he church is a complex entity organized by the Spirit of the Lord for mission. A vibrant church is not one immersed in doctrinal and theological discussions that result in tensions and divisiveness. The church that is fully alive is the church committed to and involved in the mission of the Lord. In fact, it could be stated boldly that the church actualizes itself in the performance of its mission. Its mission defines it. Mission is a divine program initiated by God and revealed to us in His Son, whom He sent to this world. We will look into the mission of the Son of God and its implications for our mission as a church.
God Sent the Son
The sending of the Son was a cosmic event based on a divine decision made by God before the creation of the world. Mission was in place before there was an actual need for it. Then, at the proper moment within human history, the Father sent the Son, “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus was fully aware that His presence in this world was not a historical accident, but a purposive action. He knew why He was on this planet; there was a very particular reason for His life. This sense of mission gave meaning to His life.
The sending of the Son implied an element of separation. It is not that the Father was no longer with Him. No, no! Jesus testified, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone” (John 8:29). In the fulfillment of the mission, Father and Son worked together, but their togetherness expressed itself in a different way. It was necessary for Jesus to become human, setting aside the glory of His divinity. But this type of separation, necessary for the mission, pointed at the same time to a full reunion. The Sender and the Sent would be reunited. In fact, Jesus prayed for that return: “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (17:5). He said to the disciples, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me” (7:33). Once the mission was accomplished, He returned to the Father. The return was through the cross.
The mission of the Son consisted in giving His life for others, hence His mission was not to deliver a message that was unrelated to Him. He was in His own person the message God sent to us: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The Messenger incarnated the message and delivered it through His death. He came to save us, to give us eternal life (John 3:16). He was sent by the Father “into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). He proclaimed salvation by giving it out of His own life. His mission and His person were inseparable. In that self-sacrificial act, He revealed the loving character of the Father.
Christ was sent to reveal the glory of God to a humanity immersed in the darkness of sin and ignorance. He said to the Father, “I have revealed you” (John 17:6). He knew what His mission was and He was able to tell the Father, “I have done what I was sent to do!” The apostle John says, “The Word became flesh. . . . We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He testifies to the fact that Jesus accomplished His mission. The mission of Jesus was a display of the true character of God in the context of a ferocious cosmic battle. But the revelation of God that He brought to us was the revelation of His own person. Only God can reveal the fullness of His character. John testifies: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (1:18). In the person of the Son, God became the missionary par excellence. “He [Jesus] was the greatest missionary the world ever saw” (Medical Ministry, p. 15).
Jesus revealed the Father in His person, but He also embodied that revelation in human words. There is a body of teachings that Jesus shared with humans, the teachings of Jesus. His teaching was not His own, but it came “from him who sent me” (John 7:16). His commitment to His mission was so determinative that He said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. . . . So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (12:49, 50). The message He proclaimed was given to Him by the Father, and He was not free to change it or modify it as He pleased. This is important. Jesus as a messenger was commissioned by the Father to represent Him and to speak for Him. This indicates that a messenger is not only willing to fulfill the mission entrusted to them, but at the same time they are obedient to the one who sent them. It was clear to Jesus that He came “to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (4:34). In the realization of the mission, Jesus did not seek to please Himself but Him who sent Him (5:30). And He did exactly that.
Shortly before going up to the cross Jesus said to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). And He then added, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (verse 18). The mission is not finished; it continues through those whom Jesus now is sending into the world. His mission is the model for their mission. We have been told that “the true missionary spirit is the spirit of Christ. The world’s Redeemer was the great model missionary” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 385). Let us reflect on how to apply that to our lives.
I Have Sent Them
Our existence finds a particular dimension of meaning in the fulfillment of the mission Jesus entrusted to us.
When He says to you, “I have sent you,” He is redefining your existence or at least the very reason for it. In a world of existential disorientation, humans experience a deep sense of emptiness as they search for a reason for their presence in it. Then we hear the Lord saying to us, “I have sent you!” There is a reason for our presence on this planet. You should never think that your presence here is accidental. We were born into this world for mission, and everything we do should be oriented by this sense of mission. By calling us to mission Jesus enriches our lives in glorious and wonderful ways, providing a sense of purpose.
The mission entrusted to us is Jesus’ redemptive work and its significance for us and for the human race. The message to be proclaimed is the one embodied in the person and the words of Jesus, preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures. We have no right to alter that message, because it is not ours to do with it as we please. The message and the mission originated in God and were given to us through Jesus. We must fulfill our mission in humble submission to the message as we proclaim it. We deliver to the world His message, not ours. Obviously, we should develop ways of proclaiming it that are attractive to the society in which we live, but it is not our duty to alter the message itself.
In order for the mission to be effective, His message should become our message. By that I mean that it has to be a transforming power in our lives. Just before sending us on our mission, Jesus said to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The message of Jesus is to be appropriated by us as individuals and as a community of believers. We are called to reveal the glory and power of God in our lives as we constantly move forward in the fulfillment of that mission of hope. It has been God’s intention “that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10, 11). The mystery of the saving power of the cross continues to be unfolded in the experience of the church; thus it witnesses to the cosmos the goodness, power, and love of God. Every life possessed by the saving power of the cross becomes a cosmic witness to the manifold wisdom of God and His transforming power.
By calling us to participate in His mission, Jesus was announcing His departure. After His return to the Father the time gap was to be filled with a mission of hope to the human race. He was not abandoning the church. No, no! He promised His disciples, as representatives of His church, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). But His presence among us finds expression through the Spirit. He did not send only us; He sent the Spirit to enable us to fulfill the mission of hope (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The fulfillment of the mission means that the separation will come to an end. At that moment we will be able to say, “We have brought You glory by completing the work You have given us to do” (cf. John 17:4).
We are not yet there. The last mile is still ahead of us, but we continue to fly over the earth, proclaiming with a loud voice the eternal gospel of salvation to every human being, calling all to fear God and to worship the Creator. This is indeed a mission of hope, and we must continue to press together to fulfill it through the power of the Spirit. It is in the unity of the fellowship of the Spirit that the mission will be accomplished. It is this unity of love with our Savior and with other believers that facilitates the mission of hope to the world. At the close of human history, Jesus has called and sent all of us to go and work in the vineyard. Listen once more to His prayer on our behalf: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:18, 19).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. How can modern men and women gain a sense of purpose for their lives?
2. Is every Christian called to be a missionary? Explain your answer.
3. In what ways is our mission one of hope?