Category Archives: Mission

Matthew 9:35-38

Praying for mission

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

Context

Our church has set aside the next fortnight to heighten our work on spreading the gospel and calling people to return to God through Christ. In this week’s study, we will look at a short account from Matthew on spreading the gospel which will hopefully lead to praying for the week ahead.

In this passage in Matthew, Jesus, who began to gather his disciples in chapter 4 and tell them to be fishers of men, has been drawing in many people through his teaching and healing. While the disciples have been following Jesus and learning by watching, they are about to be sent out on their own to fish for men (chapter 10 following).

Observation

“Jesus went…proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” This first sentence is echoing Matthew 4:23. Jesus is doing what he did from the beginning of his ministry. While he healed diseases and sicknesses, Jesus proclaimed the good news. By proclaimed, he declared, taught, and announced publicly. The good news is literally the gospel and the gospel is the good news about the kingdom. This is, of course, God’s kingdom. In Matt 3:2 he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The first good news about the Kingdom is that it has come near and it is not too late to repent. This is the primary message of the good news – it is good that the Kingdom has come near. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as for those who are poor in spirit and who thirst and hunger for righteousness. The Kingdom of God is open to those who seek it!

“When he saw the crowds…” People were flocking to see Jesus. He not only had a message that they wanted but he had the ministry of healing. Note that this healing ministry, though not undesirable, is by and large limited to Jesus and his disciples (see 10:1).

“…harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Perhaps harassed and helpless is related to the physical needs but it is more likely related to their spiritual needs because of the sheep metaphore. They need leadership into the kingdom of heaven. They are being pushed this way and that with no direction. They need to be shown the way.

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” This is no longer a metaphor of shepherding but of reaping a crop. In Jesus’ message he sees that it’s harvesting time. It’s not time to plant or wait but to bring in the fruit. There is work to be done and the shortage is in the workers department, not in the fruitful crop.

“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” God (the Lord) is the farmer here. His field. His crop. His work has come to the moment of harvesting. What he needs is labourers to go and reap. The prayer of Jesus is not for the lost souls. He has compassion on them. The prayer request is for workers to step up and collect what is waiting to be collected. Are there prayers in the bible that ask for people to be saved? Even if there are, aren’t there far more prayers directed to Christians to go, to minister, to be God’s ambassadors, to be bold and to raise up?

Meaning

Jesus has called the disciples and taught them about the kingdom of heaven. He has modelled to them what it is like to announce the good news that God’s kingdom is ready to receive people who repent and desire it. Jesus expresses the need for more workers to do what Jesus is doing. His desire is for us to pray for more workers.

Application

  • Pray for workers for the harvest. The week of mission is upon us and we need to pray for the following:
    • The clear announcement that Jesus is Lord.
    • The clear announcement that Jesus saves.
    • That our church community will want more people to join us.
    • That our church community will proactively and boldly speak to others about their trust in Jesus.
    • Thank God that we have good news to tell.
    • Thank God that this is his mission and that he is the Lord of the harvest who wants this work to prosper.
    • Thank God for the Lord Jesus Christ.
    • Thank God for one another and pray for one another for specific ideas and plans for mission.
    • Ask God to grow his kingdom through us.

Prayer of the Week

Father, please raise up more workers for the harvest and may we see fruit in your mission. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Acts 18:1-17 – God’s people in Corinth

Context

Paul’s second missionary journey has taken him from Antioch in Syria to Athens in Greece. He is only a short boat ride away from Rome. He preached the gospel in Athens while he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him there. He reasoned with the Athenians that Jesus is God’s chosen one, risen from the dead, who will judge the entire world one day with justice. No other so-called gods are anything.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila
  • 4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth
  • 7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth
  • 12-16 The Jews being pushed aside
  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila

“…went to Corinth…” A church was formed from Paul’s visit here which receives at least 3 letters from Paul (only 2 of them have survived). Crispus (v8) and Sosthenes (v16) are both spoken of in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and 1:1. Paul had impact in this first visit that would establish a church of Christ.

“…there he met Aquila…with his wife Priscilla…” This husband and wife team became partners in the gospel with Paul. They housed him while in Corinth and went on to travel with him before commencing gospel work of their own (see v19, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

“…Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome…” Priscilla and Aquila were refugees from Italy since Jews were being forced out of Rome. They were Greek since they were native of Pontus. Pontus is mentioned among the exiled Christians in 1 Peter 1:1.

