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Justice & Mission: Good News for All

In the days following Easter Jesus’ disciples gathered on a hill above the Sea of Galilee. Much of their ministry with Jesus had occurred in these hills, but this encounter was like no other. This time the resurrected Jesus appeared and commissioned them to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded them” (Matthew 28:16-20). And then he was gone. God’s mission to the world, which began in Genesis 3, and continued through patriarchs, kings, and prophets, took a new twist. The apostles and the gospel message they proclaimed would be scattered among all the nations.

This story is familiar to and beloved by church planters, missionaries, and evangelists. What is less familiar is that God’s mission is a story not only of gospel proclamation, but also gospel demonstration. Gospel demonstration has to do with living out the message, or “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.” A gospel demonstrated through tangible acts of mercy and justice is just as surely a witness to Jesus Christ as is the gospel proclaimed. 

Demonstrations of the gospel through mercy and justice were essential parts of God’s mission in the early church.

Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, would agree. Acts is an account of mission, the gospel proclaimed and demonstrated through mercy and justice. The missionary church of Acts  healed the sick, provided for the poor, and challenged the rich to mobilize their resources justly (2:42-47, 4:32-5:16, 6:1-8, 11:29-30). One of the most significant justice issues faced by the early church was the status of the Gentiles. At the time non-Jews occupied a secondary position in the church. But Jesus revealed to both Peter and Paul that God did not discriminate (Acts 9:15, 10:1-18, 15:1-35). Though the Old Testament prophets had proclaimed the Gentile mission (especially in Isaiah 40-66), the message of equality between Jews and Gentiles disrupted the early church profoundly (Galatians 1:11 - 2:21). Demonstrations of the gospel through mercy and justice were essential parts of God’s mission in the early church.

Sometimes I am surprised by just how critical mercy and justice are in the biblical view of mission. Jesus stood at the head of a long line of prophets who faithfully explained God’s law to Israel. Nothing was more important to the prophets than faithful worship of the Lord and justice for the disadvantaged (including the immigrant/sojourner, the widow, the orphan, and the materially poor). These values shaped Jesus’ ministry, leading him to embrace the downtrodden and the sinners and challenge the rich and the religious. Jesus’ brother, James, echoes those convictions in his epistle where states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).  The demonstration of the gospel through mercy and justice is central to God’s mission for Jesus.

I visited with a youth leader whose church was situated in a poor area of Port-au-Prince that was a notorious gang stronghold.

Mercy and justice is still central to God’s mission today. When I served as a missionary in Haiti, I visited with a youth leader whose church was situated in a poor area of Port-au-Prince that was a notorious gang stronghold. For years the church courageously evangelized the gangsters who terrorized their neighborhood to no avail. After much prayer this youth leader invited some gang members into his career--taxi driving. Patiently, and at much risk to himself, the youth leader taught several gang members to drive and repair vehicles. He even personally paid the fees for their driver’s licenses. When I visited the youth leader, a group of ten former gang leaders surrounded him. These men had received Jesus, became members of the church, and had become taxi drivers. The youth leader shared how tough it had been since many church members vigorously opposed his effort to show mercy and justice to gang members. The Holy Spirit used simple acts of mercy and justice by one faithful leader to bring notorious gang members to Christ. Demonstrating the gospel through acts of mercy and justice are central to God’s mission.

Over the next five weeks, the Do Justice blog will be posting stories of how mercy and justice are part of God’s big mission for his church. In our current context, there is a temptation to separate gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration in God’s mission. Such separation threatens to rob our witness of its authenticity and its power--for God is both full of grace and full of justice. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the many stories of mission among CRC congregations where the Holy Spirit is blessing mission ministry through gospel proclamation and concrete acts of justice and mercy.

Don't miss a post in this series! Justice & Mission: Good News for All

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