The Good Missionary
Series: Vision 2022
This week begins our missions conference, where we focus on our global mission. In this text we see that Jesus is actually the one who accomplishes this global mission.
The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), D.A. Carson
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel According to John, J.C. Ryle
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Today is the beginning of our missions conference, a week where we focus on our global mission, the work Jesus has given us as his followers to do with respect to the world. We have a mission here in Philadelphia, and I’ll talk about that a bit, but we have a broader mission as well. Sometimes, however, it can be hard enough to think about the mission God has for us here. Most of us have jobs, many of us have families as well. There are bills to pay, people to see, prayers to pray, meetings to attend, and most of us, if we’re honest, feel like we’re already falling short in a number of those areas. How could we possibly think about a global mission? How can we add that to our to-do list? We can because as we’ll see in this one verse on which we’re focusing today, it’s not actually us who accomplish this global mission. Jesus will accomplish his global mission. We’ll look at why he will, we’ll look at how he will, and we’ll look at to what end he will.
The verse on which we’re focusing today starts with Jesus saying that he has other sheep who are not of this fold. In this passage, he’s announced that he is the “good shepherd” who calls his own sheep out of the fold, they hear his voice, and they follow him. A fold is a fenced in area in which the sheep are housed. So far in this passage, the fold to which Jesus has been referring is the nation of Israel. Now he says he has other sheep who are not of this fold, meaning he has other sheep who are not of the nation of Israel. We learn from the rest of chapter 10 that Jesus’ sheep in this illustration are humans, but not every human is among Jesus’ sheep, nor even is every Jew among Jesus’ sheep, though Jesus was Jewish and sent to the Jewish people. Jesus explicitly says to the Jews who did not believe in him in verse 26: “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” Rather, Jesus’ sheep are those humans the Father has given to Jesus (v 29), who Jesus calls out (v 3), who hear Jesus’ voice (v 4), forsake false teachers (v 8), follow Jesus (v 4), and receive eternal life from Jesus (v 28).
To use another biblical word for them, Jesus’ sheep are the elect, those chosen by God the Father before the foundation of the world and therefore given to the Son. Notice in our verse that they are sheep in the moment Jesus is speaking, even though he has not yet brought them. He says, “I have (present tense) other sheep who are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” Jesus’ sheep do not become his sheep by believing. They believe because they are his sheep, and what sheep do when they hear the voice of their shepherd, is they listen and follow him. Some of Jesus’ sheep are from his own tribe, his own nation, his own ethnicity: The people of Israel. Now Jesus is saying He has more sheep who are not Jewish. There are other people God has chosen to give to Jesus who are from other nations, other tribes, other languages, other ethnicities. They’ve not yet even heard of Jesus, but they are his. So, Jesus goes on to say, “I must bring them also.”
So why will Jesus accomplish his global mission? Why is it not just something he might do, or something he’s left in our hands, just hoping that we’ll finish the job? Because there are people the Father has given to him from other nations besides Israel, and he must bring them. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 6:37-39 – “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” You see the logic there? Jesus has come not to do his own will, but the will of his Father, and the will of the Father is that He should lose nothing of all that the Father has given to him, but raise it up on the last day. The Father gave these sheep to the Son so that he would raise them up on the last day. It’s his job to go to sheep who have never heard of him and call them out, so that they hear his voice and follow him, and then to keep them until the last day, when he will raise them up. That’s the will of the Father for all those He’s given to the Son, and so Jesus says as long as there are still other sheep out there who have not heard of him, who have not yet been brought in, he must bring them also.
Have you ever watched parents trying to get their kids to clean up their toys? It can be quite the struggle. Sometimes what kids will do if they don’t really want to obey but they also don’t want to get in trouble, is they’ll pick up a couple toys and then call it done, even though the rest are still scattered around the floor. Jesus doesn’t do that. He wants to do the will of his Father, and the will of his Father is not just that he call out and gather to himself the elect from Israel, but that he call out and gather to himself the elect from every nation. Not only that, but Jesus is one with the Father in loving the sheep. In the verses just before these, Jesus says a hired hand cares nothing for the sheep, while the shepherd loves the sheep and will sacrifice even his own life for the sheep. And again, that’s not just the sheep from Israel, but the sheep from every nation. If a loving father has five children and his house is on fire, he’s not going to be content to run into the burning house to grab 2 of them. The loving father will not see his mission as accomplished until all 5 of his children are rescued from the building and safe with him, even at the risk of his own life. So also Jesus, the good shepherd, lays down his life for the sins of all his sheep, and now having done that, is committed to bringing them in.
