Transcript of Lesson 1:
Today we are beginning a two part series on missions. A fitting title to this series would be Our God is a Missionary God. Our desire with these two weeks of teaching is to build excitement as we enter into our missions conference. Hopefully, these lessons will be both informative and engaging as we search God's word together.
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."
Having been a Christian for a number of years now, the “Great Commission”, as the Matthew passage above has become known, is a very familiar text. Sermons and commentaries from this passage are easy to find. This led me to believe I fully understood what Christ was commanding and therefore what he expected of me in response. My conclusion, “share the Gospel in my life as I go about my way and be involved in foreign missions through giving, praying and possibly going”. While this conclusion seemed right, I didn’t fully understand what God meant in the passage from Matthew. A few years back I was enlightened as I began to take a closer look at what Christ was actually saying. The key to this understanding occurred when I placed the emphasis on the phrase "all nations", and then defined what, all nations” meant.
Here's what John Piper says about it:
The words of our Lord are crucial for understanding the missionary task of the Church. Specifically, the words "make disciples of all nations" must be closely examined. They contain the very important phrase "all nations" which is often referred to in the Greek form panta ta ethne (panta = all ta = the ethne = nations). The reason this is such an important phrase is that ethne, when translated as "nations", sounds like a political or geographical grouping. That is its most common English usage. But we will see that this is not what the Greek means. Nor does the English always mean this. For example, we say the Cherokee Nation or the Sioux Nation. This means something like: people with a unifying ethnic identity. In fact the word "ethnic" comes from the Greek word ethnos (singular of ethne). Our inclination then might be to take panta ta ethne as a reference to "all the ethnic people groups." "Go and disciple all the ethnic groups." (Piper)
Using the perception that the “Great Commission” was a general call to reach the gentiles without knowing specifically HOW to do that was cause for me to reevaluate my perception. I realized that missions was built into the fabric of the text but failed to see the specific focus that was intended. What God began to show me was that His call to disciple all the nations meant to strive toward a single purpose of seeing people come to faith in Jesus from every tribe, tongue and nation. Because there are still many unreached people groups, I knew there was still work to be done. The “Great Commission” was to be fulfilled. It is a specific commission that can be measured and will one day be completed. My hope is that it happens in THIS GENERATION.
The Old Testament Hope
God is not a tribal deity. The God of Abraham is also the God of Adam. Therefore, God is not the God of the Jews only but the God of the whole human race. However, God did choose Abraham and therefore the Jews became the chosen race. We see this in Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 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."
This marked the beginning of the Lord's covenant with the Nation of Israel. They would be marked by God as His people and He would be called their God. But God never planned to love Israel to the exclusion of the rest of the nations. We can see this by looking again at the Genesis passage. He promised Abraham,
"in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
What is this blessing that would extend from Abraham to the nations?
The Apostle Paul understood the blessing and captured it for us in his letter to the Galatians.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." Galatians 3:8
Paul makes it unmistakably clear for us that the promise of blessing meant salvation would be extended to the gentiles. And as we look at the passage he referenced from Genesis, we see that the actual promise was much more specific than it might initially appear. Genesis 12:3 tells us that "all families of the earth shall be blessed". Again, John Piper helps us with insight into the original language:
In Genesis 12:3 and 28:14 the Hebrew phrase for "all the families" (kol mishpahot) is rendered in the Greek Old Testament by pasai hai phulai. The word phulai means "tribes" in most contexts. But mishpaha can be, and usually is, smaller than a tribe...so the blessing of Abraham is intended by God to reach to fairly small groupings of people.
(Piper/Perspectives Reader, pg. 134)
This blessing of salvation was meant to be extended to "all the families of the earth", which even includes smaller groups of people. We can also note from the Genesis passage that we are blessed to be a blessing:
"...I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”
Then as we look again in Galatians we see:
"So then, those who are of the faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
The blessing that is to be extended to us in salvation is through faith. We are considered children of Abraham through whom this blessing will extend forth to all the families of the earth. This has come to us in the form of a promise which means that God is taking full responsibility for seeing that it happens. IT IS SURE!
Jesus’ teaching reassures us that God’s, “Great Commission” is a biblical mandate. How is this done?, by showing His followers that it was written in the fabric of the Old Testament. Luke gives us this insight by recording an encounter Jesus had with His disciples just before His ascension:
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem"
Here we have the same phrase used in Matthew 28:19. This text tells us that Jesus opened their eyes to see it written in the Scriptures; the only Scriptures they had at this time was the Old Testament.
So from this passage we understand that Jesus believes we should preach repentance of sins in His name to all nations. He also reveals the “Great Commission” to His disciples from the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul helps us understand the promised blessing made by God to Abraham and, we’ve seen the intention of God to share this blessing with “all the families of the earth”. Now Paul will help us see how he strategically sought to fulfill his role in obeying the “Great Commission”. Here is his example from Romans 15:15-21
15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
The point I would like to make from this text is that Paul was a pioneer church planter. He made it his ambition to plant churches where Christ had not already been named. Notice also that Paul came to the place here he was able to say that he had "fulfilled" his ministry of the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. This didn't mean everyone in those regions were now Christians, it just meant that Paul's obligation in the gospel had been fulfilled. In today's terms we might say that those people groups had been reached and Paul was going to the next unreached people group.
So now we must answer 2 questions:
· What is a people group?
· How do we determine if a people group is reached?
In 1982 during a Lausanne Committee meeting in Chicago, this is what surfaced regarding the defining of people groups:
"For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance" (http://www.joshuaproject.net/definitions.php (click on People Group)
What is a people group?
The first barrier of understanding makes sense to us immediately. This would deal primarily with language. We know from scripture that the gospel is a message that must be communicated and understood in order to be accepted. So, people groups are defined by barriers of understanding. The barrier of acceptance simply refers to receptivity from another people group toward another. Sometimes animosities exist within neighboring peoples that create a barrier of acceptance. One example would be the Caste system of India. Although the language might be the same, the system places a barrier of acceptance that would cause some to say that each group needs its own pioneering work.
We know from Scripture as well as from experience that once people get saved, barriers of acceptance break down. This was the case with Simone the Zealot, a sworn enemy of Rome, and Matthew the tax collector. According to John MacArthur:
Simone, who is referred to as the zealot (Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13) or the Canaanite (Matthew 10:4) would have likely been a member of the party of zealots. This group was determined to overthrow Roman domination in Palestine. (MacArthur Study Bible, reference Matthew 10:4)
Matthew was a Jew whose prior occupation was a tax collector for Rome. (Matthew 9:9) MacArthur says that, “tax collectors were among the most despised persons in society”. They were viewed, “not only as thieves but also traitors to the Jewish Nation”.
Before being saved by the Lord, Simone’s hatred of Matthew would have been intense, but in Christ they were able to join hands for the gospel. The barriers of acceptance that once existed were torn down. But, it’s hard to imagine Matthew having a ministry among the Zealot party with his prior background. A barrier of acceptance would still exist from the unsaved who knew him prior to his conversion. Though these barriers are not impossible for the Lord to overcome, in most instances a separate work would be considered necessary.
Therefore, if two tribal groups spoke a similar language, but there existed a deep history of hatred, these groups would be separated because each would likely require its own work.
What is an un-reached people group?
We would consider a group unreached when, "there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group." (Joshua Project) In other words, the group must have a local church that is indigenous, and equipped to do the work of evangelism and church multiplication within the remaining peoples of their group to be classified as reached. Most mission services consider a people group that is less than 2% Christian to be un-reached. Sometimes you'll see the term “un-engaged” which means nobody is even working among them.
A few factors to consider when looking at the number of remaining groups:
The number of groups remaining will often look different. The reality is we cannot know for sure but we can get a good idea. One thing to remember when you see differing statistics is the way the groups are categorized.
1. The term “ethno-linguistic” refers to groups typically divided by language barriers alone.
2. The term “ethnic” refers to both the barriers of understanding and acceptance to breakdown the existing people groups.
According to the Joshua Project website, there is a third option called “unimax” peoples.
3. Unimax people are defined as “the maximum sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ, where “unified” refers to the fact that there are no significant barriers of either understanding or acceptance to stop the spread of the gospel.”
- Side Note:
It's important to note that in the graph on the next page, under the heading “counting method”, is the category of "peoples by country". What this means is that the people groups are broken up by country. For example, by using the metric “people by country”, the Kurds would not be considered one people group because they reside in different countries. They would be separated within each country. Although it's not an exact science, we can get a very good idea of how much work is left by looking at this graph.
Summary of People Group Counts
Peoples without considering country boundaries
God has promised to save some from every ethnic people group in the world and He wants us to be willingly involved. This will happen before the Lord returns. The task is both manageable and measurable because we can identify the number of people groups remaining that are not being discipled (the unreached).
We have seen how each point of this conclusion fits. We saw that God made the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. Jesus adds confidence to our interpretation by His encounter with the disciples when He illuminated their eyes to see the “Great Commission” in the Old Testament. He said the Gospel should be preached to all nations thus inviting our involvement. We can see through Paul's example as a pioneer church planter how he was able to fulfill this role within certain regions. This gives us confidence that the “Great Commission” can be fulfilled and is being fulfilled by planting churches where Christ hasn't been named.
We've also been able to see how the task is measurable and how much work is left to do.
The last thing we want to see is in Matthew 24:14 which proclaims the nations will be reached before the Lord's return.