Into All The World
Any experienced marathon runner will tell you: the first few miles are easy. You’re surrounded by cheering crowds, you’re proud of the runner’s number pinned to your chest, and you’re full of energy and enthusiasm. Months of training pay off as you run surely and steadily, feet hitting the payment rhythmically as you log mile after mile. When you pass a group of spectators, you grin and give them a thumbs up; sometimes you even have the breath to shout a motivational slogan to a friend. Then you get to mile nine and everything changes. Lactic acid starts building up in your muscles; you get thirsty; suddenly, the prospect of running a full twenty-six miles loses its appeal.
Races are not only matters of skill, but of endurance; it’s no coincidence that Paul compares the Christian life to a race. “I have fought the good fight,” he writes, looking back on his years of travel, preaching, and persecution. “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV). Paul’s life was filled with imprisonment, torture, beatings, narrow escapes, shipwrecks, and other seemingly insurmountable obstacles; in the face of each one, he must have said (to quote Samuel Beckett), “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
Paul’s experience is one of the most dramatic ones we have on record, but he shared the predicament of all of the early Christians. Many of them had walked with, laughed with, and touched Jesus himself. Those who hadn’t knew people who had. Now he was gone, and they had to keep running.
In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus gives his last charge to his followers before leaving earth. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). They have a divine mandate, and they will carry it out. And soon – within years, they assume – their Lord and friend will return.
And then the light from Jesus’ ascension fades, and they’re left blinking in the sunlight, a ragtag collection of nobodies standing on a hillside outside Jerusalem. Now what?
The moments after any dramatic event are always bound to be a letdown, leaving us asking those two simple, piercing words: now what? If you’ve ever cleaned up after a wedding, or woken up the day after graduation, you know what I mean. The dramatic send-off is over; now you just have to go. And keep going.
It’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus ended his earthly ministry and returned to heaven; it’s been more than 170 since Adventists experienced the Great Disappointment. Jesus still hasn’t returned, and we are struggling through a life filled with refugee crises and childhood diseases, global warming and nuclear warfare.
In The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Frodo Baggins regrets the danger and evil he must face as he seeks to destroy the Ring of Power and save the world. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” says Frodo. “So do I,” replies his mentor, the wise wizard Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Further along in his journey, Frodo faces another moment of crushing despair. This time, it is his friend and constant companion Sam who lifts him up, pointing backwards to all the heroes who have come before them, and pointing forwards to the world they’re fighting to bring about.
Good, Sam emphasizes, will still triumph. Jesus – and the message of hope, love, and justice that he offers to all – is still worth fighting for.
The responsibility to fight the fight and run the race, however, rests on each of us as individuals. “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet,” writes Madeleine L’Engle in A Wrinkle in Time. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”
Throughout the past year, we’ve studied the lives of people who made mistakes and triumphed, who caved to temptation, and endured for God. We’ve traced the story of Jesus from his birth to his death, from the grave to the resurrection and ascension. And through it all, you have been observing a story unfolding. God is doing something in his world, and you are called to be a part of it.
What are you holding on to? What will you fight for?
- Looking back on this entire series, what are the big ideas that you see coming through from Genesis to the Gospels? What ideas were repeated again and again?
- Has your view of the plan of salvation changed? Has your view of the character of Jesus changed? Has this series raised questions you haven’t thought about before? Has it raised questions that you haven’t found satisfactory answers to yet?
- What does it mean to fight for good? What does it mean to live a Christian life for God?
- Right before saying “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race,” Paul gives Timothy a personal charge - a renewed calling to ministry. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-5. What are some things in these verses that you can apply to your own walk of faith right now?
- Read Acts 1:4-8, 2:1-41, and Luke 24:44-48. What is the power that Jesus said would enable his followers to carry out their mission, endure what they must endure, and successfully spread his message around the world? Do you believe this power is available today? Have you seen it active in your life?
- Read 1 Corinthians 12 in it’s entirety. What does this chapter teach you about the way that the Holy Spirit empowers people to serve God’s mission? Do you know if you have any gifts that come from God’s spirit? Do you have an ability that God has given you to serve the purposes of his kingdom?
- Read Philippians 3:12-16. What are some things that you have attained spiritually? What are some of the core lessons that God has taught you? What are some of the most meaningful ways you have served the cause of the Kingdom of God? What can you do to “cling” to those things, or to hold true to those things? How might that help you moving forward?