Looking to Easter Week

It’s hard to know where to start when talking about this week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to the following Sunday, Easter, when we commemorate the resurrection of the Christ, there is something special to be celebrated about almost every day.

Right now I’m thinking specifically about the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, commonly noted as the Last Supper. This event is adequately recorded by the Gospels writers. We could begin this day from the point at which Jesus instructs some disciples to go prepare a place for the Passover meal (Matthew 26:18). We could note Jesus washing the disciples’ feet or Judas’ betrayal.

Most of our celebration on what we call Maundy Thursday centers around the actual Passover meal, the Last Supper, which has become the Christian ordinance of holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

I, too, would like to stop there for a few minutes today, but not as most people do. I don’t want to talk about the theology of the bread and the cup. I don’t want to talk liturgy. I don’t even want to stay in the gospel accounts.

Instead, let’s go to Paul’s recounting of the centerpiece of this meal, as found in 1st Corinthians 11:23- 26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

During one phase of my active overseas missionary service, I was administrative head of an isolated ministry centered within a large tribal group. One of my spiritual responsibilities was to lead my fellow missionaries in a monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Doing this 12 times a year for three years, I spent a lot of time studying these passages. Each time, I tried to find something new to share with my fellow workers, but after a few months, there just wasn’t that much new to talk about. Part of me was satisfied repeating the same events. Another part wanted to find something new and life-changing within Jesus’ words and actions.

As I look back several decades to that time, the one take-away I have from that study is summed up in the three tenses of English grammar: past, present, and future. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are, first of all, doing it in the present tense. We are there. We are actively doing something. Following through with Paul, we are pausing to reflect on our spiritual condition at that precise moment. We are examining ourselves and our lives, measuring ourselves by how we are living up to God’s revealed standards. As part of that, if there is anything found wanting, we should be making the conscious decision to correct that situation.

Examining ourselves by God’s standards, of course, presupposes that we are already in a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, we are looking back to the death of Christ as full payment for our sins and guarantee of a position of imputed righteousness before God.

John 3:16, proclaims, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That familiar passage follows a verse which speaks of Jesus being lifted up, a preview of his death by crucifixion. Paul explains in Romans 6:6-7, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Paul again reminds us in Romans 10:13, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So, as we share the Lord supper in the present tense, we look back 2000 years to the death of Christ which made salvation available to all people. We also look back to the time that we, as individuals, accepted God’s free offer of salvation and committed our lives to the one who gave his life for us.

Finally, Paul reminds us that while we are doing this act of the Lord’s Supper in the present tense, we are actively proclaiming the work of Christ into the future, until he comes again.

What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? Most simply, it means we should be telling other people both what Christ has done, and what it means to us personally. This should be done not just as a historical or factual situation, but with the intent of bringing others into the same relationship so that they too can find salvation in Christ and so have the same personal relationship with God.

This should not be confined within the walls of a church building. Presumably, the people sharing in the Lord’s Supper on any given opportunity within a church setting already know this. No, this proclamation has to burst beyond the immediate present tense and venue. It must be seen in the in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Acts chapter 1 where he tells them “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”

Today – now -- in the present tense -- we who have come to Christ for salvation are his continuing witnesses. We are witnesses to the truth of his life, death, and resurrection as recorded in the Bible. We are witnesses to the unbroken liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, which has come down to us through 2000 years of church doctrine and history. Moreover, we are witnesses to the power of Christ within ourselves. He took us from the realm of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light.

Within this Easter week, let’s take more out of the Last Supper then just a lesson in history or prelude to the death and resurrection which follow in the pages of Scripture. Let’s see this not just as a ceremony or liturgy, but as a corporate and personal three-dimensional act of faith. Once and for all in the past Christ died for us. Today we live because of that action. As we look forward to the time when Christ himself will return to Earth, let’s fulfill this time to come by being active witnesses to what he has done for us and what he wishes to do among all peoples on this earth.

