Go Tell It On the Mountain!
Topic: Christmas Scripture: Romans 10:14–10:21
Synopsis:Â Christmas is over. The presents have been opened and it is time to put away the decorations for another year. But what shall we do with the message of Christmas? Using the example of the shepherds on the first Christmas and the writing of the Apostle Paul, we find that the message of Christmas deserves telling all year long. Letâ€™s Go Tell It on the Mountain! A Savior has been born. He is Christ the Lord.
What do you do with a worship service that falls on December 26? Is it still Christmas? Or is Christmas over, and itâ€™s time to start thinking about New Yearâ€™s? I donâ€™t know what frame of mind you have come with this morning or what your expectations are. Youâ€™re probably still digesting Christmas dinner, or youâ€™ll be eating Christmas left-overs later in the day.
After thinking it over, I have decided to make it an â€œafter Christmasâ€ message, addressing the question of â€œNow what?â€ After the decorations have been taken down, the wrapping paper cleaned up and thrown away (or folded and saved for next Christmas like it was in my family growing up), the last of the Christmas left-overs eaten. Now what? Sit back and wait for next year? I remember half joking as a boy â€“ and weâ€™d say, â€œOnly 364 days until Christmas!â€ Or should there be more to the story than that?
There is an often over-looked verse in the Christmas story. It is found in the account in Luke 2, and the story of the shepherds. Remember how the angels appeared to them when they were out in fields, watching over their sheep and announced to them that the Messiah had been born and was lying in a manger in the village of Bethlehem. After the angels disappeared, they said to each other, â€œLet us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.â€
So they did. They â€œwent with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger.â€ That was their Christmas. And what an exciting one it was! But then what? What came next? Thatâ€™s where I want to focus todayâ€™s message. We are told in the very next verse: And when they saw it, they made known the sayingâ€¦
I just want to extract the verbs from that phrase: â€œWhen they saw it, they made it knownâ€¦â€ That is the natural thing to do with good news, isnâ€™t it? When you hear it, when you receive it, when you see itâ€¦you make it known. That is the final and completing message and challenge in the series of messages on the events of the first Christmas. It is the challenge for all of us to do our part to â€œmake it knownâ€ in this coming year.
In the late 1700â€™s a man by the name of William Carey wrote a short tract entitled An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christiansâ€¦ His little booklet became a Christian classic, and served a vital role in launching the modern mission movement. In that booklet, right after the title and before the â€œIntroductionâ€ is a quotation taken from the Book of Romans chapter 10 beginning in verse 12:
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For â€œeveryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.â€ 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
This was the response of the shepherds on that first Christmas, was it not? It is the natural response to good news. If salvation is for all; if the same Lord bestows his riches on all who call on him; if Christ has been born in Bethlehemâ€¦this is good news. Good news needs to be proclaimed!
No one displayed this passion for sharing the message of Christ more than the Apostle Paul. It permeated his life and writings. We could go through passage after passage in his writings and find numerous examples. I have chosen a very limited sampling, all taken from Paulâ€™s letter to the Romans. The first thing we find is that the passion that Paul had for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was rooted in his deep compassion for the lost.
There are a couple of verses that have always haunted me. They are found in Romans 9:1-3:
I am speaking the truth in Christâ€”I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spiritâ€” 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
I read that and I ask myself the question: Do I have that? Do I carry great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for the lost people all around me? Paul says that he is not exaggerating. He is not lying. He even calls on the Holy Spirit to be his witness. â€œGreat sorrow and unceasing anguish!â€ Why, Paul? â€œBecause my fellow countrymen, my kinsmen, my race, my people are lost!â€ Leave aside the technicalities of Bible interpretation for a moment and hear and feel the raw human emotion! Do you share that? Do I share that?
The final verse of this text is almost beyond belief. Verse 3: For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Hear what Paul is saying. He uses a rare grammatical construction here that protects him from outright heresy. It is rendered â€œI could wishâ€. He doesnâ€™t quite say that he does wish it. He says, so to speak, â€œI am this close! My concern for my brothers is so great that if I could exchange my salvation for theirs (and I know I canâ€™t), I am right on the point of being willing to take their place in Hell if that would lead to their salvation.
Can I say that? Do I have that same passionate concern for the lost that I would be willing to give up my own salvation for them? And if that is too much to ask, if that is too high a bar, what am I willing to give up so that others can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and come to salvation?
This passion found a practical expression for Paul in the form of prayer. We find this in Romans 10:1: Brothers, my heartâ€™s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Paul carried this burden with him into his prayer life â€“ and he regularly and passionately prayed for the lost. In his case, he carried a special prayer burden for the Jews.
Let me pause and explore this for a moment. I believe that God often gives particular prayer burdens to us as his followers. We are not all equally burdened for every one or every people group. But I believe we should all carry a burden of prayer for the lost. If you donâ€™t have that, ask God to give it to you. It may be certain individuals among your family or friends. It may be a wider category of people, or an entire people group. When my parents were in Bible College in California in the 1930â€™s, their college was organized into â€œprayer bandsâ€ to pray for particular regions of the world. They both went to the prayer band for Africa. In fact, that is where they met. They ended up spending almost 45 years in Africa, sharing the Gospel. It began with a prayer burden. Who are we praying for?
This passion for the lost found expression in his prayers. But it didnâ€™t stop there did it? When Paul compares the eternal destiny of the lost with the incredible spiritual riches on offer in Christ and in his Gospel, it prompts him to ask a series of rhetorical questions which lead to a clear picture of our obligation as Christians.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, â€œHow beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Romans 10:14-15)
It is a perfectly logical sequence, is it not? In order to experience the riches which are in Christ, people must call on him. In order to call on him, they have to believe in him. In order to believe in him, they have to hear about him. And how will they hear about him? Someone has to tell them! And that is our job. That is our obligation as those who have received the riches of Jesus Christ and been justified by faith.
By the way, the word â€œpreachingâ€ here is not limited to something that happens in a church building and it does not require a pulpit and a microphone. It means to serve as a herald; someone who makes an official message known by proclaiming it. It can be done before multitudes or it can be done one to one. It is a task for every follower of Christ. It was the task that the shepherds took up so eagerly on that first Christmas. â€œWhen they saw it, they made it knownâ€¦â€
There is one final link in this chain of responsibility. Not everyone lives within reach or sound of a Gospel preaching community or people. They live on the other side of some kind of barrier of geographical or cultural or linguistic distance. They will not be reached in the natural course of everyday life. Someone must go to them. That requires â€œsendingâ€. This is where William Carey focused his famous work. At that time, England had many churches. Anyone in England who seriously cared to could find a church where the Gospel was proclaimed. William Carey did not disparage the work or the Gospel preaching of these churches. But he wrote to declare that it was not enough. There were many peoples and places in the world where there was no Gospel witness. It was time to be deliberate and intentional to send people to those places and to those people, because the Christiansâ€™ obligation is ultimately to the whole world. I know Paul would have said a hearty â€œAmenâ€ to William Careyâ€™s writings.
Here at ECC, we are serious about doing our part in sending workers to reach the lost. Every year, we designate an amount of money equivalent to 15% of all our General Fund giving from the previous year to go to support different workers and ministries around the world. Our Global Outreach Team is responsible for distributing these funds. In addition, we bring specific needs and projects to your attention during the year. We also encourage people from ECC to participate in different short term mission trips and ministries. But for all that we are doing, we recognize that we can always do more. Because the task is big and it is urgent.
Now, let us not go into this with any illusions. Paul makes no attempt to sugar coat the difficulty of the task. He makes it clear that there are many who will not believe even when they hear the message. This is what he tells us in Romans 10:16: But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, â€œLord, who has believed what he has heard from us?â€
When I was in university, I was active with a campus ministry which trained me to share my faith. I have always been grateful for that training. But there was one statement that they used repeatedly which I disagreed with. It went something like this: â€œMost people want to accept Christ. They just donâ€™t know how.â€ The implication was that all that was missing was information. Just tell them and â€œmostâ€ will follow Christ. Frankly that was never my experience. Most people I shared with did not follow Christ. And Paul tells us here that we should be prepared for this. He quotes Isaiah, from the heart of Isaiah 53 that great prophecy of the coming Messiah. And the quote is almost a despairing one. It is almost as if Isaiah asks, â€œWill there be any who will believe my message?â€ Paul goes on in the passage to quote several more passages about the refusal, particularly of the Jews, to respond to Godâ€™s offer of mercy. No, not all will obey the Gospel when they hear it.
