Jesus: How is Jesus’ incarnation our example for ministry and mission?
In most religions, the holiest people are those who are most separated from culture and sinners. They live as monks or nuns and the like in remote areas or behind walls away from average people. Conversely, Jesus Christ came into the mess of human history and spent time in relationship with believers and unbelievers alike. Subsequently, religious people who separated themselves from sinners and cultures were prone to denounce Jesus for the kind of company he kept. [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 11:19.]
Jesus’ incarnation is our missional model. Roughly forty times in John’s Gospel Jesus declares that the Father sent him. Indeed, the incarnation is the sending of the second member of the Trinity into human history as a missionary. This is what Jesus meant when he taught that Christians would be sent as missionaries like him into cultures by the power of the Holy Spirit: “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” [FOOTNOTE: John 20:21–22.]
From the missional life of Jesus, we learn five great missional truths for our own life. First, an incarnational missional life is contextual and crosses cultural barriers. Just as Jesus left heaven to enter into culture on the earth, Jesus’ people are to do the same and not merely remain in community with people of their own gender, race, income level, nationality, and the like.
Despite being contextual, a missional life does not condone or partake in the sinful worldly aspects of a culture, just as Jesus never sinned. Nonetheless, Jesus dressed, spoke, and ate according to Jewish culture, participated in their holidays, and observed their customs, so Jesus’ people are also to live as missionaries in whatever culture God has sent them. Thus, in a very real sense, every Christian is a missionary whether they minister across the street or across the globe.
Second, an incarnational missional life is evangelistic. Just as Jesus did not merely come only to do good works for the needy but primarily to save lost people, Jesus’ people are likewise to pursue lost people for evangelistic friendships. [FOOTNOTE: Luke 19:10.]
Third, an incarnational missional life is humble. Just as Jesus willingly left his state in glory to live a humble life and work a humble job, a missional life is one not lived solely for personal glory and upward mobility but rather values the gospel above all else. Subsequently, an incarnational approach to life often means that we make less money and live simpler lives than we could because we value gospel ministry above what worldly standards measure as success.
Fourth, an incarnational missional life is one devoted to the church. Jesus came to found, build, and head the church—his metaphorical body to continue his evangelistic plan for the world; therefore, Jesus’ people are to give themselves to the church. This includes service and generosity as Jesus demonstrated [FOOTNOTE: 2 Corinthians 8–9] so that not only can local churches grow, but more churches can be planted, more people reached, and more nations impacted by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fifth, an incarnational missional life is global. While Jesus mainly confined His ministry to Israel, He did minister to a Samaritan woman who then evangelized to her people, and the deaf man of Decapolis. [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 15:21–28; 8:5–13; Mark 5:1–20; 7:31–37; John 4:1–42.] Additionally, the announcement of Jesus’ birth by both the angels and Simeon was to be good news for all nations. [FOOTNOTE: Luke 2:10, 32.] This is because Jesus came to take away the sins of the world [FOOTNOTE: John 1:29] and establish the church as a mission center for the nations [FOOTNOTE: Mark 11:17] from which he would send out believers to be the salt and light of the nations. [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 5:13–14.] Jesus also prophesied that most of his worshipers would be from nations other than Israel [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 21:43; Luke 13:28–29] because His love is for the entire world. [FOOTNOTE: John 1:9, 29; 3:16–17, 19; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47; 16:8; 17:21.]
Indeed, the world is our mission field, and Jesus is our model incarnational missionary who went before us and now goes with us as we continue in his work by His Spirit as His church for His glory to our joy. [FOOTNOTE: Matt. 28:18–20.]