Shepherding Your Church to Obey the Great Commission

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Shepherding Your Church to Obey the Great Commission

A talk by David Platt

Transcript

The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

David Platt: So what I wanna do is start with the Word and just walk through this passage in Ezekiel, which you might not have looked at that title and expected us to go to Ezekiel, but I wanna show you why I think Ezekiel is particularly helpful for us. And basically, what I wanna do is ask you three questions. So I’m gonna assume that you are leading in your church in some way, whether it’s this position or that position or no position at all, that you are concerned about stewarding your influence in the church where you are serving toward the end that more disciples be made and more churches be multiplied around the world through the members of your church.

And so I wanna ask you three questions that spring from this passage. And then, if we have time at the end, I’ll try to leave a few minutes for us to some have some dialogues. Once I asked you a few questions, if there’s questions you want to throw out, then we can do that. But I wanna think specifically with you, when we say around the world, about places, people who have little to no knowledge of the gospel.

So I wanna speak on behalf of a couple of billion people in the world who right now don’t know there’s a Gospel Coalition because they don’t even know there’s a gospel. They’re like men and women that, Lord willing a month from now, I’ll be around in Nepal, who, up in remote parts of the Himalayas, yeah, when you mention the name of Jesus, they look at you like a blank look on their face like, “Are you talking about somebody from another village with a bizarre name?” They have no idea who he is, what he has done.

Others who may have heard the name of Jesus but know about him about as much as we know about Confucius. “I think he did some philosophy, something, I’m not sure that we’ve heard his name. We’re not really sure why he would be important.” So 6,000 to 7,000 people, groups who have little to no knowledge of the gospel. Think Romans 15, “The name of Christ is not known among them.” And so how does your church and the members of your church, how are they gonna play a part in the spread of the gospel then?

So set up, Ezekiel 36. I’ll just remind you the background. So 597 BC, the Babylonians exiled Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, along with several thousand others including Ezekiel. So for the beginning of his prophecy, Ezekiel was in exile. For the first 25 chapters of the book, Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. Then in the middle of the book, city of Jerusalem falls. And the last 16 chapters of Ezekiel occur chronologically after the fall of Jerusalem, so chapters 33 through 48, which is where the texts we’re looking at today falls. So the entire book, though, Ezekiel is in exile speaking to Israelites, who were suffering in exile. And here in chapter 36, Ezekiel is telling God’s people what God is gonna do when He brings about a new covenant for them. So I wanna read these words from God through Ezekiel to His people. And then I wanna ask these three questions.

So Ezekiel 36:22, “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I’m about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God. ‘When through you, I vindicate My holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I’ll remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell on the land that I gave to your fathers and you shall be my people and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleanness and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then, you’ll remember your evil ways, your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act,’ declares the Lord God. Let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.'”

All right, so based upon God’s Word, three questions that I think spring from this passage on the promised new covenant. Question number one, how convinced are your members…talking about the members of your church…how convinced are your members that they have been saved solely by God’s grace and supremely for God’s glory among the nations? How convinced are your members that they have been saved solely by God’s grace and supremely for God’s glory among the nations?

So just kind of take that question in two parts. Solely by God’s grace, over and over again, there is an emphasis in this passage on the sovereign initiative of God. This text, I would argue, is entirely driven by the gracious activity God… I mean, you look, underline, circle, observe how many times the words “I will” are used in this text. Verse 22, “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I’m about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.'” Verse 23, “I will vindicate the holiness of My great name.” Verse 24, “I will take you from the nations.” 25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you from your idols, I will cleanse you.” Verse 26, “I will give you a new heart. A new spirit, I will put in you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Verse 27, “I will put my spirit within you.” End of verse 28, “I will be your God.” Verse 29, “I will deliver you from all your uncleanness. I will summon the grain and make it abundant.” Verse 30, “I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant.” Verse 32 sums it up when God says, “I will act.”

That’s, if you kept count, 13 times in 11 verses that God says I will do all these things. Salvation is solely grounded in the grace of God. The hearts of God’s people will never be clean and the souls of God’s people will never be saved unless God acts in sovereign grace and mercy. We know this. This is the core of the gospel. Man is hopeless in our sin unless God comes to save. Unless God comes, Ezekiel, as a shepherd to bring permanent peace, man will remain under His perpetual wrath. The sole ground of salvation is the sovereign grace of God. This is what we know.

This is Ephesians 2. This is the picture of the gospel we have there. All of those first few verses just talking about how we’re dead in our sin, not kinda dead, partly dead, totally dead. There’s only one way to be dead and it’s dead. But then you get to verse 4 and everything changes, “But God being rich in mercy…” And then think about all the things God does in Ephesians 2, “Because of His great love, He made us alive together with Christ. He raised us up with him. He seated us with him in the heavenly places. So in the coming ages, He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace.” Notice who’s doing all the action there.

In fact, it’s interesting, you look at Ephesians 2, all the references to us are in the passive voice. In the verse 5, in Ephesians 2, “You have been saved,” not you saved yourself. You have been saved. Verse 8, “By grace, you have been saved through faith,” through faith, not your own doing. It’s the gift of God. God did this. It’s that glorious chapter, Romans 3:21-26, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We are justified. We don’t justify ourselves before God.

So if someone asks us our testimony and say, “How’d you become a Christian?” Like, if the first words out of our mouth are I, then we’re maybe missing the point. It all started with Him. God did a work in me that I could have never done on my own. God saved me by His grace, the sole ground of salvation, so saved by the grace of God. And then, the supreme aim of salvation is the global glory of God. So why does God do what He does among His people? Why does God save His people when they sin against Him?

Think about this, time and time again all throughout the Old Testament, God’s people turned away from Him to worthless idols. They followed foreign kings. They worshiped false gods. They indulged in idolatry, immorality. Over and over again, they warranted God’s holy wrath. And as a result, God showed His judgment to them, scattered them into exile, into a foreign land, but He didn’t destroy them. God didn’t do what He, think about this, what He did with all kinds of other peoples in the Old Testament. Throughout Old Testament history, we see God striking down entire pagan idolatrous nations and it’s right and just and holy for God to do this. So why did He not do that with the people of Israel? Back up to verse 16 real quick. Listen for the answer to that question, the motive of God in saving His people from all-out destruction.

So in verses 16-18, God recounts His people’s rebellion. Listen to it, “The word the lord came to me, son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land for the idols with which they had defiled it.” Then God describes what he did to them in His judgment. Verse 19, “I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed to the countries and accordance with their ways and their deeds, I judged them.” But now, so here’s the answer to the question. Why were they judged and exiled not destroyed? Look at verse 20, “But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned My holy name. And that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord and yet they had to go out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.”

Did you hear that? God says, “When my people were exiled to the nations, they were profaning My name and the nations were saying, ‘This is the people of the Lord. Look how miserable they are.'” And the conclusion of the nations was clear, these people’s God is not great. So out of concern for His holy name among the nations, God says in Verse 22, “Say this to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God. ‘It is not for your sake that I’m about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord.'” God says, ‘I want the holiness of My great name to be known among the nations. That is why I’m doing what I am doing. That is why I will do what I will do. I will save and restore and redeem My sinful people, not for their sake, but for the sake of My holy name.”

Are we hearing this? The reason God saves His people from destruction is because God is zealous for the fame of His name among the nations. The resounding reality of Ezekiel is crystal clear. Why does God saves His people? Because God loves His glory, and He desires His glory to be made known among all the nations. When God saves His people, He doesn’t do it ultimately for their sake, He does it ultimately for His sake. God will bring them back from exile, will cleanse them of their sin, restore them in their land. In the process, He will show the nations that He is great. God is for them because it brings glory to Him.

God is for His people because this brings glory to His name among all peoples. And this is not the way, I think, most members in 21st-century American churches think about God and salvation. On both levels, we are prone to think that our actions, certainly something we do, merits this relationship we have with God. And then, we don’t think about a god who is so zealous for himself. But this is what’s the book of Ezekiel is all about. Seventy different times in Ezekiel, God says, “I’m doing what I’m doing so that people will know who I am.” God is passionate about His name being made known, His glory being exalted. God judges people, saves people. Why? Because God loves His glory.