Unbelievable church growth in Nepal

We’ve been talking about how the church has expanded in our time, growing sometimes through the most difficult of circumstances. All of this lines up nicely with Jesus’ words of Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

I first paid spiritual attention to the small Asian nation of Nepal when my daughter spent a summer there in ministry with Teen Missions a few decades ago. She returned to tell about a solidly Hindu country. So solid, it was against the law to convert from Hinduism to, well . . . , anything. She told me about the almost constant ringing of temple bells. She and her teammates decided that whenever they heard a bell ring from then on, they would pray for Nepal.

While our attention was turned elsewhere, God was working in Nepal, and I didn’t even hear about it until five years ago.

Perhaps the growth of Christianity in Nepal is best summed in these words of a national pastor, who wrote . . . 

“. . . missionaries who came from foreign countries were located within their compounds doing just social works.  They were not allowed to go out. They were able to send native missionaries trained by them, to go to the villages. 

“Until 1960, there were only four Churches in four different places with no more than 100 believers. It was the Dark Age of the Nepali Church.

“In 1970, the numbers of Christian had increased to 2,000, and in 1980 it was 20,000. In 1990, the number of the Christians was estimated at 100,000. By the end of 2001, there were over 500,000 Christians and 500 Churches in the country. Now [2010] we have 1,250,000 Christians in more than 1500 Churches around the country.”

Just five years ago, a Nepali Hindu leader wrote, “After the country was declared a Secular Republic [2006], some 1,000,000 plus Hindus have already been converted to Christianity.  In fifty years’ time, Nepal will have completely lost its Hindu identity.”

His prophecy seems to have come true. In 2015, the government structure changed, ensuring a true secular republic, with religious equality and freedom of choice.

That move was so dramatic that many in the international community feel neighboring India is now putting pressure on Nepal to return to its roots. Apparently the present pro-Hindu government of India is afraid this same pattern of Christian church growth could move into their own country!

Even with Christians now making up about 25% of its population, Nepal is still a relatively unreached country.  Its population of about 30 million is divided into 339 people groups, of which 317 are classified as least reached.  Recent history has shown that the relatively small church has done amazing things in reaching out, especially during national crises like the recent earthquake.  They need continued help from the outside to provide training and tools to maintain their forward momentum.  Judging by what has taken place over the past 60 years, it is not inconceivable that Christianity could become the majority religion in Nepal within our lifetimes.

“I will build my church,” said the Lord.

Inroads to Islam

    Islam was born in the deserts of Arabia over 1300 years ago.  As a new religion it poured out like a tidal wave, engulfing the Middle East and North Africa, washing over Southern Asia as far as Indonesia and even crashing on the shores of Western Europe.  Instead of the church breaking down its gates, it looked for a time as if Islam would sweep Christianity from the face of the earth.

    Although Islam’s expansion slowed, stalled, and even receded from Europe, it seemed to stand as a unyielding fortress against the church.  As the church rediscovered its own mandate to spread the gospel, some missionaries labored for years in Muslim countries, seeing only a handful of converts, if that many, in their lifetimes.  That became the normal experience.  Christians did not really expect Muslims to come to Christ.

    Then some Christians began asking the right questions. Instead of why don’t they understand?, the better question became if Muslims are not responding to the offer of salvation as we were presenting it, might there not be a better way to make that presentation? One such movement of questions began in Bangladesh, where one missionary couple began seeing Muslims convert to Christianity.

    As other missionaries followed this lead, they saw more Muslims come to Christ in Bangladesh over the following ten years than all who had converted in the previous 100 years!  What started as an innocent question to a missionary decades ago has become the basis for most modern ministry to Muslims.

    As I traveled in Central Europe some years ago I met a Bulgarian pastor.  During our conversation he took out some photos of a preaching point outside of his own pastorate.  He explained that this was over an hour's drive from home, but he traveled there weekly because he was planting a Muslim convert church among ethnic Turks.  In amazement I looked at him and blurted out, "I've never heard about this."  He simply smiled and replied, "I know, and that's the way it should be."  He didn’t want to draw outside attention to this ministry, because he didn't want to draw Muslim --  or Christian -- opposition.  At the time I talked to him, he had over 70 converts already organized into a functioning church.

