A Third of Us: Reaching the Unreached | Matthew 28:18-20
Marv Newell | May 23, 2021
Hey, it’s good to see all of you here this morning! I’m wanting to take us through a lesson on unreached peoples that hopefully will be an encouragement to you and help us to see what our responsibility as a church can be as we focus on them.
Thirty-five-year-old Mrs. Tovek lives on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. She is the mother of two teenagers and one wife of her husband’s two. Now, her husband spends more and more time with his second wife down on the coastal city of Padang, while she is instead up in the interior town of Bukittinggi. She’s an ethnic Meningkabao (that’s the name of her ethnic group), and 99 per cent of them are Muslim, so she’s a strong adherant to Islam herself. Scanning every direction from her home, she sees a mosque on almost every corner of her village and the surrounding countryside; and every day at five o’ clock in the morning she hears the call from the menuet waking her and asking her to start her prayers to Allah. “Allah akbar! God is great!” is what starts her day, and that’s the first of five times during the day that she will be stopping to pray to Allah.
Life is rather monotonous for Mrs. Tovek. She gets little money from her husband down on the coast; he sends money up to her every once in a while (it’s called rupiahs), but he misses a lot of payments, so she tries to eke out a living by cutting konkone, or spinach, you might call it, in the ditches that run behind her house; and then she bundles it up and takes it to the market every day, and she sits in her six-foot by six-foot stall and sells her konkone until it’s gone. With the earnings she buys some things for her family, takes it home to teenage kids, and spends the afternoon with them after her two-hour siesta that everybody in the village takes before they go into the deeper afternoon hours.
She makes sure that the three of them are at the mosque for the final prayers of the day, by seven o’ clock. She goes home, goes to bed, only to repeat the same routine day after day after day—except for Fridays, which is the day of corporate prayer, and they all worship together at the mosque on that day.
Mrs. Tovek is an unreached person. By unreached we mean this: she has no access to the gospel. Access to the gospel has been denied her, we could say. There are three important elements in gospel living that are denied to her, and they were mentioned earlier by Pastor Brian. I’m glad you brought that up.
(1) First of all, there’s no Bible. She has not a clue that there’s even a Bible in the world. Even though a translation has been begun in her language, she probably doesn’t know about it and she most likely couldn’t care less about it, because it’s the Muslim book, it is the Christian book.
(2) Secondly, there are no churches. As she scans around her area there, her village, she sees a lot of mosques—myriads of mosques—but there’s not one single church, not one place where believers in Jesus gather together and can become a light in her community.
(3) Thirdly, there are no believers. There’s no one around her that could even begin to explain to her the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if she wanted to know, because none of that is there. She is living on the frontiers of gospel unawareness. She is what we call an “unreached person.”
Today is the Day of Pentecost, and we’re so thankful that we can stop and remember that the Holy Spirit descended upon the church almost 2,000 years ago to empower it to be a witness to the world; but it’s also the International Day for the Unreached, and a day that is set apart because of people like Mrs. Tovek. Actually, there are three billion people like her in the world today, that have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is our responsibility? Why do we at Redeemer Church really even care? What is it that we should be doing to do something about people like Mrs. Tovek and a third of humanity that do not have gospel access?
I’m going to take you to a very familiar passage of Scripture, Matthew 28:18-20. You know this passage; you probably have memorized this passage. But I’m hoping that this morning we can see this passage in a new way, in a way that helps us understand the task that really is in front of us as we think about unreached peoples around the globe.
The passage says this—Jesus had taken his disciples up to a little mountain there in Galilee, sat them down in front of him, and he’s giving them some final instructions before he ascends into heaven. He says this:
“Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you [all the days].” Maybe your translations says “always.” “All the days” is actually a more literal translation of those words. “. . . all the days, to the end of the age.”
