The Lord's Day Morning
February 27, 2011
“The Mission of God and the Mission of God's People”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to John chapter 17. As we prepare for the Missions Conference this week, I want to direct your attention to one sentence of a large prayer that Jesus prayed, not just for His disciples who were with Him in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal, but for all the disciples ever who would come to faith through their ministry. That means for you and me, He's praying this great prayer in John 17. And I want to direct your attention to just one verse, one sentence, verse 18. But this is a part of a larger message that we find in the gospels. We find, for instance, this prayer in John 17:18 turned into a word of comfort and exhortation towards the end of John's gospel. If you were to turn to John 20 verse 21, you would find Jesus first saying to His disciples, “Peace, I give to you,” and then He would say to them, “As the Father has sent Me, I am also sending you.” And so He gives an exhortation which reflects the prayer that we're going to study today.
The reason I want to look at this in the context of our approaching the Missions Conference is because it's important for us to understand what God is doing in this world and what He has put us in this world to be and do. In other words, it's important to understand what the mission of God is and what the mission of God's people is. And Jesus is praying about both of those things in this passage. And He's of course exhorting His disciples to those things in John 20 verse 21. So I want us to pause and give some attention to what God's mission is, what He has sent Jesus in the world to accomplish, and what Jesus has sent us into the world to declare because Jesus came into this world to accomplish God's mission and He sends His disciples, and that includes you and me, into the world to declare a message about the mission that He has accomplished. And I want us to understand that because it puts life in perspective. Every once in a while you have to come back and you have to ask yourself basic things: What is God doing? What am I here for? That's what we want to do as we look at this prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ today.
So let's pause and pray and ask Him to help us as we prepare to study this one sentence of His prayer. Let's pray.
Father, help us to understand this petition of Your Son's heart. We pray, Heavenly Father, that in understanding the blessing that You originally designed to give and which in grace You have determined still to bestow on those who have rebelled against You, and as we consider what Jesus did in order to bring about the accomplishment of this blessing and mission, and as we consider what He sent us to do in order to spread the message of His mission and its accomplishments, we pray that You would be glorified. We ask, O Lord, that we would understand this, that by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we would be moved to embrace with joy and energy the calling that You have given to us. We pray, Heavenly Father, that we would become more and more faithful missionaries and faithful senders of missionaries and those who live life not for ourselves but for a greater cause, the cause of Your work in this world. We ask all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
In this prayer Jesus is praying on the night of His betrayal (we call it the High Priestly Prayer), and He prayed for many things for His immediate disciples and for all those who would come to faith in Him through their ministry and message. In the passage that we're reading right now, He's especially praying for consecration and sanctification. He's praying that we would be utterly given over to the work of the Lord and that we would be made holy and grow in grace. This is the section of the prayer where He prays, “Lord, sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is truth.” But in this little petition He pauses in His prayer to His Heavenly Father and He reminds His Heavenly Father that it was the Father who sent Him into this world with a mission to accomplish. And with that thought on His heart, and that reminder just having been given to the Heavenly Father — by the way, if the Son can remind His Heavenly Father of things, you can remind your Heavenly Father of things in prayer. It's not that the Heavenly Father has forgotten you understand. The Son knows that the Heavenly Father has not forgotten and I think that the very act of His reminding the Heavenly Father that the Father had sent Him into the world to accomplish a mission is Jesus’ way of saying, “Father, I still remember too, and though I know what this is going to cost Me tomorrow, I'm still going to do it because I remember what You sent me here to do.” You know that happens in prayer. Maybe you’re discouraged and you want to remind God of the promises that He's made to you that you’re not feeling right now – what very often happens? Suddenly you start believing those promises that you weren't just a few seconds before. You’re reminding your Father of the promises that He's given to you, but the result is, you really start to believe those promises.
And then He says, after He's just reminded the Heavenly Father that the Father sent Him into the world to accomplish a mission, He says, “Father, I'm sending these, My disciples, the ones that You've given to Me, I'm sending them out into the world just like You sent Me into the world, not to be like the world, but to bear a message to the world about the mission that I came to accomplish and that I will accomplish — a message that will bring them back into the enjoyment of a blessing that this world has lost because of sin.”
And that's what I want to concentrate on with you today, because if we understand that, we’ll understand the mission of God and we’ll understand the mission of God's people. So if I could, I'd like to take you back to Genesis 1. And here's what we're going to do. We’re going to look at Genesis 1, Genesis 3, Genesis 12, and Galatians 3, and we're going to wind right back here in John 17. It's very basic, very simple, but I think it will help you make sense of the big picture we need to understand.
First turn to Genesis 1 and if I could direct your attention especially to verses 26, 27, and 28. There, as you look at God's Word, God creates man, male and female, in His own image. He creates man in the very image and likeness of Himself and the way that we see Him create man in the image and likeness of Himself is first of all He tells man to be fruitful and multiply. Now what has God been doing in creation? He has been being fruitful. You remember in Genesis 1 verse 2 we're told that the world was empty, chaotic, and dark. And what did God do in this world? He filled it up, He ordered it, and He brought life. And now He's saying to Adam and to Eve, “You’re going to be fruitful as well, just as I was fruitful and I made this empty, chaotic, dark place a full, ordered, place of life, you’re going to be fruitful in this world. And notice again, what else does He say in Genesis 1:26-28? You’re going to rule over this world just as I am in charge and I made it, I'm going to give you the authority to rule.