“…he was a tentmaker…” Both Paul and Aquila were tentmakers. While Paul waited for his colleagues, Silas and Timothy, to arrive, he held an income alongside Aquila by working his trade. While tentmaking to earn money, he continued his habit of reasoning in the synagogues. This has become a modern shorthand phrase to refer to someone who works a low-key position somewhere in order to receive income while they continue their main goal in life which is to win people for Christ.

4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth

“…every Sabbath he reasoned…” Paul has continued to persist with the Jews in every town that he has visited. I am constantly amazed at how far and wide the Jewish faith had travelled for a religion that was all about the land and the Temple. It is apparent that the faith was also about the heritage and the hope that one day God would come and deliver them and re-establish his kingdom. And for this reason, Paul would reason with them every Saturday.

“…Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching…” When Siras and Timothy finally arrived to be with Paul, they may have brought rations and money with them to enable him to drop the tentmaking and devote all of his time to preaching.

“…testifying…that Jesus was the Messiah…” As we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the subject of Paul’s message was not to establish the need for a Messiah but to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. In modern terms, we might say, in every context, that Jesus is the reason and purpose of life. Know Jesus, know life – No Jesus, no life. A Jewish faith that is honest and humble will recognise Jesus as the Messiah. But these Jews would not see it.

“…your blood be on your own heads…” Paul has made his case for Jesus and they have rejected Jesus as Lord. This will not fall on Paul’s head come judgement day, but on those who rejected. John 3:18 says that “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Condemnation falls on this fact alone: whether Jesus is accepted or rejected. Welcome Jesus today and you will be welcomed too into eternal life. Reject Jesus and you will receive the same response on the day of judgement. Paul is washing his hands of the Jews in Corinth.

7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth

“…Paul left the synagogue and went next door…” Paul’s next stop was not his lounge chair but to the next house. Right there, a stone’s throw away from the Jewish synagogue, stood another house containing a man who had regard for God. Perhaps his worship was unschooled or perhaps he fashioned his theology after the Jews that he heard next door.

“…many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptised…” Where one door had been closed to Paul, others were opened. Rejection by the Jews didn’t stop him from preaching and it turns out that some of the synagogue turned to Jesus and were baptised.

“…the Lord spoke…’I have many people in this city.’…” The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, encouraging him to remain in Corinth and to keep speaking because his elect are there waiting to hear and believe. The Jews may be hard-hearted but God had prepared many other hearts in the city to receive Jesus as Lord of their lives.

“…so Paul stayed…teaching them the word of God…” As Paul stayed, he continued to make the word of God his teaching platform. The gospel does not grow or expand or sway or vear or increase or mature with other things. It remains about Jesus the Messiah who died and rose again according to the scriptures. Paul wants the world to hear the word of God – not the wisdom of Paul. With all the self-help books in the world and the thousands of hours of podcasts from Christians and other insightful people, nothing can grow and mature us quite like knowing and reading and learning from the word of God.

12-16 The Jews being pushed aside

“…the Jews of Corinth…brought [Paul] to the place of judgement…” Once again, the Jews are on Paul’s case to try and stop him from preaching Jesus. Once again, the Jews used their local Roman official to cast judgement for them. There is nothing new under the sun. These Jews will not succeed because God has been protecting Paul along his journey plus God had spoken to Paul and said that no harm was going to come upon him. It seems almost like God’s word could go unfulfilled – but we know better than to think that!

“…settle the matter yourselves…” Even before Paul has a chance to defend himself, the proconsul silences everyone and declares that this is none of his business. This is a waste of time for him. What does he care what Paul is preaching?

“…the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader…” Sosthenes was one of the Jews who had believed Paul, we know this because he is later mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 1:1. The Jews turned on one of their own who had succumbed to the new teaching. Unable to do any real damage to Paul on their own since he was not part of their synagogue, they made a violent point to those within.

“…Gallio showed no concern whatever…” The Roman view of the Jews is becoming increasingly low. Aquilla and Priscilla had been driven out of Italy because they were Jewish. Now Gallio seems totally unfazed by what the Jews do to themselves.

Meaning

The Jews are no longer considered the people of God but only those whom God has set aside to receive Jesus as Lord. Both God and the rulers of the land seem to cast the Jews aside.

Application

  1. When do you stop reasoning with people about the gospel? What do you do when one dead end is reached on the mission field?
  2. A five year plan was set for us all to bring one person to church and to Christ in the next five years. What stage of the plan are you up to? Take time to pray for the person or people you believe God has given you to witness to.
  3. Paul was a tentmaker for a time but later devoted himself fully to preaching the word of God. Discuss how we use “tentmaking” and giving people fully to the work of the gospel in our church and community.
  4. Reflect on Acts 9-18 and consider the various ways the gospel has been presented. Look back over a map and see the area that Paul has covered. Give thanks to God that the gospel spread so far and so quickly into a world that had only known darkness. Pray for our world today that still needs this gospel so that we can know God, know eternal life and know the freedom that comes from serving Him alone.

