Jesus Model of Mission
Most of us who are Christians are aware that there are all kinds of theories and models about the best way to reach Aussies for Christ. There is the “seeker-sensitive church” model, there is the “lifestyle evangelism” model, there is the “missional church” model, there is the “social justice and felt needs” model, there is the “get them before they reach the age of 12” model, there is the “one day you can come and join the band on stage” model, there is the “Billy Graham/Franklin Graham/Bill Newman crusade” model, there is the “Alpha course/Christianity explored/Introducing God/ Lifeworks” model, there is the “build a Christian school” model, there is the “why aren’t you getting out there on the streets and preach it on the street corner” model, and on and on it goes.
Of course there is nothing wrong with models of ministry. They are inevitable. We need to be willing to learn from methods used by others, and critically evaluate our own traditions we’ve been following. However, in this article I would like to reflect on the model which Jesus gives us. To be a Christian is ultimately to be a follower of Jesus, so I want to focus on what we can learn from Jesus ministry- this may not be an exhaustive coverage of all the important principles of mission- but I believe there are many very important principles which is easy to overlook.
1. Jesus arrives, preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:14-15.
Jesus arrives preaching the gospel – and the key concept of Jesus’ preaching is concept of kingdom- it’s not having a personal relationship with God, it’s not asking Jesus into your heart, or going to Heaven when you die. “Kingdom” is the word which Jesus uses to summarise his teaching. What is the message of the kingdom?
Well, putting it simply, it is that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. In the first century, there already was a Roman emperor in place. People didn’t like having a Roman guy be in charge. They wanted freedom. The Jewish people were wanting a Jewish king to save them. And so, this is an attractive sounding slogan from Jesus. But the kingdom at hand which Jesus was talking about was one which was different from the one which people were expecting. Jesus was not bringing a kingdom which would bring deliverance from the Romans; Jesus is bringing deliverance from something far bigger; our sin, and the reign of Satan.
And of course, Jesus was not the king who had come on a war horse to fight the Romans. Jesus is the king who has come to lay down his life, as God’s perfect sacrifice for sin, and to rise again to open up God’s eternal kingdom. This is the kingdom of God according to Jesus.
The message of the kingdom which comes to us, is that there is a king who is able to save us from our slavery to our idols, to the sins which enslave us, to the god of this world Satan; Jesus is the Lord who can save us. And we can enter His kingdom, by following the same pathway of death and resurrection- where we take up the cross, and we say- my old life is over, its finished, its dead; and now, submitting myself to my new Lord in faith, I receive a new life to live in Him. This is the timeless message of the kingdom which we live and proclaim today. And we of course must be so sure we are preaching the right gospel- not a self-help gospel, or a self-focussed gospel.
2. Jesus invites individuals to follow Him. Mark 1:14-20.
As Jesus goes proclaiming the kingdom to the crowds, what does Jesus do? He stops and calls out to certain ones, to leave their old ways, to start a new life to follow Him. Here in Mark 1, Jesus calls out to Simon and Andrew, James and John- and gives this invitation to follow him. In John 1, we find they had already been following Him, and had stayed a day with Jesus, observing his daily life. In Mark 2, it’s Levi, the tax collector, who is sitting at his tax booth, and Jesus issues the invitation- come and follow! In Luke 19, it’s Zacchaeus, amongst all the crowds, that Jesus stops specifically for- and invites himself home for a meal. What do we observe from this?
Well, Jesus has an interesting relationship with the crowds. He loves the people, He has compassion upon them, He cares for them, He teaches them- but on the other hand, Jesus seems to have little optimism for the crowds. Later in this chapter, the crowds are flocking to Jesus, looking for Him, adoring him, fawning over him. The disciples say- “everyone is looking for you Jesus”. Jesus says- “let’s go on to the next towns”. In Mark 4, Jesus teaches the parable of the sower, to the huge crowds – to the great majority, the truth of the parable goes straight over their heads; and they are a classic example of the first soil- the truth goes in one ear and out the other. Then, after telling the parable, what happens- 4:10- “when Jesus was alone, those around him with the twelve, asked him about the parables, and he said to them- to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Jesus didn’t get really all that excited about the crowds- he only invested his time with the ones who followed him home for the explanation. When Jesus gives his disciples instructions about what to do when they go out on mission- what does he tell them- “don’t go from house to house”. (Wish someone would tell the JWs that!) He says, ‘find the man of peace, stay there, and preach the gospel in that household’.
