I have an unusual pair of eyes. To state it simply, my right eye is
nearsighted and my left eye is farsighted. For years I didnt even know my
vision needed correction, because each eye compensated for the other. When I
was reading, my right eye was on duty, and when I was driving or watching a
movie, my left eye did most of the work.
It wasnt until I had a vision test to update my drivers license that I
discovered my two eyes were working independently rather than together. An
optometrist advised me to get glasses or contacts, but I told him that seemed
unnecessary. Although my eyes werent cooperating with each other, each was
performing its own specialized function, and that seemed good enough to me. The
problem, the doctor pointed out, was that when the eyes arent working together
in the messages they send to the brain, over time one eye may tend to dominate,
while the other becomes lazy.
I allowed the optometrist to prescribe a pair of glasses for me, but I
rarely wore them. As he predicted, over time my nearsighted right eye began
dominating what my brain saw. My distance vision got fuzzier and fuzzier.
Gradually, my left eye was giving up.
The same thing that is true of my physical vision is too often true of my
spiritual vision and of the spiritual vision of many churches. When we focus
primarily on what is close to us in distance or near to us in time, Gods
perspective on the whole world and on all of history can grow fuzzy.
Nearsighted churches can be very busy with activities, fellowship, programs
and even discipleship and ministry. But they often strain to see beyond their
walls and miss Gods perfect vision of all the people who havent found their way
into the church yet or who dont even have a church in sight. The busy world of
a local church can be wonderful. But God also wants a local church thats busy
in the world.
Jesus frequently asked His disciples to raise their vision from the
here-and-now to the bigger picture of His Fathers eternal purposes. In His
famous Sermon on the Mount He said it this way:
Dont collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust
destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves
treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves
dont break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is generous, your whole body
will be full of light. But if your eye is stingy, your whole body will be full
of darkness. So if the light within you is darknesshow deep is that
Jesus seems to be saying that living your life by eternal values begins with
seeing things quite differently from a stingy, earth-bound
perspective. If Im going to recognize real treasure and not waste my life on
things that dont last or matter, I have to step out of the darkness of my
selfishness and view the world in an enlightened way.
What is Gods big picture of my life and my world from His perfect point of
view? If God could be my optometrist and help me clearly see my life and my
churchnot only from my perspective but also from His broader, eternal viewwhat
would that look like? Lets look to the first followers of Jesus and the early
New Testament church to see how Jesus corrected their vision.
Jesus followers had so many opportunities to hear His words and see His
point of view as they followed Him around Palestine. But their nearsightedness
only allowed them to see the Kingdom of God as something political and
temporal. Only after Jesus resurrection did they begin to see how big
are Gods vision and love for the world, and how far-reaching the Kingdom of God
was to be.
The Bible says After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to
them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking
about the kingdom of God.2
Because Jesus own apostles saw that kingdom as here-and-now, they eagerly
asked, Lord, at this time are you restoring the kingdom to
It was in response to this nearsighted question that Jesus uttered His famous
last words before ascending into heaven.
Put yourself in the apostles sandals for a moment and ponder how important
you would consider Jesus last words on earth to be. His parting thoughts, His
final reminder, His lingering words of wisdomwhat would they be?
I stumbled across a website the other day where someone had compiled the
recorded last words of several famous people. According to this site, writer
Oscar Wildes last words before he died in 1900 were, Either that wallpaper goes
or I do. The reported last words of actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1939 were,
Ive never felt better. And in 1864 General John Sedgwick, Union Commander
during the Civil War, was reported by witnesses to have been killed immediately
after saying, They couldnt hit an elephant at this dist
Perhaps the most telling quote I found on that humorous and somewhat morbid
website were the final words of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who just
before his death in 1923 was reported to have said, Dont let it end like this.
Tell them I said something.
Unlike these men who could not choose the time of their death nor predict
which words would be their last, Jesus very purposefully and memorably chose
these as His final words on earth: It is not for you to know times or
periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive
power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in
Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the
Its as if Jesus heard in His followers last question their persistent
nearsightedness. They were focused on this time and Israel. They still
struggled to see eternity and the world.
So Jesus left themand uswith a very clear picture of how the Kingdom of God
would come and, amazingly, what our role would be in it.
He said that Gods Kingdom, Gods rule in our lives and across the world,
would come through the miracle of His own Holy Spirit coming upon us. He said
His own presence and power would dwell inside us but that it would actually be
us as witnesses, telling our personal stories of His grace that would radiate
throughout the world.