    Over the past 50 years the church has taken another look at Islam and realized that it is not as solid and forbidding as once thought. Today there are more missionaries than ever working among Muslims.   Patrick Johnstone wrote in Operation World, that recent years "have been a time of more Muslims coming to Christ that ever before in history.  These are the beginnings of what we believe could be a flood -- if it is to be demonstrated Jesus is Lord even over Islam."

    I personally believe today’s militant Islam is, in part, a reaction to the success of the gospel in penetrating the gates of this stronghold. We can react with fear or make it a political issue, but then we lose sight of the fact that this is an example of the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

     The gates, walls, or whatever represents this world’s strongholds of resistance to the kingdom of God cannot stop the truth of the gospel carried by those who faithfully follow and obey Jesus Christ.

Please note: As we present this series of examples of the church triumphant, you might have noticed that we are not sharing specific names or places. This is a conscious effort to protect real people who might still be at work in these situations. If you would like to know more details, you may contact Mandate directly on our comment page.

From one to eighty million believers in a generation . . .

Short wave radio was the entertainment. Three decades ago I lived in a remote area of Indonesia. Those were the days before the internet. We had no local radio, no television, no electricity. It was so bad I used to read the encyclopedia just for relaxation! We could, however, pick up international radio broadcasts, in English, from most of the major countries of the world.

Radio Beijing, coming out of China’s capital, was one of those. Mostly political, it carried a strong signal, some music and was good for background noise through the work day. And through the late 1980s, it was interesting to pick up a political shift in China. I hoped it would one day lead to the re-opening of that massive country to the gospel.

One day I heard some vaguely familiar music coming from my radio, then tuned to Radio Beijing. Enough to draw me from my desk to the radio, I tried to place the tune I was hearing, sung in stereotypical sing-song Chinese. Then it hit me! This was a Chinese woman singing the American song Home on the Range! At that moment, I realized something significant was happening in China, but didn’t know where it would lead.

 Writing around that time, Dr. C. Gordon Olson noted in his book What in the World is God Doing?:

When missionaries were forced out [of China] in 1950, there were less than one million Protestant church members.  Recent estimates range from 30 to 70 million Christians.  This represents the largest influx of new believers into the Christian church, by confession of faith, anytime, anywhere, in two thousand years of church history.

Through my early days as a follower of Christ, I prayed for China. I have to admit, I stopped. I did not see any results. Everything I knew or heard about that country indicated the church was virtually non-existent and powerless. I hoped that God would one day re-open the country, but lost sight of that hope in the busyness of my own ministry.

God had been at work in that seemingly closed country, despite what it seemed from the outside. God used His people, from within, weak as they seemed, to spread the gospel by word, deed and example. The result was church growth unheard of in 2000 years.

Last week I opened this blog series with the biblical thought that Christ intends his church to attack the strongholds of Satan and this world, and to break through their gates (closed countries?) with the gospel. Even when we don’t see it happening, God is at work. China was God’s great revelation to me (and so many others) that the church is and should continue to be a spiritually conquering force in this world.

A man I know personally was in China some years ago.  He was taken outside the city by a communist government official with whom he had become friendly.  This official took my friend to a hill overlooking a small town.  Pointing down he said, “I think you should start a church in that town.”

My friend looked up with surprise and suspicion.

The Chinese official quickly said, “I am not religious.  I am a communist and atheist.  But we in the Communist party know that Christians make good citizens and workers.  They do not steal or lie; they do an honest day’s work for their pay.

“I know that people like you used to start churches in towns like that,” he said pointing downward again.  "There is no church there now.  It would be good to see one there.”

That was the end of the conversation, but what had he actually said?  The government of China recognizes a difference – for the good -- in Christians.  The government looks favorably on Christianity.  The government does not want the church mixed up in politics, but, then again, they don’t want anyone except themselves mixed up in politics.

Today, China is more open to Christianity than ever before.  People are coming to Christ; both registered and unregistered churches are growing. The government is at least passively supportive of the church and, in many cases, is taking active steps to help the church. 

