33% Christian 2.1 billion
21% Islam 1.3 billion
4% Hindu 900 million
10% other religions 725 million
6% Buddhist 376 million
16% no religion 1.1 billion
4 babies are born every second.
2 people die every second.
1/3 of the world belongs to some branch of the Christian movement.
1/3 of the world has heard a presentation of the gospel in some form.
1/3 of the world has never heard the gospel in any meaningful way.
350,000 babies are born.
159,000 people die.
4 babies are born every second.
2 people die every second.
Out of 6.4 billion people, 1.8 billion are under the age of 15, and 3.2 billion are under the age of 27.
“Dost thou not care that millions are dying?”
“O Christian, can’t you see them?”
“Let us go with Christ to the harvest fields.”
“Heathendom’s millions wait for the light.”
“Heathendom’s millions wait for the light.”
“Out in the darkness of sin they are waiting.”
“Millions the story have never heard.”
“To the regions beyond I must go, I must go.”
“There are souls in heathen darkness.”
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in Asia.
I. The Biblical Teaching
In order to keep this very simple, let’s consider just one verse. Romans 2:12 explains a solemn truth about the whole human race: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” Paul divides the entire human race into two categories:
Those who live under the law.
Those who live apart from the law.
Think of the whole world as being inside one of two circles. The first circle is very small and is labeled “Under the Law.” Paul says you can find the Jewish people in this circle. The law was given to them, they live under the law, they are judged by the law, and the law finds them guilty before God.
We all end up in the same place — guilty before a holy God, judged for our sins, and deserving of eternal punishment.
The second circle is much, much larger because it contains everyone who is not in the smaller circle. Label this circle “Apart From the Law.” Those in this circle live and die without the knowledge of God’s law. Note that Paul says that they also “perish” apart from the law. But how can that be? On what basis does God judge us if we do not know his law? Verse 15 speaks of the law written in the heart of every person. Paul means that because the image of God is found in every person born on planet earth, the moral principles of God’s law are written in every heart.
We know by nature that it is wrong to kill innocent life.
We know by nature that it is wrong to steal.
We know by nature that we should not covet.
We know by nature that we should tell the truth.
We know by nature that we should be faithful.
We know by nature that we ought to honor our parents.
We know by nature that God created us and we should honor him.
But we suppress the truth about God that we know, and that suppression leads to rebellion, moral blindness, idolatry and every sort of degrading sin. Romans 1:18-32 describes this in detail. Paul’s point is that every person knows these things because God has written it inside every heart. We each have a conscience that helps us make moral judgments about ourselves and about others. Even without the written law, our conscience either excuses us when we do right or accuses us when we do wrong.
The good news is that God has done something and now we must do something.
Let us suppose that every time a baby is born, an invisible tape recorder is hung around its neck. As that baby grows up, the tape recorder faithfully records all the moral judgments that person makes about another person: “She’s so catty,” “He can’t be trusted,” “Only a fool would do a thing like that,” “I’d die before I would say something like that,” “He doesn’t deserve a second chance.” Think of all the thousands and thousands of moral judgments we make every year. And the invisible recorder catches them all. Finally, the day comes when the man stands before the Almighty. He protests that he doesn’t deserve to be there, that God has nothing on him, that he’s been a very good person. From nowhere, a finger appears and presses a button on the tape recorder around the man’s neck. Out comes the sound of all the moral judgments that man made over 75 years. When it is over, God says, “Now I will judge you by the same standards you used in judging others.” Who could survive that judgment?
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
He writes this so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God (v. 19).
II. A Simple Illustration
Let’s suppose there is a man in Thailand, a rice farmer who lives with his wife and four children in a small village several hundred miles from Bangkok. Rice farming is all he has ever known. That’s his whole life. From morning till night, year round, he works to grow enough rice to take care of his family. He’s Buddhist like his father and grandfather before him. Although he is not particularly observant, Buddhism is the only religion he’s ever known. The only thing he knows about Jesus is that he is the God of the Christians. He knows nothing else about the Christian faith.
The whole world is dying of the cancer of sin.
