Posts Tagged 'Great Commission'

The Mission of the Church

 

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What is the “mission” of the church?  Another way to put that is, What is the “purpose” of the church?  Some people see the church as a social club; sort of a religious version of any number of clubs or societies you may find in any town or city.  Some people think the church is a place where people come to “get saved.”  Still others see the church as a sort of “religious bank” that gives out money to people who can’t their electric bills. 

The fact is, most people don’t know what the purpose of the church is, which probably explains why church attendance in mainline denominations is steadily declining.   Churches that are growing tend to be ones that are focused on their “mission” or their “purpose,” and very often these churches are not affiliated with any denomination, which frees them, as they see it, to pursue that “mission” or “purpose” without being straitjacketed by unnecessary man-made rules and denominational regulations.  So they say. 

Since the idea of the church came from God, let’s consult God’s Book, the Bible, for answers.

1.      Foretold in the Old Testament

It may surprise you to know that the church, a New Testament “thing,” is actually first hinted at in the pages of the Old Testament!  Through these “hints,” we get an idea of what the “mission” of the church is.  You won’t find the word “church” anywhere in the Old Testament, but you do find a very early precursor to the church – another special group of people God called into existence and separated from all other people on the earth:  the nation of Israel.

(a) A light to the nations, Isaiah 42:1, 6-7

See my servant, a whom I uphold; my Chosen One in whom I delight. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will reveal justice to the nations of the world.  (Isaiah 42:1  TLB)

I the Lord have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will guard and support you, for I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them.d You shall also be a light to guide the nations unto me. You will open the eyes of the blind and release those who sit in prison darkness and despair.  (Isaiah 42:6, 7  TLB)

In this chapter of Isaiah’s book, the prophet is beginning his rage against idolatry.  Also in this chapter, the  nation of Israel is referred to as “the servant of The Lord.”  In Matthew 12:17-21, this prophecy of Isaiah is applied to Jesus Christ.  We can see how parts of this chapter can be applied to Israel, but clearly it finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Verse 1 is often applied to Israel – the “ideal Israel” – but the Matthew passage indicates something else.  It refers primarily to Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel.  Isaiah wanted his readers to consider or think about God’s servant.  In a sense, though, these verses do refer to Israel.  After all, it is through Israel that God chose to communicate to the world.  God’s gracious dealings with Israel and especially His covenant relationship with its people would be extended to all people thanks to the work of One of Israel’s very own, Jesus Christ. 

So we see a sort of progression here. Israel was (and will be again in the future) a light to the nations.  Jesus Christ is a light to the nations.  Jesus Christ works through the church. 

(b)  A universal pilgrimage, Psalm 67:1-4

Send us around the world with the news of your saving power and your eternal plan for all mankind.  (Psalm 67:2  TLB)

This brief psalm is a prophetic psalm in that it reveals the ultimate purpose of God for the Earth.  At one time it was thought that this psalm taught that the church would finally convert the whole world in a post millennium utopian missionary kind of way.  Post-millennialism is view of Eschatology that insists (get ready for this) we are already living in the Millennium and that the church is in the process of converting the world.  When this conversion is complete, Jesus Christ will return.  Yes, there are Christians who believe this.  Post-millennialism comes in and out of favor depending on world events and who is in the White House, it seems.

Leaving this view of Eschatology aside, this psalm is not a missionary psalm but it certainly does contain applications useful in missionary endeavors.  We see, for example, that God is the source of all blessings and benefits His children receive.  These blessings and benefits make life on Earth all the more enjoyable.  But there is a purpose in these good things from God:  they are tokens or signs of His presence that the nations – the lost – of the world may see.  As it relates to Israel, surrounding nations should have been able to look at her and deduce that Israel’s God was at work in the lives of His people and their nation.  Shouldn’t the same thing be true of the church today?  The lost should be able to witness God’s blessings and His presence in the church and come to the conclusion that God is real and that He is interested in His people. 

