Reclaiming the Covenant
Into All the World
By Gordon Robertson
The 700 Club
“Thereafter, Jesus appointed seventy others also and sent them out two-by-two to places where he was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:1-2)
Twelve years ago, these verses from Luke burned into my soul as I was getting ready to board an airplane and take my family to the Philippines. I had quit my job as an attorney, and I was in the process of becoming a missionary. I don’t know how many other times I had read these verses before – probably several dozen times – but this time was different, and I felt that God wanted me to study them more. That same week, my dear friend Harald Bredesen visited CBN. Harald liked to go on long walks, so we went for a walk. I told Harald that God had given me these verses, but there was something more to them than just the idea of being “sent out.” I felt I was being driven out to the Philippines.
Harald said to me, “Well, Gordon, you need to look at the Greek. ‘Sent out’ is better translated as ‘thrust out.’ ”
So I began to study Greek, something I never thought I would do. When Jesus sent out seventy disciples two-by-two in verse one, the Greek word behind “sent out” is apostello. In verse two, when He said to His disciples, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field,” the Greek word behind “send out” is ekballo, a completely different word.
Ekballo and apostello have two entirely different meanings. Apostello is the basis for the English word “apostle,” and it means “ambassador, commissioned one, one who carries the full weight and authority and power of the king.” This power is specifically given to the messenger, the ambassador, to proclaim a message.
Ekballo means “drive out, cast out, or thrust out.” When Jesus would drive out a demon, He would ekballo it. When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple with a whip of cords, the Greek is ekballo. Translating ekballo as a gentle “send out” doesn’t do the word justice.
The Son of God told His disciples to pray that God would cast out, drive out, and thrust out laborers into the harvest field. The image gets even more dramatic when you consider that Jesus refers to God as the “Lord of the harvest.” Imagine a first century landowner with a field ready to harvest. The landowner has laborers, but they don’t feel like working. The sun may be hot or it might be raining or conditions may not be just right for working that day. Is the landowner going to let the harvest rot in the field, or is he going to find some special motivation for his workers that day? I vote for special motivation.
When I first discovered this, I started asking questions: How has this been manifested in history? If people didn’t go willingly into the harvest field, were they driven ?
I didn’t have to look much further than the book of Acts. You might think Jesus would have gone easy on the first Christians because all of this was brand new to them. But in the first seven chapters of Acts, the disciples didn’t leave Jerusalem. They didn’t go out to Judea, Samaria, or the uttermost parts of the world. Even after receiving the baptism of the Holy Sprit, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem.
So what happened? Eventually, the disciples were thrust out. Acts Chapter 8 says, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria … Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”
Then in Acts 8:4, the Bible says something very interesting:
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
Jesus knows us; he knows our desire to stay home—just as the first believers wanted to stay in Jerusalem. They could hear James, Peter and John preach, maybe all in the same day. Peter walked the streets, and his shadow healed people. Why would they want to go to the uttermost parts of the earth when they could stay and witness all of that?
So how does the Lord of the harvest send us into the harvest field? He compels us to go. Persecution arises. The disciples scatter. Then, as it says in Acts, those who are scattered go everywhere preaching the word.
How does this apply to America? Well, believe or not, our nation was started by missionaries, and a missionary thread weaves in and out of our history. The real reason the first English settlers came to the New World in 1607 was not to find gold, discover a passage to the Spice Islands, establish plantations, or even pursue religious liberty. As incredible as it sounds, their primary goal was missions.
Four hundred years ago, the first permanent English settlement started on the coast of Virginia with an unusual purpose. The Virginia Company had a mission statement entitled, A True and Sincere Declaration of the Purposes and Ends of the Plantation Begun in Virginia. The first principle was “to preach and baptize into the Christian religion, and by the propagation of the Gospel, to recover out of the arms of the Devil, a number of poor and miserable souls, wrapt up unto death in almost invincible ignorance; to endeavor the fulfilling and accomplishment of the number of the elect which shall be gathered out of all the corners of the earth; and to add to our mite the treasury of heaven.”
Members of the Virginia Company wrote that charter in London in 1606, and then set out for the New World. On April 26, 1607, they landed in Virginia at Cape Henry, located in what is now Virginia Beach. As you can imagine, 144 men crammed into three small boats might have a few disagreements after several months at sea. Those disagreements flared into violence and violence into thoughts of mutiny. The chaplain of the expedition, Reverend Robert Hunt, refused to let the men go ashore until the fighting ended. While they were anchored off the coast of Virginia, Reverend Hunt ordered three days of prayer and repentance. At the end of that time, the young chaplain held a communion service, and at the communion table, the settlers found reconciliation. Today, the Robert Hunt Memorial in Jamestown bears this inscription from the original colonists: "We all received from him the Holy Communion together, as a pledge of reconciliation, for we all loved him for his exceeding goodness. He planted the First Protestant Church in America and laid down his life in the foundation of America."
After communion, the colonists went ashore. Their first act on the shores of Virginia was to plant an oak cross and dedicate the land to Almighty God. Today, a stone cross stands at Cape Henry, memorializing this first act with the inscription, “Act One, Scene One, of the unfolding drama that became the United States of America.”
When God looks down from heaven and observes America, He sees the covenant made by those first English settlers: “To preach and baptize into the Christian religion, and by the propagation of the Gospel, to recover out of the arms of the Devil, a number of poor and miserable souls, wrapt up unto death in almost invincible ignorance.”
However, the colonists did more than just make declarations. They preached Christ to the Indians. The “Apostle of Virginia,” Rev. Alexander Whitaker arrived in 1611 and quickly began evangelizing the tribes around Jamestown. His most famous convert was Pocahontas, the daughter of the local tribal chief, Powhatan. In 1613, Rev. Whitaker sent the Virginia Company in London a report on missionary efforts entitled Good News from Virginia. His report concludes with this prayer: “And you, my brethren, my fellow laborers, send up your earnest prayers to God for His church in Virginia, that since His harvest here is great, but the laborers are few, He would thrust forth laborers into His harvest and pray also for me that the ministration of His Gospel may be powerful and effectual, by me, to the salvation of many and the advancement of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, forevermore. Amen.”
By 1616, enough Indian converts existed in the colony to inspire the Virginia Company to build Henrico College for the purpose of teaching Indians to read the Bible. Located a few miles west of Jamestown, Henrico College lasted just five years. On Good Friday, March 22, 1622, the tribes launched a coordinated attack on multiple settlements within the colony. The Indians killed 347 colonists and wiped out Henrico College, ending the dream of a college for Indians. The settlement at Jamestown survived only because of the warning of Chanco, an Indian convert.
For the next two centuries, very few efforts were made to evangelize Native Americans, certainly nothing on the scale envisioned by the Virginia Company. The “Haystack Prayer Meeting” of 1806 restarted the missionary movement in America, although this time the focus was not on Native Americans but on the world. Inspired by William Carey leaving for India, five college students gathered for prayer by a haystack near their college in Massachusetts, dedicated themselves to missions, and formed the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Although a promising restart, the missionary movement in America didn’t really take hold until the Student Volunteer Movement of the 1890s. From 1895 to 1920, thousands of American college graduates went around the world as missionaries. In some years, over ten thousand missionaries were sent out into the harvest.
However, like so many other missions movements in the past, the zeal for the mission field began to fade. Starting in 1920, college campuses began discussing Cultural Imperialism and debating whether or not it was fair to impose American culture on other nations. (We often think of this as a new concept, but it dates back to the 1920s.) The impact of this debate on missions was dramatic. The Student Volunteer Movement stopped sending thousands of missionaries into the harvest field. Instead of thousands, they sent only six hundred missionaries in 1925, and by 1930, the Student Volunteer Movement shut down their offices.
America then slipped into The Great Depression. When you look at the principle of the Lord of the Harvest driving out laborers and then look at World War II, you get a different view of history. Millions of Americans, some Christian, some not, were driven out into the harvest. When those GIs won the war and came back home, they did something more. From 1948 to 1952, Americans started over eighteen hundred mission agencies and sent out over 350,000 missionaries. They went back to all the places they had gone to fight the war, this time to preach the Gospel. The world had never seen such an outpouring of mission effort.
Over the next two decades, America led the world in prosperity and invention, but along with this success came the gradual decline of American missions. According to the US Center for World Missions, 1972 marks the first date that the number of American missionaries leaving the USA starts to decline. And in 1992, the total number of American missionaries in the field starts to shrink as missionaries from the 1950s began to retire.
As Christians today, we have a choice. On one hand, we can serve God and literally see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation. On the other hand, we can be afraid and shrink back. When we look at the Muslim world, do we fear terrorism, or do we see a harvest field of people yearning to know the truth? When we consider the Hindu world and the permanent underclass created by the caste system, do we see a harvest field of people yearning to be free? In the Buddhist world, do we understand spiritual oppression, and do we set ourselves to break those strongholds?
The view that Jesus had two thousand years ago is the same view that He has today: the harvest is ripe, and the laborers are few. We should pray according to the commandment of Jesus: “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.” We should pray for laborers who are compelled by love to go out to the harvest:
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
Let us join the prayers of the Virginia Company, Reverend Hunt, Reverend Whitaker, and all the missionaries who have ever labored in the harvest. Let us pray that God would thrust forth laborers into His harvest and hasten the coming of His Kingdom.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 NIV)
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During a short-term missionary trip to India, God opened Gordon's heart to the plight of millions of un-reached souls. Sensing God's call to win the lost to Christ, Gordon resigned from his law firm and moved his family to the Philippines.
Gordon created CBN Asia's weekly magazine show The 700 Club Asia, which is produced live in Manila. After training leaders and facilitating the development of the Asian CBN centers over a five-year period, Gordon relocated to the States in April 1999.
Gordon is also the founder and president of Asian Center for Missions (ACM), a non-profit corporation based in the Philippines dedicated to training and sending Asians to preach the Gospel throughout Asia. ACM has 12 missionary training centers in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, China, and Thailand with a cumulative total of 96 ACM missionaries deployed in 9 countries throughout Asia since 1995.
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