see His glory in the Transfiguration, but later walk into the glory of total surrender to His grace and love). And it seems all of them failed to comprehend, until later, the glory that would come in following Jesus all the way to the Cross and then to the world. John records that Jesus told Nathanael, because of His miraculous insights into Nathanael’s mind, that He was the Messiah, and that in leaving all to follow Him, Nathanael would see a totally new way of life as he fulfilled the mission of Jesus.
And in this passage we see the radical description of life in the kingdom as going from the hope of a Messiah to the glory of His mission.
And so what does the Lord say to us today about this kind of radical call to missions from John 1 and His call to Nathanael and this talk of following Him to see heaven opened and angels descending and ascending? Two words: hope and glory.
I. We are being called to follow Jesus Christ, in hope, as Savior of the world (1 Timothy 4.10; John 1.43-51).
1 Timothy 4.10 speaks of our hope set on Christ being the Savior of all people. And this means that He is the Savior of the world in that there is no other truth that can set men free but Jesus Christ. Whether they bow their knee to Him or not, to embrace His teachings will bring truth and that truth will bring freedom. But when it says “especially for those who are being saved,” it means that all the more will Christ be the Savior to those who are looking for eternal life, for passing from judgment to life, for an escape from Hell, and for unity with God forever in a new heavens and a new earth. He is our hope as Savior of the world. But consider this claim in light of our call to follow Him. We are called to follow Him, in this hope, into the life of His redemptive plans for the universe.
We all want hope for the world. We all want that hope to lead to conversion. But our hope is combined with the mandate of John 1: “Come follow,” “Follow Me.” The mandate was and is unequivocal. Leave all and follow Jesus. There is no borderline commitment. There is no part time vocation. There is only and always the call to a radical departure from the old life to walk out of the shadows of distance from Christ and into the light of often uncomfortable and closeness to Christ. Our mission as a church or a believer cannot be understood except within the context of the glory of His presence in our lives.
To only talk about Christ, or missions is to miss the thrill of it, right? No. It is to die alone. It is to stand apart from the forward movement of redemptive history. It is to stand on the sidelines of glory as it passes you by.
To only give money without giving your whole life is to think you are in the sun, but you are not. You are in the shadows. Your faith promise, for instance, is a step of faith that says, “I will follow You Lord with my all in all. I have lived in the shadows of distance from faith in You and Your power. I now surrender to You as Messiah, as the hope of the world, and enter into the bold life of faith in following You all the way home.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer is one of the most compelling figures in 20th century Christianity. But his life started like Nathanael’s, like mine, like yours, when Christ came walking along his “shores” and called him to follow:
“It became clear to me that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the Church, and step by step it became plainer to me how far that must go….My calling is quite clear to me. What God will make of it I do not know…I must follow the path.”
When Christ calls you he calls you to go, to give, to follow, to be His people. There are no guarantees where you will end up.
Jesus’ path led Dietrich Bonheoffer from study in Germany to post graduate study in New York City, where he gained a celebrity status in America as he traveled about preaching, greatly influenced by the civil rights movement brewing under Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in New York. He then returned to Germany for ordination and his first pastoral assignments as a lecturer in theology. But the growing troubles led him to leave and to begin pastoring a German exile church in England. But another call came. One of his peers back in Germany asked him how he could remain away while the German church was on fire! The call was to leave what he thought was the security of that pastorate. He had to follow Christ to the way of the Cross. For as his home church began to be dismantled with apostasy as they acquiesced to the new Nazi state, and as people suffered and the Church was in trouble, his safe position became dangerous for his soul, captive to Jesus, the hope of the world.
Safety for him as a follower of the Lord could only be found in starting and leading an underground seminary to produce true pastors whose only allegiance was Jesus Christ. True freedom and joy could only be found in leaving the real comforts of his study for facing the reality of the incomprehensibly sinister and overtly diabolical killing ovens of the Dacha concentration camp, of the persecution of Jews and Christians, and the encroaching power of a new anti-Christ named Adolph Hitler. The call of Christ came to him to go to the desecrated sanctuaries with swastikas, for it was there that the hope of Christ was most needed. It was there where he would give his life away as an offering to advance the Gospel against all opposition. It was against all “odds” that true, eternal life was found. And we remember his words with personal discomfort:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
And so, the Scripture now presses each of us to hear Jesus afresh. “Come follow…” Missions begins with that call even as salvation does. And the call to see the glory of Jesus is often in a place where you are not, but to where God is calling you. That could be a location or an attitude. The call brings a necessary tension to our lives. Indeed if we have followed Jesus without that tension, it is likely we have not processed the call completely. Make no mistake. It is a radical call to discipleship and mission.