This final command from Jesus should be our very first priority. After all, when people leave us for the last time they usually tell us what is most heavy on their hearts, and Jesus is doing that with the disciples. Therefore, we need to remember that although this might be a familiar passage of Scripture to us, we need to be obedient to it. I’m hoping that today, by us following the word “all”—four different times in that passage I just read to you you see the the word—we will see the four universals of the Great Commission that are to be followed and believed by us who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Now, before I get into all these alls—and by the way, I remember back when I was in seminary I had a professor say to the class, he’s sitting there at the desk, and he says, “Remember this, students: when you encounter the word ‘all’ in Scripture, ‘all’ means all; that’s all ‘all’ means.” I’m thinking, “Okay, that means it’s very, very important; it’s something that’s universal. It’s all-inclusive.”
So we’re going to take a look at what Jesus wants us to be doing through these four little alls that we see in this passage. However, before we get to those alls, I’d like to present to you four objections that a lot of Christians have to following the Great Commission and what Jesus says here. Although they might not verbalize them, they think about them, and maybe unwittingly you also have kind of questioned some of these four objections.
(1) The first objection is this: Just what gives us the right or even the audacity to share the gospel with other peoples and other cultures, with other worldviews? People like Mrs. Tovek, who go about their lives seemingly happy with the way that they live their lives. Why would we want to go disrupt their lives with another message that they are asked to believe?
(2) A second objection would be: The gospel’s already entered every country of the world, and it has. It’s in every country of the world. Why bother sending more missionaries to these countries where missionaries are already there? They’ve already done their work; there are churches in many of these places.
(3) Thirdly, an objection that some have is: Isn’t it rather bigoted to claim that we have the one true message among so many other beliefs in the world today? After all, through the centuries there have been all these belief systems that have grown up, and certainly there must be truths in those religious belief systems and worldviews. Why would we want to think that our message is the only message?
(4) Fourthly, some say, “Well, you know, it’s just too dangerous of a world out there to get involved. There’s no way I’m going to leave America and take my family anywhere, get involved in the Great Commission. You know what? I don’t want to send anybody else to go do it, either. So although I’m not going to be going, I’m not really going to participate in helping others go, because I don’t want them put in danger of their lives as they get involved.”
These are objections that I have heard through the years in my work at MissioNexus. Jesus answers these objections by way of the four universals that we find in this passage. So let’s take a look and see what he has to say and see what our responsibility is as we think about the unreached in the world.
I. "All Authority"
The first one is this: all authority. This affirms the legitimacy of our task. Take a look again. It says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” His final command to us is based on his divine authority over heaven and earth.
Now, he would be a simpleton who would think that engaging in mission is only something that we do here in the physical world without a spiritual conflict taking place in heaven as we bear that message. Therefore, Jesus’s authority “in heaven and on earth” is very, very important. After he was resurrected from the grave and victoriously came back to his disciples, he said to them, “I have now all authority in heaven and on earth.” His supremacy and sovereignty is the underpinning of our engagement in reaching the world.
We don’t engage in missions because we just think it’s a great idea, or some deacons got together in the back of a church on a Sunday afternoon and decided, “Hey, let’s send people around the world.” No! The Great Commission is to be obeyed because Jesus is the one behind it, with the authority to make it happen, and he’s asking his disciples here to get engaged, and then he’s asking us to do the same. The authority of Jesus is behind our responsibility to take the gospel to any country, enter any culture, witness in any community, to persuade any person to believe in Jesus. It’s a God-given authority.
No church can claim exception from it, not even our church. We must engage in what Jesus has authorized us to do. It underpins our activity in bringing the world to Christ.
As I think about that, I see three practical applications that we need to bring under this authority of Jesus Christ.
(1) First of all, as it relates to our missionaries. Now, we already have missionaries who are serving overseas, and we hope that there will be even more coming from our church. If you got here earlier today, some of those slides in the pre[service] slides were the missionaries that we have. They are engaged in mission because of the calling of Christ in their lives and because of the command and the authority that Jesus has given to them. It wasn’t that they thought they would have an experience overseas or go learn a culture, a new worldview, a new language, and enjoy life outside of the U.S., or something that was their own inclination or their own incentive or their own plans. Our missionaries are there under the authority of Jesus, and we send them there under his authority as well. “All authority is given to me,” Jesus says.
