When we in the church think of evangelism and missions, the first thing that generally comes to mind is The Great Commission. Matthew 28:16-20 describes a resurrected Jesus, given all authority over all of creation, instructing His disciples to stand up and go make disciples where there are not disciples.
In Matthew 24:14, when Jesus is speaking on the end times, He tells His disciples, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth, as a testimony to every Gentile, and then the end will come.”
In Acts 1:6-8, Luke tells the same story as Matthew 28, giving more detail. Jesus’s disciples ask the Risen Savior, “Are you going to restore the kingdom now?” Although the disciples were referring to the political kingdom of Israel (Isaiah 32:15-20; Ezekiel 39:28-29; Joel 2:28-3:1), Jesus does not correct their question. Instead, He gives them a new focus. The Holy Spirit will descend on them, so that they can move from emulating Jesus to continuing His work in the power of the Spirit.
In summing up Psalm 67 John Piper makes a great statement about God’s plan of salvation, saying, “The will of God in choosing Israel and creating the church is to be known, praised, enjoyed, and feared among all the nations.”
God has chosen to create a people for Himself that He will use to draw all peoples to Himself.
To put it a different way, “God’s people have been blessed so that they might be a blessing to everyone else.” This was the message given to Israel in Genesis 12:2-3, and it is the message for Jesus’s church, which Paul explains in Galatians 3:16.
But when I begin to think about the Great Commission, it honestly starts to stress me out. How could we possibly accomplish this task? Make disciples of all nations?
But the Church must take this call seriously. It’s the last thing Jesus says before He ascends into heaven, and He says in Matthew 24:124 that the finishing of the work will usher in His return. Suffice to say, reaching the unreached with the gospel is not an optional activity for the church. David Platt has both of these truths in mind when he says, “Missions .. is a problem for local churches to solve.”
I think we’ve created a false dichotomy within the church when we think about missions and fulfilling the Great Commission. We’ve talked for so long about “calling” – where some people are missionaries and some people are pastors and some people are just off the hook entirely because they’re neither of those things. This toxic idea has emerged:
I don’t need to be a part of missions because it’s not my calling.
The problem with that idea is that missions is a command given to the Church. I understand the need for saying that some are missionaries who go out from here and some stay. That is a Biblical idea. But every Christian is responsible for the fulfillment of the call to make disciples of all nations.
The church – the whole church – must be the ones sending and the ones being sent. The Good News in all of this is that when we give ourselves to this mission, we cannot fail. When Jesus talks about the Great Commission, it is always in definite terms. “The forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all the nations … You will be my witnesses to the farthest parts of the Earth.”
The church is not fighting a battle that we must overcome in order for Jesus to finally beat Satan. No, the church is following in obedience for a mission that has already been determined by a sovereign God, heralding a message of victory of a great King whose rule will extend to every part of the earth because it must.
One of the most powerful arguments against Christianity always seems to involve a random person in Africa or the Hindu Kush or somewhere remote where someone has never heard about Jesus and will die. “So, you’re telling me that God so loved the world that Jesus came and died, but He’s just going to let that guy go to hell?”
You’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty powerful argument – highly emotionally charged, at the least. The idea is that God obviously doesn’t care about this man or woman or child out in the bush or up in the mountain range because that guy can never hear about Jesus. The problem with the argument, though, is that it’s just not true because the church is God’s plan for reaching those who have not heard of Jesus.
Think back to Psalm 67. Christians aren’t just blessed with the Holy Spirit as a means to accomplish the task of preaching the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation. He blesses with the material means by which to get to every tribe, tongue, and nation. God gives His people material wealth for the sake of the world’s worship.
God blesses with riches for the sake of reaching.
The American church has every opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission because it has the material means to send Christians to the 6,907 people groups made up of 2.85 billion people who have never heard the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Church is God’s plan for calling disciples from every group of people. There is no plan B. He has given us the task, and we cannot fail. He has given us the means to accomplish the task, and we cannot falter. The question, then, must be What are we doing to join in God’s mission to the world?