One of the common objections to the doctrine of election, or what is sometimes called Calvinism or Reformed theology, which is just what we’ve been seeing from this text, that there is a group of people the Father has given to the Son before they come to faith in him, is that it will kill evangelism. The objection runs like this: If God has already chosen who will be saved, and they definitely will be saved, then why bother going to proclaim the gospel? God’s going to do it anyway, right? There are multiple ways to respond to that objection, but a simple one would be to notice that Jesus simply doesn’t think that way. If you hear, “God has chosen who will be saved, and they definitely will be” and the next thing you think is “Well then I won’t bother sharing the gospel,” you are not like Jesus. Because Jesus knew there were some the Father had given to him, and he knew they would come to him. He said in John 6 that all the Father gives me will come to me. But that didn’t make him say, “then I’ll just stay put and wait for them to come to me.” It made him say, “I must bring them also.” He knew he had a part to play in that, he was happy to do the will of his father, he loved his sheep, and he knew it was going to succeed!
Church, this mission we’re on, to see people from every people group in the world brought to Jesus, it’s going to be accomplished, because Jesus has taken personal responsibility to ensure that it will. We have a part to play in it too and we do not exist to do our own will, but the will of our Father. Let’s faithfully carry out our part, precisely because we believe Jesus will accomplish our global mission. But to understand our part, we first must look at how Jesus is going to accomplish his mission.
Jesus says he must bring his sheep who are not of this fold; how is he going to bring them? The first way he’s going to bring them is by dying for them. This was necessary because all of Jesus’ sheep were guilty of sin, and the only way for them to be brought back to a just God was for the demand of justice to be satisfied. So Jesus satisfied it himself, in their place on the cross, when the sins of all his sheep were credited to him, and he died in their place and rose from the dead.
So then, once Jesus died and rose again, a way of salvation was opened for anyone who would come to God through him. Anyone who believed in him had their sins forgiven immediately, because they were united with the one who already paid for them. Before Jesus came, however, the way to be forgiven of sin was through the Jewish sacrificial system, which represented the sacrifice of Jesus before it was offered. But it was the Jewish sacrificial system. So the only way to have access to it was to either be born Jewish or become Jewish. Jesus was still the only way to God, but he was only made known through the sacrificial system to the Jews. So if you think of Jesus like a door to God, he was still the door before he died on the cross, but you had to show your Jewish ID card to get in. Now that Jesus has died however, the door is flung wide open, and whoever believes in him will be saved, regardless of what fold, what people group, they come from. So then, the first way he brings in his sheep from other folds is he dies for his sheep from other folds, and flings the door of salvation open for them. If you are here today and you’ve not yet come through that door, it’s wide open, no matter what fold you come from. Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.
But his death is not the focus of this verse. Here, after Jesus says he must bring in his other sheep, he says, “they will listen to my voice.” So how will Jesus bring in the elect from other nations besides Israel? He will, as he’s put it elsewhere in this chapter, call them out, and they will listen to his voice, and follow him. So far in the Gospel of John, that’s been pretty straightforward: In chapter 1, Jesus goes to people and says, “Follow me,” and they follow him. In chapter 11, he even went to a dead man, Lazarus, and said, “Lazarus, come out,” and guess what? He came out of the tomb, and followed Jesus. It would be natural to think, then, that Jesus is personally, in his body on earth, going to go to every other nation, and call out his sheep from those nations. But that’s not how the story goes. When Jesus dies on the cross, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven, he’s still only personally gone to the sheepfold of Israel. So, back to our question: How is Jesus going to accomplish his global mission?
In John 17:20, when Jesus is praying just before his death, after he prays for his sheep who listened to his voice and followed him while he was on earth, here’s one of the things he says: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” So we’re already getting a hint there that the way the sheep of other folds will hear the shepherd’s voice is through these sheep going and preaching to them. In John 12:20 he said whoever receives the one he sends receives him. Then in chapter 20, after rising from the dead, he says to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). So you see, this is where we come in: The way Jesus intends to bring in the sheep from other folds is to send his sheep he’s already called to himself to proclaim his word, and through their preaching, the remaining sheep will hear his voice and be brought in to his flock, where they will be led by shepherds (that’s pastors, also known as elders or overseers) to their heavenly home. So Paul, writing to the Ephesians, can say to them that Jesus came to them preaching peace, even though Jesus never came to them in bodily form. Through Paul’s preaching, though, they heard Jesus, and those among the Ephesian fold who were his sheep believed, were baptized, and joined the church at Ephesus.
