Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions.
Thanks for joining us for episode 183 of Missions on point. We are in a series on the church in the Great Commission as seen in Matthew 28.
In our previous two episodes in this series we highlighted the central command in this passage that Jesus gives the church, to make disciples. We noted that there are five aspects of that disciple-making: the authority, the scope, the beginning, the goal, and the power of disciple-making. Last time we looked at the first aspect, which is the authority. Discipleship in the church is Christ-commanded. Today we want to consider the scope of discipleship. And that means that we are to make disciples of all true believers everywhere. And this is the aspect that really turns this command into a focus on missions. It’s the first of the three modifying participles in this passage. Those three are once again: going, baptizing and teaching – all describing the command to make disciples. For today though, as Jesus commands us to make disciples, what does it mean for us to be going?
I think this implies two realities for going. For us to be going 1. We have to leave home. And 2. We have to arrive at a new destination. Now, that may seem rather basic at first glance, but please allow me to explain, and this explanation will help us understand why we can call this the scope of discipleship. When we think about the scope of discipleship, we should be setting our eyes on both where we have come from and where we are going. We should think about Christ both on the cross and his return in glory. What did Jesus accomplish in his first advent and what will we see when he returns? The cross and resurrection brought about the redemption of mankind, Jesus making peace by his blood, reconciling God to man and mankind one to another. The world that Jesus was born into was a divided one, marked by the Tower of Babel, full of hatred, murder, and division. Yet, the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is now marked by the miracle at the day of Pentacost. Unity where there used to be division. What is remarkable about the New Covenant that believers find themselves in, as contrasted with the Old Covenant, is that the gospel has come not just for the Jews but the Gentiles as well. All peoples are welcomed into the family of God. In Jesus Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile. Circumcision and uncircumcision doesn’t matter anymore. Jesus Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, uniting Jew and Gentile into one new man in his body, which is the church. In this sense, we think about where we have come from and what the cross has accomplished.
But we also think about where we are going and what the new heaven and earth will look like. And there’s no better place to see that than in the book of Revelation. Chapter 5:9-10 says this, “9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 7:9-10 repeats this majestic scene, saying, “9 After this 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, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
One of the most marvelous realities of heaven is that great multitude of people gathered from every nation, tribe, people and language. When we think of the scope of missions, this is what we should set our eyes on. We set our eyes on this, because this is what Jesus accomplished on the cross and this is the reality that we will soon find ourselves in, joining that multitude in praise. This is the scope of missions because Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Much has been made of those words, “all nations,” as not being simply geo-political boundaries, and that is true. I would simply have us focus on the Day of Pentecost and on that grand worship scene in Revelation 5 and 7. Think about where we have come from and where we are going. And that should give us great motivation for going into all the world to make disciples of all nations.
But there is another sense in which I want us to consider the scope of disciple-making as focused on every nation, tribe, people and language. We could say that what we just considered is the theological reality of the scope, or we might say the eschatological reality of the scope of disciple-making. But there is also a practical sense in which if we are being obedient to the Great Commission that we are to be leaving our home and going to a far-off destination. This is what it means to be going. Practically speaking we have to leave the comfort and stability of our home church and go and start another church somewhere else.
To help us think about this, I want to give us a very simple definition of missions. For a more thorough definition of missions you can go to episodes 10 and 11 of Missions on Point, which give us a good definition of missions. But at the risk of over-simplification, I would offer us a simple definition that consists of two components to it. So here it is, very simply put. Missions is cross-cultural evangelism. Or, we might be able to adjust that slightly and say that missions is cross-cultural disciple-making, since disciple-making has in mind more than just the initial preaching of the gospel and conversion of believers.
But I like to use the word evangelism here because I feel like that grasps the first sense of “going” here. Evangelism requires someone to take initiative, and when we are told to make disciples by going, that means that we need to take the initiative to leave our home and go somewhere. J. Mack Stiles in his book on evangelism gives a definition of evangelism as “teaching the gospel with an aim to persuade.” That aim is what I want us to be thinking about here. We have a hope, a desire, a goal that we are aiming at and that we are working toward. We want to persuade others through teaching them about the truth of the gospel. This requires work, or our initiative to get it done. We cannot sit back on our hands and expect the work to get done by itself. We have to take initiative. We have to go. We cannot respond like some churches allegedly did to William Carey when he was asking for support for his missions work when they said, “Young man, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do without your aid or mine!” This kind of retort is often described as a hyper-calvanistic response, which puts so much emphasis on the sovereignty of God that it seemingly negates any effort taken by mankind. But talking about our efforts and the responsibility of Christians to take initiative in going, that does not conflict with a high view of the sovereignty of God. In fact, knowing that God is sovereign, we recognize that he has commanded us to go into all the world. Rightly understanding the sovereignty of God should humble us, it should put the fear of the Lord in us, it should cause us to eagerly obey him because he is our sovereign Lord. The evangelist who goes is doing so out of obedience. Someone who is an evangelist is someone who goes, someone who takes initiative, someone who begins the conversation with the unbeliever in order to tell them the good news about Jesus. And there are many people in this world who live in darkness and need the light of the gospel, and we must go to them.
