“We Were Made to Go: The Goal of the Gospel for the Entire World” (Acts 13.47b)

This message was the second in a two part series preached at the World Missions Conference at the Scherer Memorial Presbyterian Church in Lake Wylie, South Carolina on March 14th, 2010.

Isaiah 49.6; Acts 13.47a

Introduction to the Reading

I bring greetings from RTS Charlotte and from the whole RTS family! I am honored to be with you! Thank you for your prayers as we seek to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth by raising up a new generation of pastors and missionaries. The Lord has blessed us with six campuses and now a new extension in Houston, with 3,000 students, and 50 professors who, like me, are not only teaching in our classrooms but bringing the Gospel to the nation and to the world through our preaching and teaching. RTS is a veritable world mission’s movement. Through iTunes U and our partnership with, of all people, Apple Computer (®), we are sending out 125,000 downloads of sermons and Bible studies and lectures each and every week, all over the earth. Please pray that we will stay true to our vision of being a missional seminary that is committed to the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God, to the Great Commission, and to the grace-centered, Christ-honoring, old Reformed faith, which we believe is simply the Gospel.

I am so thrilled at your mission conference Scripture! I want to focus on Acts 13.47 in two sermons: the other night we looked at the first part of this passage, how God made the people of the Covenant to be His light. But this morning, we will look at the purpose of you, the Light of the Covenant of Grace, in the purposes of God in the world today.

As we did on Friday night, let us again turn our minds and our hearts towards the Word of the Lord. Let us read from the Old Testament, from the passage that Paul is quoting and then read Acts 13.44-48. This is the inerrant Word of God:

He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49.6).

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 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.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13.44-48).

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40.8).

I want to bring a message I am calling, We Were Made to Go! But first let us pray.

Prayer of Illumination

Father, as Christ Jesus walked among His disciples on the first day of the week after His resurrection, so send us our Savior this morning that we may know this Word, which You have for us. Let us know it as a people. Let us know it as  missionaries. Let us know it as believers and families. And I plead before Thee O Christ, “Let me preach as if never to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.: In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction to the Sermon

I was born in New Orleans and reared in Louisiana. But I am not a native.

Now if that sounds confusing it is just because of this truth: from the time I was a little boy, my Aunt Eva told me, “Son you need to go. You don’t belong here. God has something else for you. And when you go, take me with you!” She said that in part because we lived in the poorest parish in all of the state. And we were surrounded by backwardness. Aunt Eva saw that the Lord had given me a curiosity about life, about learning and some gifts that she felt could not be used in that community. So she told me that I was, really, made to go.

In a similar way, Isaiah was telling Israel, “This gift I have given you is not just for you. It is for the Gentiles. It is for others. And I have made you to go.”

That is what we read in Isaiah. And that is what Paul was telling the Jews that he was doing.  He was living out Isaiah 49.6 and shining the light, bringing salvation from the light of Jesus in Him and doing so to others far away from his home, his heritage.

And what this passage is teaching us is that every church, every believer is born to go: to be the light, that you may bring salvation, that which you have received, to the ends of the earth. The Lord made you to go!

Or, we may put it like this:

When we are lit up by God, we must shine out for others!

How so? Look at the passage to see three incredible and essential truths about your life, your church and the purposes of God in the world. Again, I want to use three key words to describe what God’s Word in Acts 13.47 is teaching, looking at just that “b” portion:

“…that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The first word that describes God’s plan for our lives in relationship to His plan is this word: Incarnation. You were made to go…

I.  Incarnationally: The Light goes forth through believers. (“That you…”)

Remember again that Paul is quoting the Old Testament text from Isaiah. At that time in the history of God’s redemptive work, Israel was to be the incarnational light of God and then they were to bring the Good News of redemption through God’s coming Messiah, not just to the tribes of Jacob —that is to themselves!—but they were to bring that light of the Messiah to the Gentiles. And so when we read  they were to be a light, the words “that you…” become truly amazing. For we know that God “commanded” them. God “made” them. We saw that. But now we see that these whom God has made God wants to use. They are to become instruments—the living testimony to the reality of God’s love and purposes for the whole world.

Indeed, the phrase—“That you…”—speaks to the glorious theological truth that God ordains and God sustains and God orders and God is sovereign, but God also chooses to exercise His sovereignty through mere mortals like you and me! And thus Moses would say in the oldest Psalm, Psalm 90:

“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands [my emphasis]” (Psalms 90.16-17)!

There we see what God was telling Israel and what Paul was telling the crowd, especially the Jewish leaders, and what the Lord is telling us: God is sovereign, but we are responsible. When we are lit up by God we must shine out for others. He made you to be His light to shine “that you…” Through you, through your life, your testimony, your ministry, your life, the Light would reach others.

We sometimes in the Reformed faith pay too little attention to the unadorned truth of this: that we are instruments in the Master’s hands! Yes God is sovereign. And yes He could have breathed out the Word and all of His elect would come in at once. But He chose to use you and me as His instruments to reach others. “That you…” This is a great theological and practical truth. God calls us to go and be His hands and feet as it were, to carry on the work of the Gospel. It is what Jesus meant when He told us that “greater things” we would do. He meant that the centrifugal force of the Gospel, which started at the fall and aimed at a new heavens and a new earth would reach even greater heights and limits than in His own life. And it did. And it is still. But it must go through you.

Some years ago I was doing some research back in the church records at the Walker Methodist Church in Walker, Louisiana, where my Aunt Eva came from. And I looked at records that went back to the 1800s. I placed my hand upon a record that was dated in the year, 1908, if I remember correctly, and there in that year there were a number of people who were brought into the church through baptisms and confessions of faith and rededications. And I saw that there were many who came through confession of faith at a certain month. And I noted that beside each one was the name of a circuit rider that had come through preaching. He had obviously held meetings in that little rural area, and at the little chapel. As I ran my finger along the crumbling, yellowed paper, I found the name of a little girl, “Mary Eva Milton”—Confession of faith in Jesus Christ.” That evangelist had preached the Gospel. He was a light from heaven, shining, burning, if you will, and that little girl’s mind and heart were caught up in that holy light and she too began to shine. She was converted because he knew “that you…” must take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, which included that poor Scotch-Irish, English and Welsh farm worker settlement, way out in the piney woods, truly the ends of the earth! But there Mary Eva Turner, who would become my Aunt Eva, the one who not only reared me but laid her hands on my head and read the Word to me and shared Christ with me. She was my first evangelist and the prayer warrior who prayed me to the throne of grace, and she was saved by that man. And I think that when I get to heaven, I am going to find that Methodist preacher. And I will bless Christ Jesus that He used him. And I will thank that poor circuit rider that is a prince of Christ in my life—one that was made a Light “that [he]…” might reach little Mary Eva Milton, who would then reach me.

You see that is what it is all about. When you reach others with the Gospel, the light goes forward.

But is that passage a reality in your own life? Have you become a light in order to “hide under a bushel” of fear or timidity or business or even far worse—lack of love or concern—that you are denying generations of believers by not going? By not giving? By not caring?

We were made lights that we, like our Savior, may become the Gospel in flesh to others. That is done in many ways: through preaching like the evangelist, through a friendship meal at your home, through helping someone who is down, by surrendering to become a missionary or a pastor, by surrendering to become a witness in your own home. But we were made to go, like Jesus, incarnationally.

And that is the first word to describe how we are to go: Incarnationaly. But the second word is this: Entrusted.

We were made to go…

II.  Entrusted: The Light goes forth with a message of transforming power! (“That you may bring…”)

That we may bring carries with it a powerful truth and the truth is that we have something in our hearts, in our lives, in our very possession, to share with others.

