Missions in the Bible
LAST TIME: Jesus arrives in the midst of the chosen, missionary nation, to check up He came to His own and His own were too busy with other things. His people, in general, did not wish to bother with their mission to the nations. He betrayed His interest in "The Nations" in His sermon to His people in Nazareth (Luke 4) and so did Paul in his first recorded sermon to people near his hometown (Acts 13). In both cases the result was immediate, bitter rejection, and in both cases a move toward homicide. At Antioch they put a contract on his head, caught up with him finally at Lystra and left him for dead (Acts 14:19)
So, there was indeed a very nasty reaction on the part of the Nazareth and Antioch synagogues against any thought of God's blessings trickling out to other nations. How about the twelve disciples? (How about you, today as a disciple?) Do the Lord's followers usually catch on soon to the larger purposes of God for all nations? Or is missions just for "advanced disciples'?
The ghastly truth is that although the disciples passed through the waters of repentence with John the Baptist, and were then in close company with Jesus for three years, nevertheless in all that time they seemed persistently to exhibit childish and shallow behavior. Their concern for authority, for position and for titles betrays their immaturity.
Thus it is that if we are young in the Lord and feel beset on every hand with carnal and personal concerns, weighed down by such elementary problems, it is perfectly obvious that the Great Commission is not going to make sense. It's like a person bursting into a hospital ward where surrounding him there are people too weak to lift their heads and then singing out "tennis anyone"?
Our immaturity, our worldliness, our self centeredness, our slavish fear about our own concerns and security obviously prevent God from giving us the meat of the Word, the more important responsibilities. In this state we must still be treated as children, not as adults. We must be carried; we cannot carry a load ourselves. We are a load to others in this state that it was not just a prophecy of them in the New Testament period, All through the Old Testament, all through the New Testament, all through the centuries since those days when Jesus walked among us, the clear pattern is that the average people who hear and follow rarely get soundly and well established on a spiritual level, much less accept responsibility to serve others. Oh yes, the disciples went out to preach the Word, but this was in the nature of a training mission, still a school boy activity. It was not very obviously a case where in their lives and hearts there was now a well of living water flowing out to bless and quench the spiritual thirst of many, many others.
No wonder then that the Great Commission appears so rarely as we pace through the Biblical narrative. Walter Kaiser, Dean of the Faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, firmly believes that Genesis 12:1 3 is the Great Commission and that it was not just a prophesy of what would happen later on but was in fact an immediate responsibility )f those to. whom it was given. Yet we see Abraham struggling with the question of simple faith in God versus a grasping, making sure about his own needs. His followers and the followers of Moses on down Later in history and the people of [srael throughout the period of the kings, the people as Jesus found them in the New Testament period, and indeed the people as we follow them across the pages of history since the days of the apostles, all these people for the most part regretably, pathetically, and tragically displayed an inability even to comprehend the love and the grace and the power and the blessing of the Lord, much less to grasp the fact that such a blessing is both to be recieved and passed on by them and through them.
To this Jesus really said, "And when thou art converted, feed my sheep". Oh yes, the disciples back then, and we disciples today as well, still need a great deal of conversion before we have what it takes for God to give us heavy responsibilities in the area of His mission vision for all the world.
The New Testament is so often merely studied rather than understood. It is so often that we "see" Peter doing what he's doing in the New Testament rather than perceive him falling to do what God intended him to do. Human limitations are part of it. For example, Peter had nowhere near the exposure to the Gentile culture that Paul had. Paul still had deep and undying yearnings to help his own people rediscover the Lord, but at the same time he had far more than Peter the patience and the passion and the purpose to reach out to those strange Gentiles who in Peter's Galhlean environment were simply hated strangers edging into the Holy Land where they did not belong.
What a tragedy as we look into the New Testament and see that the primary example of a missionary is one who was not even one i of the twelve. And the next best example of a missionary, Barnabas, is again not even one of the twelve. The record is plain; it takes eminent spiritual reality and significant cultural sophistication in order both to discover and implement the missionary outreach for which the basic message of the Bible pleads.
Today then, we must not be surprised if most Christian television programs and most Sunday morning sermons are for the most part engrossed with the task of lifting people into mere contact with God, helping people to pray and to give up their sins, helping to nurse people past their lingering world concerns that so easily become "the cares, the riches and the pleasures of this life" which thwart the bearing of fruit that could be of blessing to others. The Church of Jesus Christ across the centuries is more often like a hospital than it is a barracks building bulging with healthy wellequipped soldiers prepared to do battle, prepared to reach out in expeditionary forces across the world.
How obvious, how understandable it is today then that 96% of American churches have no missionary committees with a written set of policies. How understandable it is that missions is simply not understandable to most Christians. How understandable it is that new efforts generation after generation must be expended to achieve a bare recognition of the fact that God does indeed have more than our own salvation in mind, that He does indeed have the ends of the earth in mind.
Yes the Bible tells us a great deal that will disabuse us of our romantic expectations about the life of the churches. Nevertheless the Bible also does not allow us to give up trying, in our unremitting and constant pursuit of these ideals which are central to the Bible.