Acts 17:16-34 – How to preach Jesus as Lord in a Gentile world

Context

It’s a new world where God has revealed Jesus to be the Messiah. He was rejected by his people and crucified but was raised to life again, showing his approval by God. Jesus is God’s Son, His promised Saviour, and, quite literally, the Champion of the world. But will the world receive Him?

Paul has been travelling a great distance from his home church in Antioch to take the gospel to the Gentile world. He left with Silas and also Timothy whom he collected on his journey. Paul preached in Thessalonica and Berea and was escorted from Berea to Athens for his safety while Silas and Timothy remained. His travel partners were summoned for, however, and Paul waits for them in Athens.

Observation

Structure

  • 16-21 The context of the gospel in Athens
  • 22-31 Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles
  • 22-23 Introduction
  • 24-28 About the Lord of heaven and earth
  • 29-31 About the man God has appointed to judge the world
  • 32-34 The people’s response

16-21 The context of the gospel in Athens

“…he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols..” The idols described are of gold or silver in tribute to as many gods as the Athenians are aware of and even to any that they have not yet heard (17:29; 23). They were not merely statues for artists to create and admire, but were dedicated to the gods and regarded even as gods. This distressed Paul. He didn’t simply see a cultural reflection from a spiritual people, he saw the foolishness and ignorance of a people who have failed to acknowledge the one true God. They were lost without the knowledge of the truth.

“…so he reasoned…” So Paul got to work to reason with the people. They were responding to information that they had heard up until now about deity and now Paul took up the opportunity to inform them of the reality. You see, Paul doesn’t consider that the truth is open to interpretation or that their perception of the world is just as valid as his. Rather, he sees that they are lacking the piece of the puzzle of life that can set them free! They need to know Jesus and this is not just his own faith and part of his custom, but it is the truth which they need to hear and respond to. The gospel is something that we can speak reasonably to people about. Of course it is since it stems from where life came from.

“…What is this babbler trying to say?…Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection…” Although he was reasoning with them, he also spoke to them, perhaps, in the manner which he had grown used to among Jews and Gentile converts. He included background information that may have sounded reasonable and contextual for a Jew but to the Athenians, this was a new idea and a new perception.

“…talking about and listening to the latest ideas…” His new audience were very interested to hear more since this was their custom. Paul had attracted the ears of locals who loved to listen to new ideas. They were philosophers. They were people who enjoyed to ask the big questions and fill the answers with interesting and plausible – even testable ideas. It’s ironic that the oldest story ever told, because it is literally the oldest story, is being considered by the Athenians as a new idea. Sure, Jesus is a new name in the world, but his story is part of the oldest one alive. Strangely, even though we now live in a world where the story of Jesus is old, I sense that he is so misunderstood, so overlooked and so under taught (both literally and properly) that he can even be presented today as a new idea. Don Carson, who is an North American Theologian, has been doing university missions for 40 years and he reflected on a pod-cast (speaking at Queensland Theological College) that the current missions he runs are not like the ones he used to run. Forty years ago, people knew enough of the story of Jesus and of church teaching that they had plenty to argue about. Today, introducing people to Jesus gives a hugely different response. People are interested and not offended. People have elementary questions rather than hate and pre-rehearsed debate.

22-31 Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles

22-23 Introduction

“…you are ignorant of the very thing you worship…” This is the opening of Paul’s speech and the point of his talk. He didn’t open with this line of course, he remarked positively on the very thing that he had found disturbing. He was taking their idolatry and describing it in a light that would lead him to talk about Jesus. Paul had found an opening and an intersection between his message and their understanding. This is a great lesson in evangelism, knowing where to start and where the gospel connects with the audience. When and how you begin is really not important except that you find where it is! The really important part of sharing the gospel is not so much where you begin but where you end up. The gospel is all about repairing people’s ignorance and giving opportunity to turn to Jesus and live.

24-28 About the Lord of heaven and earth

“…The God who made the world and everything in it…” This is Paul’s way in. The gospel is universal because the God who sent Jesus is the same God who made heaven and earth and everything in it. Of course, he is the only God! The point, though, is that God is not local and subject to certain communities and their borders. Rather, he is above everything and we only need to know who he is and what he has done and calls us to do. He is not contained by temples or things made by humans because he, first and foremost, made us! Even Solomon, who made the first great Temple knew this (See 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 2:6).

