For the past three months, I have led the leaders of the Alpha ministry at Christ the Redeemer in Danvers in a brief period of devotion and prayer before their weekly Alpha gatherings. Considering the nature of that ministry, I chose to focus all of the devotionals on the question of mission. Specifically, each devotion focuses on how the idea of mission to the nations finds expression in the Gospel narratives. I now intend to post the content of that series here in nine parts. The series opens at the very beginning, with the Apostle John’s cosmic description of Jesus’ mission which starts off his Gospel.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Israel knew perhaps better than most that her God was actively engaged in mission on her behalf. Her entire history, her very existence as a distinct nation, was entirely dependent on the mighty acts of her God in history. So important was this conviction that her entire national life was built around remembering this history. Passover marked God’s delivery of Israel from Egypt. Booths marked God’s guiding Israel through the desert. Yom Kippur marked the cleansing of Israel’s sin by her merciful God. Pentecost marked the revelation of God’s law to Israel at Sinai. In all things, Israel knew that her God was on the move through her. But for what? At this season in her national life, Israel was lost and desolate, in bondage to foreign oppressors and unable to see her God clearly among the myriad pretenders of the pagan pantheon. Where was her God now? Why did he delay in vindicating her before the nations? Where was the mission of God to be found now?
John tells us that he is very present indeed. He tells us that God had come to Israel’s comfort time and again. The irony of Israel’s current suffering is exacerbated here when John tells us that God’s own—Israel—did not recognize or receive him when he showed up. But God continued to come, furthering his mission of “grace and truth” in the world despite not being welcome. And the magnitude of that coming would be of such proportions that its glory could not be contained in Israel, even as it was meant for her.
God became flesh. He came down from his heavenly abode to succor his people in a far more profound way than they could have ever imagined possible. Far from delivering them as a nation from the hands of the Romans, God came to live Israel’s life with her as one of her very own. He took on Israel’s flesh, and made his dwelling in their very earthly life. He experienced their sufferings as one of them. He experienced their exile. In so doing, he led her out of her true captivity to sin and death. From where does this mission come? Could Israel so delivered contain keep such a glory to herself?
How could it? God had come not just in Israel’s flesh, but in the flesh of all humanity. He has wedded himself to a full human nature, and so saved human nature fully. Indeed, Israel’s very glory is this, that God’s mission would be to use her flesh to save the entire human race. God in Israel’s flesh reconciled all to himself, and extended Israel’s lineage to all people who would receive him. And now, through Jesus, we are all here present trace our lineage through him to God.
What does this mean for us? It means, as it meant for Israel of old, that God is now carrying out his mission through us as his people today. We are now the agents of his reconciling love in the world. As we now partake in the lineage of Jesus, so we are the ambassadors of his mission to the modern world. And that precisely is what we are doing in ministries like Alpha. We are inviting the world to share in this great mission of God, which started generations ago in a far off land and finds its fulfillment in beholding the grace and truth of God made flesh for us.
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