Some activities in life require no explanation as to why we would want to do them. It’s obvious why someone would want to scarf down a strawberry milkshake from Chick-fil-A®. It’s obvious why someone would buy flowers for their wife after an argument, or preemptively “just because it’s Tuesday!” And it’s obvious why someone would roll down the windows in their car and sing at the top of their lungs when “Free Bird” comes on the radio (though playing vigorous “air guitar” is not recommended while driving).
For many of us, however, it is not nearly as obvious why we as a church or as individuals would be involved in cross-cultural missions. Missions (and sometimes missionaries themselves) run so strongly against the grain of American culture and even of many Christians’ lives that the sheer novelty of cross-cultural ministry can render us bewildered. Why would anyone give up everything familiar and comfortable and (supposedly) meaningful in life to call people in another culture to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins and a living faith in a crucified God? And why would we actively send and support the people who head out on these crazy shenanigans?
Perhaps surprisingly to us, it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who not only outlines what missions is (what we checked out in last month’s edition of the Resurrection Times), but why we are to be involved in missions. And far from being one of the fringe activities buried in our church budget, the “why” for missions that Jesus gives puts it squarely at the center of who we are as the Church and as Christians.
Because the Father has commissioned us. Jesus roots his command for his disciples to be missionaries in God’s will to save the nations as prophesied in the Old Testament: “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day, and that in his name a repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations. Beginning in Jerusalem, you are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-47). Jesus came into this world to accomplish his Father’s will (known to us in the Old Testament prophecies) through his suffering, death, and resurrection. But Jesus goes and throws missions into the mix! Apparently, preaching the Gospel, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins to all the nations is just as much a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and the Father’s will to save sinners as Christ’s death and resurrection! If we have a passion for God’s glory, for his Gospel, and for his purposes in the world, we will have a passion for cross-cultural missions and we will find a way to become involved in them as well.
Because the Son has sent us out in his authority. Jesus also sends his disciples out to be missionaries on the basis of the ultimate authority that has been given to him. “All authority in heaven and upon earth has been give to me. Therefore go …” (Matthew 28:18-19). Missionaries go in the Name and with the authority of Jesus, who has taken his authority over all of creation at the right hand of his Father, and to whom every knee shall bow and whom every tongue will confess to be Lord of all creation. When Jesus sends out missionaries to proclaim the Gospel, nothing can stand in their way, since nothing can stand in his way; in fact, the principal way in which Jesus exercises his authority today is through these missionaries who proclaim his Gospel to sinners! As God sends missionaries and spreads his Gospel through them, Christ “bares his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10). If Jesus is indeed not only Lord of all creation but Lord of our hearts as well, we will have a deep and corresponding passion for cross-cultural missions.
Because the Spirit has been poured out upon us. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on a small group of disciples, it was ultimately to bring all the nations of the world to salvation. The Apostle Peter quotes the Prophet Joel in his Pentecost sermon, that when “I pour out my Spirit on all flesh … it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17, 21). Jesus himself promises his disciples that “you are witnesses of these things, and behold, I am sending you the promise of my Father upon you. But wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” (Luke 24:48), in other words, that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). God not only backed up the missionary witness of his Apostles with “signs and wonders and various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:4), but he empowered and continues to empower his Church with the Holy Spirit to bring the light of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. If we are truly filled with the Spirit of Christ who leads us into the truth, we will have a lasting passion to bring the Gospel to all peoples through cross-cultural missions.
Because Christ will return to us soon. Jesus has promised that the time for sinners to be saved will come to an end when he returns at the end of the age, and that he is coming quickly (Revelation 22:20). While Jesus reminds his disciples that “it is not for you to know the times and periods which my Father has established by his own authority” (Acts 1:7), he also predicts that “this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole universe as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come,” (Matthew 24:14). Until that happens, Christ promises that, “I am with you all the days until the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20), a foretaste of his full presence with us forever. If we, together with the Spirit and the Bride, cry out with longing, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) then the passion of our hearts until then will be to demonstrate his presence with us by making sure that the Gospel is going out to all the nations through cross-cultural missions.
So why get involved with missions, when it seems so radical and even crazy? Why give up so much, maybe even everything, simply to bring a message to people very different from us? Why learn new languages, why be separated from family and friends, why live in poverty and discomfort, why become exposed to disease, persecution, and often even death? The reason is because the God who has so passionately and ferociously loved wretched sinners like you and me, who gave everything to save us by giving up his only Son as the great missionary to our bizarre world of rebels, this Triune God has passionately made every single Christian a partner in this mission. His passion for his glory becomes our passion for his glory, his love for sinners become our love for sinners, and his boldness in going becomes our boldness in going. There is no greater mission, no greater vocation, no greater occupation, than to be a part of God’s mission to bring the nations of the world to salvation in the name of Jesus.
Maybe the question is, if all of this is true, why wouldn’t we want to be involved in missions? As Jim Elliot, a missionary to Ecuador and martyr for the faith, once wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” When we devote our time, possessions, or abilities to the work of missions, either as someone who sends and supports missionaries or as someone who goes as a missionary, we become a part of God’s great mission to a world which needs to hear anew or for the first time of his great love for us in Jesus Christ.
This is why we at Resurrection are so committed about cross-cultural missions: because it not so much our mission for God, but God’s mission into which he has enthusiastically drawn us. And this brings us in the end to that most personal question: are you willing to respond to God’s call to be drawn into his mission, either by sending a missionary or by going as one?
This is the second in a series of six articles by Fr. David on cross-cultural missions and the Christian life, initially published in the June 2010 edition of The Resurrection Times.