Mission (Foundations #6)

Read: Matt 28:16-20

 

When I was growing up in the mid 1970s, I used to love watching Mission Impossible. The signature theme would play, and the opening scene would be Mr Phelps receiving a secret message on an audio cassette, “God morning Mr Phelps, your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to …”. The message would close with “this tape will self destruct in 5 seconds” – and sure enough, it did.

Curiously, we never found out the real purpose of the secret organisation Phelps worked for. We guessed it was the overthrow of evil in the height of the cold war, but we were never told. All we had to go by was this series of exciting episodes.

Thankfully, God’s big picture has not been scripted by Hollywood. For God has a mission: to restore all things under Christ. And this mission of God shapes everything he plans, everything he does, and everything he is yet to do.

We have looked at God’s ‘big picture’ in this Foundations series: Creation, Rebellion, Promise, Redemption, Repentance, and eventually, Restoration of all things.

click to enlarge

What’s missing?

 

What’s missing in this picture? What’s missing is that the whole world needs to know this good news of God’s plan to restore his creation under Christ.

This is not something that God embarked on after the earthly ministry of Jesus. When Jesus said ‘make disciples of all nations’ he wasn’t inventing something new. When Israel was in Egypt, one of the functions of the plagues and Israel’s subsequent deliverance from Egypt was that Pharaoh, then, by far, the most powerful man on earth, would know God.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:13–14, NIV)

“Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29, NIV)

 

Some 700 years later, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed that the Lord would hear the prayers, even of those who were not Israel. Why? So the whole earth might know the Lord’s name and fear him.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name—for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41–43, NIV)

 

Some 300 years after that, as Isaiah spoke of the Servant of the Lord, he defined God’s mission as his role.

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,” (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)

 

A few hundred years after that, Nebuchadnezzar the great King of Babylon, fell into delusions and insanity. The Lord God of Israel healed him, so the King announced the good news throughout his empire:

“…so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth …” (Daniel 4:17, NIV)

 

The clear reality throughout all Scripture is that God loves his world, and has a wonderful plan of restoration. He wants the whole earth to know about this plan. He wants the effects of the curse to be overcome over all the earth.

 

The question that interests us today is How will he do this? How will he let the world know what he has done in Jesus, and what he is yet to do? Scripture gives us the answer: he will do this by his Mission. The Mission of God.

God’s Mission

Straight up, we need to be careful, and take time to understand what God’s mission is, and what it is not. Mission is often understood as what we do.

Everyone seems to have a mission. Companies. Banks. Australia Post. Churches. Community organisations. I have even read several CVs where people record their own mission statement, hoping to make an impression on prospective employers.

Here at Gateway Community Church, we are no exception. You’ll find our mission statement on our website: Equip, Reach & Grow.

So, more often than not, when we talk of mission we refer to what we do in order to work towards our desired future. That’s all fine. It’s good to be focused about what we do, and it’s good to use these statements as filters for future plans and current processes.

 

But we must also recognise that in the scriptural sense, God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

God’s mission is about what God is doing and intends to do in his world.

 

God’s mission is not primarily what we are about, or what we do.

 

It is not the people of God who have a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a people in the world.

[Martin Robinson, Faith of the Unbeliever Conference, 2007]

 

God is redeeming his people through Jesus. God is restoring his world through Jesus. This is God’s mission. And in his sovereign grace and wisdom he uses his people to pursue his mission.

Mission is “the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and thus the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made”

[NT Wright. Surprised By Hope p.277]

So, when we talk Mission, we have to start here: The Mission of God to redeem and restore his world through Jesus.

The Church’s role

That being so, we need to ask, what then is the church’s role?

The church’s mission is everything God sends us into the world to do and to be:

Every life change that flows from repentance.

Every Sunday service.

Every word of witness.

Every deed of compassion.

Every ministry.

Every service.

Every pastoral care visit.

Every management team discussion.

All of it – everything the church does – must serve God’s mission.

And if it does not serve the mission of God, we must either stop it, or change it so that it does serve the mission of God.

I know this is a challenge. There are some who insist that mission is not everything, and many things the church must do have nothing to do with mission. Such people operate under a gross misunderstanding of Scripture and of God’s plan to restore all things under Christ (Colossions 1:20). This is where all history is headed. This is the singular focus of God’s redemptive effort. And everything we do as Christians or churches must serve that mission of God.

Let’s have a look at this in more detail. The mission the church has received from God is twofold. These two things are not separate entities. They are hand in glove. Two sides of the same coin. Stress only one at the expense of the other, and you have an aberration. You will eventually end up with either a deformed message and/or a deformed church.

So, what are to two indivisible aspects of God’s mission?

First: make disciples. We recall the words of Jesus as he ascended to heaven:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 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 28:18–20, NIV)

We could sum this apsect in one word: announce.

Announce God’s victory over rebellion, death and all its punishment in Jesus! Announce: Spread the good news! Announce: Let people know about God’s plan, his glorious big picture!

As the old hymn reminds us

Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered; 
Christ has crushed the serpent’s head. 
Death no longer is the stronger; 
hell itself is captive led. 
Christ has risen from death’s prison; 
o’er the tomb he light has shed.

This call to announce the love and mercy of God to his world is nothing new. In creation, God commanded Adam & Eve to multiply and fill the earth. In re-creation through Jesus – the second Adam – his people multiply and fill the earth. We are a people called by God to announce his good news!

 

The second aspect of God’s mission to the church: we are called to anticipate.

Anticipate, in the sense of foreshadow. God calls us, gives us life in Christ, lives in us through his Spirit, empowering us to show what is coming, foreshadowing the restoration he is bringing through Jesus. We anticipate the future life of the new heavens and the new earth in our here and now. As we pray in the prayer the Lord taught his followers, our task is to do his will on earth, as it is done in heaven. As John Ortberg says, to bring ‘up there down here’.

This is the second aspect of God’s mission to his church: to anticipate the new good of God’s restored world. The first aspect, announcing, is about proclamation. This second aspect is about transformation. It is not so much about us saying something, but about us being something: Light of the world, and salt of the earth.

bringing ‘up there down here’ – Ortberg

As before, we see how this aspect of God’s mission was not added after Jesus’s return to the Father. It has always been there: Just before God gave his law to his people (Exodus 20), he made a proclamation. The Lord declared his hand, as it were, as to how he would become known among the nations. And it would not come about through mere announcement. And you guessed it: it involved him working through his people:

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

God’s people would live out this mission as they lived his commands. They were to be his contrast community, showing all the earth what life was like when lived with Yahweh. Jesus did not come to negate this law, but to fulfil it. To show its true meaning and purpose.

So, as God’s people live under the Lordship of Jesus, they bring his new life to expression. They anticipate the restoration he is bringing.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV)

The church is people of God. They are his temple. So we are not surprised to see how the calling given to Israel back then is placed on Jesus’ church today:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

 

We anticipate, we foreshadow, we show what the new heavens and the new earth will look like. We do this by living the life of new creation now:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good

Now, we also need a reality check: we are still on earth. Even as Jesus’ repentant and repenting people, we are still part of a fallen world. We still exhale the breath of sin. We still smell of the fall. We anticipate, yes, but the great day of restoration is not yet here. Any reflection of this coming restoration will be imperfect. Perfection will come completely when Jesus returns. Until that day, even as people who live the new life of Christ, we remain pilgrims and strangers, looking for a better city.

 So, the mission of God for the church is to announce his good news and to anticipate his new good.

God’s Heart

Now, we need to acknowledge something here. Apart from some rare and notable exceptions, we have not been good at pursuing God’s mission. The church in general has not been that good at it. And our church has not been good at it. We have not well understood God’s mission, we have not well pursued it. And it’s worth thinking about why that might be the case.

Perhaps there are many reasons:

we are comfortable people in a peaceful country.

We are doing OK.

We enjoy our life and our comforts.

We don’t want anything much to interfere with them

…even if it’s God’s call.

 

We can talk about life pressures,

about being time poor,

about resistance and unbelief in the world,

about the rank individualism which infects our culture,

so that our world revolves around what we think,

about how our future is directed toward what we want.

 

In our culture, the idol of self will neutralise any zeal we might have for God’s mission. But there is another reason why we have not well understood or pursued God’s mission. And I think it is because we have not well understood the gracious, loving heart of God.

How do we see God’s loving heart? It is captured most perfectly in the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Think about that: God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son.

 

Luke captures this poignantly in the story of a woman. She is distraught at losing a coin from her necklace. So much so that she turns the place upside down and will not rest until she finds her lost coin. And when she finds it, there is rejoicing and celebration!

Or a shepherd, so passionate about finding one lost sheep, that he secures the remaining ninety nine, then climbs over hill and dale to find that one lost sheep. And when he finds it, there is rejoicing and much celebration!

Then we read about a father, broken over a lost son. The son who threw his love back in his face. The son who did unimaginable wrong. Who threw away his precious inheritance with utterly offensive behaviour.

Interestingly, we never read about the father’s anger. We are sure his hurt is profound, and his grief crippling. But we don’t hear actually about that.

What we see is his longing. His love. His heart, even for this most broken and wayward son. Though torn with his son’s waywardness, the father waits on the balcony every afternoon. Thinking about his son. Scanning the horizon. Praying, weeping, longing for the return of that rebellious boy. We know about the lavish celebration with the whole village on the lost son’s return.

But the important question for us at this point is, do we ever look at the offensive behaviour of people in our world with the eyes of the father? Do we allow ourselves to sense the brokenness, to be burdened with the hopelessness, to see the reality of the lostness of those around us who are far from God? Do you need to look at the broken people on your street and in your city with different eyes?

Do you need to see the Mardi Gras marchers with the heart of God who seeks the lost?

Do you need to see the crack heads who have thrown their life (and often their sanity) away, do we need to see them with the heart of God instead of the cold eyes of judgement?

What about the ‘bludgers’, the ‘leaners’ the ‘losers’? Do we perceive their reality with the heart of God?

The broken? The lonely?

This is most disturbing question: Have I ever felt the heart of God for all those people who refuse to love his Son or live his life?

isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

If it was so important to God to send Jesus into a lost world, and if it was so important to Jesus to find the lost, isn’t it time we asked whether the things that are important to Jesus are important to us?

Whether the things that burn within the heart of Jesus burn within ours?

Whether the things that matter to God matter to us?

 

Or as Tim Keller said this week:

If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

 

I have been a pastor for almost 30 years, and I fin this very confronting. I have to ask myself whether the kind of churches I have worked for have ever tasted the passion of God for the lost in my ministry. And if they have not, isn’t that my responsibility? Have the things that are important to God been important to me over those near 30 years? Lord have mercy.

How is that for you?

Maybe you’re not a preacher, but do people sense in your life, your ministry, your engagement with your church, that the things that are important to God are important to you? Do your neighbours sense this? Your workmates? Would your friends say that about you, that the things that are important to God are obviously important to you?

Could there be a more important question for you and your church community to answer?

God’s mission for the church, for this church, for you is to announce his good news in Jesus and to anticipate his new good in Jesus. Listen carefully: we will only step into God’s mission and make it our own when we allow ourselves 1) to see the brokenness of our world, and 2) to feel God’s burden in Christ his son to put it all back together.

 

So, let us repent of our self centred pre-occupation with maintaining and perpetuating our own comforts.

Let us embrace, in the Spirit of Christ and through the Spirit of Christ, God’s mission in our world.

And in the same power that raised Jesus from the Jesus, let us rise into the calling that Jesus himself is praying for us to embrace: To be one with him and with one another in his work, so all the world may know that He has been sent by the father (see John 17:20-21).

Let us be people who announce his good news and who anticipate his new good!

What better life is there? What greater good is there? What more perfect calling for the church and all who God by the name of Jesus!

And let us do this until his Kingdom is so perfect and complete, that in it he is all in all (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 123).

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  1. Mission (Foundations #6) – Group Questions | A Sermon & A Study

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