What does the Bible say about ethnicity? Does it speak to current debates of immigration? How should we think about religious liberty? In this session of Secret Church 15, Pastor David Platt makes a biblical case for considering these issues carefully and biblically.
- Ethnicity and Immigration
- Religious Liberty
- The Greatest Injustice of All
- The Ultimate Hope for All
What Does the Bible Say About Ethnicity and Immigration?
Our next topic is ethnicity and immigration, including race, racism, all kinds of dialogs and speeches about how to solve the racial tension in our culture. It’s not something outside of us—it’s inside of us. When I think about my own life, I walk into a room and see two tables. At one is a group of people who are ethnically like me, and the other where there are people who are not ethnically like me. I am prone to go here, to those who are like me. Something in me is prone to think that’s safer, more comfortable for me, and maybe this is less safe or less comfortable for me.
When I think about that tendency in my own heart, I realize that racism really is not a matter of whether or not we’re prone to these things in our hearts. When I think about racists—and I almost think about it outside of me—I realize the difference between me and them is often more a matter of degree than of kind. There’s a tendency to this in all of us that we have to confront.
Biblically Reshaping the Conversation About Race
So think about conversations about race in our culture today—from Trayvon Martin to Ferguson to New York City. We’re talking about race, but could it be we’re grasping for solutions to a problem we’ve grossly misdefined from the start? Think about how the gospel reshapes the conversation about race. From the very beginning, the Bible depicts a basic unity behind worldly diversity. It has unity in Genesis 1—we’re made in the image of God. Genesis 10 expands on that, with the clans and languages and lands and nations. All of these divisions, though, trace their human ancestry back to one family, Noah and his sons, who trace their human ancestry back to Adam and Eve. This is why Paul in the New Testament tells the philosophers in Athens God made from one man every nation of mankind.
In light of that picture at the beginning of the Bible, ask the common questions. What race were Adam and Eve? And the answer is both obvious and simple at the same time: they were the human race. We can ask, “What color was their skin?” But as soon as we ask that question, we realize there’s a problem with it on two levels. One, we don’t know the answer to that question, because the Bible doesn’t tell us. Now, in most Bibles in the West we paint a picture of Adam and Eve as white, but we have no basis whatsoever for that assumption. For all we know they could have been any color—different colors, for that matter. Maybe Eve’s skin was a shade of dirt or bone. If anything, genetics would point to the greater possibility that our first parents had darker skin, because it’s the dominant gene in skin color.
But regardless, on the second level, we find ourselves talking about people in terms the Bible doesn’t even use. We make the obvious deduction: God’s Word doesn’t tell us what color Adam and Eve were because apparently God’s Word doesn’t equate membership in the human race with skin tone. Whatever color Adam and Eve and their children were, they contained in them a DNA designed by God that would eventually develop into a multicolored family across a multicultural world. So fundamentally God’s Word reminds us—regardless of the color of our skin—all of us have the same roots as part of the same race.
What Does the Bible Say About Race and Unity
So we come to the conclusion: to discuss diversity in terms of different races actually undercuts unity in the human race. This is not just an issue of semantics, because much of our conversation about race is biblically unhelpful. It locates identity in physical appearance. You’re black. I’m white. These are statements that seem simple, but more than mere indicators of skin color, they oftentimes carry a whole host of stereotypes and assumptions with them. Simply because skin color or hair texture is a certain way, we assume certain characteristics about others positively or negatively, and most often negatively, which is unhelpful.
And then our conversation about race becomes practically impossible when somebody doesn’t fit into our color classification. I’m thinking about a good friend of mine, Derek, who used to serve on staff at the Church at Brook Hills. He was sent out to pastor a church north of here. His mom is white; his dad is black. So what is Derek? What race is he? What category do we put him in? What assumptions do we approach him with? That categorization becomes all the more impossible in light of the globalization of the world.
A friend of mine, Thabiti Anyabwile, explains as a black man the hopelessness of using race to distinguish men and women. While living in Grand Cayman, he wrote:
My barber in the Caribbean looks just like me. You’d think he was an African-American until he opens his mouth. When he speaks, he speaks Jamaican patois, so it is clear that he’s not an African-American. My administrative assistant is also proudly Jamaican—very white-skinned. The lady in my barbershop looks a lot like my wife. You might think she is African-American or even Caymanian. She is Honduran. This notion of artificially imposing categories on people according to color—biology—is sheer folly. It’s an impossibility. This is why much of the field on race and ethnicity has largely abandoned the attempt to identify men based on biological categories of race.
Redefining the Conversation Around Redemption
When we recognize this, we realize to discuss diversity in terms of different races actually undercuts the goal of the gospel, which is ultimately, according to Revelation 7, to unite men and women of every nation, tribe, people and language as one race before God. We realize the gospel itself actually reshapes the conversation about race, and redefines that conversation around redemption.
This is where the Bible grounds our understanding of human diversity and human ethnicity. We must see the Word in light of different ethnicities, which is far more than just about biology or skin tone or hair texture. Ethnicity encompasses social distinctions, which we see in places like Acts 21:24. It also includes lingual distinctions, Acts 2:5-12, and historical distinctions, like those between the Moabites and the Israelites in the Old Testament. There were political distinctions and religious distinctions—for example, the core of differences between the Jews and the Samaritans in John 4:19-26.
All these factor into distinguishing different peoples. Different languages, different histories, different political distinctions—all these factor into this notion of ethnicity. Then you begin to look at the globalization of the world, or even here in Birmingham. Birmingham, Alabama, is not the most diverse place in the world, but we had a group go out from the Church at Brook Hills one weekend not long ago. Looking to interact with different ethnicities, they found Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Gujarati, Columbian, Salvadoran, Palestinian Arab, Jordanian Arab, Northern Yemeni Arab, and Moroccan Arab people—just to name a few. It’s not the most diverse city in the world, but all kind of diverse ethnicities.
So see the Word and see the world in light of diverse ethnicities. Yes, there are approximately 100-200 geopolitical nations identified in the world, but in those nations there are multiple thousands of ethno-linguistic groups, people groups, united by factors like common language, common ethnicity, common self-identity. The International Mission Board, which I have the privilege of leading, identifies over 11,000 people groups in the world.
So then, with this view of the Word and the world in light of different ethnicities, see our sin in light of ethnic animosity. Just as soon as God’s Word introduces diverse types of people, we see selfish pride and ethnic prejudice between those people, mistreating one another. The pages of the Bible and human history are filled with that. There’s an evil affinity toward ethnic animosity that resides in all of our sinful hearts.
So hear the gospel. See the promise God has made. From the very beginning in Genesis 10:32, followed up by Genesis 12:1-3, God promises that one day He’s going to bring His blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations [ethne], and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). This is why Jesus commands His disciples in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, so they will all stand before the throne and praise God for His salvation.”
We see the promise God has made and also the price Christ has paid. It’s the clear testimony of Scripture that Jesus has shed His blood for every people, for every language. This leads to the future place God will prepare in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will worship together in perfect harmony. All this means is that in the present we must now work together for unity in our diversity. This is the goal of God in all history: to bring together the human race—comprised of nations, languages, and tribes—around His throne to give Him the praise He’s due for the salvation and grace He brings.
Reforming Our Lives Around Reconciliation
If that’s the goal of God in all of history, then certainly it must be part of our goal as we live in this world in whatever culture we live in. Therefore, we should reform our lives around reconciliation, working toward ethnic harmony in light of God’s purpose in history.
This means we acknowledge our distinctions. It’s not that we ignore the history of how one ethnic group has treated another or that we ignore distinctions in this way or that way. We appreciate our differences. When I think about people of different ethnicities who have had influences in my life, sometimes massive influences—both here in Birmingham and around the world—I realize the collective impact on me. We shape and sharpen one another, not in spite of our differences but precisely because of them. God has created us in different ways, in ways that are hugely helpful for all of us. In Christ we affirm our dignity while acknowledging our diversity.
So practically, what does that mean? It means we strive for ecclesiological unity for the sake of God’s glory in the world. In other words, we strive for unity in the church for the sake of God’s glory in the world. God is most glorified when His people are most unified, and that means there is no place for ethnocentric pride among God’s people.
This is why Paul writes a letter to the Ephesians. In the first three chapters he is talking about how we have one Father, one family and one household. Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility based upon ethnic diversity. There is no place for ethnocentric pride among God’s people, and no place for ethnocentric preference in the midst of God’s people. There should be no partiality according to ethnicity or anything else, according to James 2:1.
This reshapes the way we think not just about racism, but also about immigration. It’s a hot-button issue in American culture right now that oftentimes is disconnected from this discussion. But if the cross compels unity across ethnic divisions, then how much more should we as the people of God care for immigrants from other countries in our midst? Christ compels us as Christians to care for immigrants in the world around us. Surely the majority oppression of migrant people is no better than white segregation of black people.
Again, this is another issue we’re prone to relegate solely to the political sphere. In our personal lives we don’t think about how the gospel affects this. Russell Moore writes, “The Christian response to immigrant neighbors has basically been like saying, ‘You kids get off my lawn,’ in Spanish.” But we’ve got to see that before this is a political issue, immigration is a God issue. We need to see the heart of God in Scripture. “The Lord watches over the sojourners” (Psalm 146:9). He loves the sojourner (Deuteronomy 10:17-20).
We see the heart of God in Scripture, and then we must apply the Word of God in our culture to see immigrants as men and women made in the image of God. They are not problems to be solved. They are people to be loved as we love ourselves (Luke 10:25-37). So we stand for immigrants as men and women in need of the mercy of God, which means we respect their personal dignity and decry any and all forms of oppression, exploitation, bigotry or harassment. We’re not compelled to this politically. We’re compelled to do this by the gospel. We protect the familial unity of immigrants. We work to keep husbands and wives and moms and dads and children together.
Now, the challenge is: politically, how do you do all this in light of out-of-date legislation that is out of sync with our current labor market? Obviously there are challenges there that don’t invite easy answers, but we have a responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to establish and enforce just laws that address immigration in those ways. We have responsibility before God as citizens under a government to work together to remove and refute unjust laws that oppress immigrants. If we fail to act in those ways, we’re settling for injustice and living out of sync with the gospel in our culture.
After all, as we live in this world, we live as immigrants ourselves, looking for a world to come. This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian in the first place. The Bible calls believers in Christ sojourners, exiles, who are looking for a better country, seeking a homeland, a city that is to come. In other words, Christians, as migrants on this earth—the more we get involved in the lives of immigrants, the better we will understand the gospel. When you put this issue of immigration in the context of ethnicity, you realize that the body of Christ is intended by God to be a multicultural citizenry of an otherworldly kingdom.
And so, as citizens of the kingdom, we care for all people—regardless of ethnicity or status—in this ever-changing country. By God’s grace, we counter selfish pride and ethnic prejudice in our hearts and in our culture, knowing that this is not the culture to which we ultimately belong. We’re looking forward to the day when a great multitude no one can count from every nation, tribe and language will stand as one redeemed race to give glory to our Father, Who no longer calls us sojourners and exiles, but sons and daughters.
What Does the Bible Say About Religious Liberty & Persecution
Liberty and persecution. Let me give you a little set-up here. Imagine you’re a follower of Christ, you believe the Bible, your driving desire is to love God and to love others, and you happen to be a professional photographer. One day in your community, somebody contacts you about their upcoming event. She says, “My female partner and I are celebrating our commitment to one another in a formal ceremony, and we want you to photograph it.”
Immediately your mind starts racing. “What should I say?” you think. You begin processing your personal convictions. On one hand, you want to serve the community, including all kinds of different types of people. You’ve built a business on using your talents to bless people just like the woman who’s making this request. At the same time, your love for others is a subset of your love for God, and you believe God designed marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the demonstration of His character and the display of His gospel in the world.
As a result, you have a hard time conceiving how you’re going to participate at all in the celebration of something you’re convinced God condemns. You can’t escape the thought that your participation in that would violate your conscience, and even more importantly, in your heart. You can’t avoid a conviction that your participation would dishonor God. So in speaking to this woman, you politely decline.
As you do, you find yourself resting in the free exercise of religion that’s been granted to you in your country…until you are surprised to discover that you’re sued for your decision. Then imagine your surprise when you learn that the government on which you were leaning for the free exercise of religion tells you that the law requires you to compromise your conviction.
It’s not an imaginary scenario for Elaine Huguenin, the co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When asked to photograph a commitment ceremony between two women, Huguenin politely said she doesn’t photograph those ceremonies. Despite finding another cheaper photographer for that ceremony, the persons filed a complaint with the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission, claiming that Elane Photography was guilty of discrimination—and the court ruled against Elane Photography, ordering them to pay a large penalty.
This case became all the more concerning when it eventually went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling against Elane Photography in the unanimous verdict. The justices ruled, “When Elane Photography refused to photograph the same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the New Mexico human rights act in the same as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”
Obviously we’ve talked about that fundamental flaw: equating ethnic identity with sexual activity. But even more than that, listen to the alarming reason that was given for this unanimous ruling. One justice wrote that Elaine Huguenin and her husband are “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” He went on to say:
The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe as they wish, and they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives, wherever they lead. But in the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. This is the price of citizenship in our country.
