I’ve met a new friend this week. I’d never heard of Helen Roseveare until Tuesday morning, but I’ve spent so much time reading about her life this week that I can now call her my friend. Helen went home to be with the Lord on December 7, 2016, but she squeezed every ounce of living out of her 91 years. Helen was born on September 21, 1925 in England. When she was a little girl her Sunday school teacher taught her class about missionaries in India one Sunday and Helen resolved that she would one day be a missionary.
Helen graduated from college and enrolled at Cambridge University to study medicine. She felt distance from God, an emptiness inside, but while she was at Cambridge a student named Dorothy invited Helen to Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. Helen read the New Testament through for the first time, she began attending a Bible study, and at a student retreat the Lord became real to Helen for the first time. She opened her heart to Jesus and experienced His forgiveness in a personal way. On the last night of the retreat Helen gave her testimony to the other students. Dr. Graham Scroggie was the Bible teacher for the retreat and he wrote a note in Helen’s Bible after she spoke. He wrote Philippians 3:10 on the inside cover,
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10 NIVO)
Underneath the verse Dr. Graham Scroggie wrote,
Tonight you’ve entered into the first part of the verse, ‘That I may know Him.’ This is only the beginning, and there’s a long journey ahead. My prayer for you is that you will go on through the verse to know ‘the power of His resurrection’ and also, God willing, one day perhaps, ‘the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.’ (Dr. Graham Scroggie)
Helen began to think more and more about becoming a medical missionary. She said one night she went up on the mountain and “had it out with God.” She wrote about her experience by saying,
Afterwards, I went up into the mountains and had it out with God. “O.K. God, today I mean it. Go ahead and make me more like Jesus, whatever the cost. But please (knowing myself fairly well), when I feel I can’t stand anymore and cry out, ‘Stop!’ will you ignore my ‘stop’ and remember that today I said ‘Go ahead!’?” (Helen Roseveare)
After graduating from Cambridge Medical School, Helen studied for six months at the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade College at Crystal Palace. She then went to Belgium to study French and then to Holland to take a course in tropical medicine before she left for what was called the Belgian Congo, the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1953 at the age of 28. When Helen first arrived she was the only doctor for 2.5 million people. During her first two years, Helen started a training school for nurses in which she trained women to be nurse/evangelists. Helen established 48 rural medical centers in which these women tended the needs of the sick and shared the Good News of Jesus.
In 1964 the Simba uprising took place, civil war broke out, and the rebels destroyed all of Helen’s medical facilities. Helen and nine other Protestant missionaries were put under house arrest by the rebel forces. Helen was beaten, kicked, propped up on her feet so they could hit her again. They broke her teeth and brutalized her for weeks. Then on October 29, 1964 she was brutally raped twice by two army officers. The national army finally defeated the rebel army and Helen was rescued and flown back to England where she stayed for a year. During that time the Lord restored Helen physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Years later at Urbana ‘76, Helen addressed the students about what the Lord taught her about her experience of suffering. She said,
One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn’t take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with him, for him, in him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privileged of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering. In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, looking back, one has tried to ‘count the cost,’ but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege. (Dr. Helen Roseveare, Urbana ‘76.)
Helen returned to her ministry after one year, in 1966, and she went to work in Nyankunde. The Lord used Dr. Roseveare to establish a new medical center, the Evangelical Medical Centre of Nyankunde with 250 beds, a maternity complex, and leprosy-care center. She began a training center for doctors, a national training center for para-medical workers, several regional hospitals and dispensaries, and a central supply depot for drugs and equipment. At the heart of everything Dr. Roseveare did was the urgent need for people to meet Jesus through meeting them at the place where they hurt.
In our Scripture for this morning, found in John 20:19-23, there is a statement that I’ve spent the majority of the week thinking about. Jesus told His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIVO) What does that mean? How and why did the Father send the Son? And, how and why does Jesus send us? I want us to think, really think about these questions this morning. First, let’s read all of John 20:19-23.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23 NIVO)
It was the evening of the day when the tomb which had held Jesus had been found empty. Evidently, the disciples weren’t fully convinced because they were hiding behind locked doors because they were fearful the same authorities that had killed Jesus would kill them also. It’s important to notice that John tells us they were together “with the doors locked.” This is important because the next thing we read is, “…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” If death could not stop Jesus then why in the world would anyone think a locked door would be a problem? Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” Do you remember how Jesus tried to prepare His disciples for His death, before He was arrested? Turn with me to John 14:27 and let’s take a look. Jesus told His disciples,
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIVO)
Before Jesus went to the cross He told His disciples that He was giving them His peace, the shalom of God. This shalom is far different than the peace the world has in mind. Biblical peace consists of two important truths. The first is “peace with God.” The Bible teaches us that we are not born at peace with God. Left to our own devices we don’t want God to interfere with our lives, we want to call the shots. Peace with God is made possible for you and me through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote,
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1 NIVO)
Peace with God is our greatest need. We might think other needs supercede our need for peace with God, but we are mistaken if we believe that my friends. Peace with God leads to knowing the “peace of God.” It is the peace of God that enables us to fix our hearts and minds on God and His love for us, provision for us, care for us, and His ability to sustain and strengthen us no matter what we have to face in life. In Philippians 4:6-7 we read,
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIVO)
Did you notice the word, “anything?” I want you to replace the word, “anything,” with whatever it is that is causing you the most stress at this very moment. Is it financial problems? Do you have a relationship that keeps you up at night? Is it your failing health? Problems at work? Are you getting ready to leave home and go to college or go to work and you’re anxious about it? Do not be anxious, but pray, thank God for your predicament because you know it is an opportunity for you to trust Him. If you will do that, if I will do that, then God has a promise for you and me. Look at verse 7 with me: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” You will never know the peace of God unless you first have peace with God and are willing to trust Him with whatever comes your way.
Let’s move on. After Jesus entered the room and told His disciples, “Peace be with you,” He then showed them His hands and His side. Take a look at John 20:20 with me.
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20 NIVO)
That’s quite a response isn’t it? The scars of God the Son stirred such joy that it overflowed from the hearts of Jesus’ followers. Their Lord was alive! Jesus was not dead, He was alive, and they knew Him by His scars.
Oh, those scars. It’s the scars of Jesus that have moved countless millions of men, women, boys, and girls to serve Jesus by serving in this broken world. I don’t mean they simply tolerated the ridicule, hardships, loss of jobs, status, families and for some, even their life. We have countless examples, stories like the one I told you about Dr. Helen Roseveare. There are biblical stories as well. Shortly after the birth of the Church in the book of Acts, we read about how the followers of Jesus were out telling people the Good News of Jesus. They were arrested, flogged, and we read in Acts 5:33, the members of the Sanhedrin wanted to kill Jesus’ followers. A member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, intervened on their behalf. Turn with me to Acts 5:40-41 and we can catch the story at the end of Gamaliel’s speech to the Sanhedrin.
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:40-41 NIVO)
They did what? Did you catch that? They were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” For the One who bears scars they were more than willing, they were honored to receive whatever scars the world wanted to dish out. Let’s move on. In verse 21 we read,
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIVO)
I’ve spent the majority of my time this week thinking about this verse. How did the Father send His Son? For what purpose did the Father send His Son? What does it mean to be sent by Jesus? For what purpose? James Montgomery Boice says this verse is John’s version of the Great Commission. A version of the Great Commission is found in each of the four Gospels, the most familiar is found in Matthew 28:18-20. Let’s read it together.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-1:1 NIVO)
In actuality, our being “sent” is the continuation of Jesus’ ministry. He came to offer His life in our place so that we might have the opportunity to be reconciled with God. Jesus came to make disciples, followers, and to teach them about themselves and what it means to live in relationship with God. Our mission is to continue His work. To share what Jesus has done on our behalf so others might be reconciled to God through Jesus and to teach others what it means to live in relationship with God.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” How did Jesus bring Good News to us? He became one of us. That’s what the Incarnation is all about. John 1:14 tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:14 NIVO) I love how Eugene Peterson translates the verse in his, The Message translation.
14 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14 The Message)
God moved into our neighborhood in the Person of Jesus. It was a grimy, gritty, violent, profane, immoral neighborhood, this earth that Jesus willingly moved into. It was such a bad neighborhood they killed Him. He gave His life so others might gain life. Was it worth it? Just look around the world today and you will find His people in every village, in every city, in every nation on planet earth.
We also live in a gritty, grimy, violent, and immoral day don’t we? There’s no shortage of reports detailing just how bad this world is, and yet we as followers of Jesus are sent into this world. The problem we have today is not the neighborhood or our neighbors, it’s our unwillingness to move out of our comfort and into the lives of those who need to know Jesus. We have distanced ourselves from the world instead of moved into it. We have secluded ourselves behind stained glass where it is safe instead of venturing out into the brokenness of this world. We will give hard earned dollars to send missionaries around the world, but we are unwilling to risk living life with those who make us uncomfortable. It is imperative that we identify with others who are not followers of Jesus, who may be adamantly opposed to Jesus, in the same way Jesus identified with us. He loved us and loved us, has been so patient with us, and in time our lives have been changed. John Stott wrote,
We tend to proclaim our message from a distance. We sometimes appear like people who shout advice to drowning men from the safety of the seashore. We do not dive in to rescue them. We are afraid of getting wet, and indeed of greater perils than this. But Jesus Christ did not broadcast salvation from the sky. He visited us in great humility… (Stott, John.)
We tend to build big buildings and try and make them as attractive as Las Vegas show palaces in order to attract those who don’t know Jesus. There is something far more powerful and transforming than flashy buildings, surround sound systems, or mesmerizing lighting systems and that is a person: A man or woman, boy or girl, who is willing to live their life for the glory of God as they love on those who feel unlovable, as they value those who feel unworthy, as they step into the messy lives of others, and as they give their time to those who are lonely. Is it risky? You better believe it is. Will you get hurt? If you stay the course you will most certainly get hurt. Is it worth it? Let me close with a story.
In 1985, Dr. Roseveare spoke to students at the Columbia Bible College in Columbia, South Carolina. None of the students were impressed. She was 60 years old and looked like a missionary. She wasn’t wearing skinny jeans and didn’t use Justin Beiber or sound clips from popular music or movies to illustrate her message. She could tell the kids were bored with her so about two minutes in she said, “I don’t want to bore you with the details of my life so I’ll let you ask questions.” One young man raised his hand and said, “Yeah I’ve got a question,” he said, “You know, we’ve got missionaries coming through here all the time, and, and they’re always talking about, you know, paying the price and suffering for Jesus–what did you ever suffer for Jesus?” Dr. Roseveare sat in her chair and looked at the young Bible student. Without any bitterness or anger she said, “Well, during the Simba Uprising, I was raped twice.” You could have heard a pin drop. She told them about being beaten, kicked in the teeth until they broke and her face was bloody, and how two army officers, one at a time, took her to her own bedroom and violated her body by raping her. After the second time she was dragged outside and tied to a tree. Then one of the men found the only existing hand-written manuscript of a book she had been writing about the Lord’s work in the Congo over an eleven year period of time. They brought it out, put it on the ground, and burned it right in front of her. Helen said she watched her manuscript go up in smoke, after having been raped for the second time, and she thought to herself, “Is it worth it? Is it worth it?” Then she told the students who were sitting in the auditorium that night,
…the minute I said that, God’s Holy Spirit settled over that terrible scene, and He began to speak to me, and this is what He said. He said to me: ‘Helen, my daughter Helen, you’ve been asking the wrong question all your life. Helen, the question is not, “Is it worth it?” The question is: “Am I worthy?” Am I, the Lord Jesus who gave His life for you, worthy for you to make this kind of sacrifice for me?’”
And tears began to flow from Dr. Helen Roseveare’s eyes as she looked at the Bible students, so young, with such few scars suffered for their Savior. She told them how God broke her heart and she looked up into the face of Jesus and said, “Oh Lord Jesus, yes, it is worth it, for thou art worthy.”
The question you and I need to ask as we consider what God is calling us to, the risk He is calling us to take, is not, “Will it be worth it?, but “Is He worthy?” If you can answer “Yes” to that question then prepare yourself for the ride of a lifetime. Where will He take you? I don’t know, but He’ll get you there. What will He call you to risk? I can’t answer that, but He’ll provide more than you will ever lose. He is worthy!
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July 30, 2017