The claim that Jesus is the only Savior, that anyone who doesn’t believe in Him will face God’s eternal judgment, sounds narrow-minded and arrogant to most people. But if Jesus is who He says He is, and if He has died, risen, and been raised to God’s right hand as Lord of all, then proclaiming the gospel is the most loving thing we can do. This gospel was the reason for Paul’s mission in Acts 13:13–52, and, as David Platt reminds us in this sermon, it is the very message that should define our lives and the church’s mission today.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open your Bible to Acts 17. It is good to be back with you—I’ve been so looking forward to being here. When I started studying this text in preparation for this weekend, my plan was to preach the second half of Acts 17—the next segment in this series in Acts. But the more I looked at these verses and prayed through what God might be saying in this text to this church, I was immediately drawn to two verses in particular: verses 26–27. I believe there is a specific word here for this church in this time. When I told Lon I was thinking about covering only these two verses, he agreed that it sounded great and that he would take the second half of the chapter as a whole next week.
So today I simply want to read two verses from the middle of Paul’s sermon to a group of philosophers in Athens. After I read them, I want to tell you a story from somewhere else in the world. I’ll warn you now—this story is going to take more time than I normally would take in a sermon—but I want to tell it in a way that I hope will help us understand these two verses. Then I want all of us, I hope, to see why these verses are so important for McLean Bible Church today. Does that sound good? Even if it doesn’t, we’re still going to do it!
Let’s start with the Word. Acts 17:26–27, in the middle of Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill:
And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.
O God, we thank You for the way You speak to us through Your Word. Thank You for my time studying this Word leading up to today and the way You spoke through it. We pray now that You would take these words that You spoke through Paul 2,000 years ago and that You would speak clearly through them to our hearts in this time and this place. Help us understand what these verses mean and see how they change the way we look at and live in the world around us. Help by Your Spirit, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
All right, here’s the story. It starts with an eight-year-old boy named Samir. Samir has two sisters. One is five years old, named Emira, and the other is Raja, a baby girl born six months ago. Together they lived in Syria with their father, mother and grandmother. Samir parents worked hard to provide for their family in a quaint village of about 4,000 people. Well, it used to be quaint. Their village was situated on the border of three different provinces in Syria. And over recent years it became trapped in a triangle of terror: the Syrian army on one side, the free Syrian army on the other side and the Russian army in the middle.
Samir vividly remembers the first time a bomb landed in his village. He was inside the house playing with Emira when the door suddenly flew open. Samir’s dad, out of breath from running home as fast as he could, began yelling, “Get out of the house.” A minute later they were all huddled together in a makeshift shelter, while the sound of bombshells shot around them. Shrapnel littered the streets, a sure sign to these Syrian villagers that their quaint homes had suddenly become a war zone.
In the days to come, bombs would fall more and more frequently and little eight-year-old Samir started turning into an anxious, cowering, stuttering version of himself. He was too scared to sleep at night, just waiting to wake up his sister at any moment to sprint with his family to the shelter. One night when he couldn’t sleep, he overheard his parents talking. His father told his mother, “We can’t stay here any more. We need to go somewhere else.” To which Samir’s mom responded with the obvious question, “Where?” For generations their families had lived and worked in this village. Syria is all they’d ever known. Where would they go? How would they support themselves?
Samir’s dad shared how he had heard that if they could just get across Turkey to the Aegean Sea, they could cross over to Greece and there they’d be free. If only they could get to Greece, then they would have passage into the rest of Europe and they could start over. Samir’s mom immediately expressed concern, saying, “Do you really think we can travel with your mom and three kids, including a six-month-old baby hundreds of miles across Syria and Turkey? And then how do we get across the Aegean Sea to Europe? And who’s to say they won’t turn us right around when we get there?”
“I don’t know,” Samir’s dad said, as he sunk into silence. But after a long pause he spoke again. He said, “I also don’t know any other option. We either stay here and die, or we risk our lives and go.”
