On any given Sunday, my church has four non-English services. Furthermore, 54% of people from one of our English services are not from Anglo-Saxon or Celtic backgrounds. So while the Sunday school I attended was 100% Anglo, my daughter will most likely go to Sunday school with children from just about every continent of the world. And this trend is not restricted to our churches; it reflects our wider society. In fact, it seems to me that while in the past we had to get on a plane, the ends of the earth have now arrived in Sydney!
So the question is this: what are we doing about cross-cultural mission? It’s something that we can no longer ignore. It’s beneficial to be reminded of God’s program for mission and consider if we are on board with it.
A good place to start is Acts 1:1-8. Here Luke refers to his first narrative, the Gospel of Luke, saying it was all about what Jesus began to do and teach. The Gospels don’t mark the end of Jesus’ ministry but the beginning. His apostles are to take over, witnessing to the work he began (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8).
And they have been well equipped for such a task. As Acts 1:3 tells us, they have seen many convincing proofs. In fact at the end of Luke we see they have touched, walked with, eaten with and seen with their own eyes the risen Jesus. Furthermore, they have been taught by Jesus himself about the kingdom of God and had their minds opened to the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).
So what exactly is this ministry that Jesus began that they are so well equipped to witness to? When Jesus first commissions them to be his witnesses he says,
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
Then Acts 1:8 tells us they are to be witnesses of this from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. Jesus has thus set a kind of agenda for their witnessing: It is to go to the nations, to the ends of the earth.
Jesus has commissioned his disciples for a huge task. But how could the apostles even contemplate such an enormous undertaking? Jesus reminds the disciples that the Holy Spirit is coming very soon (Acts 1:5). This looks backwards and picks up on Jesus’ command to stay put in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes (Luke 24:49), and points forward to Pentecost where the Spirit is poured out on all believers (Acts 2). It is God’s Spirit who will enable people to proclaim Christ and also to respond by calling upon him as Lord. It is always important to see that mission is God’s work: he sets the agenda and brings it to completion.
While there is something unique about the apostles and their witnessing, they were part of a mission that still marks the age that we live in. And although we did not personally walk and talk with Jesus, we do have their testimony. We have their words about Christ to proclaim. And since not all people groups have come to know Christ we are drawn into their witnessing to carry on this program today.
So what does all this mean? I guess if asked to define mission, at its core it is simply witnessing to this: the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ for repentance and forgiveness of sins as foretold by the Scriptures. It is not a new message. It is a message focused not on subjective truths but real, true events that were recorded for us in God’s word.
So that is the core of mission. But to further get a grasp on mission, we need to ask what is the goal of it all? What’s the point? Mission has an end; it is not forever. It actually has a purpose: an objective; a final destination.
Revelation speaks of a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language (7:9-17). It is so vast that it cannot even be counted. In verse 9 we see this multitude worshiping before the throne (God) and the Lamb (Christ). The end result of mission is ‘a total focus on the worship and the glory of God in our Lord Jesus Christ’.1 All nations confessing Jesus as Lord brings great glory to God’s name.
My aim here is to see the enormous sweeping panorama of mission. It’s like being at a lookout during a bushwalk. To see where we are going is a very helpful thing because our goal shapes the present. For example, if your end goal in life was to be a doctor, you would not go to university to study literature. This pursuit would not serve the end you had in mind! You’d study medicine.
In the same way, we must remember that the end goal of mission has been set—all people groups gathering to worship Christ. This end is achieved as Christ is proclaimed. This is the end we are to work towards, not something different.
God has set the agenda, the message to preach, and the goal to work towards. Furthermore, through his Spirit, he will make it happen! All we are to do is get on board—to catch the vision! These are exciting times to be proclaiming Christ because we know where it will all end.
And what does it look like to be on board with God’s program? I can certainly say that I see God’s program playing out at church. As I meet with people who grew up in Iran, or eat kushari, or whose mother tongue is Tamil, it has to be a little glimpse of heaven—a gathering from all nations around the Lamb. And I would love us as a church to keep thinking about how we together proclaim Christ to people who are from different backgrounds. It’s pretty stretching to try and get our heads around different world views, but it’s a very loving thing to do. In fact it’s often good for us, as some assumptions of our world views can be challenged!
There are mountains of work to be done here in Sydney, let alone elsewhere in the world, but if God’s agenda is for all people groups then there are many beyond the reach of our home. People that lie beyond our grasp. I know the vision is vast and a bit overwhelming. To be honest, I often have trouble keeping up to date with the missionaries our church supports and what they are doing to proclaim Christ. But I am convinced it is time we started being more thoughtful in partnering with people who work cross culturally. It might seem mundane, but I reckon if I could pick just one of all the newsletters I get sent and actually regularly and faithfully read it and pray, it would be a good start! It should be a privilege to be involved in God’s work in the world and to see what He is doing.
Although I think I’ve heard it so many times it seems cliché, being on board with God’s mission is not limited to supporting those who go elsewhere. Many of us are thoroughly equipped to proclaim Christ—are we generous with such a precious gift? My husband grew up in Papua New Guinea where his parents were Bible translators. This is a country with many remote people groups: real people who are trapped in the darkness of animism and deep fear of the spiritual world. The needs for training pastors, student work, bible translation and more are overwhelming, and this is but one example! I know it’s scary to think about the implications of this (trust me I do!), but I will be praying that we can raise our vision to God’s agenda, and develop generous hearts that want to share in proclaiming Jesus, for the glory of God through Christ alone.
- Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, New Studies in Biblical Theology, Apollos, Nottingham, 2001, p. 262. ↩