Owning the Mission

John 20:21

January 28, 2001 | Brian Bill

Jim had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to communicate the gospel.  But he wrestled with the question of how to bring the message of Christ into a setting that seemed so far from him.  How could he help people see and embrace the truth when they had so little biblical understanding?  The barriers seemed insurmountable.  The task appeared virtually impossible.

Even with all of the obstacles in front of him, Jim knew he had to try.  God had given him a vision to make a difference in the lives of these men and women.  

For starters, he shaved his head right down to the skin, except for one patch of hair that he let grow long.  Not only that, he began wearing it in a pigtail and then dyed it a different color so that he could fit in with those he was trying to reach.  He also gave up his suit and tie and began to dress like the people he was trying to reach.  He changed his eating patterns.  He worked hard to learn new vocabulary and expressions, in the hopes that he would be able to effectively convey biblical truth in their everyday street language.

Jim didn’t do all this from a distance.  He actually moved into the neighborhood with these people.  He tried to become their friend.  This wasn’t easy because of their non-Christian lifestyles and their outright rejection of his message.

Jim paid the price of loneliness, weariness, and discouragement, along with criticism from many Christians.  He also lived with the daily rejection of most of those he wanted to reach.  And he did this year after year.  Jim owned the mission.  His life is a powerful illustration of evangelism against the odds.  And today, generations later, countless people from the neighborhoods he worked so hard to reach have come to saving faith.

Is it worth taking risks to reach lost people with the love of Jesus?  Is it right to proclaim the gospel in ways that break a few paradigms, push back a few boundaries, and ruffle a few feathers?  If you’re not sure, you might want to ask the hundreds of thousands of Chinese Christians who have been touched, directly or indirectly, by Jim – or, as he’s more widely known, James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission over a century ago (this story adapted from Building a Contagious Church by Mark Mittelberg, Zondervan: 2000, pages 32-33).

Valuing What God Values

During this series that we’re kicking off today, I want us to take a look at what is supposed to be one of our top values: telling others about Jesus.  We have identified 6 values that come right out of the second chapter of the Book of Acts.  Let me list them for you by way of review:

  • Instructing from God’s Word.
  • Mobilizing for ministry.
  • Praying with faith.
  • Adoring God in worship.
  • Caring for each other.
  • Telling others the Gospel.

These value statements help us see where we’re headed as a church.  They also serve as an evaluative tool to help us identify areas that we need to work on.  I use these IMPACT phrases to discern what sermon series to put together so that we cover all six of these areas on a regular basis.

I used to think that we should give equal time and attention to each part of our vision statement but then I realized, through the help of another pastor, that the value of evangelism will always need more emphasis than the other ones because this is the hardest one to keep fresh and to live out authentically.

As believers, we want instruction, we want to be mobilized for ministry, we pray, we adore God, and we care for each other.  Most of these have to do with our relationship with God or our relationships with other believers.  

In his book The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren reports on a survey that found 89% of church members believe the church’s purpose is to “take care of my needs and those of my family.”  Only 11% said, “The purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ.” (Page 82).

According to George Barna, in his book called, “Evangelism That Works,” most churches have only a small group of people who have a passion for evangelism.  Barna asks 3 probing questions to churches like ours:

  1. “Do people “own” evangelism as the heartbeat of the ministry?”
  2. “Is evangelism deemed the highest priority of the church?”
  3. “Have the people caught a vision for reaching nonbelievers that gives the church definition, energy and direction?”

He concludes by saying, “If not, the organization is not truly a church but is simply a group of people intrigued by religion.”  (Page 129).

Brothers and sisters, let’s admit something this morning.  Evangelism is not easy.  In fact, for many of us, it’s downright scary.  Evangelism is one of the highest values in the church – and one of the least practiced.  Studies show that most believers don’t have many – if any – friendships with non-Christians.   We may talk a good game, but our actions speak louder than our words.  Do we really care about lost people?  Do we sincerely believe that knowing Christ is the best way to live and the only way to die?

Some of you know that I got the flu this past week.  I tried to keep my germs away from others in the family.  Beth wouldn’t even let me kiss her!  I don’t blame her because I wouldn’t want anyone to get what I had.  By its very nature and purpose, the church ought to be a contagious place that is “infecting” more and more outsiders with the Christian faith.  There ought to be an epidemic of people trusting in Christ.  Why isn’t that happening?

In his book called, “Building a Contagious Church,” Mark Mittelberg points out that the evangelism value in every church tends to head south over time.  He calls it the “second law of spiritual dynamics,” in which Christians, if left to themselves, move toward self-centeredness.  If we’re serious about telling others the gospel, then we must fight this gravitational pull inward.  In order to overcome evangelistic entropy we must be relentless in our pursuit of owning the mission we’ve been called to fulfill.

