Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, July 1, 2016
The so-called ‘Great Commission’ of Jesus is most memorably recorded at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 28.18-20). These timeless words summarize the task our Savior entrusted to all His followers. As my son Joseph and I prepare to leave for Ghana, I am reminded of this charge:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus ‘prefaced’ his command with a reminder of His authority. He had risen from the dead, and would soon ascend back to heaven. After He had gone, He knew fears and doubts would creep in. So He states that ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’ As the Apostle Paul would put it years later, Jesus was ‘declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1.4). That power is our guarantee of ultimate victory, and encourages us to be ‘steadfast…always abounding in the work of the Lord’ (see 1 Cor. 15.57-58).
And what is that work? It can be summarized in two words: Go and Make! Going is assumed – you can’t reach people if you don’t go to where they are. Where should we go? To all nations. Just as the testimony of God’s creation ‘speaks’ to people all over the world (see Psalm 19.1-3; Romans 1.19-20), so too we proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mark 16.15; Acts 1.8).
And what is the goal? To make disciples. Making disciples involves two stages. When we tell someone about Jesus and they believe in Him, they receive forgiveness of their sin and the gift of eternal life. The act of baptizing was a public profession that a person believed, illustrating in their immersion in water that the ‘old person’ they were had ‘died,’ and the ‘new person’ they were in Christ had been ‘born’. Two thousand years later, this remains unchanged: We go with one simple message for every person, no matter what their nationality, education, or position in life. God loved the world and sent His Son to pay the penalty for all sinners – and for all their sins (John 3.16; 1 John 2.2).
The second step in making disciples is teaching. Like a newborn baby longs to be fed, and needs to eat in order to grow, so too every new believer needs to ‘eat’ the truth of God’s Word, so they will grow (see 1 Peter 2.2). This second step in disciple-making has perhaps never been needed as much as today: The presumptuous pride of human knowledge has led to an ignorance of God, and an ignoring of God, in the world. We have deluded ourselves into thinking we don’t need God, and we have come to openly flaunt His truth. Even in churches God’s Word is doubted and His gospel distorted. It is critical to teach the Word today!
That is what my son Joe and I will be doing in Ghana…but you don’t have to go overseas to fulfill the Great Commission. You can do it right here in New Braunfels, or wherever you are. Just heed the Apostle Peter’s admonition:
…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3.15)
Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, December 23, 2015
Airports are great places to observe humanity. In the arrival area you see expectant faces, people holding signs, children craning their necks, parents waiting to hug sons or daughters or grandchildren who they haven’t seen in too long.
But ride the escalator and walk a few feet to the departure area, where travelers are heading
into the security check, and you’ll see a different side. Mothers hug children goodbye, heading off to college or work, or back home – wherever home is for them now. Family members crane their necks for one last look, then leave the airport with a lost look on their faces. We love comings…we endure goings.
Christmas is a season of travel – this week tens of millions will travel to visit loved ones, or look forward to loved ones traveling to visit them. In a couple of days my son Joseph will fly from Florida, and arrive at the San Antonio airport. He hasn’t been gone that long, but I’m still looking forward to his arrival. Having children home for Christmas is nice. On the way home we may stop for a meal together – to hear about his experiences, to tell jokes, to share the finniest You Tube videos we’ve seen. You know what I’m talking about; it’s fun driving to the airport to pick someone up.
But as sure as he comes, a week or ten days later, he’ll leave again. That trip to the airport won’t be as fun. I know he had to go, and it’s a good thing…but it’s hard. As children head to college, or to work, or get married and move away, something tugs at you when they go…and you look forward to the reunion when they come home.
All of my older children have left home – some for college, some for jobs in other states, and it never gets easier. I’m happy that they’re learning to face life’s challenges on their own, growing spiritually, becoming independent. But the memories of when they were young still come back – and it’s always good when they come back home, too.
Christmas is a celebration of a going and a coming. From heaven’s point of view, of course, this was a going. God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son had co-existed in eternal tri-unity. Our time-trapped brains can’t comprehend eternity – timelessness. Not only were they together, they existed in perfection, absolute holiness. There were myriads of angels there, too, created to share God’s glory.