Now it's interesting. His words, “be fruitful and multiply and rule over the earth and every created thing in it,” are what? They are commands. Those are commands, but those commands are blessings. What a privilege it would have been to have been standing at attention and have God give you the command: “Eve, Adam, rule over everything.” That's a pretty nice command to have to fulfill. “You’re in charge of everything.” “I'm in charge of everything? That's great!” It's a command but it's a blessing. It's a mandate but it's a privilege. In the original relationship that Adam and Eve had to God, all the commands were blessings and the blessings came in the form of commands. The blessings were enjoyed in the sphere of fulfilling the commands that the Lord had given. It was all wrapped up together. It was not that God said, “If you do stuff then I will bless you.” It was that He blessed them in giving them these commands that entailed authority and responsibility. There was a great privilege in that. But what happened?
Well, turn to Genesis 3 and look especially at the first five verses. Genesis 3:1-5. When Satan, in the form of the serpent, came to Eve and to Adam — and Adam was there. Eve did not have to embark upon an expedition with Lewis and Clark to find Adam when she turned to give him the fruit. He was right there, saying nothing, like a bump on a pickle. And so this is both of them involved in this defection. The serpent says to Eve, you remember, “If you take of the fruit that God told you not to eat, you will not die, because in fact the reason that He does not want you to take that fruit is He knows that if you take that fruit you will become like Him, you’ll become like God.” And what should Eve and Adam have said to him? “No,” is a good start, but even better they should have said, “We already are like God! What do you mean if I disobey God I’ll be like God? We already are like Him! Have you not heard? He put us in charge here. He told us to fill this world up. He told us we're in charge of everything. What do you mean we’ll be like God if we disobey Him? We already are like God! Read Genesis 1, Satan! We’re created in the image of God, in the likeness of God. The stuff we do looks like what our God does. We’re already like Him!”
Do you see, the lie was this: You can't be like God, you can't have your greatest treasure, you can't have total satisfaction, you can't achieve maximal happiness until you disobey God. And working behind that lie, you see, is another lie. And that lie is that there is some satisfaction that is greater than God outside of God that He's withholding from you. He's keeping you from the joy that you could really have. Now what happens? They take the fruit, they eat it, and does blessing result? No. Look at verses 14 to 21 of Genesis 3. The result is not blessing but cursing. Now it could have ended there, but it didn't. And right smack dab in the middle of the curse to the serpent himself there is a word of Gospel and of promise in Genesis 3:15 that God is going to put enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman, between Satan and the woman, the enemy of her soul and the woman. And at that very mark, we see the beginning of the Gospel being spread upon the pages of the Bible.
But it gets really explicit when you get to Genesis 12. Will you turn with me now to Genesis 12 verses 1 to 3? God calls an idolater out of what is modern day Iraq, an idolatrous non-Semite to become the father of the Hebrews. The father of Israel was in Iraqi. Abram was his name. His father was an idolater, his family was idolatrous, and God calls him out. And if you look at Genesis 12, especially verse 2, notice what God says to Abram. “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great.” Blessing, blessing, blessing.
What does that remind you of? It reminds you of Genesis 1. Just as the very first words that any human being ever heard from God were words of blessing. Go back and check me on that. Go look at Genesis 1:26-28 again. The very first words that any human being ever heard from God was blessing. Now God says to this idolater that He's brought out of Ur of the Chaldees, “I will bless you.” It's like Genesis 1 happening all over again. But now in this context, some sort of reclamation has to be undertaken because all of the world of mankind is in opposition to God in sin. Surely that's one of the things that we learn, not only in Genesis 3, but in Genesis 4, Genesis 6, and Genesis 10. Over and over there are these rebellions against God that are recorded in those early chapters of Scripture.
Now suddenly again God is giving a blessing to Abraham. Now on what basis is that blessing given? It is given on the basis of the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now you say, “Where in the world does that come from?” It comes from the Bible. Turn with me in your Bibles to Galatians chapter 3. In Galatians chapter 3 we read verse 13 — “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,’ in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” In other words, Jesus had to die in order that we might receive – the Gentiles, the nations, the peoples – the blessing that God had propounded to Abram in Genesis 12:2.
But notice also — look at Genesis 12:2 and 3 — notice also that God blessed Abram in order that he might be a blessing. There's an imperative hidden in the midst of those promises and the imperative reads like this: “and you shall be a blessing.” In fact, look at the end of Genesis 12 verse 3 and it says that “in you Abram, all the families of the earth are going to be blessed.” So God is initiating a reclamation work to bring people back into the blessing which they lost by their sin and He is appointing Abram as a missionary to the world to spread the blessing that God is going to accomplish through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Now the Great Commission picks up on that. You've already heard Orrin read that passage today. So that when Jesus says, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you,” He's actually piggybacking on what has already been said to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. That is, God has, through His Son, redeemed a multitude of men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, who trust in His Son who was sent into this world to live the life that we have not lived and to die a death that we deserved to die in order that we could be welcomed back into the blessing that God originally created us in but which we lost in our rebellion and sin. And now He is sending His people into the world as the emissaries of that message. Our job is not to accomplish that redemption. Our job is to herald the redemption that's already been accomplished. Our job is not to do the work that reconciles man to God. That work has already been done in Jesus Christ. Our job is to declare that work is “yea and amen” in Christ and call all men and women everywhere to faith in Jesus Christ. And so Jesus prays, “Father as You have sent Me, so I am sending them.” Our job is to call men and women and boys and girls back into the blessing they have lost by sin. They can come back into that blessing only through faith in Jesus Christ because He alone has accomplished what is necessary that they might enjoy the blessing of God and fellowship with God forever.
And do you realize that when He says in John 17:18 and what He says in John 20:21, “As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you,” do you realize that He is defining for you what you are to be and do in this world? You are sent by Jesus. That's who you are. You are a missionary in this world. Your job is not only to pray for people who go to the foreign fields of missionaries and to give money so that they can go there and stay there and minister and to support them in various ways, every single one of us are given this charge, this challenge, this calling, this privilege of being God's emissaries in the world to bear the message about the mission that Jesus has accomplished. And do you not understand that that parallels the privilege that was given to Adam and Eve at the beginning?
How is this mission going to be accomplished? What is God's plan for the accomplishment or for the spread of the message about the accomplishment of this mission? The plan that God has appointed is you. The Church is God's plan to spread that message and He does not have a “Plan B.” The Church is the plan. You see that in the Great Commission. “Go, make disciples, baptizing them” — that lets you know that it's the Church that baptizes. It's the Church that's going to spread that message and there's no backup plan. There's that point in Lord of the Rings when Galadriel says to Frodo, “If you will not accomplish this task, it will not be accomplished.” God is saying to His Church, “You are My plan for spreading this message to the nations. Every single one of you are missionaries and there's no backup plan. You’re it.” Now we're Calvinists. We know that God's purposes cannot be thwarted, so what the means practically for us is if we do not participate in that work there will be someone who does and they’ll get the blessing. God's work will be accomplished; we just won't have the joy of joining in the privilege of doing that work.
Do you realize the privilege though that you’re given to be ambassadors, the emissaries of God's blessing to the nations? It's just like the privilege that was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden. “Be fruitful and multiply.” What do you get to do when you spread this message? You get to be fruitful and multiply so that many sons and daughters are brought to God. You get to rule over this earth because you’re working so that there is a day when “the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” It's an enormous privilege. Is that your attitude towards it or is it just another thing on the “to-do list”? I want you to see it as more than just something on the “to-do list,” that the practical steps that Orrin gave you today were hugely helpful, but if the fundamental thing isn't right, those things will feel just like another “to-do list” that you have to add. And I already know how much you have on your “to-do list.”
We want to know though what God is doing in this world and what He's put us in the world to be and to do and Jesus helps us know that in this prayer that He prays. “As I have been sent into the world” — and here's a challenge for you. You go look at the gospels, especially the gospel of John, and see how many times Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father with these words — “Him who sent Me.” In other words, Jesus’ own self identity and the way He viewed His Father was, “He's the One who sent Me to do this work.” And then He says to you and me, “So I also send you,” so that our very identity is to be derived from the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ and the calling that He has given to us. We are missionaries and the mission field starts the minute you walk out of the gathering of God's people.
And boy that's more apparent than it's ever been before, isn't it? If you had told me fifty years ago, fifty years ago that our executive and judicial branch wouldn't be able to define marriage I would have laughed in your face. This week I'd be begging somebody to put me in charge to let people know that marriage is between one man and one woman. Wouldn't you love to have that authority, to set that right in our culture? Well let me give you some news — you've been given more authority than that! You've been given the authority to go out and declare the good news of God to the ends of this earth that will bring people back into the blessing. It's only through Jesus Christ. That's what this Missions Conference is about. That's what we are. Jesus was sent to accomplish a mission. He did. We’re now sent to declare a message about His accomplishment of a mission. That's what we are. That's what we do. May the Lord grip our hearts with that.
Heavenly Father, we want to be and do what You've put us here to be and do and that will mean understanding what it meant when Your Son prayed that just as You sent Him He has also sent us. Help us understand that one thing this week better than we ever have. In Jesus' name, amen.
Now if you take your hymnals and turn with me to 437, you’ll notice if you look down in the left-hand corner of the page that this hymn is a psalm. It's a song based on Psalm 67, which is the Old Testament missionary song. Let's sing it to God's praise.
The Lord Jesus has sent you into the world so that men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will not hear Him say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you,” but rather, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God your Father and your Lord Jesus, the Messiah.”