|2nd May, 1999|
Who are the lost people of Sydney? In our streets I can quickly point to the old bag lady dragging her accumulated wealth in old plastic shopping bags, walking in old shoes several sizes too big for her. Or the derelict scrounging the bins outside McDonald's for the remnants of a hamburger, his trousers dirty and hair matted. Or the wild street kids with skateboards, back to front baseball caps and a willingness to steal anything not nailed down. Surely, these are the lost of our city.
Jesus is concerned for the lost. Matt 9:36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." He taught us to have compassion for the hurting. Not one-minute pity, but an abiding concern that flowed into commitment to do something. He taught that we should pray for more workers to help us. Matt 9:37-8 "He said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." We are to go and minister to the lost of the city: Matt 10:5-15 "Jesus sent them out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep."
This passage helps our understanding of our ministry to the lost. Jesus taught his disciples to recognise human need, then go to them in ministry. His words are still significant for we who risk the way of Jesus today.
1. THE CONTINUING MISSION OF THE CHURCH.
Today there is a crisis in understanding mission. There has been a wholesale drift of membership from the mainline denominations and a reduction of the number of churches serving Western cities. Many Church leaders, wakened by the crisis, are crying for renewal, reformation, restoration, or revival. The actual word "mission" is not found in Scripture. The first use of the word "mission" is found in English only in the 17th century. However, the concept of the Church in mission is completely scriptural. The theology of mission flows through the entire scripture.
In the Old Testament the mission of God was seen in a centripetal sense. Israel was to so live that other nations would be attracted to her God. But in the New Testament the mission is to proclaim to all the nations in a centrifugal sense. The Church, as the chosen people of God to bear the message of God, was to take this message to the uttermost parts of the world beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria then widening out. The function of the mission of God was transferred to the Church, as the new Israel. 1 Pet 2:9 The Church had a message. Jesus commissioned His people to take the message to all the earth. Matt 28:18-20 "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." His people have the task of evangelising the world. That commission has never been revoked.
2. THE CHALLENGE TO EVANGELISE THE WORLD.
To the early disciples this was an enormous task: to take the gospel to the whole world. They were ordinary, uneducated men without influential backing from a second-rate province on the edge of the empire. The probabilities of success in their mission weighed heavily against them. Yet theirs was to be the most stunningly successful accomplishment. They knew they were fulfilling the mission of God through the command of Jesus. That knowledge propelled them throughout the world. Wherever they went, they felt the presence of Jesus with them.
Dr Michael Green in "Evangelism in the Early Church" stressed this enthusiasm for evangelism. "The enthusiasm to evangelise which marked the early Christians is one of the most remarkable things in the history of religions. Here were men and women of every rank and station in life, of every country in the known world, so convinced that they had discovered the riddle of the universe, so sure of the one true God whom they had come to know, that nothing must stand in the way of their passing on this good news to others. They did it by preaching and personal conversation, by formal discourse and informal testimony, by arguing in the synagogue and by chattering in the laundry. They might be slighted, laughed at, disenfranchised, robbed of their possessions, their homes, even their families, but this would not stop them.
They might be reported to the authorities as dangerous and required to sacrifice to the imperial gods; but they refused to comply. In Christianity they found something utterly new, authentic and satisfying. They were not prepared to deny Christ even to preserve their own lives; and in the manner of their dying they made converts to their faith."
By the end of the Third Century there were 5 million Christians out of a total Roman Empire population of 50 million. The command of Jesus "Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" motivated them for the rest of their lives. In the nineteenth century, missionaries went to every nation of the world taking with them the Gospel and a whole range of service ministries: hospitals, schools, dispensaries, and agriculture, anything that would benefit the people. Many scoffed at them. Robert Ruark in his novel "Uhura" or "Freedom" tells of the missionaries in Kenya. "They never changed the mission folk. They tended the sick and they taught in the classrooms. They parroted the gospel and railed against sin and its sister, nakedness. They preached pants and politeness, the true faith and sanitation." There is a sting in this critical assessment, but it was an observant assessment of the pioneer missionary.
3. THE GOOD NEWS WE ARE TO TELL TO OTHERS.
The Apostles were gripped by God's great redemptive act through Christ. They believed that in Jesus a person could be saved. They believed their message was the fulfilment of God's mission in the Old Testament.
They believed that this was to benefit all humanity, dependent only upon a receptive, faithful obedience to the gospel. Hence, they were willing to share their understanding of the completion of God's mission with everyone they met. They declared: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" Acts 2:32, 3:15; 4:10, 5:29-32. These days some Christians are shy about speaking their faith. But that does not fulfil the mission of the Church. The New Testament demonstrates that evangelism is by the direct proclamation of the message of God.
