I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel–Mat 15:24
I, if I be lifted up…will draw all men unto me–Joh 12:32
Christ Came to and for Israel
We have but to read the record of the Gospels, to find confirmation of the former of these texts. The whole activity of Christ on earth shows Him as sent to the lost sheep of Israel. Within the boundaries of Israel He was born, and within the boundaries of Israel He died. With the one exception of the journey here recorded, He never in His maturity left the Jewish land. His twelve disciples were of the Jewish faith; His friends were inhabitants of Jewish homes; His enemies were not the Romans, but His own, to whom He came and they received Him not. For His teaching He sought no other audience than the men and women of the Jewish villages. For His retirement He sought no other solitude an that of the Galilean hills. And all His miracles, with rare exceptions, which were recorded because they were exceptional, were wrought for the comforting of Jewish hearts, and for the drying of tears in Jewish eyes. The whole story of the Gospel, then, is a witness to the truth of our first text. In the fulfilling of His earthly ministry Christ confined Himself to Jewish limits. And He did so because of His assurance, that He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Christ, However, Anticipated a Wider Ministry
But as we study the words of our Redeemer, one thing gradually grows very clear. It is that He anticipated a ministry that should be wider than these Jewish limits. I am not thinking just now of any words He spoke after He was risen from the dead. I am thinking only of His recorded utterances in those crowded years before the cross. And what I say is that no reasonable man can study the discourse of the historic Jesus without discovering that He foresaw a ministry which was to be as wide as the whole world. There is, for instance, the second of our texts today–”I will draw all men unto me.” There is that beautiful word of an earlier chapter, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” There is that utterance at Simon’s table, when the woman broke the alabaster box, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, this that she hath done shall be told of her.” I ask you to observe that these great sayings have stood the test of the most searching criticism. They are so germane to the mind of Christ that they have come triumphant through the fires. And they tell us this, that through the earthly ministry, confined as it was within the house of Israel, Christ had the outlook of an approaching lordship over the nations of mankind.
The Cross and the Worldwide Empire
But these utterances tell us more than that, and to this I specially invite attention. They tell us that in the mind of Jesus His death and His worldwide empire were related. So far as we can learn about the mind of Christ, we can with reverence say this about it. It was when the cross was clearest in His thought that the worldwide empire was most clear to Him. If you will think of the texts which I have cited, and consider the occasion of their utterance, you will understand quite easily what I mean. Take for instance that most beautiful word, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” What are the words which immediately precede it? “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” At the very moment when the thought of shepherding kindled the vision of the shepherd’s death, at that very moment there flashed upon the Lord the vision of the sheep beyond the fold. Take again the scene at Simon’s feast where Jesus spoke of a Gospel for the world. “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there this deed that she hath done shall be remembered.” And what was it that the woman had done under the interpreting eyes of Jesus Christ? She had anointed His body for its burial. In other words that womanly act of hers had spoken to Jesus of His coming death. Over the table where the guests reclined, it had cast the awful shadow of the cross. And it was then, anointed for His burial by an act which no one else could understand, that Christ in vision lifted up His eyes and saw the Gospel preached to the whole world. Clearly, then, Christ looked upon His death as the great secret of a worldwide empire. When the one grew vivid in His thought, there rose on Him the vision of the other. And that to me is a matter to meditate on, as one of the most momentous of all truths, by every man and every woman who is interested in the world empire of the Lord. Now the question is, can we follow out that thought, and see even dimly where the connection lies? It is that which I should like to attempt to do.
The Motive of Missionary Enterprise
In the first place, it is the death of Christ which supplies the motive of missionary enterprise.
We must ever remember that when we speak of the death of Christ, we speak of a death different from our own. Our death is the cessation of activity; Christ’s was the crown and climax of His life. “I have power to lay it down,” He said, and that is a power no other man has shared. We die when our appointed hour comes, and when the hand of God hath touched us, and we sleep. But Christ never looked upon His death like that, as something inevitable and irresistible. He looked on it as the last free glorious service of a life that had always been a life of love. Here in one gleam, intense and vivid, was gathered up the light of all His years. Here in one action which we name His dying was gathered up the love in which He wrought. And it is just because of the power of that action, concentrating all the scattered rays, that Christ could say, “I, if I be lifted up,…will draw all men unto me.” How true this is as a fact of history we see in the story of the Christian Church. There is the closest connection in that story between the death of Christ and missionary zeal. There have been periods in the Church’s history when the death of Christ was practically hidden. The message of the cross was rarely preached; the meaning of the cross was rarely grasped. And the Gospel was looked on as a refined philosophy, eminently fitted for the good of men, inculcating a most excellent morality, and in perfect harmony with human reason. We have had periods like that in Scotland, and we have had periods like that in England. God grant that they may never come again with their deadening of true religion. And always when you have such a period, when love is nothing and moral law is everything, you have a period when not a hand is lifted for the salvation of the heathen world. For it is not morality that seeks the world; it is religion centering in love. It is a view of a divine love so wonderful that it stooped to the service of death upon a cross. So always, in evangelical revival, when that has been apprehended in the wonder of it, the passion to tell it out has come again, and men have carried the message to mankind.
And may I say that it is along these lines that the road must lie to a deepening of interest. To realise what it means that Christ died, is to have a Gospel that we must impart. There are many excellent people who, in their secret heart, confess to a very faint interest in missions. They give, and it may be they give generously, and yet in their hearts they know that they are not interested. They know almost nothing about mission-fields, and are never seen at missionary meetings, and take the opportunity to visit a sister church when a missionary is advertised to preach in theirs. With such people I have no lack of sympathy, for I think I understand their position thoroughly. I have the gravest doubt if any good is done by trying excitedly to lash up their interest. But I am perfectly confident that these good people would waken to a new and lively interest, if only they realised a little more the wonder of the love of God in Christ. What think you, my brother and my sister, is the most wonderful thing that ever happened? It is not the kindling of the myriad stars, nor the fashioning of the human eye that it might see them. It is that once the God who is eternal stooped down from heaven and came into humanity, and bore our burdens, and carried our sorrows, and died in redeeming love upon the tree. Once realise what that means, and everything else in the world is insignificant. Once realise what that means, and you must pass it on to other people. And that is the source of missionary zeal–not blind obedience, nor any thoughts of terror, but the passing on of news so wonderful that we cannot–dare not–keep it to ourselves.