I believe the Lord calls us all to be workers in his mission. It seems to me that this mission is sometimes downplayed in the church today. Previously, we seem to have talked about it more, focusing primarily on the need to reach out or sometimes on how to reach out. Rarely, though, did we give much attention to motivations for doing so. When we did talk about motivation, my experience is that we usually talked either about the Lord’s commands or appealed to enthusiasm or even hype.
Well, the Lord did command it, as I mentioned in the previous post. And enthusiasm, though temporary, certainly seems better to me than drudgery. If we look closely at the Scriptures, however, we see several other motivations for reaching out to lost people in addition to these. I want to call attention to them because they are resources from God that will be very helpful to us as we seek to obey the charge he has given us.
The motivation I want us to consider in this post is Jesus’ example. Jesus not only instructed us to be involved in his mission, he was involved in it too. He practiced what he preached. Seeing this can help motivate us to reach out as well.
Matthew summarizes the Lord’s ministry as, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35). Clearly he was involved in the mission of reaching out to others.
This passage is also important because it helps us clarify what the mission is. Matthew had summarized Jesus’ ministry in near identical terms previously (4:23), and this underscores the three aspects of his work that are mentioned. We might describe these three things Jesus was doing as: 1) providing good teaching, 2) telling good news, and 3) doing good deeds. Or, in other language, 1) discipleship/spiritual formation, 2) sharing the gospel/evangelism, and 3) ministry/ service. Jesus showed us that this is what the mission especially consists of, and he demonstrated it so often that the Spirit inspired Matthew to twice summarize his ministry in these terms. This is the mission he was devoted to in actual practice.
We see Jesus acting on this mission in many other passages. One day he rose early in the morning to go off by himself to pray. He emerged from that time of prayer resolved to announce and tell the good news of God’s kingdom in other towns and villages. He came to this resolution in spite of the fact that “everyone” was looking for him and wanted to prevent him from leaving them. The Scripture also shows that Jesus not only made a clear statement about his purpose, he actually lived according to it. He set the example of going around telling people the good news (Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44), even when people tried to prevent it.
Another clear declaration of Jesus’ purpose is that he came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The context is that he had just noticed Zacchaeus making an unusual effort to see him by climbing up into a tree. The people considered Zacchaeus to be a “sinner” and grumbled when they realized Jesus was going to go to his house. Their attitudes were not right, of course, but their analysis was. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, was rich, and seems to have defrauded people (v. 8). But Jesus was seeking people just like him, and he said that Zacchaeus’ repentance (v. 8) was an indication that salvation had come to him (v. 9). It was then that Jesus stated his purpose of seeking and saving the lost (v. 10). The context of spending time with Zacchaeus in his home shows that this statement was not mere rhetoric. Jesus practiced what he preached. He set the example of mission.
Jesus was so devoted to his mission that he carried it out even when he was tired and hungry. His encounter with the woman from Samaria demonstrates this. The account in John 4 is a masterpiece of telling the good news to someone and also contains some wonderful teaching about sowing and reaping (vv. 34-38). We’ll return to this account in a future post, but for now I simply want to point out that Jesus denied himself and his own legitimate needs to fulfill his mission (see especially vv. 6-7). He set a compelling example.
There are many more times when we see Jesus acting on his mission, but I will close with a unique and powerful example. This one takes some explaining, but I think it will be worth it. To understand it, we need to recognize that the Spirit sometimes inspired the biblical writers to communicate the message in ways that may not be familiar to us. In this case, he inspired Mark to use a literary technique that some people call a “Markan Sandwich.” It refers to Mark’s practice of “inserting” a story in the middle of another story. He begins a story (=the first piece of bread), then tells a different story (=the turkey or peanut butter), and then returns to finish the first story (=the second piece of bread). Stated differently, Mark several times begins a story and then interrupts himself to tell a different story before going back to finish the first one. If the phrase Markan Sandwich sounds odd to you, the technical term for this literary device is intercalation.
