Monday, 31 December 2007

Our Missionary God

The whole concept of holding a mission like 'The God Delusion' is pretty offensive to modern sensibilities. The idea that we should be persuade people to become followers of Jesus Christ is, at best unpopular, and at worst, obnoxious. That’s what our opponents think. And there are quite a few of them.

Our opponents may accuse us of intolerance. They think that we should just let people believe what they want to believe. It’s not our job to try and correct them. But we want to create a culture where we're free to discuss those issues openly. The accusation that we're being intolerant is ridiculous. We’re not the ones campaigning to quash the freedom of religious expression through legal means. We don't want to make it illegal to hold religious views different from ours. We want to treat other people with respect regardless of their views. But because God has revealed himself and his way of salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ, there is right and there is wrong. Therefore there are religious views that are profoundly wrong, which if believed are eternally dangerous. It's not intolerant to discuss these.

And our opponents may accuse us of arrogance. They think that we’re being arrogant because we think we’re right and we think that they’re wrong. Presumably our opponents think that they're right and we're wrong otherwise they would react as they do. But somehow we're the bad guys! Now, of course we want to repent of any proud or patronising behaviour that we may have been guilty of. But it would be arrogant to know what we know about Christ and withhold it from others. For us to have understood God’s truth and think that we’re the only ones who should have it is really arrogant. It's worse than that, it's discriminatory.

Nevertheless, our opponents may accuse us of being intrusive. Like the Coalition forces in Iraq, some think that churches are sticking their noses into places where they’ve not been invited. The complaint is that we’re invading private territory and doing so aggressively. Where the gospel is not welcome we have a biblical precedent for shaking the dust from our feet and moving elsewhere with the good news. But our motives are pure, our method is not deceptive and our message is love. That's the kind of intrusion most of us would welcome!

But given this opposition why do we do it? Why is evangelism such a priority at CCB?

It’s because mission runs through the Bible. As I hope to show, all the big events in salvation history are accompanied by an impetus to mission. That shouldn’t surprise us given what we know about God. He is merciful and forgiving. He has accomplished a great work of salvation in his Son. And he has sent His Spirit so that His church can share the gospel with the nations.

Here are six events in salvation history.

1. The nations were created to know God
Genesis 1:27 says,

‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and
female he created them’

God is therefore the creator of all humanity, both male and female. All the people of the world owe God their allegiance because they belong to him. He made us and we’re His. Acts 17:26 records Paul’s speech to the Greek Philosophers of Athens in which he said this,

‘God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him’.

Therefore, the reason why God created the people of the world was so that they might know Him. If we were to consult an atlas of the world we’d normally find different areas of the world in different colours according to the majority religious convictions within that geographical region. This is misleading since it suggests that the peoples of the world are apportioned to Allah, Buddha or Krishna. But the whole world and its entire people belong to God and He has claim over it all. Therefore when we’re involved in mission we’re not going anywhere where we shouldn’t be going. God has the right to send his people wherever he wants in his world, even into the multi ethnic melting pot that is south London! But it’s not only right to go to the peoples of the world, it’s loving. We’re giving people the opportunity to be introduced to their creator.

2. The nations were promised God’s blessing
It would be fair to say that the early history of mankind was not promising. Adam and Eve rebelled and Cain was a murderer. The people of Noah’s world were described by God as continually evil. And the nations of the world co-operated in a grand building project to assert their independence from God. God acted in judgement in every case. But in Genesis 12 God made it clear that judgement would not be his last word. Blessing would be. Listen to these words from Genesis 12:1-3,

‘Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred to the land I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.

In the first place God’s promise to Abraham focussed on his immediate descendants and the nation God would create from them. God promised that Abraham’s descendants would receive the blessing of a place in His Kingdom. However, this promise wasn’t only intended for Israel. God intended that He would extend the offer of this blessing to the nations. The New Testament makes it clear that the descendants to whom the promise of a place in the kingdom applied were not Abraham’s physical descendants but his spiritual descendants. People from every nation who shared Abraham’s trust in the gospel would receive God’s blessing. Therefore when we’re involved in mission we’re simply letting people know that they have an inheritance of which they have previously been ignorant.

Imagine being approached by someone with the news that someone had died but their death had meant that we stood to receive an absolute fortune. Without wishing to be insensitive we'd be delighted to receive that news wouldn't we? We'd be pretty cheesed off if they decided to keep that news to themselves. I know we'd be devastated if the person was well known to us, but that's not the point of the illustration! The inheritance is. Focus on that if you can!

If people hear what we have to say but then subsequently decide to reject it then we can’t coerce them. Nor should we attempt to. But Christians feel that the offer, like the inheritance, sells itself!

