Our Vision Lifted:
Beyond 2000 to the Glory of Christ
We have not come to commemorate the deeds we have done, or to congratulate each other as deed-doers. We have come to celebrate Jesus, Lord of the harvest, and Lord of history.
I know that probably all of you have been touched by Christ in recent years, so that your gaze has been lifted far beyond the chronological date AD 2000. About twenty years ago and again about ten years ago, and even again about five years ago, many of us gathered to consider how to collaborate to complete the task. As we gathered, we were amazed to find that God had given us such similar and overlapping goals, why not walk together? And a coalition was formed with a sense of divine appointment. That sense of God-authored partnership has continued. But something awesome has happened to us while we have worked together. I'm convinced that Christ has matured our vision in two wonderful ways. Our vision has both shifted and lifted.
By vision shift, I mean that our focus has been pushed beyond the chronological date. By focusing on the value of finishing, we have all become less loyal to any particular chronological date. We have become unyieldingly anchored to the future fact that world evangelization must and will be completed. We have not been driven ourselves to frantic efforts in a countdown frenzy. I think it's evidence of our Lord's excellent leadership. We have stopped counting the hourglass sands of chronos time. We have all learned a new word, kairos, a word which speaks of time that rises inexorably to appointed crescendos and fullnesses. More than learning a word, we have learned a way of living toward a grand kairos. It is a way of living beyond shifting opportunism or simplistic optimism. This movement was never about hurrying. It was always about hoping. After these few years of partnership, we are ruined for anything less than the fulfillment of all of God's purposes. He has set our hearts set ablaze with the glad certainty that all of earth's peoples will be evangelized.
We have also had our vision lifted. The year 2000 has served us as a tutor, leading us to a surpassing vision of Christ's glory in an evangelized world. While working together we have seen the splendor of what an evangelized world may be like. There is one astounding reality in a thoroughly evangelized world: Christ is known, honored, worshipped and obeyed.
Christ said "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Let some of the light of Christ's day reach your heart now. Abraham was summoned to gaze into the night sky to behold the fullness of the blessing among every one of the peoples (Genesis 15:5-6). We don't know if he succeeded in counting the stars or the peoples. But we do know that as he peered into the sky, he believed God. Although it was night, Abraham saw Christ's day! It wasn't really the stars that God wanted him to see. God wanted Abraham to lift his gaze to behold what mattered most: a coming day when his greatest descendent would multiply blessing to all the peoples of earth.
At this hour God has brought us, like Abraham, to behold the night sky. We have made our effort to number the peoples. The only thing we are sure of is that our list of the people groups is not perfect. But the point may have always been that we fix our vision upon Christ and believe. During this celebration, let the Father lift your eyes to Christ. He shall be named, obeyed, worshiped, and loved in every circle and setting of humanity. Allow the light of Christ's coming day wash over you as we gather. Let God's own glad confidence seep into your soul, instilling inextinguishable hope. His day is more certain than the sun's rising tomorrow.
Christ has brought us to an awesome threshold. Never has the world been so close to being evangelized. Never has Christ been so greatly followed. Never has Christ been so abundantly praised among so many diverse peoples. And yet never has Christ been so vigorously opposed. Never before have so many believers suffered for Christ's name.
At this threshold moment, it is crucial that we reaffirm our resolve to complete the task and to accomplish it together as Christ leads us. But the greater matter is that we allow our Lord to lift our shared vision so that we share a common jealousy for Christ's greater glory. The construct of a millennial close gathered us together with a wide array of differing motives. From this point forward, Christ is calling us to labor together with a motive of love for our Lord and a passion of hope for His glory.
I'm convinced that God is lifting our vision to Christ in order to fill us with a hope that I can only describe as a patient passion for Christ's greater glory.
I call your attention to Paul's letter to believers in Rome. In chapter fifteen, he discloses his purpose: that the believers of his day would join with him to finish the task of evangelizing the world. He knew then, what we must know now: that in order to fulfill the gospel task, God's people must labor together according to a passionate hope in Christ.
In Romans 15:9-12 we find that Paul selected four passages, arranging them in an unmistakable sequence of escalating evangelization, praise, and then, a surprising crescendo.