Within days the family was packed. Everybody but the baby had a bag to carry, and just like that, generations of history and an entire family’s possessions were reduced to five plastic sacks, one of which contained all the money Samir’s mother and father had saved. They set out on foot. It was about a three-day trip to the Turkish border. The first night the family spent in an abandoned coal factory. The next night was spent in a stable. The third day posed the greatest challenge—a massive mountain to cross on foot at the Turkish border—about a nine-hour trek, with the sounds of bullets and bombs nearby.
They ran out of water about half-way through. Samir’s dad was now carrying Emira. His mom was carrying Raja, the baby. And Samir and his grandmother were plodding along behind together. Every one of them was ready to quit, if it weren’t for the others pushing them along. But they finally reached Turkey, in need of rest and relief—neither of which they would find. You see, ever since refugees began trekking across Turkey, an entire industry of exploitation has begun. Refugees need simple goods—water, food, supplies—for the journey to the coast. And a swath of smugglers were there to charge exhorbitent prices for everything they needed.
Samir’s dad had no choice but to pay whatever they asked to get whatever his family needed. He saw his money slowly slipping away—yet the highest sum was left to come. A ferry across the Aegean would cost you or me about $17. But smugglers were charging refugees $1-2,000 for each member of a family, including infants, to cross to the other side. And they wouldn’t be crossing on a ferry; They’d be crossing either on a small boat or on a rubber dinghey—a raft made for about 30 people, with no guarantee that it would make it to the other side.
Samir heard the people telling the stories. The day before, 34 people—including 15 children and four toddlers—had drowned when an overcrowded boat capsized due to storms and high winds. Those 34 joined approximately 2,500 people who had died trying to get to Greece across the Aegean. That great sea has literally become a graveyard. The journey was delicate, depending on everything from weather conditions to armed criminals. Masked men on jet skis are known to attack boats, smashing into them with sticks, threatening to drown them if they won’t surrender whatever valuables they have with them.
After awhile Samir and his dad met a man who said he could get them across for $1,800 apiece. That would be over $10,000 for Samir’s family. Samir’s dad knew that would come close to draining his savings, but what choice did he have? The living conditions in Turkey were harsh. There’s a reason people are spending their savings and risking their lives to leave that country. So Samir’s dad reluctantly agreed. The smuggler said, “I’ll try to get you into a more sturdy boat, but we’ll see. Just keep your phone by your side. I’ll call you when it’s time.”
Samir and his dad went back to the hostel where the rest of the family was waiting, where they were staying. They gave them the news and told them they needed to be ready at any time. So that night they received a call from the smuggler. He said, “Too much rain and wind. We can’t go tonight.” The next night, the same message came. The next and the next and the next—until some nights a message never even came. His hope was fading fast, until one night the phone rang suddenly. The voice of the smuggler on the other end said, “You can travel on a rubber dinghey tonight. Come to the meeting place immediately.”
Just like that, Samir’s dad had a choice. He’d waited for weeks, hoping his family would be on a boat more sturdy, safe and secure than a small rubber dinghey amidst the crashing Aegean waves. Now he had minutes to decide if he was ready to risk his family’s life on a dinghey. In utter exhaustion from the journey by this point, Samir’s dad thought, “This may be our only chance.” So he said to his family, “Grab your bags. Let’s go.”
Soon they were crammed into a small van with other refugees making their way through alleys toward a hidden crag in the sea, and there a raft built for 30 people was waiting for 60 refugees arriving in the vans. They began loading the raft, one by one, cramming in closely next to each other. And as each of them climbed in, they were immediately cold—able to feel the freezing temperature from the water around them. One of the refugees was appointed by the smugglers to drive the boat, a task this man and no one else on the boat had ever done. The smuggler started the engine, pushed them out from shore, and thus began the longest three hours of Samir’s short life.
