What it means to Reach Far

Pastor Jeff Struecker

This sermon is a celebration of the Great Commission. This is one of our core values in this sermon series called At Our Core. I’m going to use two words to describe the Great Commission for you. We’ll discuss where this is found in the Bible and why Christians call this passage “The Great Commission” in just a second. 

But the two words I want you to hear from me today are: reach far. This is number four on our list of five core values. The word reach really describes how willing a church is or a Christian is to go cross over some boundaries. 

I’d like to use UFC imagery to describe reach for just a second. I’m a fan of the UFC. I got into this sport early on. In the first couple of years of the UFC, I had a friend I was serving with in the army. He was in the 75th Ranger Regiment, and he competed in the first ever Ultimate Fight Championships. Now, if you don’t know what it was like back in the early days, they just threw guys in the ring together, there wasn’t an octagon, and it was more of a boxing match. It didn’t matter your size or your weight. They just put dudes in there together, and whoever punched somebody in the face hard enough, whoever caused the other guy to tap out, would automatically move on.

Well, my buddy, Bubba (that’s not his real name, but that’s what all of us called him), was a tough man. Bubba got invited for the first three years to go to Los Vegas and to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. After the third year, Bubba decided to retire, and I remember asking him, “Bubba, why now? I mean, you’ve gone every year. You’ve made your way through the ranks. You didn’t win, but you were really, really goo,d and you made a little bit of money. Actually, you made a lot of money. Why would you retire now?”

This is about the time that the Gracie Brothers out of Brazil were just beating up on guys much bigger than them and winning every year. Bubba said it this way: “Jeff, I realized this year was time for me to retire when I punched a guy as hard as I could with every ounce of energy that I had, and he just shook it off; it didn’t phase him one bit.” He said, “That’s the moment I realized it’s time for me to retire, because I just gave this guy everything that I had.” 

You see, back in the day, you used to just get in the ring. It didn’t matter how big, how tall, how strong that guy was. You just got in the ring, and you gave it everything that you had.

Today, if you watch the UFC, fighters are paired together based on size. The UFC does this so that somebody doesn’t have a huge advantage in the ring over another fighter. But there is one advantage that gives a fighter a distinct advantage over the other guy, and there’s nothing that the UFC can do to stop this. It’s the advantage of reach. In fact, this is such an advantage, that they let you know who has the reach advantage. 

80 inches versus 73 inches is a huge advantage in the octagon, because here’s what it says: I can punch you from a distance that you can’t punch me. I can hit you in the face, and you can’t hit me back because I have a seven-inch reach advantage over you. Think about the word reach as an ability to go touch something from a long distance away. And now you’ll start to see why we’re using this as part of our description of the Great Commission.

Jesus’s church is supposed to have a global reach. Jesus wants his church to reach all over the community, all over the country, and all over the globe.

We’re going to look at perhaps one of the most famous passages in all of the Bible. It’s Matthew chapter 28. We’re going to start in verse 18, and it’s often referred to as the Great Commission. 

I want you to notice something about reach, because if you were to ask me, “Jeff, how big of a deal is this for you?” Well, I’ll just put it to you this way in one simple sentence. I would be willing to dislocate my shoulder (metaphorically speaking) to reach somebody who is far from Jesus.

I’d dislocate my shoulder to reach someone far from Jesus.

Famous last words

Listen to Jesus’s famous last words, the last words he utters while he’s still physically on earth before he leaves earth and goes back to Heaven. He’s talking to his church in this passage, and he’s giving them instructions on what he wants his church to do next. We use two words to describe what you’re going to hear next about reaching far.

Matthew 28:18-20 

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now, we’re going to talk about core values in just a second. And when we say core values, we’re saying this is something that is so important to us, that it’s who we are. These are not things that we do. If you want to know who 2 Cities Church is, you would just have to look at our five core values. That’s what makes them core values. A value is something that’s important to you. A core value is so important that it really defines who you are. 

If you were to push me in a corner and make me choose one of these core values over the other, I think I would have to say the core value that gets me fired up and out of bed in the morning is core value number four, reaching people who are far from Jesus.