What happened next is not totally clear, but we’re given clues in the Bible. One angel, Lucifer, rebelled, and in his pride tried to overthrow God. He was cast out of heaven, and became Satan. When God created the earth, Satan was there, and thought to himself, ‘What better way for me to gain victory over God than to destroy His creation on earth?’
In the Garden of Eden, that’s what happened. Satan deceived Adam and Eve, and lured them into rebellion against God. All creation, and the whole human race, was stained with sin.
The results of sin were catastrophic. God’s holiness cannot look on sin! Just as Satan had been cast out of heaven, so now any communion between God and men was gone. And as a result of sin, every person ever born would die. You might say that mankind was ‘lost in space,’ with no way home to God.
If you’ve see the movie The Martian, you’ll remember that Matt Damon’s character – astronaut Mark Watney, was alone, stranded on Mars, with no way to contact earth. You think he had it bad? He was just 140 million miles from earth! Because of sin, we were stuck in a dead-end universe, unable to reach a holy God who is outside of space and time!
This is where God’s plan began. The real problem, of course, was sin. Like a cancer that infected every person, it had to be eradicated, or we would never be reunited with our Creator.
The only way to take care of the problem of sin was for someone who didn’t have any sin to die for the sins of the people on earth. Enter God the Son, who accepted the task of becoming the ‘rescuer’ for a lost planet.
But in order for that to happen, He had to leave heaven. It may seem trite, but let me ask you: Do you remember your child’s first day at kindergarten – watching them walk away from you into school? Maybe you remember them leaving for college – wondering what would happen to them…how would they change? I don’t really know what it was like when God the Son left heaven for earth, but it was a ‘going’… Was it a tearful ‘good-bye’? I don’t know…
You would’ve thought that coming all that way to earth would’ve been cause for celebration on earth…but we didn’t know. Remember, sin had strained our relationship with God. All His attempts to communicate with us got garbled by Satan. God sent messages about His Son coming through prophets, but we were confused and misinterpreted them. Satan was blinding our eyes, keeping us in the dark – deceiving us the way he deceived Adam and Eve, making us think our own way was as good as it gets – keeping us from thinking about out Creator.
So the greatest rescue mission ever attempted touched down in a cattle stable in the little town of Bethlehem. No one in town cared. To give this infant King from heaven a bit of a welcome, angels startled shepherds outside town and announced his birth.
That was how it started, and, well…you know how it finished. After teaching and healing and raising the dead and doing good, God’s Son, Jesus, was condemned to die. He who knew no sin became sin for us. And when He died, the payment for sin for every person was complete. He had fulfilled His mission.
On the third day after his death, God raised Jesus from the dead. Soon, it would be time for Him to return home. Of course, returning to heaven would mean leaving the earth. For weeks Jesus met with His small band of followers, encouraging them, instructing them, and then, at the ‘interstellar ascension port of the Mt. of Olives,’ He ascended back into heaven.
What a sight it was in heaven – like a victorious warrior returning from battle! He had rescued the lives of all those imprisoned in sin, and now he was back home! Scripture gives us some glimpses of what it was like – and by all indications it was bigger than anything we’ve ever seen here on earth!
But back here on earth, it wasn’t a happy time. Jesus, God’s Son, the Savior of the world, had just left. His band of followers stood looking up into the sky. Was this the end? Was that the end of the story?
Suddenly, two heavenly messengers appeared beside them, and spoke: Why do you stand looking up into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.
When would it happen? No date or time was given. As they poured over things Jesus had told them, they found clues… but then, one of the last things He told them was that it wasn’t for them to know the exact time!
Instead, He gave them a task to do: Go everywhere in the world, and tell anyone who would listen that the Savior, who came from heaven once, was coming again to take home with Him all who believed in Him.
That day could be today. It could be on Christmas. Or it might be a day years from now. All I know it that I’m looking forward to it. And ‘if I should die before I wake, I know the Lord my soul will take,’ and I will be at home with Him. because I believe in Jesus as My Savior.
An old hymn has these lyrics: I love to tell the story, ‘twill be my theme in glory; to tell the old, old story, Of Jesus and His love.
It’s the story I’ve just told to you. It’s the Christmas story… without any Santas, reindeer, elves, Christmas trees, lights, or presents. Because the real Christmas story is so much greater than that. And if there is a real Christmas present, it’s the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Have you ever realized that you are a sinner, and that you’re in need of a Savior? Did you ever know that the God who made you, loves you and sent His own Son to die for you? Well, now you do.