Now, I just think that feels uncomfortable to many members in our churches, mainly because that would be a negative characteristic about any one of us to love our own glory, to delight in our own fame, to center around ourselves. And that would be inappropriate for us. But it is more than appropriate for God to be God-centered. Like, John Piper didn’t make this up. Like, the Bible made this up. God is God-centered, which makes sense. Who else should He center around? If it rubs anyone wrong that God lives to exalt Himself, just ask the followup question. Who else would you rather Him exalt? You? Me? This? That? At any point, He were to exalt someone or something else, He would no longer be the God who is worthy of all exaltation. And He is.

It’s what it means for Him to be God. Of course, He centers around Himself. There’s no one, nothing greater than Him. No one, nothing more delightful than Him or glorious than Him. No more worthy of worship than Him. I was just reminded in the breakout before this, just walking through different texts in the scripture in an interview with Nancy Guthrie, and I was just reminded because I was breezing through the Psalms recently and what a very self-centered book God has given us in the Psalms, right? Like, 150 chapters all about how we can praise Him.

Like, I just started to picture it and I just, I started laughing as I was in my study. Like, what if I gave my wife 150 poems that I had written about how great I am and said, “Babe, I have a gift for you. I have written 150 poems and I just, I wanna give them to you for you just to read to me. This will be so good for your heart.”

This is what God has given us in the Psalms. And it’s true. It’s gloriously true. It is good for our hearts to worship this God. This is the beauty. Put these together… Or how does God glorify Himself? God glorifies Himself by saving sinners by His grace. This is the gospel. How does God glorified himself? He’s glorified Himself by sending His son as a substitute sacrifice for our sins. God’s glorified Himself by slaying His son for our salvation. So our enjoyment of God’s grace and our worship of God’s glory go together here. God loves His people for His glory among all people. So the question I would ask then is, how convinced are your members that they’ve been saved solely by God’s grace and supremely for God’s glory among all the nations?

This is huge because if this question is not a matter of conviction in our hearts as leaders in the church and then imparted to those we lead, then global mission, making disciples, multiplying church around the world will continue to be a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who are called to that instead of the heartbeat that drives a local church. And that’s a massive difference. My hope, my prayer is one of the takeaways from this short breakout is that you’d walk away working hard in the church where you are to convince members of the church that God has saved them solely by His grace and supremely for His glory among the nations, every single one of them.

And that you will be able to… I just think about where I was preaching. We were in Exodus just a couple of weeks ago and talking about this, I mean, Exodus 9:16, “God says to pharaoh, ‘For this reason, I have raised you up to show you My power so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. This is why I’ve done this.'” And why did God lead his people out of slavery in Egypt? For the sake of His worship. “Let My people go so that they may serve Me, worship Me.” That’s why the last half of Exodus… First half, deliverance from slavery. Second half: worship, law, tabernacle, glory of God in the midst of His people. He saves His people for the sake of His worship.

And so I say, “God saves you for the spread of His glory in the world.” I see the thought bubbles coming up in your minds right now because you’re thinking, “Well, we’re not all supposed to become missionaries.” I said, “I didn’t say you’re supposed to become a missionary and move to another part of the world.” But I did say, “Just showing you in God’s word, you’ve been saved for the spread of His glory in the world.” That’s why you have breath and your life is His to spend for the spread of His glory in the world. And so lay it down and see where He leads you. Maybe staying right here in Washington, DC, maybe the church I’m pastoring, or where I know we’re not. You know, so stay right here wherever you live, but open to wherever God leads because you have breath for the spread of His glory in the world. I want them to be convinced of that.

And when you realize you’ve been saved from all your sin, for all of eternity, solely by the grace of God, then surrender for the spread of the glory of God, just makes sense. It’s Isaiah 6, right? Like, “This has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, your sin atoned for.” And right after that, I said, “Here am I? Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And the response is not where or when or how. It’s like, “Here I am. Send me.” That’s what we’re after. That’s what we want to preach the gospel and the grace of God in such a way that it’ll elicits that kind of surrender for the glory of God.

And what happens when this is the culture of the church, right? When the culture of the church… So what we’re not talking about is… And yes, I wanna get some practical things, but if we just kinda think about this in terms of programs and practical things and the culture is not, “We are saved by God’s grace for the spread of God’s glory,” then we’ll just be playing in the sandbox of what we could be doing in the world for the glory of our God. So how convinced, right? It changes everything when that question’s answered.

Second question. Second question. How equipped are your members to make disciples and multiply churches without dependence on performances, programs, and professionals? Sorry, these are not the shortest questions. I’ll say it again. How equipped are your members to make disciples and multiply churches without dependence on performances, programs, and professionals?

So think about Ezekiel 36 here. Right after God states His clear concern for His glory in the world, He tells His people specifically what He’s gonna do. In verses 25-27, “I’ll sprinkle clean water on you. You’ll be clean from all your uncleannesses. From all your idols, I will cleanse you. I’ll give you a new heart, a new spirit. I’ll remove the heart of stone, give you a heart of flesh. Put My spirit within you, cause you to walk in My statutes. Be careful to obey my rules.”

So think about it. How is God gonna glorify Himself among the nations? By forming a people who are forgiven of their sins, cleaned from all their uncleannesses, cleaned from impurity, immorality, idolatry, “From all your idols, I will cleanse you.” So God will glorify His name by forgiving His people of their sins and by filling His people with His spirit. What a promise? Verse 27, ”I will put My spirit within you.” God will dwell in His people. Yeah, in the context of the Old Testament, that verse should just pop out and amaze us.

Remember, I was just reading this week in my time in the Word, in Numbers 11 when Moses said, “Would it be that God’s spirit would be on more people?” It’s only on a few people. And God says, “I’m gonna put My spirit within you.” Why? Why? So that they might obey His will. So in giving His spirit, God said, “I will transform their wants, remove your heart of stone, give you a heart of flesh.” People who once had hearts of stone, hard toward God, unresponsive to God, unyielding to God will now be soft toward God, responsive to God, submissive to God. All the things we saw yesterday, even in Mark 8 and John 3, they will want God. They’ll desire God, delight in God. Heart’s changed from the inside out. God gives us radically new wants an entirely new will.

Verse 27, “I’ll put my spirit within you, cause you to walk in My statutes. Be careful to obey my rules.” And it will draw His people so that they will obey His will. And what is His will? His will is to make His glory known in the world. Now, obviously, there’s all kinds of ways that plays out in our lives. As we walk and God’s statutes, we obey His rules.

But think about this specifically in relation to mission. Think about…so fast forward in your minds to Luke 24, right before Jesus ascends and he opened their minds to understand the scripture. He said to them. “That’s what’s written. The Christ should suffer, on the third day, rise from the dead, repentance for the forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my father upon you. Stay in the city until you’re clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus promises the filling of God’s spirit, what was prophesied here in Ezekiel 36. Why? For what purpose? So that they might be witnesses in the world. Which is why, when Luke picks up this book in Acts 1, he says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” what was promised to Ezekiel. And the result is, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, to the ends of the earth,” witnesses in all the world.

So don’t miss the point, don’t miss what the Bible is teaching. When people are saved by the grace of God, for the glory of God among the nations, God forgives them of their sin and fills them with His spirit so that they might obey His word as witnesses in the world. So I’ll say that one more time. That was a really long sentence, but I think it’s really important. When people are saved by the grace of God, for the glory of God among the nations, God forgives them of their sin and fills them with His spirit. Why? So that they might obey His word as His witnesses in the world. In other words, by God’s grace, the new covenant, believers in Christ have what it takes to obey God’s will as God’s witnesses in the world. So now come back to the question. How equipped are your members to make disciples and multiply churches without dependence on performances, programs, and professionals?

