The love of Christ which fuels mission

Here’s a transcript of a talk I found very helpful in understanding how gospel mission is fuelled by love of Christ and the importance of regular Bible teaching in campus Christian Unions/Fellowships. The sermon is on John 20:19-23 and was given by Mike Reeves (pictured) at the UCCF annual student leaders conference, Forum 2010, held last month in rural Shropshire, England.

The talk

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The transcript

Reading: John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Let me start with a question for you: what is it do you think that God really wants from you? Holiness? Service? A life devoted, wholly given over to glorifying him? What is it that God really wants from you? Any thoughts? Well I’ll confess, it’s a trick question. What does God want from you? You see start from there, phrase it like that, and for all the right sounding language you will use, the God you will start coming up with will be basically a big, blood-sucking parasite. A greedy God, a needy God, a cosmic leech who just wants to get stuff from you. The sort of God who thinks I love it when they grovel. ‘Now drop and give me twenty prayers!’

Now a God like that has always got a whopping PR [public relations] problem and needs seriously gifted evangelists to try and talk him up. Because seriously, how do you sell a God like that? “Erm, would you like a big blood-sucking leech in your life? He’s called God! You can give up everything for him, or you can go to hell.” And people think: “What’s the difference?” The other think about the leech god is that he thinks first about what a privilege it is to fawn on him. He’s quite self-obsessed and heaven is then definitely not for the riff-raff [disreputable persons].

But then what with hell looming, that means that his people have got to be a load more concerned about evangelism than he is. And that means that evangelism becomes pure hard slog. Because if you care more than he does about evangelism then you’ve got to be very self-motivated to keep it up. And therefore, bluntly, it can only be done by the super fast wired adrenaline junkies – the manic salesman types. The guys extraordinarily able to go door-to-door telling rib ticklers [jokes] and getting people to sign their lives away.

Now, does any of this sound vaguely familiar to you? A gospel that, bluntly, ain’t that attractive, that we’ve got to run around selling to people. Sound even slightly familiar? Isn’t that what we dream regularly? Well what would Jesus say? John 20:19:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, the risen Jesus walked into the room, AK-47 in hand, and fired a full ammo-clip into that view of God. “Peace be with you.” BOOM. The disciples were overjoyed, for after he had done this he inserted his spare magazine squeezed the trigger, and said again, “Peace be with you.”

Now, those words of peace are pure destructive violence to the view of God as a leech. Here in Jesus, is a God who has not come to take, but to bring peace. Jesus is making known to us a God entirely different to the monstrous bore we routinely imagine God to be. And that is what I want us to see now. I want us to see how Jesus reveals a God who is delightfully different. And I want us to see how when it comes to mission, that changes everything.

Now, are you ready? Here’s the real fire: second half of verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Now to get what is so nuclear about that, what I want to do is flick to some other passages in John that talk about the Father sending his son Jesus. I want to try to build up a colour picture of what this means.

Flick with me to John 3, famous John 3:16 –

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Now, all I want to see here (there is so much you could see in those verses) is the connection between loving and sending. Do you see it? God loved the world and so sent his Son. God sends because he loves.

Now flick down to verse 34 – ‘For he whom God has sent – i.e. the Son; the Son is the one God has sent – utters the words of God for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. See, the Father loves the Son, the Father sends the Son. You are starting to see the connection between these two, between loving and sending. Do you see the connection? What’s going on there? What is the connection between loving and sending?

Check it: John 5:19. Here we go! John 5:19 –

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

That is why Jesus says “As the Father has sent me, so I’m sending you”, because Jesus is all about revealing his Father. He does as the Father does. Father sends, so the Son sends. Now let’s just read it again.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son.

Whoa! Now, to trace through what Jesus is saying here: the Father sends Jesus – that is what the Father does (verse 19), that is what the Father is doing, the Father is sending Jesus; and the Father does what he does, he sends Jesus because the Father loves Jesus. The Father sends Jesus because he loves him.

Now this is one of the most beautiful and grand themes of the Bible: that the Father sends Jesus because he loves him. Before the world existed, the Father so loved his son, Jesus, so enjoyed fellowship with his perfect son, that he didn’t want to contain it, and so his love overflowed, exploded outwards. That, my friends, is why the cosmos exists. The Father so loved the Son that he sent him as his Word, to spread their love. In the beginning was the Word and God said “Let there be… everything!” So when you look up at the stars and the moon tonight, wonder: “Why are they there?” Why? Because God loves cosmically. Because the Father’s love for the Son has overflowed meaning all this. The Father so loved the Son that his love overflowed and creation was just the start. The Father so loved the Son that he want to adopt many son, millions of children to love through his great son, Jesus. And so he sent his son to accomplish salvation to that great end. And so the fellowship and love between the Father and the Son would overflow to be enjoyed by billions.

