Why Do We Still Do Mission Work?
Heavenly Father, I know mission work is a matter of the heart. Therefore, cleanse my heart from all sin and selfish desires. Create in me a new heart that seeks the salvation of others just as You do, a heart that is bold and gives witness to you without hesitation, and a heart of love to follow You in all I do so that my entire life may be a testimony to the love You have shown me and the blessings You have given me. Be with us and bless us in worship, I pray! Amen.
God called Jonah to preach to the city of Nineveh. The first time Jonah ran away from God’s call. After Jonah spent three days & nights in the belly of a fish, God again called Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time Jonah went and warned the Ninevites of the coming judgment. The Word which Jonah preached bore fruit—the people repented and Nineveh was spared.
“Let none hear you idly saying, ‘there is nothing I can do’ while the souls of men are dying and the Master calls for you” (TLH #496 st. 4). Paul encourages that EACH and EVERY one of us can be active in mission work in at least two ways: 1) praying for the work of the Word and those who preach it; and 2) making the best use of every opportunity WE are given by using our words and actions as living testimonies to our Savior.
We are called by our Savior to be salt and light in the earth by proclaiming the Gospel…Jesus shows a “mission heart” by having compassion on lost and wandering souls. Oh that the Lord would continue to call and send workers with such a compassion!…The commission to make disciples is one Jesus gives to us all. He also gives us the tool (the Gospel) and the encouragement (I am with you always) which makes it possible to do the work.
Text: Acts 16:9-15
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Dear fellow Christians:
It has been very noticeable lately in the media and in literature that there are people all over the world who call themselves “Christians.” For example, the Middle East conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been in the news quite a bit recently. Many of those Palestinians are Christians. When the Russian submarine Kursk sunk in cold artic waters, clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church were called in to help comfort the surviving families of the crewmen. It is amazing how religious faith survived for decades in a formerly Communist society. We have heard about the civil war taking place in East Timor, part of Indonesia. Many of the displaced refugees in that conflict are Christians. In addition, in the latest Tom Clancy novel, some of the central characters are Christians in the People’s Republic of China who worship in a “house church.”
So, if Christians can be found in places like Russia, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, why do we still do mission-work? Well, for every one Christian here or overseas, there are thousands of unbelievers who have never heard how Jesus has rescued them from their sins. There are also thousands of people in our own nation who have never really heard the gospel. They may know stories from the Bible, they know what churches are and they may even attend worship services from time to time, but they still mistakenly think that you get to heaven by being a good person.
This is a very important question for you and me to be asking today: “WHY DO WE STILL DO MISSION WORK?” Our text for this Mission Festival Sunday also answers this question for us.
First, We Hear the Call. Our text from Acts chapter 16 lets us see the apostle Paul during his second missionary journey. He had just finished visiting the congregations he had established during his first trip through Asia Minor, our present day country of Turkey. By the special guiding of the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s apostle to the Gentiles finally reached Troas. Troas was a seaport town on the west coast of Asia Minor, situated on the Aegean Sea. The name Troas might remind you of the ancient city of Troy. Troy had been located just north of Troas. Ancient Troy is where Homer’s story of the Trojan Horse took place.
While Paul and his coworkers were in Troas, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” This was a special revelation from God. We are not told how Paul recognized that the man in the vision was from Macedonia. Maybe it was the way he was dressed, or maybe the way he spoke. He pleaded with Paul: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Now remember what Paul and his co-workers were doing. They were not traveling town to town to feed the hungry or to clothe the poor. They were sharing God’s Word with people: first to the Jews of the local synagogues, and then with the Gentiles of those communities. They were showing people how they deserved God’s eternal wrath and punishment for breaking His Ten Commandments, but also how Jesus came to suffer that punishment Himself so we could be forgiven and go to heaven. This is the help the man from Macedonia wanted, the help and deliverance from sin, death and hell that could only come from the Gospel. Moreover, he pleaded not just for himself, but also for his entire people.
