A New Testament Study of the Missio Dei

I wish I could say that my adoration for the mission of God was an organic result, which has continued to grow throughout my Christian existence. I wish I could say that the mission of God was explained clearly and accurately in order that the good news of God’s message could be regenerated through personal relationships I have encountered throughout my life. I wish I could say these statements truthfully without a burden on my conscience. I am unable to though because that is not how my desire to understand the mission of God came about. Until the fall of 2002, my understanding of God’s mission was bound to one statement: God sent Jesus to save sinners like me. Since the fall of 2002, I have wrestled with the existence and mission of God. I have been challenged to wrestle with profound and sometimes strange statements Jesus makes. My journey to grasp the mission of God has been thus far, one of the most exhilarating yet scary journeys I have ever experienced. Using examples in which we have studied in this class, along with my personal study and experience within a missional community, I hope to extrapolate the main implications of this divine missional story with respects to my own personal life as well as the universal church as we know it presently. I look forward to providing an accurate depiction of several themes of the mission of God through the New Testament, providing a natural timeline of events, important people, and the results of their efforts. With concluding thoughts regarding these events, I desire to bring this paper to a close with personal principles and thoughts regarding the mission of God and our responsibility as believers to be apart of what God is currently doing in our communities.

The Word becomes flesh:

With regards to the Missio Dei, we must first look at Jesus, the center of the Bible and the center of this grand story in which we actively are called to be apart of. Through the Gospels of Luke and John, we are given a unique picture into the sending of Emanuel, God with us. The Angel, Gabriel was sent from God to a girl named Mary who was yet to be married. The words of the Angel and his visitation must have been bewildering to her. She would conceive a son and call His name Jesus. Mary is now apart of something greater than herself and asks a very logical question: “How can this be since I am still a virgin” (Luke 1:34)? We are then told that the Holy Spirit will descend upon her and will indwell her womb. What will be conceived in her will be from God. “He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1: 32-33). The Holy Spirit reminded Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

The familiar verses of John give us a unique perspective of who Jesus was and why Jesus came. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:  1-5). John continues saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We learn that the Word, Jesus, was with God and was God. Moreover, the Word became flesh to dwell among the darkness to be the light of the world.

In the Gospels of Luke and John, we gain access into the mind of God. His mission for the world was to send the Word to us in the form of a baby through a young woman named Mary in order to set up His kingship and to be a source of light where darkness resides. As we will see though out the Gospel message, Jesus came for a lot of reasons, many of which we will see through out this paper. He came to set the captives free, He came to reconcile the people of God to the Father, and He came to die on the cross and resurrect from the dead in order that those who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Without the sending of Jesus, the mission of God would not exist. It was put in place from the beginning of the foundations of the universe and has been manifested through the Word. Let’s not get a head of ourselves though.

Come and follow me:

One of the most significant statements Jesus ever spoke was, “Come and follow me.” For most of us, we understand these words to be the calling of the disciples. The calling the disciples meant more than making a career change. The significance of being called by someone like Jesus means that Jesus believes that these men can be like Him. From this point on in the story, these fishermen, tax collectors and other blue-collar men, will become Jesus’ disciples. They will learn what it means to be a Rabbi and to lead others. Through following this Rabbi, these disciples of Jesus will gain wisdom and knowledge into the Kingdom of God and will eventually see that not only is this man Jesus a very gifted Rabbi but that He is the Son of God, the Messiah in which the people of Israel have been waiting for, for a long time. For now, they are called to follow and to learn. Jesus will provide for them all of the disciples’ needs and protect them. In a very real sense, Jesus will shepherd them as His own sheep.

John 3:16:

Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, it seems as though God hates mankind. In fact, in one verse, God states that He wondered why He had even created them in the first place.  He brought about a flood that destroyed every living creature in the sea and on the earth except eight people who were kept safe in the protection of the Lord Almighty in an ark that would float for forty days and nights.  He also stated that He loved Jacob and hated Esau.  God hates sin and He also hates Satan, who is determined to destroy what He had made “very good” and pervert it into evil.  John 3:16 provide us with a new perspective into the mind of God. We are told that God love the world. In fact, He loves the world so much that He sent His Son into the world that whoever believes in Him will not die but have every lasting life.

