Ronnie Smith was shot and killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday. He was 33. He was a husband and father. The leaders of his home church have given me permission to respond to his death publicly and carefully. You can read the fuller story at World or in themainstream media.
One of the reasons I want to respond is because Ronnie wrote to us at Desiring God last year and told us that one of my messages was significant in leading him and his family to Libya.
Now Anita is a widow, and his son Hosea has lost his father.
Weep with Those Who Weep
How do I feel about sharing in the cause of his going to his death?
I came to tears this morning praying for Anita and Hosea. Weep with those who weep was not a command in that moment; it was a sorrow rolling over me. I remember being 33. That’s how old I was when God called me to the pastorate. I was starting my ministry at the age Ronnie’s ministry ended. And Jesus’s.
After sorrow and sympathy, my response was (and is) prayer. “Lord, give Anita great faith. Help her to weep — but not as those who have not hope. Make that little fellow proud of his daddy. May he grow up thrilled to be in the bloodline of such a man. May they live on the glories of Romans 8 — the groanings of this fallen world of waiting (Romans 8:23), and the rock-solid assurance that, though we are being killed all day long, nevertheless, in all these things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:36–37).”
Something Worse Than Death
Then I am sobered. Ronnie is not the first person who has died doing what I have encouraged them to do. He won’t be the last. If I thought death were the worst thing that can happen to a person, I would be overwhelmed with regret.
But the whole point of Ronnie’s life is that there is something worse than death. So he was willing to risk his own life to rescue others from something far worse. And he could risk his own life because he knew his own risking and dying would work for him “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And he knew God was able to meet every need of his wife and son (Philippians 4:19).
We are not playing games. When I preach that risk is right, I know what I am doing. When I say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — especially in suffering,” I know what suffering may mean. When I say, “Fear not, you can only be killed” (Matthew 10:28), I take seriously the words of Jesus: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18).
Flood the World with Replacements
Finally, I call thousands of you to take Ronnie’s place. They will not kill us fast enough. Let the replacements flood the world. We do not seek death. We seek the everlasting joy of the world — including our enemies. If they kill us while we love them, we are in good company. Jesus did not call us to ease or safety. He called us to love for the sake of his name. Everywhere. Among all peoples.
Anita and Hosea, I love you. I am sorry, so sorry, for your loss. I admire you and Ronnie profoundly. Hold fast to this: “God has not destined you (or Ronnie) for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10).
“If we have resisted the missionary dimension of the church’s life, or dismissed it as if it were dispensable, or patronized it reluctantly with a few perfunctory prayers and grudging coins, or become preoccupied with our own narrow-minded, parochial concerns, we need to repent, that is, change our mind and attitude.
Do we profess to believe in God? He’s a missionary God.
Do we say we are committed to Christ? He’s a missionary Christ.
Do we claim to be filled with the Spirit? He’s a missionary Spirit.
Do we delight in belonging to the church? It’s a missionary society.
Do we hope to go heaven when we die? It’s a heaven filled with the fruits of the missionary enterprise.
It is not possible to avoid these things.”
(HT: Trevin Wax)
Justin Taylor posts:
Below is a panel hosted by Ligonier at the 2013 PCA General Assembly, with Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey, Ligon Duncan, Richard Pratt, and R.C. Sproul, moderated by Steve Nichols. They talk through the following:
- What is the biggest theological battle today and for the next generation? (00:00:00)
- What advice would you give to the next generation of pastors, especially church planters, as they try to address contextualization, Christology, and similar issues? (00:08:30)
- What might we learn from history about the parallel rising of Christianity and Islam? (00:11:35)
- What role does Christology play as we see the needs of the global church? (00:16:00)
- How do we guard against the various distortions when it comes to the person of Jesus? (00:22:40)
- Discussion on the work of Christ pertaining to justification and imputation. (00:30:45)
- The panel shares thoughts on substitutionary atonement, and how it is going to be an issue in the next generation. (00:41:52)
- Is the church in danger of reductionism when it comes to the gospel? If so, how do we guard against it? (00:48:45)
- Sinclair Ferguson, how has John Owen shaped your pastoral ministry? (00:51:32)
This is well worth an hour of your time!
Just think of it. The God of the universe focused his special revelation and redeeming work on one small ethnic people, Israel, for 2,000 years — from the calling of Abram in Genesis 12 to the coming of Christ. For all that time “he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
Then at the entry of his Son into the world, all this changed.