Do you know where Macedonia is? As a country, it still exists today. To the south of Macedonia is Greece. To the north is Serbia. Last summer, when refugees were pouring out of the Serbian province of Kosovo, many of them ended up in Macedonia. When Paul saw this vision, he was in Asia. The Lord through this vision now calls him to Europe.
“Come over to Macedonia and help us.” It was the Lord Himself calling Paul through this vision. This was the same call that we have in Mark 16 (15), but only in different words: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” This vision was just a little different way of saying what Jesus said in the last chapter of Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:19,20.
After seeing this vision the apostle Paul does not hesitate. Nor does he wait for a second invitation. He and his companions are all agreed as to what they should do: “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel to them.”
Paul and his coworkers heard the call. The question now is: have you and I heard the Lord’s call? This man from Macedonia is a divine picture of the entire unbelieving world. Do you and I hear the tremendous spiritual need that cries in our own ears? Are we paying attention when our friends and coworkers share with us their fears, worries, and concerns? When they tell us about their troubled marriages, the children they don’t know how to handle anymore, the sickness and disease they can’t cope with anymore, when they share with us their fears about death and dying—are we paying attention to their cries of help? You young people who are here today, when you hear in church on Sunday mornings about the different groups in foreign countries who are begging us for help, in places like the Congo, Kenya and Sri Lanka; when you read in your Sunday morning bulletin about all the groups of fellow Christians in the United States who are crying for pastors to serve them, in such places as Cleveland, Fargo, Kansas City and Nashville; are you paying attention to their cries of help? Are you thinking about how you could be a minister of the Gospel or a teacher by preparing for the public ministry at our Immanuel Lutheran College? The adults who are with us today, are you paying attention to the cries of help? Are you thinking about how you might provide more for the work our called pastors and teachers are doing, many of whom live and work out in the mission fields?
Let none hear you idly saying, “there is nothing I can do,”
While the souls of men are dying And the Master calls for you.
[TLH, 496, 4]
“WHY DO WE STILL DO MISSION WORK?” Second, We Still Have the Word with Which to Answer the Call. Paul and his companions boarded a sailing ship, and made a beeline across the Aegean Sea to the island of Samothrace. The next day they arrived at the seaport town of Neapolis, and from there, Philippi was just ten miles away on a well-paved Roman road. In reading verse 11 of our text where Samothrace and Neapolis are mentioned, some have wondered why Paul did not remain in those places to preach God’s Word. Well, they were not part of the Roman province of Macedonia. Remember Paul’s call from the Lord!
The first city they could reach in Macedonia was Philippi. It was here that the apostle began his work on the European continent. Paul spent a few days carefully checking out his field of labor, and then on what was probably the first Sabbath after their arrival, these ministers of the gospel went down to the river, where the Jews customarily met for their worship. There were not many Jews in Philippi, like there were in other Roman cities. There was no synagogue, and it appeared the congregation was made up of only a few women. But that did not matter. Paul and his co-workers sat down and preached the Word to them. Here in this strange town, next to a river, the Savior’s promise was fulfilled: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.
We also have the same Word that Paul and the other apostles used. The Word of God is the Bible, made up of both the Old and the New Testaments. It is totally and completely inspired—that is, the Holy Spirit breathed into the writers’ minds exactly what He wanted them to write down on paper. It is also totally and completely inerrant—that is, there are absolutely no errors or mistakes in the Bible. And the golden thread, as Martin Luther used to put it, which extends from the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation, is the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Lamb of God, He took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them all on the cross, so we could be clothed in His beautiful robes of righteousness and inherit eternal life. This is what Paul was referring to when He wrote under inspiration to the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” 1 Corinthians 2:2.
This Word is what the Holy Spirit works through in order to create faith in people’s hearts. This Word is heard, read, and sung, this Word is connected to water in baptism and it is connected with bread and wine in Holy Communion. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” Romans 10:17. “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it,” Isaiah 55:10,11.
