Seeing the Mission in all of the Bible
The Mission of God in the Scriptures
As I mentioned last week, The Mission of God Study Bible is now available. It was a two-year process that involved a large team, over 60 contributors, and not a few late nights of work for many of us. I am hopeful that the study Bible will be helpful to many believers.
Today, I wanted to share with you an essay that I wrote with Ed Stetzer. It is a foundational article on how to see the mission of God as you read through the Bible. After you read the essay below, please let me know your thoughts.
The mission of God is one of the great themes throughout the Scriptures. As God reveals Himself in the earliest portions of the history of the human race, it is He who reaches out to us. In fact, at the creation of the first man, God establishes an abiding relationship with Adam. Even with the sinful decisions made by the first man and woman, God continues in His mission by working to reestablish His relationship with humanity.
God’s mission among us is to glorify Himself through the work of redeeming people and restoring creation. In Isaiah 42:8, God stated that He would not surrender His glory to another. In all that He does, whether extending mercy or judgment, God has every right to call all of creation to worship Him because He alone is God. He has no equals. There are not even any rivals to His nature and character. God alone deserves all honor, praise, and worship.
In His mercy, God has chosen to reveal Himself in such ways that humanity can know about Him and people can come into a relationship with Him. Again, the biblical record shows this to be the case. When Adam and Eve believe the false statements of a jealous usurper to God’s kingdom, it is God who seeks reconciliation with them. Later, it is God who establishes Israel as a nation to bless all the peoples of the world. It is by Israel’s covenantal relationship with Yahweh that this blessing to the rest of the world can occur. God goes on to provide priests, judges, kings, and prophets to communicate His law, will, judgment upon sin, and love for people. The Scriptures recount how God worked through those who were faithful to His covenant and regardless of those who rebelled against it. Throughout all of the Old Testament, in fact, we learn how God is on a consistent mission to reestablish the relationship with humanity that has been cast into ruins by our sinful nature and sinful choices.
Moving into the New Testament, obviously the focus shifts immediately to Jesus the Messiah. With the Incarnation, God the Son personally takes on human flesh and arrives here on mission. He brings with Him the kingdom of God and inaugurates His reign upon the earth declaring in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” The mission of God in the ministry of Jesus is the announcement of God’s rule and reign renewed among us. But the announcement is a precursor to Jesus’ greatest act: His death as an atonement for sin and His resurrection as victory over death. God’s mission finds its pinnacle in the hinge point of human history as Jesus defeats sin, death, and hell in the act of divine mercy that only God can accomplish. By God’s mission and God’s mission alone can we come back into fellowship with Him.
At the Son’s ascension back to heaven, the Holy Spirit then comes on mission to inhabit all Christians. From Pentecost forward, the presence of God the Spirit in the life of every believer enlivens the missionary nature of the church. Throughout the book of Acts, the mission of God begins to move through the church and presses against the boundaries of culture. In the narrative of this historical NT book, we read the descriptions of how the Holy Spirit works through people to make disciples of both Israelites and Gentiles, how the church extends mercy to the marginalized and oppressed in society, and how God’s name will be lifted up through the work of believers on mission.
Throughout the balance of the New Testament we learn about the doctrines behind our salvation, how the church can live in unity, proclaim the gospel to people in every culture in a contextually appropriate way, and participate in God’s mission. The epistles following Acts were originally a series of letters from church leaders that were to encourage, teach, and sometimes rebuke the early church in how to live on mission with God and for His kingdom. Inspired by God as all of Scripture is, the epistles of the NT give us yet one more lens through which to view God’s activity among humanity. It is not enough for us to read this portion of the Bible and picture the Apostles Paul and Peter along with the church simply doing their best to be nice people. These letters reveal the subversive nature of God’s kingdom at work among the empires of humanity. God set in motion a rebellion against the rebellions of men. Our new rebellion is to serve as God’s coworkers as He reestablishes His reign among all the peoples of the earth. We are given a glimpse into this eternal reality as the Scriptures come to a close with the Revelation given to John in the last book of the Bible. Though wrapped in mysterious language, its theme nevertheless shines through: God is glorified in all things, victorious over all powers, and has extended mercy to draw men and women into a covenant relationship with Him.
The Scripture, from beginning to end, is the great recounting of God’s love for fallen humanity. He reaches out to His creation with a redemption plan that He could accomplish alone and without assistance from any created thing, including humanity. However, He has chosen to involve us in the work of His mission. He calls believers to be “ambassadors for Christ,” with the result that “God is appealing through us.” For this reason “we plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Our desire is that you will be a part of God’s great plan so that men, women, and children from every tongue, tribe, and nation will believe the message of the gospel as it comes to them through the proclamation and life of the church. As you read the Scriptures and consider the study tools included with this study Bible, do so with the mission of God as your lens and framework. Before looking to see what God can do for you, consider what He has done for His own glory and how you are invited to participate in His great mission. We encourage you to closely heed the words of Jesus when He said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”