Reach is a church’s willingness and ability to go out and to touch people who are not already in their midst, but I want to spend the rest of this morning discussing this word far, because I need you to think in terms of far, not geographically, I need you to think spiritually. When we say the word far, what we really mean is far from Jesus. When we’re talking about far, it may be across the world, but it actually may be across the street from you. It may be across the cubicle at work or across the classroom you’re in.

Let’s talk about this Great Commission, and I want you to just hear first from Jesus. These are his famous last words. And last words are supposed to be lasting words, the words that stick with you after everything else is over with. COVID is really changing just about everything in the church, but it’s also changing nothing.

This past week I had a chance to get on a Zoom meeting with 200-300 officers and students from across the United Kingdom. They were dialed in from Scotland, from Wales, from England, and from Northern Ireland, and I had a chance to spend about an hour with them this week. It caused me to think about just how rapidly the world is changing because a year or two ago, I would have gotten on an airplane, flown across the Atlantic, and there would have been 200-300 students in the same room at the same time. 

This week, instead of getting on an airplane, I got online, and 200-300 people from all over the United Kingdom, from different colleges and universities across the United Kingdom, spent about an hour and 15 minutes with me online. What joins these people together from Northern Ireland to England, from Scotland to Wales? The answer is, they all share a common mission. They’re all connected to each other. Even though they are from different parts of the UK and from different universities, what connects them together is their commitment to the mission.

Please hear me. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has been around for thousands of years. It contains billions of people, and we’re all different from different walks of life, all over the globe. What joins us together is the mission, the mission of the Great Commission. 

So Jesus gathers his church together, and he has final instructions for his church. Now, I want you to think about this for a second, and I want you to be really honest. Imagine you’re on your deathbed, and your family and your friends come around you, and they’re going to spend a little bit of time with you. You have just a few minutes left with them on planet earth. What would the last words out of your mouth be? This is a really important statement. Whatever you say last is supposed to stick with them long after you’re gone.

This passage we’re reading today comes after Jesus’s death, after his resurrection. He’s been walking on earth for 40 days. He’s gathered his church around him on a mountainside, right outside of Jerusalem, and he gives them final instructions, his famous last words. And these are his instructions: “I have a mission for my church, and I want you to start my mission. I want you to do the thing that I was doing, and I want you to keep at my mission until I come back again.” 

Jesus is giving his church his authority and his permission to go carry out his mission. That’s the thing that unites billions of people over thousands of years, all over the globe. That’s the thing that unites us from all over the country and from around the world. 

Unfortunately, Christians can sometimes self-quarantine. Now, what Jesus really did is, he said, “I want you guys to leave Jerusalem, and I want you to take what you’ve heard from me. I want you to go and take it all over the planet.” Here’s what Christians will sometimes do (and I totally understand where this comes from, but it’s dangerous to follow this idea to its conclusion): They will start to self-quarantine. You know the way that people are isolating themselves right now, because we’re trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus? All of us know that just self-isolation, self-quarantine won’t stop the virus. It doesn’t cure the virus, but it certainly would slow the spread of the virus.

What Christians will sometimes do is say,”We live in this sin-sick world, and I’m trying to protect myself; I’m trying to protect my family.” And so they pull back from everybody around them who doesn’t know Jesus, and they start to self-quarantine from sinners. I totally understand where this is coming from, but the problem with this idea is that it’s impossible to fulfill the Great Commission when you are a self-quarantining Christian. 

I’ll take it even a step further. The theology behind this starts to get really dangerous really quickly. If you’re not careful, what this becomes is Christianity that’s all about you. Christianity is about a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not about you. It’s about the King of Kings. And the King of Kings has given his church his authority to go do his mission. There is no way that we can do that if we isolate ourselves and only associate with other people who share what we believe. That’s the end of Christianity in one generation if all Christians just stopped hanging around people who are far from God.

So when we say, “Reach far,” we’re not saying, “Go be a missionary halfway around the world.” We’re saying, “Reach my next door neighbor who’s far from Jesus, and he needs somebody to come to his door and to tell him the difference that Jesus has made.” 

Famous last words are supposed to be lasting words so that his church will never forget the reason we’re still on planet earth is for the glory of God and for the Great Commission. That’s why we’re still here. We don’t have the luxury of isolating ourselves from all of those sinners who are far from God, because there’s no way to accomplish this Great Commission if we do that.

A task for every Christian

Number two on the list: (And if you notice, I’m spelling out the word FAR today) This commission is a task for every Christian. It’s not just for the professional clergy, for the pastors and priests or those Pharisees in Jesus’s day. In fact, if you have any military experience, if you’ve been around military people before, you recognize this commission may be better than most because you know what it’s like to be a non-commissioned officer or a commissioned officer. A commission is when somebody places authority on you, gives you authority based on your rank and allows you to use their authority to go accomplish a mission.

Jesus gives authority to his church. The words “Great Commission” are found nowhere in this passage, but we Christians for thousands of years have called it a Great Commission because this is Jesus giving his commission to his church, giving his authority to his church. And its authority for every Christian all over the planet, not just for the paid professionals, not just for the pastors and priests out there.

When Jesus uses the word therefore in verse 19, he’s connecting what he says about himself in verse 18, “The father has given me all authority. Therefore…” verse 19, “…I’m giving you my authority to go and make disciples.” Jesus is commissioning his church with the word therefore

The problem can sometimes be the word go. Let me just be honest with you. Pastors, entire denominations, have sometimes improperly translated this word, and what they have done, probably unintentionally, is they have taken the word go and turned it into a professional missionary force. In other words, you sell everything that you own. You go to school; you get an education. They teach you a language, and then they send you somewhere halfway around the world. But it’s only for a handful of people who have the call of God on their life to go.

Actually, the most reliable way to translate the original language into English would be the phrase, “As you are going”. Jesus is not asking you to sell everything and go be a missionary. Jesus is asking you to just be missional, to be a missionary in your neighborhood. He’s asking you to do it tomorrow at school. He’s asking you to do it at work. You don’t have to sell everything and go get an education and go around the world (though there’s nothing wrong with that. Do that if that’s what the Holy Spirit is leading you to do). He’s calling all Christians as they’re going through their day, to go talk to people who are far from God and tell them what you believe.

I saw a beautiful, amazing example of this a couple of months ago by a guy by the name of Christopher, and I have asked Christopher if I could tell you his story. I was at a North Carolina barbecue restaurant that just opened during the middle of COVID, literally opened in March of this year. Christopher is a world-class pitman, a barbecue expert. He has awards and decorations. You may recognize this guy’s face from the Food Network. This guy knows barbecue better than anybody on the planet. I will just say this. This guy can barbecue a brisket better than those folks who live in Texas can. And all of you watching from Texas, I dare you to go to Prime Barbecue in Knightdale, North Carolina, and try it for yourself.

Christopher was chasing power and money and awards by just winning barbecue competition after barbecue competition, national, international awards. He’s got tons of them. And Christopher was working in restaurants. He was making barbecue, and he had a guy who was working for him who just acted and worked differently. This guy came to work, and there was something different about him. The guy never really preached Jesus to Christopher; he just kind of poured into Christopher’s life a little bit every day to the point that Christopher, in his own words, said, “I finally got to the point of realizing everything that I’m chasing after is letting me down, but what this guy has, I want that.” Christopher bowed his knees and surrendered his soul to King Jesus, and he radically changed, becoming a different man.

Christopher doesn’t own a restaurant to make money or to even make barbecue. Christopher owns a restaurant to make disciples. You see, on the wall, in the background room of the barbecue restaurant that he owns in Knightdale, North Carolina, Christopher has a Bible verse, and I watched him take people who don’t know Jesus into this room and just beautifully, naturally, convincingly explain to them how he learned what it means to be filled up.

The food that you eat will let you down. It will leave you hungry again. But when he was filled by the Holy Spirit, when he met Jesus, this filled him up, and he wants others to meet Jesus. This man just beautifully, simply as he’s going through his day making barbecue is sharing his faith, and he blew my mind by how natural, how easy it is for this pitmaster and award-winning cook to bring people into the back room and to show them the real secret sauce. And the secret sauce is not barbecue; It’s Jesus. Christopher gets what it looks like to make disciples as you go. Christopher understands that this Great Commission is a task for every Christian.

Reason 2 Cities Church exists

The word far looks like Jesus’s famous last words that become a task for every Christian. And reaching far ultimately is the reason 2 Cities Church exists. This is why if you were to put a gun to my head and force me to choose one of these core values over the rest, I would choose this one. It’s because way back, a long time ago… (Well, actually not that long ago) when Two Cities Church came together, we came together for the purpose of reaching people who are far from Jesus.

Before today is over with, go to our website and click on “about us” page. Go halfway down the page, and read the paragraph on reaching far. What you’re going to hear from that paragraph is, we intentionally wanted to be a church that cross denominational lines. We cross racial lines. We crossed socioeconomic lines. We cross every line that there is just to simply go meet somebody who is far from Jesus and introduce that person to the King of Kings, the one who has changed our souls.

I have a vision for our church, and our vision is, if we are 20 people or 20,000, it really doesn’t matter the size of the church as much as the reach of this church matters. What we came together to do last summer was to be a church where 100% of us were passionate about the Great Commission, willing to put it all on the line and to cross over any boundary that we needed to cross over so that we could go meet somebody who is far from Jesus and introduce them to the one who radically changed our souls.

For my next door neighbors, reaching far for them was six feet away. I came to faith in Christ while I was living in an apartment complex, and it was literally the young couple that lived directly across the hall from me, six feet away from my apartment door that came to my apartment one night and introduced this 13-year-old kid to the Savior of the universe, the one who died on the cross for me. 

That night, I lived six feet away from this couple, but spiritually, I might as well have been on the other side of the planet because I had no clue, no concept who Jesus was or what Jesus had done for me until my next door neighbors crossed that six-feet gap and came to my apartment and sat down and talked to me about Jesus. And since that day, I have felt the desire to want to share with other people who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for me.

For some of them, they may be on the other side of the planet, but in truth, many of them may be right across the street, right across the classroom, right across the cubicle from you. I want people to hear about Jesus like this couple wanted to cross that distance and talk to me about Jesus. 

My vision for 2 Cities Church is that 100% of us are passionate about reaching people who are far from Jesus. They may be on the other side of the planet, but the truth is, they may just be right across the street from us. They may be right across the hall from us. They may be living in the dorm right across the hall from you. My goal is that everybody in this church is passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission, because I believe when we get that serious about this Great Commission, this radical, fanatical commitment to the Great Commission, God will use people in this church to go reach somebody and introduce them to Jesus.

I’m talking right now to the busy college student who’s got exams coming up and who’s stressed out about a full load of classes. And you feel like, “Jeff, I couldn’t possibly add one more thing to my schedule.” I’m talking right now to the guy who’s working two jobs and saying, “Jeff, it takes me two full-time jobs just to pay the bills. How on earth could I possibly add anything else to my schedule?” I’m talking right now to that busy stay-at-home mom who has young babies, who every second of the day are screaming for their attention saying, “Jeff, how can I possibly find a few moments in this insanely busy day to go add something to my schedule?”

Please hear me, college student, the guy that’s working two jobs, that mom who is staying home with screaming babies. I’m not asking you to add anything to your schedule. I’m asking you to just simply do what Jesus said when he said, “As you go about your day…” Go talk to somebody on the park bench, Mom. Go talk to somebody at work, Guy who’s working two jobs. Go talk to a student in the classroom, Busy college student. And just start the conversation and start to introduce them to the one who can change their soul. That’s what we mean by reaching far.

I’m going to say it to you one other way. This is how big of a deal it is to us at 2 Cities Church. I would rather see the corporation of 2 Cities Church dissolve and the people disband than to ever see us put something as more important than reaching a guy or a girl who doesn’t know Jesus. 

hen we say far, we don’t mean geographically. What we mean by these words, reach far, the word far means far from Jesus. And God forbid that we ever place anything as more important than reaching somebody who is far from Jesus.