How glad the nations will be, singing for joy because you are their King and will give true justice to their people!   (Psalm 67:4  TLB)

Obviously this hasn’t happened yet; this verse is yet to be fulfilled.  But what it teaches is profound:  God is interested in people and He may be their Sovereign as surely as He is Israel’s.  Of course, these “nations” must acknowledge who God is and that He is their God, the One who gives all blessings and benefits.  He worked through Israel to accomplish this, and He is working through One who came out of Israel, Jesus Christ, to the same end.  And Jesus Christ is working through His people today, the church, to accomplish God’s goal of becoming the God of all nations and all people.

(c)  God’s initiative, Romans 9:25, 26

Remember what the prophecy of Hosea says? There God says that he will find other children for himself (who are not from his Jewish family) and will love them, though no one had ever loved them before. And the heathen, of whom it once was said, You are not my people, shall be called sons of the Living God.  (Romans 9:25, 26  TLB)

Just as Psalm 67 speaks of salvation coming to the nations, Paul makes the case in Romans 9 that God is even now calling all people to be a part of “His people.”  This great call is God’s initiative – it was His idea and He has taken the first step.  It doesn’t matter what your heritage is, you are being called to be a part of His family!  All those who were not God’s people (Gentiles), are now being called by God’s grace and benevolence to become His people.

Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it.   (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TLB)

2.  Emphasized by Christ, Luke 4:18-20; 24:46-49; Matthew 24:14

When Christians think about the “mission” or “purpose” of the church, the so-called “Great Commission” comes to mind.  Versions of Jesus’ last orders to His disciples (and to us) are found in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; and John 20:21.  Luke has a different kind of “great commission” that begins with Him attending religious services.

(a) The Nazareth Manifesto, Luke 4:18-20

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.  (Luke 4:18, 19  TLB)

In reading this passage of Scripture, Jesus defined His role as the Messiah.  The only hope for all these needy people would be Him.  Jesus acknowledged that He was the One who had been commissioned to bring the Good News to lost humanity.  Jesus as the Messiah is concerned with both the spiritual and material needs of people.  His message is a simple one:  the blessings of God’s salvation is for all.

(b)  Luke’s ‘Great Commission,’ Luke 24:46-49

And now I will send the Holy Spirit upon you, just as my Father promised. Dont begin telling others yetstay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.  (Luke 24:49  TLB)

The entire chapter has one major thrust:  it would be up to the disciples to share what they saw – the ministry, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus – with those who had not.  These people were eyewitnesses!  Their testimony would be accurate and true.  But before they could begin that witnessing, Jesus made it clear they had to wait for something to happen.  In order for this disparate group of people to be effective witnesses, they needed the Holy Spirit.

(c)  Preaching the Gospel, Matthew 24:12

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it, and then, finally, the end will come.   (Matthew 24:14 TLB)

Without getting into the eschatology of this verse, there is a very important lesson for today’s Christian.  Throughout chapter Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of false messiahs, terrible natural disasters, and widespread persecution of believers.  In spite of all those awful things taking place, the Gospel – the Good News –  would be preached all over the world.  Think about that!  Nothing can stop the work of God from being accomplished. 

3.  Enacted by the early church, Acts 11:19-26; 13:46-49

Meanwhile, the believers who fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephens death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, scattering the Good News, but only to Jews.  (Acts 11:19  TLB)

(a)  From Jerusalem to Antioch, Acts 11:19-26

The death of Stephen was a watershed event.  It triggered mass persecution of Christians which forced members of the fledgling church to flee Jerusalem to the far ends of the Roman Empire.  This literally forced the church to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus to take the Gospel to the world.  Had it not been for this persecution, it may well have been that the early church would have been content to remain in Jerusalem.

But many Christians – the leaders of the church especially – remained in Jerusalem, riding out the storm of persecution.  This group of believers became the “mother church,” and they were concerned about all these Gentiles from all over the Empire who were, apparently, converting to this new faith.  Upon examination, church leaders acknowledged that God was indeed doing great things among the Gentiles. 

(b)  Mission to Gentiles, Acts 13:46-49

Acts 13 begins what we call “Paul’s First Missionary Journey,” and it tells the story of how the Gospel spread, truly, to the four corners of the world.  Paul was a fearless missionary, a true trailblazer who went where no preacher had gone before!  But Paul was only doing what the Great Commission told all believers to do.  Paul’s message to the Gentiles whom he was evangelizing was a simple – and very familiar – one:

Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, It was necessary that this Good News from God should be given first to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and shown yourselves unworthy of eternal lifewell, we will offer it to Gentiles. For this is as the Lord commanded when he said, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to lead them from the farthest corners of the earth to my salvation.  (Acts 13:46, 47  TLB)

Notice the quote the Old Testament in verse 47.  We’ve come full circle!  What started out as something Israel was supposed to be; what would become what Jesus was; has now become the “mission” and “purpose” of the church:  to be a that light for the lost.

 

 

Luke and the 70 or 72

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Luke 10:1 -20

Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel is very encouraging because we read about large group of dedicated, sincere, and enthusiastic disciples of Jesus whom He called to serve.  Without a moment’s hesitation, they all answered the call and were successful in their mission for The Lord.

Not all who were interested in Jesus were interested in serving Him.  The three would-be followers of the previous chapter testify to this (see Luke 9:57 – 62).  To the last man Jesus replied, using a well-known proverb, attributed to Hesiod:

Jesus replied, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:62 NIV84)

A man who tries to plow his field but is constantly looking backward will never plow a straight furrow.  In other words, if you want to follow Jesus you can’t have a divided heart; service for Jesus must always come first.  If we, who call ourselves Christians, do not put Him first above all others and all else in our lives, we simply cannot be His disciples. 

There is a very high cost in following Jesus.  This idea is almost foreign to North American Christians, with our “easy faith.”  The fact is, if we want to follow Jesus, He demands ALL we have.  Paul understood what single-minded devotion to God meant:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV84)

Luke is the only Gospel writer to record the incident of our Lord sending out 70 disciples.  Apparently this was a “temporary mission,” meant for a limited time because Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

It should be noted that there are some textual issues surrounding the exact number of people Jesus actually sent out.  Some texts say “70,”  others “72.”  There seems to be good arguments in support of either number.  On this point, for the purpose of this brief study, I would say, “Who cares?”  The really interesting thing is not the exact number, but rather the fact that Jesus had this  many trustworthy disciples at this point in His earthly ministry.  It’s easy to forget that even while He was in the flesh, Jesus was much loved by many and had many, many loyal followers.

1.      Their own great commission

We, of course have the “Great Commission” recorded elsewhere in the Gospels, but, really, whenever our Lord asks us to anything for Him, it’s our “great commission.” 

Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.   (Luke 10:3 NIV84)

Lambs

Granted, this is not the most exciting commission a follower of Jesus could hope for!  It sounds more like a “suicide mission!”  This statement is real paradox, though.  Consider:  Lambs going out to rescue sheep from wolves!   It seems like an impossible mission.  What defense does a lamb  have against a wolf?  Actually plenty, if the Lord of all is sending that lamb out!  The “I” of Jesus is emphatic – the Great Shepherd is doing the sending.  Without Him, these lambs would face certain slaughter in the face of a helpless situation.  But they are being commissioned by Him, to be His servants, therefore, the opposite is true!

He tends his flock like a shepherd:He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;he gently leads those that have young.  (Isaiah 40:11 NIV84)

Jesus would never ask any of His people to do anything they were incapable of doing!  He always equips us to His work.  These “lambs” were not to be “rams,” fighting there way to accomplish the terms of their commission.  They were to be trusting in their Great Shepherd, as all lambs do!

Forerunners

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.   (Luke 10:1 NIV84)

These disciples were, literally, the forerunners of Jesus, going on ahead of Him to the places He wanted to visit to act as heralds, to make the people aware that Jesus was on His way to their very town.  Time was so short and there was still a lot of work to be done.

Heralds

 …tell them, The kingdom of God is near you.   (Luke 10:9 NIV84)

The Kingdom of God refers to God’s kingship – His rule or sovereignty over the hearts and lives of His people.  The Kingdom actually arrived when Jesus began to preach:

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.  (Matthew 4:17 NIV84)

In fact, by virtue of their preaching, these forerunning heralds were bringing the kingdom to these towns because it was IN them already!  Think about that.  When you share your faith with one who is lost, you are literally bringing the kingdom in close proximity to them because it is within you, too! 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,   (Romans 14:17 NIV84)

2.  Their joyful testimony

Was this very early “missionary” activity successful?  Consider —

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.  (Luke 10:17 NIV84)

We have no idea how long it took them to accomplish their commission, but we do know they had stunning success!  To a one, each missionary was full of joy.  No wonder; they were doing precisely what Jesus told them to do.  There is always joy in serving Jesus, even if the task is a difficult one.   But in addition to joy, they had great success.  We assume they obeyed Jesus to the letter, healing the sick and preaching the nearness of the kingdom.  What elated them so, however, was not how well each town received them or their message, but that “demons submitted” to them in Jesus’ name. 

The “name of Jesus” is not like a magic charm.  The 72 didn’t use it that way.  That phrase means that the demons recognized the authority of Jesus Christ in these disciples.  In connection with this, we read the following–

He replied, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”  (Luke 10:18 NIV84)

There are a number of interpretations to this verse, including these popular ones:

   Jesus saw Lucifer’s original fall (or expulsion) from Heaven;

   Jesus is referring His victory of Satan during His wilderness temptation;

   Jesus is prophesying about the future, when Satan will forever banished from the Heavenlies in a final, awful judgment.

The problem with all of these views is that they don’t fit the context.  Jesus had no reason for bringing up any of them at this point.  No, what Jesus is referring to is what happened when His disciples exercised His authority over the demons: Jesus saw their leader – Satan – falling. It was sudden in the sense that Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect it to happen.   We might go further and say that this “falling” of Satan was among the first of many times the evil one would fall until His final defeat at the hands of the triumphant, all-conquering Christ, as the apostle John foresaw in Revelation 20:1-3. Whenever any one of Jesus’ servants is obedient and does good work for Him, Satan falls a little lower. 

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.   (Luke 10:19 NIV84)

What a powerful statement!  It’s written in the perfect tense, meaning it is still if force to this day:  followers of Jesus still have His authority to trample and overcome the power of the enemy. 

Quite often this verse is cited in conjunction with Mark 16:18–

“…they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.  (Mark 16:18 NIV84)

Sometimes preachers like to take these verses literally, but the figurative interpretation is probably the best one.  Without commenting on the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, it’s safe to assume that our Lord was speaking figuratively in the Luke reference and, if Mark 16 is genuine, there as well.  Mind you, in Acts 28:3 we read of a startling event in the life of Paul that sends chills down the spines of a lot Bible readers–

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand…But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.  (Acts 28:3, 5 NIV84)

Unlike the verses in Mark and Luke, these verses form part of Paul’s history and, therefore, are to be taken at face value.  It was miraculous indeed that he survived being bitten by that snake!

Figuratively speaking, these followers of Jesus, and in reality all followers of Jesus since, have this same authority of Jesus to withstand the evil attacks of the enemy.  This does not in any way mean that Christians will never face Satanic attacks, nor does it mean they should go looking for them, but that they can prevail in the face of them.  Of course, it follows that we ought to dedicated wholly to Christ and are living in obedience to Him and His Word. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   (Ephesians 6:13 NIV84)

3.  A word of caution

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.  (Luke 10:20 NIV84)

This is not a reprimand, but a word of caution.  Power and authority are two very attractive qualities that more often than not wield a corrupting influence over people.  These things, power and authority, may be glamorous but eternal life is essential!  Or, we could say, going to heaven is way more important than causing fear in Hell!  Casting out demons will eventually come to an end when our earthly life comes to an end, but our right standing with God – our names being recorded in heaven – is  meant to last forever.  So, as Jesus might have said, Christians should not focus too much on the victories in this life.  It was and is proper to rejoice when believers experience a spiritual victory, but our focus should always be on Christ and what He has done for us.

Besides, casting out demons is no guarantee that one’s soul is right with God.  Consider the awful truth of Matthew 7:22, 23

Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

Exercising some kind of supernatural faith and power is not what saves us.  It is the fact that our names are recorded in God’s Big Black Book in Heaven!  We must be careful to rejoice in, not what we have done, but what has been done for us.  God recorded our names in His Book.  Let’s be sure to always be thankful and to rejoice in that fact. 

 


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