“Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions” David Platt
One Overarching Truth
A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.
Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.
Three Underlying Premises
This will clarify where we’re going, and maybe even disarm you a bit from objections that may already be rising in your mind and your heart.
(1) Local ministry and local mission are totally necessary.
I am not saying —or advocating at any point—that we should neglect local ministry, in the local church or the local community.
(2) Global missions is tragically neglected.
The northern part of Yemen has 8 million people.
Do you know how many believers there are out of those 8 million people? 20 or 30.
Over 2 billion people in the world today are classified as unreached—which means more than “unsaved” but that the gospel is simply not accessible to them.
(3) Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way in global missions.
Over 6,000 people groups with over 2 billion people in them are not yet reached with the gospel. This is a problem not for mission boards and mission agencies to address—this is a problem for every pastor and every local church.
Pastors, we love people in our local churches (local ministry) and we love people in our local communities (local mission) to the end that one day all peoples in all the world receive the gospel of God and revere the glory of God (global missions).
And what drives all of this—in the heart of a pastor and in the heart of a local church—is rock-solid confidence in the sovereignty of God over all things.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me,
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Four Theological Truths in the Text
(1) Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand.
Revelation 5:1, “I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll. . . .”
Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
“Almighty God, just because he is almighty, needs no support.”
The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see.
Twenty first -century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God. . . .
Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represent Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world. . . .
Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support.
I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.
Add to this a certain degree of commendable idealism and a fair amount of compassion for the underprivileged and you have the true drive behind much Christian activity today.
(2) The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless.
Revelation 5:2, “I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
The scroll contains the grand purpose of God in the world. And the silence of heaven testifies to the sinfulness of man. No one is worthy, and John is weeping. There is no hope apart from Christ.
“Thus it is in Hell; they would die, but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying but never dead; the smoke of the furnace ascends for ever and ever. Oh! Who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? This word ‘ever’ breaks the heart.”
One evangelist used to speak with tears in his eyes of “the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which souls will realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place.“
The way we talk about hell—helluva game, helluva song—shows we have no idea what we’re talking about.
The state of the unreached in the world: they haven’t heard of God—and yet they have heard him and seen him.
Romans 1:18-23, “What may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Although they knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like birds and animals and reptiles.”
The innocent man in Africa goes to heaven—the only problem is that he doesn’t exist. There are no innocent unreached people in the world. They are guilty before God and thus they need the gospel!
There are over 2 billion people in this world at this moment whose knowledge of God is only sufficient to damn them to hell forever. But there is hope!
(3) The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.
“One of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5).
He was promised centuries ago to patriarchs of old: “the lion of the tribe of Judah . . . to whom shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).
He is the Root of David: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . . . and he will stand as a signal for the peoples” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 11).
“I will raise up,” declares the sovereign Lord, “for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king” (Jeremiah 23:5).
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).
“Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Throughout history, from the beginning of time, men have come and men have gone, women have come and women have gone, all of them, the noblest of them, the kindest of them, the strongest of them, the greatest of them—all of them have fallen prey to sin.
All of them—every single man and every single woman—a slave to Satan.
All of them—generation after generation, century after century—every single man and every single woman succumbed to death.
But then came another man—unlike any man or woman before.
This man did not fall prey to sin; He possessed power over sin.
This man was not enslaved to Satan; He was enslaved to righteousness.
And this man did not succumb to death; He triumphed over death.
How? By suffering as a lamb.
He was marred / despised / rejected / stricken / smitten / afflicted / wounded / chastised / oppressed/ pulverized in our place—and all who hide under the banner of his blood will be saved.
The Lamb of God has not only endured death in our place; he has defeated death by his power. He bears the scars of death, yet he is sovereign over death.
Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.
Revelation 5:7, “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”
Salvation through sacrifice.
The consummation of the kingdom comes through the crucifixion of God’s Son.
Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-9).
(4) The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally, and gloriously particular.
“Four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed/purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’” (Rev. 5:8-10).
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has “chosen you in him before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, He predestined you to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in Him. In Him you have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on you according to His purpose. . . . In Him you have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:4-11).
Brothers and sisters, if there are 6,000 people groups that have still not been reached with the gospel of Christ, then we have missed the point of the atonement.