Young men and young women, is signing up for a short-term mission trip the safest thing that you can do? OR Is it to begin to walk with Jesus, faithfully, humbly, and with a radical commitment to prayer and Word in your own city? Or maybe even in your own home? Or in your residence hall?
Sir, are you walking in the light of the hope of Christ in missions by giving a sum to the church’s work, or is that a safe plan, really removed? Maybe it is the call to leave all and follow Him as a pauper, or an itinerant, preaching to alcoholics, and offering hope to drug addicts in prison. There is the light of Christ. There in that place, different for each of us perhaps, will we see Christ in radiant splendor.
I am not suggesting anything specific for any of you—only the Holy Spirit will do that—, but I am asking you to look at where you are, to see how close you truly are to Christ. His hope envelops many helpless widows who pray in their homes and go no farther. His hope covers many businessmen who are giving of themselves to His Church, His mission, but who also live daily in His presence in a self-less life of building up others¾building up missionaries, his pastor, his church in the golden glow of the glory of Christ.
So make your move today if the light of His glory is only “over there.” Welcome Him into your life and be a part of the mission by following Him into the light of His glory in missions.
What does it mean to follow this Christ in a radical way? Not only to follow Him in Hope as the Savior of the world, but also this:
II. We are being called to follow Jesus Christ, in glory, as the Redeemer of all Creation (John 1.43-51)
And we want to bring up following Him into “glory” for I want to collate the John 1 passages in with the “hope” passage of 1 Timothy 4.10. Look there again to see how Jesus called Nathanial to follow Him, and then promised the glory of seeing astonishing signs of Christ’s rule and reign—heavens opened and angels ascending and descending.
It is one thing to be told, “Follow me”—we get that—but what does it mean to see “heaven opened” and “angels ascending and descending?” For Calvin it meant not only a reference to Jacob’s dream of angels going up and down a ladder, now fulfilled in Jesus. And it meant more than a literal vision of this at His ascension, or one could argue, the glory of His transfiguration. For Calvin and for others who have interpreted this text, it means that to follow Jesus in hope is to see Jesus in glory. It is to be a part of His kingdom in which the world is turned “upside down.”
This is the call to missions. This is the call to see that this Messiah, who is the hope of the world, is also the Redeemer who is bringing in a new heavens and a new earth. And you get to be part of it! You will see the glory of Jesus manifested in this global transformation. You will see it as you share Christ with your loved ones. You will see it as you live for Christ in the community. And you will see it as you participate in the work of missions at this church, and prayer, and give out of total faith, in order to see souls saved and lives transformed through this glorious Redeemer.
Here is the truth: there is a “Gospel conspiracy” going on in the earth today. It is glorious. It is about the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. That rule and reign is coming to people in this room, and in this city, and is sweeping the earth in astronomical numbers. The Kingdom is coming. The question is not whether it will happen, but if you will follow Jesus to see these things yourself.
Henry Luke Orombi heard that call as a young seminarian and walked away from fears through faith and walked literally into the sinister tyrannical court of Idi Amin in Uganda. Because of his street preaching and resistance to this evil, and his announcement of another King and another Kingdom, Orombi had rifles of Amin’s guards at his head, as the bodies of his martyred friends and fellow seminarians lay still and bloody beside him. But Henry began to know the light of Christ as He followed Jesus and trusted Him. His guards became fearful that he was under the power of a great Spirit (which, of course, he was!), and they told him to leave.
God spared his life for a purpose. He later became a minister and then bishop of Kampala and then he became the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda. There is a price on this man’s head for his preaching. Many Islamic radicals hate him, for when he preaches, the Holy Spirit converts people from the slavery of sin, witchcraft, pagan idolatry—and the bondage to a radical religion that knows no grace—and they come into the glory and hope of Christ. He is seeing heaven opened and angels ascending and descending upon this King Jesus that He preaches.
Henry has found, he has accepted, the gift of freedom in Christ. When you walk away from the fear of the unknown you can follow with certainty the footprints of a Savior who has been crucified, dead and is now alive forever more.
What keeps us from following? That is the tension that I experience in this passage in John. Am I willing to follow Christ and have a front row seat to angels ascending and descending? The armchair missions movement can sound pretty good! Because with those angels ascending and descending comes satanic opposition! What keeps me from following? Fear and selfishness.
There is no light, no hope in the darkness of fear. There are only the very fingers of self-preservation, self-interest, worry, and faithlessness. In the name of Jesus I invite you to follow Him into the light of the hope of Christ in His great mission in the world.