Do you see? This God is no greedy, life-sucking leech. This God is an overflowing fountain of love. The story of reality from creation onwards is the story of his love being poured out. That is why God is all about sending: because he is love gushing ever outward, uncontainable, brimming over. He is not a grasping, taking God as if he ever needed anything. He is full to overflowing, always giving, loving, going out.

Let’s just see a couple more verses: John 17:23 –

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Seriously? Verse 23. The Father so loved the Son that he sent and all to spread their love so that those who believe in Jesus may be as loved by the Father as the Son is himself. So then there is no grudging Father behind lovely Jesus. No, the Father is the origin of all this spreading love. He so loves the Son that he sends him that that love might be shared and enjoyed. And the Son likewise so loves us that he sends us that that love might be shared and enjoyed.

One last one: John 17:25. This I think pulls it all together.

O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these [disciples] know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

So: the Father sent the Son, ultimately, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them. I’ve got to say that again. The Father sent the Son ultimately that the love with which you have loved me may be in them. Now my friends, this is why back in our passage, John 20:22, this is why Jesus then breathes on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Because, Jesus had already said, back in chapter 16, what does the Spirit do? The Spirit takes what is mine and declares it to you. The Spirit takes what is mine and declares it to you. What was declared to the Son? Think: a voice declaring something to the Son, from heaven: “This is my beloved son, with whom I’m well pleased.” And the Spirit takes what it his and declares it to us, so that I, with the same Spirit that rested on Jesus when those words were declared, with that Spirit now resting on me, I hear from heaven: this is my beloved Son, in whom I’m well pleased. It’s beyond words isn’t it? This God is beautiful. This God is not selfish and grabbing. This God is outgoing and generous and what does he give? He gives the right to be the children of God.

Now, to be the child of a millionaire would be nice; to be the firstborn child of a wealthy king. But to be the beloved of the emperor of the universe. And that is what you are, in Jesus. And, it’s not as if he grudgingly gives that privilege. You know when someone’s converted, people often quote that bit in Luke 15, you know “there’s joy before the angels of God when one sinner repents”. And people go, “Hey! Someone became a Christian last night.” And someone will say, “Ah, bet the angels were rejoicing.” Which is a nice thought, but it’s kinda like the angels going, “Yay! This is brilliant!” and God’s going, “Oh, OK, this one can be my beloved child.” But no, no, what does it say in Luke 15? There is joy and rejoicing before the angels of God. Who is before the angels of God? God! He’s the one rejoicing. Not grudging but delighting that by his Spirit the love with which he has loved the Son now rests on another.

Now, when you get our living God, is this fountain of outgoing sending love, the God that sends out of the overflow of love then it transforms mission. You see, first you see what this God is all about: spreading his kindness, and so going out and sharing the knowledge of his love reflects something very profound about who this God is, this is what he’s like. But here I think is the key thing: mission, sending, comes from the overflow of love. Sending comes from the overflow of love. The Father so loves the Son that he sends him, that that love may be shared and enjoyed. The Son so loves us that he sends him that that love might be shared and enjoyed. Now, that means mission is not something we whip ourselves up to. It is the overflow of love. Jesus the Son comes to spread the love of the Father he has enjoyed. That’s why he sent; that’s why he goes. We go to spread the love of God we enjoy. But you see, it is the enjoyment of the fellowship that prompts the sending, the mission. Do you see that? It’s the enjoyment of the fellowship that prompts the sending and so how different that means mission is. If you think mission is just a duty you have to get on with, or perhaps something that will impress God, you will run out of energy by the end of Freshers week and pretty soon you will at least be tempted to resent God making you do all this stuff. But no; it is the enjoyment of fellowship with this most enjoyable lovely God that is the essential fuel for healthy happy mission.

How can we bear much fruit, did Jesus say? How can you bear much fruit? Not by running around doing stuff on the adrenaline of our self-motivation. No, John 15:5:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, without me you can do nothing.

It is when we abide in Christ, it is when we commune with him, that we bear fruit. It is when we revel in him, fix our eyes on him, enjoy him, grow in our appreciation of his beauty, then the fruit comes. Do you know, that is the essence of growth in holiness? Not self-obsession but fixing your eyes on him and finding your heart transformed by the vision. For then you find as you fix your eyes on him, you love him, for he is lovely. And when you love him, you cannot but speak of him.

Now, if you don’t enjoy Christ. Let me put that to you as a question now: do you enjoy Christ? If you don’t, as you run around doing your events, what will happen? Well if you don’t enjoy Christ, why would anyone else want anything to do with him? But then, why wouldn’t you enjoy him? Jesus Christ is the bright radiance of the Father’s own loveliness, he is infinitely more desirable than any of the passing dreams that we lust after. Enjoy him, his love and his fellowship and the happiest mission will flow. And you know, because this God is a constantly outgoing, love-spreading God, mission is not actually something from enjoying him.

