Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | October 26, 2014 | Based on the writings of Dr. Ken Priddy
And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 “And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. 10 “And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. 11 “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. 12 “And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 “But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. 14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come. (Matt. 24:1-14 NAS)
We’re involved in a process of church revitalization. At this stage we’re considering the Biblical foundations of revitalization. We’re seeking to align OUR church with God’s vision for THE Church. This passage gives us a glimpse of what will precede the end of God’s vision. Notice especially verse 14. Last time we saw that God is a sovereign God with an eternal kingdom vision. God has a vision of a great multitude of redeemed people, whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life since before the foundation of the world, with whom he will dwell permanently and eternally in the new heavens and the new earth.
The question we want to be asking in prayer throughout this vitalization process is, “God, how do you want to express yourself through this church in this community at this time?”
Vision in the church is a matter of discernment, not creativity. Church leaders don’t have to create or invent the vision. They are to discern God’s vision, focusing their attention on what he desires for their churches. And church leaders don’t approach this exercise with a blank slate. The Bible makes God’s vision for the church quite clear. The directives found in the Bible concern the church universal, but have application for the local church. The job of church leaders – in cooperation with their church members – is to discern God’s vision for the church and apply what they find in the context of their churches in their communities at the present time. Creativity is reserved for the application of the vision, not the discernment of the vision. What motivates, draws, and compels us to participate with Christ in his mission in the world is built on Biblical foundations. These basic foundations are drawn from Scripture to provide us a platform from which we can discern and build God’s vision. The passages we are considering today might be called the six Greats. These are familiar passages and applications that form a direct line to God’s vision for the church.
First, is, The Great Promise, in Matthew 16: 13-18. This passage opens with Jesus conducting a “man on the street” survey, asking his disciples the question, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond with various people’s opinions, “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But quickly Jesus cuts to the chase and asks the question on which all of eternity hangs for every man, woman and child, “But who do you say that I am?” That’s the question with which WE want to be engaging people. Simon replies, “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” Jesus agrees that Simon has given the correct answer and says he is blessed. But why is he blessed? Is it because he gave the right answer and is therefore receiving blessing as a reward? No, he’s blessed because the Father has revealed the true identity of Jesus to him so that he could respond correctly. Likewise, we are blessed when we can answer the question as Peter did, because the Father has revealed Jesus’ true identity to us. Jesus goes on to say that Peter is the rock and upon this rock he will build his church. Now, is it actually Peter that’s the rock upon which Jesus will build his Church? Yes and no. The text does indicate that Peter is instrumental in the founding of the church – from the first sermon at Pentecost, to his vision of opening the gospel to the Gentiles, to his letters to the church that make up part of the New Testament. But more importantly, there’s the rock of revelation that is Jesus the Christ the Son of the living God. God the Father reveals through God the Spirit that God the Son is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the Savior and the Lord. It’s on this revelation that the church is being built, as every second of every day, men, women, and children around the globe come to faith through the Spirit of God moving in their hearts and minds, through regeneration. This is the great promise of Jesus; his church will be built, and He will build it. Now, the Spirit and the Spirit alone regenerates, reveals, and draws people to a saving relationship with Jesus, but we also have a part to play as well. We are to testify, as Peter did, to who Jesus truly is. We’re to reveal Christ in the way we speak, the way we act, and the way we think. We’re to share our faith in word and deed.
God has a vision of a church that cooperates with the Holy Spirit through all of life: in our work and play, preaching, teaching and praying in order to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The question for church leaders is how to apply this promise, THROUGH their churches, IN their communities, at THIS time. What will effective proclamation look like in the context of our churches in our communities at this time?
Second, is The Great Commandment, in Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus is asked, “Teacher which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, summarizing all the law the prophets with, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Here we find both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of love. Have you noticed that different churches tend to emphasize one of these dimensions over the other? Generally, conservative churches tend to go more vertical. They tend to emphasize the relationship between God and his people. While liberal churches tend to go more horizontal, emphasizing the relationship between themselves and other people. But the Great commandment calls for both the vertical and horizontal.
God has a vision of the church that loves him AND loves its neighbors and proves both dimensions of this love in its words and its actions.
Third, The Great Commission, in Matthew 28:16-20. The great commission is often read or quoted as if the first word is “go.” As important as that word is, it’s better to back up a bit to see what comes before “go.” The first of Jesus’ words recorded in this text is “all.” Jesus declares that ALL authority in heaven and earth has been given to him, and it’s in this authority the great commission finds its power. The authority that has come to God the Son has come from God the Father, and Jesus commissions his disciples – both then and now – in the same authority. It’s an authority that will operate in us through the Spirit. Authorized in and through that authority, we are to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. To make a disciple is to become engaged in the process of transformation in a person’s life from unbelieving to believing, from spiritual death to spiritual life. Evangelism is the beginning of that process. When a new believer is regenerated, he or she is to be baptized and taught to live a life of obedience to all that Jesus has commanded. Obedience is more than merely knowing what the Bible says. Unfortunately, many churches tend to emphasize Christian education over Christian living. Also, the last phrase in the great commission is important as well. Jesus guarantees his presence – that he will be with his disciples – until the end of the age. The great commission begins in the authority of Christ and ends in the presence of Christ. Jesus charges his people to go in that authority and presence to make disciples, baptize, and teach obedience. We are not merely to stand by out of fear or disinterest as others engage in evangelism. We can boldly enter into the process by walking in the authority of Christ. And we needn’t be content to merely teach Bible classes that are relationally safe, even if they are doctrinally deep. We can go deeper in our discipleship with others, entering into the warp and woof of their lives, trusting in the personal presence of Christ to guide and direct us as we go.
