Messianic Marching Orders: Part I
The first three parts of this five part series on the Great Commission statements have been published in our March, April and May 2007 Jews for Jesus Newsletters. The final two parts, while not appearing in our Newsletter, are also copyrighted material.
I frequently tell people that Jews for Jesus is a one-issue organization, and that issue is evangelism. That is what I like to say, but it isn’t what some people like to hear. Missions and direct evangelism are often seen as antiquated and out of step with current trends. Mission organizations and churches are tempted to compromise, to appear more relevant to today’s culture. But the best way to be relevant is to be faithful to God’s revealed Word. I doubt that He forgot to take anything into consideration—including today’s trends—when He passed on His instructions for interacting with the lost.
Recently I gave a teaching to our Jews for Jesus staff that was titled, “Messianic Marching Orders.” I wanted to include you in on some of what I told them. I hope it will encourage you (or someone you might pass this on to) to strengthen your commitment to the church’s most urgent task today.
During the forty days between His resurrection and ascension, Yeshua (Jesus) made five “Great Commission” statements (“Messianic Marching Orders”) to His followers. These were His final instructions before leaving the planet. People often memorialize a loved one by recalling, “the last words he/she said to me. . . .” Jesus’ parting words before He ascended to heaven carry the same weight for the disciples and for us.
The first Great Commission statement, chronologically speaking, is found in Luke 24:44-48:
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.”
I believe the key concept that makes this statement unique among the other Great Commission statements is “context.” The disciples needed to understand what they had witnessed and the task Jesus was assigning them within the larger context of God’s purposes in history. Jesus provided that context through the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
In so doing, Jesus showed His disciples then and now the broad foundation and context upon which the Great Commission is built. The missionary enterprise of the church is not some isolated idea tenuously balanced on a few texts in the New Testament, upon which we have built this huge structure known as missions. No, the missionary enterprise of God’s people is at the very foundation of what God cares most about and has revealed from Genesis to Revelation.
We don’t know all the passages Jesus pointed to in this private Bible study. We do know that God has revealed His heart for the nations over and over throughout the Scriptures. Jesus may well have taken the disciples to Genesis 12 to show how God intended for all the families of the earth to be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. He might have pointed out that God has purpose in giving the Torah, according to Deuteronomy 4, was so that all the nations might see and say, “What a great God is this, that has given this nation such statutes and righteous judgments.” Perhaps He took them to Psalm 96, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” Maybe He pointed out that when Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, the focal point of his great prophetic prayer for God’s blessing on the nation of Israel was, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God” (1 Kings 8:60).
But if Jesus pointed out the theological and missiological texts to provide the context for His Commission, He surely must have pointed out prophetic texts that were literally fulfilled in Him. How else can we understand verse 46, “Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day”?
Many Christians today lack the confidence to demonstrate how the New Testament Scriptures show that Jesus literally fulfilled specific Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Not long ago an Old Testament professor at a wellknown evangelical Bible institute taught students that Isaiah 53 pointed to Jesus only in terms of its application, and should not be considered direct prophecy and fulfillment. This is a dangerous trend among evangelicals.
We must never be ashamed to point to Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in Jesus, especially when it is so identified in the New Testament. Jesus declared that the Scriptures say it was necessary for Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day. That is the historical reality that undergirds the Great Commission.
Likewise we should not be ashamed to speak of issues that many wish to avoid when it comes to witnessing. Verse 47 says, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
As we proclaim the gospel, do we talk about sin and the need for people to repent? We cannot be His witnesses if we don’t report faithfully the least popular part of the message, namely the need for repentance and forgiveness of sin.
John Stott recalled a conversation with a psychiatrist at a mental institution who said that half the people in his charge could be released if only they could be assured of forgiveness. People need to know God’s forgiveness and they can’t know it if we don’t preach about sin and repentance. It is sad but true that many avoid preaching the gospel because they are afraid people will respond with anger when we say they face God’s judgment if they do not receive His forgiveness for sin. But judgment is a reality and God calls us to risk people’s anger so that some may be saved.
