Mission. There is much confusion about this word in the context of the church. When we use this word it is often thought of in the context of “missions” and going to foreign countries to spend a week serving others. Or it is thought of in the context of outreach, something one does occasionally, helping others out. But the Gospel of John paints a much larger picture of the word. Mission is not something that only a few “professionals” are called to do in foreign countries. Nor is mission an outreach project that we participate in once in a while. Mission is about who we are as Christ’s followers, and about who we are as the church. Throughout his gospel the Apostle John gives us a picture of how Jesus sees mission. The definition of our mission as Christ’s followers can be seen in how Jesus viewed His mission here on earth. Jesus was totally connected to and dependent on His calling from God the Father.
We are now a little more than half way through the gospel of John, the Sunday morning journey we began back in January. One word that repeatedly shows up in the book of John that is connected to mission is the word “sent”. John uses sent or send 58 times in his gospel and 40 of those times are in reference to Jesus. There are two Greek words used: Pempo (sent) and apostello (sending). It is determined by biblical scholars that their use is synonymous. An example of this is seen in John 20:21: “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent (apostello) me, I am sending (pempo) you.“
Let’s look at some of the verses where this word is used in reference to Jesus in the book of John:
“My food, said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” John 5:30
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38
“Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own, it comes from him who sent me.” John 7:16
“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” John 12:49
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” John 17:3-4
You get a pretty good picture in just these few verses that Jesus is very connected with His purpose and who he is as one who has been sent by God, and that all He does and who He is comes from His dependence on and obedience to the Father.
Then Jesus uses this word to connect God’s mission to ours:
Speaking of His disciples he says, “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:18
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21.
(Those are just a few of the 40 verses. If you want to read them all there is a complete list at the end of this post.)
In their book, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, authors Andreas Kostenberger and Peter O’Brien have this to say,
“The Fourth Gospel’s primary focus is the mission of Jesus: he is the one who comes into the world, accomplishes his work and returns to the Father; he is the one who descended from heaven and ascends again; he is the Sent One, who, in complete dependence and perfect obedience to his sender, fulfills the purpose for which the Father sent him.”
As we see in John 17:18, Jesus’ mission was passed on to His disciples and in John 20:21, often called the great commission of John’s Gospel, that same mission is passed on to all who will become His followers. Jesus’ mission, His “sentness”, is our calling too. His mission, as seen in the Gospels, is both our foundation and our model for being God’s sent people. In these verses we also see that mission was not just something Jesus did, it was who He was – the Sent One. Mission is a part of our identity as God’s people, as Jesus’ followers. As Jesus served to bring the Father glory and to share His message of reconciliation with God, we too follow in His steps. As Jesus lived, not to please and exist for himself but for God, we too are called to live and exist for Him, not for ourselves. And just as Jesus did His mission in dependence on the Father, we too, do our mission in dependence on Him who was our model. We have God with us and in us, as He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us in God’s mission.
As I have studied the mission God calls us to over the years, and more recently in the book of John, it always stirs up questions to ponder:
- What does it look like for us to be God’s “sent” people in everyday life, both individually as Christ’s followers and corporately as the church?
- If our identity as Christ’s followers is as those who are sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world, how does that change our view of the word “mission”?
- What perspectives and mindsets do we need to change in the church and in ourselves to live and function as God’s sent people?
- Other words used for Christ-followers that have the same feeling of being sent are ambassadors, apostles, missionaries – Does our view of how we live in everyday life change if we think of ourselves in these terms?
- If Jesus, the Son of God, the One who was both man and God, was so dependent on the Father to do His mission, how much more must I/we be dependent on Him to do the mission He has called us to?
Join me in my pondering and leave a comment below.
“Sent” in John’s Gospel in reference to Jesus: 3:17, 3:34, 4:34, 5:23, 5:24, 5:30, 5:36, 5:37, 5:38, 6:29, 6:38, 6:39, 6:44, 6:57, 7:16, 7:18, 7:28, 7:29, 7:33, 8:16, 8:18, 8:26, 8:29, 8:42, 9:4, 10:36, 11:42, 12:44, 12:45, 12:49, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5, 17:3, 17:8, 17:18, 17:21, 17:23, 17:25, 20:21.
“On Mission” will be a regular topic on the Grace Church blog as we explore what the Bible says about our mission as God’s people. We will also periodically use this segment to share and give further definition to our missional values at Grace.