More than 140 times the New Testament uses such words as "to announce", "to tell", "to spread good news", "to talk", and "to herald or proclaim". The mission of God is only fulfilled when His people witness by word of the Gospel to the community. Is ought not to be only proclamation by word. It must also be proclamation by deed. Jesus Christ gave us an example not only of preaching, but also of service; not only of worship, but of witness; not only of individuals, but of society. "As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons." Christ's mission and message of salvation was not restricted to His atoning death, but included our physical well being, both of which are described as salvation. That is why we are planning to plant a new church in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, establish a Wesley Centre in Cambodia, and build a school and community library in the Pacific Island of Rotuma.
4. JESUS IS OUR GREAT EXAMPLE.
Jesus identified with the poor, the weak and the destitute. We see Him beside the hungry, thirsty and naked. We hold high His mission in terms of "preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19 There more than 70 passages in the New Testament dealing with poverty, wealth, justice, fair wages, hospitality, proper use of finances, social responsibilities of the Christian, racial prejudice, duties of the rich to the poor, work ethics, help to the needy, obligations to widows, and aid to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick or imprisoned.
The fulfillment of this mission is not the sole responsibility of the Government or humanitarian agencies: it is the responsibility of the Church which is obedient to the mission of Christ. Evangelising cities is the new focus of missions. Cities are full of lost people. Dr David Barrett in "World Christian Encyclopedia" states the world now has 3,000 metropolises with over a million persons, half of which are predominantly non-Christian; 600 are totally unevangelised and 300 are Islamic urban strongholds. 55% of the world population lives in cities. Therefore urban ministry has moved to centre stage. Yet 90% of all present urban evangelism takes place in cities already heavily evangelised. The unevangelised cities must become the new focus of missions. The church may complete the evangelisation of the world by AD 2000. Christians must ask what they can do to help the church reach this goal. This will be the first miracle of the third millennium!
God has a purpose for the Church. That purpose is the fulfilment of His mission. Therefore, the Church, to be the Church, cannot be merely a collection of institutions and humanitarian agencies, but it must be the Church fulfilling God's mission to the world. We must take the good news that God loves each person to each person. God in His loves seeks you out and calls you to Himself. If you reject His call, or have not yet heard His call to you to return to Him, then you are lost. Lost like any silly sheep which has strayed away, or any wilful son who has run away. Luke 15 You can be lost in a crowd; lost when you are wealthy; lost alone. But without God you are lost!
Who are the lost in our city? The old bag lady carrying her accumulated wealth in old plastic shopping bags? The derelict drunk scrounging the bins outside McDonald's for the remnants of a hamburger. The wild street kids with their skate boards, back to front baseball caps and their willingness to steal anything not nailed down? These are the lost of our city. To them we go in mission with the gospel in both word and deed. But in the Eastern Suburbs the stockbroker putting his golf clubs into the back of his car for a round of golf maybe also lost. The journalist in the high office tower tapping at the computer keyboard tomorrow's news without ever thinking of God is also lost. The man on the train at town-hall station reading his newspaper, who only uses the name of Jesus as a curse, is also lost. So the Bhuddist in Cambodia and the Islander in Rotuma.
They are people to whom Jesus has sent His message of life eternal.
Last Tuesday week, 20th April 99, in Littleton, Colorado, twelve high school children and their teacher were murdered. One student was Cassie Bernall, 17 years of age. Cassie will be remembered for her response to the gunman. She was confronted with a choice between love and hate, good and evil. The heavily armed gunman asked the shy blonde girl reading her Bible in the library while her school was under siege "Do you believe in God?'' ''Yes"! She replied in a voice strong enough to be heard by classmates cowering under tables and desks. The gunman laughed, raised his gun and shot her. Cassie Bernall, an innocent teenage girl who never imagined being caught in such a horrific circumstance, will be remembered in history as a modern day martyr who heroically told the truth. Cassie and her girl friend Crystal Woodman, who witnessed her friend's death, was positive her friend was laying down her life for Jesus. Cassie and Crystal were volunteer helpers among Columbine's homeless. Maybe there is something we have learned from this tragedy. If Cassie can stand for her beliefs, how easy it must be for the rest of us to follow her lead, stand with her, and echo her refrain --"Yes, I believe in God."
Nothing is more important for us Christians than to take the message of the Good News that Jesus Christ has died for your sins upon the cross of Calvary to the lost. Nothing is more important for you who hear the message than to respond in believing faith. You need to admit that you are a sinner, for the Bible declares that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. You must believe that God sent His only Son Jesus into the world to die for your sins so that their penalty could be lifted from you and nailed to His cross. You must respond to God's grace in seeking and saving you by believing that Jesus is both your Saviour who has redeemed you from your sins, and your Lord, who will from now on, lead your life. That commitment in faith to Jesus Christ means that, in you, the lost is found! The mission has been accomplished!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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