The other night one of our missionaries told us how he shared Christ with a Buddhist. He asked him if he believed in Jesus, that Jesus was a man. The Buddhist said he did believe that. The missionary said, “Good! We have something in common!” Then he asked if he believed that Jesus died. Again the man said, “Yes.” “We have even more in common, for I too believe that Jesus died!” Then the missionary asked if he believed that Buddha died. He said that he did believe that. Once more, the faithful ambassador excitedly confirmed that he believed that too and therefore they had even more in common! Then he told him that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. The man was not so sure about that. But our missionary told him that Jesus was alive, but Buddha was still dead. And that is the difference between our faiths. The man heard the Gospel. And our missionary is still witnessing and praying, as we should, that this Buddhist will come to faith in the resurrected and reigning and returning Christ!

I have baptized Buddhists, in once case an entire family, and I know that Buddhist can come to be saved, just as surely as this old sinner saved by grace was saved. There is no limit to God’s power! But note that the thing here is that the missionary had something. “That you may bring…” He went with something and that something was the very light of the resurrected Jesus in his own life, which he wanted to give to that other poor soul. What love. And what a treasure he carried!

And what a treasure you too carry, my beloved! You carry Christ in you! You are a living repository of the Gospel!

Recently I was in Germany and in a part of Germany, Bavaria, where there are many Roman Catholics. We went to some beautiful Roman Catholic churches, monasteries and priories. I remember going to one church, a great cathedral in the midst of a picturesque Bavarian snowy landscape. And we stopped to tour the church. It was freezing inside! That was one thing I remember. But the thing that really impressed me was the light that was burning in the ornate lamp hanging over the altar. That lamp, I told my son, indicated, in Roman Catholic theology, that the host, the bread, inside the “tabernacle” as it is called, has been consecrated by the priest. Therefore, in their theology, the Body of Christ was in there. And the next morning, the priest of this church would bring that Body of Christ to the people. The light was the Body and the Body was to be brought to the people to consume. But our theology is that we are His light. And we should be burning brightly, lit up by the reality of the Holy Spirit inside of us. And we are the Body of Christ. And this is what we bring to others to consume: the life of Jesus inside of us. They consume Him by faith alone.

Oh that we might support these missionaries! Oh that they may burn brightly as lamps, indicating the Body of Christ inside them, and may many, in our generation consume the Lord Jesus Christ as their own Savior!

But can we possibly speak of supporting the work of missions, my dear friends, without first asking if we too, who have been entrusted with the Light of the Gospel, are burning for Him, are going forward to feed the hungry souls all around us, who line up like Catholic parishioners in that Bavarian village, lined up to take in the mystery of the Gospel and consume Jesus by faith? They are all around you. And you are entrusted with the treasure. Will you bury that treasure or open up the tabernacle of your life and give them the One who will save them, heal them, love them, and reach deep down into the generations to save a thousand generations?

Finally, this word: You were made to go…

III.  Exhaustively: The Light goes forth through believers, with transforming power, to the whole world. (…to the ends of the earth.”)

This passage conjures up the very vision of Almighty God for His own creation. He had always told us, in His Word, of His intentions. He wanted a “multitude of nations.” He wanted the distant isles. He wanted the Gentiles. And the Jews here were upset and jealous over Paul that almost the whole city came out to hear His Gospel, including many rejoicing Gentiles! They were upset but their very emotions condemned them! And Paul condemns them when he quotes Isaiah 49.6, which speaks of God’s intention to make the Jews to be lights that would shine the message of the Messiah to the ends of the earth. They were parochial. They were small-minded. They were in grown. They were undisturbed that the whole world at that time lay in horrible darkness as they possessed the light of the promises and the covenants of God. But those lights were dimmed by their unbelief and the smothering bushels of man-made religion. Those promises and covenants were buried beneath a labyrinth of rabbinical rules and regulations that they could not even keep themselves.

Oh, my beloved, may it not be that we keep that light to ourselves! May it never be that this church or any believer gathered into the bosom of this congregation keep that treasure of the Gospel only for himself or herself. Oh may God keep us from some in-grown, overgrown, undernourished, unconcerned religion that masks itself as Biblical Christianity but is not so. Deliver our hearts this morning to take the attitude of Winston Churchill during World War II when he told the people of England:

“Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”[1]

May we never give in to thinking that we have done enough, or given enough, or gone the distance. It will only be when Jesus Christ comes again that we will know that our mission is accomplished.

