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 Y’shua (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. Y’shua 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 does the Father’s sending His Son compare to how Jesus is sending 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 mentions the power and authority of the Spirit for carrying out the work. The Great Commission forms the foundation of missionary outreach, but it is Pentecost that provides 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 means 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.