So get this. The highest court in the state of New Mexico ruled that while the Huguenins are free to exalt God in the church they attend, they’re not free to express their beliefs in the business they own. They’re free to practice their faith in private for a couple of hours at the start of a week, but they’re forced to deny their faith in public for multiple hours every other day of the week. In the end, Elaine Huguenin is compelled by government to violate her conscience and dishonor her Creator as a citizen in her culture.
Now, thankfully, months later—about a year ago—the Supreme Court in our country ruled on a similar case with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, and that one—in a five to four ruling—said the government can’t force closely held corporations to violate their religious beliefs.
But here’s the deal. My aim is not to be an alarmist, but the more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I’m convinced we need to be alarmed. By the narrowest possible margin, the Supreme Court ruled that we have freedom to apply religious convictions in our everyday lives and leadership. And if one vote had been different, that freedom would have been taken away by our government. This is not just about owners of major corporations or photographers, for that matter. It’s about people in all sorts of professions. Without question, more and more employees and employers, doctors and pharmacists, teachers and administrators, insurers and investors, ministers and ministries will be facing governmental mandates to provide goods and services that may contradict personal convictions.
So we’ve got to think about how the gospel relates to religious liberty. Look at 1 Peter 2:13-17. This is the Word of God:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
This text was actually written to a group of Christians who were experiencing persecution in first century Rome, wondering, “How do we respond to the Roman government around us?” In a Christ-less government, how should they respond to it? Should they ignore it? Should they disregard the government? Should they fight the government? Should they just be quiet and do whatever the government says?
What Does the Bible Say About Submission to the Government
Here’s what the Bible teaches. As Christians, we are submissive citizens of a government. We subject ourselves willingly to the government around us—which is a pretty astonishing command when you realize what kind of government was happening here in the first century. You have Emperor Claudius, or maybe even Nero, both of whom were completely ungodly, setting themselves up as gods. Nero was persecuting and killing Christians, and Peter says, “Be subject to the emperor as supreme and to governors sent by him—and do this for the Lord’s sake, for this is the will of God.”
This is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Jesus is not teaching that His followers should disregard government. Government is there for a reason. Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” We touched on this a little bit earlier when we were talking about abortion. The government is given by God for the restraint of evil and for the promotion of good. So we submit to government as a rightful authority, set up by God, for those purposes.
Then the Bible goes on to give a second truth: we’re free servants of God. So we are to “live as people who are free” (1 Peter 2:16). He’s not talking about political freedom there. He’s talking about spiritual freedom. When you get to the end of verse 16, Peter says we’re servants of God. That may seem like an oxymoron, a “free servant,” but it’s not. Because in Christ, the Christian is free from the bondage of sin to live the life God has created us to live as servants of God.
Peter says we use our freedom in Christ, then, to model good lives in a Matthew 5:13-16 kind of way. We don’t want there to be accusations against us that would not adorn the gospel. We use freedom in Christ to model good lives, and we use our freedom in Christ to show God’s love. Which is why Peter ends with four short commands in verse 17: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
We “honor everyone,” especially our leaders. “Honor the emperor,” as if to say, “Make sure to honor him.” This is so important. We honor those whom God has set up in government to lead us, to rule over us in that way. We care for the church. There is specific mention of caring for the brothers and sisters in Christ. And we fear God. Ultimately don’t fear the emperor, don’t fear governors, don’t fear men—fear God. Fear God alone.
Here’s where it’s interesting. Later Peter says, in 1 Peter 3:14-16:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
Peter is making it very clear that the governing authorities, including the emperor, don’t hold absolute sway in our lives. Only God does that. The Christian ultimately fears God. If you put this whole passage together: we’re free servants of God, free from sin, to model good lives and to show God’s love. We are inclined to submit to governing authorities. We want to submit to them, because they are set up by God for our good.
Yet, at the same time, in circumstances where the will of God and the will of the government are in direct opposition to one another—when the government is commanding or prescribing believers to sin if the believer honors the leaders—ultimately the believer obeys God. No matter what that means, because ultimately the believer fears God.
So then, cultural applications—how does this affect the way we live, the way we think about our religious liberty? Well, first we believe religious liberty is not primarily a political issue. It is a gospel issue. Think about it. In 1 Peter and all of Scripture, freedom of religion is ultimately given by God, not just granted by government.
We see this from the very beginning. When God creates man and woman, He gives them a choice of whether or not to obey or disobey Him. When Jesus comes, He’s calling people, He’s inviting people to follow Him, but He’s giving people freedom to reject Him. This is important. Faith in its essence cannot be forced. It’s why it’s not right for any government to force faith upon anyone, because God Himself doesn’t force faith upon anyone. Faith, in order to be faith, can’t be forced. Someone has to choose to believe. Religion is a matter of voluntary choice, not involuntary coercion.
This applies to all religions, not just Christianity. All people in every country, every culture, made in the image of God—God Himself has given them the right to choose how they respond to Him. We honor people by protecting that right. That’s why religious liberty is not just a political issue. It’s primarily a gospel issue. The gospel comes to us as an invitation: choose Christ or reject Christ. You have a choice whether or not to choose Him or Mohammed or Buddha, or to reject the very idea of God altogether. God has created us with that choice.
Which is why then, the second application, we work for religious liberty for all, not just for Christians. We work for Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and everybody else to have religious liberty. We do this because we know this is something God has created us with. God gives men and women the freedom to pursue or deny Him as they please.
So we work for religious liberty—follow this—knowing that religion exists to explore the questions of life and to apply our conclusions to life. Government exists to protect that fundamental human privilege. It’s why the first words of the Bill of Rights say, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Think about it. Why would that be the first thing in a bill of rights? The answer is obvious: the freedom of religion is the foundation for every other freedom.
If government can mandate what you believe, if government can deny you the opportunity to live within your beliefs, then where will its reach end? What would keep the government then from dictating what you say or write, what you hear, how you live? The founders of this nation concluded that if God Himself doesn’t violate the religious freedom of man, then government shouldn’t either. Indeed, the government doesn’t exist for the establishment of religion, any religion, including Christianity. Nor does it exist for the elimination of religion—which is increasingly the trend in our culture, where a secular state is increasingly becoming dominant and leaves no room for religion in the public square. No, government exists for the free exercise of religion.
And that word “exercise” is key. It’s not the language that’s used in contemporary culture. People today talk about the “freedom of worship,” which is subtly but significantly different. People will use that terminology instead of “free exercise of religion,” referring to the freedom that men and women have to gather together in a church building or a synagogue or mosque or whatever place for corporate worship—maybe even in a home for family worship. But it keeps things private.
