Back to Fulfilling the Great Commission & the Last Days

Prior to taking possession of Canaan “the land of milk and honey” promised by the Lord to the Israelites, Moses sent in twelve spies to explore the land. Ten of the twelve returned with a mixed report.

Numbers 13:25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land. …27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

As the Lord had promised them, it was indeed a very fertile and fruitful land. But the spies also saw the powerful inhabitants of the land which they would have to drive as the Lord had commanded them. This greatly discouraged them and they lost heart. But Caleb one of the twelve spies had a completely different outlook.

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”

The contrast between Caleb and the ten spies is no less than shocking. Caleb was brimming with confidence and had no doubt that they could possess the land. The ten were just as sure that they would be totally wiped out by the Canaanites if they tried to attack.

32 And they [the ten spies] spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. …All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

The Lord was extremely displeased with this show of false humility born of fear and doubt. He had commanded them to possess the land and therefore would certainly go with them and enable them to overcome their enemies. Time after time in Egypt and in the wilderness when they faced their enemies he had displayed his glory and power on their behalf. Yet their memory of God’s faithfulness was very short, and fear and doubt had risen to paralyze them, causing them to disobey God’s command to possess the Promised Land.

How did the Lord react to their disobedience?

Numbers 14:22  “not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24  But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

The Lord was very angry with the ten rebels, and decreed that they would not see the Promised Land but would instead perish in the desert. Only Caleb and Joshua would be brought into the land. Forty years later after the generation of rebels had died off in the wilderness, the Lord led the Israelites back to Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the Lord met with Joshua to prepare him.

Joshua 1:6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous.…9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The purpose for which the Israelites attacked Canaan was for them to establish the kingdom of God in Israel where the Lord would rule over his people. Today the Lord is looking for disciples like Caleb who have “a different spirit” who will take the land and establish the kingdom of God through the preaching of the gospel and the making of disciples. In this way the Great Commission will be fulfilled paving the way for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Are you like Caleb or the grasshoppers?

The Lord is looking for warrior disciples who have been taught to be strong and courageous and who declare, “we can certainly do it!”

We see this dramatically in Acts before and then after the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. Before Pentecost the disciples were fearful and timid, with Peter even to the point of denying Jesus. At least three times we see Jesus rebuke them for failing to do something he expected them to do successfully. In Matthew 17 Jesus calls them an “unbelieving and perverse generation” for failing to heal a boy suffering from epilepsy. In Matthew 8 when the disciples in the boat cry out to him to save them from drowning, he reproaches them with “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Jesus expected his disciples to rebuke the wind and waves. In Matthew 14 when Peter sinks not long after stepping out of the boat, Jesus reproves him by saying, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Jesus wanted Peter to walk to him without sinking into the water.

The disciples in these incidents remind us much of “grasshopper” Christians today who are often beset by fear and doubt when they preach the gospel to the lost or when they attempt to obey what the Lord commands us to do. When we are sent out as missionaries to proclaim the kingdom of God in foreign lands, we go very uncertain of the outcome. We struggle with challenges and more often than not fail the bear the lasting fruit expected of his disciples by the Lord. Some of our dear fellow missionaries have even been forced to return home in poor health. In stark contrast, the disciples who were sent out to preach the gospel in Acts were very fruitful, turning the known world upside down for Jesus Christ.

How do we explain the difference between missions in Acts and today?

Today many missionaries who go out are not baptized in the Holy Spirit as the early disciples were on the day of Pentecost. That day the Spirit transformed them from timid and fearful disciples into bold and powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ. That day Peter stood up and preached fearlessly before a crowd of thousands leading them to Jesus Christ. Moreover the miraculous, especially the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons, become commonplace in Acts as the gospel was preached as evidence of the truth of the gospel to the listeners (John 14:11-12).

But today we usually fail to minister healing to the sick effectively as the disciples did in Acts as evidence of the truth of the gospel to the lost—when we attempt to do so at all. When we “step out of the boat” we do so only with a good amount of fear and doubt, and usually end up sinking like pre-Pentecost Peter. And when was the last time we rebuked a storm and saw it retreat? Christians today resemble the disciples in the gospels before Pentecost more than we would like to admit.

But after Pentecost the difference was literally night and day. They became very bold, powerful, and fruitful preaching the name of Jesus Christ. Time and time again we see them boldly ministering to the sick to draw the lost to Christ.

Acts 3:6  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Peter did not have money to give to the lame beggar, but what did he have? He had that which allowed him to command the beggar to get up and walk. He had authority from the Lord Jesus Christ. Only when someone has been given authority can he or she issue commands to others. Disciples have been given a measure of this authority over disease and demons for the sake of the gospel.

The problem of cessationism

Sadly, in not an insignificant quarter of the contemporary Church believers are taught cessationism which holds that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased with the completion of the perfect New Testament or with the advent of the “eternal state” as taught by John MacArthur. However, there is a large but as yet unnoticed hole in this argument. Although the New Testament is now complete, neither the preaching of the gospel to all creation nor the Great Commission is complete. Therefore the authority and power given by Jesus Christ to his disciples in the gospels specifically for the proclaiming of the kingdom of God to the lost—separate and distinct from the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are for the common good of the Church—have definitely not ceased.

Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

This power and authority given to disciples for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost continue to be available to us. Nowhere in the New Testament is it taught that this power and authority disappeared with the passing of the original apostles. Not only that, we see in Luke 10 that Jesus also gave this power and authority to the seventy disciples as well when he sent them out to “heal the sick and tell them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.'” These seventy disciples were clearly not apostles, but simply like every disciple today were sent out as witnesses of Jesus Christ to the lost.