(2) Secondly, for us as a church, for us as the ones that actually are the senders of the goers, and we’re so thankful that we have so many in our church that can be part of the sending side of missions. We need to realize that under this authority, all of our efforts are worthwhile and worthy of what we are doing. All of our resources that we are channeling into missions, all of our personnel that we’re trying to raise up to be part of this, all of our prayers, all of our finances, are there because Jesus told us to do this. We’re doing this on the basis of Jesus’ command to send the gospel to other peoples, to unreached peoples.
(3) Thirdly, there’s another one here as an aside, and this is for government leaders and countries around the world that many times want to restrict missionaries from entering their countries. They don’t want them there, they see them as imposters or someone from the outside that’s going to bring in new ideas. They see them as imperialists, or whatever the reason. They actually do not have the right to restrict gospel messengers from coming into their country, because a higher authority is behind the one that is sent, then, to those countries. So even though there’s kind of resistance that we encounter there, we find that we work around that. We do things to make sure that the gospel message can enter into those countries. So the authority of Jesus is very important.
A few years back, a very noted former missionary statesman by the name of Herbert Kane said this about this verse. He said, “The Great Commission, then, is based on the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who in the incarnation became a Son of Man, that through his death and resurrection he might become the Savior and sovereign of the world. He and he alone has the right to demand universal allegiance.”
So, this first universal, “all authority,” answers that first objection. What gives us the right to proclaim the gospel to others? Jesus gives us the right and the authority to take the gospel to gospel-destitute areas that still don’t have access to the saving message of Jesus Christ.
II. "All Nations"
The second all: If you keep reading, it says this, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Now, this “all” reveals the scope of our task. “All nations.” But before I get into that, I want us to first see that word “go” that’s there that’s an imperative. There has to be some outward action on our part.
Someone has said this about that word “go.” “You know, you can’t spell ‘gospel’ without ‘go,’ you can’t spell God without ‘go,’ you can’t spell ‘good news’ without ‘go.’ Go means go.” So, we need to go! We need to send people that are willing to go, because that’s part of the mandate that’s been given to us by Christ.
We are to go to, it says here, “all the nations.” Now, this is where we need some clarification about what Jesus meant by all the nations. If I were to ask you this morning, “How many nations are there in the world today?” you would probably take a guess. Maybe some of you know. According to the United Nations count, there are 195 nations in the world today, the United States being one and so forth; 195 nations in the world today.
The gospel has entered every single one of those nations, therefore our task is completed! It’s done! We do not need to send more missionaries to other countries, because they already have the gospel, right?
The answer is no, that’s not quite right, because the word that Jesus uses here for “nations” is where we get the word “ethnic” from, ethnic group. Patita ethne is what it says, “all the people groups.” “Take the gospel to all the people groups of the world.”
Therefore our task becomes even more monumental than we may have thought by just getting the gospel to 195 different countries. Within every nations of the world there are other “nations,” or people groups, we call them, little nations within people groups. So, in America there used to be the Cherokee nation or the Aztec nation, and so forth, all these different groups. That’s the makeup of most of the world today.
Actually, by a very meticulous count, it’s known that there are 17,500 ethnic groups or nations in the world today. 17,500! Of all of those (the research has all been done; there are people that sit there and do the research week after week), 7,500 still do not have a church, a Bible, or believers. They are unreached. This is why we say a third of humanity. A third of humanity are embedded in that 7,500, and therefore we need to take the gospel to these groups.
I want to illustrate this by just taking the country of Vietnam, for instance. The country of Vietnam is made up of 98 million people. That’s a lot of people, is it not? 98 million people in Vietnam. Many Americans are acquainted with Vietnam because of our conflict there in the past. Outside of the Viet people, who are the main people there, there are 118 distinct people groups or ethnic groups or little nations, that Jesus said we’re to take the gospel to. 118 of them, and of those, 67 of them are completely unreached. Half of them! Half of them—no Bible, no church, no believers. No access to the gospel.
That’s portrayed here on the map. You can see the red dots. The red dots are the unreached peoples, the green ones are reached people, the yellow ones are getting reached. Obviously, it takes church planting groups that are willing to go into 67 different countries there in Vietnam.
