Topical Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20
Once upon a time there was a stonecutter. He lived all alone. Though he had great skills, he was very poor. He lived in a tiny bamboo hut and wore tattered clothing.
One day as the stonecutter worked with his hammer and chisel upon a huge stone, he heard the king’s procession approaching his humble village. Joining the crowd, he stood in awe at the marvelous silk robes and regal splendor of the king. “Oh, how I wish I had the power and glory of the king,” he thought. “He has soldiers at his command. No one is more powerful.”
His cry was heard, and immediately the humble stonecutter was transformed into a powerful king, riding a great horse, waving at the crowds who flocked to see him. “This is power,” he thought.
As summer came, however, the king watched the power of the sun on his people. Men, animals, and plants withered under its powerful rays. “How I wish I were as powerful as that,” he thought. “I wish I were the sun.” And immediately his wish was granted.
The stonecutter relished his new role as the sun, and gloried in his power over the earth below. Then one day a tiny cloud moved over the land, shielding the earth from his bright rays. Seeing that here was something more powerful than himself, he thought, “I want very much to be a cloud.”
Again his wish was granted. Now he blocked the sun’s rays and felt important. He poured rain on the earth, flooding the streets and farmlands below. Everything was under his power, except the rocks. Again he had found something more powerful than he.
“There is nothing as powerful as a rock,” he thought. “How I wish I were a huge stone.” His wish was granted.
As a stone he remained motionless and powerful, unmoved by sun or wind or rain. He felt exempt from all the forces that shaped the existence of those around him.
Then one day a man approached, carrying a bag. When he stopped, he pulled out a chisel and hammer and began to chip away at the rock. Realizing that the man with the tools was more powerful than any rock, he cried out, “Oh, I want to be a stonecutter.”
Once again his cry was heard, and he became a stonecutter. Once again he lived in a bamboo hut and made his living with hammer and chisel. And he was at peace, for he had found his life’s purpose at last.
We must each find our reason for being. Abraham Maslow said it well: “An artist must paint, a poet must write, a musician must make music if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” What were you made to be? What is your purpose, your vision for your life? And how does that vision relate to the country whose birth we celebrate today?
Why are you here?
Where do we go for the answers we seek today? A counselor? A trusted family member or friend? How about the only person in all of human history who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)?
“Authority” here means power, control, sovereign lordship. “Heaven and earth” of course includes everything that exists.
He proved this authority by ordering the winds and the waves, healing the sick and raising the dead, then defeating death himself. The only person ever to do so.
So he has “all” authority. Over the way we do our businesses and work, our politics and government, our society and culture, and our personal lives. He alone has the right to tell us why we’re here, what we’re made to do. Because he made us.
What does he say?
“Therefore,” as a result of his authority, “go and make disciples of all nations.” A disciple is a “fully devoted follower.” We are to make fully devoted followers of Jesus.
In all nations—the word means all people groups, every person we know. We start by “going”—the Greek says, “as you go.” Wherever you go, with those you already know today, the people you will meet this week. As you go, help people follow Jesus. That’s why you’re here, he says.
To whom is this addressed? Simply put, this vision statement applies to every Christian. Jesus’ “Great Commission” was addressed to every believer, not just the apostles, the so-called “clergy.” He addressed this to carpenters, farmers, fishermen, pottery makers, tax collectors, soldiers, every conceivable career.
Your vocation—your calling—is to help people follow Jesus. Your career is how you do it. You help people follow Jesus by being a lawyer, or a hotel operator, or a banker, or a teacher, or a coach. Your career is a means to the end of your vocation.
If God could give us a one-question test today, “What is your life’s purpose?” the only right answer is this: to help people follow Jesus. That’s your life vision, according to your Creator and Lord.
How do we do this? Some people we need to evangelize—”baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19). We pray for the lost people we know, invite them to church or other spiritual activities, tell them what Jesus has done for us. We show them God’s love in ours.
The high school students I met when I started going to church evangelized me by their care, their love for me, and their joy in Jesus. I wanted what they had. Then my Sunday school teacher simply explained John 3:16 to me. We help some people to know Jesus.
Others we equip to follow Jesus—”teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (v. 20). We help Christians to follow Jesus more personally, more closely, more passionately.
And we do all of this out of that personal devotion to Jesus which empowers all we do—”And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (v. 20b). We do this in his power and ability.