So every member of your church, assuming they’re in Christ, has the spirit of God and the word of God. And in this, they have what it takes to obey the mission of God, every one of them. My concern is that we have made them unnecessarily and, in some ways, unhelpfully dependent on performances, programs, and professionals to do that which God has already equipped them to do. And here’s what I mean by that. How have we communicated disciple-making in most of our churches, including the one I pastor? Gathered together for a service?

So what I’m calling here a performance, and just hang with me for a minute because, let’s be honest, most of our churches are set up theater-style with a stage and audience. Much is made to center on what happens on the stage, whether it’s activities of musicians, usually a band, then a preacher. And they go from the performance to programs that we designed for every age and stage: preschool programs, children’s programs, student programs, college programs, young adult programs, men’s programs, women’s programs, married programs, single programs, senior adult programs, programs for people who just don’t fit. And then those programs are at least facilitated or organized most often by professionals who make it all happen.

And I wanna be clear, I am not at all saying that these things are bad in and of themselves. In fact, I would argue that there is a much good and much biblical behind what’s happening in some of this. But here’s the problem, or should I say a problem? What might happen if you took one of your members and suddenly put them in a remote or unreached part of the world where they didn’t have a performance, and they didn’t have programs, they didn’t have any professional ministers around them? Could that member make disciples and then gather those disciples together into a church that was focused on making disciples and multiplying the church? So how many of your members would be equipped to make disciples and multiply churches if all they had was the word of God and the spirit of God?

I remind you, this is almost exactly the circumstance we find in Acts 8, when the members of the church in Jerusalem were suddenly scattered across Judea and Samaria. And what does the Bible say they did? Acts 11, they proclaim the Gospel and led people to Jesus and planted a church at Antioch that then became one of the most strategic multiplying churches in the history of Christianity.

As a pastor, I want to prepare the people I lead for that. I want them to be equipped with the Spirit of God and the Word of God to make disciples and multiply churches wherever God leads them in the world without dependence on performances, programs, and professionals. Wouldn’t that be a great picture to see the people in your church ready at a moment’s notice to be taken to another part of the world and confident that the Spirit of God and the Word of God are sufficient to then obey the mission of God, see disciples made and the church planted and multiplied wherever they are, right?

So that feels like a tall order. Not when it’s the Spirit of God and the Word of God. That’s the beauty. So let’s be careful not to create an unhealthy dependence on certain things that are either…well, we’ll just say even extra-biblical things. How do we equip them to make disciples and multiply churches without dependence on these other things? And when they are equipped in that way, when they believe in the power of the Spirit of God and the Word of God to accomplish the mission of God, then global mission, I think, takes off because now… So we talk about this a good bit and because we’re in Washington D.C., I mean there’s just unique opportunities for people going around the world.

So guy comes up to me in the lobby the other day. He was just like, “All right, pastor, I saw a job opening in Saudi Arabia, so I took it. What do I do now?” So he’s moving with his family to the Middle East. I want him to be ready. I want him to be ready. I want anybody to be ready. When they see that job opening come up, another place, particularly where the Gospel’s not yet gone, I want him to be ready to say, “Yes, I know what to do when I get there too. I know what to do.” It’s not gonna be easy. It’s obviously gonna be hard in all kinds of ways, but I want him to be so doing it right there that it just makes sense then to do it in another place in the world.

I think about the army unleashed to the nations when this is happening in local churches right here, like, because the opportunities are there, I think about, yeah, all kinds of examples just start coming to my mind. People I know, I mean…a nurse. She graduated with a nursing degree and she intentionally looked for an opportunity to work around the world. She gets a job right in the heart of the Middle East. She started working. There, she has risen up in the ranks of nursing. She’s now head of the nursing in this hospital in a Muslim part of the world. She has Bible studies in her office every week. Nobody stops her because she’s so good at nursing. And I think, “Oh, may the Lord multiply her number.”

