In 1953 Arthur C. Clarke published a science fiction story titled “The Nine Billion Names of God.” The premise of the story is that a group of Tibetan monks believe that the true names of God can be written in no more than nine letters, and that there are nine billion of them. So they have purchased a computer to hasten their listing of all the possible permutations of letters. They believe that once they have listed all the names of God, God’s purposes will have been achieved, and the world will end. I won’t reveal the story’s ending; you’ll have to read it yourself.
You’re probably wondering: what on earth does that have to do with missions? Well, my memory of that story was triggered by something I read in the Perspectives class at GRC (kudos to Daniel & Kate Son for a terrific job of coordinating this class; when the class is offered again, you should definitely consider taking it). In Matthew 24:14, Jesus makes this statement: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Later in that same discourse Jesus does say that no one knows the day or hour of His return except the Father (vs. 36), but his earlier statement is still very interesting.
Here’s the connection. The monks in that fictional story had been laboring for centuries on their task, and bought the computer so they could complete it sooner, knowing the purpose and the result (so they thought) of their diligent work. If Jesus tells us that once the gospel has been preached in the entire world, to all the nations (or “peoples”, as the word can also be translated), and then the end will come and he will return, wouldn’t you think that should be something the church is laser focused on? Wouldn’t you think that we would bend every effort toward that end? I mean, talk about incentive!
Now, Jesus didn’t say that every person would be reached with the gospel, but that the gospel would eventually receive a hearing in every nation or people group. One way that happens is through the translation of the Bible into various languages. Estimates are that the Bible was available in 36 languages by 1600, 537 languages by 1900, and 2800 languages by 2000. That still leaves thousands of languages without a written Bible. Pray that God would prosper the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and others who diligently work in this field. Consider giving to support their efforts. If one of your children has a particular ability with language, encourage him or her to consider serving in the work of Bible translation.
In a world of approximately 7.8 billion people, about one fourth are in the least reached people groups; that is, they have almost no chance of hearing the gospel from someone in their own people group. The vast majorities are Muslims or Hindus, and most live in Asia. Will you pray for these people, that they might hear the gospel? Will you support the work of missions with your prayers and gifts? Will you help send missionaries to these people? Will you consider going yourself?
George Eldon Ladd writes that in Matthew 24:14 we find a message, a mission, and a motive. The message is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The mission is to preach that gospel to the entire world, to all peoples. And the motive is to see Christ return. As he says, “I do not know when the end will come. And yet I do know this: When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again.”
May we be obedient to our Lord in this task. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder.