Key passages include the shepherds’ response to the birth of the Messiah (2:15-18), Jesus’ sending out of the twelve (9:1-6), Jesus’ sending out of the seventy-two (10:1-12, 17-20), and the chapter 15 parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.
Despite the critical nature of the above passages, I believe one other exists that exceeds them all in importance for our understanding of world missions. That passage is 24:44-49. This is Jesus’ “Great Commission” passage from the book of Luke. It supplements nicely the commands of Christ in Matthew’s G.C. in Matthew 28:18-20.
Luke 24:44-49 reads: Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
These verses are full of important truths for us to digest. Seven stand out:
1. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.
The OT writers speak much about who was to come. They also tell us what was going to happen. Jesus fulfills all the promises. He did not come to invent a new religion; rather, Jesus came to keep the promises of God. I’m reminded of Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
2. Jesus enables his followers to understand the scriptures.
It is only through the supernatural work of God that we can even begin to comprehend the wonderful truths of his word. As Christ opened the minds of the early disciples, so he does with us at salvation. According to Paul in I Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
3. The scriptures teach that the Messiah will be killed but rise the third day.
Jesus does not tell us what OT passages he is talking about, but his point is nonetheless that the OT prophesies that these things will occur (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 come to mind). Jesus is, of course, the fulfillment of the promises. His death and resurrection are two of the core truths of the gospel; when we read the gospel presented in various ways, these truths are always present.
4. Repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in the name of Christ.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins are key components of salvation. If we repent and believe, our trespasses will be forgiven.
From the beginning of his ministry Jesus stressed the need for repentance. In Matthew 4:17 we read Christ preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus desires that those who follow him herald his salvation. It is all to be done in his name because he alone has accomplished it.
5. All the nations need to hear the gospel.
God’s plan is for all nations to follow him. We see this in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Luke uses the exact same phrase Matthew uses in 28:19 – “all nations.” The church has a wonderful responsibility to take God’s message of hope to all peoples.
6. The early disciples were eye witnesses to these truths.
The wondrous truths of our faith are attested to by multiple eye witnesses. The early followers of Christ had the great responsibility to make sure that these truths were proclaimed and defended.
The apostle John was certainly present when Jesus said these things in Luke 24. John later wrote in I John 1:1-3, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
7. The Holy Spirit, as the promise of the Father, will come upon all Christians.
Just as understanding the bible is a gift of God, so too is the power to effectively and boldly proclaim the gospel. Christ instructs his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. We later read this occur in Acts chapter 2. Today the Spirit comes upon us at the moment of salvation. We can and should trust him to empower us to do what Christ commands. He will not fail.
This truth corresponds highly with what Jesus promises in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
God is a God of missions. Luke makes this plain for us to see. How will we respond?
Previous posts in this series:
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark