’til All Have Heard

’til All Have Heard

On this Missions Celebration Sunday I invite you to open your Bible to Matthew 24:13-14.

A 1983 Anne Murray song skyrocketed to #1 on the Billboard Country Chart.  The song is called A Little Good News.  It’s an odd title because the song is mostly about bad news.  Bad news in the paper; bad news on TV: fighting in Lebanon, bad economy, somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane.  And then she sings:

Just once how I’d like to see the headline say:

“Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say,” because

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town.

Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down.

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain.

Sure could use a little good news today.

I wonder if the composers of that song had been reading the first 14 verses of Matthew 24 before they wrote their lyrics.  Jesus is in Jerusalem, just days away from the cross.  He and the disciples are walking away from the temple when the disciples, impressed by the temple complex, feel the need to point out its beauty and majesty to Jesus.  Jesus replies not with the nod of his head but by shaking his head and saying, “Here’s the truth: the whole thing’s coming down: not one stone left on another.”  Jesus might have just as well hit them in the face with a 2×4.  That’s sort of like asking someone, “Isn’t my mom pretty for an old woman?” and getting the reply, “Yeah, well she’ll be dead in a few years.”

Then once they get settled on the Mount of Olives, his disciples, figuring Jesus’ comment about the temple might have something to do with end times, ask him privately, “So what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”  Jesus didn’t mince words here either:

Bad news: fake messiahs that lead many astray, war and rumors of war, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines and earthquakes, and this just gets the ball rolling. So get ready for tribulation and persecution like you’ve never seen.  Powerful people will hate you because they hate me.  Many will go astray and fall away, anarchy will abound, and the love of many will grow cold.  

Lots of bad news as the end of the age approaches.  I wonder if at least one of the disciples might have swallowed hard and whispered, “Sure could use a little good news today.”  And Jesus’ declares it in our text—good news!  Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

I

In these last days, things are going to feel defeating, but the church will not be defeated.  Jesus has been talking in plurals in this text, but starts talking in singulars in these last two verses.  In spite of tribulation and persecution, there are some individuals who will stick with Jesus to the end.  These followers will not stray away, fall away, or chase after some phony messiah.  These followers will endure hardship, persecution, hatred, natural and man-made disasters, and remain faithful.  They may be bloodied but they won’t be bought.  They may be jailed but they won’t be jerked away from their commitment to Christ.  They may get confused but they will never refuse to call Jesus Lord.  The church will get thinned out by all this trouble, but it won’t be stomped out.  The church will lose some fat, but it will become more lean.  Rather than crushing the church, the pressure of the times will form the church into a diamond.  “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

This verse is a reminder of the eternal security of those whose faith is real.  And what is real faith?  A faith that stands the test, that endures suffering, that hangs in there in spite of opposition.  Those last times will separate the wheat from the chaff, the fake from the faithful, the true disciple from the pretender.  As someone once put it, “Faith that is faulty at the finish was faulty at the first.”  True believers, true disciples don’t bail on Jesus and the church when the going gets tough.  They endure to the end, secure in the hand of Jesus who will never let them go and from whom no one can snatch them away.  They may stumble, but they always get up again.  They may fail for a moment, but they don’t fail forever.  They bounce back.  They persevere.  They hang in there.  They stick with Jesus.

It’s instructive in this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation to consider the great Martin Luther.  Luther was on trial before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and other church officials at the Diet of Worms.  The Roman Church found Luther’s views heretical.  So facing potential prison or death for his views, even bold Martin Luther balked a bit.  When confronted with copies of his writings for which he had already been excommunicated, Luther was asked if he still stood by these views: “Do you defend them all, or do you care to reject a part?”  Luther surprisingly said, “I beg you, give me time to think it over.”  What?  You can’t say today?  You’ve got to think it over?  They gave him till the next day.  Why did Luther hesitate?  Did he fear the consequences?  Did he fear for his life?  Luther came back the next day and declared, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Amen.”  As a result, Luther was declared to be a kind of persona non grata: he was not arrested on the spot, but if someone kidnapped him or killed him, there would be no punishment for the deed.  Luther balked for a moment, but he endured to the end.

Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”  The purpose of this verse in this location is to challenge followers of Jesus to say, “I will be faithful.  I will hang in there.  I will stick with Jesus.  I will endure to the end.”  And the purpose of the verse is also to declare that many will do just that.  In the last times the church will sometimes look defeated, but it will not and cannot be defeated.  True believers will endure to the end.

And this enduring to the end faithfulness is not lived out in a cave.  It’s not lived out in some cellar riding out the storm, waiting for the coast to clear.  It is not lived in retreat.

II

It is lived in mission.  Look at v. 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  In the midst of all the bad news, the good news: gospel!  The gospel gets preached throughout the whole world to all nations.  Whole world, all nations—nobody is forgotten, nobody gets left out.

You may be thinking: “How can the church continue to preach the gospel in the midst of such tribulation and persecution?”  Here’s how: the way disciples face their persecution is one way the gospel is preached.  History shows that persecution advances the mission.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus instructed the disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  But you know what it took to drive the young, fledgling church out of Jerusalem and Judea and into Samaria?  Persecution.  Multiple arrests and persecution of the apostles, Deacon Stephen was stoned to death for his faith, and some in the church left Jerusalem for Samaria.  And they didn’t leave the gospel in Jerusalem; they took the gospel with them.  They preached it.  People were saved.  Philip even won an Ethiopian to Christ.  No doubt the Ethiopian took the gospel back to Africa with him.  Persecution advances the mission.

When Paul was run out of one town in the Empire, he didn’t slink away with his tail between his legs and look for cover; he took the gospel to the next town.  When Paul and Silas were beaten to a pulp and put in chains in a Philippian jail, they didn’t hush their mouths.  They worshiped and sang and led the jailer and his family to faith in Jesus.  I’ve heard other formerly imprisoned believers in our own day say, “There are advantages to being in jail.  Jail offers us a captive audience to preach the gospel and disciple new believers.”  The Chinese believers consider jail to be their seminary training.  Persecution advances the mission.

When missionaries were driven from China during and after World War II, no one knew what we’d find there in the way of church when the country opened a little a few years ago.  Some thought we’d find a church disaster, a bare remnant of what was there when the missionaries pulled out.  What we found were millions and millions more believers and churches.  Persecution advances the mission.

When a few of our folks were in Iraq last year working in a refugee camp for those fleeing from ISIS, Jack Porter asked one of the men, “What would you want me to tell American Christians about the Christians here?”  The man replied, “Tell them that they are all dead.”  Well, they are not all dead.  I understand that many are coming to Christ in those refugee camps.  Persecution advances the mission.

Nik Ripken, author of The Insanity of God, and an up-close student of the persecuted church understands these things way better than most.  When he was here a couple of years ago, do you remember what he told us about praying for the persecuted church?  He said, “Don’t pray that the persecution stops.  Pray for faithfulness in persecution and the spread of the gospel in the midst of it.”  Why did he say that?  Because persecution advances the mission.

We sometimes think that we have to strike in mission when there are open doors.  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s right to take advantage of open doors.  But don’t think that the mission dies when the doors close and tribulation and persecution take center stage.  That’s when the faithfulness and the courage and the winsomeness and the love of enemies on the part of Christians spread the gospel like wildfire.  Persecution advances the mission.

Enduring to the end faithfulness is lived in mission whether doors are open or shut, whether the church finds smooth sailing or persecution.  As time races toward the end the church lives the mission.

III

The bottom-line is that the mission goes on until the end comes.  “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  

Notice that this verse does not so much exhort to mission as make a promise that the mission will go on.  The phrase that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed” is passive.  This does not so much give us a job to do as a hope to hold on to.  This is not so much a command as a promise.  The command is implied.  “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed.”  That’s where you and I come in.  Wherever we are, we proclaim the gospel.  Wherever the gospel isn’t, we do whatever we can to see that it gets there.  Though not directly stated in these verses, it is implied, assumed even.  The church will do her part in proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom in days of open doors and in days when doors are slammed in our faces … even jail doors.

Our task is to take the gospel to all nations no matter what till all have heard.  Till all have heard we have a gospel to proclaim, people to love, prayers to pray, gifts to give, mission points to touch, and spiritual territory to take from the enemy.  This is not a call to sit on our hands and our wallets while people go to hell.  Nor is it a call to play theological games instead of engaging the mission.  Charles Spurgeon had a word about that.  He said, “Someone asked, will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved?  It is more a question with me whether we who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved?”  We have the gospel.  It’s our task to proclaim it “throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” until the end.

And some want to do some theological navel gazing here too.  What does Jesus mean when, after declaring that the gospel will be proclaimed to all nations, He says, “and then the end will come”?  Is Jesus saying He can’t come back till everyone has heard the gospel?  Is Jesus saying that the reason He has not yet come is because the gospel has yet to be preached to the whole world?  Probably not.  To interpret the verse in this way hamstrings Jesus’ primary teachings about His Second Coming here in Matthew 24 and 25: that Jesus can return at any time, even when we least expect it.  No.  This verse must mean something different than that mission progress either puts the pedal to the metal or pumps the brakes in Jesus’ coming.  Jesus may mean that His return itself may include a proclamation of the gospel to the whole world—you remember Revelation 1:7?  “Every eye will see him … and all the tribes of earth will wail on account of him” (Rev. 1:7).  If this is so, the end can come at any time as Jesus clearly teaches.  Frederick Bruner states it this way:

Jesus’ mission word … should not be heard by his readers today, ether as a relaxant (“he can’t come yet because world mission isn’t done yet”) or as a stimulant (“we better do mission fast so he can come soon” as though our actions determined God’s, but rather as good news: Jesus will not forget the world; he will make sure, in his own way, that the whole inhabited earth and all who live on it get a fair chance to hear his gospel as either the immediate prelude to his coming or as the immediate accompaniment of his coming.

Our task is not to worry about the timing of the end.  Our task is to proclaim the gospel to the end, to proclaim the gospel till all have heard.

So don’t get caught up in peripheral issues here.  Focus on the bottom-line teaching of this text: the mission goes on till the end comes.  Nothing can stop the gospel.  Nothing can stop Jesus.  We do our part but even when it seems we can’t do our part, not to worry—the mission goes on.  This is the great hope of the church.  And more than our great hope …

IV

These verses are a declaration of victory.  We are not engaged in a battle whose outcome is in doubt.  Even when the scoreboard reads “Prince of This World 50 – Prince of Peace 5,” don’t be discouraged and don’t lose hope.  That’s not the final score.  The final score shows a clear victory for the Prince of Peace, a resounding victory for gospel and church and kingdom of God no matter how things look at any given moment in the worldwide mission.

Will any Razorback fan ever forget the Ole Miss game in 2015?  It was a back and forth, high-scoring affair that ended in a tie.  Since ties aren’t acceptable in college football, overtime commenced.  Ole Miss got the ball first.  They scored a touchdown and kicked the extra point: Ole Miss 52 – Arkansas 45.

Arkansas took the ball on the 25 with these stakes: get 7 points or lose the game.  Things didn’t go well for our little Piggies.  We went backward instead of forward and ended up with a 4th and 25 at the 40 yard line.  We had one last chance to advance the ball to at least the 15 or game over.  Talk about hopeless.  How in the world do you get 25 yards in one play in that situation?  Here’s how: a miracle.  We’re talking the now-famous Hunter Henry Heave.  Henry caught a pass 15 yards from the first down marker and without even looking, as he was being tackled, he flung the ball back over his head as a lateral which miraculously found its way on one bounce to our running back Alex Collins who juked and jived all the way inside the 10 for a first down.  A miracle.  We go on to score.

But instead of going for the tie, Coach B goes for a win with a 2-point play.  Brandon Allen takes the snap, rolls out to his right, looking for a receiver—oh no!  He’s sacked.  Ole Miss drops him for a loss.  Game over.  But what’s that?  A flag on the play?  Yes, another miracle.  The Ole Miss defender grabbed Allen’s facemask on the play which gave us a second crack at it.  One more chance to win.  Allen takes the snap, tucks it under his arm, runs it off tackle.  He’s hit at the goal line, but he falls into the end zone.  Two points!  Arkansas wins 53-52.  A miracle.  There were multiple times in the game where it sure didn’t look like we would win, but we did.  Not until Allen tumbled into the end zone did that game look like victory.

When we look at the world today: terrorism on the rampage, North Korea beating its chest and testing missiles, secularity squeezing out the church in Europe and the USA, persecution and martyrdom in many places in Asia and Africa and the Middle East, multiple countries closing their borders to missionaries.  Yikes!  Prince of This World 100 – Prince of Peace 10.  Things look bleak but they are not bleak.  The score’s going to flip.  It’s a sure-fire lock.  We don’t know exactly how.  We don’t know exactly when.  But the victory of Jesus and the gospel is in the bag.  Well, not in the bag.  It’s in the cross where Jesus died for the sins of the world.  It’s in the empty tomb from which He rose from the grave.  It’s in the Second Coming which will make His victory clear.  And it’s in Jesus’ promise in our text:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

So suit up, charge into this winning battle, and join in the proclamation of the gospel … till all have heard.

Preached: April 30, 2017

First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR

John Scott McCallum II