Mission Festival September 20, 1998
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she constrained us.
In the name of the Lord Jesus, who rightly proclaims Himself as Savior of all people, dear fellow Christians and fellow partners in the work of the Gospel.
Back in the 1970’s, I remember a shampoo commercial on TV whose image has stuck with me ever since. A woman’s face appears on the screen, and of course, she has nice looking hair. But it wasn’t her hair that made the impression. It’s what she said. After she endorses the product, she says, “And you’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on.” While she said this, the screen would multiply into the faces of two more women inside two boxes. And then four women inside four boxes, and the faces of eight women inside eight boxes, and so on. Through this sequence of doubling, one would eventually see about 30 or 40 faces on the TV.
That commercial has made me wonder how Christianity might grow and spread if Christians practiced the same thing. If we told two friends about Jesus, who in turn would tell two of their friends or family. Indeed, there was a time when the number of believers grew and multiplied according to that practice. It was certainly true in the days of the early Christian church. The apostles did not witness to every single person in the village. They reached a certain number of people, who did mission work on their own, after the apostles had moved on. We see that pattern a bit in our text. Paul spoke to Lydia, who took the Gospel home to the members of her household.
We can see all the people involved in the process. People speaking about Jesus. People listening to the message—some who believe it, some who reject it. It’s easy to forget who it is that is working behind the scenes. It wasn’t Paul who made the difference for the people that He encountered. It wasn’t the people making the effort to accept and believe what they heard. It was God working back then, and it’s the same God working today. This truth will form the basis of our mission theme:
Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Why are we still here on this earth?” I know I have. Why doesn’t God simply convert us to faith and remove us into heaven? Why doesn’t He get us out of here, away from all the turmoil, away from all the potential dangers to lose our faith? Perhaps you know the answer to the question. God has work for us to do. He wants to spread His life-saving message to all people. And unlike the days of Bible history, He doesn’t use angels anymore—not for that purpose. He uses people; more specifically, He uses Christians, believers like you and me.
As members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, you have called certain individuals to serve you and your children with the Word of God. You have called your pastor and your Sunday School teachers to be ministers of the Gospel. Now I hope you realize that they are not the only ones with a call to proclaim the message of Christ. Jesus is speaking to all of us when He says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” That statement is known as the Great Commission. Jesus has given us a job to do. He wants us to tell other people about Himself. So witnessing the Gospel is not just the responsibility of the pastor. It is the high calling, the privilege, and the responsibility of every believer.
Let’s examine that responsibility more closely. God expects all of us to open our mouths and confess our Savior whenever we have the opportunity. God expects us to support mission work with our offerings and our prayers. God expects you and me to have the same zeal, the same love and concern for souls that Jesus had when He was on this earth. We know the expectations that God has placed upon us. We also know the failures to do what God wants. We can’t overlook the times we have kept silent when the opportunity to witness came along. Or the times we held back on our offerings, or the times we neglected to pray for the spread of the Gospel and the conversion of other people. Those times of failure are more than mistakes. They are clear examples of sin that we commit.
Now here’s where the Gospel makes such a wonderful difference for us personally. God does not shame us into action. He motivates through the power of forgiveness. He gets us to work for Him by first doing some work for us. Where we have failed to keep His Law, He has kept it for us. When the Law condemns us in our guilt and sentences us to the punishment of death, Jesus is there to take the punishment for us. Christ has come to bear the burden of all the sin. Remember what you learned as a disciple of Christ—God took every sin we have ever done and ever will do, and He nailed it to the cross of Christ. When the almighty Judge looked down from on high, He saw all the sins piled up in one place. And that one place was not you. It wasn’t me or anyone else. It was the cross of Jesus, the same place where God let loose once and for all the complete punishment that His justice required. As Paul says in Colossians, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us…. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
We have to say: what a wonderful message! God says to each one of us, “You are forgiven because of My Son. You are My child and heir through faith in Him.” God says that we are clean of all our guilt. We are rescued from the pain and suffering of hell. We inherit the joy of eternal life. And it all comes true as a free gift. We did nothing to deserve such grace and mercy from our Lord. That’s the kind of message that God delivers in His Word. That’s the kind of message that makes a lasting impression on the Christian heart. God has “sold” us on the power of the Gospel.