The work of Christian missions is not, therefore, violent coercion. Jesus hasn’t sent us to threaten people at gunpoint into becoming Christians. To do anything like, even trying to force people to become Christians by law, is disobedient to Christ. What Jesus has authorized us to do is to speak. In the work of missions, therefore, the work of preaching is primary. The way Jesus intends to bring in his sheep from other folds is through the preaching of the sheep he’s already called out and now sent to those other folds. Only when followers of Jesus go out to preach, they can’t just say, “Follow me” like Jesus did, because they aren’t Jesus. They must first preach Christ, and then call people to follow him. They must tell them about who he is, and what he did in his life, death, and resurrection, to fling the door of salvation open to them, and then call them to repent of their sins and believe in him. That is the basic method of missions. There are a lot of other good things Christians can do, and that at least some Christians should do. Christians can, should, and have started medical clinics, community centers, drilled wells, fought human trafficking, started schools, and so forth. We do those things because people are images of God and we love Him, so we love them. But those things left alone will not accomplish Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ sheep must hear his voice if they are to be brought in, and how will they hear unless someone preaches? Nobody will know Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose from the grave simply by you giving them clean drinking water, valuable as clean drinking water is.
Not only does this mean the work of preaching is primary in missions; it means we should also prioritize those folds, those people groups, that have no preacher! We call these “unreached people groups,” where less than 2% of the group believes the gospel. That means most people in that people group are likely to die without ever hearing the gospel. Even more important, we can speak of “unreached language groups,” which are language groups with zero viable churches among them, and some of which do not even have the Bible translated into their language. It’s currently estimated that there are about 2-3,000 unreached language groups. If they must hear the word of Jesus to be saved, and Jesus intends to use us to bring them, the only way they are going to be saved is if someone from an already reached language group, whether English, French, Arabic, Hindi, or any other reached language group, learns their language, and then preaches Christ to them in it.
So what’s this mean for us at Citylight then? Well, the first question we could ask is whether we are being faithful in our own context. We all were called out by Jesus from some native fold, and there may still be other sheep in our folds who we can share the gospel with, because we do speak the same language already! Not only that, but in the city of Philadelphia, we’re blessed to have a lot of other folds right around us, many of whom it turns out do speak the same language we do. Are we proclaiming Christ to them? It’s very unlikely that we as a church will send missionaries to the unreached language groups of the world if we aren’t proclaiming Christ to our own language groups right here. And if you want to be a missionary, it’s very unlikely that you’ll flip a switch once you get over there and begin proclaiming Christ if you aren’t already proclaiming him here. Sometimes we think that, right? There’s something that almost feels less risky about proclaiming Christ to strangers, because who cares if they reject you? But what about your unbelieving family? What about those neighbors you really want to like you? What about those coworkers? You already have easier and more natural access to them than you do people from any other folds. Start there.
But then we can’t end there. Jesus has sheep of other folds, he must bring them also, and he intends to use us. That means some of us should go. Why not you? You say, “Ah that’d mess up my plans for my life.” But remember what Jesus said in John 12 which we looked at just a couple weeks ago? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Why not at least pray about it? Why not pray and ask God if that would be a good way for you to bear much fruit for his glory? Why not come to the missions seminar this Saturday and just dip your toe in a little further to learn more about what’s even going on out there? There are opportunities, I’m telling you. And there are resources. It’s the people willing to go who are few. Pray about it.
Many of us, however, will not go. But all of us must be involved in sending. That means giving our prayers and our money to those who are going out for the proclamation of the gospel, especially those going to the unreached language groups of the world. Do you understand that with your money you could help people who have never heard the word of Christ hear it? Your money is part of this mission. Your money can pay for missionaries to get trained, it can buy plane tickets, it can buy language school, it can buy meals, housing, Bibles, and more, for those who are going. Let’s examine our hearts on that: Do we want to give to those things? It can be easier, sometimes, to give to things that the world applauds: The wells, the medical clinic, and so on. And again, I’m not saying don’t give to those things. But if preaching is primary in missions, that should be the priority in our giving as well, both as individuals and as a church. Does your giving reflect that? Do you even know any missionaries whose pitch is, “I want to go this unreached language group so that I can proclaim the gospel among them and see a church planted there”? We need more missionaries like that. Let’s be a church that sends and supports missionaries like that. Of course, they may go as engineers or doctors or aid workers or whatever else and do that too, or such people may be on their team, but what’s the priority, and what’s the thing that Jesus uses to accomplish his mission? His sheep of other folds must hear his voice. Let’s conclude, then, by looking at what end this is all meant to serve.
To what end?
