The Mission and the Mission of God’s People

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 27, 2011

John 17:18

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The Lord’s Day Morning

February 27, 2011

“The Mission of God and the
Mission of God’s People”

John 17:18

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to John chapter 17.
As we prepare for the Missions Conference this week, I want to direct
your attention to one sentence of a large prayer that Jesus prayed, not just for
His disciples who were with Him in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal,
but for all the disciples ever who would come to faith through their ministry.
That means for you and me, He’s praying this great prayer in John 17.
And I want to direct your attention to just one verse, one sentence,
verse 18. But this is a part of a
larger message that we find in the gospels.
We find, for instance, this prayer in John 17:18 turned into a word of
comfort and exhortation towards the end of John’s gospel.
If you were to turn to John 20 verse 21, you would find Jesus first
saying to His disciples, “Peace, I give to you,” and then He would say to them,
“As the Father has sent Me, I am also sending you.”
And so He gives an exhortation which reflects the prayer that we’re going
to study today.

The reason I want to look at this in the context of our approaching the Missions
Conference is because it’s important for us to understand what God is doing in
this world and what He has put us in this world to be and do.
In other words, it’s important to understand what the mission of God is
and what the mission of God’s people is.
And Jesus is praying about both of those things in this passage.
And He’s of course exhorting His disciples to those things in John 20
verse 21. So I want us to pause and
give some attention to what God’s mission is, what He has sent Jesus in the
world to accomplish, and what Jesus has sent us into the world to declare
because Jesus came into this world to accomplish God’s mission and He sends His
disciples, and that includes you and me, into the world to declare a message
about the mission that He has accomplished.
And I want us to understand that because it puts life in perspective.
Every once in a while you have to come back and you have to ask yourself
basic things: What is God doing?
What am I here for? That’s
what we want to do as we look at this prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ today.

So let’s pause and pray and ask Him to help us as we prepare to study this one
sentence of His prayer. Let’s pray.

Father, help us to understand this petition of Your Son’s heart.
We pray, Heavenly Father, that in understanding the blessing that You
originally designed to give and which in grace You have determined still to
bestow on those who have rebelled against You, and as we consider what Jesus did
in order to bring about the accomplishment of this blessing and mission, and as
we consider what He sent us to do in order to spread the message of His mission
and its accomplishments, we pray that You would be glorified.
We ask, O Lord, that we would understand this, that by the work of the
Holy Spirit in our hearts we would be moved to embrace with joy and energy the
calling that You have given to us.
We pray, Heavenly Father, that we would become more and more faithful
missionaries and faithful senders of missionaries and those who live life not
for ourselves but for a greater cause, the cause of Your work in this world. We
ask all these things in Jesus’ name.

Hear the Word of God:

“As You sent Me into
the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

In this prayer Jesus is praying on the night of His betrayal (we call it the
High Priestly Prayer), and He prayed for many things for His immediate disciples
and for all those who would come to faith in Him through their ministry and
message. In the passage that we’re
reading right now, He’s especially praying for consecration and sanctification.
He’s praying that we would be utterly given over to the work of the Lord
and that we would be made holy and grow in grace.
This is the section of the prayer where He prays, “Lord, sanctify them in
the truth. Your Word is truth.”
But in this little petition He pauses in His prayer to His Heavenly
Father and He reminds His Heavenly Father that it was the Father who sent Him
into this world with a mission to accomplish.
And with that thought on His heart, and that reminder just having been
given to the Heavenly Father — by the
way, if the Son can remind His Heavenly Father of things, you can remind your
Heavenly Father of things in prayer.
It’s not that the Heavenly Father has forgotten you understand.
The Son knows that the Heavenly Father has not forgotten and I think that
the very act of His reminding the Heavenly Father that the Father had sent Him
into the world to accomplish a mission is Jesus’ way of saying, “Father, I still
remember too, and though I know what this is going to cost Me tomorrow, I’m
still going to do it because I remember what You sent me here to do.”
You know that happens in prayer.
Maybe you’re discouraged and you want to remind God of the promises that
He’s made to you that you’re not feeling right now – what very often happens?
Suddenly you start believing those promises that you weren’t just a few
seconds before. You’re reminding
your Father of the promises that He’s given to you, but the result is, you
really start to believe those promises.

