Monday, December 02, 2013

The Christmas Commission (John 20:21)

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Today marks the beginning of Advent, the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Traditionally, Christmas marks the beginning of the Christian year, and the season of Advent marks its end. Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ into the world; Advent originally was a time of preparation and expectation of His promised second coming. In recent generations, the two ideas have blended together with Advent and Christmas being seen as one season, and with the emphasis being on the birth of Christ. In Southern Baptist Churches, December also signifies something else. It is during this season that we place special emphasis on International Missions through the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are a lot of ideas going on here – Christ’s first coming (Christmas), His second coming, and missions. But these ideas are not unrelated. The purpose of Christ’s coming in the world is the basis of our commission in the world – a commission that we are to be fully devoted to until He returns. Our text today encapsulates these ideas in a concise way. “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Many of you are new to Southern Baptist life, and may not be familiar with this person, “Lottie Moon” that we speak so much about during the Christmas season. Charlotte Digges Moon, better known to us as “Lottie,” was small in stature – 4’2” – but made a giant impact for Christ. In 1873, at 33 years old, she became one of the first single women appointed by our Mission Board and set sail for China where she would invest the next 39 years of her life. The Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions says of her, “Personal discipline, institutional loyalty, and generous hospitality characterized her relatively stable missionary career. Competent in Chinese and sensitive to the Chinese cultural restraints on women’s roles, she made friendship a means to evangelism.” Her work in the town of Pingtu led to the establishment of over 30 congregations. Today Lottie Moon is known for her stirring letters which sent back to the American Christians encouraging selfless devotion to Christ and sacrificial support of world missions. Her letters have been published in a book edited by my Baptist History professor, Keith Harper, called Send the Light. Her life story was written by Catherine Allen, entitled The New Lottie Moon Story.

In 1912, Lottie’s colleagues discovered that she had been giving away her food and her money to help those around her, and they found her in poor condition, suffering from a severe case of malnutrition. What little she had left to her name was loaded into an old steamer trunk, and the frail Lottie Moon boarded a ship to return to America for much needed medical treatment. However, on Christmas Eve, 1912, Lottie Moon died on board that ship in Kobe Harbor, Japan, and went to be with her Master, who greeted her undoubtedly with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Christmas Offering for International Missions bears her name today because she compelled Southern Baptists to begin the practice of sacrificial giving for global missions during this season. She wrote: “Need it be said why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season, when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”
Lottie Moon understood why the God of the Universe clothed Himself in humanity in His incarnation, and sacrificed Himself for the salvation of the world. And Lottie Moon followed her Lord to her very own death. She understood the commission Christ gave us when He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

This single verse teaches us some very important lessons concerning the person and the purposes of Christ.

I. The Person of Christ
“The Father Sent Me”

No fewer than 33 times in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Himself as being sent by the Father. What does this mean? It says something about His incarnation. On that first Christmas, something very significant took place. Galatians 4:4 says it this way: “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son.” That baby in the manger was not just any baby. That baby was God’s Son. What does this mean? There are many ways to misunderstand the phrase “Son of God.” Some understand it to mean that He was something other than, something less than, God. But that is not the way Jesus intends us to understand His relationship as the Son to His Father. When He speaks of Himself as the Son, and of God as His Father, He is speaking of the fact that He is of the same nature and substance as God. In the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus is “true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” In speaking of His relationship with God as Father and Son, Jesus is saying that He is God in the flesh. In Jesus Christ, God became a man.

 There are many religions which claim that men can become gods, but only in Christ does God become a man. This is the incarnation: God taking upon Himself human flesh. In Colossians 2:9, Paul says, “In Christ the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD consolidated all the Scripture teaches of His divine nature by describing Jesus Christ as “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, … of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; … one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.”

Charles Wesley attempted to capture the splendor of the incarnation in Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, as he wrote in the second stanza, “Veiled in flesh the God-head see; hail th’ incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” In the third, he wrote, “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.” This is what He did in His incarnation. He laid the glory of heaven aside, and veiled Himself in human flesh to dwell among us and to die for us.

In the words, “the Father sent Me,” we find a great depiction of the Person of Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, whose coming into the world we celebrate at Christmas.

II. The Purpose of Christ – As the Father has sent Me, I also send you

Now, seeing as how the manner of the Father’s sending Christ has a direct bearing on the followers of Christ, the question is begged: How has the Father sent Him? I want to know this, because this is the way in which Christ has sent me.

            A. The Purpose of His coming

Jesus Christ was sent with a purpose. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” In Matthew 9:13, He said that He had come to call sinners to repentance. In Matthew 1:21, the angel who announced His birth said that He would “save His people from their sins.” In Mark 10:45, Jesus said that He had come to serve, and to give His life as “a ransom for many.”  Seven centuries at least before His coming, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the one whom God would send, saying:

He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. … But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering … He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:5-12 (NASB)

He came to save the world. He came knowing that this would mean suffering and death that He did not deserve for sins He did not commit. He knew He was born to die, and to die for us and our salvation, to deliver us from sin. He came, compelled by the love of the Father, because a lost world was destined to perish eternally. He came so that all nations might have the opportunity to repent and receive God’s forgiveness and be saved.