I read every day from a devotional guide which tells stories about each date in Christian history. This past Monday I really needed the story I found. Mondays are hard for me. I was tired, emotionally and physically. Then I read about Hudson Taylor, one of the pioneer missionaries to China. Everything was hard for him—he got sick, conflicted with other missionaries, and grew more and more depressed. Then one day he received a letter from his friend John McCarthy, who told him to try “abiding, not striving nor struggling.” Christ himself is “the only power for service; the only ground for unchanging joy,” McCarthy wrote.
Hudson said, “As I read, I saw it all. I looked to Jesus; and when I saw, oh, how the joy flowed. As to work, mine was never so plentiful or so difficult; but the weight and strain are gone.” The writer says, “New voltage surged through his life and ministry as though he were connected to a heavenly power plant. By the time Hudson Taylor died, CIM had 800 missionaries in China” (Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, June 27).
This is why we must first know Jesus before we can make him known. We must walk with him daily, seeking him in prayer and scripture, worshiping him, loving him. Then we can help others love him. I exist to follow Jesus and help you follow Jesus. So do you.
Why in America?
Now, why talk about all this on July 4? For one thing, last week our church conference adopted a vision statement for our congregation which says that we exist to help people follow Jesus. We will now evaluate every program, every worship service, every ministry by the degree to which it helps people follow Jesus. This is important.
But the other reason is simply this: helping people follow Jesus is the most patriotic thing you can do for America. You may think that America is a Christian nation today, that most of us are following Jesus, and so our church’s vision statement isn’t essential to our personal lives and witness here. You’d be wrong.
I love America. When I travel overseas, I am always thrilled to be back. My grandfather fought in World War I, and my father fought in World War II. I read Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, and agree that the World War II generation saved this country. I will forever be grateful to God for America.
Because I am grateful for America, I want to serve her greatest needs. And my friends, her greatest needs are spiritual. They always have been.
At the time of the American Revolution, only five to ten percent of the population was even affiliated with a church, and many of these were only nominal members.
Even today only 36% of Americans say they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. There are some 251 million Americans; 173 million of them are spiritually lost. 100,000 of those live within three miles of this sanctuary.
You heard me cite the statistics last week: 91% of Americans say they lie regularly; 53% would cheat on their spouse if they weren’t afraid of getting caught; 74% would steal from someone who wouldn’t miss it. By the age of eighteen, the average American child will have seen 200,000 violent acts on television, including 40,000 murders.
Would God say that we are a “Christian” nation?
Alex de Tocqueville traveled across America for his French government early in the nineteenth century, searching for the secrets of our nation’s successes. He wrote: “I searched for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. I searched for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forest, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Does America need us to help her people follow Jesus?
Would you agree with Jesus this morning? Would you make this your personal reason for being: helping people follow Jesus? Would you make your career, your relationships, your work this week a means to that end? Would you help America follow Jesus by starting with the Americans you know?
Last summer I saw the Statue of Liberty up close for the first time. It was a breathtaking experience for me. I’d long seen pictures, and had even seen it from an airplane. But I took a day, rode the ferry over, and walked around the Statue herself. I highly recommend the experience.
You know her history. On July 4, 1886, the people of France presented her to our country as “Liberty Enlightening the World.” The statue represents a proud woman, dressed in a loose robe which cascades in graceful folds to the top of the pedestal on which she stands. In her right hand she holds a great torch raised high in the air. In her left arm she grasps a tablet bearing the date of the Declaration of Independence. A crown with huge spikes like sun rays rests on her head. At her feet lies a shackle representing the overthrow of tyranny. This great statue, the world’s modern symbol of freedom, has withstood the storms of world wars and the tests of time. She stands today, celebrating her continuing offer of freedom to all who come to her shores.
There is another statue of liberty. It was made of wood. It was not erected in friendship, but in anger and hatred. It is the cross. And on that cross was nailed our Savior, Jesus Christ. His crown was made of thorns. His robe was gambled for by the Roman soldiers. He died on that cross, but it did not end there. The cross was only the beginning, for Christ rose from that death to triumph over all death and sin.
The cross, too, has withstood the storms of time and today remains a symbol of freedom, pointing the way to heaven. As the nails were driven through Jesus’ feet, the shackles of sin were broken. Now Jesus stands with arms outstretched, still lighting the way for millions to freedom. Each Sunday is “Independence Day” as we celebrate our freedom from sin and hope of eternal joy.
All of America knows the Lady of Liberty. Do they know the Man of Liberty? The Lady was a great gift to our country. The Man is even greater. And we can give him to our friends, our community, our country.
This is the highest purpose in life. Is it yours?