As Jesus was leaving to return to heaven he said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [my] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This was a pivotal change in the history of the world.
God’s Careful Planning
But the command to disciple all the nations was not an afterthought. It was the plan from the moment God chose Israel. God said to Abram, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Then Paul applied this to the gospel of justification through faith in Christ: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8). So God was getting ready to reach the nations with the gospel of Christ when he chose Abram 2,000 years before Christ came.
Why, then, such a long delay, before Christ came and the Great Commission was given in his name?
Why the Long Delay?
Because in God’s wisdom he knew that the nations of the world would grasp the nature of Christ and his work better against the backdrop of Israel’s 2,000 year history of law and grace, faith and failure, sacrifice and atonement, wisdom and prophecy, mercy and judgment.
Here’s the way Paul put it in Romans 3:19–20: “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” In other words, God spoke for 2,000 years to Israel so that the “whole world” would realize that there is no hope of getting right with God through “works done by us in righteousness” (Titus 3:5).
Lesson Book for the Nations
Israel’s history is not just about Israel. It’s about “every mouth” and “the whole world.” This was not a 2,000-year detour. God was writing a lesson book for the nations. It’s not an accident that our Bible has the Old Testament in it.
When Paul preached to the non-Jewish Greeks on Mars Hill, he said that up till now the “times of ignorance” held sway. God had let them go their own way. But no more. “Now God commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).
The “Now” of All Nations
This is the “now” we live it. And it is a thrilling “now.” “Now God commands all people everywhere to repent.” The risen Christ authorizes this command. He will be with us in its fulfillment.
We live in the “now” of “all nations.” God prepared for this moment for 2,000 years before Christ. He has been pursuing it for 2,000 years since Christ. Jesus is alive and mighty to save. And it is harvest time.
“If God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess Him, so should we. We should be ‘jealous’ for the honour of His name—troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honour and glory which are due to it.
The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Only one imperialism is Christian, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire or kingdom. Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.”
— John Stott The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994), 53
(HT: Of First Importance)
Next ministry/missions trip is upon me. Tomorrow I fly to Bucharest and then head north to Focsani for a week of bible teaching and encouraging the churches. It’s been over 22 years since I visited Romania. I wonder if it has changed much?
Last minute cancellation! My poorly travelling companion has been grounded due to ill health. So, everything is on hold. For the moment. The Lord knows!
Proverbs 16:9 ”The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
1. To experience the power of God (Matt. 28:18). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” proclaims the Lord. He invests that authority and might in the work of redemption. Our participation in the Great Commission brings us under that Heavenly Authority. No better place to be.
2. For the glory of God in Christ (Matt. 28:18). The Lord’s words in verse 18 harken back to that wonderful vision of Daniel 7:13-14. The transfer of “authority, glory and sovereign power” that Daniel foresaw is completed in our Lord’s post-Resurrection commission to His Church. The bringing of nations to worship Christ spreads the glory of God in His Son.
3. To express obedience and love (Matt. 28:19). The commands us to “go and make disciples.” We’re not only to “teach them to obey everything I commanded,” but we’re also to express such obedience ourselves. Participating in the Great Commission is in a sense the simultaneous way we both obey and teach others to obey. The Lord knows our love for Him by our obedience to Him (John 14:15, 21, 23).
4. For eternal significance (Matt. 28:19). Is there a purpose in life loftier than working to bring every nation under the sovereign rule and worship of Jesus Christ? Can we give our lives to any greater purpose? Is there a human pursuit that will echo louder in the halls of heaven than the conversion of sinners and salvation of the lost?
5. For the joy of all peoples (Matt. 28:19). Those nations brought to the Savior, confessing their faith in baptism, will simultaneously be brought to the Pearl of Great Price. They will be like that man who found treasure hidden in a field and “in his joy” sold everything to purchase it (Matt. 13:44). Those who give themselves to the Great Commission work for the joy of the nations (2 Cor. 1:24).
6. For abiding presence and fellowship of Jesus (Matt. 28:20). “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Lord promises His presence with His Church. That presence is felt most when we’re on mission for and with Him.
7. Because God cares (Matt. 28:18-20). Men and women tend to think their last words are their most important words. Perhaps we should apply that thinking to the Master’s last words in Matthew. He leaves us His enduring charge, a charge resting on His power, blessed with His presence and purchased with His blood. It seems anti-climactic to say “God cares about the nations” or “God cares about the Great Commission.” But He does. And because the Lord cares, we should care, too.
How are you or how will you express your care for the glory of God and the joy of the nations in the Great Commission?
It has been my privilege to lecture at a couple of Bible Colleges in Rangoon, Burma, during the last four years. I love being involved at a theological and pastoral level in preparing young aspiring leaders for ministry in and from the local church.
This time I’ll be teaching on the Pastoral Epistles. These short letters by the apostle Paul teach into a Christian scene in the first century (not unlike our own), that is marked by doctrinal error and moral compromise. The only antidote is the Gospel; correctly understood, and skilfully applied, within the local church context specifically, and all of life generally.
Particularly relevant for today, me thinks!
Back in a couple of weeks.
Home again after a wonderful time in Burma. In eleven days I delivered about 30 hours of bible teaching and preaching. The students and church members have an insatiable appetite for God’s word. “Exhausted, yet perusing!”
Thanks for stopping by. I’m just about to head out to The Lebanon for a couple of weeks to teach at a conference aimed at preparing Christians for missional life and ministry, and preach in a number of churches. Looking forward to being with my pastor friends Josef and Elie. That’s iced coffee, by the way!
Home safely from a very busy and blessed time of bible ministry. It is definitely gratifying to teach/preach among believers who have such a hunger to hear the word of God. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Lebanon as the seek to minister to refugees fleeing into their country from neighbouring Syria.
If you’re interested, here are my sermons preached at Frinton Mission last week.
My theme was The Goal of the Gospel – what it is, how it works, and why it’s important:
I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. –2 Timothy 2:10
The doctrine of election is a sharp scalpel.
It can be wielded with care and skill, and taken up to give life and heal. Or, in the hands of an untrained fanatic or detractor, it can be used to harm, to sever vital arteries and mutilate hurting people by spinning out untrue implications.
I leave for Tanzania this morning to speak at a conference for pastors in Mbeya. These church leaders have formed a gospel partnership across the denominations in the 3rd largest city in Tanzania. What a joy and privilege to be teaching and serving brothers in Christ who love the gospel. May its God-glorifying transformative power be evident among us.
Back home! Wonderful trip. Thanks to everyone who prayed. The week of conference ministry went very well. I expounded the book of Ephesians each morning, and then taught on related theological subjects in the afternoon. My aim was to introduce the benefits of consecutive expository preaching and teaching. Something quite new to these faithful pastors. Also to show them the connection between right biblical understanding and God-honouring Christian living. It is always a thrill to expound the gospel and to see the word begin to shape vision for a glorious local church. Hallelujah! I have now formed an official relationship with this gospel-centred Pastors Fellowship of Mbeya. What a privilege!
As the church is faithful to the mission given to her by Jesus Christ she will, out of necessity, “engage culture.” Of course, engaging culture is not our mission, but “making disciples of all nations” is what our Lord has called us to do. Yet, this sacred work cannot be done in a vacuum, outside of the cultural milieu in which people live.
Paul’s experience in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) is helpful as it demonstrates how he approached people and ministry in a particular culture.
The Apostle found himself in Athens, not through the careful planning and execution of a detailed ministry strategy, but in the providence of God as he encountered opposition to his ministry. And, while he was there, Paul was not idle. He was led by God to push forward with the gospel into a unique time and place. Here we see three things that characterized Paul’s ministry as he engaged culture.
1. Paul was provoked by the lostness and idolatry of the people.
He was struck by the deep and pervasive idolatry of the people in Athens. These were men and women who were created to know and reflect the glory of God, but they had rejected the Creator and instead chose to worship created and imaginary gods. Paul engaged the culture not because he loved culture, but because he loved God, people made in God’s image, and because it is a necessary aspect of carrying out the mission of the church.
2. Paul focused on the grand narrative of God that culminates in the work of Jesus.
His response to people and culture in Athens was to do what he always did in every city–proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. He first went to the Synagogue where the Scripture was available to be read and expounded upon. He didn’t develop a totally new approach to engage the people God had surprisingly sent him to. Rather, he continued to fulfill his calling to preach Christ crucified. As the Athenians heard this message they became curious or incredulous.
3. Paul was able to show the Athenians how their culture and lives were both connected to and yet disconnected from the truth of God.
He could do this because he understood their religion and worldview enough to point out the need for redemption from within their own belief system, as he brought the good news to them from outside of it.