Who could have imagined that only 40 years ago?!

Who could have imagined that 2000 years ago?

Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, KJV).

Now we see what he was talking about.

 Are there more examples?

 Come back to this site next week to read about another gate shattered.

Breaking through the gates

 

At a certain point in His ministry, Jesus began preparing his followers for His approaching death.  They had to understand that His death would be neither beginning nor end to God's plan, but rather a transfer of responsibility to His followers so they could complete what had be begun.  Let me read from Matthew 16:13-18.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:13-18).

Let's focus on just one sentence here: "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." I do like the way it's expressed in the King James Version, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

We can’t understand this statement in the same way Jesus’ listeners did. The history of Israel was one of kingdoms and empires, controlling or being controlled.  In Old Testament times the foundation of an empire was generally the strongest of several cities, and an empire often took its name from the main city.  This was the case with Samaria, Babylon, Rome.  Jesus' disciples could probably think of several empires which ruled until another kingdom grew up right under their noses and eventually conquered them.  While Assyria ruled, Babylon grew to challenge and then overcome it; Babylon became an empire, then fell to Persia; and so on. 

If one empire wanted to conquer another, this could only be accomplished by capturing and either occupying or destroying the central city of that empire.  In a time when arrows, spears and rocks were the strongest offensive weapons, the best protection was a solid wall, so these cities were surrounded by great walls.  The only intentional gaps in the walls were gates so that people could come and go in good times.

Can you picture the gates? That image was familiar enough to the disciples.  The word gate actually describes the entire area of entry into a city, not just the part that opened and closed.  A gate area could have several barriers, often constructed of thick wood with iron reinforcement.  Some gates were actually twisting passage ways through which an enemy would have to sustain weapon fire from the high passage walls. 

Gates were strong and imposing.  But gates are also passive.  They do not move to attack.  They just stand there.  When Jesus said, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” the picture was not one of hell attacking His church but of the church attacking - and conquering - the stronghold(s) of Satan. 

Just as ancient armies would attack one city after another until breaching the final stronghold, the church should be consciously and visibly breaking into some of hell’s strongholds, anticipating and foreshadowing the final victory.

If this is so; if the Lord is still building His church; if His church is to be attacking the strongholds of Satan; if the church should be breaking through the gates of those strongholds; then we should see this taking place now, even as the church looks to the final confrontation between Satan's evil empire and the kingdom of God.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share some of the stories of church growth and kingdom expansion that illustrate this picture. I hope you’ll be as encouraged as I am when we look realistically at what God is doing through His church in our time.

Time

Time

Millennium, century, decade, year, month, week, day, hour, minute, these are the most common terms we use to measure time. Each can be defined and accurately measured. For the objective scientist or historian, among others, it can be very important to accurately measure the passing of time.

Time

Me, you, us are often the most meaningful, if not objective, centers of time. We know the day, month, and year we were born. We know what happened yesterday; we think we know what will happen tomorrow. We keep track of time in calendars, not so much to know the date, but to know what a particular day or date means to us, in terms of remembrance, celebration, or activity.

We admit that time can be calculated precisely. Yet we’ve also experienced the truth of the statement time flies when you’re having fun. Conversely, the seconds seem to crawl when we’re waiting for something to happen.

This weekend we’re celebrating the New Year, a holiday that really does not mean much. In the most basic sense, the new year is a measure of time. The clock moves, the last day of December ends, the first day of January begins. That’s it!

Yet we’ve made it more than an objective turning of a calendar page. The old year is one to remember and, hopefully learn from. Bad things and good happened during the past year. We measure bad and good mostly based on how it affected ourselves. How did the economy affect my life? Did someone I know die or do something special? Did I or someone I know marry, have a child, achieve an accomplishment?

We look to the new year with the same perspective. What will it mean for me? What will happen to or around me during the next 12 months which will color my view of the entire year? Trying to move from passive to active in anticipating the new year, we’ll often make resolutions or goals to try to move our lives in a certain (hopefully good) direction.

