The marvel of the mission

Sunday School Lesson

(Matthew 28:19-20) There is a temptation at Christmastime to see the birth of Jesus as the end of the celebration. We look at the shepherds in the fields watching over the flocks by night, hear the proclamation and praise of the angels, and watch as Mary and Joseph care for their newborn son in the quietness of a manger.

Everything reaches a highpoint December 25th as the story of Jesus’ birth is read, children open gifts, families gather for the big meal, and folks talk of Christmases past and hope. Then we awake up the next morning to the task of cleaning up from the prior day’s festivities, ponder what to do with all the leftover food, and make plans for returning the decorations to their storage place until they are summoned again next year. Alas, Christmas is over.

That’s the temptation. Hopefully most know that Bethlehem is not the end of the story but rather the beginning. Better yet, it is the midway point in a mission God began a long time ago; long before stars and an innkeeper with no room in his inn and a young girl ready to have a baby.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of Caesar Augustus and Herod and a census, God added us to His mission. God’s people have a role to play in God’s mission.

Our role is found in a familiar passage from Matthew’s gospel. Let’s be reminded that we have been commissioned for the mission that Jesus has for us. Our commissioning service is found in Matthew 28:18-20 in what is known as The Great Commission.

“Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” That is the Christian’s call to serve; to partner with God on the mission He began long before Bethlehem’s silent and holy night.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As I mentioned, we are part of God’s mission to which Bethlehem is the mid-point. Let’s trace this undertaking that finds a highpoint in a manger and the highest point thirty years later.

God’s mission began in Genesis, though He planned it even before He the said first “Let there be” of creation. In Genesis 3 His first couple sinned. They decided they knew what was better for their lives than their Creator did. So in disobedience to God they ate the forbidden fruit. The story really does not indicate how long it took but it does tell us that God came looking for the sin-stricken couple. He came to call them into account and to punish. But God also came to reach out to Adam and Eve. You see, after they sinned the couple tried to cover their embarrassment with something that would not last, with fig leaves. God offered something more enduring. “The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) This act was a foreshadowing of Bethlehem. Jesus, the Lamb of God, would, like that first animal, give His life to cover the sin of humanity. He, like that first animal, would be the innocent dying for the guilty to remove the guilt of our sin.

This is the beginning of God’s mission; a mission that would make it possible for humanity to again walk with Him in the cool of the day. Man sins, God comes with a plan, and our sins are covered.

God’s mission continued in Genesis with an earth filled with wickedness, a farmer named Noah commissioned to build a boat, and a flood. Man sinned, God saw, and He came with the only hope for humanity, His plan for a boat that would save the human race. If we were to be saved we had to be saved God’s way. He gave the plans for the ark and that ark was our only hope. Noah didn’t save the world. God did that and Noah joined Him in that mission.

God commissioned Abram before He changed his name to Abraham. Abraham was not the one who would bless the whole world; it would be the One that would come from his family. Abraham’s job was to be used by God. He was part of God’s mission.

A prophet named Isaiah was commissioned to tell of the coming of the Messiah and the hope and change He would bring. Jeremiah was commissioned and he told of God’s judgment and hope; and Ezekiel told how dead, dry bones could live again through the power of God.

Space does not allow the details of the commissioning of John the Baptist, Peter, James, John and the others, Paul and Barnabas and Silas, Polycarp, Augustine, Luther, Hubmaier, the Wesley’s, Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, and you and me. But all of God’s people are partners with Him in the mission of bringing humanity back.

God’s mission did not end at the manger. It came into focused there. Jesus came to make the way to bring us back to God. When He ascended back to His Father, Jesus passed on to us the mission of showing others the way.

What role are you playing in the mission to which you were commissioned? During this time of the year, when we are reminded at every turn that God came to us so that we could be with Him, be reminded how far Jesus came to lift you out of the pit of sin and death so that you could walk forgiven and filled with hope and joy. Then, like the shepherds who came to the manger may you also report “the message they [you] were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds [you] said to them.” (Luke 2:17-18)