Billions and Counting
15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:15-16
When Jesus spoke these words:
- The population of the world was roughly 250 million people.
- Life expectancy was about 40-45 years.
- Child mortality rate was high.
- 2/3 of the world's population were slaves, or in poverty.
- Life was hard, violent, and short.
- Most people lived in only part of the earth.
The responsibility to proclaim the gospel to all was still a daunting task for 12 mostly uneducated Jews; and later, one well educated Roman Jew (Paul). But they accomplished the mission in their generation because the Holy Spirit says through Paul in Colossians 1:23 that the "gospel was proclaimed in all creation." Since the first century things have changed drastically:
- Technology and science have provided an easier life and one that lasts longer: 75-80 years.
- People live in every area of the earth and do so in more freedom than ever before.
- There are also more people than before.
By the year 1800 the world population had gone from 250 million in the first century to 1 billion in the 18th
- 1920 - 2 billion
- 1960 - 3 billion
- 1974 - 4 billion
- 1987 - 5 billion
- 2000 - 6 billion
- 2010 - 7 billion
We now add a billion people every decade. What took almost 1800 years to happen now takes place every 10 years. My point here is that even if the societies have changed and the numbers have grown, the Word of the Lord remains the same.
The responsibility of the church is to go out and proclaim the gospel to all creation; that's all 7 billion+ people in this world, and to do it in our generation! This is the challenge of our time and the battle we must fight.
Why Fight / Why Go?
The Lord is kind; He has not dealt with us as a dictator but rather like a father. He could simply command, without reason only with threat of punishment, but He does not do this; He gives us reasons why He commands this task. When it comes to proclaiming the gospel, He provides several reasons why this is necessary.
We preach the gospel because of ..
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
- Romans 3:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
The great lie in our world is that people are OK, or that they can fix themselves. People should simply be freed from their anxieties over what's right and wrong and be liberated just to be themselves or be free to practice democracy. But when they do free themselves they don't know who they are, or the people they do become are unhappy and depressed.
The truth that is brought out by the gospel is that people are not OK, that their sinfulness is the problem, and forgiveness and restoration with God are the answer; not social or political freedom.
Why preach the gospel? Because only the gospel identifies the real problem: sin.
2. Jesus Christ
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.
- Acts 4:12
There are many religions in this world that have managed to identify the problem as man's moral failure. However the solutions they offer are inadequate to solve the problem:
- They offer ways for man to try to control sin.
- They explain how to cope with sin (without guilt).
- They offer paradise where there is no sin, where it's OK to sin.
But sin is always there! Only Jesus Christ actually deals with sin by eliminating it.
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness: for by His wounds you were healed.
- I Peter 2:24
The gospel reveals the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we would not have to, thereby liberating us from the fear of death and condemnation at judgment because of existing sin! There are many prophets, saviors, gurus, philosophies and religions, but there is only one resurrected Lord, and the gospel is the medium that delivers Him to the world.
Another reason why we preach?
3. Holy Spirit
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
- Romans 8:10-11
From Geritol to Ginseng, people are looking for the elixir that will make them feel better, look better and stay younger. Of course, this search for self-improvement in mind and body is our way of coping with the inevitability of death. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived tried just about everything there was to do in life: money, power, glory, women, pleasure, entertainment, art, science, building projects. And when he came away from it all he said that it was empty because in the end, you die and nothing you do changes that.
The gospel of Christ announces to people that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the prototype or preview of their own resurrection from the dead powered by the Holy Spirit. What people need are not "make-overs" or "youth products" or money or power; they need the Spirit of God living in them. People need this but they don't know this is what they need.
Those who proclaim the gospel are speaking to man's greatest desire: the need to live beyond death provided by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to the Apostles,
.. he who believes in Me, the works that I do he shall do also; and greater works than these shall he do
- John 14:12
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to twelve men, but through the preaching of the gospel we, today, can offer the Holy Spirit to billions and billions of people on this earth. This brings me to the next question concerning our battle.
How Did They Do It?
In the first century there were a combination of factors that produced a situation that made the worldwide preaching of the gospel actually possible. Several factors that contributed to this situation were:
- Pax Romana - 100 years of relative peace in the Roman Empire, which permitted free movement throughout the (then known) world.
- Road System - The Romans were road builders and so those who traveled were able to move more quickly and easily than ever before in history.
