Here are the words of Jesus that I want us to chew on this morning. They’re from John 20.21. This is on page 1089 in the Bibles. It would be great if you could have that open in front of you. You can also find them on the back of the service sheet at the top there. This is the risen Jesus speaking to his recently frightened, now overjoyed followers. Jesus says to them, v21:
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
In fact I don’t just want us to think about those words for these twenty minutes or so. What I’m really praying for is that those words will lodge in all our minds and not let us go, like a lion taking hold of its dinner in the vice-like grip of its powerful jaws. Because of course Jesus didn’t just say those words to that group of disciples then. He says them today to us. V21:
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
I was shocked and dismayed recently to hear from a young man who was a student at JPC that never once during his three years here was he directly challenged to think about being a missionary. We clearly have some rethinking to do. However, none of you is going to be able to say that. Here it comes.
Please, please, please, think and pray hard about being a missionary. Ask God to show you what his will is for your life. Ask whether he wants to you to go overseas as a missionary. Ask God whether he wants you to work cross-culturally as a missionary. That could be overseas, or much closer to home.
Now I’m not saying to you that you should ask God whether he wants you to be a missionary. Why not? Because I know he does. God wants all of us to be missionaries. A missionary is someone who is on mission with God and for God. A missionary is someone who is engaged in God’s mission.
If we’re disciples of Jesus, that’s what we’re doing. We’re on mission with Jesus for the glory of God. That’s what our lives are all about.
You may not yet be a believer. You may be one of the many who we welcome here every week who are window-shopping the Christian faith. You may be wanting to take a look from the outside, wondering if it would suit you, thinking about whether it’s worth going inside and taking a closer look at.
We love having you here, but what about you? Well, you might think that this is me being presumptuous, and I hope you won’t take offence – but it’s true of you too. God wants you to be a missionary. Of course he wants you to put your trust in Jesus and start following him. But once you are following Jesus, he wants you to be a missionary too.
God wants all of us to be missionaries. Now let me be clear. He doesn’t want all of us to go overseas as missionaries. He doesn’t want all of us to be cross-cultural missionaries. Though he may want you to do either of those things. Many of us he wants to be missionaries where we are, among the people we know. But he still wants us to be missionaries. Jesus says to us, v21:
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
That’s the heart of this short section of John’s Gospel that we’re looking at this morning – John 20.19-23. I have two main headings, and also that picture that’s on the back of the service sheet. We’ll come back to that in due course. My two headings are these. First, Too much fear hinders our mission. Secondly, Jesus sends us on mission. Let’s take those in turn.
First, TOO MUCH FEAR HINDERS OUR MISSION
Let me just remind you of what’s going on here. John 20 is the resurrection chapter. In chapter 19, Jesus is crucified. He dies for the sins of the world, on Friday. In chapter 20, Jesus is raised from the dead. Early on that Sunday morning Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty. She tells the men. Peter and John see from themselves. Their hopes are raised, but they aren’t sure what to make of it. Mary meets angels, and then Jesus himself. She tells the others: “I have seen the Lord!” Then, verse 19:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
What I want us to notice here is how the mental state of the disciples conditions their physical state. What they’re thinking controls what they’re doing. What are they thinking? They’re afraid. They’re afraid that the Jewish religious authorities have got it in for them. They’re right about that. They’re afraid that these authorities, if they get hold of them, might harm them, imprison them or even execute them. They might. Not long afterwards, they do. But it’s not the Jewish authorities who are keeping them locked in that room. It’s their fear.
That scene is a vivid picture of what so many churches and so many Christians are like so much of the time. We don’t literally lock ourselves in our rooms. But we keep ourselves to ourselves, and we keep our faith to ourselves. As far as possible we surround ourselves with other Christians. Sometimes we do that in the name of fellowship, or Bible study, or Christian ministry of one sort or another. Sometimes it’s just that we stay comfortably within our Christian circles of family and friends. When we do find ourselves amongst those we fear may be hostile to our faith, we lock up our mouths. It’s a caricature and an exaggeration, I know. But my fear is that it’s not a million miles from reality.
