The Logic Of Mission

Isaiah 43:10-13

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / July 30, 2006


            Christian mission takes different forms, and can be engaged in a variety of ways—but that is a subject for next Sunday, as we attend to The Language of Mission. This morning I would like us to think about the logic of mission. That is, I would like us to consider why, as the people of God, we should be interested in passing on the message and values of the Christian faith to others.


            Motivation plays an important role in determining to what extent Christians become engaged in the work of evangelism. Most of us need reasons—compelling reasons—set forth, before we are willing to take risks, and before we are willing to exert ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God.


            I reckon that such compelling reasons abound in our Scripture texts this morning. Let us begin with what is perhaps the most well-known ‘mission text’ in all of Scripture. In Matthew 28:19, we have the Risen Christ commissioning His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


            Here, our motivation for evangelism is set before us in terms of Christian duty. Our King, Jesus Christ, has commissioned His followers to go and bring in more followers. In one sense, this should be enough—the King requires us to do something and so we do it.


            The unfortunate reality, however, is that most of us need something greater than duty to sufficiently motivate us.


            Please pardon the analogy of commercial sales, but isn’t it true that the sales person who believes in his product and delights in his product is more likely to succeed than the sales person who engages the work merely out of a sense of obligation?


Is it not true that there is something very compelling about a person who engages in a work with joy and enthusiasm?


            This is the tone of Psalm 96. The Psalmist declares, “Sing a new song to the Lord! Everyone on this earth, sing praises to the Lord, sing and praise His name. Day after day announce ‘The Lord has saved us!’” (Ps. 96:1, 2).


            Here the Psalmist is calling for joyful proclamation from God’s people—‘make an announcement to all the nations’, he implores them. But why? The reasons are set forth in the verses that follow: “Tell every nation on earth, ‘The Lord is wonderful and does marvelous things! The Lord is great and deserves our greatest praise! He is the only God worthy of our worship’” (Ps. 96:3, 4).


            Quite simply, the logic of mission, the reason for proclamation, is that God is great.


It seems as if my childhood grace was not far off the mark, when I used to pray, ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.’ That simple grace wisely connects the greatness of God with the earthly benefits we enjoy.


            No doubt, we could identify other legitimate reasons for evangelism—for example—many Christians are motivated to evangelize as they consider what awaits those who refuse to follow Christ. They remember the words of Jesus and are moved by the thought that, apart from believing in Jesus, man will perish (Jn. 3:16-18). We don’t want that; we don’t want anyone to suffer, and so, for some, that becomes a primary motivation for sharing the good news of salvation with others.


            Such a motivation is good and legitimate, but did you know that the well-being of others is not the dominant motivation for evangelism according to the Bible?


The predominant reason for evangelism found in Scripture is, again, quite simply the greatness of God. God is so glorious, so wise, so holy, so powerful, so loving, so abounding in mercy, that God’s people cannot keep quiet.


When we carefully consider all that God is—when we consider the sum of His attributes, it is then that we are most forcefully compelled to sing His praises and to declare to the nations that ‘Our God reigns!’


This is what we find in Isaiah 43. We also find in Isaiah 43, a context similar to our own. The people of God had been dispersed and, as a result, they had come in contact with many other so-called ‘gods’. There’s was a pluralistic society—not altogether unlike ours—and so God, through His prophet Isaiah, challenges them to get their theology in order. And, in challenging them to get their theology in order, the people of God learn anew the logic for their mission.


In verse 10, the Lord says, “My people, you are my witnesses” (Isa. 43:10). This is a declaration. The Lord does not ask a question. ‘Will you be My witnesses?’ No choice is implied here. Nor is this a mere commissioning, ‘Go, and become My witnesses.’ No. This is a statement about the current state of affairs. This is for all those who belong to the covenant, this is for all those who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, “My people, you are My witnesses.


You could say then, that another legitimate motivation for evangelism relates to our identity. To be a Christian is to be a witness for Christ—the two are synonymous. For this reason, we should not shoulder the responsibility of evangelism as if it were some heavy, unnatural, burden. The Lord Jesus Christ, who has called us to Himself, and has made us co-heirs of the kingdom has also made us to be “witnesses”. Therefore, to act as a witness for Christ should be no more of a burden than it is for a fish to swim, and no more unnatural for us than for a bird to fly. “My people, you are My witnesses.


The only remaining question is: What kind of witness will we be? Will others think more highly of God because of us? Through our manner and behaviour will others get a glimpse of God’s glory? Or will others think less of God because of what they see in us?


As witnesses, every Christian ought to be concerned with how they represent Christ, and every Christian should orient their lives toward the advancement of the Gospel of Christ.


            If understanding our new identity in Christ does not sufficiently compel our witness then a return to a deep contemplation of God’s greatness ought to. I’m referring here to the God-ness of God, if you will. That’s what we have in Isaiah 43—God enjoying His God-ness—He says to us, “I want you to know Me, to trust Me, and understand that I alone am God. I have always been God; there can be no others” (Isa. 43:10).


He goes on, “I alone am the Lord; only I can rescue you. I promised to save you, and I kept My promise. You are My witnesses that no other god did this. I, the Lord, have spoken. I am God now and forever. No one can snatch you from Me or stand in My way” (Isa. 43:11-13).


Clearly, God delights in His supremacy—and so should we.


And, what we will find is that when we delight in God’s greatness, the natural overflow will be an inclination to bear testimony to that greatness.


We do this all the time with infinitely less important things. When we discover a delicious recipe, when we find the bargain of the century, or when we find the ultimate all-purpose device—we naturally begin to tell others about what we have found. And often what happens is that, as we joyfully relate our satisfaction to friends and family, this compels them to try the recipe or to buy the product.


Beloved, to be a Christian means that you have tasted and experienced for yourself that God is good (Ps. 34:8). And having tasted this, you now find yourself compelled to bear testimony. You see, people don’t normally come to know God through dreams or by philosophical reasoning—people come to know Christ by way of human testimony—people telling people that God is God;  people demonstrating to other people that Christ is utterly glorious.


There is a story that is told about Joe Louis, the world famous boxer, that comes from the early 1930s. At a time when Joe Louis wasn’t yet a recognizable face, he was riding a bus through downtown Detroit.


While riding on the bus, a group of young men began to verbally abuse Joe Louis. They taunted him, trying to bait him into a fight, but Joe Louis just ignored them. The abuse continued, and even escalated to a point where one of the young men struck Joe Louis. Even then, a restrained Joe Louis did not retaliate, but simply got off at the next stop.


Now put yourself on that bus, a few seats down from Joe Louis. From the vantage point of you knowing who Joe Louis is, how do you respond as this confrontation unfolds?


One response might be to speak up and say to the young men, ‘Are you guys nuts? You’re taunting someone who could really hurt you! For your own sake, for your own safety, you should stop this nonsense immediately!’


Such a response would be good and fine in that you would be preventing others from getting harmed. But let me suggest to you that something fundamental is missing in that response.


An even more appropriate response would be to stand up and declare to the young men that they should be showing utmost respect to the finest boxer in the world. You see, the young men were in the presence of greatness, but they didn’t realize it.


Yes, they needed to know the danger associated with their ignorance—but more than that, they needed to hear the message of Joe Louis’ greatness.


What should be our prime motivation for evangelism? What should be at the core of what drives our mission? Every human being lives in the presence of God’s greatness, but many don’t realize it. Our most urgent message is the message that God is among us, and that this God is infinitely glorious.


This ought to be our logic for mission. This is not to say that there are no other worthwhile motivations for doing evangelism, it’s just that the need for humanity to acknowledge God’s greatness should be at the heart of all we do.


I pray that the reason we gathered this morning was because we are convinced that God is indeed great, and worthy to be praised. Or maybe you came because you heard from someone else that God was great and so you came to verify such a claim. Whatever your reason for being here this morning, I pray that you recognize that the glory of God is in this place.


And I pray that you now understand that this is the logic of the Christian mission. Because God is God; because God is infinitely glorious, we ought to be communicating this message to all who will listen.


For those of you who have tasted the goodness of God—commit yourselves to the work of evangelism, understanding that every human being lives in the presence of God’s greatness, but many have yet to realize it.