With the powerful Holy Spirit indwelling us, Jesus said that our lives can
touch both eternity and the entire world. In other words, time and space are no
longer limitations for the followers of Christ! When we help usher people into
the Kingdom of God through the doorway of Jesus, we collect a treasure that
lasts forever, and we participate in Gods mission that spans the entire scope
of human history. And when we participate with our church and other churches in
multiplying that witness, theres no place on earth beyond our reach.
This is Gods perfect perspective on my life and on my churchs life. This is
the corrected vision He longs for me to have.
In addition to a brand new view of my own life here and now, God through His
word gives me a farsighted view of His mission that is worldwide and
history-long. He says my life should be a witness, and my church should have a
radiating influence both near and far.
Ten days after Jesus famous last words about Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and
the ends of the earth, the day of Pentecost arrived.5
Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples were given both power and boldness,
and the fledgling band of followers exploded into the world, following the
corrected vision Jesus had given them even before they fully understood what He
was talking about.
That same power is available to us and our churches today. Do you and your
church yet see the world as Jesus longs for you to see it?
As vast as the world seems to us today, we can only imagine how Jesus Acts
1:8 vision of the ends of the earth appeared to the early church. Relative to
the worlds population there were only a few of them, and in reality the early
Christians probably had little grasp of the number of people and cultures in
places like China and India and no concept that a North America or South
America even existed. The general consensus is that the world contained between
200 and 300 million people at the time of Christ, and the number of people who
had witnessed the resurrection when Jesus spoke the words of Acts 1:8 numbered
only a few hundred.
Think how encouraging the day of Pentecost must have been to those early
believers. The Holy Spirit and the power they had been promised had come and
with it the ability to speak in numerous languages.
This enabled them to immediately communicate with Jews who had come to
Jerusalem for the Passover celebration from all over the world! After Peters
first sermon, approximately 3,000 people became followers of Christ.
In one day, God had demonstrated that the Holy Spirit and faithful believers
would indeed carry the message of Christ to the ends of the earth. Not until
later would they realize that the message was intended not only for Jews all
over the world, but for non-Jews as well.
Today the ends of the earth is still a daunting assignment. Of the 6.2
billion people now on earth, an estimated 3.4 billion live in about 6,500
unreached people groups, where the number of evangelical Christians totals less
than 2 percent of the population. One and a half billion of these live in about
5,000 people groups the International Mission Board calls Last Frontier people
groups, where there is little or no access to the gospel.
Yet the reality is that we are breathtakingly close to the possibility of
delivering the gospel to the whole world. International missionaries are now
engaging more than 1,500 of those 5,000 Last Frontier people groups. From one
Christian and one church the message can now spread there, just as it did from
the Jerusalem church.
Its conceivable that within the next few years, the words of Jesus recorded
by Matthew could come true: This good news of the kingdom will be
proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end
Does your church see the ends of the earth as Jesus sees them?
As overwhelmed as the early church may have felt at the idea of being
witnesses to the ends of the earth, the mention of Samariathe region north of
Jerusalem and Judeamust have aroused an entirely different set of emotions.
Samaritans were the descendants of the northern tribes of Israel who had been
conquered by Assyria several hundred years earlier and who, after generations
of intermarriage, now represented both mixed race and mixed religion to the
Remember that at this time the early church would have assumed that the good
news about the Messiah was only for Jewish people. They must have been a little
puzzled at Jesus mention of Samaria, because Samaria was known as the place
where you couldnt find a purebred, devoted Jew. Earlier it had puzzled Jesus
disciples when He deliberately chose to go through Samaria (they usually walked
around it when traveling between Judea and Galilee) and even stayed there a
couple of days, teaching a sinful Samaritan woman and her village about true
worship of the true God.7
It had also puzzled all Jesus listeners when He made the Good Samaritan the
hero of His famous parable.8
In fact, when Jesus Jewish enemies really wanted to discredit and insult Him,
they called Him two despicable names: demon-possessed and a
For todays church, as for the early church, Samaria is a close-by place that
we rarely visit, and Samaritans are those who live near us, but who are not
like us. We can legitimately think of our Samaria geographically, racially,
ethnically, culturally or religiously. And from all those perspectives, there
is no better parallel for the church today than our own nation and North
American continent. Here in our post-Christian culture, its estimated that 228
millionabout 7 out of 10dont have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many of the lostalmost 60 percentlive in the 50 largest metropolitan areas
where our churches are often fewest and smallest. The breadth of lostness
around the world is staggering. But so is the depth of lostness in our diverse
homeland where so many assume they know Christianity but have never known
Since much of this issue of On Mission is devoted to focusing on
the Samaria of the North American mission field, I wont go into a great deal of
detail here about the many ways that the United States, its territories and
Canada bring to your church the same challenges that Samaria did to the early
church. But think about the circles in which you and your church normally
travel. Are you intentionally engaging your Samaria, or are you walking around
it and in your heart even scorning it a little? Does your church see your
Samaria as Jesus sees it?