What does God say about time? I don’t know whether or not I should be surprised, but the Bible does not mention seconds or minutes; weeks come up only twice; over 200 references to months, mostly in the Old Testament; nothing specifically about decades or centuries; millennium 10 times, six of them in Revelation chapter 20.

The Bible does say a lot about time in a personal, subjective way, beginning with the most basic of beginnings and a very good perspective, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

Sifting through other biblical passages on time, faithful, and logical follow-ups would be the acknowledgement of Psalm 31:15a, “My times are in your hand . . .” and the resolution of Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Lest we bog down with psalmists, New Testament writers help us see the personal, practical, and active side of the days God has given us. The beloved apostle reminds us “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17), and Paul, in Galatians 6:9, tells us “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

May we be able to say, every day of 2017, the words of Psalm 118:24, 

“This is the day the LORD has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Unadorned Christmas

The other day I saw a social media post using a stick of peppermint candy to illustrate the Christmas story.

What!?

Year by year, I am amazed how much we continue to add to the relatively simple yet full story of God’s love as found in the Bible.

In a court of law we draw upon eyewitness testimony to establish facts. We try to distinguish between that testimony and later additions by people who were not even present. In the Bible, the eyewitness testimony of men and women of God has been recorded and has stood for almost 2000 years. Yet we seem to feel some compulsion to add culture and myth to the story in some kind of weird attempt to enhance it and make it more popular. Do we really think we can do better than God has already done?

There is no Santa Claus. No Father Christmas, no Kris Kringle or any other identity we’d like to give to an overweight man in a red suit. For the most part, we all realize that. There was no Christmas tree or gaily wrapped packages; no stockings, elves, or Grinch in Bethlehem. There was not even a drummer boy or innkeeper.

For the most part these things are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. They lose any sort of positive value, however, when they undermine or take the place of the true story.

When we take away everything that is not recorded in Scripture we are left with a story that has been described as “the greatest story ever told.” This is a story of God’s love for and redemption of a lost humanity. It is best summarized in a very familiar verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

For hundreds of years before the events we know of as Christmas, God had promised and predicted that he would send a Savior who could take away the debt of sin and restore people throughout the entire earth to a pure relationship with God. God’s predictions, as recorded in the Bible, were so specific that when the wise men of the East traveled to Jerusalem to ask where they might find the newborn King of the Jews, the teachers in Jerusalem immediately knew to send them to the village of Bethlehem. Other predictions foretold the genealogical line of his birth, the miraculously unheard-of virgin birth, a post-birth trip to Egypt, and subsequent residence in the area known as Galilee.

When God chose to bring his plan to fruition, he sent an angel to a young Jewish woman named Mary with these words, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:26-38). Mary’s fiancé, a man named Joseph, received a similar angelic visit, with this message “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.’” (Matthew 1:18:25).

Luke 2:1-18 describes the actual birth event of the child named Jesus, called the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, and God with us. Within a few weeks of the day we celebrate as Christmas, God used a local man named Simeon to sum up what had taken place with the words, “. . . my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:22-35).

That is Christmas, but it is only the beginning of what we celebrate as the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. As with the shepherds who saw the newborn Jesus and went on their way praising God, and Simeon who boldly spoke the words above in the very public Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, we have the responsibility and joyful privilege of sharing the story with the world.

The story, as it appears in Scripture, is true, valid, and very powerful. As we mix it with human traditions and sentimentality, it becomes less so. We must be very careful what we share with those who do not yet understand God’s program. We want them to be able to know the truth and only the truth. As it says elsewhere in Scripture, the truth shall set them free.

Living the Kingdom

The people of Jesus’s day had hundreds of specific prophecies pointing to various aspects of his first coming, which we will celebrate next month as Christmas. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that no one put it all together to the extent they were waiting in Bethlehem for Jesus’ arrival. As we study the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, we tend to belittle the scholars of that era for their lack of understanding.

Today we find ourselves on the other side of Christmas, watching for what the Bible promises as Jesus’ second coming. Both Old and New Testaments give general and specifics about what to look for and when to be looking, but are we any better at putting it all together than were our spiritual ancestors?

