Are you one of those people? I know it isn’t from a heart to be bad, but sometimes you just can’t help it. The temptation is too much; you just can’t stand the pressure. Of course, what I’m wondering is if you are one of those people who reads the end of the book before reading the rest of it. I know that is exactly where you thought I was going. I’d like to say I don’t understand you. I’d like to pretend that I have never felt the urge to do that. However, I must admit this morning that I, too, have been guilty of this.
For me, it was a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure.” When I was a young kid, these were books that started on the first page by reading a short intro, then included a couple of pages of story, and then had the reader make a choice. Would you take option A and go to page 65, or option B and go to page 32? And it seemed, at least to a young man, that half of the choices ended up with me dying or the story ending quickly. Well, that wasn’t any fun! So, I started learning that I should start by looking at the last half of the book, skim each page to see what section had a good ending, and then work backward from there. Admittedly that is sort of cheating, but it made the books much more fun for me!
Now I know some of you who are teachers here this morning might squirm when I say there are some advantages to doing this. Knowing the end at the beginning can help you see things you never imagined when you first started. Actually, the best way to do this with a book is to actually read books more than once—you get the thrill of being surprised the first time, and you also get to experience the joy of seeing all the pieces again and how the story fits together toward the end.
If you have a favorite book or movie, you can appreciate this as well. Each time you read it or see it, you notice the small movements of the project as they work toward the end. You can appreciate the nuances. One of the classic examples in the past decade is the movie “The Sixth Sense.” I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but if you watch it, by the time you get to the end you might exclaim, “What!? How can that be?” At least I did. And I had to watch it a second time just to understand what had happened and try to catch as many pieces as I could to understand how it came together.
Beginning at the End
Today we are starting our new series on Priorities. These are topics that we see come up again and again in Scripture and have a specific call on our lives. We want to make sure that we, as Table Rock Church, see these, love these, and heed what God is saying throughout Scripture about these topics. Many of them are interrelated, and they are definitely not all the topics that Scripture talks about.
This morning we are going to look at the priority of ‘spreading’ and God’s call on us to take part in his great mission of spreading a joy and passion for his glory across this entire earth. We love this idea, and it begins our mission statement:
We exist to spread a passion for the glory of God in all things for the joy of all people through Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
Spreading is our active part in this process. We exist to spread a passion! Yet, in case we begin to think it is all about us, I want to start at the end this morning. We are starting with Revelation 5, not because it is the only passage that speaks about God’s spreading mandate (as I pray you see throughout this sermon), but because we want to know exactly how this will happen. Look at our passage again with me this morning:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”—Revelation 5:6–10 ESV
Someday, when we get into some discipleship classes or sermon series on Revelation, we will have fun talking about the four living creatures, the elders, the seven eyes on this lamb and the seven horns. But for our purposes this morning we want to focus in on this section:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”—Revelation 5:9–10 ESV
John is in heaven, and there is great sorrow because no one can open this scroll. And as they are there, sad and dejected, it is announced that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” also known as the “Root of David” has conquered. And then as everyone looks, we are told there is a lamb standing there as though it has been slain.
These three titles: Lion of the tribe of Judah, Root of David, the lamb who was slain, make this abundantly obvious this is Jesus. And we are told that he alone is worthy to open the scroll because of his death, and then we are told what he has done—
“by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”—Revelation 5:9–10
We are told here that it is Jesus who has fulfilled the goal of bringing people from every tribe and language and people and nation to be part of a kingdom and priests to God, who will reign on the earth!
That is fascinating! If you were asked what were the major goals that God had in sending his Son to earth, would you say this? Would you say that God wanted to bring people from this entire earth to serve him?
As we talk about spreading this morning, I think there are several reasons why spreading can be a difficult topic for us.
Training: We often don’t want to think about spreading because we don’t feel we are trained to do it well.
Time: Other times we don’t want to think about spreading because we don’t want to prioritize it because of the time it will take in our lives.
