The God of Missions: His Commission
Our topic for this series is “The God of Missions.” The overarching question is “What does a study of God teach us about missions?” Each post looks at one aspect of God to see how that aspect relates to missions. Each time, the starting point is a narrower question that helps focus our study. The last time, we asked what a study of God’s character teaches us about missions, and we discovered that God’s character makes missions inevitable.
This time, we will look at a different question related to different passages. Our question is: What does a study of God’s commission teach us about missions? Again, there are five passages to explore. You know them well: they are the five “commissioning “passages in the Gospels and Acts. Let’s take them one at a time.
Verses 16-17 describe the disciples’ condition for that activity: obedience, worship, and doubt. The single task in verses 18-20 is “make disciples” (v.19a). Verse 18 provides the sovereign foundation for that activity: Jesus’ initiative and authority.
Three participles provide the practical means by which the disciples are to carry out their task: going, baptizing, and teaching (v.19-20a). Verse 20b provides the unshakeable reassurance we need to disciple the nations: Jesus’ constant presence with us. What’s the scope of this task? Of course, it’s “all the nations.”
Here again, the disciples’ condition is negative: unbelief and hardness of heart (v.14). Here the task is to “preach the gospel” (v.15). The means are going (v.15) and baptizing (v.16) The reassurance is provided by the miraculous signs that will accompany those who have believed (v.17-18). Again, what is the scope of the task? It’s “in all creation.”
Luke’s account approaches things a little differently, but the similarities are striking. The disciples need help because Jesus had to open their minds to understand the Scriptures (v.45). The task is to “[proclaim] repentance for forgiveness of sins in [Jesus’] name” (v.47). No specific means are mentioned, but the foundation for their activity is the OT Scriptures (v.46). The reassurance lies in the Father’s promise that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them (v.49). And what is the scope of their task? Again, it’s “to all the nations.”
John definitely comes at things from a different perspective, but the pieces are still there. What is the disciples condition? Fear (v.19). The task Jesus gives them is to “forgive . . . and retain sins” (v.23). That is, they are to carry on Jesus’ ministry, since he forgave sins as well as retaining them (cf. Matt 9:1-8; John 8:21-24). No means are mentioned, but the foundation for their activity is the same as Father gave Jesus for his ministry. He now delegates that authority to his disciples (v.21). The reassurance is the gift of the Holy Spirit (v.22). The scope is open-ended and extends to “any” whose sins are forgiven (v.23).
For Luke, Jesus’ commission is so important, he gives us two accounts: one at the end of Luke and one at the beginning of Acts. Not surprisingly, the disciples needed their focus adjusted (v.6). The task is to “be [Jesus’] witnesses” (v.8). No means are mentioned, but the Father’s authority is (v.7). Reassurance is provided by the power connected with the Holy Spirit’s coming (v.8). The statement of the scope is possibly the best known of all: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (v.8).
What do we learn from these five passages? What do they have in common?
(doubt, unbelief, lack of understanding, fear, wrong focus)
(make disciples, preach the gospel, proclaim forgiveness, forgive sins, be witnesses)
(God’s presence, signs, the Holy Spirit – 3x)
(all the nations – 2x, all creation, any who believe, the ends of the earth)
So, what does a study of God’s commission teach us about missions? It teaches us that God’s commission makes missions central. When God says something five different times, it’s important. When God repeats so many ideas, they’re important. When God makes a point of the universal scope of the task, it’s important. Taken together, these commissioning accounts represent Jesus’ “marching orders” for his Church. Missions is central to what we are supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus Christ. How central is it to what you are doing?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary & School of Ministry