Some may see missions as irrelevant to the era in which we find ourselves or embarrassing because it brings up the problem of sin. Others may lose sight of the significance of missions and evangelism because it seems out of date, and yet others because the task is just another obligation, one that becomes mundane and commonplace. We begin to lose heart or maybe even lose interest. But if we can catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, if we can only see how what we do and how we labor fits in to the great sweep of sacred history, it will give us encouragement, hope and faith and the confidence we need to press on despite discouragements and difficulties.
The Great Commission was not an isolated project or secondary aspect of God’s purposes for the world. It was the very heartbeat of His intention from the beginning of time, the foundation of His purpose in the redemption of His fallen creation. Yeshua wanted His disciples to see the continuity of God’s purposes, to understand the Great Commission within the greater context of His plan for the ages. We are part of that big picture. For all who hear His call, whether we are full-time missionaries or simply witnesses in our home, school or workplace, this is the context of our personal responsibility. We are witnesses of these things.
Messianic Marching Orders Part II: As the Father Sent Me
This is the second part of a series on Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples between the time of His resurrection and ascension. These “Messianic Marching Orders” show us the way forward to obey Yeshua (Jesus) in light of His soon coming. Last month we focused on the Luke 24:44-48 account of the Great Commission. There, Jesus focused our attention on the scriptural context of missions as God’s essential and continuous work throughout human history.
This month, we focus on John’s account of the Great Commission to gain additional insight into the same upper room event. Yeshua said “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21 ).
If Luke’s account looks back to the Scriptural context of the Great Commission throughout the sweep of redemptive history, John looks forward, showing the continuity between our mission and that of our Messiah. John’s focus is on Jesus as our model for how we are to carry out the Commission.
In what ways did the Father’s sending His Son compare to how Jesus has sent us? We can’t mirror Jesus in all that He accomplished in His mission—we are not saviors. Yet we are to be crucified with Christ. We are not the Suffering Servant who bears the sin of the world, but we are sent to serve. To accomplish our mission we must identify with others as Jesus identified with us and become vulnerable as He became vulnerable. Have you noticed that it is easier to proclaim the gospel to people from a distance than it is to involve ourselves in their lives? Yet genuine, effective proclamation leads to personal encounters and opportunities to build relationships.
Often the photographs you see in our newsletter show Jews for Jesus handing out tracts on street corners. That’s an important aspect of our work but it’s only part of what we do. We seek to build relationships that allow us to teach and live out the gospel before others. We don’t publish many photographs of our missionaries meeting with seekers to study the Bible because frankly, there are privacy issues and seekers would be inhibited to meet with us if we wanted to put their faces in our publications. Other things we do are also important but not especially interesting to look at— like making phone calls and putting together Bible lessons so that we can meet one-on-one with people who express interest in the gospel. And of course you can’t photograph the growth of a relationship or the trust that develops as we reach out to unbelievers.
Someone once told me, “I am really blessed. All of my friends and neighbors are Christians.” Is that the kind of blessing we should seek in this life? Certainly we need to be part of the community of believers. But how can Christians fulfill our greatest responsibility if we only engage with those who know Him? In heaven, all our friends and neighbors will know the Lord. Meanwhile, our relationships ought to include those who need to hear about the Savior. Jesus prayed in John 17, “As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18 ). He stated this deliberately and precisely, making His mission the model for ours.
Jesus then told His disciples to tarry in Jerusalem. He breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This foreshadowed the fuller experience of Pentecost. Along with each Great Commission statement, Jesus mentioned the power and authority of the Spirit for carrying out the work. The Great Commission formed the foundation of missionary outreach, but it was Pentecost that provided the necessary resources to fulfill it.
Just as Jesus spoke of His dependence upon the Father (He only does what the Father tells Him to do, only says what the Father tells Him to say, etc.), we must realize and regularly confess our radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit. That is the only way to march forward in the manner Jesus commanded.
The Gospel of John also refers to the importance of forgiveness of sin and makes an unusual statement about His disciples’ authority: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” This does not mean that God either forgives or withholds forgiveness of people’s sins based on our whims. Rather, as we fulfill God’s Commission, we can affirm God’s forgiveness for those who want to receive it on the basis of Calvary. We don’t dispense His forgiveness; we announce it. We have authority to declare that sins have been forgiven when people repent and receive the message of Messiah. We also have the authority—and responsibility—to declare that there is forgiveness in no other name but Jesus. That is what Jesus meant by “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Too many in the church—and even among some evangelists—are uncomfortable with this authority. We need to remember that it is not our authority, but God’s, announced through us. And we do not have the authority to act as though forgiveness may be found outside of Christ. When Christ is rejected, God’s forgiveness is likewise rejected. To declare this requires both the love of Messiah and also His courage. It certainly took courage for Him to say, “. . . if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24 ). But it is the loving thing to warn people of their future outside of Christ.
We must declare salvation and judgment, holding both in tension. On the one hand, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). On the other, Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind” (John 9:39).
As the Father sent Jesus into the world to speak His words, to do His works and to lay down His life for our salvation, so Jesus expects His disciples to go into the world to deliver His message (John 15:27), do greater works than He did (John 14:12) and give our lives in His service. Some will receive the message with joy and others will reject it in anger. If we are faithful we will be loved and hated, even as Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for such things?” Who indeed.
Messianic Marching Orders: Part III
Jesus gave His first two commissioning statements in the upper room at Jerusalem, but His third took place in Galilee as recorded in Matthew 28:16-20. In verse 16 and 17 we see how the disciples’ responded to the risen Jesus:
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee , to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
Every disciple struggles and fluctuates between worship and doubt. Don’t be surprised if your belief is a continual conquest of unbelief. Our Savior commends us in our worship and commands us despite our doubt. We need confidence to worship Him and confidence to overcome doubt— confidence that Yeshua is Lord of all and that He is with us at all times. He gives us that confidence in this, perhaps the most famous of His Commission statements:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Don’t miss the main emphasis of this command: to make disciples. A disciple is one who hears, understands and obeys the master’s teaching. A disciple of Jesus is not just a believer in Him, but also a follower.
Martin Goldsmith wrote, “In some cultures it is relatively easy to bring people to an initial confession of faith in Jesus as savior, but often such spontaneous and hasty professions of conversion are not followed by any deep discipleship and committed involvement in the life of the church.”
We are concerned about this very issue so we conducted a survey of Jewish people who recently prayed with Jews for Jesus to receive the Lord. The survey was very simple, but it provided some helpful information. Our staff reported back on 243 Jewish people. Of those, 113 are openly acknowledging their faith in Jesus and are active in fellowship with other believers. Sixty-two more of those 243 people continue to meet with our missionaries for Bible study; they identify themselves as believers, but are not currently in fellowship with other Christians. Thirty-four have either renounced their faith profession, or else never went further than their profession, and are no longer meeting for study with our missionaries. The final 34 we were unable to contact, so we don’t know where they are spiritually.
I don’t know what conclusions you will draw from the above statistics. Obviously, we cannot guarantee that those who profess faith in Christ as Savior will follow on in obedience. So it has been since New Testament times, when many who professed belief fell away.
It is easy to focus more on helping people to the initial point of trusting in Jesus for their salvation than in helping them to follow Him as disciples. Many Christians I meet in local congregations were never truly discipled. Their spiritual growth came through attendance at church services, with no additional course of Bible study and discipleship. Some are more knowledgeable about the faith than others. Likewise in Jews for Jesus we have faithfully proclaimed the gospel, but can see our need for improvement in the area of disciple-making.
I love our Jews for Jesus mission statement and it is always gratifying when others appreciate it as a concise and fitting description of our ministry. But as we consider this Scripture and our disciple-making duties, we feel our mission statement should include this important aspect of our ministry. When, in the future, you see that addition to our mission statement, you’ll know why.
Which brings me to the activities that Jesus connected to disciple-making. Proclaiming the gospel results in repentance and faith when the seed falls on good ground. Then a disciple responds by receiving baptism and instruction. The New Testament does not conceive of a disciple who is not baptized or instructed.
Jews for Jesus missionaries do not perform many baptisms simply because we recognize the local congregation as the most appropriate context for baptism. We serve as spiritual midwives, but we do our best to make sure that those who come to Christ through our ministry are baptized through the local congregations where we look to plant them.
We do exercise responsibility in the area of teaching, as we are equipped to speak to some of the challenges and obstacles that many new Jewish believers face. We have a full-length discipleship course entitled Following Yeshua that we designed especially for this purpose. We attempt to teach each person we lead to Christ through this course. The point of teaching is not simply for the disciple to accumulate a body of knowledge, but it is to help that disciple follow and obey the Lord.
Faithfulness in making disciples is also the best way for us to continue the work of our own ministry. As we look to raise up the next generation of Jews for Jesus missionaries, my hope and prayer is that among them will be some people whom we had the privilege of discipling into obedience to our Messiah.
The great Commission statements, which I’ve termed “Messianic Marching Orders,” are not divinely inspired suggestions. They are the supreme challenge and more than that, they are supreme commands uttered by the most supreme authority ever revealed to human beings by the hand of God.
As challenging as Yeshua’s commands may be, we can take courage and find strength in His promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This promise was a great comfort for the first disciples when Jesus spoke it on that mountain in Galilee so long ago. It remains so for us as we look to the promise of His return.
Messianic Marching Orders Part IV: The Controversial Marching Order
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
These marching orders, “ Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” are simple, yet controversial. First, scholars disagree concerning how Mark’s Gospel actually ends, since this concluding section does not appear in the best of the Greek manuscripts. Most suggest caution when handling this particular section.
It is unclear when, during the forty-day period, this commissioning statement occurs. Mark only says that it was “later” (verse 14). We do see that these marching orders come on the heels of Jesus’ stern rebuke to His disciples for their disbelief of earlier reports of His resurrection.
No one can preach the gospel if they don’t believe the core of that good news: Messiah has risen! The literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus is at the very heart of the gospel. The disciples needed to overcome disbelief in order to understand their duty, in order to receive their commissioning. Some of Jesus’ followers today need to overcome that same unbelief. There should be no controversy among us regarding the reality of the Resurrection, yet in some quarters there is.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of world-famous theologian Karl Barth and his first visit to the United States. He arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport where the press awaited, including a young reporter from the magazine Christianity Today. Some evangelicals wondered if Dr. Barth believed that Jesus literally rose from the grave on the third day—a point on which they felt he had not clearly expressed himself. When the moment came for the young reporter to address the theologian, he asked, “Dr. Barth if you were a reporter standing outside the tomb on the third day after the crucifixion, what would you report in your newspaper?” The esteemed doctor cleared his throat and asked, “Young man, did you say you were with Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?”
G. Campbell Morgan echoed the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “What then is the gospel? It is the good news that the Lord has risen. If we only have the teachings of Jesus we have no gospel. If we have only the account of his perfect life we have no gospel. If we only have the cross we have no gospel. All these become part of the gospel because of its central truth which is that of the resurrection.”
The case for Christianity stands or falls on the basis of this one miracle. It is controversial (and I think, scandalous) that some who see themselves as Christian spokespeople deny the bodily resurrection of the Lord. The crucial and central truth of the gospel is the actual, physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the essential part of our message. We are to preach it to every creature; those who believe and are baptized are saved. The mention of baptism in this context is also controversial. Baptism does not save us. It is grace through faith in the blood of Christ that saves, but baptism is God’s way for us to identify outwardly with the inward reality of what Christ has accomplished. Why would a saved person refuse to obey in this matter?
Further controversy arising from this passage is that we are to preach judgment as a consequence of unbelief. Those who do not believe are condemned. Most people shy away from declaring that consequence. Many of us have found comfort either in saying or hearing it said that, “God is the one who judges and we need to leave it in His hands. We never know what happens in someone’s heart.” Without contradicting the truth of those two statements—because I do believe they are true—I would like to add this. We ought not minimize the consequence of unbelief by pointing out how much we don’t know as opposed to pointing out what we do know from the Scriptures. We need to be careful not to risk an inadvertent offer of false hope regarding those in unbelief who stand on the precipice of a Christ-less eternity.
Another controversy arising from this passage is the method of the mission to which Jesus calls us. John emphasizes the model of our mission, “As the Father has sent me so send I you,” and Matthew emphasizes the measure of our mission—making disciples. Luke and now Mark emphasize the method of our mission, and that is preaching, or proclaiming. It is what we do best in Jews for Jesus and it is what we must continue to do, especially in light of popular trends that discourage proclamation.
Gospel proclamation has and will always be controversial outside the church, but who would have thought it would become so within the church? Yet it has. Fewer people these days are committed to proclamation. Many doubt its effectiveness. I don’t mean to infer that handing out tracts or engaging people on the streets is the only way to fulfill the Great Commission. Certainly it is very effective to discuss spiritual matters privately with friends who are interested. But “every creature” is bound to include many people who do not have Christian friends with whom they can have heart-to-heart talks. Moreover, even within friendships, a time comes when we must explain exactly what we believe. This too is proclamation, though it may be “low key.”
Yet another controversy associated with this commission regards the signs described in Mark 16:17-18: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
The manifestations mentioned in this passage fall into two groups, those related to the spiritual realm—such as casting out demons and speaking in new tongues—and those related to the physical realm—such as picking up serpents, drinking poison and healing the sick. Every one of these evidential signs, except for possibly drinking poison, has been witnessed and recorded in detail in the history of the early church. Eusebius actually mentions, on the authority of Papius, that miraculous drinking of poison did in fact happen to one of the disciples, Justus Barsabbas (the one who didn’t get elected to take Judas Iscariot’s place). (Acts 1:23ff.)
These signs are evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, whose ministry is emphasized over and over again in these commissioning statements. I believe we need to cultivate greater reliance on the Holy Spirit for our ministry. I am not suggesting that we try to schedule any of these signs into our lives or worship services. What these verses tell me is that we should not expect the Holy Spirit to be limited to our comfort zone. We need to be open to whatever God wants to do, and that can be scary because we don’t know what that will look like, other than something we do not control. We should feel compelled by the Spirit to testify to Jews and others that Jesus is the Messiah, and we can expect that belief in Him will be accompanied by the demonstrations of the Spirit and of power.
We must be desperate for God to take our hands and our voices and use them for His ends in testifying to the Messiah Jesus. We must be willing to be His vessels, that He may pour through us His power and His Spirit. I don’t want fear of the unknown, or fear of my own embarrassment, to limit my availability to God for whatever He might choose to do. How about you?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:22, “Jews require a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified.” We should not test God, but neither should we be afraid to see God work in unique and miraculous ways. We don’t want to become preoccupied with signs, but we can expect Him to confirm the truth of the gospel in powerful ways. We can preach confidently the sign and the wonder of the crucified and risen Messiah Jesus. He is the author of salvation, the Giver of all good gifts and the focus of our proclamation.
Messianic Marching Orders Part V: Change is Coming
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel ?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11
The disciples’ responses to Jesus throughout the 40 days between His Resurrection and Ascension showed that their understanding was still limited. They knew that He was the Messiah. They knew He had not only died but also risen again. They no longer doubted. But they hadn’t grasped the “so what” of Jesus’ Resurrection. They could not see beyond their firmly fixed understanding of what the Messiah was to do.
Jesus’ fifth and final commissioning statement provides the unique perspective that change is inevitable. In order to fulfill the Great Commission, the disciples needed—just as we need—to change. Up until then, they had seen Jesus minister in a particular way and they themselves had been sent out by Him to minister, always to return to their master after their travels.
The disciples were all for following a model that had worked well in the past. Despite everything that Jesus had said to them, despite His death, burial and Resurrection, they assumed that model was going to continue in ways they could anticipate. They were mistaken. They were about to be led down paths they never imagined, to places they had never visited, where they would live and die in ways they had never envisioned.
