Recovering A Passion For Missions

Selected Scriptures

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / April 25, 2004


            I stand before you today ill-equipped to preach to you on this subject. I am thankful that, most Sundays, I can preach from what I have learned from the Scriptures and relate that to everyday experiences. I cannot do that today. I have never seen the front lines of missionary work; I have never been on a short-term mission trip.


            Now, some of you will jump to my defense, reminding me that mission work is more than overseas evangelism. You are quite correct. There are local Christian organizations appropriately named, ‘The Scott Mission’ and ‘Yonge Street Mission’. There is a real sense in which we can carry on the mission of Christ right here, in our backyard.


            For our purposes this morning, however, I would like to make a distinction between two types of mission; I would like to make a distinction between domestic evangelism and frontier missions.


            Most of us are well acquainted with domestic evangelism and, hopefully, many of us are regularly engaged in domestic evangelism. We make sandwiches for, and serve at, Evangel Hall. We financially support local Christian organizations. We run a summer camp for the children of this community with a view to sharing with them the gospel of Christ. And, individually, many of us share the gospel with unbelieving friends and family when given the opportunity.


            I am not going to speak today about domestic evangelism, but rather, we are going to look at texts that call us to engage in frontier missions. What do I mean by ‘frontier missions’? I am referring to our obligation to preach the gospel in regions where a Christian presence has yet to be established, and our responsibility to minister in regions where the Christian presence in the community is in its infancy.


            As we think about the biblical texts which provide us with this mandate, many of us immediately think about Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Mt. 28:19, 20).


            There are many other helpful texts, such as John 10:16, where Jesus says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.


            And, we have our text, which was read this morning, from Acts 1, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).


            Common to all three of these texts is the notion that our mission to unbelievers will require Christians to be mobilized beyond the local church. This notion is explicit in two of the passages, and is implied in the other. We are commanded to “Go”, and lest we limit our going, Christ references “all of the nations” in one place, and “the remotest part of the earth” in another place. And we “go” because we have assurances from Jesus that “there are sheep which are not of this fold” (Jn. 10:16) waiting to hear the “voice” of Christ in the Christian gospel.


            Now, when we respond to the commission to “go”; when a Christian presence goes into the mission field, what is the message that is to be delivered?


            Here is what one Roman Catholic leader thinks about mission work,


In the past we had the so-called motive of saving souls. We were convinced that if not baptized, people in the masses would go to hell. Now, thanks be to God, we believe that all people and all religions are already living in the grace and love of God and will be saved by God’s mercy. (Time [December 27, 1982], p. 52).


            Admittedly, that is a nice sentiment. I doubt anyone here is comfortable thinking about people perishing in hell. And yet, it is important that we don’t simply believe notions because we are comfortable with them; we should believe notions based on whether or not they are true.


            I could tell you this morning that I believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup—not only this year, but every year. And, if you were to ask me why I believe that, my answer is that I am most comfortable believing that. I find it quite upsetting to think otherwise. Yet, I admit, that is not helpful. The logic behind holding to a belief system based on personal preferences is altogether skewed.


            So then, what does the Bible say that our missionary purpose should be? Listen to what our resurrected Lord said to the apostle Paul in his commissioning:


            I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me (Acts 26:17, 18).


            That is a meaningless commission that our Lord gave to Paul if, in fact, the eyes of the nations don’t need to be opened. Jesus gave an empty mandate if the nations don't need to turn from darkness to light, and if they don't need to escape the power of Satan to come to God, and if they don't need the forgiveness of sins that comes only by faith in Christ. Surely, Paul did not continually risk his life in order to inform people that they were already saved (John Piper).


            It is a great and commendable thing that we provide food, medicine, and other essential resources to countries and regions in need. But, as I look at the commissions of our Lord, I reckon that we fall short of our biblical mandate if we neglect to also bring with us the gospel message. There should be no dichotomy between providing for the physical means of people and preaching the gospel. Engaging in one without the other represents less than what our Lord has commissioned us to do.


            The mandate Jesus gives to Paul in Acts 26, and the mandate Jesus gives to His disciples in Matthew 28 and Acts 1 should awaken us to the need to support frontier missions. For ALL of us, this means prayer support for those engaged; for MANY of us, that means financially supporting those engaged; and, for A FEW of us, that means we should be prepared to physically “go”, if called upon.


Given the immensity of this task, I am thankful for our Lord’s words in John 10:16, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.


            What Jesus is promising here is the success of the gospel message. Jesus is promising that, in other folds, there are sheep that will respond to the call of Christ, the Good Shepherd. The apostle Paul learned this through his obedience to Jesus’ commission, and caused him to write in the Book of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).


            Beloved, I fear that there are professing Christians who are ashamed of the biblical gospel. I fear there are churches, I fear there are denominations, that are uncomfortable with some aspects of the Christian gospel. Such fears have hampered, and will continue to hamper our missionary efforts.


            Over the last couple of weeks, I have had my passion for missions renewed as I read about the great missionaries of days past. I enjoyed reading about Peter Cameron Scott who became the founder of Africa Inland Mission. Scott’s first trip to Africa went terribly—he had a severe attack of malaria and was sent home after only a short time. In his second trip to Africa, Peter was accompanied by his brother, John. But, before long John was struck down by fever and died. After burying his brother, Peter’s own health once again failed and forced him to return to England.


            Peter Cameron Scott could have been forgiven if he had decided to remain in England. His missionary efforts were continually hindered by illness and he had lost his beloved brother there. So, what did Peter do? He went to visit Westminster Abbey where David Livingstone’s tomb is. Scott found the tomb and knelt in front of it to pray. The inscription reads,






Peter Cameron Scott rose from his knees with a renewed hope. Knowing that there were sheep in another fold, Scott returned to Africa. The mission he founded there continues to be a vibrant witness for the gospel of Christ.


            Did you know that one of our own members is associated with Africa Inland Mission? Some time in 2005, Mary Douglas is scheduled to return to Africa to do missionary work. And because it is not feasible for most of us to personally engage in frontier missions, Mary’s departure presents us with an opportunity to participate in frontier mission work through her. Yes, there are sheep, which are not of this fold, and we are commanded to bring them the gospel.


            Now, some might argue that ‘It is impossible to get into some regions, as the people there are very hostile towards Christians.’ There is a sense in which that is quite correct. There are some Muslim regions where a Christian Missionary would be risking his or her life by attempting to go there and preach the gospel. But this is nothing new. The threat of getting killed was not enough to deter Samuel Zwemer who did missionary work among the Muslims in the Persian Gulf in the late 1890’s. Samuel’s work there, admittedly, did not result in the kind of fruitfulness of other frontier mission efforts. And in 1904, both of his daughters, ages four and seven, died within eight days of each other. Nevertheless, fifty years later Zwemer looked back on this period and wrote, “Gladly would I do it all over again” (cited in From Jerusalem to Iran Jaya, p. 277).


            What is it that enables a person to view mission work in this way? The best answer I have found comes from missionary Jim Elliot. On January 8, 1956, five Auca Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Auca tribe of sixty people. That day, four young wives lost husbands, and nine children lost their fathers. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of a tragedy. Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo:


            He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” (Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, 19).


            Beloved, if we understand what that credo means, we will do everything in our power to assist and support frontier missions. And let us not soon forget that, indeed, there are sheep which are not of this fold that belong under the care of the Good Shepherd. Amen.