Jesus: The Master of Missions
According to Scripture, a core activity of the Trinity is mission. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are involved in saving humanity. Their Word began at the Fall and continues through until the end. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will then restore this redeemed world to full unity with the divine will. According to the Gospels, Jesus underwent the radical change into human form necessary for His mission to succeed. In Jesus Christ, the meaning of history comes into focus, the total mission activity of God becomes coherent, and the deepest needs of humans for meaningful existence are fulfilled.
In the New Testament, we are made acquainted with the purposes of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We find here how He outlines the program for mission, and we get glimpses of how Jesus met people from other nations, people of other faiths. In the Word of God, we can see the incredible saving activity of God on behalf of fallen humanity.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, August 15.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:8, 9, NKJV).
Besides being great verses about the futility of salvation by works, these verses reveal the eternal nature of salvation; they show that the plan for our redemption had been formulated long, long ago.
So, it is no wonder that all through the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is revealed in one way or another. Especially powerful are the prophecies, which clearly show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
The prophet Isaiah describes the mission of Jesus with these words: “ ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. . . . 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, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness’ ” (Isa. 42:1, 6, 7, NIV).
The Desire of Ages Jesus Christ is Lord of both the church and the world. His coming is a fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations of a saved community that would extend far beyond the Jewish people. The coming of Jesus, especially His suffering and resurrection, ushered in a new age in which the distinction between Jew and Gentile, as far as the gospel is concerned, disappears. Jerusalem would remain the center, at least for a while. However, the point of departure was no longer Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, but the Jews converted to Christ; they had become the living temple. These Christian Jews would then be the “remnant” of Israel at that time in the early church, the ones called to bring the gospel to the world.
This announcement of the worldwide, universal mission of Christ as Savior of all nations was repeated at His birth, during His childhood, and at His baptism.
No question, Jesus came as the Savior for all humanity. What does this truth mean for us in the context of mission?
“The missionary spirit needs to be revived in our churches. Every member of the church should study how to help forward the work of God, both in home missions and in foreign countries. Scarcely a thousandth part of the work is being done that ought to be done in missionary fields. God calls upon His workers to annex new territory for Him. There are rich fields of toil waiting for the faithful worker.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 29.
Between His first public appearance and His crucifixion, Jesus focused His ministry almost solely on the Jewish people, particularly in Galilee. The Lord addressed Himself first to Israel. Before the Cross, there are very few messages of good news to the Gentiles. Apparently, Jesus wanted to awaken the Jewish people to their place, purpose, and role in God’s overall mission for lost humanity. Israel was to have the opportunity to be the witness of God’s message to the world.
When we consider the life and ministry of Jesus, we must observe a clear distinction between His thinking, ideals, principles, and planning on one side and the way He accomplished these purposes on the other. In His day-to-day life and ministry, He identified Himself with Jewish culture, just as the Old Testament predicted of the Messiah. But the impact of His incarnation was universally applicable. Through His death and resurrection, He would bear the sins of the world (John 1:29).
We detect here an important biblical principle for establishing mission. The first move is directed to creating a center in order to establish a strong and stable geographical and cultural base: Israel and the Jewish people. When that has been accomplished, mission should next develop outward from the center into ever-widening expanses.
Mission to the Gentiles Although Jesus spent the major part of His time among the Jews, serving them in their cultural context, He made clear in His teaching and ministry that His mission was universal. The gospel should be preached to the nations, with Israel as the initial base. The salvation of the Gentiles is part of God’s plan. It was embodied in Jesus’ teaching.
Despite the fact that Jesus ministered mainly among the Jews, there’s no question that from the very start His mission was for the whole world. Right at His baptism, John the Baptist said it clearly: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ ” (John 1:29, NKJV). The word world (Greek kosmos) occurs about one hundred times in the Gospels. About half of these refer to the worldwide scope of Jesus as the Redeemer.
Jesus spent the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension primarily in preparing the disciples and His church for worldwide evangelism.
The best-known and most quoted resurrection account is Matthew’s. However, during this period there were other occasions during which the risen Christ could have given further details on the gospel commission. There were two appearances in Jerusalem, two in Galilee (one by the Sea of Tiberias, one on the hilltop), and the meeting reported in Acts 1:1–14.
Under the power of the Holy Spirit and obeying the words of Jesus, the apostles quickly spread across the ancient world. Paul preached on the northern shore of the Mediterranean; Philip worked in Samaria. According to early Christian tradition, Matthew traveled to Ethiopia and Thomas to India.
Though starting out small, and with so much opposition, through the grace of the Lord these faithful followers were able to spread the gospel message to the world. Whatever their faults, weaknesses, fears, doubts, and struggles, they accepted the call and worked for the salvation of the world. That is, what they learned about Jesus, what they got from Jesus, they sought to share with others. Isn’t that what being a Christian is all about?
Further Study: According to Matthew, Jesus foretold that “ ‘this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14, NIV). At the same time, the Scriptures make another point clear: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Note also Jesus’ words: “ ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority’ ” (Acts 1:7, NIV).
Thus, while the good news of the gospel has been preached and is being preached as never before, and while we believe that Christ’s coming is soon, we must not get caught up in dates and speculating about dates. “We are not to be engrossed with speculations in regard to the times and the seasons which God has not revealed. Jesus has told his disciples to ‘watch,’ but not for a definite time. His followers are to be in the position of those who are listening for the orders of their Captain; they are to watch, wait, pray, and work, as they approach the time for the coming of the Lord.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 189.