The Cross is the Christian’s Missionary Model

Here is an article I just wrote for a magazine in town called The Journey. The Thornwell sermon I quote from is entitled “The Sacrifice of Christ the Type and Model of Missionary Effort,” and it’s found in Volume 2 of Thornwell’s Collected Writings. It’s a powerful sermon, and well worth reading in its entirety. Enjoy.

Have you ever wondered why the Father doesn’t take us to heaven as soon as He saves us? Why do we have to remain here on earth, suffering through sicknesses, griefs, temptations, disasters, old age, and death? The answer to that question is found in Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” for His disciples in John 17. In John 17:18, Jesus speaks these words to His Father in heaven: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” The reason we aren’t immediately transported to be with Jesus the second we’re converted is that Jesus has a mission for us on this earth. The Father has given us to the Son out of the world as a love-gift (John 17:6), and therefore we are not of the world any longer (John 17:14, 16). But we are in the world (John 17:11). Jesus didn’t pray that the Father would take us out of the world, but that He would keep us from the evil one (John 17:15) – and He sent us into the world to bring the word of Christ to the world so that all the rest whom the Father has given to the Son might believe and be saved (John 17:18, 20). Not of – but in – and sent into; in a nutshell, that’s the Christian’s relationship to the world. We have a task, a calling, a mission, a job to do – to be God’s instruments in bringing others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

John 17:18 tells us that the model and picture and type to which we are to conform our missionary labors is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As the Father sent the Son into the world – that is, in the same manner, with the same motives, in the same spirit, for the same purposes – He also has sent us into the world. Mark 10:45 reminds us that Jesus did not come into this world to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. James Henley Thornwell, a 19th century Presbyterian pastor, states that it is particularly the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (the chief purpose of the incarnation) that is the type and model of the believer’s missionary effort. We see this truth in four particular ways:

1) Jesus willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for sinners out of a profound sense of the holiness and justice of God; He knew that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22), because God’s glory demanded the punishment of the guilty. As Thornwell puts it, “Jesus could not brook the thought that man should be saved at the peril of the Divine glory, and whatever His Father’s honor demanded He was prepared to render at any cost of self-denial to Himself.” In the same way, the dominant principle of action in every Christian’s heart must be a supreme reverence for the glory of God. This must motivate us in all our labors for the gospel. We want to see sinners converted first and foremost because we are passionately concerned for the honor and name of our God. John Piper, a Baptist pastor in Minnesota, has put it this way in his book Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions exist because worship doesn’t…Worship is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory… But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the most remote peoples on earth.”

2) Jesus also laid down His life as a sacrifice for sinners out of a profound pity and compassion for mankind, and this same compassion and love should motivate our own missionary efforts. “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The sight of the pitiful state of those around Him led Him to tell His disciples to pray for workers in the harvest field: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). Thornwell appeals to his readers, “Is there nothing in this spectacle of a world in ruins to stir the compassion of the Christian heart? Can we look upon our fellows, members of the same family, pregnant with the same instincts and destined to the same immortality, and feel no concern for the awful prospect before them? They are perishing, and we have the bread of life; they are famished with thirst, and we have the water of which if a man drink he shall never thirst; they are dead, and we have the spirit of life. We have but to announce our Savior’s name, to spread the story of the Cross, and we open the door of hope to the multitudes that are perishing for lack of knowledge.”

3) In the same way that Jesus’ love for God and love for man were not mere sentiment, but led Him to lay down Him life in sacrifice, we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, denying ourselves for the salvation of the lost. Of course, we cannot atone for sin; only the cross of Christ is the sacrifice that cancels guilt. As Thornwell explains, “Jesus by His sacrifice purchased redemption, we by ours must make it known.” Unbelievers can only be saved through the word of the gospel, and that word cannot get out to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation unless there are sacrifices. “It would be contrary to the whole analogy of our religion, contrary to the very genius and constitution of Christianity, to suppose that those whose life has sprung from death, whose holiness is repentance, whose great business is to die, should be excused to laziness and ease. They are called to sacrifice…These are the crosses which precede the crown, the tribulations through which we pass into glory.” Living in America has made us averse to sacrifice. But the work of missions cannot proceed without it. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

4) Just as there was a joy set before Jesus, for which He endured the cross, despising its shame, so there is a glorious reward attached to our sacrifices and labors of love in our missionary effort. Thornwell affirms that the reward is twofold – the reward of success here, and of glory hereafter. Jesus has promised to build His church, and that the gates of hell will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18). God has told us that His word will not return to Him empty, without accomplishing what He desires, and without succeeding in the matter for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11). He has given a people to Jesus Christ, and all those He has given to Christ will come to Him (John 6:37). Therefore we do not need to be afraid, but can go on boldly proclaiming salvation in Christ alone, knowing that the Father will draw His elect to Christ (John 6:44). It may be slow going, but the sovereign God will not be disappointed. And on the last day, when Jesus returns, we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21).

The cross of Jesus Christ is the source of salvation for sinners, and it is the model for sinners saved by grace to look to as they go out into the world with the message of salvation. “The spirit of missions is the spirit of the gospel,” declares Thornwell, and so we must mediate upon the glorious gospel of Christ Jesus and His finished work if we want to be motivated and guided in the work of missions. Let Thornwell have the last word: “When I consider the magnitude and grandeur of the motives which press upon the Church to undertake the evangelization of the world; when I see that the glory of God, the love of the Savior and pity for the lost all conspire in one great conclusion; when I contemplate our own character and relations as spiritual priests, and comprehend the dignity, the honor, the tenderness and self-denial of the office; and then reflect upon the indifference, apathy and languor which have seized upon the people of God; when I look to the heavens above me and the world around me, and hear the call which the wail of perishing millions sends up to the skies thundered back upon the Church with all the solemnity of a Divine commission; when a world says, Come, and pleads its miseries; when God says, Go, and pleads His glory, and Christ repeats the command, and points to His hands and His feet and His side – it is enough to make the stone cry out of the wall and the beam out of the timber to answer it.” Don’t let the rocks cry out! Go into all the world to sacrificially tell of the finished work of Jesus on behalf of sinners.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Katy Brink on April 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

    This is great, Caleb.

    Reply

  2. Posted by chief on April 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    wonderful article!

    Reply

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