Posts Tagged 'Light of the world'

The Mission of the Church



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.



Jesus: The Light of the World

Two lights in the darkness

Two lights in the darkness


As dark as our post-modern society has become, we Christians have no concept how dark the world was when Jesus was born.  Rome was at the height of its power and upon his death, Caesar Augustus was declared to be a god.  For the Jews, their association with the Roman Empire gave them peace and security at the cost of their freedom due to burdensome taxation.  Their religion became an extension of the Roman government, with high priests being appointed by that government.  Worship services became excuses for even more taxation.

Yes, things were worse than bleak when Jesus came into the world.  No wonder He was called “the light of the world!”  But how was Jesus “the light?”

1.  The light revealed, John 1:4—9; 12

In the stunning prologue to his Gospel, John introduces its main themes:  word, life, light, John the Baptist, children of God, the Incarnation, the Law, and grace.  The concept of “light” is the subject of verses 4—9.

(a)  Shining in the darkness, verses 4, 5

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word, Jesus Christ, is the source of life.  The way the word “life” is used here, it refers to the fullest life possible; the highest life that may be attained by any human being.  All human beings have life in the sense that they are living beings.  John is not referring to this life, although it is true that all living beings come into existence by a creative act of the Word.  The context demands that the life in the Word, the life the Word gives human beings, is the blessed life of God; it’s a gift to believers from the Word.

This life, John says, is the “light of all mankind.”  What does that phrase mean?  The Word, Jesus, is God’s personal revelation to all people.  It is personal in the sense that the light proceeds from God and is directed to man.   The purpose of the light was (is) spiritual in nature.  The sun also produces light, and man is able to see and work in the light.  We all know how beneficial physical light is.  In the spiritual realm, Jesus’ life and light is just as beneficial and they go hand-in-glove:

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.  (Psalm 36:9 NIV)

The purpose of the light is to enlighten man; to teach man the truth of God.  The truth of God is not just intellectual in nature; it is life-giving.  The truth of God affects man’s whole being, spiritual and physical.  Everything about life is made better when one possesses the life that proceeds from Christ, revealed to us by the light.

(b)  Shining in darkness, verses 6—9

The light points man to the life.  John the Baptist, wrote John the apostle, was like a “minor light,” pointing man to the true light, Jesus Christ.  In that sense, all believers are “minor lights,” because we are to point unbelievers to the light as John the Baptist did.

Verse 9 captures the universal nature of the true light:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

God did not send His Son into the world for some, but for all!   Naturally, not all would receive that light, but some did.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…  (John 1:12 NIV)

Man, wandering around in the darkness searching for meaning to his life is able to, thanks to the light, find that meaning in the life that is in Christ, which He freely gives to those who ask.

(c)  A new temple, a new light  8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When we note the context for this verse, it becomes even more powerful than it sounds on its own.  There was a sharp argument among the Jewish leaders that began in back in 7:25.  It was a heated “discussion” about Jesus, who was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  At the start of this Feast, a large candelabra was lit in the busy Temple courtyard.  The Mishnah suggests that the light from those massive burning candles was so bright, it lit up the city.  The burning candles represented God, as the illuminating guide that directed the children of Israel in the desert.  Even as God was their guide then, so Jesus is the I AM of the present – illuminating, guiding and chasing away the spiritual darkness that engulfs, not just the Jews, but of “whoever follows” Him.

2.  Come to the light, John 3:19—21; 12:46—50

(a)  A choice that must be made, 3:19—21

Jesus had been speaking of judgment:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  (John 3:17  NIV)

He did not come into the world to judge it, but then we read in the very next verse:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (John 3:18  NIV)

What was Jesus getting at here?  The answer is verse 19.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19 NIV)

“Judgment” depends, not on Jesus, but on the decision of people.  If all people loved Jesus and followed Him, there would be no judgment.  But because some men will stubbornly refuse to believe, judgment becomes necessary for them.  It’s man’s decision to make, though.  Man decides if he wants to be judged or not.  If he wants to be judged, then he will refuse to follow the Light.  But if man wants to avoid judgment, all he has to do if follow the light.  This is simplicity itself!

(b)  The finality of unbelief, 12:46—50

There is no cure for unbelief when a person makes up his mind to turn away from the light.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  (John 12:46  NIV)

To not follow the light that is Jesus is to remain in the darkness (of sin).  To reject Him is to choose the darkness of sin.  Jesus’ purpose of coming into the world—the Incarnation—was not to judge the world but to save the world from the judgment that is to come.  Our Lord wants desperately to save men, not destroy them!  But the offer of salvation demands a decision for or against the One making the offer.  To reject the offer is to reject Jesus Christ and that guarantees judgment.

3.  The light gives sight, John 9:1—7, 35—41

Chapter 9 opens with the healing of a man born blind.  While we believe this miracle really did take place, it also serves to illustrate in a practical way the spiritual state of all men:  they are born spiritually blind.  The giving of sight to this blind man is quite literally what the light of Jesus does for the spiritually blind.

(a)  A physical healing, verses 1—7

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (verse 2)

The disciples asked this question of Jesus regarding the blind man.  It revealed the Jewish belief of the day that the sins of the parents were visited upon their children.  It also reflects a bizarre notion held by some of Jesus’ time that a person could actually sin the womb or even in some previous existence!   The disciples were positive this man’s blindness was caused by someone’s sin.

Jesus took their ignorance as an opportunity, not to berate them for holding such ridiculous ideas, but to teach them the truth.  This blind man was not blind because any particular person sinned, causing this blindness as a sort of divine punishment.

Now, sometimes sinful conduct does result in the one sinning reaping awful consequences:

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  (John 5:14)

But this most certainly isn’t always the case.  Sin always produces unintended consequences in ways we may never fully realize in this life.  It’s not Jesus’ purpose to go into an in-depth treatment of that subject.  What He needed His disciples to know is the foolishness of trying link one’s present state to some sin way back in the past.  What they should have been doing is trying to discover what God’s will was; how God could use this man’s predicament for God’s glory.  In the broader scope, Christians need to understand there is a special, divine purpose in allowing suffering to come upon a person.

…“but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  (verse 3 NIV)

In our vernacular, Jesus might have said this, “On the contrary, this man was born blind so that…”  The structure of the Greek makes it clear:  this man’s blindness was for the express purpose of a future event—so that all may see “the works of God” displayed in the blind man.  And the works of God certainly included the physical healing, but went way, way beyond merely giving sight to the blind!  The works of God are a manifestation of His grace and mercy to one in need.  According to Jesus, while the blind man would be the recipient of a great miracle, onlookers would receive something too:  God’s light would shine out from him making the works of God obvious for the spiritually blind to see.

(b)  A spiritual healing, verses 35—41

When the blind man received his sight, his whole life changed.  He literally moved from a life of darkness to a life full of light.  When he was confronted by the religious elite, we read one of the most humorous exchanges in the New Testament:

Then they hurled insults at [the formerly blind man] and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”  The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  (verses 28—33)

We know that this man knew Jesus came from God—he deduced it.  But he had never actually seen Jesus!  Jesus had told the man while he was blind to go away and wash his eyes and he would be able to see.  Having never seen Jesus, the once-blind man figured out on his own that whoever this man was, he must have come from God.

But then the greatest miracle happened when He met Jesus a second time with his eyes wide open:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”  Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”  Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.  (verses 35—38  NIV)

He had been physically healed, but now he had been spiritual healed!  He was shown the light and that light led him to the Life that is Jesus, which our Lord in turn gave to Him.

This man’s “new life” wasn’t in word only, it was also in deed:  he confessed Christ, then he worshiped Him!


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