This is where Jesus ends in verse 16: So there will be one flock, one shepherd. Jesus is not just trying to get scattered sheep and leave them scattered, as though each has their personal encounter with Jesus, hears his voice, and then goes on living a life separate from the rest of his sheep. Remember Jesus said I must bring them also. Bring them where? Bring them in to this one flock. He calls them out of their native fold to bring them into a new flock. And notice also there will be one flock, not one fold. This is not assimilation. Jesus wasn’t trying to make everyone Jewish, or more to our point, we are not sent to make everyone American or Western. His goal is instead one flock, made up of people from every tribe and people and language and nation, who are united, not by liking all the same things, having all the same cultural norms, or speaking the same language even. They are united, rather, because they all have one shepherd. The goal is not only one flock, but one shepherd.
A shepherd in the Bible and in the ancient world more broadly was just a common way of speaking of a ruler. So here people from every people and language and nation are united because they are all submitted to one ruler. They are all following the same shepherd, and that makes them all one flock. Our world is obsessed today with figuring out how to get diverse people groups together. And typically the idea is to get them looking at each other: Let me learn your culture, let me taste your food, let me learn to validate, and let’s learn to get along. Why? Because, well, it feels better to get along than to fight. Yeah, but it also feels good to feel better than others, and so it turns just trying each other’s food doesn’t tend to produce deep unity. Those things can be helpful steps, but the only way to really form one flock of people from every tribe and language and people and nation is if they all start following one shepherd. And what shepherd is good enough that people from nation could follow him? The one shepherd through whom all the people from every nation were made. The one shepherd who became human to go and get his lost sheep, the sheep who sinned against him, the king who came to rescue his enemies, the shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, the shepherd who rose from the dead and sent his Spirit on his people so that they would go to his sheep who are not of the fold of Israel and through them, hear his voice, and follow him. When you hear Jesus’ voice and follow him, he becomes the most important thing in your life. And then when you see other followers of his, other sheep from other folds, the differences you have with them become more reasons to give praise to Jesus, rather than reasons to divide.
In this life, we don’t yet see one flock under one shepherd. That’s called the invisible church, the church made up of Jesus’ sheep from every people group across time and space. But the Bible also speaks of local churches as flocks, made up of sheep, and led by shepherds, from where we get our word pastor. Those are the places where the church is most visible now, which is why we see when Jesus sends out his disciples to preach his word and people hear Jesus’ voice and believe, they are baptized and added to the membership of a particular local church. That’s just what it looks like, like literally how it’s seen, to be part of Jesus’ flock in this world. For missions, then, not only is preaching the priority; the goal of that preaching is churches. Our commission is not to reach the sheep for Jesus and then leave them scattered. It’s to gather them, to bring them in. Better yet, Jesus brings them in through us, and he brings them into particular, local churches, until the day when we see the one flock gathered under one shepherd. And by churches we don’t just mean a loose association of Christians; we mean what the Bible means by churches: A communion of people who credibly profess faith in Jesus, get baptized, and then gather to worship God, build one another up, administer the sacraments, administer church discipline, recognize deacons and elders, and continue the work of proclaiming the gospel from where they are.
For us, then, let’s start at home again: We should not be content to lead people to Jesus and leave them scattered. We should seek to bring them in to our church, or if not to our church, then to one of the other churches in the city where the voice of Jesus can be heard. It means we want to be as healthy of a church as we can be, so that if the Lord enables us to send workers out from here, they go to other nations with a real sense in their minds of what they’re aiming at. They know what it feels like to be part of a healthy church, so now when they get over there, they want to plant and/or build up healthy churches. I mentioned earlier that there are a lot of other things Christians can and should do overseas: You can go work in your profession, you can start a clinic, and so on, but to what end? The end of all that should be healthy churches founded on the proclamation of the gospel. That’s what we want to support, and those are the kinds of workers we want to send.
Does it sound difficult? It is. That’s why Jesus must accomplish it. There is a people from every people group in the world that the Father chose before the foundation of the world to give to His Son, and Jesus the Son came not to do his own will but the will of His Father. Out of obedience to His father and great love for his sheep, he shed his blood for all his sheep from every fold, and now he will not stop until every one of those sheep has heard his voice, been brought into his church, and are raised up on the last day. We get to be part of that. He will accomplish it; He must accomplish it, so the pressure is off. But he will accomplish it through us, so we have work to do. He will accomplish it through us as some of us go, and all of us send people to proclaim the gospel among the unreached peoples of the world and plant faithful churches that will shepherd those sheep until Jesus raises them up on the last day. Not only do we know this mission will succeed because Jesus never fails; we know it will succeed because the Bible actually shows us the ending. It gives us a vision of the day when there will be one flock, and one shepherd, visibly gathered when Jesus returns and brings heaven down to earth. Let me close by reading that description from Revelation 7:9-10
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”