- Greek Language - The Greeks had a very strong influence on culture to the point where their language became the literary and common language for different countries permitting the gospel to spread from one culture to another.
- Synagogue System - The Jews had traveled the world and established a "house of prayer" in every major city. These places for Jewish worship provided a ready platform for the gospel when Paul began to preach.
God gave them the commission to proclaim to all the world but He provided the resources to allow this to happen. In our day and age God is still in charge of the world and I believe that even if man thinks that all the resources and technology are for man's benefit, God can and will use it to His glory and for the purpose of the gospel if He chooses to.
Even though there are 7 billion people and counting, we are given the charge to proclaim the gospel to all of them in our generation and we can do it because God has provided the resources:
- Language - English is the universal language and wherever it isn't spoken, people want to learn it. It is the language of universal communication.
- Printing - They had few books and no printing in the first century. Now the Bible is printed and distributed in almost every language to every country in the world. You can now view Bibles in any language for free on the internet.
- Communications - It is now possible to communicate with almost every single person on earth through radio, television or computer without ever leaving your own home!
- Mobility - We can easily travel anywhere in the world relatively fast and at a low cost.
At first it seems like an impossible task (to reach 7 billion people) but when you realize that we are not just 12 but the disciples of Jesus number in the millions, and the resources we now have are a match for the job at hand, you see that it's doable.
How Will We Do It?
Of course what is left is to decide how we will evangelize and when. We can evangelize using the tools that we have at our disposal. This begins by finding a way to get the gospel message to those around us. And each congregation has a variety of tools to accomplish this task. Some include mail outs to the community, door-knocking, VBS, invite a friend Sunday, visitation, use of radio, TV, internet or even programs like World Bible School.
No budget is too small and no effort is ever wasted. There is a harvest but we have to actually get out there to reap it!
We need to remember that part of that 7 billion is our own personal responsibility, and not just the preacher's job, not just the missionary's responsibility.
The final question is when? The Apostles were told to begin when they received power from the Holy Spirit. When they did, they immediately began preaching Christ to their countryman and others. On that Pentecost Sunday 3,000 were baptized (Acts 2:37-41).
The earth's population will continue to grow at a pace of 1.5 million people per week and a majority of these will not be born to Christian families. Even in the USA, easily the most "Christian" of countries, the latest Pew research poll on religion in America 1 notes that the trend in our nation is that:
- The percentage of those who identify themselves as Christian has fallen from 77% of the population to 71% of the population, and continues to trend downwards.
- More millennials (born 1981-1999) are describing themselves as non-religious/not affiliated with any church.
The significant thing about this is that it is these millennials (aged 18-36 years old) who will be raising the next generation! So here, in our nation, we face the challenge of reaching out to a growing world population, but have less people now willing to do this than in the previous generation. In other words: more people to reach, less Christians to do the outreach.
The answer to the question "when?" is obvious. Now is always the time to begin despite the challenges facing our own time in history. Of course, it has always been a challenge to preach the gospel to all nations.
Perhaps the place to really begin is with ourselves. Let's make sure that we ourselves have obeyed the gospel by confessing our faith in Jesus, repenting of our sins and being baptized/immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins and reception of the Holy Spirit.
Our next step in evangelizing the world is to evangelize our own families, especially our children. Of course we should share our faith with our parents, siblings and other family members when possible, but we're not responsible for these people. We are, however, responsible for both the physical and spiritual welfare of our children.
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
- Proverbs 22:6
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Ephesians 6:4
Evangelizing neighbors or people in far off places can be difficult and expensive, but the church provides all kinds of services and resources that makes evangelizing our own children easy. The problem is not the children, in many cases it's the parents!
Ask any parent who, for whatever reason, neglected to encourage their children to participate in Bible class, Wednesday worship or youth camp how faithful or spiritually mature their grown up children are today. Ask them if their grandchildren are being brought to worship, VBS, Wednesday Bible class, youth camp by parents who themselves did not attend any of these while growing up.
Parents, if we don't teach and evangelize our children ourselves, the world will not do it for us at school or t-ball or basketball camp. Evangelization of the world begins with the evangelization of our homes and our own children.
With these thoughts in mind, I encourage all parents to renew your efforts to teach and evangelize your children, and show them how important being faithful to all services of the church really is so that they will remain faithful and teach their own children to be faithful, not only when it is convenient but at all times until Jesus comes.
1. America's Changing Religious Landscape, May 2015 - http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changi...