Just imagine being crammed into that boat on the water with your family, seeing the pitch black darkness around you, feeling the shiver of the sea as its waves toss you back and forth, hearing the sound of people screaming in fear as a man who’s never driven a boat before nervously navigates the Aegean Sea with 60 lives in his hands. Samir looked over at his mom and saw fear on her face for the first time in this journey. She clutched his baby sister tightly, knowing that if she or the baby were to fall off now, there’s no way their daughter would live.
By the sheer mercy of God, they made it to the other side. But the journey was far from over. A 40-mile walk led them to a processing center where they would wait in line for papers, food, water, clothing—for everything. It didn’t take long to feel more like cattle than people. But the refugee camp was a short-term stay. Their goal was to get to the border of Macedonia as soon as possible. There—they heard—was the easiest access en route to Germany, the place where most of these refugees wanted to end up.
So after a night in the camp, Samir’s dad wanted them to waste no time, and the journey continued. They caught a bus to a nearby city about 52 miles south of the Macedonian border. When they arrived there, Samir’s dad looked at his wife and kids and mother and realized they did not have the energy for a 52-mile walk. So he found a taxi driver who agreed to take them to the border for the equivalent of about $300—nearly all of the family’s remaining money. Hesitantly Samir’s dad gave the driver the $300 and the family climbed into the taxi.
Twenty minutes later, though, the driver abruptly stopped and told them to get out of the car. Samir’s dad protested. He said, “I paid you to take us to the border. I gave you the money you asked us. So take us to the border.” The taxi driver wouldn’t listen. He said, “I’m not taking you any farther. I’ve taken you as far as you’ve paid me to take you. I will only take you farther if you pay me more.” Samir’s dad said, “I can’t pay you more. I don’t have any more to pay you.” And the driver responded, “Then you and your family need to get out.” So they did.
For the next two days they trudged along, using the last pennies they had to buy small sips of water and snacks for food. They arrived at the Macedonian border, exhausted and dehydrated. But this was their destination—the destination everyone had said was the place where passage into Europe became a reality. But nothing could have prepared them for what they found when they arrived. The Macedonian border had just closed a few days before—and passage to enter Europe was now blocked. And this refugee camp made for 2,000 people was now filled with 15,000 people.
All the established tents were taken. The only option for shelter was a thin, small tent made for two or three people, for the family out in the field. That tent was barely enough for the six of them to sit in, much less lie down. By now it was getting close to dark, so Samir went with his dad to stand in line for food, water and blankets, while his mom, sisters and grandmother waited in the tent. The temperature was dropping. It was going to be a cold night. So they stood in separate lines—the dad in one and an eight-year-old in the other. And as they stood in line, the rain began to fall—freezing rain, relentless rain that wouldn’t stop.
Two hours later, with a couple blankets and a portion of food, Samir and his dad returned to the tent, zipped it open, only to discover the entire family shivering wet as water was creeping into the tent from above and below them. Quickly Samir and his dad crammed in and zipped the tent closed. They passed the blankets to the girls. Samir and his dad would go without. Similarly the food and water—it didn’t take long for their meager meal to be finished. They were all exhausted, so they did their best to situate themselves to sleep. The adults propped up while the kids laid down on them. They sat and laid there in the relative silence of the tent, with cold water seeping in, freezing rain pelting around them—and that’s when it happened.
They broke. They all broke.
It started when Raja—this now sweet seven-month-old baby girl whose name means hope—began coughing in the cold. And when Samir’s dad heard the sound of his baby girl getting sick, he could no longer hold it in anymore. As she coughed, he began to cry. You see, earlier while he was waiting in line for food and water, he had heard other men talking about a new government plan to export Syrian refugees from Greece back to Turkey. Up until this point, every step of the way, he’d held out hope for his family in the future.
But now, crammed into this cold tent with no money to his name and no hope for a better tomorrow, nothing could hold back his tears. He wept. His wife cuddled up next to him followed in turn, and then his mom, then Emira and finally Samir. They all cried uncontrollably, as Samir’s dad said over and over again to his family, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” They cried that night until they were weary from their weeping. Without another word spoken, they all fell asleep, a family with no hope for anything the next morning might hold.