This is just one country that is an example of unreached peoples. I get asked quite a bit, “Where are unreached peoples?” Well, there you go. There’s actually stuff on the Internet where you can find all these statistics, and if you want to see more, go to joshuaproject.net and you will find the statistics there.
What this boils down to is this: Jesus is telling us that no ethnic group is to be excluded, none is to be ignored. No group is to be considered too far away or too remote, too small, too insignificant, or too unworthy of our efforts. The life-changing message of repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be offered to every one of them.
Therefore, we see that the scope of our task goes way beyond just going to a country, but digging deeper into those countries and seeing the unreached people groups that are there. That’s why we have this day set apart for the unreached people, the International Day for the Unreached. We want to give gospel access to these 3 billion people who still haven’t had an opportunity to have access to the gospel.
This second “all,” all nations, answers the earlier objection that said, “Well, why bother sending gospel messengers to countries where others have already gone in the past?” It’s obvious that our task is far from complete if we do not do that.
III. "All I Have Commanded You"
There’s a third “all” that you have probably discovered through the verse that was there, and this was one says, “. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This “all” provides the content of what we are to proclaim as we go to make disciples.
By the way, that’s the key phrase in this entire verse. We’re hardly going to talk about it, but we’re to make disciples of these nations. Making disciples means bringing them into relationship with Jesus and building them up in that faith with Jesus, and therefore it’s a lifelong task for someone to become a disciple. We are to teach them all that Jesus has commanded.
Stop and think a moment, as the disciples are sitting there on the mountain listening to Jesus, about what they would have heard Jesus command over the last three years. Maybe you remember Jesus said, “A new command I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved, you are to love one another.” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and others are there. Actually, someone has counted up that there are 50 commands of Jesus. The disciples are listening to this and saying, “Wow, we need to bring all this into our teaching as we go to the nations.” So are we to do that very thing.
Of all the commands of Jesus, I remember one that is an invitation, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
There’s a lot of unrest in Mrs. Tovek’s village. There’s a lot of crime, there are a lot of bad things going on. It’s a life of hopelessness and despair in so many ways. It’s a sin-laden place because the light of the gospel hasn’t gone there. Jesus gives this invitation that is our invitation! That is the command of Jesus, that we are to take the message. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father except through me,” that is the message that we’re commanded to take as Jesus asked us to do.
This third universal, “all I have commanded you,” answers the objection, “Isn’t it rather bigoted to claim that we have one true message among all the other beliefs in the world?” Our answer is this: No, it’s not bigoted! It’s commanded! We’re commanded to do that very thing. Jesus knows that this is the one true way of redemption, and he had planned through all the ages to bring that story of redemption to all of mankind. How do we dare withhold that from people just because they believe in something else? We need to take the gospel message to these people.
IV. "All the Days"
There’s one last “all,” one more universal. If you keep reading on, you will see this in verse 20: “Behold, I am with you all the days,” or “always,” maybe in your translation, “to the end of the age.”
Now, this “all” provides the loving assurance of Jesus’s presence with us as we go on mission with him. If you are a goer and willing to go and reach into these unreached people groups, Jesus’s presence goes with you. If we are senders sending these goers, as I think probably 95 per cent of us in the church will be, we need to know that what we’re doing will demand some sacrifice on our part, but Jesus goes with us through whatever sacrifice he’s asking us to make so that the goers can go, and Jesus will be part of that. His presence goes in this mission that he has established.
I’d have to think that this final clause of Jesus, that he is with us all the days, brought reassurance to the disciples because they believed in the very first one, all authority. All authority in the spiritual world, all authority in the physical world. Jesus has the authority to keep us in his care and to keep us going on.
You know, I’ve heard some people say, “You know, this missionary wants to go overseas. He’s asking me to give 50 bucks a month, but I don’t know if I’m going to have a job in five years. How can I promise to give him 50 dollars a month?” or whatever it is. We need to say, “You know what? Jesus is with us in this mission. We need to be part of believing that this comforting clause of the Great Commission is to be realized in our lives as we go,” or whatever part that God would have us to be a part of in the sending process. Jesus’ loving care will care for us no matter how we engage in this mission and keep us in that commitment, because his presence is with us.