I think about a retired couple. Did you know Malaysia has a whole effort that they have made to encourage Westerners to retire there? It’s called Malaysia, My Second Home. And there’s financial incentives they’re pouring out to get Westerners to come retire. Malaysians are some of the most unreached people in the world. I want retirees to go live it up in Malaysia, right? What better way to spend last days before we see our Savior’s face than introducing to people who’ve never even heard his name? Are our retirees equipped and confident in the spirit of God in them to do this?

So that leads to the last question. And there’s actually two sub-questions under this. This is my attempt to have like a 3-point talk, but it’s like 10 points total. So here’s the last question. How desperate are your members to see dead people come to life? How desperate are your members to see dead people come to life?

So I’m running out of time, Ezekiel 37 illustrates this. Well, let’s read it. It’s the best use of our time just reading the Word. Just picture it. The hand of the Lord was upon me, He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley. It was full of bones. He led me around among them, behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry, dry bones. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.'” Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then He said to them, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus, says the Lord God, ‘Come out from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.'” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.” Behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost. We are indeed cut off.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put My spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.'”

Oh so much we could talk about here, but just ask the question. How did the dead come to life? How did the dead come to life? The answer is twofold in Ezekiel 37. One, to the power of God’s spirit, right? This is spiritual work that only the power of God’s spirit can do. And two, to the proclamation of God’s word. It all revolves around speaking. Proclamation of God’s word and the power of God’s spirit brings the dead to life. Like this is, oh, this is like a whole another question to ask about members in our church, but do we believe that the proclamation of this word will bring people from death to life? Are we confident in the power of this word when it’s proclaimed like the dead will come to life when it’s proclaimed? Then how desperate are we to see that happen? How desperate are the members of your church to see the dead come to life right around them and all around the world? Like desperate enough to go and preach to them?

That’s one of the sub-questions. Are they’re desperate enough to go and preach to them? And in the second sub-question is, are they desperate enough to fast and pray for this and to fast and pray this work: making disciples, multiplying churches around the world? There is no more complex work in the world than that than to go into places around the world and call people to totally change the way they think, how they feel, desire, act, live out in family, marriage, home, work, every facet of your life totally changed.

You think about how complex that is in all the cultures in the world call people to new life, new way of living, new wants, new desires, new everything. Like, when you think about the complexity of global mission, it makes negotiating peace in the Middle East seem like a piece of cake. This is the most complex work in the world. It doesn’t happen without the power of the spirit of God. And desperate people who know they can’t do this work on their own, who know they can’t do it on their own, but who believe in the power of God to do this work. They’re desperate to see it, desperate enough to fast and pray and go and preach.

I think I just got back a couple of months ago from some time in South Korea and I’ve been in South Korea before, but I was just freshly reminded of a story of the church in South Korea. Like, so just in case you’re not familiar with the whole picture, like turn of the century in 1900, less than 1% of the Korean population was Christian. Less than 1%.

Let me give you a little history I hear, though, that began to change and what would become known in Korean history as the Pyongyang Revival of 1907. The church there are called Korean Pentecost. So in January of that year, there was a large Bible conference held with about 1,500 Christian leaders, which was a lot considering the small number of Christians that were in the country. And so it was Korean pastors, church leaders, and missionaries from other countries came together in what is now the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. And so they knew they were struggling as a church in the country. They were pleading for God to do something among them. They were desperate. So during the meeting, what’s interesting is the preachers, both missionaries and Korean pastors, became overwhelmed by their own sin and their need for repentance in their own lives, and there’s just desperation for God in the work they were doing.

They started confessing their sin audibly, including hidden sin before God, before each other, better as they held even toward each other. Their confession let others in the audience to start doing the same. People started spontaneously standing up, confessing their sin, crying out for God’s mercy. Many prayed aloud at the same time.

Here’s how one pastor described that first night and he said, “The sound of many praying at once brought not confusion, but a vast harmony of sound and spirit, a mingling together of souls moved by an irresistible impulse of prayer. The prayer sounded to me like the falling of many waters and ocean of prayer beating against God’s throne. Just as on the day of Pentecost, God came to us in Pyongyang that night with the sound of weeping. As the prayer continued to spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came down upon the audience. Over on one side, someone began to weep. In a moment, the whole audience was weeping. And continue man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fist in perfect agony of conviction.

