After Jesus rose from the dead he gave the disciples and the church the great commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
Last year I preached on how we, as the church, are called into a partnership with God. Today I’m going to continue on that theme. When God called Abraham and the people of Israel into a covenant relationship, he gave them, as an inheritance, the promised land. My main point today is that the church has received the great commission as an inheritance from Jesus and in a way, this is like our promised land. It is a bit of a stretch to say this because the promised land is a piece of the earth while the great commission is all about people. Yet Jesus, when he talks about his mission, he often uses farming as an analogy.
When Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel, inherit the promised land it doesn’t mean that they all shared all the land together. They divide the land up between all the families. Each family inherits a piece of the promised land, a portion of God’s Kingdom. In the same way the great commission isn’t saying that every Christian has to travel to every nation on planet earth to share the gospel message, instead, the Spirit is calling you to inherit a portion of Jesus’ mission for the church, go to a group people with the gospel message. Each of us receives our portion of the great commission, our portion of the inheritance left to the church.
The work of the great commission is to cultivate God’s Kingdom in the lives of people. The focus of the great commission is the people we are sent to. When thinking about mission, focus on people and not activities, because mission is a question of “who you’re sent to” not “what you do”. What you do is formed by who you are sent to. A soup kitchen is not a mission, cultivating God’s Kingdom in poor people who are hungry is the mission, a soup kitchen is a tool for getting the job done.
The apostle Paul was sent to Gentile people, a group of people largely ignored by the early church. The way that Paul shares the gospel with gentiles is different than how he shares with his fellow Jews. “What you do” comes out of “who you’re sent to”. Another example is a church called “God squad church” which is on mission to people who play video games. For that church, who they are sent to is defined by a social activity and what they do and how they disciple is formed by the social activity of playing video games. If you don’t play video games, then they aren’t sent to you.
While the overall mission of the church remains the same, our personal mission work does change over time and this is different than the Israelite’s inheritance in the promised land which stayed with the same family for all generations. Yet in one important aspect is is the same. The apostle Paul talks about what it means to share in Jesus’ mission:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.Romans 8:17 NIV
Jesus shares his mission with the church not to burden us with difficult work but to let us inherit Kingdom riches, as Paul says, glory.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21 NIV
As members of the church we are promised eternal life, but this scripture and other parables like the parable of the talents indicate that eternal life is not the only wealth in God’s Kingdom that we are able to receive. In fact, the parable of the talents makes it clear that anyone who is faithful with God’s Kingdom in this age will inherit a greater portion in God’s Kingdom at the end of the age.
When God gave the people of Israel the land promised to Abraham it was a way of securing their lives so that they could prosper as a people. Land always has and will always be a source of wealth, power and probably more importantly, dignity. The more land that a person owns, the more wealth they could have and the land is always worth something. Having land didn’t always guarantee prospering because land needs to be cultivated, but it is impossible to cultivate land if you don’t have land.
It’s in the book of Joshua where the people of Israel enter the promised land. For Joshua, to take his inheritance was a no brainer, but not everyone was thinking like that. Maybe the idea of cultivating land for a group of nomads was intimidating? Yet it is clear, even to nomads, that it is a bad idea to not take land that is given to you.
The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control, but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has given you? Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me….”Joshua 18:1-4 NIV
Joshua sees the large territory of open land for the people to claim, but they’re doing nothing. “How long will you wait”? Joshua steps in to help them take their inheritance because he knows there is more than enough for everyone and God wants all his people to share in his gift. The land was divided according to the tribes by their size. Not everyone got an equal sized portion. The land was surveyed and there was a kind of lottery system where people would receive their portion. While there was reluctance to claim the land, they eventually do claim it and they do prosper because they learn to cultivate and build.
In the parable of talents in Matthew 25, the master goes on a journey and he gives each of his servants a portion of his estate, each according to their ability. Not everyone gets an equal portion, but each person is given the dignity of receiving something that they are expected to cultivate, or put to work.
The great commission is like the promised land, a vast territory, there is so much opportunity to cultivate, but how can you cultivate your portion of the great commission if you don’t claim any territory?
It is the Holy Spirit that directs us in mission and to receive a mission is to receive a portion in God’s Kingdom. You are given the dignity to cultivate a portion that Jesus has given the church. To receive and cultivate our portion is to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, treasures that cannot be taken away. Treasures you will enjoy for a lot longer than you will enjoy life in this age.
What is my portion
LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.Psalm 16:5-6 NIV
Proclaiming Jesus as Lord and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit grants us the inheritance of eternal life where we will be raised to new life at the end of the age when God makes a new heaven and a new earth. What will your cup and portion be in this renewed Kingdom in the coming age?
Our cup and portion is in Jesus and the mission that he has so graciously given to the church. How do you know what your part is in the great commission? In 2019, LMC shared it’s missional vision, which I’ll read:
Our missional vision – a conviction that every congregation and every member are missionaries and are being sent into the mission of God…across the street and around the world. We encourage every congregation to prayerfully discern an answer to the essential missional question, “To Whom is the Holy Spirit sending us?”LMC Missional Vision (in part)
The idea of being sent might be intimidating. For the Israelites, who were wandering in the desert for all their lives, taking land and cultivating it is daunting, but they learned it. Our mission is supposed to be, as David says, a delightful inheritance.
The first step to being a missionary is asking the Holy Spirit who to go to. To not ask is like standing at the border of the promised land and not claiming any territory. Learning who you are sent to is not an easy task and it can take time to figure out.
The second step is figuring out what to do. There are 2 essential parts in cultivating the Kingdom in the lives of the people you are sent to. The first is a blessing strategy: how is Jesus Good News to the people you are sent to? The second part is who are you investing in? This the “making disciples” part of the great commission. Who of the people that you are sent to will you invest in so that they too can inherit a portion of the great commission.
If you ever want clarity on mission then talk with Millie and me. We fill the role like Joshua did for the Israelite tribes. In this case, helping you understand to whom the Holy Spirit is sending you to and how you can begin to cultivate God’s Kingdom in their lives.
The way the promised land was divided among the Israelites was very interesting and the laws surrounding the land are very different from how we deal with land today. There was no “eminent domain” where the government could take what they please. From the Israelite perspective, all the land belonged to God. The land was divided between the tribes. And each family claimed a portion from their tribe. The underlying theme was that God wanted everyone of his people to have the chance to work God’s land. The Levites were the only exception. If a person fell on hard times and had to sell their land, it could not be sold permanently. In the year of Jubilee, which happened every 50 years, all land was given back to the original owner, because the land belonged to God and God gave that land to that family. Even a king couldn’t take what God gave to a family.
Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”1 Kings 21:1-4 NIV
Eldon read this scripture earlier where you get a bigger picture of the story. What happens to Naboth is terrible and God doesn’t let Ahab get away with it.
The gift of the great commission is something Jesus asks us to carry with him. Why would you pay someone else to do the work that Jesus asked you to do with him? Naboth saw his inheritance as what God gave him and he would not sell it even for more wealth or a better land because it wasn’t what God gave him.
The great commission isn’t something that we can outsource and the portion that we receive isn’t something that we trade in for something better. Jesus gives us the dignity of cultivating his Kingdom in the lives of the people he has sent us to.
It is a bit of a stretch for me to compare the promised land to the great commission, but the idea that the great commission is a source of wealth for us to inherit in God’s Kingdom is something that the apostle Paul teaches us:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NIV
If you never build anything, then there is nothing to test on the Day of testing. There is Kingdom riches that Jesus is giving us, riches that will last forever, how long will we wait before we take it and cultivate and build?