The first time Mark does this in his Gospel is in 3:20-35. Verses 20-21 (first piece of bread) tell about Jesus’ family going to take charge of him. Then Mark inserts the account of the teachers of the law accusing Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub (vv. 22-30). This is the turkey or peanut butter. Mark then resumes the story of his family coming to him, the second piece of bread (vv. 31-35). He uses this device several times in his Gospel.
Why would the Spirit inspire Mark to use a literary device like this? One would think the two accounts are related in some way, but sometimes, as in the case just cited, it’s difficult to determine the exact reason. Other times, though, the reason seems clear.
For example, when Mark writes the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree, he uses the Sandwich device. He first tells about Jesus cursing it (11:12-14), but then he delays telling the result and application (11:20-25). What is the meat that Mark inserted into the middle of this event? It is the account of the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem (vv. 15-19), and it sure seems like this is related to the barren fig tree. Jesus stated that the Temple was intended to be a place of prayer but that it had become a center of commerce. The Jews were not pleasing God. One could easily say they were not “bearing good fruit.” Like the fig tree, they were barren. The Lord pronounced judgment on both. The second piece of bread in this sandwich teaches a lesson about faith as well (vv. 22-25), but the parallel between a barren fig tree and the barren religion of the Jews seems too similar to be coincidence.
I want to clarify that I believe both events in all the Markan Sandwiches really did happen as recorded. It’s just that the Spirit inspired Mark to record them in a way that may seem a little strange to us. In so doing, however, he communicates another layer of meaning in addition to that contained in each of the individual events.
I realize we’ve traveled a long way to get to my real point, but I think it will be worth it. The Markan Sandwich where Jesus again sets an example of mission is found in Mark 14. Here we have Peter’s denial of Christ told in two parts. First, Peter adamantly states that he will not fall away, even if everyone else does. Jesus replies that Peter will in fact disown him three times (vv. 26-31). As you know, Peter did indeed deny Christ, and Mark records that a little later, at the end of the chapter (vv. 66-72). What’s lies between these two “pieces of bread”? Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane, his arrest, and his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. The portion of this that is especially relevant to Peter’s denial is Jesus’ confession:
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (14:61-62).
Jesus’ courageous confession stands in stark contrast to Peter’s feeble words in v. 71: “I don’t know this man you are talking about.”
In other words, whereas Peter denied Christ, Jesus confessed himself to be the Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 6:12-13). What’s more, Jesus confessed his identity even though he knew it would cost him his life. In contrast, Peter denied Christ, apparently out of fear for his life. The contrast is even more vivid when you realize Jesus courageously confessed the truth of his identity before the highest Jewish authority anywhere, but Peter caved when confronted by a mere slave girl.
Obviously we need to be like Jesus, not Peter. That’s always a safe principle for disciples of Christ. But more specifically, the message is that we are called to openly confess Christ like Jesus himself did, regardless of the cost. We must not deny him like Peter did.
In Mark’s day, Christians would be brought before Roman authorities and ordered to confess Caesar as Lord and/or offer sacrifice to him as if a god. Those who refused would be executed while those who complied would be spared. Rome didn’t care if you confessed Jesus too, as long as you also confessed Caesar. But true Christians wouldn’t do that. They believed there is “one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6). In light of this historical, Jesus’ words about discipleship take on a vivid meaning: “… whoever wants to save their life (by denying Christ) will lose it (i.e. lose their soul), but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel (by confessing Christ) will save it (i.e. save their soul)” (Mark 8:35).
Peter was forgiven (Mark 16:7; Luke 22:31), and we can be too, if we have failed to confess him. Like him, we can even become avid spokespersons for him. My point is not to criticize Peter or shame us, but rather is to point out again that Jesus’ actions are a powerful example of what God wants us to be and do. Like him, we are to confess Jesus as the Christ regardless of the cost. He not only taught this regularly, he practiced it consistently. His example gives us powerful motivation to do the same.
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