Mission: core or elective?

In chapters 9 and 10 of Luke’s gospel are recorded the first ever “calls to mission,” when Jesus sent out his disciples to do his work. I am reminded of the opening challenge of the Mission Impossible films: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this…” Luke records it like this:

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Luke 9:1-2 NLT

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go… Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’ … When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” Luke 10:1-3, 9, 17 NLT

Once we have decided to trust Jesus with our lives we sometimes find ourselves asking, “what’s next? What am I supposed to do now?” These verses answer that question clearly and simply. We are called to cast out demons, heal the sick and tell everyone about the Kingdom of God.

Tall order maybe. How seriously should we take this challenge? Is it like the Mission Impossible challenge, “should you choose to accept it…?” That is, is it optional for some special Christians who are called to mission, or is it an instruction for all who follow Jesus? Jesus had a band of 12 close friends, his inner circle of disciples. They were sometimes known as “The Twelve,” and they no doubt had different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses, different abilities and talents. But Jesus sent them all out, not just a few of them who felt “called to missions.” Then very soon after he sent out 72 other disciples on a similar mission. None of their names are recorded for us to remember them. But it seems that Jesus’ intention for all his followers, including us, is the same: heal the sick, cast out demons, proclaim the kingdom.

But what does that mean? Healing, casting out demons, announcing the kingdom? We live in a day when we have a highly developed health system to take care of the sick. There is also an organized justice and law enforcement system to clean up the demons of society, so what more can Christians offer? And preaching about the kingdom is surely something for the priests, the ministers, the pastors. What is there left for the ordinary Christian to do?

Looking at Jesus’s commands another way, apart from speaking about the kingdom these tasks sound distinctly supernatural. Miraculous healing, exorcism… are these to be the job of the ordinary believer? Isn’t it best to leave the supernatural ministries to those with special gifts?

Some even say that the Christian faith is not primarily about what we do at all, but rather about what we believe. We are saved by believing, not by doing, they would say. Nothing we do can earn our salvation. Quoting John 6:29 (Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent”) they point out that our work as Christians is to believe in Jesus. If we want to know our calling in life, they say, we need look no further than this. We are called to believe, to put our trust in Jesus.

Is the Christian life, then, simply an intellectual agreement to a proposition about Jesus, or is there more? I believe that the intellectual agreement is simply the first step to “believing in Jesus.” It lays the foundation for the Christian life, provides a starting point. But just as a house is more than its foundations, so are we. Jesus also said to his disciples, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). We cannot ignore the challenge of Jesus to go into the world and do what he has sent us to do. Jesus was sent into the world by the Father, and we have come to know the Father as a result. We are sent into the world by Jesus, so that others may come to know the Father too. They come to know the Father as we do the works of Jesus, which are exactly the things that he lists in Luke chapter 9: casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching the Kingdom.

There are always these two aspects of what it means to be a Christian. One is our relationship with God, founded on belief, faith, trust, and the other is our relationship with the world. Jesus is our model for both. These are what we were created for, what our lives are all about, to know Jesus, and to make him known by doing his work in the world. We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ. The good works we were created for are to believe in Jesus, to live in his love, freely given, and to go out to communicate his love freely to a needy world.

Jesus gave his first disciples a challenge. I believe that he challenges us modern day believers in exactly the same way. We are not called to withdraw into closed communities of comfort and security, but to engage with the world around us. The relational aspect of our faith is supremely important, for it is from there that we draw our strength for the task, our inspiration, our instruction. But he commands us to go out, to be involved with others, to engage with a broken and hurting world. He calls us to make a difference. He calls us to help build a better world, which he calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

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