Message 25, Therefore, Go (Youth Seminar):
Tim Keesee discusses the implications of the Great Commission for all Christians, especially as it pertains to making disciples around the world.
So grateful to be with you this afternoon, and we’ve heard much about Christian worldview, and certainly a Christian worldview must include and be shaped by Christ’s view of the world and His view that His message, the Gospel, would go to all nations, and we call that “The Great Commission.” Now the Great Commission is a phrase that was popularized by Hudson Taylor about a hundred and fifty years ago.
That commission of disciples of Jesus going and making disciples among the nations is given in each of the Gospels, and if you count Paul’s commission to go to the Gentiles, twice in the book of Acts.
Now, sort of the classic Great Commission passage is Mathew 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.’”
Acts 1:8, Jesus said just before His ascension, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
Now in these two readings, the commission; Jesus talks about all nations, all the world, the end of the earth. It sounds like a lot of traveling, huh? And it is true that while we often have to take planes to get to the mission field, sometimes the desire to travel is so bound up with missions that it’s difficult to distinguish the two.
But missions isn’t just about going somewhere. In fact, missions isn’t primarily about going somewhere. Missions is about following someone, and of course that’s Jesus, following Christ.
And this is made very clear in Mathew 16. In Mathew 16, Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He’s told his disciples that when I go, I will suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised. As you know, Peter objected to what Jesus said, and Jesus rebuked him sharply. And in verse 24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me,’” and by the way, He’s just told them where He’s going, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Now, there are three things in view here. First of all, cross bearing. Jesus said, and by the way this isn’t just for the disciples there. This isn’t just for missionaries. Jesus said, “If anyone, any man, any woman, boy or girl; if anyone will come after me, they must take up their cross.” So what does that mean? You have a cross to bear as you follow Jesus. What does that mean? I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean having a bad day, alright?
And I think to really understand what it means, we have to go back to what it meant to those who first heard this, because this is the first century when crosses were not ornamental. We look at the cross as a symbol of love, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” I mean, it’s a beautiful symbol to us, ransomed ones, of love. But in the first century, it was most definitely not a symbol of love. It was only a symbol of hate.
It’s what you did to your worst enemy. We look at the cross as a symbol of life, but in the first century it was most definitely not a symbol of life. It was only a symbol of death. So then, what does it mean? I can’t tell you exactly what it will mean for you individually, of course. But I think we can understand from this passage that it means that to take up your cross means to fully embrace, fully follow, fully identify with Jesus, whatever that will cost you, and wherever that will take you.
A few years ago I was in the country of Laos on a delegation, attempting to get some Christian prisoners released. One of the pastors had had his legs broken in the torture that he experienced. A number of Christians had been arrested and suffered in prison for several months because, for this crime, they had held a Christmas service in their home. I tell you that to get a sense of the environment that we’re going in, and I meet with a pastor who is overseeing a network of house churches.
And he told me that in the previous year, nine hundred people had followed Christ, had been baptized, had joined the church in this network of house churches. And I had to ask him, “What does that mean? Is this like, you know, ‘raise your hand’ kind of thing?” He said, “No.” He said, “Anyone who is publicly identifying with Christ and the church is baptized. They have to agree to three things, we tell them.
First of all, you may lose your job. Second, your children will not be educated beyond reading and writing, and third you may go to prison. If you can accept those conditions, welcome to our church.” What a membership requirement, huh? The previous year nine hundred said, “I’m going to take up my cross. I’m going to fully identify with Jesus, whatever that will cost me and wherever that will take me.”
The second thing in view here is risk taking. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Risk taking, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean bungee jumping for Jesus. It doesn’t mean doing something to be seen, to be thought of as brave. But what does it mean?
I think it first of all actually means believing Mathew 16:25, that you can’t save your life. You can’t save your life. You can only spend it. So spend it well. Spend it for Christ. Security is one of the biggest illusions that we live with. Now sure, look both ways before you cross the street, get regular checkups, eat healthy, exercise, etc, etc, but in the end you can’t save your life.
I had a friend who has urged me in the past, in making trips into Afghanistan, Iraq, places like that: Don’t go! I mean, consider your responsibilities and all that you have going, and it’s just not worth the risk. You know, and I answered, and this was in the aftermath of the situation in Japan.
I said, “Well, okay. Don’t go to a dangerous place like Afghanistan. Go to a safe place like Japan, right?” Japan’s a safe country, absolutely, yeah. Except for the earthquake and the tsunami that just in a matter of hours resulted in the deaths of, and I don’t say this easily, but in the death of 20,000 people in just a few hours. Twenty thousand people died in a safe place.
And last week, my wife was driving me to an appointment, and a car pulled into our lane and heading straight for us, alright? Head-on collisions are really something to avoid. And my wife with her lightning quick reflexes did just that, only to get nailed in the side of the car.
And I called up my friend, who I just referred to, and he started laughing. He said, “I thought something like Iraq or Afghanistan would be on your epitaph, but here you were almost killed like one mile from your house.” And I said, “This is what I’m telling you. Security is an illusion. You can’t save your life, but you can spend it as long as God gives it.”
So risk taking, first of all, means absolutely believing Mathew 16:25. And it also means not letting fear dominate our decisions. Do not let fear dominate your decisions, and our country, our churches, and our homes are full of fear. And often fear is expressed by anger or by retreat. And this is one reason this is a particularly unsettled time in the life of our country. We are a naturally fearful people.
And keep in mind that the news is actually designed to make you fearful. It’s designed to make you angry. It’s good for ratings, but it’s not good for the heart. There’s a reason why the most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Fear not.” We have to fight fear. By God’s help, we have to fight fear, our fear of loss — whether loss of comfort, loss of relationships, loss of our own plans, even loss of life. And fear is so contagious, especially among Christians.
I have heard on several occasions recently of churches cancelling their short-term mission trips for their high school groups that were going to places like New York City because they said their moms and dads said, “My child can’t go. It’s too dangerous.” Yeah. What is that communicating to that young person who’s grown up in church hearing all about this all-powerful God who can part the Red Sea, and feed the five thousand, and rescue people from the lion’s den? What is that communicating?
It’s communicating in a subtle way that God’s not big enough to take care of them. Mom and dad are. We need to communicate. Moms and dads, we need to communicate, and grandmas and grandpas communicate to our children and our grandchildren that “God is bigger than we are and in some gracious way, He actually loves you more than I do. And that’s hard to explain because I love you so much, but God loves you even more, and you can trust Him,” alright?
That’s what we need to be always communicating to our children and grandchildren. Genuine love for our children and our grandchildren is often there, but that love can be driven by fear to marginalize God.
I came across a Wall Street Journal article just two or three days ago. And a journalist and a psychologist were talking about the turmoil on university campuses, where people are demanding safe spaces, and there’s lots and lots of turmoil and concern about the impact of the First Amendment and censorship on our campuses. But there was something in that article that just to me speaks right to the heart of also Christian families and Christian parenting. So I just pick up in the middle of this interview:
“The big thing that really worries me, the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse speaking on our campuses is that one of the causal factors here is the change in childrearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently, protected as fragile.
The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility. What’s the theory? It is this, that children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up, and so do children. I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time to get in over their heads and get themselves out.
That greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility, and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15 to 20 years. I think millennials coming to college, they come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive like microaggression, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and different forms of censorship or anything that bothers you.”
End of quote.
Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, sometimes the biggest loss that we experience is when we risk those we love the most. We should join in them with that risk. I met a family yesterday morning just so thrilling that the children were telling me, and I don’t know if any of them were older than maybe 11 or 12, but one said, “I’m going to Tanzania.” The other said, “I’m going to China.”
And the other said, “I’m going to India.” I was like, “Wow! Praise God for moms and dads who are equipping their children with that kind of view of the world as Christ sees it and want to be part of it.” The parents are very much a part of seeing things that way.
So gospel risk taking, though, is not based — and let me underscore this — it’s not based on courage, your courage, and it’s not driven by adrenaline or the desire for reputation. It is anchored in the truth that Jesus is in us and with us and for us, and that is enough. It is driven by a confident expectation in the power of the resurrection, knowing as Paul said that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.
The walls of security that we build for ourselves and our families can come crashing down with the next news report. But this is the security that is guaranteed by the cross and the empty tomb, cross bearing, risk taking, and fellowship.
Jesus said, “Follow me.” In other words, you’re not in this alone. Praise Him that we are not in this alone. You’re following Him, and He is with you. Do you see that in Mathew 28, His last promise to us? “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and He keeps all of His promises, and He keeps His last promise before His ascension that He will never leave us nor forsake us.
You also notice, though, that He gives the disciples this enormous task, but He didn’t promise that they’d be successful. He only promised them that He would be with them. He did promise them that He would be successful, though.
I love to hear friends of mine who’ve gone to difficult places of the world to take the gospel. In some cases, hard places. In some cases, places that friends have situations where they have not returned. But I have heard this repeatedly. In going to Afghanistan or to this country, fill in the blank, in going to this country, this is just the next step in my following Jesus. And so, take up your cross.
That is, fully identify with Christ whatever that will cost you and wherever that will take you. You take risks for the gospel knowing that you can’t save your life, you can only spend it, and follow Christ. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for going all the way to Jerusalem. We thank You for Your work on the cross. We thank You for the empty tomb. We thank You for Your sure promise that You will never leave us nor forsake us. You’re with us always to the end of the age and to the end of the earth. I pray for my brothers and sisters today, for all of us that we would see how we fit in this week in our cross-bearing, risk-taking mission so that we might glorify You as we follow You. For it’s in Your name we pray, Amen.