Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Four-Season Harvest - Part II



As tempted as I am to make remarks on the current economic brouhaha, I am going to pass for this evening. I need to finish the post I promised on spiritual harvest. This is taken from a sermon I recently preached at Lansing Bible Church near Chicago.

Why is it that Christians preach the Gospel in hopes of gathering a great spiritual harvest? There are several facets to the biblical harvest, and we'll begin with the most obvious one.

THE HARVEST IS A COMMAND

We have our first marching orders with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), given by Jesus Himself, commanding us to "go to all the world and preach the Gospel (or make disciples elsewhere in Scripture).

Before Jesus ascended, He also said the following . . .

It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:7-8). Here again, we are commanded to be witnesses on a global scale.

In 1 Corinthians 9, The Apostle Paul says he is under compulsion. "Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel." Preaching the Gospel is not merely optional. We know what Jesus said if we are ashamed of Him before men.

The world doesn’t get it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness. God is well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. The Gospel is foolish to those who are perishing. But it doesn’t matter. In the midst of that scoffing multitude are those whom God plans to call to Himself. We are His ambassadors. We proclaim His Word, and He is faithful to act on the preaching of His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Who would have thought Paul himself would have come to faith? Ananias was probably quite frightened when the Lord told Him to preach to Paul. But Ananias obeyed and look what happened.

We don’t have to know how many are saved through our message. Is it nice to know? Sure. It’s a great encouragement. But when we begin getting into the numbers game, we open the door for trouble. More on that later.

THE HARVEST IS ALWAYS NIGH

Remember in John 4:35, Jesus spoke of the fields being white for harvest. The particular grain Jesus used as his example apparently resembled grey or white hair when it was ready to be gathered. He made it quite clear that for His harvest, He didn’t intend to wait four months to gather it. His harvest is ripe and ready for gathering now. As he spoke, the Samaritans had been summoned by the woman at the well, and as they came nearer, Jesus was able to use the example of a ripe harvest for the benefit of His disciples.

Colossians 4:5-6 tells us “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so you will know how you should respond to each person." We know that the disciples proclaimed the Gospel wherever they went, with every opportunity that they had as led by the Lord. The whole book of Acts testifies to the zeal of the early disciples and apostles.

In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul found himself in Ephesus, and he said to pray for him, because a wide door for effective service had opened up to him, and there were many adversaries. Today, we still have wide open doors, and we still have many adversaries.

We know that times of despair often provide open doors for us to share the hope we have in Christ. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in us. Look at today’s turmoil. Don’t you think people are looking for answers? Look at today's economic turmoil. I can't help but think of the old Steely Dan song . . .

When Black Friday comes
 I'll stand down by the door
 And catch the grey men when they
 Dive from the fourteenth floor
 When Black Friday comes 
I'll collect everything I'm owed
 And before my friends find out
 I'll be on the road
 When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be 
Don't let it fall on me.

That actually happened during the stock market crash in 1929. This time around, the news wires reported this week that a man threw himself in front of a train overseas due to his losses. As believers, we know our ultimate hope is not in finances.

THE HARVEST IS URGENT

Back to the farming analogy for a moment. We know that the harvest period is critical for a farmer. He only has a limited amount of time to gather his crops before winter.

We know that the Lord is returning. No man knows the day or hour. He could come at any moment. And barring the Lord’s physical return to earth, each one of us is only a heartbeat away from eternity. And for unbelievers, once they’re dead its too late.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).

In Luke 13, Jesus used some current events to illustrate the urgent need to repent. Pilate had killed some Galileans, and 18 men were killed when a tower fell in Siloam. The Lord told His hearers that unless they repented, they would all likewise perish.

THE HARVEST IS A PRIVILEGE

Bible scholar A.T. Robertson had a really neat way to express this truth. “It is the prerogative of the Master to reap, but Jesus lets the disciples share His joy. We’re talking about John 4:36, after the passage about the fields being white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that He who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.

The Apostle Paul recognized the honor of sharing Christ, especially considering his background . . .

For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11* Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed (1 Corinthians 15:9).

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8)

In Luke 8:39, Jesus had instructions for the demoniac . . . Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you. So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

We also saw earlier the example of the Samaritans, and how the woman at the well was eager to tell others about Jesus. All the more remarkable because of the lifestyle this woman had lived, and the fact that both as a loose woman and as a Samaritan, she would been looked on as lower than low.

How effective it can be to share that simple testimony of what Jesus has done for us? Theologically deep study, messages and lessons certainly have their place. But so often, the Lord uses a simple personal testimony to point people toward the Gospel.

THE HARVEST IS GOD’S

God calls us to be faithful. He calls us to be ready to share our faith. He calls us to be ready with the Gospel. But doing the saving isn’t up to you. I can’t save anyone. You can’t save anyone. Only God Himself can do that. That’s why getting caught up in the numbers game can be so deadly. Numbers in and of themselves are not necessarily indicators of God’s blessing. Today's church-growth gurus ought to remember that.

The Apostle Paul knew it. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). We know from verse five that God is the one who gives the opportunity. We also know from verse nine that we are God’s fellow workers, and those who come to Him are His field and His building. Jesus said that He would build His church. He also makes it plain in John 6 that God is the one who does the drawing of the lost to Himself . . . No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Some other Scriptures . . .

3 John 8 – We are fellow helpers to the truth.

Mark 16:20 – They went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the Word by the signs that followed.

John 6:39 – This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

Acts 13:48 – When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

God gets the glory for it all. Why He allows us to share in it, I can't say in toto. But I am glad that He allows us.

Where does it all finish? What is the denouement? It's pretty glorious.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever (Revelation 7:9-12).

Amen!

1 comment:

Gilbert said...

This post brings me close to home, since I grew up in Calumet City for the first 21 years of my life, which borders Lansing on the south....good ol' I-80 and the traffic jams...

"But so often, the Lord uses a simple personal testimony to point people toward the Gospel."

Tonight, I accepted to be a layman substitute pastor at a very small church south of you in Ashton. There's a story behind that church, but in any case, I pray that I will effectively preach the Gospel there.