“One man tried to make a confession, broke down in the midst of it, cried to me across the room. ‘Pastor, tell me, is there any hope for me? Can I be forgiven?’ Then threw himself to the floor and wept and wept almost screamed in agony. Sometimes after a confession, the whole audience would break out in audible prayer. The effect of that audience of hundreds of people praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out an uncontrollable weeping. We would all weep. We couldn’t help it. And so the meeting went on like this till two in the morning with confession and weeping and praying.”

What happened that night and in the next day, the next, marks of Korean Revival were born: preaching of God’s Word, confession of sin, and collective, audible prayer, and crying out for God’s mercy. And in the days to come, the movement of God’s spirit began to sweep across that land from church to church, village to village, people coming to Christ left and right. Churches being planted, Christians were praying together. Early every morning, they would gather for all-night prayer gatherings. Northern Korea specifically was becoming a stronghold of Protestant Christianity in Asia. Pyongyang, so the current capital of North Korea, became known as the Jerusalem of the East. It was affecting the entire culture in the middle of it all, the country was experiencing all kinds of turmoil, trial, Japanese occupation. War led to the division of the country, eventually implementation of communism.

So there’s much more there, but just get the picture. So as a result of communism, the North ended up fleeing to the South. Or today, so get this, 1900 Korea less than 1%, Christian. Christianity practically nonexistent. One century later or one short century later, there were over 10 million followers of Jesus, 10 million. And South Korea, second only to the U.S. in number of missionaries sent out around the world, which is pretty startling when you realize its population is only the size of California and Florida combined. That has been the story of the church in South Korea.

I can remember one of my preaching professors telling me about being over in South Korea preaching and he was in his hotel. And early one morning, like 4:00 in the morning, he wakes up and hears this noise outside, a loud noise, like a huge crowd. He goes over to the window and he looks out and there’s a stadium right near his hotel and it’s just this loud noise coming from the stadium. And he’s thinking, “What sporting event are they doing at 4:00 in the morning? This is absurd.” He’s like frustrated with whatever Korean sport is going on right there. So he tries to go back to sleep, can’t. Later in the morning, gets up, comes down and he just asked the person at the desk there at the hotel, “What sporting event was happening the stadium over there?” And the person at the desk said, “That was not any sporting event. That was the church praying.”

Lord, teach us to pray. And this [inaudible], I can picture it after being here just a couple months ago, like, they gather together at 4:00 every morning now, all-night prayer meetings on Friday night. I came back, said, “We’re doing some all-night prayer meetings.” We’ve done two and well one was all-night. One was like 8:00 to 6:00, the next one was 8:00 to 12:30. Well, we said we’re gonna go… Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to justify why we didn’t go all night.

But I’m just confessing even now like I have in my ministry like totally missed leading people to pray in desperation for God like that. I mean, when we would pray and a church there had preached and then we’re just leading to a time of praying and everybody, for those of you who are Korean or know Korean, I’m about to butcher the language, but the word for Lord is Chio. And so what had happened is I’d preach and then they start this prayer time and everybody at the same time would yell, “Chio.” And they would just start praying all at the same time, all around the room, crying out to God. And I look at that and I think like less than 1% to 10 million. I mean, just think of a country right now that’s less than 1% Christian.

Can you imagine 100 years from now, 10 million followers of Jesus in Afghanistan? That would be awesome. Our God is able to do that. You can bring 10 million followers of Jesus in Yemen, Saudi Arabia. He is able to do that. And we have the privilege of being a part of that. Go and preach to them. The dead will come to life.

So the question is, are we desperate to see that and how desperate? Desperate enough to pray all night and be honest about our sin? Like that’s where it’s… Korean revival started when the pastors and missionaries got serious about their own sin. I guess that’s maybe the big question. It’s not just about members. How convinced are you that you have been saved solely by God’s grace and supremely for God’s glory among the nations, like, right where you’re sitting? Are you equipped to make disciples and multiply churches around the world without dependence on performance, programs, professionals? And how desperate are you and I to see dead people come to life? How desperate, what does that kind of desperation look like in our lives and our leadership in the church?