And then He says, after He’s just reminded the Heavenly Father that the Father
sent Him into the world to accomplish a mission, He says, “Father, I’m sending
these, My disciples, the ones that You’ve given to Me, I’m sending them out into
the world just like You sent Me into the world, not to be like the world, but to
bear a message to the world about the mission that I came to accomplish and that
I will accomplish — a message that will bring them back into the enjoyment of a
blessing that this world has lost because of sin.”

And that’s what I want to concentrate on with you today, because if we
understand that, we’ll understand the mission of God and we’ll understand the
mission of God’s people. So if I
could, I’d like to take you back to Genesis 1.
And here’s what we’re going to do.
We’re going to look at Genesis 1, Genesis 3, Genesis 12, and Galatians 3,
and we’re going to wind right back here in John 17.
It’s very basic, very simple, but I think it will help you make sense of
the big picture we need to understand.

First turn to Genesis 1 and if I could direct your attention especially to
verses 26, 27, and 28. There, as you
look at God’s Word, God creates man, male and female, in His own image.
He creates man in the very image and likeness of Himself and the way that
we see Him create man in the image and likeness of Himself is first of all He
tells man to be fruitful and multiply.
Now what has God been doing in creation?
He has been being fruitful.
You remember in Genesis 1 verse 2 we’re told that the world was empty, chaotic,
and dark. And what did God do in
this world? He filled it up, He
ordered it, and He brought life. And
now He’s saying to Adam and to Eve, “You’re going to be fruitful as well, just
as I was fruitful and I made this empty, chaotic, dark place a full, ordered,
place of life, you’re going to be fruitful in this world.
And notice again, what else does He say in Genesis 1:26-28? You’re going
to rule over this world just as I am in charge and I made it, I’m going to give
you the authority to rule.

Now it’s interesting. His words, “be
fruitful and multiply and rule over the earth and every created thing in it,”
are what? They are commands.
Those are commands, but those commands are blessings.
What a privilege it would have been to have been standing at attention
and have God give you the command:
“Eve, Adam, rule over everything.”
That’s a pretty nice command to have to fulfill.
“You’re in charge of everything.”
“I’m in charge of everything?
That’s great!” It’s a command but
it’s a blessing. It’s a mandate but
it’s a privilege. In the original
relationship that Adam and Eve had to God, all the commands were blessings and
the blessings came in the form of commands.
The blessings were enjoyed in the sphere of fulfilling the commands that
the Lord had given. It was all
wrapped up together. It was not that
God said, “If you do stuff then I will bless you.”
It was that He blessed them in giving them these commands that entailed
authority and responsibility. There
was a great privilege in that. But
what happened?

Well, turn to Genesis 3 and look especially at the first five verses.
Genesis 3:1-5. When Satan, in
the form of the serpent, came to Eve and to Adam — and Adam was there.
Eve did not have to embark upon an expedition with Lewis and Clark to
find Adam when she turned to give him the fruit.
He was right there, saying nothing, like a bump on a pickle.
And so this is both of them involved in this defection.
The serpent says to Eve, you remember, “If you take of the fruit that God
told you not to eat, you will not die, because in fact the reason that He does
not want you to take that fruit is He knows that if you take that fruit you will
become like Him, you’ll become like God.”
And what should Eve and Adam have said to him?
“No,” is a good start, but even better they should have said, “We already
are like God! What do you mean if I
disobey God I’ll be like God? We
already are like Him! Have you not
heard? He put us in charge here.
He told us to fill this world up.
He told us we’re in charge of everything.
What do you mean we’ll be like God if we disobey Him?
We already are like God! Read
Genesis 1, Satan! We’re created in
the image of God, in the likeness of God.
The stuff we do looks like what our God does.
We’re already like Him!”

Do you see, the lie was this: You
can’t be like God, you can’t have your greatest treasure, you can’t have total
satisfaction, you can’t achieve maximal happiness until you disobey God.
And working behind that lie, you see, is another lie.
And that lie is that there is some satisfaction that is greater than God
outside of God that He’s withholding from you.
He’s keeping you from the joy that you could really have.
Now what happens? They take
the fruit, they eat it, and does blessing result?
No. Look at verses 14 to 21
of Genesis 3. The result is not
blessing but cursing. Now it could
have ended there, but it didn’t. And
right smack dab in the middle of the curse to the serpent himself there is a
word of Gospel and of promise in Genesis 3:15 that God is going to put enmity
between Satan and the seed of the woman, between Satan and the woman, the enemy
of her soul and the woman. And at
that very mark, we see the beginning of the Gospel being spread upon the pages
of the Bible.

But it gets really explicit when you get to Genesis 12.
Will you turn with me now to Genesis 12 verses 1 to 3?
God calls an idolater out of what is modern day Iraq, an idolatrous
non-Semite to become the father of the Hebrews.
The father of Israel was in Iraqi.
Abram was his name. His
father was an idolater, his family was idolatrous, and God calls him out.
And if you look at Genesis 12, especially verse 2, notice what God says
to Abram. “I will make you a great
nation; I will bless you and make your name great.”
Blessing, blessing, blessing.

What does that remind you of? It
reminds you of Genesis 1. Just as
the very first words that any human being ever heard from God were words of
blessing. Go back and check me on
that. Go look at Genesis 1:26-28
again. The very first words that any
human being ever heard from God was blessing.
Now God says to this idolater that He’s brought out of Ur of the
Chaldees, “I will bless you.” It’s
like Genesis 1 happening all over again.
But now in this context, some sort of reclamation has to be undertaken
because all of the world of mankind is in opposition to God in sin. Surely
that’s one of the things that we learn, not only in Genesis 3, but in Genesis 4,
Genesis 6, and Genesis 10. Over and
over there are these rebellions against God that are recorded in those early
chapters of Scripture.

Now suddenly again God is giving a blessing to Abraham.
Now on what basis is that blessing given?
It is given on the basis of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
And now you say, “Where in the world does that come from?”
It comes from the Bible. Turn
with me in your Bibles to Galatians chapter 3.
In Galatians chapter 3 we read verse 13 — “Christ redeemed us from the
curse of the law having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is
everyone who hangs on a tree,’ in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of
Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the
Spirit through faith.” In other
words, Jesus had to die in order that we might receive – the Gentiles, the
nations, the peoples – the blessing that God had propounded to Abram in Genesis

But notice also — look at Genesis 12:2 and 3 — notice also that God blessed
Abram in order that he might be a blessing.
There’s an imperative hidden in the midst of those promises and the
imperative reads like this: “and you
shall be a blessing.” In fact, look
at the end of Genesis 12 verse 3 and it says that “in you Abram, all the
families of the earth are going to be blessed.”
So God is initiating a reclamation work to bring people back into the
blessing which they lost by their sin and He is appointing Abram as a missionary
to the world to spread the blessing that God is going to accomplish through His
Son, Jesus Christ.

Now the Great Commission picks up on that.
You’ve already heard Orrin read that passage today.
So that when Jesus says, “Go, make disciples of all nations baptizing
them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe
everything that I have commanded you,” He’s actually piggybacking on what has
already been said to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3.
That is, God has, through His Son, redeemed a multitude of men and women
and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, who trust in
His Son who was sent into this world to live the life that we have not lived and
to die a death that we deserved to die in order that we could be welcomed back
into the blessing that God originally created us in but which we lost in our
rebellion and sin. And now He is
sending His people into the world as the emissaries of that message.
Our job is not to accomplish that redemption. Our job is to herald the
redemption that’s already been accomplished.
Our job is not to do the work that reconciles man to God.
That work has already been done in Jesus Christ.
Our job is to declare that work is “yea and amen” in Christ and call all
men and women everywhere to faith in Jesus Christ.
And so Jesus prays, “Father as You have sent Me, so I am sending them.”
Our job is to call men and women and boys and girls back into the
blessing they have lost by sin. They
can come back into that blessing only through faith in Jesus Christ because He
alone has accomplished what is necessary that they might enjoy the blessing of
God and fellowship with God forever.