Here we see the heart of God in its truest sense. This is a profound statement, asserting that the world does not include every living person on the world. It also does not solely include those of Jewish heritage to be the only recipients of God to receive eternal life. For some, this verse has brought thoughts of worry and concern to those who are “saved.” There are many who wonder if they are apart of this election of God’s saving grace. Philippians 2:12 makes restitution to the worry that is set in. It is God who gives a Spirit of fear and trembling to those whom God has drawn into His presence. Salvation is made sure through the atoning work of Christ alone and therefore should be received and celebrated. This also adds a significant problem though to our individualistic equation of salvation: To say that God loves the “whole world” equally, would assume God loves all things (everything that exists in the world) as much as He loves those whom He has chosen to be His children and heirs of His eternal Kingdom.

For the same reason God, in His righteousness chose Israel over any other nation. It was because God loved them because He Himself is love. There is nothing about us, either fleshly or spiritually, God loves outside of his own Spirit that dwells in us. Rather it is because he loves us because He is love. It shoots down the pride and ego of the world and humbles humanity to realize God loves because He is love; that if He did not love, He would not be God because God is love. Love is the agent that He uses to draw those whom He has “elected” to Himself.

One holy prayer:

One of the most significant prayers in the Bible occurs between Jesus and the Father. Though we are not given the Father’s response in a vocal sense, we are given the words of Jesus that give us a glimpse into the heart of Christ regarding His disciples. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given Him” (John 17: 1-2). Jesus continues saying, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth; having accomplished the work that you have gave me to do” (John 17:3-4).  The prayer between Jesus and His Father is an incredible examination of the relationship Jesus has with the Father. The unity and oneness they share with one another is unsurpassable. Verse three tells us that Jesus has accomplished everything the Father has sent Him to do and now desires to be with the Father once again. Like a child away at boarding school, Jesus is done and is ready to return to His Father’s house. Before Jesus goes though, He must suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world and resurrect on the third day. All these events were to soon take place for Christ.

Jesus then prays something that is both thought provoking and grand: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17: 25). As the Father sent Jesus into the world, Jesus desires that those whom the Father has given Him will be united with Him for eternity. It is a beautiful prayer that gives us access into the heart of Christ. When we see Christ on the cross, we must come back to this prayer and realize that is why Christ died for us in the first place. The ultimate mission of God was to make a way for creation to be united with the Father again. There was a problem though. Sin had come into the world and darkness took up residence in the hearts of creation. From the beginning of the world, God’s plan was to fall into place, sending His Son into the world on our behalf. That is how much God loves us. It is a beautiful picture. It is this love that nailed His Son to the cross for us and the same love in which we are called to love one another and to make disciples of all nations.

Go make disciples:

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He gathered His disciples to Himself gave them a very important command. We find this all-important message in Matthew 28.  This part of Scripture is commonly noted as being “The Great Commandment” of Jesus.  Verse 19 and 20 state, “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.” It is wrong to emphasis “Go” as the main thrust of this passage because in fact “make disciples” is the main verb.  Another fallacy would be to translate the participle in this way: “as you are going…” In reality the main thing Jesus wants His disciples to do is to, “Go and make disciples.” This is an example of attendant circumstances, meaning that Jesus is commanding us not only to go but also to make disciples.  Both are parts of the command as they function as a unit. The Great Commission tells us how we are to “make disciples.”  We are to baptize them and teach them all that Christ has taught us.  Making a disciple does not just mean that they are converted, or that they have been baptized.  A disciple must also be taught what we have learned from Christ.  Perhaps as Christians, we have heavily ignored the teaching part of the process.  We are really good at converting people and we usually understand the importance of baptizing a new believer but that is usually where it ends.  The problem is that the work is not done after someone is baptized.  We must be willing to invest in an individual the Word of God and teach them what the Lord has taught us and commanded His people. This is what we learn from Jesus.

