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Jesus and the church

June 07, 2016
Benjamin Spalink

The harvest is ripe but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.  So begins Jesus' commission to the seventy-two disciples as he leads them in the next installment of their own discipleship.  Harvest time can last a few days or a few weeks. It's the time when extra hands are hired to bring in the crops before they're destroyed.  Jesus has work to do and can't do it alone. His disciples-in-training are sent to continue his work, equipped by his Spiritual power and authority and message to do exactly what he has been doing.

Luke 10 tells us some interesting things about what it means to be the church today.  The command to "go out" applies equally to us today, for it is still harvest time. The church has a mission to fulfill, and this mission is to declare through word and deed the coming of Jesus' kingdom.  That God uses us is incredible. That God needs us is hard to accept, but true nonetheless. The Gospel is not preached if people don't preach it. God truly partners with the church (the recipients of his grace) to share his grace with the world.  We're given the cup, so to speak, to drink ourselves and to share with those in need.  If we don't share it, we drink it dry. We can only refill the cup by pouring it out for others.

We learn also that missions cannot be separated from the local church because part of discipleship is reaching out. Look at Luke 10. The disciples are not fully trained, yet they're sent out like sheep among wolves to experience the power of God first hand on the job.  They learn as they share.  We grow deeper in our own faith and understanding of grace as we seek to share it with those who want to know more. To be a disciple is to be a fisherman, someone who's essential training is related to catching and gathering. To be a disciple is to be a person who builds community and bridges the gap between the impoverished margin dweller (the favored status of God's elect in Luke) and God.

We learn from Luke 10 that reaching out is not a matter of invitation (at least not in the common sense of "inviting someone to church").  Reaching out looks like Jesus reaching out - going from place to place, accepting hospitality and showing grace in the lives of those who welcome him in faith.  This grace looks like food for the hungry, life for the dead, liberation for the demonized, sight for the blind, forgiveness for the sinner, etc... The church's mission should not simply be to "bring people into church," but to bring church (God's grace) into people's lives.  The church grows through giving and planting, not through in-gathering.

The church, thankfully, is given the same tools Jesus used for his effective ministry: power, authority, and Words.  This was all Jesus had as he wandered about. He was filled with power by the Spirit (repeatedly in Luke we see Jesus act not in his own divine power, but in the power given him by the Spirit who fills him).  Jesus had authority (by virtue of his status as God's Son, he can give commands and the powers must submit to him).  Finally, he had the good news Word, the Gospel, the announcement of God's kingdom becoming a reality in this world ("It is near," he says).  Jesus has given these same three gifts to the church as well.  Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask.  Jesus gives his name to those who know him and would use it responsibly. And finally, he gives his disciples the Word, the good news message itself. This is the Gospel message of a benevolent king establishing a gracious kingdom which overcomes the powers of sin and death through Jesus' atoning sacrifice and resurrection. The church has the resources Jesus had to accomplish Jesus' mission. Jesus promises in John that his disciples will do even greater things than Jesus did (John 14:12), because our Gospel message has accomplished deeds to back it up (Jesus proclaimed the gracious kingdom before having been glorified in his own resurrection).

These are part of what it means to be a disciple within Jesus' church today.  God desires to partner with the church, to use the church, to disciple the church.  Is the church ready?

 

 

 

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