Of all the places Jesus said his disciples would be witnesses, Judea must
have seemed the most inviting. Unlike Samaria to the north, which was the
remnant of the northern kingdom of Israel, the region of Judea represented the
remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah had survived the Assyrian
assault to which the northern kingdom had succumbed in 721 B.C., but later the
Babylonians conquered even Judah, destroying Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and leaving
Solomons magnificent temple in ruins. Most of the population was deported to
Babylon, but the Jewish race and culture were allowed to remain largely intact.
Years later when Cyrus established his Medo-Persian empire, Nehemiah and Ezra
were permitted to return with thousands of Jews to what was then the Persian
province of Judea. There they were allowed to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and
to reestablish Jewish culture and worship.
So when the early church looked around in its home region of Judea, it saw
many familiar people and familiar practices. Certainly generations of conquest
and resettlement meant there was some diversity in the people who lived there
and their customs. But more than any place on earth, Judea was home country for
the loyal people of God who had protected their race, their religious practices
and the traditions of their culture.
How surprising it must have been for the early church to find the most
resistance to the good news about Jesus the Messiah among the devout Jewish
people around them! Certainly many Judean Jews became Christ-followers as the
gospel was proclaimed to them. And we dont read nearly as much in the book of
Acts about Judea as distinct from Jerusalem (its capital) or even as much as we
read about Samaria or the ends of the earth. But in town after town we do see
evidence of the most devout Jewish leaders being the most resistant to the
gospel message, even to the point of persecuting the apostles and early
Christians. And those Jewish leaders were most numerous and influential in
Churches today still live in places of definite regional or state
affinities. There are Hoosiers and Gators and Yankees and Razorbacks. There are
Texans and Californians who gladly wear those badges all their lives, no matter
where they live, as do Midwesterners and Southerners. Sometimes one affinity
will pull people together who have little else in common. For example, I havent
found a place on earth where my Wrigley Field T-shirt cant help me discover
another die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, sometimes from another language or part of
the world! No doubt you and your church have certain alma maters or hobbies or
passions that link you to many like-minded people from your Judea.
The people of your Judea probably arent far from you or your church
culturally, or even geographically. They may be easy to relate to and easy to
talk tountil you talk about spiritual things. Then you may actually find
familiarity to be an obstacle, just as the early church found that the Judean
people of their day thought they knew everything they needed to about a
carpenters son from Nazareth, who had died a criminals death on a cross.
Are the people in your region or state just like you, because they go to the
same schools, drive the same roads, shop at the same stores or cheer for the
same team? Or are they as different from you as a goat is from a sheep? Does
your church see your Judea as Jesus sees it?
Jerusalem is mentioned in the Bible more than any other city, and there is
no single place more significant and central to the purposes of God than this
holy city. It became the capital of Israel under Davids United Kingdom and the
sacred place where Solomon built the magnificent, long-awaited Temple as the
resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. Jerusalem was the center of Jewish
worship and culture, a destination point for devoted Jewish families, who
visited Jerusalem several times a year for various religious festivals.
Only five miles from Jesus birthplace of Bethlehem, Jerusalem was also where
Jesus taught, ministered, suffered, died and was buried. It was from Jerusalem
that Jesus ascended into heaven and in Jerusalem that Jesus first sent the Holy
Spirit and established His church. One day Jesus will return to Jerusalem. And
one day we will live together with Him in the New Jerusalem.10
For the disciples to whom Jesus spoke before ascending into heaven,
Jerusalem was also simply their current location. It was where they were to
stay and wait for the promised Holy Spirit.
Whatever was going to happen was going to start right where they were.
And when the day of Pentecost came, Jerusalem became ground zero for the
mushrooming power of the Spirit-filled, New Testament church.
The experience of the first century Christians reminds us that even today
the mission of God radiates from a local church, an upper room where the vision
of Jesus for the world becomes clear and the power of the Holy Spirit to go to
the world becomes real. The early church didnt stay in the upper room but
spilled out into the streets and public places of its community.
