Friday, September 11, 2015

The Mission of the Christ and of His Church

At a very young age, Jesus had a firm grasp on, a profound clarity around, and an intense focus for doing His Father’s business. And Jesus was relentless in carrying out His mission. Furthermore, there can be no doubt, upon reading the gospel accounts, about the exact nature of the mission of Jesus Christ. First of all, Jesus came because He was sent by the Father. (Jn. 8:42) He did not come of His own initiative but He was sent by God the Father for a very specific purpose. Jesus came to lay His life down for His sheep. (Jn. 10:11) Jesus came to save His people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21) Jesus came in order to explain the Father to us, to reveal God to His elect. (Jn. 1:18) Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:8) Jesus came to secure eternal life for those believing in Him by giving His life for them. (Jn. 3:16) Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to announce recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Lu. 4:18) The mission of Jesus Christ is obvious from Scripture. There can be no possibility of confusing it without doing tremendous damage to the plain record of Scripture.

When Jesus had accomplished His mission, and set the plans in place for the birth of His Church, He gave plain instructions to His immediate followers. These instructions are impossible to misconstrue when interpreted with the respect they deserve. Jesus left his followers with a simple and clear command: “go and make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) In other words, do not limit your work to Israel, but extend your disciple-making enterprise to all people groups without exception. These are the final words of Jesus Christ before He ascended to the Father. Jesus also told his disciples during this time, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Lu. 24:47) The followers of Christ were witnesses of His personal earthly mission and as witnesses they were charged with preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations. Hence, we see the mission of the Church: preaching the gospel, which is the good news that repentance and forgiveness of sins is now extended to all the nations.

Since the mission of Christ and the mission of the Church is the supernatural conversion of souls through the gospel of repentance and forgiveness, I thought it would be a good idea to examine how major spiritual leaders in the NT interacted with their respective political system when given the opportunity. We begin with John the Baptist. John the Baptist had an encounter with Herod the tetrarch over his unlawful conduct with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John made no appeal to human law. He never gathered a band of folks together in order to change the civil codes. He appealed to the law of God and called Herod to repentance. John was interested in changing Herod, not the laws governing his culture.

Jesus stood before Herod and Pontius Pilot. Pilot examined Christ and gave Him every opportunity to defend Himself. Jesus never opened His mouth except to inform Pilate that he had no power over Him that had not been given to him by His Heavenly Father. Jesus never sought to change a single civil code. He never told His disciple to attempt to change a single civil code. Jesus called men to repentance toward God and faith in Himself.

Peter and John were called in by the Sanhedrin, and threatened not to preach in the name of Jesus Christ any longer. Peter nor John argued that they ought to be free to practice their religion as they see fit. They did not proceed to start a movement in support of a law making it illegal to persecute Christians. Rather than do these things, the disciples gathered together and corporately petitioned God for even greater boldness to speak out in the name of Christ. Later in Acts 5, the Apostles are once again threatened, imprisoned, and even beaten for preaching the gospel. Yet, their response was not to start a movement for religious freedom, to end religious persecution and suffering or anything like that. Instead, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer directly for the name of Christ.

Stephen is another example of a NT leader that had the opportunity to engage in the legal authorities in his culture. He stood before them and gave them the gospel and preached repentance. Stephen was unjustly murdered simply for preaching the gospel. No one started a movement to change the civil codes. Immediately after Stephen’s martyr, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem. And they scattered. They got out of dodge. They did not engage in civil disobedience, demanding their right to worship freely without persecution. They did not have the same foolish expectations that modern American Christians have.

Paul was another NT leader that experienced the unpleasant experience of being on the wrong side of the civil authorities. When given the opportunity to make his defense, Paul gave his personal testimony and shared the gospel with Felix. Paul did the exact same thing with Agrippa. It was clear that Paul was interested in converting Felix and Agrippa. He showed not even the slightest interest in changing the civil codes or dictating how the governing authorities ought to govern. He was after their heart!

Christians in America are suffering from the delusion that the constitution is a document to which Christians ought to appeal to defend themselves. Those who say that Kim Davis ought not resign but instead, resist, do so not from an exegetical standpoint but rather from a political one. The entire argument for Kim Davis’ defense is political at its core, not exegetical. The presupposition is that Christians ought to fight for their constitutional rights! Additionally, there are others that think Christians can be salt and light by changing the civil codes. Such changes are external only and at best provide an outward show of morality. Additionally, there is no hint of this behavior in the New Testament Church. Even though John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter, John, James, Stephen, and Paul all had the chance to speak to the injustice of the civil code in their day, not one of them did so. They had other interests, other priorities. And so too should we. The message that the Church has for America is simple: repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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