What that label—freedom of worship—fails to acknowledge is that those who gather for worship in private setting scatter to live out their beliefs in the public square. In other words, faith by its very nature can’t be private. It’s inevitably public. It’s what Peter is saying. Your faith as free servants of God affects the way you live. Christians live, study, work and play in every sector of society. We live out our convictions in every sector of society—which is what the free exercise of religion means. It’s the freedom to worship not just in episodic gatherings, but in everyday life.
So then, what do we do if government requires us to violate our sincerely held beliefs—Elane Photography, for example? It could happen to any one of us. Or for that matter, what if Hobby Lobby had gone 5-4 the other way? What do we do when the government mandates that we do something that violates our faith in God’s Word as a school teacher, or a lawyer, or an accountant, or a provider of this good or that service?
The answer from 1 Peter 2, Romans 13 and Matthew 22 is clear: we obey our government unless it requires us to disobey God. We want to obey our government. We’re inclined to obey our government. We honor our government and its leaders. We don’t complain about our government. It’s a good institution given to us by God, led by men and women created in the image of God whom we honor and respect and pray for regularly. We obey our government. We honor its leaders.
Yet ultimately we fear our God and obey His Word. Think about it this way. James Montgomery Boice, a famous former pastor up in Philadelphia, outlined four options when it comes to how we approach government and God. One option is to say, “God alone is our authority,” and not to pay any attention to government. We’ve seen that’s not what God in His Word teaches. The second option is to say, “The government alone is our authority,” which we obviously know Scripture is not teaching. Third, we might think that God and government are both authorities with government in the dominant position, which we have not seen in Scripture.
Instead, what we’ve seen very clearly is that God and government are both authorities, with God being ultimate and in the dominant position. Which is exactly what 1 Peter is saying. Submit to governing rules for the Lord’s sake, as you follow the Lord’s will. Render to Caesar what it Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s. Government may be worthy of your citizenship, but only God is worthy of your soul. Incline your heart, your life to submit to government in every way you can, except for that which would violate the Word of God in your belief and your practice.
Those four options lead to one conclusion, and it’s all over Scripture: we must obey God rather than men. It’s the exact words of the early church when they were commanded not to preach the gospel by the government—and they preached it. It’s not the only time we see that in Scripture. You think about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. You think about Daniel in Daniel 6. You think about Hebrews 11:35-38:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
This is the legacy of those who have gone before us, brothers and sisters in Christ who, when faced with a challenge, chose to obey God rather than men. So may the same be said in our day. We obey our government unless our government compels us to disobey our God. May it be said of us that we did not put our hope ultimately in our government and in the safety and security we find in it. May it be said of us that we put our hope ultimately in our God and the safety and security we find in Him, that we stake our lives on obedience to Him, in anticipation of the day when we will stand before the true Supreme Court of the universe, and we want to be found faithful on that day.
We know this—in light of what we’ve gathered together especially for tonight—religious liberty may be increasingly jeopardized in our culture, but it’s nowhere near the reality in so many cultures around the world. Our Christian brothers and sisters live in those cultures. So what do we do? The fourth application: we speak and serve on behalf of the persecuted church around the world. We must speak and serve on behalf of the persecuted church around the world.
We must speak to God on their behalf. We pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted. Is there room in your praying regularly for persecuted brothers and sisters? Are you doing that? Let that change starting this week if you’re not regularly praying for persecuted brothers and sisters. We speak to God on their behalf. We speak our government and other governments on their behalf. We work for their freedom. We speak and we serve. We give and go to our persecuted brothers and sisters. Why would we take up an offering like we did? So we can come alongside our brothers and sisters who are persecuted.
We identify with our persecuted brothers and sisters. Here’s what I mean by that. We identify with them. We have an enormous amount of freedom compared with many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Our freedom may be eroding in some ways, but it’s still enormous. So let’s live like it. In the midst of an albeit eroding but still enormous freedom, let’s identify with our brothers and sisters by following Christ no matter what it costs in the culture around us. Let’s refuse to keep our faith private.
What are we saying to our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world when we’re faced with small compromise and we shrink back in fear because of what it may cost us? May it not be. So let’s identify with them—them oftentimes at much greater cost, us oftentimes as much less cost—but let’s identify with them by proclaiming the gospel to people around us and to people around the world.
After all, proclamation is the reason for persecution. Right? Think about it. We have brothers and sisters around the world—in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Sudan—if they’re silent about their faith, they won’t experience suffering. They’ll suffer when they speak about their faith in Christ to others. They’ll be persecuted when they proclaim the gospel to others. That’s when it will cost them.
So let’s identify with them by proclaiming the gospel like them. By God’s grace we live in a land where we do have a certain amount of religious liberty. We can proclaim the gospel without fear of imprisonment or death. With this incredible privilege that our brothers and sisters around the world would give anything to have, far be it from us to squander this liberty in our silence because we’re afraid of what someone might think of us, or we’re afraid of awkward conversations. God, may it not be so.
Let’s identify with our persecuted brothers and sisters this week by proclaiming the gospel to people around us, and to the people around the world. I’m thinking of places like Saudi Arabia or Syria or Somalia. There are so many people in places that don’t have religious liberty and as a result may never have heard the gospel—which we’re about to talk about. Somebody has got to get the gospel to them. So the question is: will you be the ‘somebody’? Will you and I go to the hard places to proclaim the gospel to them?
You say, “Well, that takes a lot of risk.” But somebody has got to take the risk. Why should our brothers and sisters around the world be the only ones taking risks, while we sit back in the confines of comfortable churches enjoying religious liberty where we’re free from risk all our lives? That makes no sense. In light of the reality that unreached peoples are dangerous-to-reach peoples, in light of the fact that churches in these areas are struggling, let’s identify with them by proclaiming the gospel alongside them, with them, and in the process joyfully embracing suffering and persecution with them as one church, knowing together that Christ is our ultimate reward.
The Greatest Injustice of All
Which leads to the greatest injustice of all. I know that may sound like an overstatement in light of all we’ve looked at: starving multitudes, sex slaves, babies murdered in the womb. I’m convinced that over and above all these things, as horrible as they are, the greatest injustice in the world is that approximately two billion people, spanning over 6,000 people groups, have not even been reached by this gospel we’ve talked about tonight.
Unreached—that means they’ve never heard the good news. Nobody has ever even told them who God is and how God has sent His Son out of love for them to pay the price for their sins so they could be saved from an eternal hell to be with Him forever and ever. Nobody has even told them that. Paul says in Romans 1:14-16, “I am under obligation to preach this gospel to the peoples of the world.” So for Paul, ownership of the gospel creates obligation with the gospel. Saved people this side of heaven owe the gospel to lost people this side of hell.
Who Are the Unreached?