That is how the Father sent Him. As the Father has sent Me, Jesus said, I also send you. And this brings us to …

            B. The Purpose of Our Commission.

In Luke 24, following His resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” He is saying that everything that happened to Him was in accordance with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. It had been written in advance by the prophets of God. It happened on purpose. It was why He had come. It was His mission to come and die for the sins of humanity. That was a mission that only He could carry out. But, then He relates His mission to our commission. He says that, because these things happened just as was written, now “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.” But who would proclaim these things? He says to His followers, “You are witnesses of these things.” This is our commission. As the Father sent the Son into the world to accomplish the salvation of humanity from the bondage of sin, so the Son has sent His followers – including you and me – into the world to announce that this salvation has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. We are the witnesses who are sent to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sin in His name to all nations. “As the Father sent Me,” Jesus says, “So send I you.”

He wasn’t calling us to a soft and easy pathway. It wasn’t easy for Him; it will not be for us. It required His suffering and death. It may require the same of us. It required Him to leave the comforts and familiar surroundings of His eternal home in heaven. It will require us to leave our comfort zones as well. Our commission is to take this good news to all nations. As John Piper has said so well, “to follow Jesus is to embrace the nations.” I like to say it this way: If you follow Jesus you will go where He is going. He is going outside your comfort zones, to the nations, to the hard places, to the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world, and to the unlovable and untouchable ones. If your path isn't taking you to those places, you might want to check and see if there really are sandaled footprints on your trail. Can you truly be following Jesus if you are not going where He went? Can you truly be following Him if you are not going where He has sent you? 

In every Gospel and the book of Acts, we have Christ’s final words to His followers – a commission to win the world and make disciples for Him. He has called each and every one of us to continue His mission. For this reason, He was born. For this reason, we have been born-again in Him. His mission is our mission. God did not save us so that we could sit back and sing about how good it feels to be saved. He saved us to serve Him and to continue His mission to reach every tongue and nation with the gospel. As the Father sent Him, Christ has sent us, commissioning us to take the gospel to every lost person, starting in our communities and extending to the ends of the earth.

David Livingstone, that great missionary pioneer in Africa, understood this commission. He said, “Forbid it that we should ever consider the holding of a commission from the King of Kings a sacrifice. … God had an only Son, and he was a missionary …. A poor imitation of him I am … In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die.” And that he did.

Lottie Moon understood this commission. She said, “How many there are … who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.” She said, “I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them to … China.” She had but one. And she gave it away for Christ in China.

We too must understand this commission. As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you. Christ did not leave the portals of glory to journey to that Bethlehem stable, and subject Himself to the brutal agony of the cross, so that you and I can eat turkey and trim trees and give each other more and more stuff. He did it to save the world. Christmas means that God loves us too much to let us go to hell. He loves us so much that He came to dwell among us and save us by taking our sins upon Himself. And now He gives us this commission – As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.

The greatest Christmas gift ever given is Christ Himself, given for you to save you from your sins. The greatest Christmas gift you can give to someone else is the eternally and infinitely good news of His gospel message. Each day, around the world, somewhere in the range of 150,000 people die in their sins. Some have heard and rejected the offer of Christ. But, most have never even heard. How then shall we respond to the commission that has been given to us?
·         Will you pray that the lost will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and that their hearts will be open to receive Jesus? Will you pray for God to send forth laborers into His harvest field?
·         Will you share Christ with someone who is lost – a friend, a family member, a coworker, a neighbor, a stranger that God providentially places in your life?
·         Will you go to the nations? Perhaps you are sensing God’s call to go for the rest of your life. Maybe you are sensing God’s call to go for a short term assignment – a summer, a semester, two weeks. Or maybe you are unable to go abroad, but there are internationals here in the Triad that you can reach out to even more easily and effectively than you could by going abroad. Are you willing to simply surrender to the Lord Jesus and say, “Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go – even if it is here in Greensboro, even if it is Nepal, Dubai, South Africa, Netherlands, China, Ethiopia, or anywhere else in the world – and I will tell them about you!”?
·         Will you give generously and even sacrificially so that those who have said, “Yes, I will go in Christ’s name and take the gospel to the ends of the earth,” may do so? The Lottie Moon Offering supports over 4,800 missionaries serving around the world. Last year, they saw over 266,000 people baptized as new believers in Jesus Christ. There were over 24,000 new churches started through their work. Yet, according to the Joshua Project, of the 16,801 distinct ethnolinguistic people groups in the world, nearly 7,300 of them do not have a substantial gospel witness among them. Over 40% of the world’s population lives among these unreached peoples. God loves these people. Jesus died for them. They just don’t know it yet, and they won’t know unless someone goes to tell them. The Lottie Moon Offering helps us send those people there to reach them. Our goal this year is to raise $10,000. That may sound like a lot of money, but consider this:
o        It is about $2.50 per missionary. It is about $1.64 per unreached people group in the world. And it is only a tiny fraction of a percent of the 175 million dollar goal that the International Mission Board hopes to receive.
o        If there were five individuals or families who gave $1,000 each to the LMCO, that would be half of our goal. If another five gave $500 each, that would be 75% of our goal – met by just 10 individuals or families.

Jesus said, “As the Father sent Me, I also send you.” This statement applies to every one of His followers. So, if you are a follower of Jesus, He is sending you. You are part of His plan to extend the good news of His glory and grace to the ends of the earth. So, what part will you play in that mission? But perhaps today, you might be wondering if you really are His follower … you might even know for sure that you are not. If that is so, then even this day, you can turn to Him in repentance and faith, have your sins forgiven, and be saved. You can receive the ultimate gift of Christmas – the gift of God’s only begotten Son. And as your turn to follow Him, you can begin to give that gift away to others as well.

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