Now, I need to tell you that this is not just one true story. This a conglomeration of different true stories, of different individuals in different families, some of whom I’ve met. I had heard and read stories like these, and to be perfectly honest I hadn’t paid much attention to them. I had watched the news on TV or had read something on line or on my phone, but the next minute I had changed the channel to sports or clicked on something else.
But everything changed when I found myself late one night on the Macedonian border walking in this sea of tents swimming in mud, as freezing rain fell on them, looking at men and women and children standing in lines, listening to the sounds of their children crying and their babies coughing. Children the same age as my kids, men and women just like you and just like me, living in a semblance of hell on earth. These are not just a few stories here or there. These are stories that are repeated over and over again among millions of people.
We live in a day of massive international migration—much of it forced. Never before in all of history have so many people been displaced, put in danger or forced from their homes. We know about the Syrian refugee crisis. There were 22 million people in Syria, and now over half of them—11 million people—have either been displaced or killed. I wonder how many followers of Christ are like I was, paying passing attention, if any, to this. Or if we are paying attention to it, we’re looking at it through primarily political lenses.
I want to be really, really, really careful here, because I know there are countless complicated political questions surrounding refugees and immigration; there are no easy answers. We know from Romans 13 that it is good and right under God for a government to protect and promote the safety and security of her people. Particularly in light of another event in London last night, we praise God for men and women who are giving their lives to protect and promote our safety and security. We know there’s much debate in our country today surrounding these issues. We pray for wisdom in the leaders of our government—some of whom are in this church.
What Acts 17:26-27 says about Refugees
In all of this, I just want to be clear. My aim today is in no way to dive into this issue politically. Instead, my aim is to remind us that in the church, far before we listen to what the world says about refugees or even immigrants, we must listen to what the Word says about refugees and immigrants. In Acts 17:26–27, God has spoken about these things. It is incumbent upon us in the church, in a day of massive international migration, to make sure that our view of the world is shaped by biblical principles more than it is by political punditry.
So what does God say about the movement of peoples in the world? What does God say? Hear His Word in Acts 17:26–27. There are at least four clear truths here.
1. God creates all people with equal dignity in Acts 17:26
Acts 17:26 says, “God made from one man every nation of mankind.” So here—and at the beginning of the Bible—we learn that we have a common ancestry. All of us come from one man and one woman; every single one of us. Throughout history and in all the world today, every single one of us is created in the image of God. This was so significant for these Athenians in Acts 17, because they basically divided the world into two classes of people. You were either a Greek or a barbarian. So Paul’s words here were an all-out blow to Greek national pride, as he basically said, “Jews and Athenians, we’re all the same.”
This was huge for them to hear and it’s huge for us to remember. So part of the reason I wanted to take the time to share this story is to remind us that these moms and dads and grandparents and kids are just like you and me and our families. The Bible beckons us to remember that far before refugees and immigrants are problems to be solved, they are people like you and me. And no one person is superior to another. No Caucasian is superior to an Arab. No Arab is superior to an Asian. No Asian is superior to a Latin American. No Latin American is superior to an African American. And on and on and on. We all have equal dignity and worth and value before God. He makes this clear. We must remember this. God creates all people with equal dignity.
2. God designs different people groups with distinct beauty.
God designs different people groups with distinct beauty. He made from one man every nation of mankind. The word there for “nation” is not just a reference to geopolitical entities, like we think of nations today—around 200 united nations. No, the word here for nation is ethnos. It refers to ethnic groups, people groups; groups of people who share a common language and cultural characteristics.We know in most any geopolitical nation there are a variety of ethnicities, a variety of people groups. The United States of America is filled with a multiplicity of people groups.