Just a little Greek:

I don’t want to dwell on this issue of making disciples but I find all to often pastors pressing the “go” part of the Great commission and not the “make disciples” part of the message. Therefore, to understand the importance of the disciples being sent by God, I felt it important to add some basic Greek regarding this passage, which will ultimately shape the responsibilities and the purposes of the disciples through the rest of the New Testament story. The aorist imperative is “maqhteusate” or makes disciples, making this our main verb of the passage.  This is also the reason why we do not place the emphasis on “go.”  The participle “poreuqentej” or go fits into the “attendant circumstance” category of participles, which we have discussed in the above paragraph.  Attendant circumstance participles normally are: aorist participles, which usually announce the main verb of a passage.  Since the other two participles do not precede the main verb, we can simply view them as participles of means.  In other words, the other two participles that precede the main verb answers the questions of how the main verb is to be accomplished.  This then gives us a very interesting perspective on how Jesus called us as His disciples to spread the good news of the Gospel. The disciples realized that they had a responsibility to announce the good news that Jesus is Lord and that He is the Messiah that they have been waiting for.

We also learn that Jesus “breathes” on the disciples during this conversation. The act of breathing on the disciples has some profound aspects to the ministry the disciples are about to embark on. First and foremost, the act of breathing on the disciples is a picture of God breathing on His creation, Adam, making him a living being that has the ability to do act and have life. It wasn’t until God breathed into the nostrils of Adam though. Before that moment, Adam was just a shell unable to move or talk or have a true being or action. In a very real sense, Jesus is giving the disciples the ability to live and act in a manner in which Jesus commands them. Having the breath of Jesus, the disciples now are commissioned as Rabbis with the authority of God. The second aspect of Jesus breathing on the disciples is the giving of the Holy Spirit. The word for Spirit in both the Greek and the Hebrew also carry the meaning of wind, breath, and breeze. Jesus breathes on the disciples as a symbolic act, as if to say that the Holy Spirit would be with them as they went out. Though the Holy Spirit does not fall upon the disciples until later, it is the symbolic act of Jesus to His disciples that carries an important facet of their ministry and authority.

At this point, we have seen God the Father send the Word to a woman named Mary. The Word that was with God and is God became flesh in order to be the light of the world. The Word as we know it is Jesus who called twelve men who carried blue-collar occupations, to follow Him and learn from Him the ways of the Kingdom of God. After Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, we see Jesus telling His disciples to regenerate their discipleship with others. They are to go and make more disciples who will follow the ways of Christ and announce that Jesus is Lord to the people of “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the whole world” (Acts 1:8). We have also seen a new picture of Jesus and the Father. We have seen the Father’s love displayed through the Son. This love is not solely for humanity’s sake but is also for the world. It is with this love that the Father sends the Son. At this point, we are now confronted with the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Acts church. We will see the disciples in action as they continue the regeneration of discipleship as they are sent out into the world to be the light of Christ. From this point, we will see the work of the Holy Spirit, who was given by Christ. We will see this thing we call the church grow through some of the most unlikely people. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives though, God will take people who were less then prepared to do some amazing things for the Kingdom of God. God seems to work in the same way, using people who you and I probably would not have picked for this important job. Then again, I guess the reason is to make sure that we do not take any of God’s glory for ourselves. We now enter the book of Acts and the start of the Church.

The Holy Spirit is sent:

After Jesus leaves and returns to the Father, not many days later, the Holy Spirit comes and rests among the disciples. To the rest of the people who observe this, some are in awe while others think they are drunk. It is in this passage of events that Peter stands up with the eleven and tells the men, “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day… “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see vision, and your old men shall dream dreams;”” (Acts 2: 15, 17). In the form of tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit is given. After Peter’s speech, about 3,000 get saved and are baptized. I have no doubt that Peter and the eleven were prepared for this. But, as Jesus called them to do, they followed through with the great commandment and began to disciple these new believers. The task must have been overwhelming at first. But we learn a lot of great things that occurred through their efforts: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Act 2:42-44). In today’s culture, something like this could not possibly be foreseen. Here are 3,000 plus people, living together, learning together, and being disciples together in one another’s houses while sharing everything in common and having a profound impact on their neighbors. Here we see the disciples regenerating new believers, making disciples and training them to be leaders themselves. This is exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Stephen, The first martyr:

