The Mission of God in Jesus
Last week Trace did a phenomenal job presenting the Mission of God throughout the OT, specifically, looking at how the covenants unfold throughout the grand narrative of Scripture.
This week, we are going to look at the Mission of God in the person and work of Jesus.
But before we do that, I want to review some concepts that came up last week. Because we only have 4 weeks, a little review won’t hurt.
As we think about the Mission of God, we need to keep in mind a few things.
- Universality and Particularity
God’s mission is universal in scope, but the way it is “worked” out is through particular people.
God desires to bless the nations (universal) but the means by which he is going to bless the nation’s is going to come through an elect people (particularity). – J.D. Payne
As J.D. Payne recognizes, this is a healthy tension. The two are not in conflict with one another.
This is evident in the covenants. For example, the covenant with creation. Adam is a particular man, but he is acting as humanity’s representative head (universality).
Or God’s promise to Abraham. “In you (particularity) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (universality).” Gen 12:3
As God’s mission unfolds through the OT the particularity gets narrower and narrower. This process is called election.
It’s almost election primary season… after the midterms. And think about how primaries work. Initially, there’s a big pool of people vying to be their party’s candidate. And there’s a narrowing effect. We hold “elections” to narrow out the field.
Think in terms of universality/particularity and representative government. Jerry Moran is one of our Senators. He is a particular man who ought to be representing his constituents (universality).
This narrowing effect is God’s election. But it is an election with universal scope in view. (Now God’s election is not a democratic process because God is King. He is a wise Monarch… but his election is good because he is just, and he is good).
We’ll see how this election unfolds all the way to the Mission of the Son. God elects to bless Abraham’s “seed” (offspring). God would then choose an elect nation (Israel), who would then desire an earthly king who would faithfully instruct the people in Torah (OT Law/instruction).
And Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised King, the faithful Israelite—the faithful and loyal covenant partner who fulfills the covenant where the others failed because of human sinfulness.
When God elects a particular people (Israel) to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, it is not actually a rejection of other nations. But it is the means through which God would draw the other nations to himself.
Why would God do it this way? It’s dizzying to think about. But that leads to the climax in Romans. Paul says the gospel is good news to the Jew first (as Israel came first) then to the Gentiles. And he uses the metaphor of an olive tree with many branches. Israel is the original root. The Gentiles are wild branches who are grafted in. And the purpose for grafting the Gentiles in was, in some mysterious way, designed to make the Jews jealous so that God would save some of them.
Paul is working this mystery out and can only conclude by saying (Romans 11:33) “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!”
This is similar to what Terry mentioned about prayer not being a formula. We don’t have to understand how something works to know that it works. Neuroscientists don’t fully even know what consciousness is, let alone how it works. But—we all know that it works.
So that’s my word of encouragement to you as you think through “election” and this idea of universality/particularity. Why did God do it this way? We would be wise to say with Paul “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”
- Centripetal and Centrifugal
Closely related to universality/particularity.
Physics lesson from a theologian (this is dangerous).
Centripetal is drawing in (toward the center). – Roller Coaster loop pull
Centrifugal is drawing out (away from the center). – push (on a roller coaster experiencing both forces at play)
In the OT, centripetal is drawing the nations in toward Israel – like a magnet. Trace mentioned Ruth. She was a non-Israelite who was drawn in and was able to say “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16).
We really don’t see centrifugal mission until the New Testament. That’s not because people in the OT were close-minded. At Jesus’ ascension, he tells them the Holy Spirit will come upon them to empower them with his continued presence and mission—they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8).
Outward direction. The church gathers to scatter.
This is not a hard and fast rule or a clean distinction. There are some examples in the OT of an outward push. Elijah for example is sent to minister to the widow Zaraphath. And Jesus actually alludes to this story in Luke 4 to make the point that God has a history of accomplishing his mission through Gentiles.
Summary: As we think about God’s mission in the OT, we see the dynamics of universality/particularity and centripetal/centrifugal at work.
In terms of the Mission of the Son (diagram), everything culminates in Jesus. He is the telos (goal) of the law (Rom 10:4). Everything was pointing forward to him, God’s mission is narrowing its focus to prepare for the Incarnation, and the cross. Singular point. And then as Jesus defeats sin and death on the cross by his resurrection, he inaugurates the new creation. God’s mission expands outward, globally and universally.
As we think about the Mission of God in Jesus, we need to think about the covenants in the OT and how all the covenants are fulfilled in Jesus and the new creation.
This won’t be a repeat of what Trace did last week, but I want us to think through how the covenants are interrelated.
How do we put the covenants together.
There’s a great book on this called Kingdom through Covenant by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, but its 900 pages. Abridged version is still long.
But it’s a magisterial book on the importance of covenants in God’s one eternal plan of redemption. They argue, covenants are the backbone of God’s redemptive plan. They provide the structure for how God accomplishes his mission.
Their view is called Progressive Covenantalism.
Progressive can be a dangerous word – but they just mean it in the sense of “unfolding.” God’s plan is unfolded through covenants, progressively over time—all of which are brought to their fulfillment in Christ.
Here’s a concise definition of their view: Progressive covenantalism is the view that the Bible presents a plurality of covenants that progressively reveal our triune God’s one redemptive plan for his one people, which reaches its fulfillment and terminus in Christ and the new covenant.” (35).
Stated differently: “God’s one, eternal plan unfolds in history through a plurality of interrelated covenants, starting with Adam and creation and culminating in Christ and the new covenant.” (36).
Think of Russian nesting dolls. Or Inception. Each is significant, but equally significant is what comes before and after – and how together they form an integrated whole. Really, you could think about the covenants “organically.”
6 Major Covenants
- The covenant with creation — Genesis 1-3
- The covenant with Noah — Genesis 6-9
- The covenant with Abraham — Genesis 12; 15; 17; 22
- The covenant at Sinai — Exodus 19:3b-8; 20-24
- The covenant with David — 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89
- The new covenant — Jeremiah 31-34; Ezekiel 33:29-39:29
They are not isolated events. God’s unified plan progressively revealed.
The reason I’m spending time reviewing this again is because as we look at the Mission of God the Son Incarnate, we have to see how this is a unified plan from start to finish.
It’s not disjointed. We believe that all of Scripture is God-breathed. OT and NT.
Our doctrine of Scripture starts with our doctrine of God. What we believe about Scripture starts with what we know about God.
God is the triune, sovereign creator of the universe. … As we look at God’s word written, and because of God’s nature, we should expect to see an overall unity and coherence to God’s word.
There is diversity in God’s word—different literary genres, different human authors, written in different periods of time—but ultimately there is one single divine author – God. All Scripture is God-breathed.
God’s word records God’s mighty acts in human history (which often include the covenants). But Scripture itself is one of God’s mighty acts… and as such, The Bible did not just fall out of the sky… it was progressively revealed to us over time.
The unified redemptive plan unfolds through covenants to find its fulfillment in Christ.
- Trinitarian Mission
The last thing I’ll mention to keep in mind before talking about the Mission of God in Jesus is the trinitarian mission. We need to do some trinitarian theology.
Why? Because even the language Mission of God in Jesus, or the Mission of God the Son Incarnate is trinitarian language.
And it’s important for us to think about how the Mission of God flows out of who God is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Mission of God flows out of his nature.
John Stott has a famous sermon entitled, “Our God is a Missionary God.”
Here’s what J.D. Payne writes:
“Mission begins in the heart of God and flows from his nature.” (9).
“Mission began with God, is sustained by God, and will culminate with God. Mission is not an activity developed by the church; rather, the church participates in God’s mission. Mission belongs to him.” (9) Mission was God’s idea.
God sent himself…when he created time/space ex nihilo (out of nothing). Prior to this—he eternally existed as the living Triune God. But God’s vision for creation – his heart – has always desired to commune in fellowship with his creation. He’s always desired to see the earth filled with people who live in fellowship with him. Not because he needs that in order to be God, but because of his love.
Today, we don’t hear much about trinitarian mission… that’s kind of foreign language. But it’s not anything new. It’s language from the Bible itself (John 3:16-17 “God gave his only Son…for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”)
(John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”)
The son is sent from the Father. This implies a trinitarian mission.
Language about trinitarian mission has a long tradition reaching as far back as Augustine.
Augustine’s famous work On the Trinity talks about the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Let’s do some brief Trinitarian theology 101.
Succinct definition: God is three-in-one. One God, three persons. God is one essence, three persons. Unity in diversity.
Two important concepts: Ad intra and Ad extra.
Ad intra refers to who God is in himself. God is the self-sustaining God—his character, his attributes, his nature, his intratrinitarian relations of origin. He is self-sustaining, always existing as Father-Son-Holy Spirit. (immanent, ontological)
Ad extra refers to how God’s action… his works, in other words “toward the world.” God’s outward directed action. Economic.
So trinitarian mission is about the Trinity ad extra… God’s activity toward the world.
“Mission” refers to a temporal sending (in time).
There are two trinitarian missions—the sending of the Son from the Father; and the sending of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.
Mission of God in Jesus begins with the trinitarian mission of the Son. This doesn’t mean that the Son “began” to exist at the time of his incarnation. (That’s an ancient heresy known as Arianism—the view that Jesus was a created being… “there was a time when the son was not.”)
