The Sending of Jesus: Seeing the Missio Dei in John’s Gospel (Part 4)

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Continued from: The Sending of the Disciples: So Send I You (Part 3).

“The church that is unsure of its mission will not be effective in carrying it out.”1 John Piper popularized the view of worship as the goal of the missio Dei: “Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man…. God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”2 In Encountering Theology of Mission, Ott and Strauss concur, “There can be little disagreement that God’s glory and the worship of the nations for all eternity are the ultimate end to which mission works.”3

Carson however notes the very clear statement of the purpose of God in John 3:14-17. These verses reveal that the giving of the Son is necessarily linked with the Son’s incarnation and crucifixion. “That is the immediate result of the love of God for the world: the mission of the Son. His ultimate purpose is the salvation of those in the world who believe in him.”4 While the Son’s mission is a common theme through the Synoptics, John clarifies that the purpose of the Father’s sending of the Son is to save the world (3:17).5

Ott and Strauss present these questions: “Does the mission Dei remain bound to the donum Dei (gift of God) in Christ Jesus and the need for grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God? Or is the mission Dei more to be understood in terms of God’s general concern for the whole creation, missio Dei mundo (mission of God in the world)?”6 The answer has implications for missions today. Are evangelism, church planting, witnessing, and discipleship at the heart of mission or should we place those on equal footing with measures like humanitarian aid, societal transformation, and creation care?

All mission endeavors need to be firmly attached to a redemptive objective.

This article submits that the radiant glory of God and the redemptive grace of God are inextricably intertwined as elemental to the missio Dei. Worship is fueled not only by an awareness of the greatness of God in his glory, but also by the fervent love of a soul who has found redeeming grace. “The purpose of mission must always be tethered to the cross of Christ.”7 There is no other way to bring the nations to gladness in God than through the cross of Calvary. All mission endeavors need to be firmly attached to a redemptive objective.

Many contemporary theologies of mission move too quickly to the message of the kingdom and its social implications, emphasizing church planting or compassion and speaking of holistic ministry. The saving work of Christ in the life of the believer and in the Christian community will have far-reaching implications for all of these concerns. But we dare not move too quickly to these issues and pass over the cross. For apart from Christ’s work of redemption, all these considerations are without power and without foundation in God’s own saving and transforming work.8

The Johannine view of mission in the Fourth Gospel centers on the mission of Jesus as sent from the Father. His unique person qualifies him for the unique work of substitutionary atonement on the cross of Calvary. Jesus, though united in love, being and purpose with the Father, submitted to the Father in every aspect of his mission on earth. In the mission of Christ, twin missional motifs converge. From the incarnation to the crucifixion, the radiant glory and redemptive grace mark his person and ministry. His radiant glory is seen in the light/darkness analogy with his self-designation as the Light of the World. His redemptive grace is seen in his role as the Lamb of God. Jesus purposefully advances toward the cross which John uniquely portrays as a place of glory rather than the humiliation as the Synoptics depict.9 In the cross of Christ, the glory and grace of God become inextricably intertwined.

Though Jesus’ mission is elevated and unique, the sending of the Son has important parallels with the sending of the disciples. The sent ones are subordinate to the sender. There is a relational parallel with the sent one entering into the sender’s mission with love and faithfulness. A functional parallel may be noted in the grace and glory motifs as well. Though the Son’s unique identity elevates his mission and defines his specific and unique objectives in the incarnation and cross, the pursuit of the glory of God and proclamation of God’s redemptive grace remain essential to the mission of the disciples.

A study of mission in the Fourth Gospel presents a relational purpose for the missio Dei. It is the love of God which motivates the sending of the Son. In the intimate setting of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus hints at this relational motivation with an eschatological hue: “I will… receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (14:3 KJV). With all of the focus on the worship of God in the heavenly city, it may be easy to overlook such simple sentiments as “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

To the extent that worship remains the aim of missions, John reminds us that it must be tied in relationship to the God who so loves the world. There can be no worship without love, and there can be no loving relationship apart from the cross. Radiant glory and redemptive grace must remain linked in the missio Dei.

 


 

  1. Andreas J. Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus and the Disciples according to the Fourth Gospel: With Implications for the Fourth Gospel’s Purpose and the Mission of the Contemporary Church, (Grand Rapids: William B, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 219.
  2. John Piper, “Let the Nations Be Glad” 64-69 in Perspectives, 64 & 69.
  3. Ott and Strauss, Encountering Theology of Mission, 84.
  4. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to JOHN, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), 206.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ott and Strauss, 65.
  7. Ibid., 86.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Andreas J. Kostenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 71.  
Jordan Satterfield
Rev. Jordan Satterfield is a pastor serving a Lakota community on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where he lives with his wife Kayla and three children. He is pursuing his Master of Arts in Global Studies through Liberty University School of Divinity. You can connect with him on Twitter @jrsatterfield.