When His disciples sought to understand signs of their times, Jesus' answer was clear and direct: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Jesus directed His disciples' focus to the task before them of being witnesses to a lost world in the power of the Spirit. He redirected their attention from the concerns of time to the transcendence of eternity.
Our Lord's priority is the lost. Many years later Peter wrote of our Lord's return: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
The ultimate objective of our Fellowship is building the eternal kingdom of God. In our first 75 years of missionary ministry, membership in our fraternal churches abroad grew to 16 million. In the last 10 years, this number has almost doubled to more than 28 million. Someday the Assemblies of God will no longer exist. Like scaffolding the Lord has used, when the temple is complete, the scaffolding will come down. His eternal temple is comprised of "living stones" – people. God's kingdom is established one life at a time.
All the things most people seek in this life – recognition, wealth, knowledge and human relationships – are fleeting and temporary. Souls are eternal.
Like the disciples, it is not for us to know the times or dates God has set. With focused zeal, we must obey our Lord's Great Commission to proclaim the good news and make disciples in all the world. Three facts are inescapable: the lostness of humanity, the certainty of eternity and the exclusiveness of Christ.
Lostness of Humanity
Even the casual observer of contemporary life and events in this world is forced to know that evil and chaos are escalating. Modern secular culture tries to explain away man's sin. The plagues of immorality and violence are attributed to poverty, social injustice and even genetics. The blame is placed everywhere except where it belongs – the sinful human heart.
From the time of the Early Church, many have wishfully speculated that all people will eventually, somehow, reach heaven. But we can only know about God's plan for eternity what He has chosen to reveal to us. His Word clearly shows that all mankind is lost.
In one of Asia's modern cities, in the midst of gleaming skyscrapers, I visited a heathen temple. Thousands of onlookers were in an outer courtyard. Unintentionally, in the press of the moving throng, I found myself standing just three or four feet away from a priest who was chanting as worshipers submitted to a demonic trance. Rows of steel hooks pierced the flesh of their backs, yet not a drop of blood flowed. Each hook was connected to a chain. The chains stretched back to a cart of rocks the worshiper pulled through the streets – trying to obtain forgiveness, healing or prosperity. Each torturous yoke bore silent, but graphic, witness that what I was viewing was the antithesis to God's grace.
As disturbing as these images are, we must remember that, even in America, some who claim to be Christians do not personally know Christ and are as lost as any who fit the stereotype of "heathens." A person doesn't have to be heathen to go to hell.
God's inspired Word describes the plight of those who are spiritually lost and blind: "…justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away."
The will of God for the lost is plain in Scripture. Jesus revealed the priority of heaven in the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son. Whether they are wandering lost or willfully lost, the heart of the Father extends to each. Heaven rejoices more over one lost sinner who repents than over the 99 who are already safe. The apostle Peter said that the Lord wants no one to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Sin both blinds and binds. Only the truth of God's revelation can open spiritually blind eyes. Only the power of His grace can set the captive free from a spiritual prison.
Certainty of Eternity
Our culture is increasingly oriented to the present. Passions for instant gratification dominate. Our perspective on life is naturally framed in time, but God's perspective is eternal.
The best-known verse in the Bible – John 3:16 – reveals the magnitude of God's love for a lost, sinful world. But the shining hope of everlasting life for those who believe is shadowed by those perishing in darkness. Perish here does not mean physical death or even the end of existence, but destruction and torment that lasts forever.
God is eternal – without beginning and without end – "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." While all created beings have a beginning, God's Word indicates that once a person is born, there is no end to existence.
Even some evangelical Christians have chosen to believe that unredeemed humanity will be judged and then, like animals, annihilated. Jesus taught otherwise: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire – Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.'"
Jesus juxtaposed suffering in this life compared to eternity – "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out."
Each person will face a final lasting judgment. Whatever a person's destiny, it is for certain eternal. Everlasting reward or punishment waits for every person on earth. The penalty for sin is almost unspeakable – but it must be told. The terrifying truth is that our world is thronged with lost and perishing multitudes.
