A central challenge in being faithful to Jesus is what I call ‘mission leak’, or, more technically, mission dissipation. This is what happens when wives send husbands to the grocery store for milk and eggs, and they come back with steak, butter, a spatula, charcoal lighter, chocolate chip cookies, and eggs. And forgot the milk. As Christians, we are easily distracted from the main thing because there are so many good things around.
A great example of mission clarity and focus is found in Luke 3. This is our first encounter with Jesus as a non-infant, and here, he speaks for the first time. Remember, he is twelve years old when we meet him here, and responding to his mother after Mary and Joseph return to Jerusalem to find him, Jesus says, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?’ (Luke 2:49).
Two key components of Jesus’ answer indicate his missional focus. First, he knew who he was: in my Father’s house reveals that by age 12, Jesus already understood he was the Son of God. We don’t know when the boy Jesus first began to remember who he was, that He was the incarnate eternal Word of God, but by age 12, He knew He was the son of God. He was secure in his identity.
Second, Jesus was surprised that his earthly parents did not understand the implications of his identity. I must be in my Father’s house. The word ‘must’ implies a priority grid through which Jesus made decisions. The priorities of Jesus were rooted in his mission, and his mission was rooted in his identity.
For us, the application is fairly direct: when we know who we are, we know what we are supposed to do. And when we know what we’re supposed to do, we are empowered to use a strict priority grid to make decisions about how we use the resources God has given us. That is, our mission determines how we use our gifts, how we use time, how we spend money.
The problem we face is our tendency to forget our mission. This is the mission leak – our mission leaks from the bucket of our lives because we get distracted by other missions. Normally, these are all good things, just like picking up steak at the grocery store is not necessarily a bad thing. But if the mission is to get milk and eggs, and we don’t bring those home, that mission is a fail.
Jesus gives us a clear mission at the end of every gospel:
- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
- Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15).
- Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Luke 24:47).
- As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (John 20:21).
We have to work really hard to confuse or misunderstand what Jesus wants us to do.
- He wants us to go – to leave, depart, move to another place – whether across the street, across the town, or across the globe.
- He wants us to go into the world – to all nations. That is, every people group on the planet needs to hear the gospel.
- He wants us to make disciples – whole-hearted followers of Jesus. We often think of making disciples as ‘finding immature Christians and help them grow’. But when Jesus said to make disciples, he was not looking out on a world of immature Christians, but of lost people. Making disciples means to reach people with the gospel.
- He wants us to take the gospel – the good news that through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, people who repent and believe the good news receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
This is crystal clear – and this is our mission. Why, then, do we end up with steak, jam, and bananas instead of milk and eggs? Because lost people don’t complain about not being reached. And when our ministry is focused on Christians, Christians appreciate it and celebrate. But when we have the audacity to prioritise the mission of Jesus, who gets excited?
Don't Mess It Up
But this shouldn’t surprise us. Like Jesus in the temple, it’s easy to be perplexed when others don’t understand our priority grid. But he was also misunderstood – he came to ‘seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), not help religious people feel better about their lives. And they nailed him to a cross. The point is this: it is OK for us to be swimming against the current, because this is what Jesus told us to do.