Dr. Maxie Dunnam, President Emeritus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, is fond of saying, “Last words are important.” Most often, he is referring to the last words of Jesus spoken to a group of His followers gathered on the Mount of Olives immediately prior to His ascension. His final words as recorded by Luke in Acts 1:8 are, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
I have spoken last words enough times to know that on these occasions trivial dialogue is not the order of the day. Upon leaving for a long trip, going into what may be a treacherous or hostile environment, or entering into major surgery, the last things I said to those closest to me were of utmost importance. I don’t think Jesus was any different. The words He spoke to His followers were not just important but critical to His mission and their role in His mission. The words are no less critical to His mission today and our role in His mission.
Often it seems the church, both universal and local, fails to grasp the critical aspect of our Lord’s words to be His witnesses. A phrase often heard is, “Missions is a marathon, not a sprint.” While I understand that sentiment can be healthy when applied to individuals in ministry, it is debilitating when a church, or the Church, adopts such a mantra. As an analogy, one could understand an individual fireman, after wearing himself down fighting fires, would be less than effective or even dangerous going to one more fire without rest and recuperation. However, if the precinct or the entire fire department took the position that there will always be fires to go to and there is no need make this one urgent, it would be scandalous. Furthermore, for the person waiting on the fire trucks, it is exceedingly urgent.
Justin Long in his blog titled “For 100 people, the end is nigh.” (justinlong.org) puts this in perspective.
A lot of missiology – especially popular missiology – revolves around eschatology.
Eschatology gives us “energy” to make disciples, it can be argued. Its the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. But mostly, eschatology means talking about the return of Christ.
Unfortunately, a lot of the talk about the Return is argument, debate, free-for-alls, books, magazines, graphic novels, movies, apocalyptic thinking, and the like – and very little other activity. It generates images of the freaky dude on the street corner with the sign, “The end is nigh!”
But there is another kind of “end” that we need to be aware of – the kind of “end” which is far more certain, and which ought to drive our strategies and considerations.
It’s not when Jesus inevitably comes back for everyone, but when each individual goes inevitably to him. It’s the global death rate.
Every year, 58.2 million people die globally. This works out to about 160,000 per day.
Since 1/3 of the world is unreached, at minimum 1/3 of those are people who have never heard the name of Jesus. The death rate there is actually a little higher, so it’s estimated that about 56,000 unevangelized people die every day.
This is why strategies MUST. GO. FASTER.
This is why strategies MUST. REACH. EVERYONE.
Let’s say you have a foolproof way to reach the world (hypothetically). Let’s say that plan would take 20 years, and at the end of that 20 years everyone would have had a valid chance to hear the Gospel.
During that time, 388 million non-believers will die (about half of which had never heard the Gospel).
Now, let’s say you could cut the time of your plan from 20 years to 10 years. That would mean about 150 million souls would have heard the Gospel – who otherwise would not.
“The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time,” goes the quote. And this is very real for the 56,000 who died yesterday.
And for the roughly 100 people who died while you were reading this…
Jesus didn’t provide any opt-out clauses to Acts 1:8. His last word to the church was to be His witnesses here, there, and everywhere. The call is clear, the call is highly important, and the call should be a priority for every church.