Session 2: The Story of God’s Mission
From the beginning to the end the Bible is the story of God giving his people a mission to reflect his glory, bless his world and make him known. We have a missional identity. that doesn’t mean that all we do is preach the gospel, but it is built into the fabric of everything we do.
Because God is Trinity, he didn’t need to create the world. He doesn’t need anything. That means that fundamentally he’s not a ruler. . . . He’s a father. This idea of using the word “mission” to describe what the church does is fairly new; it only used to be used to describe what God does. But what that means is that God is missional.
In creation, what God is doing is he forms—he governs—and then he fills. When he forms humanity, he gives them a task—to govern and to fill the world. So our task comes out of God’s character. Something that’s interesting is that on days one, two, three God names, but on four, five, six, he doesn’t. He gives that task to humanity.
The mission of God did not start in Genesis 3, it started in Genesis 1. We are to fill the earth and we are to govern it, but these two adjectives don’t quite describe our calling. We were made in the image and likeness of God. Outside of this passage, this language is connected to idolatry—we are not to make images because God already has an image in the world, and it is us. God’s work was not finished until there was something to reflect his image in the world. We are not truly human unless we are reflecting the image of God into the world. We are made in God’s image to reflect God’s glory to the world. This mission is integral to who we are as humans.
In the fall, all of this is twisted, instead of going out into all the world, we come together. “Let us build a tower that’s top reaches into the heavens, lest we be dispersed.” Whenever Paul wants to justify his mission to the Gentiles—to the nations—he doesn’t go back to the Great Commission, he goes back to the promise to Abraham . In Genesis 18:17-19, we see God having this soliloquy,
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
Here we see that God’s people will bless the nation as they keep the way of the Lord—that is the way that blessing comes to the nations. We see this as we move to Exodus 19, “You will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation…” What is a priest? A priest is one who teaches the people, who makes God known… but God says that you as a nation are to live a distinctive life that makes God known among the nations. To live in such a way that the nations will see what God is like. We see this again in Deut. 4 and 5 when God gives a similar set-up, saying that as God’s people keep these laws, the people of the nations will be drawn to God. So the law is missional in intent. As Israel keeps the law, people will see what God is like.
And of course we see in the history of Israel, there were times when they were living as lights to the nations, particularly in Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 4). 1-2 Kings really shows this struggle against the temptations of idolatry, until we come to Manasseh, of whom it is said, “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 2:19). They failed in their mission.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The community of Jesus is to be the light of the world, to do what Israel failed to do. The Church is to be the city on a hill to which the nations would stream to learn about God. Peter picks up this language, telling the people that they are a kingdom of priests, a holy people, who are to live such good lives that people will see that it is good to live under the reign of Christ. And of course, we see in the end of the story that we will be this kingdom of priests.
We were created in God’s image for a mission; we are missionaries. It’s not something that’s compartmentalized, a part of our life, but our entire life. But here’s the key thing—Jesus begins his ministry by saying in Mark 1:14-15, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” In other words, “I’ve got good news for you, God’s kingdom is at hand!” In the UK, most people wouldn’t see that as good news. “Good news, you’re not in charge of our life—Jesus is” doesn’t sound good to us, because we’ve bought fully into the lie from the garden that God is a tyrannical tyrant. We’ve bought into the lie that self-rule is better than God’s rule. So if you want to be king, that’s fine until you meet someone else who wants to be king. We end up enslaved.
And what God is doing through his community is demonstrating that it is good to know God. “People will see that it is good to know God… you will be a light to the nations.” As we obey, we are showing that it is good to know God. So our life is inherently missional. Mission is not something we do, or an event. It is central to our identity as followers of Jesus.
Hannah is one of my wife’s colleagues; she was engaged to be married then her fiance broke it off rather suddenly. She was devastated. So my wife invited her around one Saturday evening… and later, she sent my wife a text saying that “your family was a refuge for me.” So she started getting involved in our community, started reading the Bible with our family which is kind of fun since she doesn’t have any Christian background. And what happened was that she was drawn to Christian community, to the idea of Christian marriage… and then there was one day that she was sitting in her front room and suddenly realized that it was all true. But what happened was that she was drawn to the community, and God worked through that. Please don’t underestimate how extraordinary ordinary Christian community is. That’s what happened to draw her to explore the truth of Christianity.