The Father sending his Son into the world is the reason we celebrate Christmas. But the joy of the season extends far beyond the Christmas holidays. It continues all year round and impacts our lives daily. God, in giving us his Son, has given us everything. He is the fullness of the Godhead in human form, he is the light of the world, the hope of the nations and the Saviour of the world. No one could ever be a greater giver than God and the act of sending his Son determines not just our destiny, if we receive Christ into our hearts, but also our calling. For as the Father sent the Son into the world, so the Son has also sent us into the same world, with the same mission – to love and to serve.
The act of Christ coming into the world did not take place on the spur of the moment. God planned it, prepared for it, and waited until every last detail was in place before he sent his Son. The phrase “fullness of time” means Jesus came right on schedule. We can surely trust God with every detail of our lives, because we are not the product of impersonal forces, nor are we driven along by the cold winds of blind fate. We are the special creation of a God who lovingly formed us and has brought us into the world to fulfil his loving purposes.
Before the angel appeared to Mary, God was communicating his plan to the councils of heaven. Before the star appeared in the East to guide the wise men to the Christ child, God was in heaven preparing the cosmos. Before the shepherds were startled out of their peaceful vigil in the fields of Bethlehem, the Shepherd of Israel was preparing the Jewish nation for the coming of Messiah. All this took centuries of loving attention to detail and careful planning. In the same way, though on an infinitely smaller scale, we scrutinise every detail as we prepare a special meal for those we love or select and gift-wrap that precious gift for someone special in our life, so God in his infinite love worked out every element of the Christmas story before he set it in motion.
The preparation began centuries before, at the dawn of time. He gave our first parents who had so decisively rebelled against him the first word of gospel. The seed of the woman, would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). In order to bring Christ into the world, the Father raised up a nation to carry his purpose and to produce a Messianic line beginning with Abraham, the father of this special lineage. God sent him from Ur to Canaan, the first trans-local missionary in the history of the world. God’s promise to Abraham was that all nations would be blessed in him, showing that God’s plan was to embrace all humanity: I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
The Sending God continued sending those called and equipped to lay the foundation for the coming of Christ. God sent Joseph into Egypt to preserve the Messianic seed during a time of severe famine. God then sent Moses to rescue the holy nation from bondage and become a worshipping community distinct from the nations. And after that, God sent prophets to the Jewish people calling them to purity of life and preparing them for the coming of Messiah. Jeremiah testifies to God’s deliberate acts of keeping the prophetic hope alive: Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them (Jeremiah 7:25).
The climax of the Heavenly Mission was God sending his Son
All this was to make the world ready for the coming of Christ. God’s sending nature found its fullest expression when he sent his Son. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law (Galatians 4:4). The most powerful New Testament description of the coming of the Son is found in the prologue to John’s Gospel: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Beginning with Abraham, the Sending God sent those called and equipped to lay the foundation for the coming of Christ.
He came, bringing God’s grace and truth and revealing the Father’s glory. There could have been no greater need for this world, darkened by sin, ignorance and injustice, than to see the light of God’s revelation in the person of Jesus. The one whose light having already shone down through the ages in the marvels of creation, now shines revealing the very nature of God and demonstrating his divine compassion, right where we are – in our sin, in our need and in the darkness of our lost humanity.
But the sending did not stop there. The Son of God incarnated into humanity had a further mission to fulfil. The Father sent him to the cross to be the substitute sacrifice for the sins of humanity. He came into the world to die the shameful death you and I deserve. And he refused to shrink from it: Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name (John 12:27-28).
He became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). This shows that from start to finish, Jesus, the Son of God, had only one goal – to honour his Father and to fulfil his purpose. Following Jesus’ death and triumphant resurrection, Jesus was elevated to the Lordship of the universe. And from this position of power and authority he shared in the Father’s sending activity. On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus, seated on the throne of God received the promised Holy Spirit from God, the Father and sent him to his people, those who were also being called and sent into the world: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
God’s sending nature found its fullest expression when he sent his Son.
Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus had made it clear that the Sending God had a plan for those who accepted his authority. In accordance with the divine plan, the disciples of Jesus were also sent into the world. Speaking on the Father’s approval Jesus said, As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world (John 17:18).