For that matter, this church is filled with a multiplicity of people groups. You may have seen the video a few weeks ago in worship—106 different nations, different ethnic groups and people groups are represented in this one church. Each of them is designed with distinct beauty. Notice what Acts 17:26 is teaching. Ethnicity is not an accident. Ethnicity is not simply a product of random genetic change. No, ethnicity is part of intentional divine design. God creates different people groups with distinct beauty.
3. God wills to be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped by every people group in the world in Acts 17:27
According to the next verse, verse 27, God’s design is not merely to create different people groups. Truth number three is that God wills to be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped by every people group in the world. God has made from one man every nation, every people group of mankind—and here’s the purpose clause in these two verses—so that “they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” God wills for every people group in the world to seek Him, to find Him, to enjoy Him and to worship Him.
We see this from the very beginning of the Bible. Way back in the start of Scripture, in Genesis 10, we have the table of nations —the separation of people groups. Then right after that, God calls Abraham to be the father of the people of Israel. He blesses Abraham and promises blessing to the people of Israel. So you might think, “Oh, so God wills to be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped by one people group in the world—the people of Israel.”
But that’s not what God says to Abraham. No, God says in Genesis 12:1–3, “Abraham, I’m going to bless you and your people so that through you and your people all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.” All the peoples. God wants His goodness and blessing known among all the people groups of the world. That’s clear from the very beginning of the Bible all the way to the end.
This morning in my quiet time I was in Revelation 5—it’s where I happened to be in my Bible reading plan—and the song the angels were singing in heaven to Jesus was that by His blood He “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Nation—Ethnos. I’m looking at the same word in the end of the Bible (Revelation 5) that’s here in Acts 17:26. Jesus died so that God might be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped forever by every people group in the world. Anthropologists estimate that over 11,000 people groups—ethnic groups—exist in the world today, and God—our God—aims to be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped by every single one of them.
4. God oversees the movement of people groups for the accomplishment of this purpose.
All of this leads to the fourth truth—a truth tucked right in the middle of these two verses: “God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” The third truth is that God wills to be sought, found, enjoyed and worshiped by every people group in the world leads to the fourth truth which is that God oversees the movement of people groups for the accomplishment of this purpose. Do you hear that? According to verse 26, God is determining the periods when people groups live and God is directing the boundaries of where they live. Let that soak in.
God has determined the boundaries of where people groups live. Knowing that totally changes our perspective on the movement of people and people groups in the world around us, doesn’t it? I mean, nothing is happening in the world right now by accident. This unprecedented migration of people groups is not happening by accident today. Who is ultimately overseeing it all? God is.
This is evident throughout Scripture. Think about the Old Testament. As God raises up people, He sends them there. As God scatters nations and disperses them here. Think about how in His appointed time, God sent Israel to Egypt, and then in His appointed time He delivered Israel out of Egypt. God orchestrated the whole exile from Jerusalem. God orchestrated the return to Jerusalem. Even as we’re reading through the book of Acts, we see God sovereignly scattering His church from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. So when we see the migration of people due to a multiplicity of different reasons, we must realize that it’s all ultimately occurring under the governance of God.
Now we know there’s mystery to how this works in light of rampant evil and sinfulness in the world. But see the mercy of God here. Acts 17 says the ultimate purpose of God is to bring every people group in the world to seek, find, enjoy and worship Him. And ladies and gentlemen, this is happening. So one of the other reasons I wanted to take time to share that story is to illustrate how this is happening. Even amidst the tragedy of the refugee crisis that surrounds us, people who have never heard the gospel are hearing it for the first time—and believing it. Syrians and Afghans and Iraqis and Kurds.
One Syrian woman said in the camp, “I’m tired of being tied to a religion that doesn’t offer me hope. Where can I find hope?” She heard the gospel, then she, her husband and their friend all placed their faith in Christ and were baptized outside the camp. Two Kurdish brothers whose family had been killed by radicals in Iraq—including their parents, right in front of their eyes—they straight-up said, “We don’t want to belong to our religion anymore. We want to follow Jesus.”