This is the Word we are to take out into the entire world. But because of our sinful human weakness, because of our natural fears and timidity, it is so easy to hide the Light of the Gospel under a bushel basket. Because we want to protect this saving Word for our children and ourselves, it is so easy to develop a siege mentality: we end up hording the gospel like Scrooge horded his money in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carole.” We are a salt and a light. We are to go and preach. And when the Lord calls, we answer and respond with the great gift He himself has given us. We respond by sharing His Word!
Knowing Thee and Thy salvation, Grateful love dare never cease
To proclaim Thy tender mercies, Gracious Lord, Thy heav’nly peace.
Sound we forth the Gospel tidings To the earth’s remotest bound
That the sinner has been pardoned And forgiveness can be found.
[TLH 498, 4]
“WHY DO WE STILL DO MISSION WORK?” Third, We Still See the Fruit Which the Word Brings Forth. One of the women there at the riverbank was Lydia. She sold purple cloth and purple dyes and other things like that that had been made in her hometown of Thyatira. Lydia was a Gentile convert to Judaism. Our text says, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” She heard God’s Word and through that Word the Holy Spirit brought her to faith in Jesus as her Savior. Lydia and her entire household were baptized, presumably on that same day, probably with the water from the river by which they met.
Lydia at once revealed the sincerity of her faith. She asked Paul and his coworkers to stay at her house. Now we can just about imagine the way the conversation went: “Stay at my house.” “No, we can’t put can’t put you out like that.” “I want you to stay at my place. I’ve got plenty of room.” “No, we couldn’t impose.” Then our text quotes Lydia: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” Luke, who is the inspired Author of Acts and one of Paul’s companions, then tells us, “So she persuaded us.”
Lydia was putting her newly created faith into action. Inviting the apostle and his coworkers to her house was a fruit of faith in her Savior. She was a doer of the Word, and not just a hearer. Some have even suggested that Lydia eventually made her way back home and shared the gospel with people in her hometown of Thyatira. In the book of Revelation, one of the letters to the seven churches was addressed to the congregation in Thyatira.
We witness the fruit that the Word brought forth in Lydia, and we see the fruit that the Word of God brings forth today. Our sister church bodies in Nigeria and India are showing their fruits of faith by taking care of orphaned boys and girls. They show their fruits of faith by reaching out in ever widening circles with the precious gospel of peace to their countrymen. Our own people here in the United States also show the fruits of their faith by helping these orphans through Project Kinship, and by the way they sent clothing and money to India after our fellow believers there endured a terrible typhoon recently. We can again show our fruits of faith in just a couple of weeks at our area Reformation service that will be held right here at Immanuel. The offering that will be taken that afternoon will be put towards our CLC’s 40th Anniversary Thank-Offering. Our offering on that day will be set-aside for some very special purposes overseas.
But we can also show the fruits of our faith right here in our own country, in our own community, in our own neighborhoods and among our own relatives. We show the fruits of our faith when we offer to take the neighbor children to Sunday school. We show the fruits of our faith when we put our arms around the grieving widow and share with her the hope we have of the resurrection in Jesus. We show the fruits of our faith when we take that bag of groceries or that box of clothes to the house down the street, where the husband has just lost his job and the wife has just been told she has cancer. As Jesus will tell His children on the Last Day, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me,” Matthew 25:40.
Oh, let the people praise Thy worth, In all good works increasing;
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth, Thy Word is rich in blessing.
May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit bless us!
Let all the world praise Him alone, Let solemn awe possess us.
“WHY DO WE STILL DO MISSION WORK?” We have heard three answers to that question this morning from our text in the book of Acts:First, We Hear the Call. Second, We Still Have the Word with Which to Answer the Call. Third, We Still See the Fruit Which the Word Brings Forth. I suppose you could also say that there are as many reasons to do mission work today as there are lost souls who don’t know the forgiving love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. May every one of us be about our heavenly Father’s business. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor Stephen Kurtzahn
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church ~ Austin, MN
Mission Festival Guest Speaker