Lights to the World

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In 1913, Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctic explorer, allegedly posted the following ad: “Men wanted: for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” Shortly thereafter, over 5,000 men submitted their names for consideration. A handful joined Shackleton for the Trans-Antarctic trek, surviving one of the most harrowing expeditions in human history.

In 2 Corinthians 11:21-30, the Apostle Paul wrote out a very similar job description for pioneer missionaries. Both then and today, pioneer church-planters endure persecution, loneliness, social rejection, physical danger, imprisonment, persecution, physical and sexual assault, hunger and cold, and attacks from both bandits and the brethren. They daily sense their utter insufficiency for their call, and like the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:10), are carried by God’s strength when they are weak.

Psalm 74 is believed to have been written after the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In verse 20, there is a plea for God to remember His covenant with Israel. “For the dark places of the earth (eretz) are full (male) of the habitations of cruelty (hamas).” Full – male. “To be full, to be covered, to be massed, to be overflowing, to be gratified, to be satisfied.” Violence – hamas, meaning “violence, cruelty, wrongdoing, to treat violently or to injure.” The natural state of fallen humanity outside of a covenant with God is manifest in a longing for cruelty, to fill the earth with violence to one another.

Psalm 74 echoes humanity just prior to the flood, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth (eretz) was filled (male) with violence (hamas)” (Genesis 6:11). “And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth (eretz) is filled (male) with violence (hamas) because of them. Now I am going to destroy them along with the earth” (Genesis 6:13). Jesus taught that just before His Second Coming, the earth would be just like it was in the days of Noah, i.e., full of violence and senseless suffering.

God’s solution is found in Jesus Christ, who declared to a world darkened by sin that “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5, KJV). Implicit in this verse is conflict. The darkness tries to overwhelm the light but has never succeeded. There can be no agreement between Christ and Satan, between the Light of the World and the Prince of Darkness.
For missionaries, every time the blood-stained banner is planted in the midst of an unreached people group, that blood is often our own, or that of our children. Every time a new believer joyfully enters the Body of Christ, the bodies of those we love, of our children or maybe our parents back home, seem to suddenly experience illness and pain. Hence all missionaries carry scars, which were earned precisely because they do not shrink from God’s call in their lives, and as such, these scars are badges of honor! Sometimes these badges of honor come with the ultimate cost, sacrificing one’s life, as did missionaries John Lello and Janelle Alder.

And what is our role today? On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (Acts 13), they experienced rejection from the Jews, to whom they said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:46-47). The local Jews rejected the gospel and declared themselves unworthy of eternal life. The local Gentiles, however, heard the gospel, rejoiced, and showed themselves ready for eternal life. What mattered was not ethnicity but the response of the heart. Thus the gospel goes to every nation, tribe, language and people.

This prophecy (verse 47) was originally given by Isaiah and pointed to Israel’s role in salvation history (Isaiah 41:8, 49:6). Simeon then pronounced these words over Jesus in His temple dedication as an infant in Luke 2:32. Now the fulfillment of this prophecy was to be found in the work of the apostles, and by extension, through the Church of Jesus Christ . . . by ourselves today.

And what is the result of turning from the darkness, the abode of violence, to the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace? “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the LORD” (Acts 13:48a). To hearts, homes and hearths blighted by the violence of darkness, God offers a new beginning — spiritual and physical healing, where hamas violence against one another is replaced by agape love for one another. Thank you for answering the call to be, and to support, modern-day missionaries who have answered the greatest call known to humanity — to represent the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace, in the spiritually dark and violent places of our world!