Famous Last Words

LUDICROUS in the light of reason, but in the light of history, sublime . . ." is the way one expositor described the missionary proclamation of the risen Christ, recorded for us in the closing paragraphs of St. Matthew's gospel. The ex-taxation man pushed aside his inkhorn and laid down his stylus at that. . .

-Ministerial Secretary, Trans-Africa Division, at the time this article was written

LUDICROUS in the light of reason, but in the light of history, sublime . . ." is the way one expositor described the missionary proclamation of the risen Christ, recorded for us in the closing paragraphs of St. Matthew's gospel. The ex-taxation man pushed aside his inkhorn and laid down his stylus at that.

Did not logic demand at least some brief explanation of the disappearance of his Hero? Surely a few sentences on an episode as dramatic as the ascension must have clamored for inclusion in the manuscript! But the Spirit apparently determined that nothing must blunt the impact, blur the vision, or fog the picture painted in these last words:

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to ob serve all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. 1

The King's plan for the future of His kingdom has a familiar ring. It reminds us in a way of Genesis, chapter one. Like every other living thing that God brought into being, Christians were to bring forth after their kind! Henceforth, the disciples were to make disciples! In Genesis development came by physical multiplication, but in the new creation, by spiritual regeneration. All nations were to be discipled. Power was provided. The word used for power carries the higher sense of authority. But dynamic is doubtless included. The power would be derived from the personal presence and the prestige of the King himself, to whom had been handed all authority both in the heavens and on the earth.

Their field of activity was enlarged far beyond the limits of their imagination or expectation. It may also have been beyond their desires, in view of the built-in prejudices and the exclusiveness of their racial background. The instruction, para phrased from Luke, "Make disciples in Jerusalem and in Judea by all means, but include Samaria, and then go on and out to the uttermost parts of the earth," 2 must have fallen on their ears with a strange, jarring sound. To men reared with the idea that their God would be grievously displeased if He found them so much as eating with a man of a non- Jewish clan the prospect of taking the good news of the kingdom, and the offer of inclusion, "into all the world," 3 must have been revolutionary indeed.

Furthermore, time lengthened into centuries or even millennia would not alter the charter of the church. The plan covered "all the days; even unto the end!"

"There is an unapproachable majesty in the words which makes one shrink from touching them. They seem to rise before us like a great mountain which it would be presumption to attempt to scale. What a mighty range they take, up to heaven, out to all the earth, down to the end of time . . . and all so calm, so simple, so strong, so sure. If, as he finished the Sermon on the Mount, the multitude were astonished, much more must these have been astonished who first listened to this amazing proclamation." 4

A World Vision

"This commission [Matt. 28:18-20] is sometimes referred to as the 'charter of foreign missions.' Christianity was the first religion to assume a truly international character. Pagan religions were largely devoid of missionary zeal and activity. They were primarily national in character and did not set out to make converts of other national groups. The gospel commission effectively eliminates national boundaries, and men of all nations find themselves members of one great brotherhood in which 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female,' for all are 'one in Christ Jesus.' (Gal. 3:28, cf. Col. 3:11). Christianity effectively destroys all barriers of race, nationality, society, economics, and social custom. Christianity depends for success on its disentanglement from all national peculiarities, forms of government, social institutions, and everything of a purely local character." 5

The unique scope and vision of the church's charter is a powerful argument for the resurrection. If, as was alleged, the disciples stole away His body and invented the resurrection story, how shall we account for the sublime concepts in the Great Commission? If the Hero was dead and gone, and the fishermen and the publican were now on their own re sources, how did they produce a pas sage that contains so much of the King? How did they originate words comparable in power, breadth, and insight, as impressive as anything that had gone before? The disciples expressed their personal outlook in the words "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" 6 Now, if Matthew had invented the Great Commission, how narrow and provincial it would have been. But the utter absence of human narrowness or Jewish exclusiveness, and the universal concern for the lost world as a whole, can only be explained as the revived heartthrob of the One who made the world, and died for the lost in totality. We are forced to conclude that the writer is telling it as he actually heard it, direct from the Christ who was resurrected, present, living, triumphant, and anxious that His disciples recognize His victory to be alive with cosmic implications. The whole wide world was involved! Their task was to get the good news out.

A Costly Commission

The cross was not a symbol of empire or of imperial domination, but of the imperium of service and sacrifice. The servant is not greater than his Lord according to the Gospels. And if the Master of the house suffered, then surely the servants could expect the same! The apostles learned by experience the meaning of their Master's warning, for of the twelve only one is known to have died a natural death, and he in exile. And on through the centuries the story was repeated and amplified until, like the blood of the murdered Abel, the very souls of the martyrs of Jesus seemed to be crying out to God for vindication and justice. But the "blood of the martyrs" proved to be the seed of the church.

The most startling aspect of the story, and one that we often overlook, is that the faith has nothing whatever to lose through suffering. In fact, it is in times of difficulty and persecution that the flame rises purest from the altar. Contrary to all expectation, the Light of the world shines most brightly against the dark backdrop of opposition and trouble. On the other hand, the flame may flicker and die in an atmosphere of worldly calm and prosperity, for materialism is the most deadly threat to spirituality. And the friendship of the world is still enmity to Jesus Christ.

Paying the Price in Africa

It called for a very special brand of courage to undertake mission work in Africa before the establishment of civil government. Those who came cut them selves off from civilization, exposed themselves and their families to unknown diseases and often to humiliation and even death at the hands of savage tribes men or capricious chiefs.

David Livingstone's challenging addresses on Africa while home in England resulted in the launching of the famous Universities' Mission in what is today, Malawi. It was led by Bishop McKenzie, described as the very epitome of Victorian Christianity. With quixotic courage the party moved into the heart of a turbulent slaving area above Lake Nyasa. Some months later the Bishop's sister, accompanied, interestingly enough, by her pet donkey, two old mules, a housekeeper, and a maid, arrived at the coast and started upriver with Livingstone to join her brother. A 21-year-old bride, Mrs. Burrup, was also in the party, anxious to be with her missionary husband. After untold difficulties the women made it to Magomero only to discover that the Bishop and Burrup were already dead and buried. Within weeks Mary Livingstone, who had also arrived to join her husband, was laid to rest beneath a great baobab tree near the river. Soon two more of the remaining missionaries went to untimely graves. Malaria, which as yet had not been connected with the swarms of mosquitoes infesting the humid low lands of Africa, was responsible for the tragedy.

In the same general area, Missionary Dr. Laws of Livingstonia, after five years of operation, counted his liabilities in terms of five graves, and his assets one convert. Two mission families who rolled across the Kalahari Desert by ox wagon from the South to answer the challenge of the Makololo on the Zambezi, where Livingstone reported wide open doors of opportunity for the gospel, fared even worse. The Helmore and Price families with six children suffered hardships for more than a year. Eventually only Roger Price and two of the Helmore children came out of the desert alive. Their story was one of sacrifice, privation, and death caused by fever.

A different fate overwhelmed Bishop Hannington and his party, who were commissioned to plant the banner of the cross in the heart of Africa, known today as Uganda. They were treacherously massacred to a man on the borders of Mutesa's kingdom without preaching a sermon or saying a prayer in their appointed field. But the gospel found its way into the capital, nevertheless, and into the hearts of a band of young Africans, whose faith proved real enough to express itself in gospel songs, chanted as the tyrant flung them into the flames at Bunyoro. Recently the Pope visited Kampala to dedicate a memorial to their deathless example.

Adventists started work for the African people in 1894 on land ceded by Rhodes in the territory of Chief Solusi, Southern Rhodesia. While no lives were lost in the Matabele rising, memorial stones in God's acre, a quiet plot on the Solusi College campus, today record the toll extracted by Africa for this new challenge to her pagan ways. Of the first party to arrive Superintendent Tripp, his son George, and Dr. Carmichael soon laid down their lives. Mrs. Anderson later succumbed to blackwater fever at Rusangu Mission. Many of those early pioneers await the call of the Lifegiver in Africa's foreign soil. The dry parched acreage at Solusi College has been the subject of so many modern prayer meetings and was actually a wet swampy area when our men moved into it some eighty years ago. Disease and death quietly stalked the camp of the pioneers, and the graves scattered far and wide through the land testify of the willingness of our early missionaries to be loyal and faithful even unto death.

This was only the beginning. But the early privations and sacrifices of the gallant pioneers have hallowed our task in Africa and inspired an army of workers to press on with the challenge of con fronting her multitudes with God's message.

Sunrise, Not Sunset

Great changes have taken place in Africa. History is in a hurry. In the past 20 years more than 50 new nations have been born on the continent. In the year 1960 alone no less than 15 new independent states appeared. The new climate in Africa presents to the church a vast new challenge and opportunity. Stripped now of the political associations and overtones of colonialism in company with which it entered the continent to ward the close of last century, the gospel is now free to speak directly to the soul of Africa in a new way. No longer bolstered by powerful political patrons, Christianity is on its mettle.

As bearers of God's last message we have good ground for encouragement, not merely in the numerical growth of the church but also in its growth in ability and responsibility. But the need for qualified and dedicated missionaries with special skills and experience re mains and will remain into the seeable future. And in the young nations of Africa with their limited economic life the need for material support becomes not less, but continually more urgent. We must not fail them in this great hour of opportunity.

We operate in the stringent era of the shrinking dollar, floating sterling, and curtailed budgets. And the implications that we face in Trans-Africa today we suspect to be worldwide. So it is even more important in 1972 that with the "last words" of the Master ringing in our ears we as ministers of God around the world must lead His people into really sacrificial giving on November 11 for the completion of the Great Commission.

A well-known slogan often heard in modern Africa cried: "Kwacha, kwacha." It means, "Sunrise" not "Sunset."

So let it be!


1. Matt. 28:18-20.

2. Acts 1:8.

3. Mark 16:15.

4. Expositor's Bible, on Matt. 28:16-20.

5. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 557, on Matt. 28-.19.

6. Acts 1:6.

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-Ministerial Secretary, Trans-Africa Division, at the time this article was written

November 1972

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