4 missional lessons to learn from Christ

"If we want to be effective in mission, it will cost us something", says Iain Hesketh

What a year it has been. So much has changed. So many challenges faced, and still, it seems there are more to come. But the incarnation of Jesus the Son of God has much to say to a life on mission in current circumstances.

Jesus wasn’t born into a world of political democracy, social equity, and economic stability; the Romans ruled by fear, and the Jews lived with the hope of a promised deliverer to free them.

The Zealots fought to undermine and overthrow Rome, and the Essenes formed a kind of monastic community, and are believed to have kept themselves separate from the rest of society, seemingly choosing to ignore what was going on in the world. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were at odds over finer points of theology, but both were dismissive of the Gentiles unless they served their own ends.

Slavery, exploitation, greed, immorality, and gender inequality were the norm for a pagan world.

Of course, we don’t recognise any of that in our day, do we.

This is the world Jesus entered, not as a hero-warrior riding on a magnificent horse, with an army the size of the population of a small country, but as a baby.

Let that sink in. The creator of all that is visible and invisible (Col 1:15-20), the one who was in the beginning (John 1:1); the one who has all authority, laid down his right (Phil 2:5-8) in order to enter the world as a vulnerable infant. That’s where Jesus’ cross-cultural mission began.

So as Christmas 2020 looks to be a little different, here are four missional lessons we can learn from the incarnation as we seek to reach a world much like the one Jesus himself entered.

He absorbed his surroundings

As an infant, Jesus was completely dependent on Mary and Joseph for his physical care.

I remember when my children were born and the apparent shock on their faces as they entered the world from the darkness and smallness of the womb. The responsibility I felt for them was overwhelming, but the joy of receiving them into the world was immense.

Mary and Joseph were delighted that Jesus had arrived, but not everyone was as pleased as they were.

In those early months a baby absorbs so much; from the smile of a mother and father, the smells and sounds of the great outdoors, meeting family and friends who will become familiar faces, and then seeing the faces of strangers as they get shown off to the world by adoring parents.

Babies learn culture and language by observing what happens around and to them – it informs their development as they grow. Jesus was sent to those who would receive him with joy, and those who wouldn’t receive him at all (John 1:11).

And just as Jesus was sent, so he sends us (John 20:21).

The question for Jesus’ followers is not a question of if you are sent, but a question of, to whom are you sent?

Just as Jesus absorbed his surroundings and learned the culture in which he was living before he set about ministry, what do you see?

Who are you sent to?

He grew in wisdom and stature

The second thing we learn is that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature with God and the people (Luke 2:52).

Jesus' influence and impact in Galilee and Judea didn’t just happen overnight. He lived and learned in relative hiddenness for the first years of his life before his appointed time. However, I am convinced Jesus didn’t wait until he had a public platform to start doing ministry (Luke 2:46-49).

Maybe we could learn from this. As Jesus grew and gained understanding, he didn’t absorb the culture to become like it but understood it, so he could bridge it.

If you want to gain wisdom and favour take your time. You need to learn from and connect with people. They must learn to trust you, and your life of obedience to Jesus will open opportunities for you to share the good news with words.

Fruitfulness takes time, the cultivation of relationships, and the intentionality of sowing the right things – faith, hope, and love.

What are you sowing, and how are you growing?

He committed to the one thing

Jesus was relentlessly focused on one thing – the proclamation of, and bringing forth, the good news of the Kingdom (Mark 1:15, Luke 6:18-19). And he would not be distracted by other people’s agendas for him (John 6:15; Matt 16:23).

When you step into an environment with a missionary mindset, taking time to observe and learn about the people, manners, customs, and needs, you will see many opportunities; and many opportunities can lead to many distractions.

Jesus was very aware of the many needs and challenges of his day, but he maintained a focus on his mission and accomplished it (John 19:30).

If we want to be on mission with Jesus, we have to be relentlessly focused on the very things that Jesus has asked us to do, which is to follow him with obedience and help others to move from unbelief to belief in Him as King.

What are you focused on? Is anything distracting you?

He walked submissively and served sacrificially

The path that Jesus walked was one of surrender and submission to the purpose of the Father (John 4:34, 6:38). He knew that his mission was to give his life as a sacrifice so that those who put their faith in Him would receive eternal life (Mark 10:45; John 3:16, 11:26, 12:46).

Through faith in Jesus they would experience freedom from the captivity of sin (John 8:36; 1 John 1:5-10), and know the full joy of walking in obedience to his ways; the way it had been designed in the beginning (John 15:1-11; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10; 1 John 2:6).

If we want to be effective in our mission, it will cost us something. To be effective in missional living we must listen more than we speak, and serve more than we are served.

If we remember that we are called to partner with the Holy Spirit in his mission, he will lead us to love the people we serve like never before, with a relentless pursuit to love them like Jesus.

Have you counted the cost? Are you submitted to Jesus as King and his mission?


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