During the month of June, I will be looking at the topic of missions. How important are missions to you as a believer? And how important are missions to us as churches? Do we pray for it at our dinner tables? Do you and I seek opportunities for personal evangelism? Do we have a heart for, a love for, those who do not know Jesus Christ?
I am going to read John 17:18: “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”
How important are missions? It is a mark of the true church. We are called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We read in the Canons of Dordt, Second head of doctrine, Article 5: “This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”
How important are missions? At the end of each Gospel Jesus commissions His church. For example, Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” And then the book of Acts talks about Jesus Christ gathering His church. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (1:8). The church is commissioned by Jesus, her Head.
Our text (John 17:18) is part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer where He prays for His disciples, for His church. My theme is “The God-sent Ones.” In our text there is a double comparison. There is a comparison between God the Father as sender and Jesus Christ as sender. But there is also a comparison between Jesus Christ as the sent One and the disciples as having been sent. There is really one idea: as the Father has sent Jesus into the world with a message, so Jesus has sent His church into the world with a message.
So, who are the sent ones? First of all, it is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus prays: “…as the Father has sent me.” Over and over again the Scriptures emphasize this truth, that Jesus was sent by His Father into the world. In fact, in John’s gospel, and in the letters of John, fifty-five times that verb occurs: “that sent me.” And forty-one times of those are of Jesus Christ having been sent by His Father. Jesus is the sent One. Jesus is keenly aware of being sent by the Father. It has the idea of identification: “I am the God-sent One.” It has the idea of authority. In other words, Jesus did not come on His own, but He came as One who was sent by a special commission. He had delegated authority. And, thirdly, it has the idea of obedience: Jesus is the obedient Servant of Jehovah. We read in Psalm 40:7, 8: “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”
Now, our text says, “As the Father has sent me, even so also I have sent you.” The sent-ones are Jesus’ disciples. Now in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, He prays for His disciples who had been with Jesus for three years. Jesus had manifested God’s name to them. Jesus had given them words that the Father had given to Him. And they had received those words. The disciples believed that Jesus was the sent-One of the Father, the long-awaited Messiah. We have this same text from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus appears to His eleven disciples in the locked room. They are commissioned again.
We need to stand in amazement because of who these sent-ones are. The disciples had all forsaken Jesus on the cross. One of them had even denied Him. But they have been forgiven. So Jesus commissions them again: “Peace be given unto you. As my Father has sent me, even so send I you.”
When Jesus sends out His disciples, He is really sending His church. His church has this commission. The church has heard and received His Word. It is amazing because the sent-ones are sinners—you and I. How often do we not deny, forsake the Lord. We are not faithful. But we are forgiven. And the church collectively is sent. This is our mission statement: Go.
Who are the sent-ones? As Christ, even so His disciples. I want you to see that there is a very close connection. The sent-ones resemble the One who sends them and represent the One who sends them.
The sent-ones, first of all, resemble the One who has sent them. Does not Jesus say, “He who has seen me has seen the Father”? So as Jesus resembles the Father who sends Him, so we are to resemble Jesus Christ who sends us. What is the picture of Jesus that others have through our speech and our actions? What picture do they have of Christ in me? Do they see His glory, or do they at times see a lack of concern or even of disdain, as if we are too good for others? Do they see pride and impatience?
We represent Christ Jesus. We do not go out on our own, but we represent Christ even as Christ represented His Father. We are the sanctified ones. That means completely consecrated, given to the One who sends us. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit. That comes through especially in John 20:22, where the risen Lord says to His disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
So, the sent-ones are chosen by the Father. Jesus says, “Those whom thou gavest me.” They are sent by Jesus Christ. And they are empowered by the Holy Spirit—that missionary Spirit given to the church on Pentecost. So there is identification with the One who sends us, and there is the calling to be obedient. That is who are sent.
But our text also tells us where they are sent, namely, into the world. Jesus says clearly, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” What is that world? It is the world that was created good, but it is a world that was plunged into sin and is, therefore, under God’s curse. So we need to ask, What does it mean to be “in the world”? It does not mean to be like the world, for we are separated out of the world. We read in John 17:16, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” So, not of the world, but into the world.
The word “world” has many different meanings in Scripture. Sometimes it means the created world, this universe. “For God so loved the cosmos, the world that he made, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.” At times the word “world” means and is limited to human beings, the inhabited world. But the word “world” in our text is now used in its ethical sense—it is a fallen world. It is mankind alienated from the life of God, laden with sin, exposed to judgment, and desperately in need of salvation. It is a world that is in rebellion against God. It is a world that is now in the grip of the evil one. It is a world that is set over against God, following its own wisdom. It is a world of pride, covetousness, idolatry, pleasures, wickedness. It is, beloved, a world in the grip of death.
More than that, in verse 14 we find that it is a world that hates Christ and, therefore, hates His church and will persecute her. World. There is no distinction between race or nationality. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
It is into this world that God sent His dear Son. We read in I John 4:9, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” Again, I John 4:14, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” The holy, righteous, perfect Son of God, sent into this world of sin and death. How can this be? How the holy angels must have questioned and marveled: What is God doing? How can God’s Son be sent there? He who is light and life sent down into darkness and death? John begins his Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14).
Now, as the Father sent His Son into this sinful world, even so Christ also sends His disciples, His church, into the world. Why? Why did not Jesus take His church right up into heaven with Him? Why must they be in the world? Does not Jesus say in His prayer, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). But notice, way earlier in this chapter (v. 15), “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”
Why are we left here in the world? Dear listener, it is this: the church is here in the world to witness; to be a light in the midst of darkness; to be the salt of the earth. Those who are Christ’s may not shirk from that calling. They may not try to separate themselves and set up their own little community. We are in the world. That means that we live in their neighborhoods, we work in their workplaces, we shop in their stores, we eat in their restaurants. It is certain that Christ’s disciples cannot and must not attempt to retreat from this world. It is in this world—in all of the world—that Christ sends them. They are to be light in the midst of darkness.
For this world, we read, is a field, ready for harvest, the field in which the church is to labor and do its work of witnessing to the truth that is in Jesus Christ. For the world still is God’s world, even though at present it is under the power of the Evil One.
So, again, how is Christ and how are we, His disciples, sent into the world, while not being of the world? Well, verse 19 tells us: “And for their sakes,” Jesus says, “I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” Sanctified means to be set apart, to be consecrated to. Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice. He offered Himself, He dedicated Himself to the sacred task for which He had been set apart by the Father, namely, the task of rendering complete obedience. By His obedience to the task, He obtains for His people complete salvation. Jesus completes His work so that His disciples are not only saved, but also given the Holy Spirit so that they are set apart and they are consecrated to Jesus and to the task that Jesus gives them. Jesus offers Himself willingly in order that the disciples may be truly set apart and qualified for the exalted task of proclaiming the gospel to a world lost in sin.
That means, as disciples of Jesus, the church is set apart by God, truly dedicated, offering themselves, consecrated to Jesus Christ, consecrated by and in the truth. We are to be in our mission as Jesus was in His mission—like the One who sent Him, consecrated and obedient.
Now, finally, why are we sent into the world? Jesus says of Himself, “I came not for the righteous but to seek and to save that which is lost.” Jesus came with a message: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
Do you see Jesus sitting in the house of Matthew, the tax-collector? And we read, “Behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.” The Pharisees saw that, and they asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why eatest thy Master with publicans and sinners?” Jesus knows what they are thinking. Jesus answers: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I will have mercy and not sacrifice, for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So Jesus came into the world with a purpose—to call sinners to repentance and faith, to save. Paul writes in I Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Wow! What a statement for Paul. Yes, Paul went to many different places with unbelievers. Think of him standing on Mars Hill in Athens. He speaks to those people who are lost in their sin—sinners—because he recognizes himself as the chief of sinners. In I John 4:9 we read: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” He sends His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:14, “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
And now Jesus sends His church into the world with a task and with a message, equipped by the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “And ye also shall bear witness because ye have been with me from the beginning.” The disciples must testify so that those who are given to the Son by the Father may be brought in and God may receive all the glory.
In this High Priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays not only for His disciples. We read in verse 20: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” We are given the Spirit of Christ so that we may be set apart by Christ, consecrated to Jesus Christ, to the task and the purpose He gives us.
Our message is one. There is only one name by which one can be saved. We are men on a mission, sent. That means we do not have too high an opinion of ourselves. To serve Jesus is to take the way of the cross, which of necessity leads to a lowly path. Into the world. Jesus came into this sinful world. He took on our flesh to seek and to save the lost.
What does it mean for you and for me then, specifically, to be here in the world? It means we do not stay within the confines of our comfortable churches; we do not retreat from the world where it is safe and non-threatening; we do not merely say, “Well, we preach Christ in the church. Let them come to the church.” No, Jesus said: “Go.” As the Father sent Jesus into the world, even so Jesus sends us into the world of darkness. It means we go out as friendly, approachable, and helpful individuals. We care and love for those around us. We want them to know Jesus as we also have been given to know Jesus.
Our mission? We are to go into the world as Jesus entered the world, the God-sent One. We are to go in order that people might be saved through faith in Jesus Christ and God might receive all the glory.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, what a glorious gospel we have, what a glorious tradition Thou hast given us in the Reformed faith. What a treasure we have. But, Father, we will not keep that treasure for ourselves or just for our children. But we desire that others also may know Jesus, may know the precious truths that we know and love. Bless us, O Lord, in our commission. Amen.