When you hear the word “mission” what do you think of?
If you’ve spent much time in a corporate context, the ever-present organizational “mission statement” might come to mind. Those aren’t always so bad; we even have one here at Mission Central (Forming Christians for Mission in Everyday Life).
If you’ve spent much time in the church world, you might think of the role of missionaries, especially cross-cultural missionaries. For example, my friends Sebastian and Daniela are missionaries from Chile to the United States, bringing a cultural perspective that enriches our communities as they reach people with the good news of Jesus.
If you’re from Chicago, you might be tempted to think of the Blues Brothers.
While each of these associations with the word “mission” has its place, none of them connects to everyday Christian life very well. The “mission” of many organizations may seem disconnected from faith, only a small fraction of Christians are cross-cultural missionaries, and only the Blues Brothers can be the Blues brothers.
But mission is for everyone who names Jesus as Lord. When we understand the shape and scope of God’s mission better, we can see how our everyday lives fit right into it. So, in this post, we’re beginning a new blog series, The Four Corners of Mission. Each of our next four posts will look at a different aspect of what God sends us into the world to do.
But first: Where did we even get the word “mission” from?
Mission is How God Sends Us
The English word “mission” comes from the Latin missus which simply means “sent.” So, for example, John 1:6 says, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” (NIV). The Latin translation of the Greek phrase rendered “There was a man sent” in English is “fuit homo missus a Deo” (emphasis added).
This verse is a great example of the biblical paradigm for mission: God sends his people. That’s all that “mission” means. Mission is how God sends us, and what he sends us to do.
When you look at the whole narrative of Scripture, mission stands out as a central theme that brings the story together. From the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Isaiah, Esther, and more, we see that God is constantly sending his people.
On Mission with Jesus
These stories culminate in the sending of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and Son of God. In a parable, Jesus describes a father who says, “I will send my beloved son” (Luke 20:13 NRSVue). We see here an image of the heavenly Father who sends Jesus. Then, after his death and resurrection, Jesus tells his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21 NRSVue). Our share in God’s mission comes through Jesus. Or, to put it another way, Jesus now extends his mission today through us.
The key difference between Jesus’ earthly mission and ours is what Jesus has already done. The power for our mission comes from his mission, from the work he already brought to completion in his death and resurrection. Just after telling the apostles he was sending them, we read that “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22 NRSVue). The life of God in the Spirit that was unleashed through Jesus’ coming is the source for all the work we now do in Jesus’ name.
What is that work? While there are many ways we could sketch out the purposes of God, I’ve found it can be helpful to talk about four aspects, or “corners” of mission: healing, justice, beauty, and evangelism. Like the nooks and crannies of a charming old house, each “corner” has its own features to explore, and together they make up a holistic picture of mission. We’ll look at each of these in depth in later posts, so for now we’ll look at how these themes all emerge in the ministry of Jesus himself.
Healing in Jesus’ Mission
Besides teaching people about the kingdom of God through stories and lessons, Jesus’ main work in his earthly ministry was healing people. He ministered to people’s physical ailments, delivered people from spiritual oppression, and restored people to their families.
Jesus was also keen to pass on this aspect of his ministry to his disciples. After the twelve apostles had journeyed with him for some time, they come to a key “sending” moment: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2 NRSVue). The most important things that he wanted his disciples to be able to do were announcing God’s reign and healing people.
There’s an obvious connection between these two things: It’s one thing to talk about God’s kingdom, it’s another to demonstrate God’s power through miracles. The healings ratified and confirmed that Jesus really was from God, and that his disciples were, too. Peter later explained it in just these terms, describing Jesus as “a man attested . . . by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among” the people (Acts 2:22 NRSVue).
This pattern of being sent by God to heal continues for Jesus’ disciples today. If it’s difficult to think about what that looks like in your everyday life, start by reminding yourself of this: I am an emissary of Jesus’ healing power among everyone I see today. God sends us to heal in Jesus’ name.