Our obedience to the Great Commission of Christ is incomplete if we just make disciples. Our commission is to make disciples of all the nations, of all the peoples.
Particular atonement drives global missions. So if we believe Revelation 5:9 (if we believe that Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe and tongue and nation), then let us go to every tribe and tongue and nation.
Why? Because we feel guilty that we’re reached, that we have all these resources? Aren’t we just “guilting people” into going overseas to the unreached? We feel bad so we go?
What drives passion for unreached peoples is not guilt, it’s glory—glory for a King.
It’s people who know that our sovereign God deserves the praise of not just 10,000 people groups on the planet, but all 16,000 of them. And we’re not going to stop until every single people group purchased by Christ is exalting His Name.
Four Implications of What We Should Do
(1) Let us lead our churches to pray confidently (for the spread of the gospel to all peoples).
Tell them Matthew 24:14. Tell them that “the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Tell them that, and then lead them to pray for the end to come. Ladd said this verse is “the single most important verse in the Word of God for the people of God today.” “God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are, but I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore, the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms; our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”
(2) Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially.
In many places a tiny percent of believers’ giving to the church goes to evangelism.
Take a good look at Psalm 67 where all nations are exhorted to praise the Lord. Our generous giving to evangelism will help that happen.
God gives his people worldly wealth for the spread of worldwide worship. The sovereign God of the universe has willed for us to be wealthy for the sake of his worship.
(3) Let us lead our churches to go intentionally to all peoples.
We need to have short-term, mid-term, and long-term missions.
There’s no question that we see Timothy-type people in the NT and Paul-type people in the NT.
God calls Timothy-type people to stay in a church (among the reached) and shepherd the body.
God calls Paul-type people to leave the reached and scatter to the unreached.
And pastor, there are men and women in your church whom God is calling to Paul-type ministry. Maybe not everybody, but some of them. God is calling them to pack their bags and move overseas to spread the gospel among unreached peoples.
So are you
- encouraging them?
- calling them out?
- coming alongside them?
- taking time during the year in your preaching and in your pastoring to speak specifically to them?
- leading the church to fast and pray like Antioch in Acts 13 and listening, “God, who are you calling out next to go long-term to unreached people groups overseas?” and waiting until he answers.
Are you listening? Could he be calling you?
Why don’t we just send money and let the local people do it? There are no local Christians, there are no local churches . . . that’s what it means to be unreached. God’s design is not for you and me to send them our money so they can lose their lives spreading the gospel instead of us.
(4) Let us lead our churches to die willingly.
A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions. Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.
Romanian pastor Josef Tson recounted a time he was being interrogated by six men. He said to one of them:
What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God. Every day I saw those six pompous men as nothing more than my Father’s puppets!
During an early interrogation I had told an officer who was threatening to kill me, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Here is how it works. You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country. If you kill me, those sermons will be sprinkled with my blood. Everyone will know I died for my preaching. And everyone who has a tape will pick it up and say, ‘I’d better listen again to what this man preached, because he really meant it; he sealed it with his life.’ So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before. I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.” After I said this, the interrogator sent me home. Another officer who was interrogating a pastor friend of mind told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.” I stopped to consider the meaning of that statement. I remembered how for many years, I had been afraid of dying. I had kept a low profile. Because I wanted badly to live, I had wasted my life in inactivity. But now that I had placed my life on the altar and decided I was ready to die for the Gospel, they were telling me they would not kill me! I could go wherever I wanted in the country and preach whatever I wanted, knowing I was safe. As long as I tried to save my life, I was losing it. Now that I was willing to lose it, I found it.
So fellow Christians:
Let us be finished and done with puny theology that results in paltry approaches to missions in our churches.
Let us believe deeply in the sovereign God of the universe who holds the destiny of the world (and our lives) in the palm of his hand.
Let us see the hopeless state of man before God apart from Christ, and let us lead our churches to pray, to give, and to go to unreached peoples with the greatest news in all the world.
We have been saved by a graciously, globally, gloriously particular sacrifice, so let us lead our churches and let us give our lives—let’s lose them, if necessary—for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the accomplishment of Christ’s commission.
And let’s not stop until the slaughtered Lamb of God and sovereign Lord of all receives the full reward of his sufferings.