Now, who are the unreached? I quote a number like two billion, but again, that’s hard to fathom. So just for a second, for the next minute or two, imagine just one of these people. If you’re unreached, what does that mean? What does it mean to be unreached? Well, practically it means you currently don’t have access to the gospel. In other words, you likely don’t even know it exists. You’re like some people I’ve met in the world: you’ve never even heard the name of Jesus. If somebody says “Jesus” to you, you say, “Who’s that?” Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus, but you know just about as much about Him as you know about Confucius. “Well, I think He taught philosophy or something.” But that’s about all you know. You don’t know any Christian. You don’t know anyone who knows the truth about Christ. You don’t have access to the gospel.
This is key. This is why we don’t say, “Well, I don’t know why we talk about unreached people around the world when there’s unreached people that work in my office.” That’s not true. Those people aren’t unreached. Why? Because they have access to the gospel. You say, “How do you know?” Because they work in your office. You are their access to the gospel. Praise God He loves them enough that He’s put you right beside them with the gospel. So they’ve got access. We’re talking about people who don’t have access, people who don’t know Christians and don’t have an opportunity to go to a church.
And unless something changes practically, you’ll likely be born, live and die without ever hearing the gospel. That’s what we’re talking about practically. So put yourself in their shoes. Imagine your family—you’re all living, and if nothing changes, you’ll die, and no one will ever have told you the good news about what God has done in Christ.
Which leads to the inevitable question: what happens when you die if you’ve never heard the gospel? And that’s where we come biblically to what it means to be unreached, and that’s the question Paul is answering in the book of Romans, right after he talks about our obligation to get the gospel to them. He says, biblically, to be unreached means that you have knowledge of God. Right after Paul talks about obligation to the gospel, he talks about how God has made His invisible qualities and eternal power and divine nature clearly seen to all in creation, so all are without excuse. Everyone in the world—all seven plus billion people on the planet—have a knowledge of God, Romans 1:18-20 says.
If you’re unreached, you have knowledge of God. Second, you’ve rejected God. You’ve turned from the knowledge of God that you have. This is not just other people—this is all of us. This is a core gospel truth we’ve talked about. It looks different in different places. Maybe you’re unreached in West Africa, and you practice voodoo in your attempts to appease and direct evil spirits around you. Maybe you’re unreached in India, and you offer incense every day to gods you’ve crafted with your own hands.
Maybe you’re in Saudi Arabia, and you bow down five times a day to recite rote prayers to a false god. Maybe you’re in the mountains of Nepal, where you worship the Buddha, and you’ve sent your firstborn son off to a monastery to attain Buddhahood. Maybe you’re in China or North Korea, and you’ve rejected the idea of God altogether. You don’t even have a concept of God. So it looks different for different people. But if you’re unreached, you have knowledge of God and you’ve rejected the knowledge God has revealed about Himself.
Which leads to the third reality. As a result, Romans is clear, you stand condemned before God. If you are unreached, you stand condemned before God. You are guilty in your sin, which is why when we say, “Well, what happens to the innocent guy in Africa who’s never heard the gospel?” well, that’s an easy question to answer. The innocent guy in Africa who’s never heard the gospel, when he dies, he’ll definitely go to heaven. Without question. But the only problem is that guy doesn’t exist. There are no innocent people in Africa waiting to hear the gospel. There are guilty people all over Africa—that’s why they need the gospel. All over America—that’s why they need the gospel. All over Asia—that’s why they need the gospel.
We bias the question from the very beginning, as if God owes us heaven, as if the default is heaven. The default is not heaven. The default is hell. The reason we need the gospel is because we stand guilty before God. Many people think that, “Well, maybe if they don’t hear the gospel, God will make some way. I mean, surely, we have two billion people who are dying without the gospel. Do they really go to hell, even though they’ve never heard? Surely there’s some way God makes it possible for them to go to heaven?”
But here’s the deal. I feel the emotional pull there. But as soon as we say that, number one, we’re saying, “Jesus, there’s another way outside of You. You weren’t necessary. There’s another way we could have had.” Or two, if you think about it, if that’s true—if people are going to heaven precisely because they’ve never heard the gospel, then what’s the worst thing we could do? Take them the gospel. Because before we got there, they were going to heaven. Now that we’ve given them the gospel, they’ve got a chance of going to hell. “Thanks for your Secret Church call to the nations. Just stay where you are. Don’t come here.” It undercuts the whole missionary enterprise of the church.
The reality is there are two billion people who are unreached. Just put yourself in one of their shoes. You have knowledge of God. You’ve rejected God. And right now, you stand condemned before God. You’re on the road that leads to an eternal hell—and you have never heard the good news about how you can be saved by God. You’ve never heard the greatest news in all the world. In the words of Carl F.H. Henry, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time.” It’s only good news if it gets there on time.
Why Must We Go to the Unreached?
Step out of their shoes now, and realize: you’ve heard the gospel. You’ve been reached by it. God’s opened your eyes to His grace and His glory in it. You have it. So then, how can we not spend our lives getting this gospel to those who’ve never heard it? How can we then not sacrifice our possessions? How can we not join together in our churches and say, “This is what we want to do: We want to get the gospel to those who’ve never heard it; we must go to the unreached”?
Think about it. Why? Because we’re talking about people whose knowledge of God is only enough to damn them to hell forever. Do we realize this? There are two billion people in the world at this moment who have enough knowledge of God to show them that He exists, that they have turned from Him, and they stand guilty before Him. But they don’t have anything else. All they’ve got is the bad news. Their knowledge of God right now is only enough to damn them to hell. And the gospel of God is powerful enough to save them for heaven. This gospel is good.
So go to Northern India with me. Everywhere you look in city slums and rural villages are people who have never heard. Some of them are starving to death, and they’ve never heard about God’s love. Walk into the slums, and stop in the home of an elderly woman. Hindu gods are all over this one-room shack. It’s all she’s ever known, all her ancestors have ever known. And you say, “I want to tell you about the one true God Who loves you and sent His Son to die so you might know Him.” And in an instant, in a moment, in the power of the gospel, just like that she leaves behind generations of Hinduism, and she says, “I want to trust in Jesus alone for my salvation.”
This gospel is good. There’s not a person or people group on the planet that is beyond the power of this gospel to save. Now, if we know that, if we believe that—which I hope we believe that—then how can we keep this to ourselves? It’s like having an antidote to a deadly disease and not taking it. We’re talking about an eternally deadly disease. This gospel is good enough and powerful enough to save them for heaven. We’re obligated to get the gospel to the unreached, because the plan of God warrants the sacrifice of His people. So now it just makes sense for Paul to say, “I’m a slave of Christ Jesus, and I’m going to go wherever He leads me. I’m going to go preach this gospel, because this is the plan of God.”
