December 8, 2011 by Dwight Bernier
Still thinking about Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus, and how much is packed into 138 pages. One of the things he talked about in the book really got me thinking about how we do mission.
Typically, we think about meeting people so that we can jump into conversation about the “good news” that Jesus died for them. Now, without any context, how would it make you feel to hear that someone died for you? That would easily burden someone with mass amounts of guilt, wondering why it was their fault that Jesus died. Honestly, rarely is it ever taken as good news that someone died. Yet, as Christians, we run around talking to people we’ve never met about the “good news” that someone died. We make signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts and other such paraphernalia with slogans such as, “Jesus loves you and died for you”. But if He loved me, wouldn’t He be alive? If my wife loves me and died for me, then that would stop her love for me, because she would no longer be around to express that love.
In evangelicalism, we’ve developed tools to help us explain this “good news”. We help people understand that God created us (which most don’t believe) to have relationship with Him and to find our life in Him. We then move quickly onto sin, and really help people see that they do bad things. Without spending too much time on that, we hurry to the work of (not so much the person of) Jesus to help them see that He came to conquer sin and acts as a bridge to bring us to God, so that we can experience real life. And this real life is eternal. Then, at the end, we ask them if they want to pray to receive Jesus.
In all this, there isn’t any entering into the world of the person with whom we are sharing the facts of the gospel message. Yes, we are entering into conversation with them, but we aren’t entering into their lives, their thoughts, their beliefs, their struggles. We don’t take time to enter into the hopelessness of the person’s continual attempts to try to fill their lives with substitute saviors that don’t work.
Here is where Emmaus-type mission comes in. The Scripture is Luke 24.13-35. The scene goes like this. Jesus is alive. He has resurrected. But despite this, there were two disciples leaving Jerusalem extremely disappointed. They expected the Messiah to be one that didn’t die. They were hopeless. They had “hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel”. But in their worldview and understanding, Jesus was still dead.
This is where most people are. They once had hopes that there was some sort of Savior that could redeem and rescue them. But those thoughts are dead. For this couple walking on the road to Emmaus, it had been three days since their “hope” had been dead. For many others, it has been years. Some grew up going to church, praying, hoping that God would fix their lives, change situations, etc. But He didn’t work like they expected Him to. He was as good as dead for them. So they, like the couple on the road, head back to real life, trying to find the messiah that will fulfill them.
Several years ago, I had a long-term substitute teaching job at a junior high school. The reason I had the job was because the teacher was extremely sick. The disease was quick and ended up taking the life of this man within a few months of developing the sickness. I distinctly remember walking the class to a room where the announcement would be made that their teacher died. After the announcement had been made, a 13 year-old girl looked and me with extreme sadness and said, “I prayed that he wouldn’t die. I guess that praying doesn’t work”. Her view of life, God and prayer were being shaped in that moment. That event will get added to her story and understanding of who God is. And we all have had many shaping events happen in our lives.
If we don’t listen to people’s stories and hear where their disappointment and hopelessness exists, we don’t really know where to even start with contextualizing the gospel to these people. Yes, we want to make the gospel understandable to culture, but culture is made up of people. More specifically, persons. It is made up of neighbors who are single moms, adults who were sexually abused as children by “religious people”, immigrants, strippers, homeless, religious, drug addicts, hard workers, politicians, and many more. They all have a story about their search for their savior. They all have a story about their disappointment. They all have a story about their struggle to believe. The people on the road to Emmaus asked ‘should we believe the women who came back from the tomb and said it was empty? Are they reliable witnesses?’ Jesus listened to them. He could have stopped them and simply said “I am Jesus”. But He listened.
Once we enter into life with these people and hear what they are looking for, then we can better direct them back to the real One that they are looking for. Jesus takes these two people from their thoughts about what their Savior would be like, and he takes them to Scripture to unpack for them who the Messiah would be. He helps them see that the the Messiah had to suffer and die. And Jesus used Scripture to do this (Luke 24.27).
As we are on mission, we are called to listen to people’s stories, love them, walk with them, and help them understand the One that they are really looking for.
What is amazing about these two people on the road leaving Jerusalem, is that when they understood that it was Jesus, that He had indeed risen and was the Messiah and Savior they were looking for, they “rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem”. They went back to the place they came from with zeal, and they proclaimed Jesus, and then Jesus showed up! Resurrection changes us!
As we are on mission, walking with people, proclaiming Jesus, Jesus shows up. Jesus will keep opening hearts. Jesus will keep rebuking unbelief. Jesus will keep making a people for Himself. And Jesus will keep sending out those who see Him in order to walk with those who don’t know Him, so that they can witness to Him, and He can keep showing up. This will take time. This will require patience. This will require resources. This will require dying to your desire to see people ‘say a prayer’, sign a card, come forward at a service, or respond so that you can “count it”. This will require you allowing for Jesus to work the way that He wants to work in their lives for His glory and for the transformation of their heart. Mission isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus.