Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
After more than two hundred years of American missions to foreign lands, it may surprise you to hear that there are still places on the earth that have not been reached by the Gospel. If we define an “unreached people group” as a culture that has no indigenous churches and no self-propagating form of Christianity, then it’s safe to say there are millions of people who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Most of these people groups are located in what’s called the “10/40 Window,” an area of the eastern hemisphere that covers North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. People groups within that area of the world have received about 1% of the missionaries sent into the world. These and other factors account for the fact the Gospel has not taken root in these countries.
The reason the “10/40 Window” has so captivated the attention of American missions is the verse we’re about to examine: Matthew 24:14. Some people understand Jesus as teaching that if we can just preach the Gospel (the good news of salvation by faith in Christ) to all parts of the world, we can move the Second Coming closer. It sees Jesus’ teaching as a goal to be met or a condition that can be fulfilled, and then Jesus’ Second Coming will happen sooner rather than later.
I was surprised to find Matthew 24:14 is one of several Scriptures that address this point of preaching the Gospel to the entire world. In order to understand this teaching, we need to survey what the whole Bible says about it. Put them all together, and this is what you see:
World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.
1. Jesus predicted a world-wide witness as a sign of the “end times.”
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus predicted a testimony of the truth to all the nations. The verses that immediately precede verse fourteen (vs. 9-13) give warning of all kinds of persecution and trials afflicting the Church. In other Scriptures we are warned that there will be an increase in wickedness as the time for the end draws near, but there will also be a parallel rise in the fervent faith and commitment of those who are truly Christ’s. With this in mind, we might paraphrase verse fourteen to say, “But don’t you worry – the Gospel will be preached.”
The object of the Church’s preaching is THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM of God. This is the truth about the Kingdom coming with Jesus at His First Coming, to be consummated at His Second Coming.
The scope of God’s offer of salvation is universal, but it must be accepted by each individual in order for them to be saved. PREACHED IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Notice WHOLE and ALL; no exceptions. The offer of salvation is A TESTIMONY TO ALL NATIONS attesting to the power of God to save.
THEN THE END WILL COME implies the PREACHING and TESTIMONY will either be a sign of the end or an event that brings it to pass. As Matthew 24 is all about signs and nothing about triggers, I believe Jesus offered a sign of the coming of the end, the Gospel being made known to the entire world. This sign implies that all people will be unable to claim ignorance as an excuse, proving God’s judgment to be just.
Mark 13:10 is a briefer version of Matthew 24:14, but it also refers to worldwide preaching as a sign of the end being near: for that reason it must happen FIRST: “THE GOSPEL MUST FIRST BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS.” The word MUST underscores that this prediction is sure; the Gospel being PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS is not optional. It can be depended on as a sign of nearing the end of this creation.
Mark puts this teaching in the same setting as Matthew; Jesus’ discussion of the end times as prompted by the disciples admiring the temple in Jerusalem. Mark used fewer words and Jesus seems to be saying something slightly different here; “Stop worrying about when the kingdom will come and get busy building it by means of preaching.”
In Luke 24:45-47 Jesus predicted the preaching of the Gospel would lead to a time of repentance and forgiveness as it must for people to be saved. THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES. HE TOLD THEM, “THIS IS WHAT IS WRITTEN: THE CHRIST WILL SUFFER AND RISE FROM THE DEAD ON THE THIRD DAY, AND REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS WILL BE PREACHED IN HIS NAME TO ALL NATIONS, BEGINNING IN JERUSALEM.
Luke puts this teaching in a setting that is different from Matthew and Mark: this is a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. On this occasion Jesus OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES. The Bible teaches that none of us can understand the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus does for His disciples here, He also does for us today. On that occasion, He first explained the prophecies of His death and Resurrection, why all the things they’d just experienced had to happen. Second, He explained the need for preaching about the repentance and forgiveness of sins His death and Resurrection made possible. As it happened historically, this preaching was done first in Jerusalem – to the Jewish nation – and then TO ALL NATIONS.” The first explanation proves the reliability of biblical prophecy: the things predicted about the Messiah came true in the life of Jesus. In exactly the same way, the things Jesus predicted about the End Times will come true.
2. Jesus commanded that the whole world must hear the Gospel.
Matthew 28:19 is called “The Great Commission” and is the banner text for International Mission. Jesus commanded preaching as part of discipleship: “THEREFORE GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.” The Greek word for discipleship is a word picture of introducing the disciple to the master. As such, it is about forming a new relationship as much as it is about a formal relationship passing on technical content and creating expertise. In that culture, being a disciple was a 24-7 commitment and a complete submission to one’s master. An ox taking on a yoke was the frequently used expression. Jesus invited people to take on His YOKE (see Matthew 11:29) and turned away those whose commitment fell short of this standard (see Matthew 10:17-31).
Disciple-making covers all parts of the life of faith, from conversion through sanctification, all the way to death. Jesus mentioned two aspects of disciple-making: teaching and baptism. Baptism is the ritual of initiating new disciples, teaching the means of maturing the faith of existing disciples.
Let’s not miss Jesus command to take our disciple-making mission to ALL NATIONS. As we read in the book of Acts, there was some hesitation in the hearts of some of the believers to take the Gospel to any nation other than the Jewish nation. God is sovereign and the Gentiles were included in the Church; her expansion to ALL NATIONS is something that is still developing.
Mark 16:15 correlates to the Great Commission; here too Jesus commanded the Gospel be carried to all the world and to all creation. HE SAID TO THEM, “GO INTO THE ENTIRE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOOD NEWS TO ALL CREATION.” Notice the universal nature of the command: ALL THE WORLD and ALL CREATION.
The GOOD NEWS is to be understood as God’s offer of eternal life in Jesus Christ. The GOOD NEWS is that we no longer have to be estranged from God or from one another. Instead, we can love one another and love God more fully.
3. God promised to complete this work.
As we’ve just seen, the Church has been commissioned to take the Gospel to the entire world. We’re blessed to not be left to accomplish this mission on our own; God considers this mission of the Gospel to the whole world as being so essential He partners His disciples with the Holy Spirit and with the angels to accomplish it!
Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit as our power source for witnessing in Acts 1:6-8. He needed to remind His disciples their job was to witness, not to second-guess God’s timing. SO WHEN THEY MET TOGETHER, THEY ASKED HIM, “LORD, ARE YOU AT THIS TIME GOING TO RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL?” HE SAID TO THEM, “IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW THE TIMES OR DATES THE FATHER HAS SET BY HIS OWN AUTHORITY. BUT YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES ON YOU; AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”
This passage is found in a similar context to Matthew 24, where Jesus’ disciples ask a question related to the “end times.” It is also similar to Luke 24, as it is also a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. These verses are also an apt summary of the entire book of Acts. All that follows will in one way or another explain how Jesus’ words came true.
The disciple’s question demonstrates they were still thinking of Jesus as a conqueror and king in the usual political sense. This is significant; in spike of having their minds opened (Luke 24:45-47), they were still thinking of Jesus as leader of an earthly kingdom and they were eager to help bring it into reality. Here we see Jesus sending them on an entirely different mission: they were to extend the Kingdom of God by means of witness, not establish the kingdom of Judah by means of conquest.
This is why Jesus rightly told them the TIMES and DATES were none of their concern: those decisions were up to God the Father; He alone had the authority to make those decisions. Jesus Himself did not know this (Mark 13:32). The Apostle Paul got this message; he wrote NOW BROTHERS, ABOUT TIMES AND DATES WE DO NOT NEED TO WRITE YOU, FOR YOU KNOW THAT THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
What they were supposed to be focused on instead of timing was the receipt of the Holy Spirit and their witness empowered by Him. Historically, we know the advance of the Gospel occurred as Jesus predicted here. It was offered first to the Jews in Jerusalem and their half-brothers in Samaria before it went out to the WORLD (including the Gentiles). Our focus is on the role of the Holy Spirit in witnessing; we don’t have a witness apart from the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 14:6-7 shows an ANGEL proclaiming of the Gospel.
THEN I SAW ANOTHER ANGEL FLYING IN MIDAIR, AND HE HAD THE ETERNAL GOSPEL TO PROCLAIM TO THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH – TO EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE AND PEOPLE. HE SAID IN A LOUD VOICE, “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY, BECAUSE THE HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT HAS COME. WORSHIP HIM WHO MADE THE HEAVENS, THE EARTH, THE SEA AND THE SPRINGS OF WATER.” Our focus here is on the ANGEL proclaiming the ETERNAL GOSPEL.
The word ANGEL means “messenger” so it should be natural for us to think of angels bringing the Gospel. However, this is the only Scripture of which I’m aware that an ANGEL does the proclaiming. This does not imply God’s human messengers (the Church) had failed to reach all people groups, because the ANGEL witnesses to EVERY NATION, TRIBE, LANGUAGE, AND PEOPLE.
The recipients of the angel’s proclamation are THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH: a phrase which – in Revelation – refers to the unrepentant, wicked people who deliberately revolt against God and persecute His people. This is a last chance for them to repent and avoid judgment.
The angel’s message is a good model for our message: “FEAR GOD AND GIVE HIM GLORY…WORSHIP HIM, your Creator.” In Revelation, this passage is an example of last-minute second chances that God gives to the unrepentant, stubbornly evil people to be saved. It is intended to illustrate the great mercy of God. It is a good model for our witnessing as we tend to emphasize salvation without explaining why salvation is necessary. We want to deal in Good News, but there can be no Good News if there is no bad news. The aspect of warning must precede a call to repentance. If our witness is only promises and positivity, we’ve failed to communicate the necessity of repentance by warning people of the consequences of unbelief and misdeeds. A lopsided or incomplete witness may partially explain why so many new converts fall away from the faith: their knowledge is incomplete and under-motivated.
World-wide missions are a prophecy, a command, and a promise kept.
I believe these teachings are given to motivate and encourage us to be full supporters of international missions. We must be obedient to God’s command, intentional about fulfilling prophecy, and eager to be partners with God in bringing about His final solution to sin.
To illustrate the necessity of a world-wide witness, allow me to share with you a story I read recently at the “Ministry 127” website.
“In the 1840s, John Geddie left the pastorate of a church in Canada to take his wife and two small children to the South Sea Islands to begin a mission work there. After a voyage of more than 20,000 miles, they arrived in the New Hebrides Islands at Aneityum. The island chain was filled with cannibals, and more than twenty crew members of a British ship had been killed and eaten just months before the Geddies arrived on the mission field.
“They faced the difficulty of learning a language that had no written form and the constant threat of being killed. Slowly at first, a few converts came, and then soon many more received the Gospel. Geddie continued his ministry faithfully, including translating the entire Bible into the native language and planting twenty-five churches. In the pulpit of the church Geddie pastored for so many years stands a plaque in his honor which says: ‘When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.’”
Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of thing be said of each of us?
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vols. 8, 9, 12.