One man was standing in line for water, a Palestinian-born man who was raised in Syria because of conflict in Palestine. Picture his life: He had fled from conflict in Palestine and now is fleeing from civil war in Syria. He’s separated from his wife and children, not sure if or how in the world he’ll ever unite with them. He saw a friend of mine distributing water, pulled him aside and asked him two questions. First he said, “Do you speak Arabic?” To which my friend said, “Yes.” His second question was, “Then can you tell me how to become a Christian?” I could go on with story after story. I got a text the other day that said eight new believers were baptized in one refugee camp.
Do you see this? Today, right now—right now—God is turning even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation for people around the world. So why then might there be a particular word here for McLean Bible Church? Why might we need to hear this word today? Is it because God is calling McLean to send more people from here around the world for the spread of God’s love among more people groups in the world? Well, yes. I don’t see how that can’t be part of the reason why we need to understand these verses.
Go to the Nations: Acts 17:26-27
But that’s not primarily why, as I prayed, I found myself pausing here in preparing for this weekend. The primary reason I was pausing as I prayed through this text this week—and couldn’t help but think that there was a specific word here for McLean Bible Church—is not only because God is sending more people to go around the world from McLean. It’s also because God is bringing a lot of people from around the world to McLean. So hear this loud and clear, brothers and sisters, in Acts 17:26–27. Yes, God is calling people from here to go to the nations—and God is also calling a lot of people from the nations to come here.
So I came across a study Penn State University did on ethnic diversity in the U.S., and they ranked the Metro D.C. region as one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the entire country. The report talked about all kinds of factors here in the Washington Metro area: employment opportunities in the government, the military, higher education. They talked about how many more rural, largely white communities have been transformed in recent years into sprawling suburbs filled with white, black, Asian, Hispanic and multi-racial residents. And the numbers prove it. Thousands and thousands of Ethiopians, as we heard earlier. There are 115,000 Vietnamese in the DMV. There are 80,000 Nepalese, 45,000 Thai and Laotians, 15,000 Cambodians, 10,000 Bhutanese, thousands of Mongolians, Salvadorians, Ethiopians, Somalis—on and on and on.
So here’s the question. Why? Why are all these different people groups here? And what is the answer God’s Word gives us in Acts 17:26–27? All these different people groups are here because God has overseen their travels to here. And brothers and sisters, God has brought them here for a reason. He wants every single one of these people groups to seek, find, enjoy and worship Him. And you know what? It’s happening. It’s happening through this church.
I was talking just a couple weeks ago with a woman whose family moved from Iraq to Washington. Somebody invited her to church. She came, sat in the service here and said the whole time she was sitting here she was just weeping, overcome with emotion. She didn’t know why. In the days that followed she started to have dreams about Jesus in the middle of the night. So she kept coming to church to learn more about Him and after months of coming her, she came to faith in Christ.
At the Volunteer Appreciation Night this last week, a Filipino woman told about how she was out in the lobby after the service and began a conversation with a Persian woman from Iran. The woman was Muslim, but she had come here because she had had a strange dream about a Man walking on the water. So the Filipino woman told her about Jesus walking on the water and the Persian woman broke into tears. The Filipino woman shared the gospel with her and the Persian woman gave her heart to the Lord out in the lobby.
Just last night I was talking before the worship gathering with a woman from Afghanistan. She moved to DC many years ago with her family. Last year a member of McLean at Loudoun invited this woman to start studying the Bible with her. They started in John and within a couple weeks she had come to faith in Christ.
Let me invite Dr. Berty to join me up here because this woman, who is a member of McLean at the Loudoun campus, met this other woman from Afghanistan and she was in the middle of getting trained on how to share the gospel with Muslims. As many of you may know, Dr. Berty directs a ministry for Muslim-Christian Relations across the McLean campuses. So let me ask you, how does training work? How are you training folks across this church to share the gospel with Muslims?