But that does not relieve us of our responsibility to tell them. Because, while not everyone who hears will believe, one thing is for sure. If there is no proclamation there is no hearing and without hearing there will be no faith. This is Paulâ€™s point in Romans 10:17: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. We have an obligation to pass the message on â€“ whether or not the recipients respond.
That same campus ministry taught us something else, and this I have held on to over the years. It was a definition for successful witnessing. â€œSuccessful witnessing is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.â€ Results are Godâ€™s domain. Our responsibility and obligation is to share the good news.
Let me share some very specific applications at this conclusion to the Christmas season.
My first challenge to you is to pray. It was Jesus who told his disciples in Matthew 9:37-38: â€œThe harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.â€ So pray. If you donâ€™t already have one, ask God to give you a prayer burden for a particular part of the world, or a particular unreached people, or a particular ministry. This may be something you can do as a Life Group. Adopt a particular ministry or people group. Gather information about them. Pray for more workers to reach them. Encourage others to pray. Find out who is working among them, and pray for them. There are many tools and publications that can help you do that.
Secondly, I would challenge you to become better equipped and trained to do your own part. To this end, I would point you to an opportunity that will be offered right here at ECC, beginning in just a few weeksâ€™ time; that is the Perspectives Course. The full title of the course is Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. It is a powerful, 15 week course on what it takes to become a â€œworld Christianâ€; a Christian who shares Godâ€™s perspective and passion for reaching the world for Christ. Darrel Boyd will be at a table in the courtyard after the service if you want to find out more about this course.
So, pray. Equip yourself. And then, be prepared. God may ask you to put feet to your prayers. It was in Matthew 9:37-38 that Jesus challenged the disciples to pray for God to send more workers. In the opening verses of Matthew 10, Jesus sent them out themselves to work in the harvest field. Maybe God will call you this year to become part of one of the short term mission teams that will go out.
We have looked at â€œan enquiry into the obligationsâ€ that attach to the Gospel. My challenge is that we allow this sense of obligation to become something else.
Paul expressed it this way in Romans 1:14-15:
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
But look what followed: 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also.
May God give us all that same eagerness. May this be the next step in our own Christmas celebrations, just like the shepherds on that first Christmas. â€œWhat they had seen, they made knownâ€¦â€
Let me close with an illustration. It is taken from an interesting story in the Old Testament. The city of Samaria was under siege by the Syrian army. It was a long siege and the people in the city grew desperate. People were starving. Then God acted. He caused the Syrian army to hear sounds one night as though a great army was advancing against them. In terror, they all fled, leaving their tents, equipment and even their horses behind.
But in the city of Samaria, the starving people were unaware of what had happened. There were four men at the gate of the city. They were lepers, outcasts. They were even more desperate than the others. They decided to go out and beg from the Syrian army. â€œWhat do we have to lose?â€ they said to each other. â€œThe worst they can do is kill us, and we are going to die of starvation anyway if we stay in the city.â€
So they went out to the Syrian camp. They found it completely deserted. It was incredible. They found food to eat and wine to drink. They feasted. They carried off silver and gold that they found and hid it. They came back and began to carry away things from another tent.
But then they had an attack of conscience as they thought of their starving countrymen, still holed up within the city walls. This is what they said to each other: â€œWe are not doing right. This day is a day of good news and we remain silent.â€
We have enjoyed a month long â€œfestival of Christmasâ€ with Christmas messages and music. Letâ€™s not make the same mistake that those four men did at first and turn it into a private party. Thatâ€™s just not right. This day is a day of good news. Letâ€™s not remain silent.
â€œGo tell it on the mountainâ€¦â€
There are no discussion questions for this sermon. If your Life Group meets, have a year end party and start a discussion on whether your Life Group would like to choose a particular people group or ministry to adopt for prayer and support. How will you choose? What research do you need to do?