Musing about Mission – John 20 and Missio Dei

These are notes from one of our staff meetings, but like the ones on 2 Corinthians, these capture another of those passages that is central to my own thinking.

John 20: 19-23 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Verse 21 is one of the most critical for thinking about world mission because in many ways it summarises how mission might be understood when looked at from the perspectives in John’s gospel. (Remembering how the gospel repeatedly uses a number of key words like light, life, truth). These verses are key to thinking about lots of ways that mission is understood today.

The idea of the disciples being sent is central to this passage; but the same idea has occurred earlier in gospel.

For example, in chapter 17:18, when Jesus prays “as you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world”. The implication being that this sending is a continuation of the sending of Jesus. (Chapter 17 would also draw our attention to the link between being sent my Jesus and being one; stressing our unity and togetherness).

It’s probably related to the idea that they (the disciples) are to go and bear fruit which was explained in 15:16; here the fruit being the result of relationship and obedience.

But in order to be sent and to do what’s implied they need to receive the Holy Spirit. That other counsellor, the one who leads into all truth, the one who will be in them. But it’s also worth noting how chapter 14 carries the sense of the Spirit being with them as they live in obedience to the Lord; especially verses 12-14 where the disciples go to do the work left for them, seeking God’s help.

The sending of the Son by the Father has been a constant theme of this gospel (which has lots of repeating themes and words such as light, life, truth etc). In the person of Jesus the Father himself has been present, his words declared and actions performed….. “the one who is sent is as he who sends him”. The Father had sent Jesus, to do his will, to point people to forgiveness and abundant life.

Jesus now commissions the apostles to carry on this work. They aren’t starting a new one!

Now, as Jesus leaves, his work as the sent one continues, and he gives his disciples a share in it by commissioning them to represent him in the world.

The disciples’ commission isn’t about doing particular things, going, teaching etc. It is about their relationship with Jesus that enables them to be part of this mission, of this sent-ness

Nature of God

These verses show us something important about God here:

It was the Father who was doing the sending of the Son.

It is the Spirit who is now enabling the disciples

  • This is God as Father, Son and Spirit in action.
    • This mission, of sending the Son, is an outworking of God’s mission.
    • We are allowed to get caught up in this.

Missio dei

The phrase – mission of God – Missio Dei is often based on these verses. The idea that mission isn’t something that we dream up or that we do, because it is firstly God’s mission and flows from God’s love for the world, God’s desire to restore creation and to heal the relationship with humanity. Our place in this is sharing in this mission as sent ones.

This mission is the main activity of God acting in human history. The mission of God to the world – It is God’s mission not ours. And now we are called to be missional, orientating everything we do so that we can be agents of God’s mission to the world.

This point about joining in with God is liberating and important. Mission isn’t about us, about what we can do, whether we bring salvation, share the gospel or whatever… it is us co-operating with what God is doing, knowing that the Holy Spirit is in us enabling us to do what God wants.

It is this work of the Spirit that connects worship and mission:

  • The Holy Spirit enables you to cry out ‘Abba Father’
  • The Holy Spirit enables us to say that ‘Jesus is Lord’
  • The Holy Spirit enables us to be his witnesses and to work for his kingdom
  • The Holy Spirit enables us to develop the fruit and character of Jesus so we can witness to him.

We live this out as part of our being members of the community of Jesus’ followers / the church – because witness, fellowship and joy are related (1 John 1:1-5)

God’s vision, Christ’s mission – the word become flesh

What do we learn from this?

  • Mission flows from our relationship with God not what we do for God.
  • Mission flows from God’s love for the world, healing, restoring the whole cosmos.
  • Mission flows from us sensing what God is up to and joining in.

To ponder:

  • What does the word “mission” mean to you? How would you explain it, and what passages of the Bible would you use?
  • What does it mean to you to be sent by Jesus?

PS: if I were preaching I’d tackle the bit about the keys of the kingdom as well, but a staff meeting doesn’t give long enough so that’s a blog for another day.

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