God has a vision of the church that goes in the authority of Christ, keenly aware of the presence of Christ, to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them how to live in obedience to Christ.
The job of church leaders is to apply that commission THROUGH their churches IN their communities AT this time.
Fourth, The Great Witness in Acts 1: 8. Picking up on the importance of authority, Jesus states in here – just prior to his ascension – that the disciples will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. And so empowered, they will prove to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. If Jesus’ disciples are empowered to be witnesses, why don’t we see more witnessing in the American church? A witness is someone who is called to give testimony because he or she actually saw and experienced the matter or event in question. One theory is that it that we fail to give good testimony, it’s because we haven’t witnessed anything first hand. Maybe our testimony is mostly hearsay; third, fourth or fifth hand testimony that would be inadmissible in a court of law.
God has a vision of the church whose people are empowered by the Spirit, witnessing his presence and work in their lives on a daily basis, and therefore having a valid testimony to give.
The job of church leaders and members is to apply this power and experience THROUGH their churches IN their communities AT this time.
Fifth, The Great Mission in Luke 19:10. In the first nine verses of Luke 19 we see Jesus in his meeting with Zacchaeus, a man of small stature who climbed the sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. He was determined to see Jesus that day, and to his great surprise, Jesus was determined to see him. In the first verse we learn that Jesus was passing through Jericho. It’s stated so matter-of-factly that we might easily miss the context. Jesus was passing through, but that’s because he was on his way to Jerusalem to die as payment for the penalty of sin. Though earth-shaking events that will affect mankind for all eternity are about to take place, Jesus says to this seemingly inconsequential man, “I must stay at your house today.” The result is that later Jesus can announce, “Salvation has come to this house.” Why did Jesus stop for Zacchaeus? Why go out of his way, why slow his pace, why pick him out of the crowd, why go to his house? Why not focus on the great task at hand, that of being the savior of the world? Why hang out with a despised tax collector? Jesus tells us in verse 10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus was lost, so Jesus sought him out and saved him. It’s simple, isn’t it? But not necessarily convenient or even easy. Yet it can be done by following Jesus’ example, seeking out one person at a time.
God has a vision of a church that seeks to save the lost, taking on the mission of Jesus as its own.
Sixth, and finally, The Great Multiplication of Matthew 24:14. Where are these Scriptures taking us? The destination is revealed in this passage. For Jesus to build his church, for us to love God and love people, for us to go and make disciples of all nations, for us to be his witnesses here there and everywhere, for us to join Jesus in his search and rescue mission, the Gospel must be proclaimed. According to Matthew 24:14 when that proclamation is made throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come. A multiplication will have taken place, the multitude will stand before the throne, and the timeline that God has suspended inside of eternity will draw to a close. Redemptive history will be complete.
God has a vision of a church that seeks to preach the gospel in the whole world for a witness to all nations before the coming of Christ. God’s vision is found in the application of the great promise, the great commandment, the great commission, the great witness, the great mission and the great multiplication.
The job of church leaders, in cooperation with their church members, is to determine how these six greats can be applied THROUGH their churches IN their communities AT this time.
There are four essential components to the question of how God wants to express himself THROUGH our church IN our community at THIS time.
First it’s God’s vision we are seeking, not our own vision. God is the center and the vision has to be his. That’s why we’re spending time looking at what God’s word says about his vision for the world, and his mission for the church at large.
It’s NOT God’s vision for our church, BUT our church for God’s vision.
It’s NOT God’s plan for my life, BUT my life for God’s plan.
We’re asking God, “How can I, and how can we, fit into YOUR vision?
Through Our Individual Churches
Second this vision is to be applied through our individual churches. We’re not trying to copy what God is doing elsewhere or in some other local church. We can learn from other churches and find inspiration in them, but God can direct us in a particular application of his vision through our church in our community. Each church is made up of individuals and families with particular personalities and gifts and passions. Historically, we can look back and see how different churches and church leaders sought to accomplish God’s mission in very different ways. One church is not the entire body of Christ. God can utilize the various strengths of the various churches to accomplish his overall mission in a particular community. And in a particular church, some individuals are more ready than others to move forward. Once God’s vision in that church is discerned, some people will step out more quickly than others, and others will follow at a slower pace.
It’s NOT once the congregation is on board that we will begin to reach the community, BUT once we begin to reach the community the congregation will get on board.