Everyone will spend an eternity in heaven or hell. Each will be either a glorious wonder, conformed to Christ's image – or an everlasting horror, upon which we could not bear to look.
Exclusiveness of Christ
Modern culture seems to have designated tolerance as the primary moral virtue and accepted the idea that anything a person believes can be a pathway to eternal life and ultimate peace. According to God's revealed truth, there is only one way to peace and everlasting life with our Creator. Jesus is both the door and the way.
Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
During a flight over the Pacific I sat next to a famous guru who has advised wealthy celebrities and rock musicians. The swami was surprisingly cordial. As I turned the conversation first to spiritual things and then to Jesus, I was pleasantly surprised at the respect with which he spoke of Christ. As I probed what he believed about Jesus, I was amazed to discover that he believed in Christ's bodily resurrection, but said he could not believe the Virgin Birth. At first, I was bewildered by this contradiction. The Virgin Birth is just as critical to the Christian faith as the Resurrection.
Jesus had no human father. He existed before His incarnation; is equal with God; has the power to forgive sins;16 has provided the ransom for the sins of all mankind; and grants eternal life to all who believe.
We have just come through the Christmas season and remembering the miracle of God becoming flesh – when God came near to us to reveal himself. All that was accomplished through our Lord's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension has a divine purpose. After living a sinless life, Jesus offered up His life as the penalty for our sin, experienced death and conquered it.
The issue is not religion – but relationship. "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." Forgiveness of sin and eternal life are not granted merely for believing in God's existence and distinguishing right from wrong. Peace with God is obtained only through faith in Jesus, who broke down the wall of separation between our holy, loving Creator and sinful man. We who were enemies and far away from God because of our sin have been brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ.21 In Christ's birth, God came near to us. In His death, He brought us near to Him.
The apostle Peter said, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
A few hundred Spirit-filled believers gathered to form this Fellowship 85 years ago. Ever since, faithful missionaries have left home and family, and even risked their lives, to take the good news about Jesus to every corner of the world. The convicting truth of God's Word and the compelling passion of the Spirit left them no alternative. They believed that this world is lost in sin, that all people everywhere will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell, and that Jesus Christ made the "new and living way" to peace with our Creator. We must tell the lost of their opportunity to choose eternal life.
"Everyone who calls on the Lord's name will be saved." But they can?t call on Him unless they have first heard about Him and then believed in Him. We must preach the good news about Jesus in the regions beyond where Christ has not been named.
When time stands still, we will each face the risen Son of God who gave His life for a lost world and commissioned us to go and preach the good news. He will examine and judge our works. The missionary-apostle Paul said, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we persuade men…"
As the seconds tick away and the calendar pages turn, what really matters is that a million souls slip into eternity every week. In countries such as South Korea, Brazil and Nigeria, conversions to Christ are growing more rapidly than the population. But for most of the world, the opposite is true. In the light of eternity, our priority, for the new century and until Jesus returns, is to obey His Great Commission and accomplish the task He came to this earth to begin – the redemption of a world that is lost.
1 Acts 1:7,8 (NIV)
2 2 Peter 3:9
3 A heathen is one who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible
4 Isaiah 59:9-11
5 Luke 15
6 Matthew 18:13
7 2 Peter 3:9
8 Deuteronomy 33:27
9 Matthew 25:41,46
10 Mark 9:43
11 John 14:6
12 Matthew 7:13,14
13 Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:27
14 John 17:5
15 Philippians 2:6
16 Luke 7:48
17 1 Timothy 2:6
18 John 11:25,26
19 Hebrews 2:9,10
20 1 John 5:12
21 Ephesians 2:13
22 1 Peter 3:18
23 Acts 4:12
24 Hebrews 10:20
25 Acts 2:21
26 Romans 10:14,15
27 Luke 4:43
28 Romans 15:20
29 2 Corinthians 5:10,11