Dr. Berty: Yes, I run classes here for Christians to know how to answer the Muslims’ questions. Why do you believe what you believe about Jesus? We take the Muslims from their belief in God to the full gospel about God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ. We have these classes here and soon we’ll have other classes. Look for it in the bulletin and please come join our class. At the present we have around 400 people who have joined the class from here and the other four campuses.
David Platt: So that particular story about how this woman who came to faith from Afghanistan was from somebody who was taking this class. She came into class one day and said, “Hey, I’ve got good news.”
Dr. Berty: Yes. We even ask the class members to bring their Muslim friends with them to the class. And strangely enough, we have about 15 or more who have attended the class, and two of them have given their lives to Christ.
David Platt: Dr. Berty is originally from Egypt. He was a medical doctor in Egypt. He then went to spread the gospel in Nigeria and England, and then moved here about 11 years ago. So obviously this is happening here. How is that connecting with what’s going on overseas when it comes to refugees in particular?
Dr. Berty: Yes. We have a ministry among the refugees in the Middle East. Also, last month we started to do it in Germany. We are trying to reach the refugees, because many of them are coming to know Christ, as you hear from David, and when they come to know Christ, they come with an idea about the God of Islam, and we are trying to root them in the Word of God. So it is a leadership training program that we run in the Middle East. We have many Muslims and Muslim backgrounds believers who come to the conference. And I can tell you, the Lord is great in His work among these people. Muslims are coming to know Christ and they are praying that He will bring a great move in Europe. So it is a move of immigration, but also it is a move of the Holy Spirit among the people.
David Platt: So I would just ask: how many Muslims are there in the Metro Washington area, and then how would you encourage us as followers of Christ when it comes to what we’re seeing here in the Word?
Dr. Berty: A conservative estimation of Muslims in the greater Washington, DC, area is a quarter million—250,000. That is a very conservative estimation. Because I am an Arab man, we have around 150,000 Arabs in the greater Washington, DC, area, but 60% of them are Christians. But here, among us in the church, in the last three years we have seen at least ten people who have come to know Christ from this background.
David Platt: Dr. Berty’s information will be on the screen, then after the gathering here at Tysons, he’ll be out in the lobby.
Dr. Berty: I will be in front of the Connect Room. Please come and ask questions, or send me an email. We’re willing to answer your questions. We are a group now—it is not me alone. The Christian-Muslim Relation group is willing to help you answer your questions, we’ll come and visit your friends, and we will try to help you in any way to answer the question, “Why do you believe what you believe about Jesus?” for your Muslim friends, colleagues or neighbors.
David Platt: Amen. Will you thank God with me for Dr. Berty?
I’ve got to tell you one more story. A Latin American woman, who’s a member here and who works as a real estate agent, was telling me a couple weeks ago that she was doing an open house that a fellow agent had asked her to host. She really didn’t want to do it, but she wanted to be kind to this other agent so she said yes. She said she sat there all day at this house, and nobody came—except for one college-age guy from India. And the only reason he showed up at the house was to sell some lawn services.
Well, this Latin American woman says to this Indian student, “I don’t live here, but I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m here and you’re coming to this house. So I’ve got something to share with you.” So she shares the gospel with him there on the doorstep and invites him to church. He says he might come. He gets her contact information. He walks away. She’s not really sure if he’s going to come. So the next weekend she actually comes to the service on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, she’s still in bed, but she gets a text from this guy saying, “Hey, I’m on my way to church. Can you meet me there?” She’s says, “Ah, I’m so sorry. I went last night. So I’m not going to be there this morning.” She didn’t know if that meant he was going to change his mind and turn around, but he didn’t.
He came to church by himself a couple weeks ago. He sat down in the service and it just so happened that I was preaching and I used an illustration of people who are in India without Christ. He’s sitting there and he realizes, “That’s me.” After the service he goes out in the lobby, finds somebody and asks, “Can you tell me how to become a Christian?” And within minutes he came to faith in Christ.
