Jesus says, “Pass the Word!”
O Lord, fill my heart with joy in the knowledge of Your message of salvation. May I be blessed as I worship today with a deeper understanding of Your eternal plans for me and all people. Grant me zeal to share with others what I learn of Your love, so that they might join me in praising Your name, both now and in heaven. Amen.
Isaiah shares with us a hymn of praise, in which he exalts the LORD as his strength and song—the source of his salvation. May we join Isaiah and all believers in such hymns of praise!
We are saved by faith in the redemptive work of Christ. Our faith will express itself as we confess our Lord Jesus before men. That faith is implanted within our hearts as we hear the preaching of God’s Word. May we gladly hear it and then as we have opportunity share it!
Text: Mark 16:14-20
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word of God that we shall consider on this occasion of your spring Mission Festival is taken from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verses 14-20.
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, the glorified Lord Jesus who takes charge of everything in the interest of His Church and its task of spreading His message worldwide, dear fellow redeemed and fellow partners in the work of the Gospel.
Let’s go back to a time before there was texting or cell phones, before there was email or fax machines. We go back even farther to the days before the radio, telephone, or newspaper, back to a time when people relied heavily on word of mouth. Whether it was news of the day, or special announcements or invitations—all was passed along by conversation—one person telling another who told another and so on down the line. If a specific event was being planned for a certain time and place, their only recourse was to pass the word verbally, conversationally to family, friends, and neighbors.
Today, I believe, we have an expression based on this custom of the past. “Pass the word,” we sometimes say in reference to this or that going on in our lives. Well, Jesus says it too on a much higher level, with much more at stake. When Jesus says, “Pass the Word,” it’s the Word with a capital W, the all-important, life-saving information that He has passed onto us in the Bible. He has directed us, all His believers, to 1) Pass the Word as the absolute truth from Him. 2) “Pass the Word,” He says, to everyone else, all people in need of salvation. 3) “Pass the Word,” He says also with this confidence that He will make His message work.
The Lord has put the apostles and disciples back then into the same category as CLC pastors, ILC professors, and Immanuel church members today. As believers in Christ we all get to be witnesses of Christ. That simply means that you know the important information, you’re convinced that it’s true, and you’re willing to talk about it. We recognize the importance of what witnesses do. A reporter relies on witnesses to gather information and report accurately the events that are taking place. The criminal justice system relies on eyewitnesses to establish the facts of a crime and prepare the case for trial. Now when you think of yourself as a witness of Christ, some notable exceptions do stand out. No, you’re not an eyewitness; since you did not see Jesus die and rise again in person … although you still have the Bible to show you the reality of it. And unlike the courtroom witness who has to testify to the ugliness of what he happened to see, you get to testify to something good! You get to report the good news of a Savior and do so with authority and conviction, because it’s the truth.
When we speak up for Christ, the truth is everything. You don’t go to your unbelieving friend and give him your best opinion on the subject of religion. We don’t go to the unchurched people in our communities and offer nothing more than theories. No, the Lord has given us the Gospel as His message firmly anchored on the key characteristics of truth. First of all, the Gospel that we believe, the Gospel that we share is irreversible. It has permanence, which means that no one, including the devil, can reach back into the past and undo what Jesus did. It’s firmly established, forever accomplished. Secondly, the Gospel is objective, universal—what Jesus did is to be applied to everyone equally without exception.
That means that it’s the same Gospel applied to you and me. When we talk about the Savior, we can always make it personal. We can share with others what we know to be true about ourselves in relation to Christ. It’s one reason, among many, why your church services here and your Bible studies are so important. You become a better witness of Christ and a better supporter of Christian missions when you hear and learn what the Gospel means for your own benefit. It’s a message of truth that compels us to come back for more, to know it backwards and forwards, inside and out, if that were even possible. At the same time, no matter how often you hear it, it will continue to grab your attention; it will continue to amaze and impress. Just think: we enter this world as people desperately stuck in our sins. We have broken God’s commandments too many times to add up the sum total. The guilt against us is daunting. And the penalty attached is overwhelming. If we take Jesus out of the equation, we’re on a crash course for hell. Without the truth of the Gospel we would surely face the deserved sentence, everlasting torment with no human way possible to avoid the disaster.
So naturally, it’s with a sigh of relief we hear some very good news: God came to the rescue. He did for us what He did not have to do. He offered His Son to stand in our place. And Jesus certainly volunteered Himself, first of all, to carry out your obligation to live a perfect life, to have a perfect record with God. Then He became the target of God’s justice and paid off the debt that you owed the heavenly Father. What we consider more closely this time of year, Christ crucified during the season of Lent—it’s all so incredible, so amazing. Jesus, the innocent Son of God, suffered the punishment of hell with the result that it doesn’t land on you! What we deserved to get He took away. Well, the unthinkable, amazing work of our Savior has now become the unthinkable, amazing gift freely given to undeserving people out there and right here.
I suppose the skeptic would question our confidence. How can we be so sure about all that? How can we be so sure, when in fact we were never there to see it happen? Thankfully, the Lord did not live His life, die, rise, and return to heaven in secret without anyone knowing. His life and death were out in the open, in the public eye. He made a number of people eyewitnesses of the fact that He truly is risen from the grave. Remember how our text began: “Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” He made the eyewitnesses sure of who He was and what He did. Their conviction and testimony are a matter of honest record in the Bible, which stands as the truth for us, truth which we get to share with other people.
