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Jesus' Mission and Ours

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04 April 2013

Understanding the mission of Jesus helps us understand our mission.

By C. René Padilla (orginal in Spanish see here, translated by Neil Maclean)

The most appropriate starting point in understanding the nature of the mission that God has entrusted to the Church is that which, according to the four gospels, Jesus Christ carried out during His ministry on earth. What were His priorities? What was His message? What did His mission consist of? What was His motivation? The answers to these questions will help us to understand a fundamental fact of biblical ecclesiology and missiology: that, without ignoring or playing down the large differences of time and place between Jesus and ourselves, the Church is destined to continue the Lord's mission through time, until He returns.

In general terms, God's purpose is to allow the Church to establish itself within a community of witnesses of Jesus Christ. This, however, means much more than simply stating your belief in Him, it means to be and to live like Him. The mission of the Church is inseparable from the mission of itsLord, not only because it belongs to Him, but also because its calling is to ensure that the Word, which in the first century “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), continues to show its presence through the Church in 21st century society.

Of all the descriptions of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, none conveys the nature of His mission with as much strength as those describing Him as a 'servant' or 'slave' (doulos). According to Mark, Jesus said of Himself “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Such a description combines two figures from the Old Testament: the glorious Son of Man from Daniel 7, who came with the clouds of heaven to establish His everlasting dominion over all peoples, nations and languages, and the suffering servant in the hymn of the Lord's servant in Isaiah 53, who offers His life as atonement to “make many to be accounted righteous”. This remarkable paradox is a way of affirming that Jesus came in order to establish His universal reign through His self-sacrifice for all sinners, as “Christ crucified” (1Co 1:23; 2:2).

It is clear that the sacrifice of Christ – one of effective atonement – is unrepeatable. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews affirms, by virtue of the will of God “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). However, the New Testament provides a solid base from which to state that, as followers of Christ, we are called on to reproduce, in our own experience, the same type of dedication that He brought with Him to the cross, one inspired by love. In the words of the apostle John, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1Jn 3:16).

For the apostle Paul the relationship between the surrendering of Jesus Christ to the cross and his own experience as a missionary, is clear. This points to a text, the interpretation of which has given scholars much to think about: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). It is not that Paul considers Christ's sufferings to be insufficient to fully carry out His purpose of redemption, rather that he considers that his own suffering makes it possible for the Church to become what God intended it to become and through which Jesus Christ gave His life. If the Church wishes to be loyal to its calling to prolong the mission of Jesus Christ through history, the institution as a whole, especially its leaders, cannot evade the sacrifice which involves following the path of Jesus as the Lord's suffering servant.