Cultural engagement is not the thoughtless consumption or uncritical reception of things in culture, but a pressing into the lives of people who live in a particular cultural context with an understanding of their world and how the gospel ultimately answers their brokenness and alienation from God. Cultural engagement is not the goal of ministry, but a necessary component of faithful gospel proclamation. It means we work to know the beliefs, values and idols of the people, determining where, what, and how they worship. It means we work to clearly articulate the supremacy of Jesus over these things. It means we remain focused on the mission Christ gave the church.
By John Piper:
You asked what happens to people who live far away from the gospel and have never heard about Jesus and die without faith in him.
Here is what I think the Bible teaches.
God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus.
Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible.
The main passage in the Bible that talks about this is Romans 1:18–23. Here is what it says. Then I’ll make a comment or two.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that havebeen made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Notice several things:
- All people ”know God,” even if they have never heard the Bible. “What can be known about God is plain to them” (verse 19). “Although they knew God…” (verse 21).
- The way they know God is by the way God has made the world and their own consciences (verses 19–20).
- Even though they know God, no one who knows God anywhere in the world “honors God as God or gives him thanks” (verse 21). Instead, they “suppress the truth” (verse 18). That is, they resist the truth deep in their hearts and “exchange it” for other things that they would rather have (verse 23).
- Therefore, they are “without excuse” (verse 20). That is, they are guilty and deserved to be punished.
So I don’t think the Bible teaches that people can be saved without hearing the gospel. Look at what Paul says in Romans 10:13–17. You need to hear the gospel to be saved.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How then will they call on him in whom they have notbelieved? And how are they to believe in him of whom theyhave never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So let’s pray for missionaries and ask God if maybe we should be one. The world really needs more people to tell all the lost people in the world about Jesus and the amazing good news that he died for sinners so that whoever believes will be saved.
Thank you for your good question.
Keep praying and reading your Bible. God will give you growing understanding.
John Piper: “It’s a biblical mandate that mission be fully missional by reaching the unreached.”
Probably the most important sermon on missions preached in years.
David Platt at Together for the Gospel last week:
“If we avoid speaking of God’s wrath, of God’s justice, of the coming day of divine judgment, of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for us, we are not changing the form of the missionary presentation of the gospel but its content. The foundational centrality of “Christ crucified” is of critical importance for the existence of the local church. In mission and evangelism the search for a presentation of the gospel that will convince listeners is misguided if the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross and the significance of this death are not central to that message.
The cross has been and always will be regarded as a religious scandal and as intellectual nonsense. The search for a message that is more easily comprehensible must never attempt to eliminate the provocative nature of the news of Jesus the messianic Son of God who came to die so that sinners can be forgiven by God who hates sin and judges sinners on the Day of Judgment. Paul knows that it is only the power of God, the “proof” of God’s Spirit working in people, that convinces unbelievers of the truth of the news of Jesus and that leads them to faith in Jesus the Messiah and Saviour.”
(Paul the Missionary, 399-400)
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
Thanks for your prayers, I’m now home from my recent trip to Burma. I had a busy schedule of preaching and teaching in the capital Yangon and some rural locations. There is a definite air of optimism abroad concerning the increasing openness of the military-dominated government to progress to a more democratic form of rule. Aung San Suu Kyi is as popular a heroine as you will find. So much of the hopes of the people rest with her leadership of the reforming democratic party. Time will tell. We should pray for her. But the real seat of government lies with King Jesus, and the real hope of Myanmar is in the gospel. Please do pay for for the word of God to make haste during this widening window of opportunity, and that wisdom will prevail over the overly zealous attempts of the well-meaning to ‘seize the day.’
From Open Doors:
Burma transitioned to a new, semi-civilian government in March, stirring hopes for significant change, including the re-admission of Aung San Suu Kyi into the political arena. A new Human Rights Commission was established in September, with minorities represented on it. It remains to be seen how independently it will operate. However, pressure on Christians from society and the military appears unchanged. There were several reports of the army harassing Christians of the Kachin tribe. In November a bomb killed 7 children and 3 Kachin people at an orphanage run by Christians.
- For wisdom for a respected member of the Christian Kachin minority serving on the new Human Rights Commission
- Hundreds of imprisoned political dissidents were released at the end of 2011, but at least 2,000 remain in prison. Pray for their release
- That promised political reform will bring more freedom to Burma’s Christians.