Let’s revisit the mission we’ve been entrusted with.  Please turn in your Bibles to John 20:19-23.  

He Accepts Us

In our text we see the disciples huddled together in a room.  It’s Resurrection Sunday and it has been an eventful day for everyone involved.  It’s now evening and they’re excited, yet afraid.  The door was locked because rumor had it that the Jewish leaders wanted to arrest and dispose of anyone who had been associated with Jesus.  

 Suddenly, without warning, Jesus appears and says in verse 19, “Peace be with you.”  I don’t imagine those were the words some of the disciples were expecting.

There is no rebuke, no “how could you?”  Jesus doesn’t scold or shame them.  The first words out of his mouth show one thing: He accepts them.  Can you imagine the relief and the joy that must have flooded their hearts?   These first words of Jesus after His resurrection were almost identical to what He said shortly before He was arrested in John 16:33: I told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In some respects, it is almost as if the last few days hadn’t happened.  Certainly these disciples felt unworthy . . . but the Savior extends peace.  Let that sink in.  Understand how gracious an act this was.

The disciples were afraid.  The word “fear” in verse 19 carries with it the idea of “flight.”  The disciples were so alarmed and frightened that they wanted to bolt.  Now, contrast this with the word, “peace,” which is defined as “putting  together that which is broken.”  Jesus knows they are afraid so He says “Shalom” to them, which literally means, “All good to you.”

He doesn’t gloss over your past

Do you understand that Jesus wants to extend peace to you and I as well?  He doesn’t gloss over your past.  He is well aware of the mistakes we have made.  He knows how we’ve scorned Him, denied Him, and rejected Him when we should have been speaking up for Him.  Yet He still extends peace.  When He sees you He says, “Shalom.”

This peace has at least 4 dimensions:

  • Peace with God (Romans 5:1) 
  • Peace in difficult times (John 14:27; 16:33) 
  • Peace in our relationships (Ephesians 2:14-18) 
  • Peace with the past (Romans 8:1) 

The Savior offers YOU peace today, even if you feel you don’t deserve it.  God’s peace and forgiveness is extended to us by His grace.  So here’s the question: Why do we continue to cower in the corner when the Savior wants to embrace us?  Why do we try to lock Him out of our lives?  

By granting peace, Jesus shows how much He accepts us.  In verse 20, He underscores how much he cares for His followers.  He knows that doubt can creep into all of our lives and so, “He showed them His hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”  Luke 24:37-43 tells us that Jesus went out of His way to show His followers who He really was when He asked them to touch Him and then He ate a piece of broiled fish to show that He really was alive.

As it relates to our mission, Jesus knows that fear keeps many of us from sharing the good news.  That’s what Courtney felt in her high school.  As His peace floods our lives, and His proofs ground our faith, He also opens locked doors so that we can go through them.  He now has a job for us to do.

He Commissions Us

I’ll never forget when my dad tossed me the keys to his truck for the first time.  I had just passed my driver’s test and it was his way of saying, “Son, I trust you.  Take the truck and have some fun.”  By the way, I had to give those same keys back about a year later when I lost my license because of a couple speeding tickets!

Jesus does something similar with His followers when He says in verse 21, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  If you will, Jesus tosses the disciples the keys.  He not only accepts them but He entrusts them with the message of the gospel.   He believes in them and so He commissions them.

The first use of the word “peace” in verse 19 was given in order to quiet their hearts.  This second “peace” was given in order to prepare them for a fresh statement of their purpose as initially given in John 17:18: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

Listen to how Paul states our mission in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 

Notice that Jesus sends us into the world in the same way the Father sent Him.  This has several implications. 

  • We must take the initiative.  As Jesus went into the world so we are to go to others.  We are not to just sit back and wait for others to come to us.  
  • We must open our mouths.  We are to speak the truth like He did.  That’s why we’re going to go door-to-door this Saturday as we talk to people about the Jesus Video.  That’s why we’re challenging each of us to talk to 10 people.
  • We must declare AND demonstrate.  As Jesus demonstrated the validity of His message by what He did, so must we.  
  • We must be prepared for opposition.  It shouldn’t surprise us when others laugh at us and ridicule us because of our message or our approach to living. 

His peace and His proofs show how much He accepts us.  We’ve been accepted not so we can just bask in our relationship with Him, but so that we can live out our purpose – we’ve been commissioned to a task.

He Equips Us

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed?  Me too.  That’s why these next words in John 20:22 are so important, And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’”  Jesus not only entrusts us with the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel to others, He also equips us for the job!  