How has God designed this gospel to get to people? I talk to people today, and they say, “Well, maybe God will use dreams and visions or other ways, since we’re not doing it.” Well, yes, we see dreams and visions in Scripture and we hear about dreams and visions in the world today. But here’s the deal. In Scripture, not one time will you find any place where the gospel is going forward in the New Testament apart from a human instrument. Even where we see dreams and visions, you see a human instrument involved there.
God has the power to put the Roman Road in the sky. He can write it out right now in the stars, all over the world. “Here’s Who I am. Here’s sin. I sent Jesus. Turn and trust in Me.” It would almost be a good idea. But He’s not chosen to do that. Instead, He’s chosen to use you and me. He’s chosen to involve you and me. We are Plan A, and there is no Plan B. Think about it. You and me. We’ve been saved by this gospel.
The inevitable reality is that the beauty of this gospel creates a burden for missions. Romans 8—we have a love from God that nothing can separate us from. So, Romans 9, Paul says, “I’d give up my salvation if I could in order to get the gospel to them. I’d give anything I can.” The bottom line: this gospel is good enough to throw yourself into hell so people can have it. Paul is saying that for people who were persecuting him, who wanted to arrest him and kill him.
Think about this. It’s not the same, but think Iraq or Syria for a minute. Think ISIS. Think about an unreached people group that is producing terrorists who are intent on killing you. Think about an unreached people group that is waiting to arrest and to murder you or your family members when you come their way. Why would you say, “I’d go to them in order that they might be saved”? Why would you say that?
You’d only say that if you knew that there was a day when you were running from God in rebellion against Him. Everything in you was turned against Him, and He by His grace still came running after you. He reached down His hand of mercy into your heart, and He brought you to Him. How did He do it? He sent His Son to pay the ultimate price in His life. So now it just makes sense for you to give or even lose your life to get the gospel to people in ISIS.
We’ve been saved by this gospel. It compels us. We’ve been sent by God. Think about this. The God of the universe, the God Who brought the sun up this morning and Who’s brought it down tonight, the God over all this world has sent you and me. He’s sent us. God has sent us to take this gospel. He’s sent us for others’ salvation. God wants to save people all over the world, and He’s sending you and me to be ambassadors of His, to make this good news known to them.
Do you realize that we get to be a part of bringing people who have no hope, hope, bringing love to people who need love? To people on a road that leads to everlasting suffering we bring good news of everlasting life. We have the opportunity to see lives changed for billions and billions of years. Let’s not sit back in a casual, cultural, comfortable Christianity that turns a deaf ear to two billion people who need that good news.
He sends us for others’ salvation, and He sends us for His glorification, to make His glory known among more people. Our God deserves the glory of all the people groups in the world. And don’t miss it—He’s sent us for our satisfaction, for our good. You might think, “Well, okay. What if God did send me to Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan to work, with my family?” You might get afraid at the thought of that.
But this is where I want to remind you that if you can trust God to save you from your sins, you can trust God to lead you on this earth. If you can trust God to save you from eternal damnation, certainly you can trust Him to lead for 50 or 60 years, 70 or 80 years here. You can trust Him. Not just to lead you, but to satisfy you every step of the way. He knows what is best for your life, better than you. We’re slaves of Jesus Christ.
Some people might think, “You have gone off the deep end here. It’s 12:30; 1:30 on the east coast. We’re just way too heavy now. This is too extreme. We’ve gone to another level of Christianity.” This is basic Christianity, brothers and sisters. Basic Christianity. This is not radical Christianity—this is biblical Christianity. When you follow Christ, you surrender your life to however He wants to use you. It’s not advanced Christianity—this is simple, basic Christianity.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24), wherever I lead.” You don’t call the shots anymore in your life. He calls the shots in your life. I don’t call the shots. He calls the shots. We sacrifice our bodies for His worship, we saturate our minds with the Word, and we surrender our wills in this world. It’s what it means to be a Christian. We surrender.
We’re servants in His church, members of a family where everybody counts. The whole church is a part of this. It’s not a compartmentalized program in church for a select few people who are called to that. We as the church are called to get this gospel to the nations, members of a family where everybody counts and everybody contributes. God put His Spirit in all of us. The Spirit wants the world for Christ.
Therefore we all want the world for Christ, ultimately sure of His commission. This is what Jesus has commanded us to do: go make disciples of all the nations. We know we’ve not been commanded simply to make disciples among as many people as possible. We’ve been commanded specifically to make disciples among all the peoples of the world. It’s what He’s commanded us to do. He’s promised it’s going to happen. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
Now, some people say, “How do you know our definition of people group is right?” Or, “How do know exactly when that people group is reached? Are you saying that Jesus won’t come back today because there are still 6,000 people groups to be reached?” That’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m not saying our definition of “people group” or “reached” is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said Matthew 24 and 28.
But I can’t improve at this point on the words of George Ladd, who said Matthew 24:14 is the single most important verse in the Word of God for the people of God today. He said:
God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are, but I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore, the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms; our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.
Let’s complete our mission, ultimately because the Son of God deserves the praise of all peoples. Jesus died to redeem people from all peoples for the praise of God. So we as Christians live to reach people from among all peoples for the praise of God.
What Is Commanded For All of Us?
So what must you and I do to go to the unreached? What is commanded for all of us, as the entire church—men and women, single, married, young and old, rich and poor—we pray for the church and the lost. We pray. We give. We’re compelled to give to spread the gospel and serve the poor. We give sacrificially. We stop spending on that which doesn’t matter, which is not going to last, which is going to burn up in the end. We start spending on what’s going to matter ten billion years from now. We give, and we go. We all go. Right where we live or wherever God leads. We all do that.
What is a Calling for Each of Us?
What’s a calling for each of us? It’s how often we pray and whom we pray for. What does that praying look like in our lives? How much do we give and to whom do we give, based on what God has given to us and where He’s put us? Where do we go and how long do we say? What finances will we have? What kind of work will we do?
Where will we go? Think about it. How is God leading you to spread the gospel inside your community, outside your community, among your culture, across other cultures, on this continent or beyond this continent? How long? Will you go short-term at Brook Hills, or challenge members to spend 2% of their lives every year sharing the gospel in another context, in a way that will radically transform the other 98% of our time that we live in our own context? That will often lead to people coming back and saying, “You know, I’d rather spend 2% of my time here and 98% of my time over there.” We say, “That’s great. Don’t even fly back. We’ll send your stuff to you.”