Let’s trace the sequence in God’s plan. Phase 1: Right after the fall into sin God promised a Savior for the world and repeated that promise in the form of the Old Testament prophecies. Phase 2: In the fullness of the time Jesus came to make good on that promise, fulfill all the prophecies, and make our salvation a firm reality, the truth that stands forever. Phase 3 would involve what we know as the Great Commission. The work of passing the Word had to be done, or the Lord’s mission would hardly benefit anyone. Jesus got the ball rolling by speaking to His own people, the Jewish nation and some Gentiles too, mainly in Palestine and the regions nearby. Before His ascension He handed off the responsibility of worldwide missions to the apostles, who handed it off to the Christians of the early church living in various places. This Great Commission has reached all the way down to include us and incorporate us as part of the team. Not just to the apostles of old, not just to the pastors or the called missionaries today, but to all of believers everywhere at every point in time, Jesus has said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
In English the word preach conveys the idea of what I’m doing right now. The pastor “preaches” a sermon from the pulpit. To the people living 2000 years ago, the word had a somewhat different flavor. Think of a herald dispatched by the king to bring official, important news to the people in the kingdom. When you preach the Gospel in that way, you represent the King who has secured and decreed the forgiveness of all sins. The King of kings has sent you to pass the Word as the absolute truth from Him. “Pass the Word,” He says, to everyone else, all people in their need of His salvation.
What we hear in the Gospel of Mark has a counterpart in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations. . . .” Notice that Jesus did not make any distinction between Jew and Gentile. We need the reminder because our sinful nature is all too ready to set up restrictions. For example, prejudice in the heart would interfere with us taking the Gospel to people of other races. Something like resentment or bitterness would keep us from taking the Gospel to people who may have wronged us or to individuals who belong to a group of people that has risen up in conflict against us. Sometimes we assume that a certain individual is a Christian when really he or she is not. For their sake we can’t be casual or talk about Jesus only when it’s convenient. To reach all people in their need, Jesus sends the entire team—all the believers in every direction to reach everyone else, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what they may have done.
Surely it’s a massive worldwide team effort that will have to involve movement. “Go,” Jesus says, because they will not come to you. It’s tempting to think that as long as we’re in business, with the church doors open, services every week, various types of ministry in place that people will wander in off the street, looking for the same truth that we have. It would be a mistaken way to operate because it overlooks one essential, universal fact. All people by nature are dead to God. Yes, they look alive on the outside, but they’re dead within; there is no impulse whatsoever to seek out the cross of Christ or become a captive audience to what the Gospel has to say. We have to go to them because they’re not going to come to us.
So you can think of yourself as a volunteer spiritual paramedic going out to those who can’t move. In the “critical condition” of their sin, they truly are paralyzed, wounded, dying. So we come to them with the first-aid of God’s Word. So often it’s a two-step process. First, we use the Law to diagnose their terminal condition, to show them their sin and how much they need the Savior. Then we give them the Gospel as the only cure, the only thing to wash away their guilt and inject them with spiritual life, that is, connect them to God though God-given faith in Christ.
When Jesus says, “Pass the Word,” it’s so much more than a command. Let’s not reduce it to an obligation. It’s the final stage in His plan. It’s the final step where He does the hard part. The Lord Himself takes responsibility for every positive outcome, every instance of conversion. We can pass the Word with the confidence that He will make His message work and accomplish the faith that He’s expecting in the hearts of other people.
The Lord did not return to heaven and leave the disciples to fend for themselves. What He promised to them has echoed down to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Your Savior is still very much hands on, though He remains out of sight. Every day He is within you by faith. He is around you with His power and His love—power that He uses to open the door of opportunity or remove the obstacles in the way or give you whatever resources you need to spread the Word in many ways to many people. He continues to be what He was for the apostles, when “they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”
We count on Him, therefore, to work not only through His messengers, but especially through His message. Jesus shows us the only two results of passing the Word: there will either be faith or unbelief. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” If the person believes what is said, then we can be sure that the Spirit through the Gospel has been the power creating that person’s faith. And if the person does not believe what he hears, then the blame falls completely on that person. Either way, what happens in the other person’s heart, whether good or bad, is not on you. Your job is to be a witness, to represent Christ as He directs, speaking the message yourself as you’re given the opportunity, supporting the pastors and missionaries who take the good news on your behalf to other places, but in every endeavor leaving the matter of results where it belongs: in the hands of the Lord.
During this final phase, from the first coming of Christ to the second, Jesus keeps it simple for us. “Pass the Word,” He says. Do it because of its compelling truth, the same good news of your own salvation in Christ. Pass the Word, He says, to everyone else. If they don’t know Christ, they are still in need of salvation and we have the solution to their problem. We can also pass the Word with confidence that Jesus is there blessing the effort, and the Spirit will do the convincing and converting within, and the triune God will get the glory for this rescue operation underway, the recovery of souls still lost, the final step which has to happen and will happen, even as He promised. In Jesus’ saving name. Amen.
—Professor Steven Sippert