When I was a little boy and a storm came in the spring I had to out into the chicken yard and gather up all of the bitties, the chicks, and rescue them from the coming storm. We had a special place for them to keep them safe unto the storm had passed. It was not only my responsibility but my heart’s duty to go and search extensively for every single chick and bring them into the safety of the coop.

And it is so that we are called to go to Christ’s bitties, the elect, whoever and wherever they are, and to bring them in. We are called to do this but we want to do this. Our hearts move us to do this for Jesus has done this for us. He has left His royal robes in heaven and come to earth to become man, to become a servant, in order to reach His little ones and to bring every one of us home safely, before the story of death and Hell overtake us like a mighty rising storm. And as Christ has gathered us in, and gone to the extent of going to the Cross and the Tomb to gather us in, we shall, in His Name, go to the ends of this earth to find every bitty and bring them under the wings of the Lord, where there is safety from the storms of this life as well as from the storms of eternity apart from God. This is what we read in the Psalms:

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 36.7).

And so as we look at these flags, we are looking at symbols representing entire people groups who need to escape the storms and come under the shadow of His wings. And we must go as far as we can, exhaustively seeking the one lost lamb, the one helpless bitty, the one needy soul. Just like Christ came for you and for me.

Conclusion

And so our mission’s conference verse is in fact the very essence of our purpose as believers:

‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

My beloved in Christ, I have one question for you: is this passage not just something you believe in, but something you live? Is it something you are willing to stand up for with you life, your treasure, your talent, your all?

Right down I-77 is Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And at Fort Jackson there are those going through “boot camp.” And those going through boot camp have these very caring, lovable and sometimes misunderstood but loving human beings called, “Drill Sergeants.” They really are a tender bunch. As a US Army Reserve chaplain I have ministered to them and they will say, “You know, these recruits just don’t understand how much I really love them.” As one who has gone through boot camp at barely 18 years of age, and has had such people throw my bunk upside down because my sheets were not tucked in tight enough, and who have called me a worm and have screamed right into my eyeballs, I try to help these dutiful drill sergeants to try and understand why they are misunderstood. But I tell you, I respect them. For they are giving their days and nights and their all—fewer work longer hours or work harder or pour more of their lives into others than drill sergeants. And so they wear a badge for the rest of their lives when they put on a uniform. And that badge says,

“This we will defend.”

Believer, in missions we are saying, “This—this Gospel, this Great Commission of giving our lives away to others as Christ has given His life for us—this we will defend.”

You were made to shine. You were made to go. That is the call of our lives. That is the voice of Christ in this place today.

There is an old hymn that speaks to this, Jesus Bids Us Shine, by Susan Warner (1819-1895) and the lyrics to that hymn are so reflective of this passage. Listen:

Jesus bids us shine

With a pure, clear light,

Like a little candle

Burning in the night.

In this world of darkness

So let us shine

You in your small corner,

And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine,

First of all for Him;

Well He sees and knows it,

If our light grows dim.

He looks down from Heaven

To see us shine

You in your small corner,

And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine,

Then, for all around;

Many kinds of darkness

In the world are found

Sin and want and sorrow;

So we must shine

You in your small corner,

And I in mine.[2]

That is the song of this passage. And the theme of this passage is also clear:

When we are lit up by God, we must shine out for others!

What is your response? You know there are really only two: (1) Lord, I will go. Or, (2) Lord, I will support others to go with my prayers and my treasure and my all.

For we were made to shine to bring the Gospel to ends of the earth. And “this we will defend.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Endnotes

[1] Winston Churchill, Speech, 1941, Harrow School, (1874 – 1965). Available on http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/27170.html (accessed on March 13, 2010).

[2] Lawrence Roff, ed. The Trinity Hymnal, Susan Warner, “Jesus Bids Us Shine,” Number 592, (Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications, 1990).

References

Roff, Lawrence, ed. The Trinity Hymnal. Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications, 1990.

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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