So go mid-term—two months to two years, or long-term, more than two years. How long do you stay? What financial support do you have? This is where I want to give a real quick picture. Some people sell all their possessions and leave jobs in order to move overseas for the spread of the gospel among unreached people. But also, there are a lot of places in the world among unreached peoples where you can’t get there on a missionary visa.
So this mission is not just dependent on Christians who leave their jobs. It’s also involving Christians who leverage their jobs. Christian businessmen, businesswomen, do you realize there are about six million Americans living abroad right now? Estimates are about a million of them are Evangelical Christians, followers of Jesus. Do you realize what a mission force that could be in the world? So maybe the question you need to ask is not how do you leave your job, your work, your skills or your education behind. Maybe it’s how do you use your job, your skills, your education to make the gospel known among unreached places in the world.
Think like that. How can your job, your work, your skills—college students, how can that degree that you get—open doors around the world. We should begin training our children to think about working hard in school, not so they can just get a good job and make good money and coast down a comfortable life in a Christian setting, but may so they can get ready to go to people and places around the world with skills and training and degrees where they can make the gospel known to people who have never heard it before. If we really want to reach all people with the gospel, it’s going to happen increasingly on the wings of workers, men and women with jobs.
Don’t automatically assume we should teach or program computers or manage or do accounting or do sales or practice medicine in America. Rather, we should default to the fact that if people groups in North America and around the world have never heard the gospel, then maybe God has given us a job and skills so we can reach them. Maybe God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplace for the spread of His glory, for the sending of His people as workers around the world for His name’s sake. So we should explore ways God is leading more and more of us, even as self-supporting missionaries in different vocations, moving to cities in North America and countries beyond North America to work for the spread of the gospel. What kind of work do we do when we get there among the reached? We strengthen the church to make disciples among the unreached and plant the church by making disciples.
A Blank Check
If I could call 50-60,000 people tonight to say to God with no strings attached, “A blank check. Here’s my life, my family, my future. I will pray however You want me to pray. I will give whatever You want me to give. Whatever You want me to sell, I’ll sell. Whatever you want me to sacrifice, I’ll sacrifice. Whatever You want me to give, I’ll give.” And then finally to say, “I will go whenever and wherever You want me to go.”
What God might do with 50-60,000 blank checks on this night and the days ahead for the spread of His gospel and the sake of His glory in the world! If we’re saying, “I’ll pray, I’ll give, I’ll go, no matter what it costs,” knowing it will cost—Jesus promised that—“but believing You are my reward,” believing He’s worth it. And He is worth it.
What Does the Bible Say About the Hope of Heaven
Contemplating the hope of heaven, the eternal heaven, the new earth, where God and His angels will dwell with His people in unhindered communion and unimaginable joy. See this. The ultimate hope with the gospel is not even just that we will go to heaven, but that heaven will come to us. Heaven is going to come. This is the picture the Bible gives us. When you think about heaven, the new heaven, the new earth, it’s not some ethereal, otherworldly picture where we’re all sitting on clouds in the sky in some spirit world.
No, the Bible pictures an earthly heaven, a new earth. Not non-earth, but new earth. Not unfamiliar and otherworldly, but familiar and earthly. Heaven is not foreign, but home. Which leads us to the realization that heaven is not boring, but fascinating. This is so important. If we’re honest, I think many of us, when we think about heaven, we think of a boring picture of what it’s going to be like. Okay, what are we going to do—just stand around with each other sing songs and stare at light for a few quadrillion years together?
And the answer Scripture gives is no. No, there’s so much more to hope for in heaven. This is not endless choir practice we’re going to. It’s a place where we’re going to experience the fulfillment of all our desires in a new earth, a complete earth. Heaven is not a place where we’re going to have nothing to do but float on the clouds, but it will be a new earth where we’ll have everything to do: a God to worship, a kingdom to rule, a universe to explore, work to accomplish and friends to enjoy. So envision the hope—a place of full reconciliation with God, where we will be with Him.
The imagery Scripture uses is like priests in a temple, as a bride with her husband, as children of a father, as heirs of a king, as participants in a banquet. We’re going to be with Him. We will behold Him. Revelation 22:4 gives five of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible: “They will see His face.” I love what Randy Alcorn says: “Not only will we see his face and live, but we will likely wonder if we ever lived before we saw his face!”
We’ll be with God. We’ll behold God. We will worship Him. And it doesn’t just mean singing. Every activity in life will be enraptured in the worship of God. We will worship God and we will serve Him. And watch this—we’ll worship God, we’ll serve Him and we will be served by Him. When Jesus talks about heaven, He talks about our Master serving us, just as He came to earth to serve us.
In heaven we’ll be served by God, and we will reign with Him. God will grant His people to sit with Him on His throne to reign with Him. I don’t know what exactly that means, how that plays out. But I’m sure it’s good news. We’ll reign with Him, and we will rest in Him. Ah, we will have full reconciliation with God.
Heaven is a place of final resurrection for our bodies (1 Corinthians 15:41-44). Spiritually, we will be completely free from sin. Don’t you long for that day when we’ll be completely free from sin, perfectly robed in righteousness and completely untouched by temptation? Don’t you long for the day when not only will we be free from sin, but free from any temptation to sin? In that day we’ll be utterly free to obey. Sin will be utterly unthinkable to us and ultimately undesirable to us. We won’t even want it. We won’t even want it.
But not just spiritually—we’ll also be raised physically. The Bible envisions heaven as a place where we’ll eat and drink, where we’ll sing and shout. Our personality will be preserved. It’s not that we just kind of become all the same. We’re unique people created by God, yet our humanity will be pure—totally pure. Our bodies will be pleasing to the Lord and pleasing to ourselves and others. All that we’ve talked about, how we’re prone to sin in our body—our humanity will be pure.
Mentally, our knowledge of God will always be true, but will never be complete. Why? Because our God is greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable. God is infinitely great, He’s infinitely good, which means for all of eternity, brothers and sisters, there will be more and more and more and more and more to enjoy in our God.
Our knowledge of God will ever increase, and so will our knowledge of the world continually expand as we perpetually explore more and more of the new heaven and the new earth. We’ll contemplate the wonder of our resurrected body in a new heaven and a new earth. We’ll be raised emotionally. Our feelings will be entirely enjoyable. Our cravings will be completely satisfied, just as Jesus promised. Hunger and thirst will not be ultimately quieted. No, hunger and thirst will be unfailingly quenched by Him. Our desires will be totally fulfilled.
Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, said, “When Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school.” Which in Buddhist Burma was a huge statement. The goal of Buddhism is the elimination of all desire. With Christianity the exact opposite is true. The goal of Christianity is the gratification of all desire in God. Our desires will be totally fulfilled, and our wants will be fully trustworthy. We will only want what God wants. So we won’t ever have to question whether or not what we want is good.
I love the way Randy Alcorn puts this:
One of the greatest things about Heaven is that we’ll no longer have to battle our desires. They’ll always be pure, attending to their proper objects. We’ll enjoy food without gluttony and eating disorders. We’ll express admiration and affection without lust, fornication, or betrayal. Those simply won’t exist.
C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Chronicles of Narnia, that Lucy said, “I’ve got a feeling we’ve got to the country where everything is allowed.” What Augustine talked about in the fourth century will be true: “Love God and do as you please.”
Relationally, heaven is a place of future reunion with the church, with the saint throughout history. We will recognize one another. There are great pictures of this all throughout Matthew and 1 Thessalonians. We will love one another perfectly. We will be a family before our Father. We’ll be a bride with our Savior. We’ll be a people from every nation, diverse ethnicities, joined together in unity. We’ll be an ancestry from every generation in the future reunion with the church. And heaven is a place where there is a complete restoration of creation, a place of physical reality and visual beauty. It will be place of natural harmony and continual worship.
So to bring it all together, in light of everything we’ve talked about tonight, heaven is a place of comprehensive redemption of culture. Just imagine how all the good elements of creation will be totally restored by God, and all the good elements of culture will be totally redeemed by God. Music and the arts will be totally redeemed, to be perfectly used for the glory of God.
Psalm 145 exhorts us to tell stories of God’s greatness. Just imagine what storytelling will do in heaven. Imagine the stories we’ll hear. John told us that if everything Jesus had done were written down, the world itself couldn’t contain the books that would hold them. We’ve got a lot of stories to listen to, and a lot of time to listen to them. Just imagine hearing stories—not just from Scripture, but from church history—just hearing the joy.
Imagine complete redemption of drama and entertainment. C.S. Lewis wrote of Narnia, “And there was greeting and kissing and handshaking and old jokes revived.” You’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds after you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years. Redeemed inventing and building. Can you imagine the redemption of trade and business, sports and recreation?
Will there be sports in heaven? If they’re good gifts created by God, given to us—much like arts and entertainment—maybe I’ll finally be the baseball player I’ve always dreamed of, finally able to jack it out of the park. I never could do it before. Imagine the redemption of travel and exploration. Ah, a good and gracious God Who delights to give good gifts to His creation. What does this God have in store for the people He loves? To enjoy Him forever and ever.
Living In Light of the Hope of Heaven
So we live in light of the hope of heaven. We long for a new earth, where we will exalt God’s glory continually as we enjoy God’s gifts eternally. I love this perspective from J.I. Packer. He says, “Hearts on earth may say in the course of a joyful experience, ‘I don’t want this ever to end.’ But invariably it does. The hearts of those in heaven say, ‘I want this to go on forever.’ And it will. There is no better news than this.”
We long for a new earth, and so we live on this earth—how? Brothers and sisters, we live with a height of confidence in the Word before us. Trust this Word. Culture comes and goes—this Word will stand forever. We also live with a breadth of compassion for the world around us and with a depth of commitment to the Christ above us. Indeed, may loyalty to Christ be more important to us than life itself. Hear the testimony of those gone before us: Old Testament saints, New Testament apostles, martyrs who have lost their lives in the name of Christ in cultures throughout history.
Hear the words of Jesus. He beckons us to see with an eternal perspective. As we look at the culture around us, we should see with an eternal perspective. We should also speak with a holy boldness in the culture around us. We are witnesses to the resurrected Christ. And we should sacrifice with reckless abandonment, laying down our lives, our families, our churches. May mission in the world be more important to us than maintenance in our churches. May we not be contented with business as usual, nor casual, comfortable cultural Christianity.
This is the whole point of the gospel. John Piper said:
When you know the truth about what happens to you after you die, and you believe it, and you are satisfied with all that God will be for you in the ages to come, that truth makes you free indeed. Free from the short, shallow, suicidal pleasures of sin, and free for the sacrifices of mission and ministry that cause people to give glory to our Father in heaven.
So let’s proclaim the gospel of Christ. Let’s pray passionately, knowing that as our cries go up (Revelation 8:2-6), His kingdom comes down. Let’s be giving sacrificially. There are no U-Hauls attached to hearses. Life is short—death is coming. We can’t take anything from this world with us, so give it away for the glory of Christ. We give sacrificially and we go confidently to everyone we know and to the ends of the earth—even if that means dying willingly because we want to hasten the coming of Christ.
This is how I’ll close. Just listen to how Peter finishes his second letter to people who are wondering, “Is Jesus really going to come back?” He writes:
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
So Peter is saying, “Some people are asking if Jesus is going to come back. If He is, why hasn’t He?” You may wonder the same question. We’re talking about Jesus coming back. It’s been 2,000 years since He promised to return, and nothing has happened. So is this all real? Is this true? If you’ve thought that, just listen to this.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
He’s coming back, Peter says. And as a result of that, listen to Peter’s exhortation:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
“What sort of people ought you to be?” Peter asks. People of holiness and godliness. He says:
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace….You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
I look around at our culture, and I see in so many ways the church losing its stability. And I call us to hear the Word of God. The Bible tells us Jesus is coming back, and the Bible tells us to get ready, to live in holiness and godliness in the midst of the culture around us, waiting for and hastening His coming to us. The reason He has not come yet is because God desires more people to reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So hasten that day.
My prayer for us at the end of this night is that God would give us unwavering holiness in this culture, with unshakeable hope in our country to come—because this culture and this world is not all there is. I love the way C.S. Lewis ended his last paragraph in that last book of the Narnia series. He said:
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
So we cry with the saints in heaven and join with the saints around the world—particularly our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted—we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Let’s pray.
That is our prayer, O God. Hallowed be Your name in all the earth. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus, we pray. Lord, You see the sin and the suffering and the pain and the hurt and all these issues we’ve talked about tonight. You see them with far greater clarity than we could ever begin to. We can’t even comprehend all these numbers and realities we’ve talked about tonight. God, we pray that You would bring Your salvation. Draw people to Yourself. Bring Your hope to the hopeless, Your love to those who need Your love, and use us to do it, we pray.
God, use 50-60,000 people who have heard Your Word tonight in 50-60,000 different ways to make this gospel known in this culture and in cultures around the world. Use us to hasten the day when we will see Your face. Bring an end, we pray, to sex slavery. Bring an end to abortion. Bring an end to sexual immorality, persecution and oppression of the poor. God, we need You. The world needs You and the gospel.
So take us as Your church. Help us to stand strong in the culture in which You’ve placed us, and to make this gospel known in cultures around the world, until we gather around Your throne, and we see Your face and give You the glory You are due. We love You, God, and we praise You in Jesus’ name. Amen.