Of course, no one would suggest that we should mark our calendars by these four verses, as if they divulged a precise timetable of the end of the age. But we can be sure that Paul wanted them ringing like a bell in the hearts of the believers as they stood at a threshold of history which presaged the threshold at which we find ourselves now. Let these passages resound in our hearts so that "the God who gives perseverance and encouragement" of hope would grant that we would "be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus" (Romans 15:5).
There is one word which is found in each of the four passages. It is a word sometimes translated "Gentiles." It is simply the Greek word "ethne," which, when found in its plural form almost always refers to nations or peoples. It is a word describing people groups as they are found across the world: the languages, the lineages, the races or the tribes which comprise humankind.
The first passage establishes the venue of our hope. As grand as heaven may be, we are to focus our hope upon what Christ will bring about within this age and upon this earth among the nations:
"Therefore I will give praise to You among the peoples (sometimes translated "Gentiles"), and I will sing to Your name" (Romans 15:9).
What is the hope? That God will be openly worshiped by His people in the view and comprehension of the peoples. This phenomenon of open worship will explicitly glorify God by name. He will not be vaguely honored as a generalized deity. He will be celebrated in accordance with the namesake which God has disclosed in scripture.
Never has this promise been so greatly fulfilled as in the last ten years. Open, passionate praise has filled the streets and open squares of more cities than at any other time. Some of the largest gatherings in history have been God's people assembling to seek and worship Him.
The second passage builds on the first:
"And again he says, 'Rejoice, O peoples (Gentiles), with His people'" (Romans 15:10).
This is a portrait of the gospel going forth like a song. The peoples of the earth will be invited to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Even now we see it taking place.
At the heart of the gospel is a call to rejoice. For this invitation the to be authentic, let's be sure that the party is on and that there is joy to join. Too long we have been as an older brother coming in from our work in the fields, objecting to the party we found emerging in the Father's house. Our worship should always emulate the intimate joy of a family party where every person is desired, honored and known. Every sabbath should be a harbinger of the festive rest when all is completed. May our celebration today establish this desire in our hearts: to welcome the worship of the nations as long-lost brothers and sisters. We can no longer be content with our own worship. Let your heart be moved to truly yearn for the nations to join us in a global celebration.
Take note of the increasing magnitude of praise: The open worship will become an open welcome. And then the open welcome-offered to any people-will grow so that there will be some from every people.
"And again, 'Praise the Lord all you peoples (Gentiles), and let all the peoples praise Him'" (Romans 15:11).
The key word is "all." It's not enough to have a few symbolic peoples mixed in the worship. It is not enough to have some from every continent. It was never satisfactory to have some from every country. The party is only complete with an ample representation from every one of the peoples. No clan or caste or culture will be absent from this extravaganza of worship.
This promise provides mandate to labor onward until there are worshiping movements of followers amidst every people. Let's continue to join our efforts around a grand outcome: worshiping movements amidst each of the peoples, which Paul described as "the obedience of faith among all the peoples" (Romans 1:5). Let's pursue the every-people purpose strategic zeal until the task is fulfilled. It must be fulfilled.
What more could we possibly hope for than an entirely evangelized world? There is a hope which surpasses all that we will bring about. God wants our vision transfixed on Christ and Him glorified. The fourth promise that Paul mentions goes far beyond the previous three.
"And again Isaiah says, 'There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the peoples (Gentiles). In Him shall the peoples (Gentiles) hope.'"
This passage can be understood in different ways. Let me tell you two things that it does not mean. First, I don't think it refers to the very final hour of the age when the skies are opened and Christ descends physically to earth. Instead, I think the hope of the nations will be an enduring, growing phenomenon all over the world during the last days. When Christ does rend the heavens, He will have already displayed the goodness of His governance among the nations. He will have already brought forth a measure of the blessing of Abraham in every nation. He will leave His enemies without excuse. He will have already aroused great expectancy for even greater goodness. His authority and power will be so resplendent and evident, that the peoples will fix their hope in Him.
Secondly, this passage does not suggest that Christians will become so numerous and powerful that they will be able to subdue political and religious systems under their control. There is no trace of such triumphalism in this passage. The nations will spontaneously, ardently hope in Christ.