One day that farmer gets sick and goes to the local clinic. When they cannot help him, he goes to a hospital in a larger village. Eventually he ends up in a modern hospital in Bangkok. After running some tests, the doctor comes to the farmer and says, “I’ve got some bad news. You’ve contracted incurable cancer. There’s no treatment available that can help you.” And they send him back to his village to die. It happens that during that very week, researchers at the University of Chicago discover a cure for the precise kind of cancer this man has. If he gets the cure, his life will be saved. But the man knows nothing about the researchers in Chicago and the researchers know nothing about the man in Thailand. Several weeks later, he dies. Here is the all-important question: Why did he die? Did he die because he had cancer, or because he didn’t get the cure? Think about it before you answer. That poor rice farmer died because he had cancer, not because he didn’t get the cure. Not getting the cure simply sealed his fate. He was dying before they discovered the cure, and he was dying after they discovered the cure. Either way, he was a dying man. He ends up dead because cancer took over his body. The cure that would have saved him simply didn’t arrive in time. And in this case, it never arrived at all.
“The gospel is Good News only if it arrives in time.”
This week I ran across a quote from John Haggai that stuck in my mind: “The gospel is Good News only if it arrives in time.”
III. A Practical Application
If what I have said in this sermon is true, then apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, the whole human race is doomed to hell. It’s not just those who have never heard, it’s everyone. We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking fast. If someone doesn’t do something, we’re all going down together.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
The harvest Jesus refers to represents the vast multitudes of people waiting for someone to come to them with the Good News. In Jesus’ eyes, the problem is not with the lost people of the world. If you read the context, they are like confused, hurting sheep, disoriented and fearful and looking for help. The problem is that the harvest is wasting because there are not enough workers to go into the field. What should the church do in response to the vast harvest on every continent?
Let the pastors preach dynamic sermons.
Let committees meet and make great plans.
Let the people read books and attend conferences.
No, Jesus does not mention any of those worthy things. The church’s primary response to the needs of the world can be summed up in one word. Ask. The church is to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest fields. We plead and pray and earnestly beseech the Lord of heaven to stir his people to become workers in the fields.
First we pray. Then we meet.
First we pray. Then we sing.
First we pray. Then we preach.
First we pray. Then we give.
First we pray. Then we organize.
First we pray. Then we go.
And how are we to pray? Jesus said we are to ask the Lord of the harvest to “send forth” workers. The underlying Greek word conveys a very powerful image. The word is ekballo. The ek part means “out” and the ballo part means, “to throw” (like throwing a ball). It comes into English as the word “ballistic,” which refers to the explosion that occurs when the hammer of a pistol hits a bullet, propelling it out of the gun. We are to pray that God will light a fire inside the church that will ignite a movement inside many hearts that will result in people being “thrust out” of the church into the harvest fields of the world. We need to pray that God will throw some people out of the church.
“Lord, throw them all the way to Vietnam.”
“Lord, throw them all the way to Egypt.”
“Lord, throw them all the way to Finland.”
“Lord, throw them all the way to Liberia.”
“Lord, take your people gathered in comfort in Oak Park and blast them out of this place and into the distant corners of the world.”
As God begins to answer that prayer, he often begins with us.
When J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, spoke about the need for additional workers on the field, he said something like this: “The great need is not for more elaborate pleas for help. If we are to meet the needs of the world, two things must happen. First, there must be earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. Second, there must be a deepening of the spiritual life of the church so that men will be unable to stay home.” He is exactly right. We must pray and then deepen our own walk with God so that when God calls, we will …
Care more than some think is wise,
Risk more than some think is safe,
Dream more than some think is practical,
Expect more than some think is possible.
And when we begin to pray, an unusual thing happens. As God begins to answer that prayer, he often begins with us. The people who go to their knees to beg God for workers are often the very people God uses to answer their own prayers. In the early 1940s a young woman named Eva Lodgaard began attending our church during her student days at Moody Bible Institute. She told me that back then, she was part of a prayer group called the “Go Ye Prayer Fellowship.” She said they had to keep restarting it because the Lord kept calling people from the group to the mission field. Eva Lodgaard graduated from Moody in 1945. We sent her out as a missionary, and 60 years later she is still serving the Lord in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
“What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples.
“How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”
That seems to me to perfectly capture the spirit of Jesus’ words. As I finished my message on Sunday, I felt led to kneel on the platform and to ask those who would, to join me by kneeling in their pews or in the aisles so that we could together ask God to light a fire in our midst and ballistically thrust forth workers from our congregation to the ends of the earth. Here is the prayer I prayed on Sunday morning. If you can, I urge you to go to your knees and pray this prayer with me.