Justice in Jesus’ Mission
When we look at Jesus’ ministry, it’s striking that he rejected certain “justice-oriented” options for his work. The people of God were, after all, suffering under the unjust rule of Rome. A violent revolution could have been justified in spiritual terms (and often was by other leaders).
But Jesus still did the work of justice, in a different way. He addressed both the internal, spiritual reality of injustice, and ministered to the social context of those he served in powerful ways.
Jesus could distinguish between right and wrong in the hearts of those around him. We call to mind how he “perceived [the] thoughts” of the Pharisees (Luke 5:22 ESV). With this unerring perception, he named the truth of the Pharisees’ wickedness, declaring, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Mathew 23:28 NIV). This judgment of the Pharisees’ hearts is a case of revealing the truth about injustice. The failure of the Pharisees was neglecting the “justice, mercy and faithfulness” of God’s law (Matthew 23:23 NIV).
But Jesus’ ministry did not stop with the prophetic judgment of words; his actions also restored the right kind of justice, mercy, and faithfulness in people’s lives. The work of healing and the work of justice intersected in his ministry. For example, every time Jesus healed a leper, they were not only restored to physical well-being, but also to their family, synagogue, and community. They not only could come home, they could also work with dignity and provide for themselves and for others again.
As disciples of Jesus, our works of justice reflect both these aspects: speaking the truth about injustice in our world in a way that pierces the heart, and working for the restoration of people in all dimensions of their lives and communities. God sends us to work for justice in Jesus’ name.
Beauty in Jesus’ Mission
If Jesus was a visual artist, we have no remaining works of his to admire. Perhaps somewhere in desert sands there are still stones that he and Joseph cut as carpenters and stoneworkers. But in the Gospels, we have a remarkable record of Jesus’ craftsmanship as a storyteller.
In the wisdom of God, we know Jesus’ parables through their written versions in the four Gospels, so we have the added layer of the Gospel writers’ skill. Who can read Luke’s account of the parable of the lost son without being moved? Even those who do not name Jesus as Lord attest to the sheer literary power of such accounts.
Jesus’ other teachings often involve wordplay and powerful metaphors. (Think of planks in the eye and a camel straining to get through the eye of a needle.) There’s even evidence that, in the original Aramaic that Jesus spoke, many of his most famous turns of phrase rhymed, in a kind of prophetic poetry.
As followers of Jesus, our particular craft may not be poetry, but we are invited to imagine that, like his, our mission has room for beauty and creativity at many turns. God sends us as those who participate in his beauty and make things beautiful in Jesus’ name.
Evangelism in Jesus’ Mission
As we noted above, the two components of ministry that Jesus was most eager to pass onto his disciples were healing and the proclamation of God’s kingdom. The word “evangelism” comes from the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news.” We tend to think of the good news as the story of what God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that’s right; the apostles were constantly telling that story as they traveled from place to place.
But evangelism did not start out that way. Jesus was an evangelist, even before he died. The message that he proclaimed was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). The gospel that people were believing was that, in Jesus, the time was fulfilled, and the kingdom of God was at hand. To believe that Jesus was the one, even before his death and resurrection, was saving faith. Jesus constantly confronted people with his own presence, with the reality of who he was, catalyzing them to accept or reject him.
This pattern gives us a clue about how evangelism is meant to work. The good news is not primarily an announcement about a set of ideas; it’s the announcement of a person. What we’re really leading people toward when we tell them the story of Jesus is the conviction that Jesus is the one, that he knows what life is all about, that everything depends on him. When someone crosses the line of embracing Jesus in this way, everything else will follow.
So as followers of Jesus, we invite others to consider him as a person: his teachings, his life, death, and resurrection, and his claims about God, reality, and himself. God sends us to proclaim the good news in Jesus’ name.
Reflect and Practice
- Have you ever struggled to connect the idea of God’s mission to your everyday life?
- What do you make of the idea that Jesus is sending you as the Father sent him?
- Have you ever thought about Jesus’ work as a ministry of beauty before?
- Which of the “four corners” of mission comes most easily to you? Which is the hardest?
- How and where is God sending you this week?
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