The rising of Christ to rule will be in keeping with the ways in which He brings His kingdom: not by invasion and conquest, but by demonstrating His love and sensitively declaring the liberating power of truth.
It is crucial that we have a clear vision of Christ bringing the blessing of His kingly rule to every people. The last time the Christian movement crossed a millennial milestone, Christ's glory was confused with military supremacy. The believers of that day were consumed with conquest, and thus the Crusades were launched. This hideous mockery of Christ's kingdom became the greatest crime ever committed against the glory of God and stands today as a stumbling block to many. With that kind of history, it is no wonder that many are looking on this gathering with an expectation that we will parlay our political power into a triumphal conquest of religious domination. I wish that it went without saying, but we must turn from this perversion of hope.
The text says that "the root of Jesse" will come, referring to someone like David. We would do well to remember David's hope and what he learned about pursuing that vision. Do you remember the greatest crisis of David's life? It was not the incident of adultery and murder. It was not his son's rebellion. David's greatest crisis came just after he had brought a completion to all the border wars. His passion for God's purpose of worship gave him a dream to build a house of worship, open to the nations for God's glory (1 Samuel 7). This vision was affirmed but went unfulfilled for years. Eventually David got a taste of his own power beyond his borders and he succumbed to a temptation to perform a census (1 Chronicles 21:1-6). Nothing is wrong with an accurate count of the people, but in that day a census was the way kings mustered armies. Why would David need a greater army when he finally was experiencing "peace on every side?" David was being tempted to launch an imperial conquest, to subject distant peoples under his feet by force. God responded with a devastating judgment, which blocked David from acting out the conquest (1 Chronicles 21:7-30). Miraculously and mercifully, God stopped David at the very spot where he would resume the purpose God had given him: to build a house of worship for all peoples (1 Chronicles 16:23-31, 22:1-19).
Let's take David's lesson seriously. Let us lay aside every kind of cheap triumphalism. Consider another passage from Isaiah which can instruct us about how Christ will rise to rule at the end of days and how we must work according to his ways.
"...And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you" (Isaiah 55:3b-5).
God declares that He will so marvelously glorify His Son in the end of days that the nations will run to Him. No one will say that they were coerced or manipulated. Those who hate Him will despise Him all the more. But those who have any inclination to follow Him will run to Him.
Do not doubt God's ability to glorify His Son. The Messiah will arise, in the midst of His people. His renown will be great, eclipsing every other luminary and leader. The phenomenon of Christ's rising will not be a mystical matter for a spiritual elite. The eager obedience of Christ's followers will reveal Jesus' character as plain as day. Answers to prayer in His name will bring him glory. Those who suffer for Christ's name will manifest "the Spirit of glory and of God" (1 Peter 4:14).
He will lift His voice like a song. The nations will hear and come. It might appear that they are rushing to hear our messages and to attend our churches. Don't be mistaken. They really want Christ. The only desire of the nations is the Messiah Himself.
Isaiah says that God will fulfill this everlasting purpose in accordance with the mercy shown David. As David completed the mission God had given him, he was turned from God's purpose. But God's mercy restored him. As we come closer to completing the task of evangelization, how can we doubt that we will be tempted to turn away from God's purpose as David was? Brothers and sisters, we need God's mercy at this threshold moment. Our hearts are as prone to ascendancy and to conquest as David's heart was. But Isaiah 55 declares that God will be as merciful as He is faithful. May our celebration at this hour be brightened in hope that God's transforming mercy will make us like His Son.
Where are we now in this unfolding drama of escalating praise? We have begun to worship Him openly in life-giving ways. As we mark our progress in calling the nations to worship, we should celebrate that Jesus is drawing the true worshipers that the Father has so long been seeking. Our worship here is part of this rising chorus. How can it fail that He will manifest Himself in such a way that He becomes the hope of all the nations?
After recounting the sequence of promises that Christ will fulfill, Paul prays:
"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
Paul's prayer may seem to be a matter of private encouragement and positive mental attitude. But the prayer is locked in a context of Christ's glory among the nations. The abounding hope he seeks for the believers of his day is exactly what Christ desires to impart to us for the awesome days of fulfillment ahead of us. Let the Holy Spirit empower you even now. You need not try to generate joy or attempt to fabricate peace. Your part is to continue believing Him. The God of hope will continue to renew your joy as you believe.
I don't think this celebration is just an interlude before we go back to work. As Christ presides as never before, all of our endeavors will become celebration. With Christ-focused vision we will find ourselves laboring with greater unity, determination, strategic wisdom and joy.
In Romans 15, Paul continues to describe the practicalities of pursuing Christ-focused mission together.
Paul says that there are three things which must be done regarding the gospel. The first is to "priest" the gospel.
"...ministering as a priest (literally "priesting") the gospel of God, that my offering of the peoples (Greek "ethne") might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16).
The primary matter to Paul is not his activity among the nations. The main point is that something takes place unto the living God. Mission is for God, and secondarily for people. The essential outcome of our work is a worship gift of the nations ("peoples" once again, instead of the obscure translation "Gentiles") being offered to God, sanctified (we might say, "transformed") by the Holy Spirit. Let's lift our worship during this celebration as a prophetic foretaste of the lavish worship which will be brought to God.
Christ purchased some from every tribe and tongue, not merely to fill the grandstands of heaven, but so that the Father would receive the distinctive treasure and glory of each of the peoples. Listen to the songs and prayers of this unique gathering. See if you don't hear God being honored in the languages and with the cultural beauties of diverse peoples. May God receive our worship offering during this gathering as a prayer of hope. We offer Him these songs with joy that is mingled with a holy dissatisfaction. We won't rest until He receives the sanctified glory of every people.
"Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God" (Romans 15:17).
As we give ourselves to worship, let us refuse to boast about what we have done for the world. Instead, with Paul, we simply celebrate how greatly the world's peoples are loving God. Such God-focused celebration frees us to speak with unabashed clarity about what Christ has accomplished through us.
The second aspect that Paul mentions is to "fulfill the gospel." Paul was not driven by urgent needs or pressing opportunities. He did only what God gave him to do (the "grace" mentioned in verse 15). He carried out the part God gave him with a vision for the entire task to be fulfilled. He knew his assignment and monitored his progress so that he could assess how far and how well he had done.
"...from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached (literally "fulfilled") the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:19).
It wasn't as if Paul had preached to everyone in that area. But a foundation had been laid. There was a sturdy, thriving church which could completely evangelize the region. Launching this beginning was, to Paul, "fulfilling the gospel." As we draw closer to fulfilling the task, we may find different ways of assessing our progress. But Paul's example is enough to settle the legitimacy of tracking our progress in terms of the person of Christ. Consider the practicality of the Christ-focused criteria that we see in Paul: Is Christ named (verse 20)? And is Christ obeyed (verse 18)? By the way, this is no different than the Great Commission. Paul's criteria are clear in Matthew 28: We know we have discipled a people when two things have been accomplished: First, Christ is named throughout a community by those who are baptized into His name; and second, Christ is obeyed by believers trained to live loyally under His Lordship.
This movement has long had a double goal before it: First is the vision of a church among every people. Second is the work of bringing the gospel to every person. We see both these goals in Romans 15. Both of them are worthy of pursuing as a global movement. Both of them can only be done if we are emboldened in hope.
"And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, 'They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand'" (Romans 20:21).
To aspire is to act with vision. Paul allowed his aspirations to follow the promises of scripture about Christ. His work was a matter of destiny more than it was a duty. Those who had not yet seen would see. Those who had never heard would hear.
As Christ captures our vision and fills us with hope, we will find ourselves working together because we will be working with Him. As for "priesting the gospel," Christ is our great priest. He will bring the nations to the Father. As for "fulfilling the gospel," He is the author and finisher of our faith. He will not leave the task undone. As for "preaching the gospel," Christ is the one of whom the Father Himself declared, "This is my Son! Listen to Him!" When the Messiah we celebrate raises His voice, He will be heard.
May the Father fill us with His own love for Christ, and shed the
light of His coming day upon us.
Back to the Celebrate Messiah 2000 home page
Back to the AD2000 home page