“…as if he needs anything…” It’s a great mistake of all human religion that treats God like he needs to be appeased, fed, calmed, polished or whatever. Perhaps a robot might feel like they can provide for their human creators who made them for service. But the comparison is more like a soccer ball who feels that they have something to offer David Beckham. What possibly could an inflated cow-hide give to an athlete who knows how to be in control. Beckham does not serve the ball and the ball does not serve him – the ball merely is and does at Beckham’s whim and fancy.

“…rather, he himself gives…” It’s an equal mistake to think that God does not care about us puny humans. He is the giver of life. Because He created us and all things, we owe him our attention and respect. The world did not appear out of nothing by accident! God made everything and he place Adam in the world, with Eve, to fill it and subdue it. It is not our place to define God or to order his limitations but to acknowledge ours. From one man, all of life came. And for that, we give thanks to God.

“…God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him…” So, the gospel begins with this information: that God is the loving creator of all things. Next, it follows that all people on earth need to know him and thank him. Just as Romans 1:20 says, the basic outcome of life ought to be that we thank God and worship Him. The bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-2). Mankind is without excuse for ignoring their Creator. Paul adds that really God is not far away but near. The truth about sin is that mankind never reaches out to God. The truth about grace is that God always reaches out for us. Paul again reasons with the Athenians by using some of their own poets to help his argument. He has seen how their thinking and religion reflect that they are God’s creatures who need to be taught clearly about Jesus.

29-31 About the man God has appointed to judge the world

“…in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now…” God has put up with idol worship for centuries. This was the constant battle of the Old Testament: to overcome idolatry in the hearts of the Israelites. The kings of Israel were graded good or evil based on their tearing down or building up of idolatry. God taught the Jews directly and they ought to have been a lighthouse for the world to tear down their idols and learn though the Jews who the one true God is. Instead, God has been putting up with idolatry for generations. Paul calls this ignorance. But the time is now to put aside ignorance and to teach the world that the living God has spoken to this world. And notice that the ignorance is not an excuse for sin because their next step is to repent.

“…he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed…” God’s dominion and power and authority has been established in Paul’s speech. The sin of all humanity has been laid down. The consequences of continued ignorance or rejection of this message is judgement which is coming. When the day of judgement comes, all will be judged equally and fairly. It is a day of justice. And the one who will judge is Jesus. He came the first time to save, but the second time he comes, it will not be to save but to judge (John 12:47; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; Rev 14:7). All of humanity will stand condemned or freed based on their response to Jesus as Lord.

“…he has given proof of this to everyone…” How can we tell the world that Jesus is Lord when they are not Jewish or have any understanding of the being one God over all? How do you convince anyone that this is the truth and that Jesus is more than a carpentar and a prophet? You tell them about the resurrection. Paul places the resurrection as the central most important element of our faith (1 Cor 15). It was the resurrection that converted Paul! Not news about Jesus and his message but knowing that Jesus had been raised from the dead as he appeared to Paul on the Damascus road.

32-34 The people’s response

“…when they heard about the resurrection of the dead…” Now this is where the division begins. Some heard about the resurrection and became followers of Paul and believed while others sneered. John Dickson has done some great work in writing and presenting documentaries on the subject of the resurrection and the trustworthiness of the eye-witnesses. His books and DVDs like ‘The Christ Files’ and “The Life of Jesus” are excellent resources to have. Getting to grips with this discussion is important. Our faith is founded on the reality of the resurrection. Our hope is based on the reality of the resurrection. Our Lord’s character is tested on the reality of the resurrection.

Meaning

The gospel preached to non-Scriptural folk begins with a different context but still concludes with Jesus as Lord and the resurrection from the dead. No human is exempt from this one test: do they believe that Jesus is Lord, risen from the dead. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Otherwise…judgement is coming.

Application

  1. Being distressed by the world that you live in. Have you considered your own reaction to people saying OMG? Do you worry about the amount of energy and time and dedication people give to shopping malls? When you look at the world, do you see people striving to get along while we wait for our lives to be over or do you see people living in ignorance and desperately in need of a Saviour? Reflect on the way you see the world you live in.
  2. Reasoning instead of attacking. Even though Paul was distressed by the idolatry, he used it as a way to make inroads to the gospel. He did not attack their sin but reasoned with them to see the truth. It seems like Paul did not view the Athenians as primitives but as fellow humans in need of the gospel. Consider how you view those around you? Are they exempt from judgement and true worship because of their different look at life? Or are they living in ignorance and need persuasion to repent?
  3. The resurrection as proof. Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Why? What makes you so sure? Could you persuade someone who is interested to listen?