What is the mission of God? And how should that impact our vision of missions in the local church? Sometimes we talk about missions as a program or like it’s the PR department of the church. But what if the foundation of missions is the mission of God Himself? What if the first ‘missionary’ was God? (Genesis 3:8-9). Missions then is the implementation of God’s mission to bring Himself glory through reconciling people to Himself through the finished, glorious, wonderful work of Jesus Christ.
The idea of missions is not something that just shows up in Matthew 28. A brief survey of the Old Testament reveals that God has always been working to reveal His glory to the nations through redeeming a people for Himself.
The covenant promise to Abram (Genesis 12:2-3) is that through him, all peoples of the earth will be blessed. God’s blessing of the nations through Abram/Abraham is obviously ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But throughout the Old Testament we see time and again Yahweh’s focus on the nations. From the dedication of the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:60) to Isaiah’s majestic vision of Egypt and Assyria (two of Israel’s greatest oppressors) being joined together with Israel (Isaiah 19:18-25), God is at work to reveal His glory to the nations! This is not prophetic hyperbole. This is a vision of the fulfillment of the promise to Abram/Abraham.
There is a wonderful confidence in knowing that the work of missions is rooted in the fixed plans of God. ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14). How do the waters cover the sea? Completely, both in scope (as far as the sea expands there’s water covering it) and in thoroughness. Consider a place at the bottom of the sea. How wet is that place? How completely and utterly saturated. This is the prophetic vision and promise of God. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will be that widespread and that complete.
So, missions is not a line item in a budget. It’s not an irritating little cabal demanding more time on the platform or funds from the budget. It’s not a hokey, slightly embarrassing sidebar to church history. Rather, when properly understood, it is the human engagement in the grand mission of Almighty God to make His goodness, glory and holiness known through reconciling lost people to Himself in Jesus Christ!
There are many implications as to how this understanding of the mission of God and its pervasive nature should impact the current church. But one that I’d like to focus on is to notice that, in spite of the clear focus and mandate for the nation of Israel to be the conduit of God’s grace to the nations, revealing through the law (Deuteronomy 4:8), through the sacrificial system (1 Kings 8), through their behavior (1 Kings 10:1, 2 Kings 5, Daniel 6:25-27) and even at times through proclamation (Jonah) that Yahweh was Lord, they often failed and turned inward and hid their light under a bushel.
Similarly, we can retreat from being a city on a hill. We see the disciples, after years with Jesus, still not understanding the nature of God’s mission (Acts 1:6). The Jew/Gentile conflict in Acts and Galatians show the ongoing need to push outward and not let the entropy of self-interest overtake us. We must be proactive in sending. We must continue to make disciples who go into the world to make disciples of all nations.
The nature of our going may have changed. Missions no longer looks like it’s simply going ‘from the west to the rest’ but truly there is a glorious movement of people ‘from every nation, to every nation.’ But we must not mistake this for a reason to stop our global engagement. We must approach missions more humbly and with more of a partnership model. We must resist the temptation to retreat and entrench here within the walls of our church buildings. ‘…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). And we get to be a part of that.
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