The only question is, What will you do about it? Right now, you can believe in Jesus as your Savior, receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Others of you sitting here believed in Jesus years ago, but over the years, you haven’t given much thought to the real meaning of Christmas – you’ve forgotten about the ‘old, old story, of Jesus and His love.
This Christmas, remember it again. Tell God you love Him for His gift of Love. Tell Jesus you love Him for coming the first time to die for your sins…and for coming again, maybe today, to take all who believe in Him to heaven.
A lot of people dream of a white Christmas. Others think of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But for me, I think, Joy to the world, the Lord has come…and He’s coming again!
Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, August 27, 2015
Half of you are probably thinking right now, “Who?” For all those non-sports-junkies out there, Arian Foster is a Pro Bowl running back for the Houston Texans. He’s been injured, and had some off-field problems in recent years, but he’s still one of the top running backs in the NFL. But now he’s known for something else: He did an interview for ESPN magazine (“The Confession of Arian Foster,” Aug 17, 2015) in which he publicly declared that he does not believe in God. His brother calls him “the anti-Tebow”!
Quick background: Foster was raised a Muslim,
was exposed to American ‘cultural Christianity,’ and sought for truth as a teenager. He didn’t find it. Instead, he found hypocrisy, even in himself. He prayed five times-a-day, facing east…but felt he was living a lie each time he did. He read the Bible and Quran in search of truth…but God just didn’t make sense.
In college at the University of Tennessee, he was the only member of the team who didn’t identify as a Catholic or Christian. But what he saw was more dried-up formal religion. Tennessee’s head football coach Phil Fulmer took his team to church on Sundays for “team-building exercises,” which just more deeply entrenched Foster’s distaste for all things religious. Playing professionally in Bible-belt Houston has been more of the same. “I get the devil-worship thing a lot,” Foster says. He doesn’t care what others think; he just doesn’t believe in God.
At this point, a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction might be to view Foster as an arrogant pagan. But you’d be wrong. Unlike so many who unthinkingly either reject or casually accept some religious affiliation today, Foster thinks about what he believes. Right now, he can’t understand how God – if there is a God – does things. He asks questions like Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation? In other words, he is asking questions a lot of professing Christians are afraid to ask!
What is striking is that Foster has a close friendship with a devout Christian Justin Forsett, another NFL running back who played one season in Houston (he now plays for the Baltimore Ravens). Forsett knew Foster was not a believer, but never defensively said “Hey man, you’re going to hell.” When Foster made comments or asked questions, Forsett listened, engaged him in discussion, told him what he believed, said he would love Arian to experience what a relationship with God meant, and that he would pray for him. No judging, no condemnation. Says Forsett: “Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith. He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge.”
And that’s why I appreciate Arian Foster. In a day in which – as one quip has put it, ‘5% of people think, 10% of people think they think, and 85% of people would rather die than think!’ – Foster is willing to think. No, he hasn’t worked through it all…and right now, he’s taken some detours that all lead to dead-ends. But if you ask me, I’d rather someone think about whether or not there is a God, instead of blindly following church dogma, or a famous religious leader.
I think of another man who, like Foster, was an atheist, looking for meaning and truth in a world full of evil. He was running from God, too. I’m thinking of C.S. Lewis, who lived rational and idealistic atheism…until the day he believed. In his own words: You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England (Surprised By Joy, ch.14).
The lesson in all this? Two things. First, before we believe in Jesus, we’re all running from God: There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God (Rom.3.11). On our own, we’d never come to faith. But the good news is that God can outrun us! And that leads to the second lesson: Never give up on someone who challenges your faith. God didn’t give up on you before you believed! They’re searching for truth, not easy answers. Talk to them, listen to their questions, and let them see the answers in your words and deeds.
Who will you ‘show and tell’ about God’s love, and Jesus dying for their sin…this week?
Note: If you want to be better prepared to engage unsaved friends in discussion about God and truth, and to answer their questions, the Growing in Discipleship course is for you! Sign up for the Comal County Fair outreach training on Sunday, September 20th, 1-3 pm, or Tuesday, September 22nd, 7-9