The Mission Continues
In the same way the Father sent the Son, so we also have been sent into the world. This is a staggering revelation. It means that we have a significant, even indispensable, part to play in the drama of God’s love at work in the world. Jesus expressed it like this in his prayer to the Father: I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world (John 17:15-17).
Jesus brought with him God’s grace and truth, revealing the Father’s glory.
So we are sent into the world to be in it, yet not of it. This balance is hard to get right. The church is neither a community removed from the world, nor a community indistinguishable from the world. We are, on the one hand a grace community, separated from the darkness of sin and its dire consequences. But on the other hand, we are as equally a part of the world as Christ was. He came to sit where we sit, to identify in intimate proximity and involvement with us in our need.
We have been transferred from one community to another community – from the world of darkness to God’s kingdom of love: He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Colossians 1:13).
The church consists of gathered communities of those who have been saved from sin, judgement and the crookedness of the generation of those who have skewed their lives away from God’s loving and righteous standards. We are brought into the community of those who have surrendered their lives to God’s Rule of Love. This implies distinct boundaries both of belief and behaviour that must never be blurred. God’s holy people are obliged to live according to God’s standards and to emulate Christ in his purity and love.
But churches are not just gathered communities; they are also communities who have been sent on a mission into the world. We do not just rest, huddled together, under the security of God’s grace – separate, different and distinguished from the world; but we are also sent back into the world to be in it, yet not part of its system. We are not just grace communities who enjoy the difference the grace of God has made in our lives individually and corporately; but also missional communities who take that grace and share it with others.
In the same way the Father sent the Son, so we also have been sent into the world.
The great command to love God and love our neighbour is the basis of our mission to the world. It continues that outpouring of love set in motion by the Father whose love for the world caused him to send his Son in the first place (John 3:16). Our love for God will naturally lead us to love our neighbour. God loves the world of people – as they are and where they are – in their sin, in their beauty and ugliness, sincerity and hypocrisy, both the lovely and the unlovely. We have been called, equipped by the Spirit and sent to do the same. Jesus said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). The miracle of grace is that it produces a people who are both holy and zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
What does it mean to be a missional community?
Missional communities are sent into the world as the Father sent the Son – to represent him in the world, to serve and to disciple all peoples. But the key in all of this is to have the servant heart of the Son. Everything Jesus did can be summarised by his servant attitude: For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves (Luke 22:27). Now he sends us, he says, as the Father had sent him. Therefore our mission, like his, is to be one of service. He emptied himself of status and took the form of a servant, and his humble mind is to be in us (Philippians 2:5-8). John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World.
Some think of Mission as either being evangelism or social action, but this misses the point. We are to do both as humble acts of service. The Great Commission to preach has as its starting point, the Great Command to love. How can we fail to preach if we love; and how can we fail to love if we preach? The gospel lacks visibility if we only preach it; and it lacks credibility if we who preach it do not love our neighbour and try to meet his needs.
Love will drive us back into the world to be authentic expressions of Christ to a lost and needy world, to love as he loved and to serve as he served. This is not just that we might preach good news, but that we might become good news – to incarnate Christ and his gospel by our lives and by our acts of genuine love for the hurting, the broken, the disenfranchised and the lost.
As the Lord took on flesh and dwelt among us, so we must take on the world and dwell among it – not by being part of it, or indistinguishable from it; but by being different (as from another world) but decidedly among it – to serve, to bless, to heal and to testify to the Lordship of Jesus over the whole of life.
Every calling is a holy calling
The prominent slogan in Kensington Temple that makes this point is, “Your occupation is the location for your true vocation”. Our true vocation is to love, to serve and to testify to the truth. It is to call men and women to surrender to Christ who has first been seen in us.
How are we to take up the call of Christmas that comes from the heart of our loving, sending heavenly Father?
First we must all see ourselves as missionaries, sent to the pagans, the secular, the indifferent and to those who are lost in false religion and barren philosophy. Next we must learn to listen to them – their thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes and frustrations. We must understand them if we are to love them, serve them and point them to Christ, who has truly been incarnated in our lives. Then we must discover their needs and where possible help them by meeting these needs through acts of humble service. Finally, having demonstrated Christ to them, we must love them enough to tell them the truth and, as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, point them to the way of salvation so that they can also join the mission of God’s love to our lost and hurting world.