Do you see this? Do you see what God is doing? God is overseeing the movement of people to this place, to this city, this community, to this church? God is bringing the nations here. The purpose of God among the nations is not just playing out on the refugee highway in Syria. The purpose of God is playing out on the Beltway of Washington. God is bringing the people groups of the world here. And it’s clear—He’s the One Who is doing it.
One more story. This will be a really quick one. A Persian woman came to the office just a few weeks ago. She walked up the front desk and just said, “How can I know more about Jesus?” How else can you explain that, but that God is doing this? God is overseeing the movement of people to this place, this city, this community, this church—to your spheres of influence in this room. And this is the word He’s speaking to McLean right now today. God wants to use your life, your family, this church to cause more people from more people groups to seek, find, enjoy and worship Him.
Isn’t that an awesome thought? It’s an incredible word. So brothers and sisters, based on the authority of Acts 17:26–27, I exhort you today: live, work, pray and toil for the spread of the gospel to the nations, to all kinds of different people groups, right here in this city. May our lives, may this church, be the place where, in the providence of God, the lost from among the nations find the God for Whom their souls long.
In just a moment I want to pray toward that end, but first I need to say this, because I know that not every person in this room right is a follower of Christ. If you’re not, I want to just speak to you specifically before I pray. The reality is, every single one of us in this gathering today is a sinner before God, and we all deserve separation from Him forever. But God loves us and God has made a way for us to be forgiven of all our sin. He has sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross as a payment for our sin. As Acts 17 goes on to say, Jesus has risen from the dead in victory over sin, so that anyone in this gathering, or anywhere in the world, can be forgiven of their sin before a holy God by putting your faith and hope in Jesus.
So speaking specifically to the non-Christian, what if God in His mercy has overseen the movement of your life to bring you to this place right now, where you are hearing this message? I do not believe it is an accident that you are here. I trust that God has brought you here to hear this good news and today I want to invite you to believe it. Just like in all these other stories, I invite you to let this be the day when you put your faith in Jesus. God wills for you to seek, find, enjoy and worship Him. And in His mercy, He’s brought you to this place at this time so that you might experience this reality in your heart.
O God, I pray that that might be so. I pray that when we stand to sing that You are Lord over all, that there would be people in this room who stand and sing that for the first time, confessing that in their hearts for the first time. Thank You, O God, for seeking us, for drawing us to Yourself through Your love in the gospel, through Your love in Christ. So may people trust in You here today.
God, may all of us who know You, who have put our faith and hope and trust in You, see the world around us as You see the world around us. May we play the part You’ve given us to play in bringing more people from more people groups to seek, find, enjoy and worship You. God, bless this church for the accomplishment of Your purpose among the nations and even right here in this area. In Jesus’ name we pray these things. Amen.
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
What did you know about the world’s refugee crisis prior to this sermon? Why do you think this topic receives comparatively little attention in the U.S., even among many followers of Christ?
How does a belief in God’s sovereignty change the way you see the world’s refugee crisis?
How might the movements of the peoples of the world present an unprecedented opportunity for global missions?
What are some specific ways churches can minister to refugees?
How do the truths in this sermon affect the way you pray (and respond in other ways) in light of the current refugee crisis?
The Mercy of God in the Movement of Peoples
The Book of Acts, part 43 | Acts 17:26 – 27
Acts 17:26 – 27
“He (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us . . .”
#1 – God creates all people with equal dignity.
#2 – God designs different people groups with distinct beauty.
#3 – God wills to be sought, found, enjoyed, and worshiped by every people group in the world.
Genesis 12:1 – 3
“Abraham, I am going to bless you and your people . . . so that through you and your people all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.”
“. . . ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation . . .”
#4 – God oversees the movement of people groups for the accomplishment of this purpose.
God is overseeing the movement of peoples to this place, to this city, to this community, to this church!
God wants to use your life, your family, this church, to cause more people from more people groups to seek, find, enjoy, and worship Him.