How well I remember my trembling hands hanging on to a bed railing, kneeling beside my bed and wrestling with God over following His call to be a preacher. I had been poor as a child. I had worked hard and had made a mark through business, and at age 29, was finally “secure” (or so I thought). I confess that I was afraid of following Jesus even though I knew He was calling me. It was a Sunday night, after church. My boss was coming to our office the next day to ask me about my commitment to the company. He and others had witnessed my outward signs of struggle, of my growing involvement with my church that was taking priority over the company.
So it was there that, in sweat and tears, I was faced with two choices: one was to tell him, the next day, that I was committed to the company first. I would be saying, “I am scared of following Jesus.” I could lose it all, all that I worked for. But I knew indeed, I felt deeply in my trembling heart, that to do so would be to reject the call of Jesus.
The other choice was to possibly return to poverty, to be mistreated by others for Christ’s sake, to live out of my control (supposed). But I had witnessed Peter and John and Paul. I had read of their joy. I knew of my pastor, I had seen the life of my Aunt Eva who reared me¾who often gave away our little bit of money or eggs or bread to those even poorer than us¾in order to follow Jesus. I had seen them. I had seen their freedom, and joy and surety.
For me, to not follow Christ on that day would be to live with the nets, the boats, the safety of this world, but to live in darkness and defeat. By His grace and strength, I told my boss that next day that I was called to preach and would leave as soon as possible to go to seminary. This unbeliever smiled and replied, “Mike, we all knew you had this ‘God-thing’ going on! We felt that you were unhappy and would be if you didn’t go to seminary. How can we now help you?”
Freedom. Certainty. A sure future. Why? Jesus Christ has gone before. It is dangerous to live apart from Him. It is life-long heartache to not trust Him. But to follow Him is to see heaven opened as I have in the lives of little children who have trusted in Jesus. I have seen the glory of Jesus, the angels ascending and descending upon Him, if you will, as I have witnessed Buddhist monks coming to Christ in India, as I watched a Muslim man observe as I served the Lord’s Supper in a northern village in Albania and he told me, “Tashti, kuptoj”—“Now, I understand.” And I have seen His glory as pastor as I have stood by believers dying and calling out for their Savior, and their dear families falling before God in prayer. I have seen His glory in the baptism of a child of drug addicts who turned to Jesus. I have seen His glory in the reconciliation of couples whose marriages were torn asunder by sin. And I see His glory when I see my own intern now leaving with his wife to plant a church among Mormons in Utah. I see His glory as I will soon hand a diploma to a young single woman who is being called to give her life away to Muslim peoples in Africa.
I thank God that He gave me the courage I did not have, to follow Him, to not only tell of His hope to the world, but to see his glory in missions.
And so Christ calls you on this faith promise Sunday to follow Him with your all, with something you don’t have, but that He will give to you: no, not just money—faith and courage to walk through the doors he opens to you.
The choice is not just a fork in the road, the choice is between the God who brings hope and salvation but calls us to bring that Good News, and see His glory as we do, or to remain outside of the work He is doing, questioning our own faith as we do. For what man would want to stand before the Lord having chosen to withdraw from God’s redemptive plan for the ages?
For there is coming a Day, says St. Paul, which is already dawned today, but which awaits a final consummation, when the Son will hand the Kingdom over to the Father that God might become all in all. And He will be glorified in His mission. But woe to those who chose to walk away in order to hold tightly to the presumed surety of this world. They will have their reward. Woe to those who have chosen to find their hope in the passing fancies of this world, rather than in the glory of this resurrected Savior.
“Come and Follow Me…” He says to you – and you – and to the flock and her pastor.
Come follow Him today and you will see the heaven opened and you will see “angels descending and ascending.”
And when you follow, when you trust Him to walk through the doors before you, the world will know hope. And you will see glory.
“And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in (Isaiah 58.12).”
That is good news in today’s world. But that is a great challenge. Who will now trust Him to walk into the ruin and ruble of a quaking earth, following Jesus who is there, and stand upon the ruins to announce that in Christ there is hope?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
* * *
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. 1st Touchstone ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, and K. W. Clements. London, 1933-1935. English ed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection : A Conversation on Growing up in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010.
 Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection : A Conversation on Growing up in Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2010).
 John 1.43
 John 1.51
 See the quote at http://www.explorefaith.net/saints/bonhoeffer.html (accessed on February 27, 2010).
 Karl Barth wrote Bonheoffer is a series of letters urging him to return to Germany to help the resistance in the Confessing Church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and K. W. Clements, London, 1933-1935, English ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007).
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 1st Touchstone ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 143.
 Genesis 28.10-22.
 Acts 17.6
 His story comes from my personal, private time spent with the Archbishop in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2008.
 “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28 ESV).