The disciples were once again back from Galilee , outside of Jerusalem as far as Bethany (Luke 24:50). They were probably on the backside of the Mount of Olives to receive this, the final commissioning statement before Jesus ascended to heaven. We get an interesting glimpse of their final interaction with Jesus. The disciples had to be overjoyed to be reunited with Jesus. They probably had many questions. But the one recorded in this passage obviously was uppermost in their minds:
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” This question flowed naturally from the disciples’ understanding of Jewish eschatology and the Messianic hope. They likely assumed the authority He had spoken of referred to His visible, tangible reign as Messiah on the throne of David. Perhaps they thought, “What else could He have meant by ‘all authority is given to Me’?” (Matthew 28:18).
Notice that Jesus did not deny the basis of their question. He did not say, “How dare you consider My kingdom to be a physical and literal earthly kingdom? Don’t you know that it is spiritual and non-material?” No, He did not deny the basis of their question. He simply stated that the information they were hoping to hear was not available to them. That was a difficult statement for the disciples to hear then, just as it still is difficult for the church to read today—because “inquiring minds want to know.” The disciples had a clear vision of what their ministries alongside Jesus were supposed to be, but that vision had to change to match the coming reality.
Jesus refused to tell the apostles the future. He gave one guarantee. “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Once again, we see the importance of power in evangelism, the power that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Times change. Situations change. God’s Spirit moves in new ways and we must accept that as a fact of life and ministry. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit was “with them but would be in them.” That was a powerful change.
Once that promised power came, the disciples could fulfill their calling. Then and only then would they be equipped to be the witnesses that Yeshua (Jesus) was commissioning them to be. Before, He had sent them out two by two throughout the towns and cities of Israel, to return to Him after a short time. Now they would be sent out to people of different languages and cultures living in cities and countries they had never dreamed of. Instead of returning to Him after a short time, they would continue on until they were joined with Him in glory.
The disciples were beginning to understand Jesus’ point, but in case they still didn’t “get it,” He ended His earthly ministry with the greatest sermon illustration ever. While they were watching, He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Can you imagine the looks on their faces? Maybe they started jumping up in the air and saying, “Wait a minute, Lord! We need to ask You a few more questions!” Did they know even as He disappeared, that everything would change? Or did it slowly dawn on them that Jesus had left, entrusting them with a huge responsibility?
It was daunting for the disciples to face life in light of Jesus’ disappearance, so it was important for them to receive the assurance of the angels: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 6:11). He is coming again! That was the disciples’ blessed hope, as it is ours. At the same time, had Jesus not ascended, the disciples would never have fully realized their responsibilities.
Reflecting on each distinctive of the various commissioning statements has helped me to apply the lessons to Jews for Jesus and how we see our mission. I am learning to ask, what has changed over the years that we have been conducting our ministry? What is different since the 70’s, since the 80’s or 90’s? What has changed in the makeup of society, the Jewish community, the makeup of Jews for Jesus?
Change is not the enemy. It is necessary and it can be good. However it does not have value in and of itself. Insistence upon change for the sake of change is unnecessary and usually counterproductive. Change as a means of carrying out one’s personal agenda is often disruptive to no good purpose. However, change that comes as a patient and prayerful response to the leading of the Holy Spirit opens us to His empowerment. That empowerment is so crucial to the success of our mission (not just the mission of Jews for Jesus, but of all believers) that it should make us ever alert and responsive to whatever godly changes He may bring to bear.
Like the disciples, we have few guarantees in life. Their idea of the Messiah was based upon Scriptures and yet the Scriptures were fulfilled differently than what they expected. We have an idea of how Christ’s return and the end times will play out—also based on Scripture. We should not be terribly surprised if God fulfills His promises differently than we expect. But like the disciples, we too have the hope that even as Jesus one day ascended into heaven, so He will one day return.
The literal, physical, visible return of Messiah Jesus should always be close to our hearts as our blessed hope and an urgent impetus for bold proclamation and intensive disciple-making. What began in Jerusalem will also end in Jerusalem , with His promised return always another day closer than it ever was before. That should encourage and strengthen us as we obey the Great Commission.
These are our marching orders. Can there be any greater task? Can there be a more worthy calling in which to invest our lives? What will you be doing when Messiah’s shout is heard from the heavens? When you look to the future, what do you hope to be about when that day comes? May God make us ready to stand with fresh zeal, renewed hearts and minds empowered by the Spirit of God to fulfill this Great Commission.