Evangelism though is only half of my simple two-part definition of missions. Let me repeat that definition for us. Missions is cross-cultural evangelism. Evangelism helps us to picture the initiative taking needed in our going. We have got to make a choice to do the hard work of leaving our home in order to go. But we also have the practical focus on what our destination needs to be. Jesus commands us to make disciples by going to all nations. There is an explicit focus on the crossing of cultures, going to people who are different than us, who speak another language than we grew up speaking, who have little access to the gospel simply because they are not near us. They are not near us either because of geographical distance or because of language and cultural barriers. The work of missions is especially focused on this most difficult task of bringing the gospel near to those who were once far off. If someone were to come to me and tell me that they wanted to be a missionary to the English speaking people of Dayton, Ohio, I would tell them that they are not a missionary. At best they would be an evangelist. But the gospel does not need to cross cultures into the English-speaking language of Midwest America, because it has already done that. There are many gospel-preaching churches there making disciples of those people. I know that because that’s where I’m from and I know many of those churches. And so, in missions we often talk about people groups as being reached or unreached, distinguishing between peoples and their languages based on their access to the gospel, how easy it might be for them to encounter a Christian speaking in their own language who could tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we make another distinction with unreached peoples as being either engaged or unengaged, signifying whether or not there is significant work being done among those people in order to see new believers joined together as a church. Thus, the unengaged unreached people groups of the world are the darkest places on earth, for there is no one there who is actively seeking to bring the gospel to those people, and they will most likely be born and die without encountering anyone who could tell them about Jesus. The ultimate reason that we take the gospel and do the hard work of bringing it to someone else’s language is because we have a Heavenly Father who took his Word and spoke it to us in our heart language. The incarnation is our model. If Jesus would cross the greatest cultural divide between God and man and put on flesh and speak our language, should we not be like him?
The point we’re making here is that missions must prioritize the crossing of cultural divides, especially language divisions. The curse of sin has separated people from one another, and only by the blood of Jesus can the curse be reversed and see us be united together in one body. We need this specific emphasis on the scope of missions because it is too easy to lose sight of it. We can easily get comfortable seeking to reach our neighbors while ignoring the lost in an unreached and unengaged people group. We need to keep the scope of missions in our mind because God’s priorities are different than our priorities. We might naturally value cost efficiency in missions. Effectively going to an unreached unengaged people group is extremely expensive compared to the so-called relative return on investment we might see in reaching our neighbors. Or along with this we might naturally value the greatest number of people being converted. But that is not a good way of describing God’s priority. Jesus tells us that the way is narrow and few enter it. God’s priority is that all who have faith in Jesus would be saved, and that faith in Jesus is independent of one’s culture of origin or language. Instead, it might be better to say that God values the greatest variety of people. Even as the Bible says that a great multitude will be saved in heaven, it is also clear that a great number of people will not be saved. Compared to the total number of people who have ever lived, there might not be a lot of people, relatively speaking, but there will be a lot of different people. And with all of those different people together in worship, they demonstrate the one thing they have in common. They together confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, even as they might not have anything else in common. The universality of many different peoples highlights the exclusivity of faith in Jesus Christ.
I feel like there is a lot more we could say about the scope of missions as focused on going to unengaged, unreached people groups. We talk about that a lot here at Propempo. My encouragement for you today is to keep your focus on the scope of the Great Commission. Even though it may seem really hard, God’s glory among all nations is worth it. And to overcome that seemingly impossible mission, we have a God who has guaranteed that it will be accomplished. The proof is in our savior who died for all peoples and in the promise of heaven where they are gathered around the throne. In the meantime, let us lovingly devote our lives to taking the initiative to go into all the world, doing the hard work of crossing difficult cultural and language divides, because Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at Propempo.com and missioserve.org. We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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