TODAY’S READING: Matthew 4; Luke 4–5
Some misunderstand missions to be a New Testament development. Others think missions started after Pentecost. But Jesus displayed God’s missionary center from the beginning of His ministry. In Matthew 4:8, the devil tempted Jesus with “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” The devil knows what the prize is and what the battle is over—the supreme war of the cosmos is over worship. Will the nations worship Jesus or the devil? Luke’s record says that the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All this authority I will give to you, and their glory” (Luke 4:5–6), but the condition was devil worship (v. 7). Missions exists because the worship of Jesus does not. The devil knows the end game, and he tried to abort it from the beginning. Jesus, of course, will have none of the devil’s nonsense, and He retorted that only God is worthy of the worship of every tongue.
Establishing the missionary goal by the power of the Spirit, Jesus rooted Himself in Capernaum (Matt. 4:13), referred to the center of “Galilee of the Gentiles” where “a people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (vv. 15–16). Jesus began His ministry by quoting Isaiah and the liberating promises of God and then illustrated His sermon by citing missionary examples. There were many widows in the famine of Elijah’s time but God sent (missionized) the prophet to a Lebanese (Luke 4:26). There were many lepers, but God used Elijah to cleanse a Syrian (v. 27). It was not by accident that Jesus’ first sermon was a missionary sermon, and it did not unfold without incident. What was the response to the revelation of God’s great missionary heart? Destructive wrath that tried to kill Jesus (vv. 28–29). Jesus was loved for a few short few minutes, but when He started revealing the missionary heart of God, He exposed the miserly heart of God’s (supposed) people. How we love sermons that promise our deliverance, but how we resent when Jesus challenges us to be used to deliver the nations.
From the first missionary sermon of Jesus, the precedent was followed up on systematically. Jesus peripatetically taught, preached, and healed among the people, and his fame spread throughout all Syria (Matt. 4:24). Great multitudes followed Him from Galilee of the Gentiles and the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (v. 25). In Luke, when the masses want to clutch Jesus to themselves, He said: “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (4:42–43).
The opening ministry of Jesus resounded with His missionary passion. Even a healing of a Jewish paralytic is turned into missionary messaging: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins…” (5:24). Jesus established His deity and His universal authority using His favorite title for Himself—Son of Man—which comes from Daniel where the Son of Man is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom “that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (7:13–14). God is a missionary God. The Bible is a missionary book. Jesus is a missionary Messiah. From His first sermon to His last summons, Jesus’ glorious passion is for all peoples of the earth to worship Him.