The religious leaders of the first century had not only missed the boat as to God’s promise of a savior, but had reduced their own religious system to virtual irrelevance. They concentrated on the doing rather than understanding and believing. God had called them to be an example to the nations around them, but they became exclusive and ingrown. 

 The religious leaders of Israel tended to look back to when they were an earthly kingdom established by God and governed by His law.

 Many of God’s people today are interested in another kingdom of God, this one to be established and ruled by Jesus Christ at his next coming at some future time.

 Are we also missing something?

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus spoke of a kingdom which was now, that is, near in time to his audiences. The message said something about what people should do now; it had immediate relevance and urgency. It aroused interest - and controversy. The message challenged the status quo and called for change in society, religious teachings, and personal behavior. That aspect of the kingdom of God was not a new topic to the listeners, but a call to return to the standards set by God and repeated throughout the Old Testament. To this day, nothing has superseded those standards, nor Jesus’ call to live by and reproduce those standards in whatever time or culture we find ourselves.

Today’s word is a reminder of just one aspect of that kingdom. The kingdom of God is expected to interact with and change the world into which it has been placed. Let’s look to the words of Christ as recorded in the Bible.

[Jesus] told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)

Like yeast in a bread mixture, the kingdom of God is expected to touch every part of the society in which it finds itself. Moving from the picture to reality, the kingdom of God does not necessarily turn every earthly kingdom to the true God, but should affect them all, for the good.

And I [Jesus] tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)

Gates do not move. Gates do not attack. Gates generally were the focus of attacks by invading forces in ancient times. This would have been well understood by Jesus’ audience. The church, which we may take as the personification of the kingdom of God, should be consciously and proactively attacking the spiritual strongholds which stand in opposition to the gospel of Christ. Remember, though, we are talking spiritual battle, not a physical holy war. The focus of our efforts might be geographical areas not yet open to the gospel, religious, political, or social systems which subvert the purpose of God, or cultural mores which hold people captive. Jesus expects the church – us! – to be both attacking and penetrating these spiritual strongholds to carry his message to all peoples.

“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.” (Acts 1:8)

This is the last recorded statement of Jesus Christ on this earth. It is not a variant rendering the Great Commission, which he gave at another time and location, but an independent declaration of what he expects his church to do between his first and second comings. This is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. This contains what turned out to be the historical pattern followed by the early church in taking the message of Jesus Christ from where the church was at that time (Jerusalem) to the entire world.

All of this is reflected in Mandate’s Vision Statement with the words, “Mandate is helping to grow the kingdom of God . . . .“

Today and every day of our lives is the here and now of God’s kingdom. While still looking forward to a physical kingdom to come with the return of Christ, we are working to make the present form of God’s kingdom real in the hearts of people by helping them hear and understand God’s provision of salvation through faith in Christ. Along the way we are doing good to improve the lives of individuals and working to transform whole families and societies through the power of God.

Isn’t this what the entire church should be doing in every generation and every location?

To effectively realize Jesus’ expectations for his church, we who already declare ourselves to be Christ-followers should be consciously living according to the standards established by God for His people. Then we should be looking for or creating opportunities to tell others within our circles about our personal faith in Christ and how this has changed our lives. Growing from this, we should be using every means to ensure that everyone in this world hears the gospel in a way they can understand and intelligently respond.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not quite understand what they were expecting. Unlike them, I know exactly what I am looking forward to.

There is a tremendous picture in chapter five of the book of Revelation. In the scene the apostle John has been carried to heaven in a vision. He sees a scroll which he knows is important, but no one can open it. Suddenly Jesus appears in the form of a lamb to take control. The heavenly beings react with rejoicing . . .

And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

and with your blood you purchased men for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

That last line continually staggers me. By the time this event takes place, there will be representatives from every tribal group, every linguistic group, every people group, and every nation who will have become followers of Jesus Christ.

This is what I’m looking forward to, and this is the goal toward which Mandate and so many other like-minded organizations are working.

Where are you in this?

Get in touch with us if you would like to know more about how you can be involved in expanding God’s kingdom in the here and now.