Most studies put the percentage of the American public in a church on Sunday morning at around 20%. Which means 80% of the population in our country—and likely it's the same in our community—are not in a gathering like this this morning.
Most studies that have talked to people to get at that statistic have also found that it is likely that those who are not in a gathering like this (and even some of those who are) are not followers of Jesus. They don’t believe in him, are not saved by him, and are living apart from him. It’s the reason they are not in a church.
Here’s something that you don’t need a study for: all people will one day die. Every single one of us.
Which means that all of those people who are not in a church, and therefore likely are not a follower of Jesus, and do not believe in him, and are not saved by him, and are living apart from him, will die without knowing him. And because they don’t know Jesus—based on the death rate, about 800 people in our wider community this year—it means the eternal life they will live after this short life will be marked by, in Jesus’ words, this kind of terror:
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:40-42, ESV)
This is why, historically, churches were always built surrounded by cemeteries. Every time that followers of Jesus gathered, they were reminded of the inevitability of the curse of sin, namely, death. They walked past gravestones on their way into the worship service, where they would hear of their only hope. They would be reminded of what all people need to wrestle with before they themselves would be put in the dirt, and the headstone would be placed.
Namely—do you know Christ? Have your sins been forgiven? Are you sealed in the Spirit? Do you have confidence that instead of entering into the fiery furnace for all of eternity, you will instead “enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21, ESV)?
Friend, this is why Jesus came. It is what we learned in Luke’s first installment of his magisterial two-part story.
There he painted a vivid portrait of “the Son of Adam” (Lk. 3:38) as the Savior for all of humanity stained by sin and in such danger; of the One who is the very Son of God (Lk. 3:38); of the One who was anointed by the Spirit of God that he might minister in the power of God (Lk. 3:22); of the One who constantly entered into prayer—sometimes lasting all night long—in dependance upon his Father for all of life and ministry (Lk. 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:28, 29; 11:1; 22:32; 22:41, 44, 45); of the One who called other men and women into service with him as fellow workers for the fields of sinners that were white for harvest (Lk. 10:2), doing so because, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 5:31; 19:10). And Jesus did this by proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God (Lk. 8:1ff; 9:1ff), in the face of opposition, persecution, and rejection at almost every turn, but fiercely setting his sights on his mission because he knew what was, what is, at stake. People who are living, and dying, without him. And because of love, because of the “joy set before him” (Heb 12:2) of souls to be saved, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and laid down his life to give life.
That is where the first part of the story ended. The cross of Christ, the death of Jesus, and his glorious resurrection. A frightened, troubled, startled, dazed, confused, band of disciples in a room in Jerusalem trying to make sense of it all (Luke 24:36ff), as they listen to Jesus gently remind them,
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses (testifiers, proclaimers) of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49, ESV)
What will happen next?
I invite you now to watch or listen to the sermon on Acts, where we will discover together the four common things that every disciple and follower of Jesus did in the book of Acts in obedience to Jesus, as part of the church, for the hope of the world.
May God use his Word to inspire you to help just one other person move one step closer to Jesus.
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