Similarly, the power of the Holy Spirit which transformed the disciples at Pentecost is available today for us to become effective and fruitful witnesses of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Sadly, these are generally not taught to our foreign missionaries today. Many of them do not have the power of the Holy Spirit to witness for Jesus Christ, and have not been taught how to use the Lord’s power and authority over disease and demons as evidence to the gospel-resistant that our God is the only true God and that Jesus is the only way to Him. These people groups are no less resistant to the gospel than the Jews and Gentiles in the First Century AD.

The blame for this situation, however, should not be placed on cessationists alone. Some charismatic teachers have used teachings on the Holy Spirit and the miraculous mostly to draw crowds to their meetings by emphasizing the benefits that believers can receive from God. This approach can easily become unbalanced, shifting the focus from winning the lost and the Great Commission to blessing and benefit for believers while on earth. Some churches have become extremely large as the result of such an approach and have brought sharp criticism from conservative evangelicals, leading them to reject teachings on the Holy Spirit and the miraculous altogether. This is most detrimental to the cause of world missions—which must be completed before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 24:14  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Crossing the Jordan before taking the land

Just as crossing the Red Sea symbolizes water baptism for us, crossing the Jordan can symbolize Holy Spirit baptism for New Testament believers. After we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, the enemy knows that he can no longer stop us from possessing the land for the kingdom of God.

Joshua 5:1  Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

Today the Lord is raising up Spirit-filled disciples who like Caleb have “a different spirit” from those who are fearful and hesitant to obey the Lord’s command. They boldly declare that “they can certainly do it” because the Lord has commanded them to do it and given them the power and authority to get the job done. They are bold and courageous as they go forth into gospel-resistant countries to proclaim the kingdom of God with power to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers.

Our personal testimony

Thirty-seven years ago when I was in Seminary in California preparing for full-time ministry, our pastor declared to my wife and me, “If you obey the Lord like Abraham and Sarah, your days on earth will be like heaven.”

We know that Abraham and Sarah obeyed the Lord by packing up and leaving their country for a land the Lord would later show them. Later Abraham again obeyed the Lord radically by his extraordinary willingness to give Isaac back to God by offering him up as a sacrifice at Mt. Moriah.

My wife and I decided to believe what the Lord promised to us through our pastor. (Who doesn’t want heaven on earth?) We gave up our Isaac—the American Dream—and literally gave up everything behind to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. In the summer of 1978 we left Los Angeles to fly to Indonesia as missionaries. We went completely by faith—without being sent by any mission board, without any financial support from any church, without an invitation by any church or organization in Indonesia. We went by faith not having any idea of what we were going to do after arriving in Indonesia. But I was going to obey the Lord and preach the gospel to those who never heard.

The Lord was so gracious to us. He miraculously opened doors for us, leading us to primitive jungle regions of Indonesia where the gospel had never been preached—where the people only knew idolatry, ancestor-worship, witchcraft and Islam. As we prayed and sought the Lord, He taught us how to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ in a very effective manner. In 1979 he led us to two unreached remote villages. Within three months by God’s wonderful grace we had planted two churches in those two unreached villages.

For nearly nine years the Lord enabled us to preach the gospel and plant churches in such unreached regions. In 1987 the Indonesian government declared us persona non grata and expelled us from the country, and we returned to the States.

Back in the United States, we planted and pastored churches in New York City and in Houston until 1999. In 2000 the Lord led us to start The Elijah Challenge.

In 2002 God opened the door for us to Egypt where we held the largest campaign in the history of Egypt. About 10,000 Egyptians accepted Jesus Christ with perhaps a third of them Muslims. Our host was Campus Crusade for Christ and the Presbyterian Church.

In 2003 we went to Vietnam where we held the largest Campaign in the history of Vietnam since its fall to communism in 1973. Twenty-three denominations came together for the event. Hundreds of Buddhists accepted Christ after hearing gospel. At the end of the event, we had to flee from the communist police who had come into the hall to arrest us and break up the meeting because it was an underground event with no permit from the government.

By then we had arrived at the understanding that the Lord had shown us how to win gospel-resistant people groups quite effectively and fruitfully.

And so in 2003 we returned to Indonesia—with more Muslims than any other country on earth—to train local servants of God how to reach Muslims more effectively. After the training, two Indonesian servants of God began to use what we taught them to reach the largest unreached people group in the world—the 45-plus million Muslims of the Sunda Tribe—who were known to be highly resistant to the gospel.

Within ten years these two servants of God had brought into the kingdom of God 2,700 Muslims from this huge gospel-resistant tribe and over 70 of their villages.

At the same time, we began to reach out to mostly Hindu India. According to the UN, India will exceed China in population by 2028. We have seen that many Hindus in India are now open to believing on Jesus Christ when the gospel is presented in a Biblical fashion. We have trained Indian pastors and servants of God to preach the gospel in such a way, and in the past several years they have gone on to produce much fruit for the kingdom of God, especially in evangelistic Feeding Events. Every month we sponsor a number of such Feeding Events in mostly unreached Hindu villages where the people hear the gospel and then are fed a meal. Hundreds come to Christ in each village Feeding Event. Churches are to be planted in each village and pastors appointed  for each church.

One such Indian servant of God we trained and support financially is Pastor Simon Haqq. In March 2014 he preached the gospel to a crowd of approximately 2 million people. He estimates that about one-half of those present accepted Jesus after he shared the gospel. That is about one million people saved in a single meeting!

The Lord has graciously fulfilled the promise He made to us in 1977 through our pastor when I was still in Seminary in California. He has made us exceedingly fruitful around the world by enabling us to train His servants to present the gospel very effectively in over forty countries around the world.

We are enjoying heaven on earth just as He promised us.

“We can certainly do it— we can certainly train the Lord’s servants to preach the gospel to all creation and make disciples!”