Messiah's Millennial Missionary Mandate



There's an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Some men can't resist tinkering with mechanical gadgets, taking them apart and putting them back together whether they are in working order or not. In the realm of the Spirit there are Christians trying to discover new and better ways to evangelise. The problem is that, in the Church, what is new and novel is not necessarily better. In reality, the principles of mission revealed in the New Testament are timeless. There may be fresh ways to implement the principles but the principles themselves do not need fixing or replacing.

In Acts 17:1-3 Luke records the missionary strategy of the apostle Paul, and those apostolic principles of mission form the blueprint for the ministry of CWI at the beginning of the third millennium.


Mission

Paul's gentile mission was the implementation of the Lord's great commission to preach the gospel to every creature. It was a long time before Peter reluctantly ventured into the home of the non-Jew Cornelius to share the gospel with him and his household and, according to Paul in Galatians 2, Peter and the other leaders of the Jerusalem Church had difficulties coming to terms with Paul's calling to the "uncircumcised". Yet the apostles recognised Paul's calling and agreed that he should go to the gentiles while they evangelised the Jews. It is staggering to think that in the early church eleven apostles were sent to the Jews, whereas only one was "the apostle to the gentiles".


Mandate

When Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Damascus Road, the Lord revealed to Ananias that the man who had been the enemy of the people of God was Messiah's "chosen vessel" to bear his name "before gentiles, [their] kings, and the children of Israel". According to his own testimony, after he received his commission to open the eyes of the gentiles and to "turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God"; Paul "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:15-19). However, the apostle immediately explains that in obedience to the command to preach the gospel to the nations, he "declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the gentiles, that they should repent..."

A survey of Acts 13 to 28 will reveal that wherever God's unique envoy to the gentiles went in the ancient Roman world, his first port of call in every city was the synagogue. Luke records in chapter 17 that at Athens, the centre of Greek culture, Paul's "spirit was provoked within him when he saw the city given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue..." (vv16,17). Why reason in the synagogue? If there were one place in Athens free from idolatry, superstition and graven images it would have been the shul. Yet Paul began his campaign against idolatry there and from there went on to reason with the Greeks in the market place and at the Areopagus.

The reason for this apparent disobedience to the heavenly vision by reversing the priority of his commission is to be found in Romans 1:16 and Acts 13:46. For Paul, although the gospel was indisputably "the power of God to salvation for everyone"—Jew or gentile—it was so "for the Jew first" and, for that reason, he was able to testify to the Jews of Antioch that although he had been sent as a light to the gentiles, it was necessary that the word of God should have been spoken to them first.


Message

Paul's message to the Thessalonian synagogue in Acts 17 was that the Messiah "had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and ... 'this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Messiah'." The Gospel records reveal that apart from John the Baptist (John 1:29), Simeon (Luke 2:34,35) and the Lord himself, few Jews of the first century had any concept of a suffering Messiah. This is apparent from the fact that after Peter had received his momentous divine revelation that Jesus was the Messiah he had to be rebuked for attempting to dissuade his Master from his ultimate destination - Jerusalem and the cross.

Jews living outside Israel were similarly in the dark. Paul's message in the synagogues of the Diaspora was that the redemption for which they longed and prayed had been accomplished through nothing less than the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.


Method

As Saul of Tarsus, Paul had waged war on the Church, prepared to stop at nothing in his determination to stamp out the fledgling Jesus movement. The ascended Christ had appeared to him, blinding him by a dazzling light that was seen by his travelling companions. Through the power of God he had been saved, healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. What a testimony! If the Full Gospel Businessmen had been around in the first century Paul would have been inundated with invitations to tell his story at their Gospel Banquets. Christian publishers would have been falling over themselves to obtain his biography. Yet Paul rarely spoke about his conversion experience. On the two occasions that Paul testifies (Acts 22 and 26) he does so because he is requested and as a defence of his missionary activity. His preferred method of evangelism was to reason from the Hebrew Scriptures.

In this way he was an imitator of Christ. After he rose from the dead, the Lord could have allayed the fears of the disciples on the journey to Emmaus by showing them his hands and feet. Instead, he gave them a Bible study. When Peter referred to his experience of seeing Christ transfigured, he urged his readers to heed the "prophetic word" which was "more sure" than his testimony (2 Peter 1:16-21).


No change

The most efficient and sure method of Jewish mission is to "explain and demonstrate" from the Scriptures that redemption is dependent on a Saviour who suffered, died and rose from the grave. It is this divinely sanctioned missionary strategy that CWI seeks to follow. Our missionaries approach the task in their own ways but the bottom line in each of their ministries is the explanation and application of the Scriptures to Jewish people.

Paul's strategy serves as our blueprint for mission. Like him, we seek to fulfil the great commission of Christ by preaching the Good News to all but, in accordance with the mandate of Romans 1:16, we are mindful that its primary focus is the Jewish people. Our message and the method of communicating that message remains the same. In one sense, the principles of twenty-first century evangelism were established in the first century but, in another, they were formulated before the world's foundation. Paul's method of mission was, like the tabernacle of Moses, constructed according to the pattern shown him. It may not be the easiest path but it is the most firmly established and we are committed to walking it.

This article was written for the Spring 2000 Herald but because of lack of space only appeared on the website



   
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