Just flick with me to Hebrews 13. Hebrews 13:12 –

Jesus suffered outside the gate – that is he went out beyond the city, beyond where the people of God are, he went out to the unclean world, he suffered outside the gate – in order to sanctify the people through his blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp.

You see it is not really that we enjoy Jesus then go out in mission. No, mission is an invitation to be where he is. Where is Jesus? Going out, beyond the people of God, to the unclean places, the places of rejection and I’m sure most of you must have felt this at some stage. It is when you go outside, with him, to live and speak for him, that is when you enjoy a special closeness of communion with him. Yeah?

Well, OK, so far this has been quite abstract. From John’s gospel we’ve got ourselves a theory: it is the love of Christ that fuels mission. The Father so enjoys his fellowship with his Son that his love overflows. He sends his Son to spread their fellowship. And just like that it’s when we enjoy that fellowship that we long to go out and spread the love. That’s our theory. What I want to show now is: it really works, in real life.

I want to look really quickly at the New Testament church in Ephesus. Now, the story of the church in Ephesus is extraordinary. Now Ephesus was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the great temple of Artemis. And the temple of Artemis commanded a massive trade. It was this world-centre, people came from everywhere to worship. But in Acts 19, you read that the church in Ephesus grew so quickly and so widely, that the trade of this world centre was under threat. The temple – the great temple of Artemis – was emptied as people quite simply left Artemis for Christ. Now, historians have long puzzled over why exactly, how exactly, the early church grew so fast like that. How? Well, you know there’s an intriguing clue in Revelation 2.

Have a look at Revelation 2. Now this is a few years later. Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus and he says this to the church in Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

That was what first marked out the church in Ephesus: their love for Jesus. That was why it grew so fast. Clearly they so loved Jesus that they loved to speak of him and so en masse, people turned from the chains of Artemis to the warm embrace of Christ. And now, here in Revelation 2, what had clearly happened since then is over time that first love was replaced by a sense of duty.

Heartfelt love for Christ was replaced by the mere moral expectation that Christians do certain things like mission. Hearts that had been warmed by the very thought of Christ now were no more. And I would guess almost certainly they therefore handed mission over to the professionals. So, it became the duty of the few, rather than the delight of all. Yes of course mission died.

Now, what’s the lesson for us? How do we cultivate mission? Well, our first instinct is probably to work at verses 2 to 3. Let’s do hard work, let’s persevere, let’s not tolerate false teaching, let’s not grow weary – all good things. But they miss the most essential thing. “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” You see we could go through the motions and be very verses 2 to 3. But if we can reawaken our first love, then my friends, we are into a new world.

Rejoicing in Christ and his love, you will want to speak of him. You’ll do so with an attractive, winning warmth, because you love him. Brothers and sisters, let us reawaken our first love. Before anything else, before any programmes, before any events, more than anything, that very simply is the marrow and the mainspring of mission.

It just leaves one last vital question. How? How can we reawaken our first love?

Well very simply, think, what was it that first awoke your love for this Lord? Was it not you simply heard the gospel? Was it not that? You heard the Scriptures opened, you heard of the love of God in Christ, and your heart was won. Now, want to reawaken your love? Do it again! That’s it. Dig into the Scriptures, hold up Christ afresh before your eyes, and that vision will warm you. It is an intrinsically warming vision, the vision of Christ in his loveliness, in his love for us.

This is why it is imperative that you have good constant Bible teaching in your CU. If you don’t, love for Christ cannot be roused, and then, I’ll tell you, the majority will just run a mile, come events week. The majority simply won’t want to speak of Jesus to their friends. And those who do still do so, will do so with an increasingly off-putting harshness and sense of duty and people will sense that their not loved. Without the Scriptures that proclaim Christ being taught, your CU’s evangelism will keep going for a few terms. It will, but without being fuelled by the love of Christ and as shown to us so richly in the Scriptures, without that, then people won’t be wanting to do it. And people won’t be wanting to hear your evermore loveless message.

But just consider the birds. Every morning, it is when the sun rises, and starts to warm them, that’s when they sing. Just so it is with Christians. Shine the Light of the World on them, let them know the warmth of the love of God in Christ, and you won’t be able to stop them from singing of him. My friends, our Father is all about spreading his love through his son Jesus Christ. Bathe in that sunshine and you’ll love to spread it too. Let me pray.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God. My Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters now, may we be people who abide in Christ, who daily reawaken our first love for him by seeing your love for us in him and so may the student world be filled with the sound of hearts overflowing, rejoicing to speak to all, of the one they cherish. In his incomparable name, Amen.

Oct10

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