3. The nations were included in God’s people
There are three major players in the Old Testament; God, Israel and the nations. When God entered into a unique relationship with one tiny nation He always had the other nations in view. At Mount Sinai Israel became a unique nation. But God constituted them with a definite role in mind. Listen to these words from Exodus 19.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

Israel had a priestly function in which they were to act as a mediator between God and the nations. With a few exceptions, like Jonah who was hardly an enthusiastic evangelist, Israel failed. But there were glimpses of what God had in mind because people like Rahab and her family, Ruth the Moabitess, the inhabitants of Nineveh and Naaman the Aramite all joined the people of God. In the prophets the writers take up this theme and look forward to a time when the nations will stream into the future kingdom. So listen to these words from Isaiah 2,

‘it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’’

Therefore when we’re involved in mission we’re not doing anything novel. Mission isn’t a new innovation, which is hard to establish from the Bible. God has been joining the nations to his people since He first called Israel to himself.

4. The nations were sent God’s saviour king
At the incarnation God sent his promised saviour king into the world. However, Jesus did not embark immediately on a mission to the nations. It’s striking that the gospel accounts are dominated by Jesus’ priority to reach Israel. However, Jesus’ own people rejected him and his response to this was to offer the Kingdom to the nations. None of this came as a surprise to Jesus. The prophets clearly anticipated the worldwide spread of the gospel and he foreshadowed it in his own ministry. It’s as though God did that in sending his Son to the nations. He made it clear where the nations featured in his plan to save people. Therefore when we’re involved in mission we’re not doing anything that Jesus didn’t do. In other words he gives us divine precedent for crossing racial and territorial boundaries to reach people with the gospel of the Kingdom. It’s part of following Jesus.

5. The nations will be reached by Christians
Matthew 28:16-20 records the Lord Jesus’ mission statement to his church. It’s sometimes called the Great Commission.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Since the risen Lord Jesus possesses all authority he requires obedience to him from all nations. Therefore his followers are required to make disciples from all people. As we go out to the nations the Lord Jesus promises us that he will be with us for all time. And so the plan of the risen ruler of this world is that Christians should reach it with his gospel. Therefore when we’re involved in mission we’re simply doing what we’re told. The Lord Jesus has authority over everything and his instructions are pretty clear. I’m not aware that he has rescinded this command and so it remains binding on us today.

6. The nations will be gathered in the new creation
In Revelation John is given a glimpse of the future kingdom. There is a distinct international flavour to things. Listen to these words from Revelation 7,

‘I looked and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation
belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb!’’

No one will be worshipping Allah, Brahma, Buddha or Krishna in heaven. Jesus Christ is the only person who can readmit us to the paradise that our representative was thrown out of.
Therefore when we engage in mission we’re offering people the opportunity to be part of an international peace gathering. It'll be the world’s largest international rock concert as we sing our praises to the Lord who sits centre stage. It’ll make Live Aid look like the Bedford Bandstand. And if you hadn’t realised, just as there was no evangelistic work to be done in the Garden neither will we have to worry about that in eternity. That’s when we stop, and not before!


As we’ve seen each of the main sections of the Bible is dominated by this missionary theme. In fact we could put it like this.
· The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God, who called one family in order to bless all families.
· The Christ of the gospels is a missionary Christ who commissioned his church to make disciples of all nations.
· The Spirit of Acts is a missionary Spirit who empowered the church and drove them out to witness.
· The church in the epistles is a church that supported missionary activity and undertook it themselves.
· The population of the new creation is a missionary population who has been gathered from every nation.

Where does all this leave us?
We all need to pray for our evangelistic work in our meetings, in our congregational prayer meetings, in our small groups and also privately. Are you praying about your evangelism and for those you're longing to become Christians?

We all need to take every opportunity we can to say something about the gospel even if we make a complete hash of it. Are you someone who goes quiet and says nothing for fear of looking an idiot or are you someone who says something in the hope that the Lord will use it for His glory? Some of us need to rid ourselves of our fear of man. We need to think less about what our peers think of us and more about what the Lord makes of our excuses!

We all need to orientate our lives and our priorities to incorporate God's missionary plans for the world into our working week. Of course that will look different for different people. The life of the city worker is different from the life of the student. The challenges of the stay at home Mum are different from those of the working Mother. The point is not to compare ourselves with others and think that they ought to be doing more. The point is that we ought to be trying to do something as best as we're able with the abilities and opportunities that God has given us.

But as we do so we can trust that our God is a missionary God whose passion and ability in evangelism far outweigh ours! But we can also rejoice that He has invited us to share with Him in the task for which He has delayed His Son’s return.