That’s not what I mean when I say trinitarian mission. Jesus eternally existed as the Son. But because of God’s will to create and save, he engages in mission to send his Son. So, it’s a new action of relation between God and his creation… not a change in who God is ad intra.
Here’s an important insight: To connect all this… trinitarian God is the foundation for missions. The trinitarian missions of the Son and Spirit reflect the unity and diversity that exists in the Godhead (Ad intra).
Just as the plurality of covenants reflect the one plan of God. Unity in diversity.
The Trinity is thus our starting point for understanding the Mission of God.
My goal is not to be confusing… the Trinity is a beautiful mystery… faith seeking understanding. But I really do believe its important for thinking about mission.
The Mission of God in Jesus
Here’s a one-word summary for thinking about the Mission of God in Jesus: Fulfillment.
He is the one who fulfills all of God’s promises in the OT. All of the covenants find fulfillment in Christ and the new covenant.
That is what is meant by Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 1:20 “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”
Let’s take the gospel of John as our starting point for looking at the Mission of God in Jesus.
We see the trinitarian mission of the Son unfold in the beginning of John’s gospel.
John’s gospel is the most literary/poetic of the gospels.
John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
“In the beginning” echoes Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
So, we already see how John is interpreting Jesus as fulfilling of the OT covenants. This takes our mind to Genesis and God’s covenant with creation and his image bearers in the garden.
What happens in the garden? Mankind is plunged into sin. But you have God’s gracious gospel proclamation.
Genesis 3:15 we have the protoevangelium, the first gospel proclamation: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
One theologian says this demonstrates “someone out of the human race itself (‘the woman’s offspring’) although fatally ‘wounded’ himself in the conflict, would destroy the serpent (Satan).” (Robert Reymond)
So here at the beginning of John’s gospel—he is taking us back to Genesis, priming us to see that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that has come before.
In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
This is talking about Jesus (the Word) as the text later makes clear. The Word became flesh… (vs 14).
So, in the very first verses of John, we see trinitarian operations. The Son existed eternally with the Father. The Word was with God and the Word was God. One essence, three persons.
And the Word became flesh (vs 14) and tabernacled among us. This refers to the incarnation of Jesus.
And as I already read John 3:16… The Son was sent into the world, not to condemn the world but to save the world. (The Son, in his first advent, did not come to execute God’s final judgement… rather, the Son came to bear God’s divine judgement upon himself!)
Turning to the gospel of Luke, we see more fulfillment.
The annunciation (Luke 1). Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Even in the angel’s appearance to Mary, we have the announcement of how Jesus fulfills the OT covenants.
Here we have reference to Jesus fulfilling the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89.
Jesus is the promised King from David’s line, who will lead and reign an eternal kingdom.
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[a] will be called holy—the Son of God.”
The fulfillment language continues. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters as God begins his work of creation, the Spirit now overshadows Mary with the power of the Most High as she conceives.
The Greek word “overshadow” translates to the Hebrew word that was used to talk about the settling of the glory cloud of God’s presence in Exodus. (Stephen Wellum)
Just as in the past, God’s glory presence breaks into human history … and settles on Mary as she carries the God-man, who is the tabernacle and temple of God… God with us, Immanuel.
Later in Luke, Jesus himself helps us see how we are to understand the Mission of the Son as a fulfillment of the OT covenants.
Luke 24 – The Road to Emmaus.
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
The Bible Jesus used to point to himself was the OT Scriptures. Everything written in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms, Jesus viewed as being written about him! (This is staggering!!!!)
This is what is meant when theologians say the Bible is Christocentric. – They center on Christ.
Martin Luther: German trans of Bible. OT are the swaddling cloths of Christ.
Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.
We find other passages in the gospels that are similar.
In the Greek, “he has made him known” could be translated as “he has interpreted him.” The Greek word is exegesato. Where we get our word “exegesis.”
Exegesis is an important part of interpreting the Bible. It means, drawing meaning from the text itself. Not imposing or reading your own ideas into the text. We want our preaching to be exegetical.
Jesus is the Supreme Exegete.
Jesus exegetes God! Jesus is the chief exegete and interpreter of Scripture. As Luke 24 demonstrates. Or the Sermon on the Mount… there also Jesus is depicted as a greater Moses, exegeting, showing the true meaning of the OT Law. Jesus will say “you have heard it said… but I say to you…”
Another remarkable passage in John 5:36-39
36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Honestly, we could go on and on and on…
As you look at the life and ministry of Jesus you will find themes of fulfillment.
Here’s a key point about fulfillment: Fulfillment is the link of continuity between the OT and NT.
Fulfillment is not “replacement.”
Matthew 5:17 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
The OT and the covenants anticipate Jesus.
Summary: One-word summary of the Mission of God in Jesus: fulfillment.
Life and Work of Jesus (I’ve not done this chronologically… I’ve done this thematically)
Last week ended with the 400 years of prophetic silence.
Israel was awaiting a promised Messiah (a promised Son) who would deliver their people.
Their expectations were realistic if we were in their shoes. They were awaiting a military ruler who would overthrow Roman oppression.
But as God’s unified plan of redemption unfolds, the identity of the Messiah becomes more and more defined. (Wellum)
Israel is waiting for a Messiah who will inaugurate God’s saving reign (his kingdom) and usher in the new covenant age.
God’s kingdom – God’s saving rule and reign.
Jesus is the one who brings inaugurates God’s kingdom. In Jesus, we have full and final forgiveness of sins (The book of Hebrews – Jesus is better). The Law and the OT priestly sacrificial systems were temporary stop-gap measures anticipating the full and final forgiveness of sin in the substitutionary death of Jesus.
Jesus not only was our substitute, bearing our sin and dying in our place. But Jesus’ whole life and active obedience was substitutionary. He obeyed the Father as our representative. (remember universality and particularity).
In the particular God-man (fully God and fully man), Jesus acts as the representative for all those who have faith in his name. Then his righteousness is imputed and given to us.
Now, because of Jesus’ resurrection, the new creation, the age of the Spirit has burst in. All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ.
Themes in the life of Jesus – Ingathering of the Nations: (centripetal and centrifugal)
From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, he was drawing the nations to himself.
Read the birth narratives of Matthew, with the wise men (sometimes called Magi from the East). You see gentile worshippers – the nations – coming to worship God the Son incarnate… lying in a manger.
When the angels appear to the hillbilly shepherds in Luke 2, one of the angels says:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
When Jesus is presented at the temple, Simeon filled with the Holy Spirit held the Christ child and said (Luke 2:30-33)
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
All throughout Jesus’ ministry, he has interactions with gentiles, often to the chagrin of Jewish people. He often rebukes Israel because they should be the ones with eyes to see the Messiah, but they reject him and it is often the gentiles who express great faith.
For example, Jesus teaching in the Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4).
Jesus went to the synagogue and starts reading/preaching from the scroll of Isaiah. Here’s Jesus, exegeting the Prophets… and he says
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He rolls up the scroll gives it back and takes his seat. Mic drop.
And he says – boom — mic drop — “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Then he predicts that they will not accept him as the Messiah.
24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
In other words, Jesus tells them… you have a history of rejecting prophets. God has historically showered blessings on gentiles.
Israel’s rejection and the Gentile reception.
This is a major theme throughout the book of Luke… it’s fascinating to see their obstinate rejection of him.
However, even though Jesus came as a light for the gentiles, he spends the majority of his time and ministry among Jews.
Matthew 15:24, Jesus says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
This is not to the exclusion of the nations… but this is what Paul means by the good news to the Jew first, then to the gentile. In terms of a redemptive-historical sense… Salvation has come to the Jews and by extension, all nations.
Passion of Jesus
Many fulfillment patterns reach their climax with the passion and death of Jesus.
Jesus’ death/resurrection fulfills the promise of the new covenant.
Full and final forgiveness of sin.
No more faulty mediators who are not actually able to take away sin.
In the cross and death of Jesus, God brings a message of hope through judgement. Salvation is for those who believe in Jesus—and as a result, there would be a multi-ethnic multitude who would join in the chorus of salvation.
Jesus interprets his own death as inaugurating/fulfilling the new covenant promises. On the night where the Jews gathered to celebrate Passover, the great feast of remembrance of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
As you’ll recall, blood was spread over the doorposts in Egypt to spare Israelite firstborn sons from the angel of death. Then Israel traveled through the parted Red Sea and to Sinai.
Jesus’ blood represents a better blood than the lamb slaughtered at Passover. He is the Passover lamb sacrificed for us.
He is the resurrected priest-king, who inaugurates the new creation – his kingdom (his saving rule and reign) that is now here in part but not yet here in fullness. We now look forward to the day—the great marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will celebrate at table in the heavenly banquet. When we practice communion—that is what we are doing! We are looking backward and forward in anticipation of the consummation of God’s kingdom.
That’s where we’ll stop today. Next week, we will look at The Mission of God in the Church.
God has one unified plan of redemption.
How we read the Bible.
All Scripture is a unified, cohesive whole. (Dangers of separating OT from NT)
Christocentric – it’s all about Jesus – pattern our lives after Jesus
Evangelism – all peoples can get in on covenant promises.