After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples of Jesus are gathered before Pentecost- how many disciples does Jesus have? 120. (Now of course there probably was a lot more, but allow me to use this figure to make my point!) That’s hardly a megachurch. But of course, we know from earlier in Luke, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples on mission, and then 72 others. So what does that give us? Jesus maybe only had a church of 120, but at least 84 of them had become itinerant missionaries. That’s not a bad success rate, is it? We’d be thrilled if 5% of our churches became full time missionaries- Jesus’ rate was 70%.
What am I saying? It’s easy for us to get obsessed with the crowds. Of course, there is a place for ministering to the crowds. Jesus does it. But Jesus doesn’t get obsessed by the crowds, and think his job is done because he has thousands of people listening to him. Jesus invests most of his energy in a few, so that they will be enabled to reach the many.
We had at our church last summer our first outdoors Christmas carols night in the park. We were thrilled with the response. Hundreds of people came. A girl from church said to me, “now, if only we could herd them all into church there next Sunday morning.” If only. But that’s not enough. It’s the number of people that we have in discipling relationships that really counts, not the number of seats you have filled in Sunday church, not the number of teenagers filing through your youth group program, not the number of people queuing up for the church’s annual garage sale.
A second lesson we learn here is that Jesus invites people to follow Him. He invites them into his life. Don Carson tells the story of one of his mentors while he was at uni called Dave. Dave was witnessing to some bright non-Christians, and one of them said to him, “Dave, I’m a nice guy, always try to do the right thing- it’s just that I’m not religious. What difference does it really make?” And Dave said, “Watch me”. “Watch you?”. “Yeah, watch me. You can come and live in my apartment, see how I spend each day, have dinner at my table, watch my daily interactions, day in, day out, for 6 weeks, and you then you tell me if Jesus makes a difference.” As it happened, he turned down the invitation but nevertheless spent a fair bit of time becoming Dave’s friend over the next few months. He soon became a Christian and later a medical missionary. Are we able to invite people into our lives to watch us, and see Jesus in us?
Paul says numerous times: “imitate me, as I am imitating Jesus”. And so, it’s not just a quick 6 week Alpha course; it’s more than just a 1 night a week Bible study. Invite them into your life, invite them into your home, allow them to share meals with your family regularly, allow them to see how the gospel of Jesus shapes your parenting, how it shapes your marriage, how it shapes your finances. Remember 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6; “Brothers, loved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord. In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so, you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia; your faith in God has become known everywhere…. Look at how Paul describes it in 2:8- “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become dear to us.”
Thirdly, the words “follow me” were not just an invitation to make a decision, sign a card or say a prayer. They were invited to follow Jesus. Some people may be pagans who we invite to follow Jesus- like Matthew or Zacchaeus. Some will be sincere and interested, but not really willing to pay the cost- like the rich young ruler. Some will be people who are young in the faith and they will need to be brought to maturity. There’s a range of people we will be inviting to follow Jesus along with us- but for all of them, it is never just a quick decision we are aiming at- it is a change of life, which begins with saving faith, and continues until that person is a missionary calling others to follow Jesus alongside you.
We need to go to the crowds- but why do we go to the crowds- to beat out of the bushes the few who God is calling us to invest time in, to share the gospel and to share our lives with. So, who are the few in your life you are investing in, and inviting to follow Jesus along with you? Who are you asking to imitate your life, as you imitate Jesus’ life? This is Jesus’ model of mission.
See Part 2 here.