I am sure Stephen never thought he would be in a position where he would lose his life. I did happen though. God prepared Stephen to be the first martyr of the New Testament. He was called upon by the Apostles to look after the women who had lost their husbands. They were basically servants to these women who needed assistance. In some respects, we would call them deacons. Those in power did not like the fact that people were looking to these deacons for their needs rather than their leadership. The seized Stephen and threatened to stone him. What makes the story as interesting is that Saul, who would later have an encounter with God and receive a new name, officiated over the stoning of Stephen. It was at this point Stephen began to speak some harsh words over those who wanted to kill him. He said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). As they were about the stone Stephen, he saw Jesus stand up in heaven. This is the first and only time we read about Jesus standing up from His throne in heaven. Any other time, Jesus is seated next to His Father. Stephen might not have understood the significance of his stoning but Jesus did. Jesus sent Stephen as an instrument of His voice in order to present to the religious leaders of that time, a history lesson and a rebuke. The result was a man of God martyred for his faith and his servant-like actions. From this event, the people of God spread out from Jerusalem because they feared for their lives. Though this one act, Acts 1:8 would be fulfilled as we read Acts 8:1. It says, “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  The saddest part of this whole story is that it took persecution for the people of God to scatter in order that those who lived in Judea and Samaria could hear the announcement that Jesus is Lord. It just goes to show that God’s ways are not always are ways but He is always glorified through everything.

Saul is now Paul:

In chapter 9 of Acts, we read about this man Saul who officiated over the stoning of Stephen. While he is riding a horse, he is confronted with a great light that throws him off his horse. As he gathers himself, he hears a voice that says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? Saul realizes at that moment that he was persecuting God through the killings of the Church. Blind and unable to eat, Saul is led to a man named Ananias. Ananias is given a message from God, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in an lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:11-12). Jesus then says to Ananias to, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles an kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name’ (Acts 9:15-16). So we see Saul, now given a new name of Paul, called upon by God to take the message that Jesus is Lord to the Gentiles, who were considered the scum of the earth to the Jewish people. Paul would also suffer for the sake of the Gospel message as well. In fact, we read throughout the New Testament how Paul was whipped, beaten, and left for dead. Still, throughout the ministry of Paul, the Gospel message was announced to the Gentile people and many believed through his efforts. With respects to Paul’s ministry, the rest of the book of Acts charters his journeys to disciple and begin churches. With each church, he enlisted several men to come along with him and train new leaders to govern over the church and encourage the believers in those cities.

Paul calls Timothy:

One of the guys Paul takes with him is a man named Timothy who is young and eager to learn from Paul. Timothy’s Mother is a Jew but his father is a Greek and so Paul circumcises Timothy in order that the Jewish people see him as one who has authority as a Jewish man. Throughout Paul’s journeys, Timothy learns how to be a leader and how to disciple others. It is not very long until we see Timothy taking a significant leadership role in the ministry. As the church continues to grow, Timothy begins to lead boldly and encourage the churches, as there is need. It is a beautiful picture of regeneration.

Peter is sent:

We find Peter in Acts 10 having a vision of unclean animals. The voice of God says, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Peter, being a good Jew, tells God that he has never touched anything or has eaten anything that is unclean. God responds saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). It isn’t until Peter gets a knock at his door that he understands the vision God had given him. This vision was sent by God to show Peter that the message of God needed to go to the Gentile people. Peter ends up going to a man named Cornelius, to share with them the good news and announce to them that Jesus was Lord. Before Peter could even finish his speech, the Holy Spirit fell upon those in Cornelius’ house and they began to speak in tongues. Seeing that Peter could not withhold baptizing these new believers in Christ, he did so. Afterwards, Peter went to the council and told the Jewish leaders all that had taken place in Cornelius’ house. The Jewish leaders agreed that the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentile people and that the message of the Gospel was also for them. If we were to ask a Jewish person while Jesus was still alive if they had any chance of receiving the message of God, most of them probably would have laughed at you and I. Until this point, the message was exclusively for the Jewish people only. Things were changing though in a variety of ways. Nobody was prepared to see how far the message of God would really go. If the Gentiles receiving the good news were not enough, God had another part to His mission in store: The Samaritans would receive the message as well. This was simply not heard of or considered.

Don’t forget the Samaritans:

For the first time ever, the Gentile people were seen as equals to the Jewish people with respects to the Gospel. The message of God did not stop here though. Acts 1:8 said that it would spread even to the Samaritans. The Jewish people knew the Samaritans as “half breeds”. They were actually considered lower on the status poll than Gentiles. To even have a conversation with a Samaritan was taboo (Jesus talking to the woman at the well would be a good example of this issue). We read in Acts 8:5 that, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.” By Acts 8:14, we learn that, “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.” When Peter and John arrived, they laid hands on the Samaritans and they received the Holy Spirit. This act broke down the walls of division and opened up a relationship between the Samaritans and the Jewish people. By Acts 15:3, we are told that, “the church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad.” And so, the Gospel had reached every type of person and had broken down every wall that had been put up throughout the generations. I am sure the disciples never thought they would have considered the Samaritans as ones who would enjoy the message of God as they have. This was something new and exciting for them to experience.

Catching our breath for a moment, we have come full circle. God the Father sends His Son into the World. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among humanity. The love of the Father is so great that He gives His Son in order to die for the sin that exists in nature. During Jesus’ life, Jesus calls twelve men to follow Him and learn from Him the way, the truth, and the life of the Father. They are then sent to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. The Son returns to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus had taught them. When the Holy Spirit comes, about 3,000 people are saved and communities of discipleship and training are formed in community. From this community, leaders rise up and are called to some extraordinary tasks. Stephen is called to preach the good news and becomes the first martyr for his faith in the New Testament, Saul is called to share the good news to the Gentile people, Peter is called to share the good news with a group of Gentile people who begin to speak in tongues and are baptized, and Philip and John are sent to investigate the workings of the Holy Spirit among the Samaritan people. In a span of several years, the people of God grow into a great multitude of people. Churches are built and established. Paul calls leaders like Timothy to help in the efforts of training and Discipling leaders around the world with the help of Paul. The result of all of this is a growing and faithful church that continues even until today. Without these men, the message of Jesus would not have extended as far and as wide as it has today. We should be grateful for their efforts and obedience to take the message of God to the world.

My reflections and conclusion:

After spending several hours rereading these stories and seeing how God orchestrated the lives of these people to send the message of Jesus to the world, I have take a moment and consider what that means to me as a believer in Christ who has been called to do the same. I will take a lot away from these stories. The first thing that comes to mind is how much the Father loves us. I know we say it a lot in our churches and in our prayers, but the mission of God to send His Son for us because He loves us is something that no matter how close we get to God will never really understand. Secondly, without the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no good news. Once again, this is something that I am sure we know in our minds but most likely do not process in our minds as much as we should. Thirdly, God chooses some of the most unique and unqualified people to take His message to the world. That is good for me because I know where my limitations lie and where I fall short. I am glad that God picks people I would not pick. That truly gives me hope that I can do great things through Christ who strengthens me and supplies my every need. Fourthly, the Holy Spirit is extremely important to the mission of God. He allows us to remember the things Jesus teaches us and works within the lives of those we know and those we will meet. It is important then to pray for each encounter we might have with another person. We should be willing to pray that God’s will be done in one’s life. We should also then pray for opportunities to be the light in someone’s life, ready to share the good news with them. Fifthly, we must come together as a body of believers and encourage one another. There mustn’t be any division among us. We are all seen through the eyes of God as important and significant. No one person or people group are more important to Jesus. He desires that all people be saved. We should as well. We must not call what God has called clean unclean or common. Each person has an important role to play in the body of Christ. Finally, we must embrace the mission of God and take ownership of it. For the sake of the Gospel, we must take it with us and allow it to transform us into the people God calls. It is our responsibility and should be a joyful response to our risen Lord.

In conclusion, I have taken some time to consider what it will be like when the mission of God is fulfilled fully and we are united with the Father forever. I can’t say that I can comprehend it at all but it seems amazing to me when I read of what this union will look like through the eyes of John in his writing of Revelation. He writes,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the see was no more… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 1, 3-4).

We are left at the end of Revelation with the promised hope of Christ coming back and fulfilling these things. The mission of God will soon be completed and we will dwell with God forever. Since we only have a short time in which we are called to take the mission of God to the world, we must do it. Until all is fulfilled, the mission of God must go forth throughout our families, our communities and the world. As believers in Christ, this must be our aim. Let us not grow weak in our message but fight well for His sake and the sake of His calling. Amen.

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