The Basis for Doing Missions
Nowadays, ordinary is a bad word. In a culture that is constantly looking for the next big thing, who wants what is ordinary? We want the spectacular. We want what is bigger, better, and exciting. We desire extraordinary gadgets, extraordinary kids, and extraordinary lives. To feel validated as a person, one must not settle for what is ordinary.
Our approach to church is not much different. In a world that values novelty, innovation, and relevance, the expectation is for pastors to appear hip, worship to feel amazing, and teaching to be useful for our most recent news feed of felt needs. We don’t want ordinary ministers of ordinary churches, but bigger-than-life celebrities who lead transformational movements that are in a rush to make a radical impact on our lives. We want churches that are worthy of our personal quest for the spectacular. We want churches that are worthy of us.
In such an age as ours, why should we bother planting churches that are committed to the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament? Such an endeavor seems backwards and counterintuitive. Yet this is precisely what the Head of the church has called us to do. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave us our marching orders:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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”.
These words, known as the Great Commission, provide us with the basis, goal, means, and promise of the church’s mission to the world. It is arguably the most important text in all of Scripture for understanding the biblical case for missions.
The Basis for Doing Missions
In v.19, our Lord tells us the basis for doing missions: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Before he commanded his apostles to “go,” he told them the basis for their going. To put in grammatical terms, before he gave the imperative, he stated the indicative. This is the first part of the Great Commission. The church’s mission to make disciples is grounded in what God has already accomplished in his mission.
God is the original missionary and the whole Bible is, in one sense, a mission document. It reveals how the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption for the elect. The entire Old Testament is about this mission of God to send his Son into the world as the Last Adam to do what the first Adam failed to do. When God exiled our first parents from the Garden and cursed them because of their rebellion, he promised that he would send a Champion to crush the Serpent’s head and open up a new a living way to the Tree of Life. He would bring salvation to the ends of the earth through the seed of the woman. This was God’s mission from the beginning.
We get a fuller picture of this mission later in redemptive history when God promised Abraham that he would give him a people and a land, and that he would be a light to the nations. This promise took on even greater clarity in God’s covenant promises to King David, to whom God said, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12). The nations would either bow down to this royal son of God, or be broken with a rod of iron and dashed into pieces through his just judgment (Ps 2:9).
The prophets after David continued to proclaim this coming Messiah. Through the prophet Isaiah, we learn that God the Father said to the Son, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6).
In the fullness of time, Christ accomplished this redemption through his life, death, and resurrection. He lived the perfect life of obedience that none of us ever have. He is the Last Adam, the Offspring of Abraham, the true Israel, the heir to David’s throne, and the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets.
He was actively obedient to the Father, earning the righteousness that sinners like us need so that we can be acceptable in the sight of a holy God. He graciously went to the cross as our substitute, suffering the penalty we deserved of God’s wrath against our sin. He was raised again from the dead bodily and gloriously and seen by more than 500 eyewitnesses. And he ascended into heaven where has sat down at the right hand of the Father. He is the cosmic Ruler of the whole universe!
This is the reason we go into the world. This is the reason we do missions. The reason we do missions is because something has happened. God the Father has sent the Son into the world. And the Son, having accomplished the work the Father gave him to do, has ascended into heaven and has sent the Spirit upon his church, who in turn sends the church throughout the world.
This should bring us tremendous encouragement as we engage in mission work and seek to plant churches on domestic and foreign soil. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Head of the church. He has authority to redeem a people for himself from all nations. He has authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom the Father gave to him (John 17:2). He will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). Our mission is to claim the prize which the Lord Jesus already won. The Spirit sends us to plant and water in the field that belongs to Christ, and Christ will ensure the increase, for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.