So I know, just realized I’m over time. I think maybe instead of having some dialogue, asking me questions, I think it’d be better for us just to have some prayer time before God. Is that in all right? Like, if we just go a little South-Korea style and all across this room, I just wanna invite us and you feel free if you want to stay where you’re sitting, but if you also want, I invite you, let’s get on our knees. And I don’t know how what we’ve just walked through provokes you to pray. But I wanna invite us to pray.

And so as we pray all together, we’re gonna pray all together at the same time, out loud. And this is not a golf event. This is not like whisper prayer. This is desperate prayer to God. So I just wanna invite us to call out to God, loud to God all across this room. Like, picture singing but we’re praying. So you don’t sing whispering. You sing loud. So let’s pray. Let’s cry out to God. And after we prayed for few minutes, and I’ll close this all together, but let’s just begin to cry out to him.

Oh, God, we praise You for saving us by Your sovereign grace. Thank You. Thank You for this privilege, this privilege of prayer. And we praise You for Your supreme glory. There is no one like You. Our hearts are glad in the worship of Your name. You are supremely glorious, worthy of glory among all the nations. We love You, God. We worship You. We praise You. We wanna love You more. We wanna love You with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength.

So, God, we pray for this kind of conviction to capture our hearts and to capture the hearts of the people we lead in our churches. God, we pray for just deeper and deeper awakening to awareness of Your sovereign grace and deeper, deeper awakening to awareness of Your supreme glory. God, we pray. We pray. Open eyes, open eyes, only You, only you can open eyes. But we’re looking at in Your word yesterday in Mark 8, only You, O God can open eyes to see that we might see Jesus is better than possessions. That Jesus is better than applause. That Jesus, you are better than any and everything this world has to offer us put together.

God open our eyes to see Your worth in greater ways. Wake us up to see Your worth and we pray that You would wake us up to see the need of the nations around us, to feel the weight, even of your judgment on sinners, Your coming judgment. God, please give us Your heart for those who are under Your judgment right now. And please raise up an army of brothers and sisters from our churches to make Your gospel known that Your wrath might be relented and Your grace, Your mercy might be made known. Yes, God, yes, in the cities where we live, the communities where we are, God, we pray that you would add to our number daily those who are being saved. Please, oh, God, only You can do that. We pray that You would cause our churches to be disciple-making churches and we pray that You would send out many. And I just pray for our churches in this room right now. We pray You’d send out in many laborers into Your harvest field from our churches. Please, oh, God, send out laborers.

Jesus, you told us to pray for this. We’re praying for it right now. We know the harvest is plentiful, workers are few. So send out multitudes of spirit-filled word-proclaiming men and women from our churches, we pray. And help us to shepherd them toward that end. Even though God is…we are willing to go toward that end.

God, we have a reason to be desperate for You. So help us to see it and help us to pray. We pray that You would teach us to pray. And we pray that… God, would You, by Your grace, through our prayers, see fit to do what You did in Korea, what You’ve done in all kinds of times and places in history, would You see fit to show Your power and Your glory through our lives and our churches today, in our day, time and place You put us in. We ask these things in the precious and powerful name of Jesus, our savior, our Lord, our king, whom we love. In his name, we pray. Amen.

“I want the people I pastor to be equipped with the Spirit of God and the Word of God to make disciples and multiply churches wherever God leads them in the world without dependence on performances, programs, and professionals. Wouldn’t that be a great picture—to see the people in your church ready at a moment’s notice to be taken to another part of the world and confident that the Spirit of God and the Word of God are sufficient to then obey the mission of God, see disciples made, and the church planted and multiplied wherever they are?” — David Platt

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast. Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

Related:

Editors’ note: 

Make plans to watch Something Needs to Change, a simulcast with David Platt on September 18.

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