God's heart goes beyond our own little world
Mission – what is it? (Matthew 28:18-20)
The meaning of mission becomes very clear in the final words of Matthew's gospel which we usually call the "Great Commission". The risen Christ says: "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)
From our director Dr. Detlef Blöcher
Jesus' introducing words "All authority is given to me" makes it very clear: mission is not the fulfillment of a task (as good as possible) but mission is founded on the power of the risen Lord. HE is the victor over death, HE is the prince of life, HE is the King of kings and Lord of lords. To Him belongs all authority in heaven and on earth. All resources are available to Him - nothing is too difficult, too complicated or too expensive for Him. All resources flow from Him: power, inspiration and guidance. When He speaks, it happens. He is at work and mission is His desire. This is the powerful start of mission.
The word "mission" comes from the Latin word "missio" and means "sending". In the New Testament, which was written originally in Greek, we find the words "apostolae", "apostello" (sending) and "apostolos" (apostles). Thus the words "missionary" and "apostle" have the same meaning - "envoy". In the Old Testament we find the Hebrew word "schaliach" which is an authorised agent. It shows the close personal relationship between the sender and the envoy as well as the deep trust and the provision with dignity and authority (1 Samuel 25:40f/ 2 Samuel 10:2-6). In a theological dictionary we read that the word "schaliach" means a person who acts with authority on somebody's behalf - without regarding the personality of the sender or the envoy and without consideration of the commission itself. The missionary resembles a diplomat who on behalf of his government has to deliver a message. His personal opinion has nothing to do with the message or with the interest of the sending government. In the same way a missionary is a representative of our Lord, the living God, and has to deliver HIS message independent of his own weaknesses and limitations.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God from eternity, let Himself be sent by the Father. He came to Earth in obedience, He lived among us and died at the cross in order to save His people. Today He is the risen Lord and almighty King. God Himself is at work in this world. Throughout history He acts and brings about what really matters. He brings His salvation and He reveals himself. This is the nature of the great commission. The renowned mission theologian G.F. Vicedom has introduced this into German mission sciences with the old expression "missio dei" (mission of God). The remarkable thing is that the almighty God uses weak and limited humans as co-workers in his powerful workings. Often we are just marvelling witnesses and at times we are more or less unimportant helpers who are available to Him. HE could do everything all by Himself but He wants us as junior partners to have part in His great and worldwide action. This is His will which gives such dignitiy, honour and importance to our lives!
We cannot fulfil the great commission in our own strength. But we need not do it in our own strength because the Lord of mission equips His envoys - as Jesus promised at His ascension: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). The Lord has given the Holy Spirit to all His disciples so that they would have power, joy and authority in passing on the gospel in word and deed. The Holy Spirit was not given mainly for our pious self edification but as a gift to serve so that others may be blessed and recognise the living God.
What is the content of the great commission? In the English translation of the great commission according to Matthew 28 we find four verbs: "go", "make disciples", "baptise" and "teach". But in the original Greek there is only one imperative which is the centre of the great commission accompanied by three participles which explain the main imperative. This main imperative is "make disciples". Thus the translation should be: "Make disciples by going and baptising and teaching". "Make disciples" is the main point and the participles explain how it is to be done. The goal of mission is not the proclamation of the gospel (as important and indispensable as it is), it is not reaching the unreached with the gospel, it is not calling people to make a decision for Jesus or planting churches where there is none yet, but the goal of mission is to help people become followers of Jesus. The hearing of the gospel and the obedience to the gospel always go together. Jesus does not only want to be our Saviour but also our Lord. Therefore the gospel cannot be reduced to just getting people converted. The Lord wants to bring order into our lives and purify them. He wants to show us how holy people live in peace with God and their neighbours. The almighty God has created every person "in his image" (Genesis 1:27) and thus called him into a personal relationship with Him. Everybody shall experience God's blessing and shall be his representative on earth. Everybody should be a blessing for his town, his work colleagues and relatives. God's honour and glory should be seen in our lives - as light in the darkness of this world (Matthew 5:14) which shows the way. The life of a Christian is to be a mirror in our suffering world, in which God's wonderful chararcter and his redeeming and new making power becomes visible.
Therefore mission is more than evangelism (=proclamation of the gospel). Mission is a Christian lifestyle in this world - expressed in word, deed and being. All areas of life should reflect God's chararcter. All our life shall glorify God. Included are all aspects of life - workplace, private life, relationships and dealings with money, time and creativity. Therefore we cannot limit mission to proclaiming the gospel and seeing people converted. And this is exactly the problem of many Christians in Europe. With the conversion people find salvation from sin and death and they receive eternal life. But God's purpose with them does not finish here. All their life shall tell the story of God's grace and love. For this reason the task is: "Make disciples of all nations.". We are representatives of God and have to do what He says.
How can people become followers of Christ? The verbs in Matthew 28:19f explain this. People shall "go" to all the nations which have not yet heard the gospel because God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). They shall come to faith in Jesus Christ and "be baptised" in His name. Young believers should get to know the word of God thoroughly. All areas of life shall be under the control of God's Spirit. They should learn "all that Jesus taught His disciples".
Mission is more than objective information. The essential things have to be visible in a person by his/her example. God did not send a " golden book" with instructions down from heaven but he sent His Son as a person. In Him God's unique character, His love and care became visible (1 John 1:1-3). And this task cost Jesus a high price - His life. Even today we need people who live out the Christian faith as representatives of God in order that people can get saved. Christian radio, TV, literature, Bible translation, modern preaching and teaching through the internet are valuable things - but the gospel has to come alive through hands and feet, hearts and faces of the representatives of Christ. This is how people become followers of Christ. Therefore the sending of missionaries remains indispensable.
God's promise and His provision is there and it is sufficient "to the end of the earth" - geographically and timewise. Included are the most remote islands, the deep jungle, villages in the highest mountains and the biggest cities. Everywhere His promises stand: "I am with you..." (Matthew 28:20) and "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The task begins in your hometown (Jerusalem), goes on to your own country (Judea) and crosses over to your neighbouring country (Samaria) and continues to the ends of the earth. These four geographical words are connected with the word "and" in the sense of "as well as". This makes clear that it cannot be a chronological order. Up to today the disciples of Jesus have not reached all of Jerusalem. If they had concentrated on this town alone they would not have come in any other town or country as yet. We in Europe would not have heard about the salvation through Jesus Christ. In the same way our home town will never be fully reached and our home church will never be perfect. There will always be room for improvement. Furthermore there are many members in the church who for valid reasons cannot go into cross-cultural missionary work. Out of 100 church members 98 stay at home to fulfil the great commission there. They are called to work within their home country - to proclaim Jesus in their own town. At the same time they are involved in world mission by sending missionaries. God's heart is bigger than our own little world. God's heart goes out to all nations and to all the world - and every Christian shall have a part in it.
© DMG, May 2013