Unconcerned: Sometimes we don’t spread what we know and love about God because we don’t have a healthy fear of God and for the state of the souls of our lost friends/family.
Not Me: And, to be frank, we often don’t think it is something we are called to do. It is something others will work on: evangelists, missionaries, not me.
One of the major goals of this sermon is to deal with a problem that exists as an undercurrent to many of those statements: we don’t remember God’s passion for spreading our place in the story. We forget how this spreading, this movement to spread a passion for God’s glory to every corner of the earth, has been God’s heart from the very beginning.
God’s scattering was in grace that he might regather
From the first pages of Scripture, we see how a holy God scatters sinful people, out of grace. First, he drives Adam and Eve out of the garden that they might not live forever in their sinful state. Even after saving Noah and his family, as a sinful people try to gather again and build a tower to the sky, the tower of Babel, that they might prove they are powerful like God, he confuses their language and further scatters them across the entire earth.
And God uses this scattering as a grace that he might regather his people to a holy life back in relationship with him!
Instruments of Blessing
We see this spreading begin as God picks individuals through whom he wants to spread his glory to the rest of the earth. We see God make a covenant, a promise, with Abraham, and he tells him this:
“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”—Genesis 12:3 ESV
Notice that the promise is not just for Abraham, but that in Abraham all the families of the earth are going to be blessed. God isn’t just after Abraham and his family, but after many different families!
And this continues, through Abraham’s sons—Isaac, then Jacob. Jacob receives a similar promise:
“Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”—Genesis 28:14 ESV
Again, God is going to use this family and their descendants to spread his glory to the entire earth, thereby blessing them. And as this family grows, the entire family becomes a nation, the nation of Israel, and God gives them the same mandate to spread the word about his glory and promises to all of those around them. As Moses says to the entire nation of Israel:
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?”—Deuteronomy 4:5–7 ESV
The Law that God brings to Israel is to be a sign for other nations of the amazing God who has drawn near to them and is guiding them in wisdom. And when we look at the laws, we also see laws regarding strangers and sojourners, those who are coming to Israel who weren’t born into the community and are now coming to God’s grace. We see those from outside the community like Rehab, the prostitute that helps Israel when they first come into the land, and Ruth, whose mother-in-law is a believer and she comes to faith in the God of Israel. God is working to spread his glory to the entire world and drawing people to himself!
God tells us this is his goal. Look at Isaiah 43 with me:
“I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”—Isaiah 43:6–7 ESV
Then there is the goal of his people. What God expects from those to whom his glory is spreading is a response like the Psalmist gives in Psalm 57:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”—Psalm 57:9–11 ESV
The Fall of Israel / Prophets
And you would be forgiven for being skeptical as you look at this in Scripture because it doesn’t seem to work. In fact, it becomes obvious that there is a counter plan to God’s plan. A plan Satan is working. Look at this one example of what King Nebuchadnezzar demands of his people in Babylon:
The Call of Satan
“And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”—Daniel 3:4–5 ESV
Does this sound familiar to God’s plan in Revelation 5? Yet here, they are called to worship a false God, King Nebachadnezzar, and his image. And this becomes the pattern again and again throughout the Old Testament. Israel as a nation doesn’t worship God, nor do they become part of his mission of spreading his glory to the entire earth. Rather, they worship false idols, graven images, and high places. Again, and again, and again.
We might originally think God is working to simply spread and develop a nation, one who externally listens and conforms to his desires. But that is not actually his plan. That is actually the lie that Israel believes throughout the Old Testament. People working to conform outwardly to what God wants will never be enough. It creates a legalistic people who want to know him for the power and prestige of being identified with him, a people who value God only for what they think God brings to them, and not because they are passionate about God’s glory.
God’s Plan within the Plan
Rather, amidst this process of a growing people, God is working in the hearts of some. He is changing some internally. We see this is necessary when we look all the way back at Deuteronomy 30:6—
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”—Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV
Somehow, in some way, God is taking sinful people and changing them from the inside. He is changing their heart and their affections, that they might actually love him. This spreading is not externally but so that God might actually have a people who love him. Paul echoes this reality in Romans 2:28–29:
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”—Romans 2:28–29 ESV
And this boggles those who think being a part of the external nation is enough. God sends the prophets again and again to let them know that being “his people” externally is not enough, and that they will find that even those who are not called God’s people are going to be brought in (Hosea 2; Romans 9:25–26)
Jesus as the spreading agent
The question we have to wonder as we look at this great story of God’s spreading is how? How is God spreading and changing people’s hearts? By what right can he overlook their sin, declare them righteous, and bring them to a loving relationship with him? Paul gives us this answer:
“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.””—Romans 15:8–9 ESV
We find that Jesus Christ alone is the answer. He fulfills the external promise of one who would come through this lineage:
Jesus as the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:14–15)
Jesus as the offspring (singular) of Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 22:17; Exodus 15:1–8; Galatians 3:16)
Jesus the son of David who would sit upon the throne forever (Luke 1:32)
As we talked about last week, Jesus doesn’t come to remove what the law demands, but to fulfill it. And in him much more is done. He also changes hearts! He accomplishes what the law could not!
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”—Romans 8:3–4 ESV
And Jesus doesn’t accomplish this only that the hearts of one people would be changed but the hearts of many people!
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”—John 6:38–40 ESV
Standing on this side of Jesus’s life, we get to see that this has always been God’s plan to spread. Those who believed in him in the Old Testament, those whose hearts had been changed to love him and his glory, and those in the age of Christ now, have only had a passion for the glory of God spread to them through the work Jesus Christ accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection! As we saw when we started in Revelation 5, Jesus ransomed a people for God. He is the one who has spread this passion for God’s glory through his work on behalf of his people. It is through faith in him that a great host of people have life in him as we just saw in John 6. And because of Jesus, we see the result of those ransomed people as they stand before the Lord in praise in Revelation 7. Here is what we see:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””—Revelation 7:9–11 ESV
When we see this great story of God’s spreading and see how he has and is accomplishing it through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, we also see that we are called to take part in it. In fact, Jesus has directly called us to this spreading effort:
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.””—John 20:21 ESV
Just as Jesus was sent to spread a passion for the glory of God, so too, we are called to that same mission. We see that in the passage you may have expected to see today, Matthew 28.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””—Matthew 28:18–20 ESV
Knowing that God has always been on a spreading mission and that he has accomplished it in Jesus Christ helps defeat some of the hesitancies we talked about earlier.
Training: We don’t need to be trained specially (though more practical help never hurts any of us). Rather we need to simply find ourselves in Christ and share that joy with others.
Time: Time becomes a non-issue when we realize that taking part in this spreading mission is not a special, one-off event each week, but part of our lives as we engage with whoever God puts around us.
Unconcerned: We are no longer unconcerned because we know what is at stake–God’s very glory and an eternity with him.
Not Me: We realize it must be us. Spreading is not for someone else.
When talking about missions and spreading, Ed Stetzer, a pastor and missiologist says this:
The difference between the missionary and the local church member is not mission but context.
Spreading is not the call of some, but the call of all, the difference is the context. Yes, we often want to prioritize spreading far because it is hard, and it is easy to forget. But the difference isn’t in what those sent far are doing, it is just the context. They are still called to spread a passion for the glory of God in all things to all peoples.
This occurs in every area of life. As we love our friends and co-workers. As we engage with our family. It happens in our houses, in grocery stores, and the park. It happens as we walk along the greenbelt, over coffee, and through tears on couches. We are those called to take part in this great spreading process because Jesus is the one who will ultimately save people and change their hearts. We are simply called to be God’s ambassadors and his messengers that others might hear about this wonderful God we have (Romans 1:5–6; Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20).