So we see that all these alls are in place for us to be assured that what we are doing as we reach a third of us is what God is asking us to do.
You know, Charles Spurgeon, commenting on these verses, said this: “This is the perpetual commission of the church. . .” That means from the day of the disciples until now, the perpetual commission of the church. “. . . and the great seal of the kingdom attached to it, giving the power to execute it and guaranteeing its success is the King’s assurance of his continued presence with his faithful followers.” We will be faithful followers if we give ourselves to the task of reaching these unreached people.
To kind of sum up these universals, what do these universals mean to me? First of all, “all authority” means that we should not be hesitant to engage in the Christian mission, because it’s Jesus’s commission, not ours, and it’s his authority behind it, not the church’s. We should not be hesitant.
Secondly, we should not be shortsighted. “All nations” means all those ethnic groups, and there are still 7,500 of them that comprise 7 billion people who do not have access to the gospel, and therefore the task remains very large. So we should not be shortsighted as to the vastness of this task.
The third universal, “all I have commanded you,” means that we should never be unsure of the life-changing message that we have to offer others. We want people to believe that message. Someone brought this message to us and we believed, praise God. We sang earlier in those wonderful songs that Josh put together on the gospel about how grateful we are that we believe that message. We should never be ashamed of that message, we should never unsure of its relevance in the world today.
The last one, “with you all the days,” means that we should not be fearful or overly concerned about either our personal wellbeing or our personal commitment to be engaged in this mission that Jesus is sending us on. He goes with us through all this.
So, in conclusion, to reach the remaining unreached people will take intentional effort on our part, and it’s going to cost us something. But that should not deter us in any way. You remember Mrs. Tovek, eking out a living up there in the mountains of Sumatra? Mrs. Tovek remains unreached. She remains unaccessed by the gospel. She awaits the proclamation of that gospel, along with the 3 billion other people in the world, or the 5.8 million in her tribe, that have yet to hear the gospel story.
This goal of taking the gospel means that we need to do something. So, I’d like to make a couple of applications for us. Very personal applications, if you don’t mind.
(1) First of all is this: There is a missionary couple from our area here, he’s a medical doctor, and he and his family are going to pick up and go to Central Asia next year, and we as a church are working to stand behind them and bring them on as one of our supported missionaries. We do that because of this: they’re going to an unreached people group in Central Asia because of obedience to Christ, and we as a church want to be part of that, do we not? So you’re going to hear more about that in the future. Actually, he was here in the first service today, and I just know that you will be excited once you hear who this family is. This is one thing that we’re going to do corporately.
(2) But I like to give you something to do individually, and that is this. You see that symbol here, those three lines with a little separation between the two? I would like you to draw them somewhere; maybe on the palm of your hand. I’m going to do it right here. I’m putting those right there, and showing them to you, and you can do the same, or you can write on your paper if you’re taking notes and you have your paper there. Write the three lines, a third of us, and then here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go home, and whatever social media you use, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or whatever, I want you to take a picture of your three lines and post it online so that people see that, and just put underneath it, “A third of humanity has no access to the gospel.” Just get the word out! We want to get more and more awareness around the States and around the world about the third of humanity that still needs to be reached.
These are very simple things to do, are they not? I hope that you will engage. I hope that now you have an awareness, you want to be a part, and that you will join us with the global outreach team at Redeemer here, in helping us to take the gospel to the nations. Let us pray.
Father, I thank you so much that the gospel has come to us, that we’ve been able to believe it, and for some reason, some way, somebody saw fit to tell us of the message of Jesus Christ. Lord, out of gratitude we want to obey your command to take it to others as well. When we think about the vastness of the task that remains and the 3 billion, the third of us that do not have gospel access, Lord, help us to feel burdened, and help us to at least do our part in a small way so that that will not be the same in years to come, but that there will be gospel messengers that go to these unreached peoples, because of our efforts here at Redeemer Church. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.