At this moment of greatest need the Savior promises to place His Spirit in each of us individually. Listen to what the Bible says the Holy Spirit will do.

  • He gives us the words to say (Luke 12:11,12) 
  • He convicts us, and our listeners of sin (John 16:8) 
  • He converts a hard heart (John 6:44) 
  • He sustains us in the difficult times (John 14:26,27) 
  • He gives focus and substance to our prayers (Romans 8:26) 
  • He gives us the abilities to do what He has called us to do (1 Corinthians 12:7) 
  • He gives us Christ-like qualities (Galatians 5:22-23) 

When the Holy Spirit is given room to work He will surprise us again and again by what He can do.  We are not left alone!  He has provided the help we need.

Wishing to encourage her young son’s progress on the piano, a mother took her boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.

Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and went through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.”  When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing.  Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.  In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”  Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part.  Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a running obbligato.

Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

That’s the way it is with the Holy Spirit.  What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy.  We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music.  But with the hand of the Master, our life’s work truly can be beautiful.  Friend, you’ve been accepted and commissioned and equipped to play the beautiful music of salvation for those who are lost in their sins.  He’s whispering to you today, “Don’t quit.  Keep playing.”  Feel His loving arms around you.  Know that His strong hands are playing the concert of your life.

God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.

He Motivates Us

The last verse of our text adds one final thing.  He motivates us.  Look at verse 23, If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  This text is difficult because we know that Mark 2:7 says, “no one can forgive sins but God alone.” 

The NIV Study Bible explains it this way, “God does not forgive people’s sins because we do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do. Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers accept or reject Jesus Christ.”

If you tell people about this forgiveness you are extending forgiveness to them.  If they respond they are indeed forgiven.  However, if you don’t tell them, you are NOT extending forgiveness to them.  Then their sins will not be forgiven.

Jesus accepts, He commissions, He equips, and He motivates us.  The motivation is that the world is desperately in need of the message we have.  If we do not go forward some will never hear that they can be set free.  Some will never know the joy of salvation.  Some will never know of the Spirit’s strength in the difficult times.  If we don’t tell the people we come in contact with about the Gospel, then we’re not living out our mission and calling.

Gabriel and Jesus

The story is told that on the day Jesus ascended to heaven, he happened to see Gabriel and they had a talk.  Gabriel asked, “How did it go?”  The Lord said, “Great, excellent.”  

“Did they make you king?” “No.” 

“Did they make you prince?” “No.” 

“Did they worship you?” “Most of them didn’t.” 

“Well, what happened?” “They crucified me.”

 “Then they worshipped you, right?” “No.” 

“So, what happened?” “I left my people down there.”

Gabriel then said, “Well, what if they fail, do you have another plan?”  Jesus replied, “There is no other plan.” 

They didn’t fail. We’re here today because they didn’t drop the ball 2000 years ago.

And what God provided for them, He has also provided for us. We have the same God, the same Bible, the same Holy Spirit, and the same gospel message.  

Action Steps

As we wrap up this morning, 4 Action Steps come to mind that will help us stay focused on the plan as we strive to own the mission we’ve been given.

  1. Admit that your evangelistic values have slipped.  This is the right place to start.  
  2. Stay spiritually authentic.  Pray the “Prayer of Jabez” every day.  Sometimes we don’t even think to share Jesus with others because we’re not walking with Him ourselves.
  3. Pray for opportunities.  Colossians 4:2-3: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…”
  4. Follow God’s promptings.  Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Ten Little Christians

We need to get back on task, don’t we?  We must own the mission we’ve been given.

  • Ten little Christians, standing in a line, one disliked the preacher, then there were nine.
  • Nine little Christians stayed up very late, one slept in on Sunday, then there were eight.
  • Eight little Christians on their way to heaven, one took his own road, then there were seven.
  • Seven little Christians chirping like some chicks, one disliked the song leader, then there were six.
  • Six little Christians seemed very much alive, but one lost his interest then there were five.
  • Five little Christians pulling for heaven’s shore, but one stopped to rest, then there were four.
  • Four little Christians, busy as a bee, one got her feelings hurt, then there were three.
  • Three little Christians knew not what to do, one couldn’t forgive another, then there were two.
  • Two little Christians, our rhyme is nearly done, quarreled over petty stuff, then there was only one.
  • One little Christian, can’t do much ‘tis true; brought his friend to Bible study – then there were two.
  • Two earnest Christians, each won one more, that doubled the number, then there were four.
  • Four sincere Christians worked early and worked late, each won another, then there were eight.
  • Eight splendid Christians, if they doubled as before, in just a few short weeks, we’d have 1,024.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?