I don’t say this from any sense of smug superiority. This is something that I’ve come to realise about myself. There’s a lot of fear in me.
Some fear, in the face of an often hostile world, is inevitable. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about that - though we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He knows we’re fearful. That’s why again and again he tells his followers not to be afraid. He knows they are. The real problem is too much fear.
When does some fear become too much fear? When it causes us to lock ourselves away from the world, whether that’s by the company we keep or the things we don’t say.
It is a matter of supreme urgency, for the sake of the world, that we don’t do that. Why? Because Jesus has given to us the words of eternal life. Verse 23:
“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
God’s Plan A for taking the gospel of forgiveness to the ends of the earth is that the church should do it. He has no Plan B. The eternal destiny of billions of people is at stake. Lost people matter to God. Because as believers we belong to God and we have the Spirit of Christ, lost people matter to us too – or at least they should if we’re being true to ourselves. So we mustn’t let fear build up in our minds to the point where we lock ourselves away from a lost, dark, hurting, and yes, maybe sometimes hostile, world.
A sabbatical is a great opportunity to read. One of the people whose books have been an inspiration to me over the last few months is Roland Allen. He was a missionary to China around 1900. He became disillusioned with the way that so much missionary work at that time was sucking people out of the world and into semi-segregated Christian communities.
He went back to his New Testament to re-examine how things were done then. He wrote two challenging books that summed up his conclusions. The first was called ‘Missionary Methods: St Paul’s Or Ours?’. That was written in 1912. The follow up volume, which he wrote in 1927, has my favourite book title ever: ‘The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it.’ His basic point is that it is of the nature of the church that it grows. That’s God’s plan for it. That’s how God’s put it together. It’s like seed. It grows. That’s what it does.
But nonetheless there are things that we do that get in the way of that growth. We can block its growth. We can block the spread of the gospel. Our task is to identify and remove those blocks, those hindrances. One of those blocks is too much fear – fear that causes us to lock ourselves away. What can we do to remove that hindrance to world mission? We can do what those first disciples did: spend time with the risen Jesus, take his words to heart, and receive from him his fearless and bold Spirit.
Too much fear hinders our mission. That’s point one.
Secondly, JESUS SENDS US ON MISSION
I want us to take note of five things that are true about us as disciples of Jesus. We can see them in this encounter with the risen Christ.
One. We have been set free for mission through the cross of Jesus. Verses 19-20:
19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the door locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Now it’s certainly true that Jesus is giving undeniable evidence to Peter, John and the others that he really has been raised from the dead. The man they watched die that terrible death is now physically there in front of them, transformed, resurrected, eternally alive. That fact alone is enough to melt the ice of fear around their hearts.
But when he shows them his wounds, surely Jesus is also reminding them of the cross. For it’s his death on the cross that’s the foundation of the peace that he’s speaking to them. By his death they have been reconciled to God. By his death their sins, past, present and future have been wiped off their account with God. The Day of Judgement can no longer hold any terrors for them. They’ve been set free to serve God, with the burden of sin lifted from their backs. And so it is with us too. Jesus has liberated us for mission.
Two. We go with the authority of Jesus. Look again at verse 21:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
That is the word of Jesus to us: “I am sending you.” Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth; our maker and redeemer; our friend and master. That commission doesn’t leave us with a lot of choice. But it does mean that we go on mission with divine authority. This is his plan, not ours. We go in his name, not ours. We go not under the protection of some super cheap travel insurance found on a price comparison website; we go under the protection of his government. We go not as tourists but as ambassadors of Christ.
Three. We go with Jesus as our example.
Jesus doesn’t only say “I am sending you”. He says “I am sending you as the Father sent me”. Our mission to the world is God’s mission to the world. If we want to know how to go about it and what our experience of mission will be like, then the mission of Jesus is the pattern to which we look.
He came from heaven to earth. That makes any cross-cultural transfer from one country to another seem like a short walk to the next block.
He trusted his Father, obeyed God’s word, told the world, served the church, cared for needs and contended for truth. Our discipleship and our mission as a church is an extension of his and follows his example.
He suffered and died – laying down his life for the world. We cannot follow Jesus and expect it to be easy and comfortable to go on mission with him. Fear will need to be overcome. Mission is spiritual warfare. We need to be ready to lay down our lives.
And he succeeded in his mission. All that he went through was not in vain. God the Father vindicated his Son. Jesus is victorious. Sin, Satan and death are defeated. He planted his kingdom on earth and it has grown and grown and still grows today – arguably faster now than at any time in history. When we join God’s mission, we join a winning side. Our road will be via hardship and suffering. But our mission will be successful in the end.
So that’s the third thing to note: we go with Jesus as our example.
Four. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 22:
And with that [Jesus] breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
When we’re on mission with God, we’re not just following the awesome example of Jesus. We’re on the receiving end of Holy Spirit power. We can’t change ourselves, but the Holy Spirit can. We can’t overcome our fear alone, but the Holy Spirit drives out fear. We can’t change the mind of a single individual, let alone change a nation or the world. But the Holy Spirit can. It’s not a case of ‘Yes we can’. It’s a case of ‘Yes he can’.
And five. We go with the message of the forgiveness of sins.erse 23 again:
“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.
The stark reality is that Judgement Day is up ahead for the world. The nations of the world have only one hope of evading what the Bible calls “the coming wrath”. That is to be reconciled with God through faith in his Son and in his substitutionary, sin-bearing death. Our heavy responsibility and immense privilege is to hold out to the world the message of reconciliation. We carry with us around the world the hope of forgiveness – locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
Archbishop William Temple said, in relation to these verses:
… it is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of our calling… We are members of the Body of Christ, through whom He would accomplish his purpose… This is the primary purpose for which the Spirit is given: that we may bear witness to Christ. We must not expect the gift [of the Holy Spirit] while we ignore the purpose. A Church which ceases to be missionary will not be, and cannot rightly expect to be, “spiritual”.
Point one: Too much fear hinders our mission. Point two: Jesus sends us on mission. What then is the obvious conclusion? Let’s go!
We should be massively thankful as we look back over the years and remind ourselves of all that the Lord has done by the power of the Spirit through the life of this church. One thing, though, came through to me forcibly during the course of my sabbatical travels and study. That is that it’s time for us to begin working towards a major expansion of our worldwide mission – local, regional, national and global.
Take a look at the picture on the back of the service sheet. If this is your church, then I hope that picture’s becoming familiar to you. At JPC we define our mission as ‘Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain’. That mission is in obedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandments: love God, make disciples, love your neighbour.
But here’s the question that I’ve been thinking about. Where is world mission on that diagram? I used to think maybe it’s partly in ‘telling the world’ and partly in ‘caring for needs’. But I’ve changed my mind. I’ve come to realise that world mission is in fact right in the heart of the triangle. Everything we do is world mission. We are on mission with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to the world. World mission is what we’re here for.
As far as our individual Godly Living is concerned, every one of us is a missionary. We may be neither faithful nor effective, but we can’t escape our calling as followers of Jesus to be missionaries to the world he loves.
As for Church Growth, the local church is the primary agent of world mission. To be sure we work in partnership with mission agencies. But we can’t abdicate our responsibility and leave it to them. We have to be directly involved ourselves.
And as far as Changing Britain is concerned, we need constantly to remember that world mission doesn’t just happen overseas. World mission is local, regional, national and global. Caring for needs and contending for truth in our nation is part of our world mission.
As a church we have a good deal of work to do over the coming months and years to catch up with what God is doing around the world. We have a part to play. You have a part to play. So, to come back to where I started, please, please, think and pray hard about being a missionary. Ask God to show you what his will is for your life. You will never be able to say that you haven’t heard that challenge.