Remember the last time that you talked to a salesman? Isn’t it true that a salesman is more effective when he himself is “sold” on the product? If he believes in the value of what he is selling, he will be more effective convincing you to buy, whatever the product might be. Now granted, you and I are never to become “sellers” of the Gospel. But we have certainly received it. We certainly have benefited greatly from the victory of the cross. The Gospel is a valuable treasure that we can never again live without. It has solved our biggest problem. It has brought us into a right relationship with God. It is the only thing that offers us a never-ending life. When you realize the great power of the Gospel for yourself, you are “sold” on the need and the benefit of the Savior. And that makes you all the more ready to share Jesus with other people.
Not only do we get motivation from God. He even controls the moments that we speak. We can see this illustrated in our text. The apostle Paul had different ideas about where to go and do mission work. But the Lord said no. The Lord shut the door. When Paul reached the west coast of Asia Minor, God revealed in a dream where He wanted this man to work. Paul and his companions would take the Gospel into Europe, into the country of Macedonia. God always controls where we preach His message. It’s never up to us to make things happen—to pick and choose the people to whom we speak. God has a way of bringing us into contact with different people and different situations which naturally give us the chance to talk about the Savior. In many cases, we are led to work with people that we already know. Even as Lydia brought the Gospel to her own household, we are sent to deliver the Gospel to our own circle of family and friends.
And when He gives you the opportunity, the Lord also reminds you of the great urgency of your work. Just imagine your own life if you didn’t have the Savior. If you can imagine that, you understand the great need that everyone has to hear the way of salvation through Christ. Without Jesus Christ every person is on the road to hell. Every person is doomed to destruction if they don’t get the good news. But you and I have the one thing that can rescue their souls.
If the people around you were dying of a deadly illness, and you had the one medicine that would surely cure them, wouldn’t you give that medicine to all the people that you possibly could? You’re in that situation, you know. There are many people around us who are dying. They are terminally ill with a spiritual disease; they have the cancer of sin with its symptom of unbelief. But you have in your possession the one and only cure. You have received the message of Christ, not only to save yourself and your family, but also to rescue your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives. Please remember that God uses Christians like us to witness the Gospel to other people. Let’s also remember that God is the one who makes mission work a success. He works in the heart of those who hear the message.
Picture the scene of that Sabbath day encounter by the river. At first the Bible mentions two main parties: Paul who did the preaching and Lydia who listened to the message. But then we are told of a third person. “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Paul was no doubt talking about Jesus. His voice was speaking the Gospel. But God was the one working on the inside, in the heart of Lydia. The Lord got Lydia’s attention. More than that—the Lord caused her to understand what she heard. The message of the Gospel sunk in, so that she not only knew the contents. She accepted this information as the truth and trusted that Jesus was her only hope, her one and only Savior from sin.
We call that process conversion, where the Spirit turns someone around from unbelief to faith. Dear brethren, we are talking about a great miracle. God has to literally bring the dead to life when He creates faith in a person’s heart. God has to overcome the natural reaction which always says “no” to Christ. If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit, there would be no believers in this world and the Gospel message would have no power.
We thank God that it does have power! Great power! When the Holy Spirit creates faith, He uses the Gospel to do it. Now the power of the Spirit is more than a miscellaneous piece of information. It reassures us in our personal, face to face witnessing. We don’t have to worry about saying just the right words or quoting just the right passage. All it takes is the simple Gospel truth. Tell people what you know. Tell it in your own word. That is enough to bring the power and the influence of the Spirit into the heart of the person you’re talking to. Once the message has been delivered, we can step aside and let the Spirit do His work.
That is essentially the key to mission work—letting the Word do what the Lord sent it to do. When the message is passed on, God can work on yet another heart to convert that person to the Christian faith. We could say there’s a certain chain reaction going on. Through the Gospel that we share, God creates more Christians who pass the Gospel on to more people. With each new believer, God creates another missionary who confesses Christ. This chain reaction will not break down until the last believer is found in his state of unbelief and converted to the Christian faith.
Over five years ago at our 1991 mission festival, we had Pastor Mark Bohde as our speaker in Valentine. He mentioned something in the service that I’ll never forget. He said that historically the Christian church would double and triple in size, over and over again, when the lay members did most of the mission work. That’s quite phenomenal when you think about it. Sadly though, he also reported that this wonderful rate of growth tapered off when people had the attitude that mission work was the pastor’s job.
Dear Christians, we all have a calling to witness the Gospel according to the gifts and opportunities that God has given us. But let’s continue to remember whose work it really is. Mission work is ultimately the Lord’s work. Not just work that we do for Him. It’s work that is done by Him. Yes, He uses people in the process. But we are just the tools. He’s the one works in the heart. In the end, when all believers stand before Christ on Judgment Day, we will see this project in its final state. We will see the final results of an everyday reality: it is God Himself who makes mission work a success. Amen.
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