Notice how God used Peter early on to set the pace for Jesus’ disciples, and how later Paul set the pace for the missionary efforts of the early church. As they moved forward individually, or with a few other people, later, others followed and joined in the mission.
In Our Individual Communities
Third, we can fulfill God’s purpose best by focusing on what will serve and reach those who live in our individual communities. What works elsewhere might not work here and vice versa. We must harvest our own fields, not the fields of others.
It’s NOT a question of how do we minister TO our congregation, BUT how do we minister THROUGH our congregation to our community.
The first generation of Jesus’ disciples were sent to make disciples not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth. It took them quite a while to get out of Jerusalem, but eventually it happened. Likewise, we are sent not only to do discipleship, but also to engage in outreach and evangelism. If we merely wait for people to come to us, we may be waiting a long time.
It’s NOT once our ministry is fully committed to discipleship, then outreach and evangelism will naturally result, BUT once our ministry is fully committed to outreach and evangelism, then discipleship will naturally result.
For example, Peter and Ada Hsu, a couple who visited our church frequently the summer before last, are originally from Chinese families, but grew up in North America. Now in their sixties, God has sent them to help plant churches in China. Along with a team of other people, they have worked in one city for six or seven years planting a first church. This year they have begun planting a second church in a city an hour away. Each week they hold services and Sunday school in the first city, then travelling to the second city to hold services and Sunday school there. In both places, they are using the Westminster Shorter Catechism for evangelism, for discipleship and for leadership training. They are seeking to reach their community THROUGH their church. They are committed to outreach and evangelism in their community, and discipleship is naturally resulting in their church from their efforts. As the Session initially considered the vitalization process, some of us wondered if we needed to solve whatever internal issues we might have BEFORE we began the vitalization process. However, the more we looked into it, the more we became convinced that the process itself will address many of those internal issues. Now as the prayer teams have met over the past month or so, we’ve gathered a list of issues that need to be solved.
Many of these internal church issues will be solved not by looking INWARD toward the “found” congregation, BUT by looking OUTWARD toward the “lost” community.
Some internal issues actually develop BECAUSE churches are not engaged in God’s mission in their community. However, when these churches become properly engaged with the community once again, those issues are solved. We will not solve all internal issues by looking inward toward the congregation. Some, maybe many or all, internal issues will be solved by looking outward toward the lost community.
Minister in the Present
Finally, we must minister in the present, not in the past. Have you noticed how often Jesus changed his methods? He rarely used the same means more than once? For example, in his healing ministry, one time he healed a man by applying mud to his eyes and told him to go wash. Another time he allowed a woman to touch the hem of his garment in the midst of a crowd. Another time he spoke a word from miles away to heal a little girl. He met the need of the moment in that place and time. The Apostle Paul also used a variety of methods in his teaching and preaching ministry – whatever met the need of the moment. He preached and taught in the synagogues, in homes, in town squares and marketplaces, beside a river, on a ship at sea, in king’s quarters, on the Areopogus, and in prison. How can we meet the need of the moment in our own time and place?
How can we reach the people in our communities: in our workplaces and schools, in the marketplace, in our neighborhoods and beyond? How can we best communicate the message of the gospel here and now? It’s a new day that calls for new wine skins. That doesn’t mean we have to change everything. Our message of the gospel certainly can’t change, but how we communicate it, can change in various ways as the world changes around us. Because Gutenberg had recently invented the printing Martin Luther was able to print large numbers of booklets to distribute his teachings. Whitefield and Wesley travelled about on horseback and spoke in open air meetings in their day. In our day, we can travel by car or train or jet and we can self-publish books and booklets and communicate via the internet. We must discern the times in which we live. Not only the times IN the church, but also the times in the community OUTSIDE the church. What are modern people thinking? What are their concerns today, here and now? How does the modern ear, heart and mind “hear” the gospel?
Jesus’ ministry was incarnational. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. According to God’s purpose and plan, he descended from the glories of heaven to live among us in order to seek and to save the lost. According to God’s purpose and plan, he lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death to pay for the sins of all who will place their trust in him for salvation. He rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven so that he might send the Holy Spirit to empower and to be present with his first disciples whom He sent to continue his incarnational, world-wide mission to seek and save the lost. We are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and of those first disciples, co-heirs with Christ of an eternal inheritance in the new heaven and new earth. In Christ, our ministry of reconciliation through the gospel is incarnational as well. We live in and among the world, but are not of the world. We have brothers and sisters, members of our spiritual family, who are presently lost, and who need to hear the life-giving message of the gospel. If a member of our natural family was lost, we would be out looking for them until they were found.
The question we are asking is God, how would you have us join in Jesus’ mission to find them at this time? We believe that you have a particular work for us to do, through our church, in our community, at this time. Show us more and more clearly what it is. And then embolden and empower us to do it. So that we can be active participants in bringing Jesus’ kingdom to its fullness when on that day a multitude of people redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation stand before the throne and before the lamb crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!