A church thats intent on reaching its Jerusalem today is focused on people
who might never darken the door of their own church building. Its active out in
the schools and apartment complexes and shopping malls and neighborhoods. It
knows that missions is local, and that barriers of language, culture, social
class or age can be as large as the barriers of oceans or mountain ranges.
Jerusalem is the first place you go when you step out the door of your
church. Its the people you drive by on your way home from worship. Its the
people next door to where you live and with whom you work and play and shop.
Does your church see your Jerusalem as Jesus sees it?
Your churchs unique, urgent purpose
There are many important activities that take place within the walls of a
church. But the churchs missionits unique, urgent purposeis beyond those walls.
Its out in the Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and ends of the earth that Jesus saw
so clearly and loved so dearly. Churches that are nearsighted will continue to
have meaningful worship services and gifted pastors. They will take good care
of your children and provide you with encouraging Christian friends. There are
a number of benefits to being part of a nearsighted church. But a church with
corrected vision from Jesus will see beyond those things. A church enlightened
by Jesus Acts 1:8 vision of the world will help you give your life away.
A few years ago the world was shocked to hear that actor Christopher Reeve,
famous for playing Superman, had been thrown from a horse and was paralyzed.
Though over the years Reeve has courageously fought to overcome his physical
challenges, each time I see his atrophied body wheeled to a microphone to speak
a few strained words I cant help but feel sad as I remember the virile images
from his Superman movies.
I wonder if Jesus looks at some local churches with that same sadness. With
Superman-like power available to them, some churches appear to be mere shells
of the purpose for which they were established.
Does your church have a personal vision that reaches from your Jerusalem to
the ends of the earth? With todays missionary force, todays technology and
travel resources, the affluence and education of todays North American church,
and todays mission boards and other Great Commission partners, theres no reason
your church cant be personally involved in reaching the ends of the earth. You
can adopt and pray for a specific unreached people group. You can give
generously to send missionaries and resources. And you can send people from
your own congregation. Every church should be a worldwide mission center.
Fortunately, no church has to do it alone. One hallmark of mission-minded
churches is cooperation, and in the New Testament you see churches helping one
another by sending offerings, sharing key leaders and teachers and writing
letters of encouragement and instruction.
Today, SBC churches cooperate in an even more organized fashion. With 1,200
local associations of churches, all of them can be more effective in reaching
their Jerusalem by working together. More than 40 state and regional
conventions bring together hundreds of churches, each to cooperate in reaching
that Judea mission field. In partnership with the North American Mission Board
(the publisher of On Mission), the 45,000 congregations of the SBC
join together in sending missionaries, starting churches and sharing the gospel
throughout the Samaria of North America. And those same churches partner with
the International Mission Board in Richmond, Virginia, to take the gospel
literally to the ends of the earth.
Southern Baptists are uniquely organized and positioned to take Jesus last
words on earth and run with them. With the assistance of their mission boards,
state conventions and local associations, each church with Jesus Acts 1:8
vision for the world can have radiating circles of influence, like a raindrop
whose effect on water spreads in wider and wider circles. And when those
raindrops combine and overlap and begin stirring the waters in which they fall,
the mighty flood of Gods redemptive mission begins to flow around the
The mission accomplished
Thousands of years ago God scattered sinful mankind at the tower of Babel
and confounded their language so they couldnt cooperate for sinful,
self-aggrandizing purposes. Today, through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God
is calling a people unto Himself who will cooperate for the noblest, most
God-honoring purpose: gathering people from around the world to worship and
serve Him forever.
With a clearer vision of His love for His world, we see that God invites us
to join Him on mission. And there will be a day when the history-long,
worldwide mission of God through His people will be fulfilled. John described
it this way: After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every
nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before
the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in
their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!11
God deserves nothing less than the praise and adoration of every nation,
tribe, people and language. And this is exactly what He will receive for
eternity. In the meantime, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the mission is
ours. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church during that exciting first
century: All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to
Himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling
people to Him.12
Nate Adams is vice president of Mission
Mobilization at NAMB and author of LifeWay Church Resources, 2005 Doctrine
Study: The Acts 1:8 Challenge, Empowering Your Church to be On Mission
1 Matthew 6:19-23, HCSB
2 Acts 1:3, HCSB
3 Acts 1:6, HCSB
4 Acts 1:7-8, HCSB
5 See Acts 2
6 Matthew 24:14, HCSB
7 See John 4:1-42
8 See Luke 10:25-37
9 See John 8:48
10 See Revelation 21
11 Revelation 7:9-10, HCSB
12 2 Corinthians 5:18, NLT
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC