The Creator of the universe, who holds everything in being, from all the galaxies to every grain of sand, and who governs everything that happens, from the fall of nations to the fall of every bird that dies — this God has decreed that he will accomplish his enemy-reconciling, worshiper-creating purposes among all the peoples of the world through your mouth.
Listen to the words of the apostle Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Think of it: there’s God, with his appeal to the peoples of the world; there’s Christ, who provided the basis of the appeal by his death for sin and his triumph over death — and there’s you, with your mouth.
You take your Christ, your great Treasure, and his magnificent salvation, and you open your mouth, and wonder of wonders, God makes his appeal through you: “Be reconciled to God.” This is how we make disciples of all nations. This is how the Great Commission is completed. God makes his appeal through us: “On behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” When you say that, it is the voice of God.
Christians, the Voice of His Excellencies
Don’t shrink back from this, as if it were meant only for apostles. Do you remember what Peter said about who you are? You are Christians: “You [you!] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). You are the voice of his excellencies. That’s not a missionary calling. That’s your Christian identity. It’s who you are — the mouthpiece of the excellencies of God.
So, my prayer for this message — indeed, for this day and this conference — has two layers.
Layer #1: I am praying that God would redirect the lives of hundreds of you from where you were heading when you came to this conference, or from the muddle your life was in, into a life totally devoted, vocationally, to opening your mouths among the least-reached peoples of the world — God making his appeal through you for the reconciling of his enemies and the creation of his worshipers.
Layer #2: I am praying that the rest of you would see this divine enterprise as so glorious that you would celebrate it and support it in every way possible.
What can I do in the rest of this message that God might use to make you an answer to one of those prayers? What I’m going to do is to try and show you from the Gospel of John how God will use your mouth to create worshipers of the true God among the nations. I think if you could see how God actually does it, you might feel called to join him in doing it.
Whom the Father Seeks, He Will Have
Let’s start with John 4:23. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. She has just pointed out that Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim while Jews, like Jesus, worship in Jerusalem (John 4:20). To this Jesus responds,
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for [or because] the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23)
The reason there will be true worship on any mountain or in any valley or on any plain is because the Father is seeking worshipers. That’s why worship among the nations happens.
This is not a seeking as in an Easter egg hunt, as if God doesn’t know who they are or where they are. This is a seeking because they are his, and he means to have them and their wholehearted, happy worship for himself forever.
“The Father is seeking worshipers from all the nations because they are already his.”
As Jesus prayed to his Father in John 17:6, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” The Father is seeking worshipers from all the nations because they are already his. “Yours they were!” Jesus declares. “And you gave them to me.” God chose them “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4–6). They are his. He is seeking them. He will have them.
How does he do that? How do we move from “yours they were” from all eternity to countless worshipers from every people, language, tribe, and nation at the consummation of history with you, and your mouth, in the middle?
To answer that question from the Gospel of John, we need to know, What’s the relationship between worshiping and believing in this Gospel? Because Jesus just said in John 4:23 that the Father is seeking worshipers. Yet this whole Gospel is written, according to John 20:31, to create believers: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
What’s the relationship between believing and worshiping? Which should we seek? Is there a first and second? Are they the same? Do they overlap?
Belief as Soul-Satisfaction
Here’s my very condensed answer, which starts with a stunning fact: In this so-called “Gospel of Belief,” John never uses the noun belief or faith (Greek pistis) — never! — in all 21 chapters. But he uses the verb believe (pisteuō) 98 times. That can’t be an accident. What’s the point?
I think the point is this: John wants to emphasize that believing is an action, and one of the soul, not the body. The movements of the body are the effects of believing. What the soul does is believing. And what are the actions of believing in the soul? John answers at the very beginning of his Gospel in John 1:11–12: “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Believing is the soul’s receiving of Christ.
Receiving as what? A ticket out of hell that you put in your back pocket and never think of? A wonder-worker to keep my wife alive and my children safe (and a failure if he doesn’t)? No. John and Jesus have a different kind of receiving in mind. It’s the receiving of Christ as soul-satisfying bread from heaven and as thirst-quenching living water: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).
Believing, in John’s Gospel, is the soul’s eating and drinking of all that God is for us in Christ with the discovery that this is the end of my quest. (Believing is more, but it is not less, than this.) My soul-hunger and my soul-thirst are satisfied in believing. Christ is my food, my drink, my treasure, my satisfaction. That is the essence of believing as John presents it.
Worship as Soul-Satisfaction
And what is worship — the essence of worship, not the bodily acts that express it, but its essence? Jesus forced that distinction on us when he said in Matthew 15:8–9, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Actions of the lips and the hands and any other part of the body are “vain,” empty, when the heart is not acting its worship.
“Where God is not satisfying, our worship is not glorifying God. It is vain, empty. It is not worship.”
But how does that happen? What is it in the heart that turns the actions of the voice and the hands into worship? Jesus answers with a spatial image. He says, “Their heart is far from me.” What does this spatial image of moving far away from God mean for true and false worship? If you are moving away from God, it means God is becoming less desirable. You feel that he has become boring, or disappointing, or cruel, or unreal, or negligible, marginal, forgotten.
And as your heart moves away, God ceases to be your desire, your treasure, your food, your drink. You don’t say or feel anymore, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). He does not taste good. He is not satisfying. And where God is not satisfying, our worship is not glorifying God. It is vain, empty. It is not worship.
In the end, then, when we have penetrated into the essence of believing and the essence of worshiping, we find the same thing: a human soul drinking and eating all that God is for us in Christ, and discovering that he is our deepest satisfaction and our greatest treasure. This is the essence of believing, and this is the essence of worshiping.
Therefore, what the Father is seeking (in John 4:23) and what John is writing for (in John 20:31) are essentially the same: the ingathering of people from all the nations of the earth who come alive to find their fullest satisfaction in all that God is for them in Jesus.
Because He Must
We return to a previous question: How does he do that? How do we move from “yours they were, Father,” from all eternity, to countless worshipers from all the peoples at the end of the age, with you and your mouth in the middle? The answer is found in the most important missionary text in the Gospel of John — namely, John 10:16.
I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is the thunderclap of warning against every whiff of ethnocentrism or nationalism that exults in any earthly citizenship above our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Just when we think that we have settled in comfortably with “my people,” “my church,” “my denomination,” “my ethnicity,” “my nation,” Jesus lifts his voice: “I have other sheep that are not of your fold. Not your church fold. Not your denominational fold. Not your ethnic or national fold. Not even in your Christian fold — yet. They are scattered among all the peoples of the world. I have other sheep, and they will listen to my voice.” They will. They will listen, and they will come — if you go, if you let his voice be heard in your voice.
Is that going to happen? Will the voice of Christ be heard among the nations in the voice of his people? Yes, it will. We know it will because of one word in John 10:16, the word must: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” That is the must of a divine purpose, like, “Nicodemus, you must be born again” (see John 3:7), or “the Son of Man must be lifted up” (see John 3:14).
And here is the link back to the Samaritan woman at the well and the Father’s pursuit of worshipers. When John 4:4 says, “He had to pass through Samaria,” the Greek word for had to is the same Greek word for must in John 10:16: “I must bring the sheep that are not of this fold.”
Geographically, he did not have to go through Samaria. Most Jews didn’t. John 4:9 says, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” So, what kind of had to was it? What kind of must — he must go through Samaria? This is the cross-cultural missionary commitment of Christ in John 10:16: “I have other sheep that are not of this Jewish fold. I must — have to! — bring them. They will hear my voice. They will be reconciled. I laid down my life for them. They will believe. They will worship.”
Therefore We Must
But they must hear his voice, first in Jesus’s voice and then in our voice. God does not speak the gospel from heaven in the voice of thunder. He speaks it on earth in the voice of Christians. “God [is] making his appeal through us. . . . Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Believe God. Worship God. Be satisfied fully in God.
Do you remember what Jesus said to this five-times married woman living with lover number six? He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14).
God is calling some of you to do what Jesus did: go through Samaria. They did not want him there. Jews were about as welcome in Samaria as Americans in Pakistan. But he went. He had to — because she was there. Chosen. A sheep not of this fold. Utterly oblivious that God was seeking, and would have, her worship. She would hear the voice, and come and drink and live.
“The salvation of one soul is worth your life.”
Someday, some of you will sit by a well in a very inhospitable country. And you will say to the one God points out, “Ma’am (or sir), I have water that, if you drink it, you will never be thirsty again.” And the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice in your voice, and say, “I would like to hear about that water.”
The salvation of one soul is worth your life.
Peter Cameron Scott was born in Scotland in 1867. He founded the African Inland Mission (AIM). He had tried to serve in Africa but had to come home with malaria. The second attempt was especially joyful because he was joined by his brother John.
The joy evaporated as John fell victim to the fever. Peter buried his brother all by himself and at the grave rededicated himself to preach the gospel. But again Peter’s health broke, and he had to return to England, utterly discouraged.
But in London, something wonderful happened. While recovering, he visited Westminster Abbey to see David Livingstone’s grave, hoping to find some encouragement. He knelt down and read the inscription:
“OTHER SHEEP I HAVE, WHICH ARE NOT OF THIS FOLD:
THEM ALSO I MUST BRING.”
It was enough. Peter Cameron Scott did return to Africa. He founded AIM, which after 128 years has touched the lives of millions.
The Shepherd will have his believing sheep. The Father will have his worshipers. They will hear his voice in our voice. And they will come. There is a woman at a well. Waiting.