And do you realize that when He says in John 17:18 and what He says in John
20:21, “As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you,” do you realize that He is
defining for you what you are to be and do in this world?
You are sent by Jesus. That’s
who you are. You are a missionary in
this world. Your job is not only to
pray for people who go to the foreign fields of missionaries and to give money
so that they can go there and stay there and minister and to support them in
various ways, every single one of us are given this charge, this challenge, this
calling, this privilege of being God’s emissaries in the world to bear the
message about the mission that Jesus has accomplished.
And do you not understand that that parallels the privilege that was
given to Adam and Eve at the beginning?

How is this mission going to be accomplished?
What is God’s plan for the accomplishment or for the spread of the
message about the accomplishment of this mission?
The plan that God has appointed is you.
The Church is God’s plan to spread that message and He does not have a
“Plan B.” The Church is the plan.
You see that in the Great Commission.
“Go, make disciples, baptizing them” — that lets you know that it’s the
Church that baptizes. It’s the
Church that’s going to spread that message and there’s no backup plan.
There’s that point in Lord of the Rings when Galadriel says to Frodo, “If you will not
accomplish this task, it will not be accomplished.”
God is saying to His Church, “You are My plan for spreading this message
to the nations. Every single one of
you are missionaries and there’s no backup plan.
You’re it.” Now we’re
Calvinists. We know that God’s
purposes cannot be thwarted, so what the means practically for us is if we do
not participate in that work there will be someone who does and they’ll get the
blessing. God’s work will be
accomplished; we just won’t have the joy of joining in the privilege of doing
that work.

Do you realize the privilege though that you’re given to be ambassadors, the
emissaries of God’s blessing to the nations?
It’s just like the privilege that was given to Adam and Eve in the
Garden. “Be fruitful and multiply.”
What do you get to do when you spread this message?
You get to be fruitful and multiply so that many sons and daughters are
brought to God. You get to rule over
this earth because you’re working so that there is a day when “the earth shall
be covered with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
It’s an enormous privilege.
Is that your attitude towards it or is it just another thing on the “to-do
list”? I want you to see it as more
than just something on the “to-do list,” that the practical steps that Orrin
gave you today were hugely helpful, but if the fundamental thing isn’t right,
those things will feel just like another “to-do list” that you have to add.
And I already know how much you have on your “to-do list.”

We want to know though what God is doing in this world and what He’s put us in
the world to be and to do and Jesus helps us know that in this prayer that He
prays. “As I have been sent into the
world” — and here’s a challenge for you.
You go look at the gospels, especially the gospel of John, and see how
many times Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father with these words — “Him who sent
Me.” In other words, Jesus’ own self
identity and the way He viewed His Father was, “He’s the One who sent Me to do
this work.” And then He says to you
and me, “So I also send you,” so that our very identity is to be derived from
the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ and the calling that He has
given to us. We are missionaries and
the mission field starts the minute you walk out of the gathering of God’s

And boy that’s more apparent than it’s ever been before, isn’t it?
If you had told me fifty years ago, fifty years ago that our executive
and judicial branch wouldn’t be able to define marriage I would have laughed in
your face. This week I’d be begging
somebody to put me in charge to let people know that marriage is between one man
and one woman. Wouldn’t you love to
have that authority, to set that right in our culture?
Well let me give you some news — you’ve been given more authority than
that! You’ve been given the
authority to go out and declare the good news of God to the ends of this earth
that will bring people back into the blessing.
It’s only through Jesus Christ.
That’s what this Missions Conference is about.
That’s what we are. Jesus was
sent to accomplish a mission. He
did. We’re now sent to declare a
message about His accomplishment of a mission.
That’s what we are. That’s
what we do. May the Lord grip our
hearts with that.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we want to be and do what You’ve put us here to be and do and
that will mean understanding what it meant when Your Son prayed that just as You
sent Him He has also sent us. Help
us understand that one thing this week better than we ever have.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now if you take your hymnals and turn with me to 437, you’ll notice if you look
down in the left-hand corner of the page that this hymn is a psalm. It’s a song
based on Psalm 67, which is the Old Testament missionary song.
Let’s sing it to God’s praise.

The Lord Jesus has sent you into the world so that men and women and boys and
girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will not hear Him say,
“Depart from Me, I never knew you,” but rather, “Grace, mercy, and peace from
God your Father and your Lord Jesus, the Messiah.”

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