Jesus Knew His Calling: A Missional Christology

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently spoke of why he “came.” For instance, in Mark 1:38, when the crowds are pressing in on him, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  While Jesus was attentive to the needs of man; he was perfectly obedient to his Father’s will. As John reiterates time and again in his gospel, the Son was ‘sent’ by the Father on a mission to redeem those whom the Father had given him before the ages began.

Thus, to understand who Jesus is one must look at his Christological mission—what missiologists might call the Missio Dei. As the image of the invisible God and the Son whose obedience pleased the Father, Jesus’ “I have come . . .” statements reveal the very heart of God and the work Christ came to accomplish. To know these statements is to know a great deal about our Lord. To overlook them is to miss a key insight into his self-identity and mission. 

Here they are.

Mark 1:38. He said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 

Mark 2:17; par. Matthew 9:13; Luke 5:32. Jesus heard this and said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners [to repentance, cf. Luke 5:32].

Matthew 5:17. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.

Luke 12:49. I have come to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.

Luke 12:51. Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth; no, I tell you—not peace, but division.

Matthew 10:34-35. Do not think I have come to bring peace on the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to divide man against father and daughter against mother, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law . . .

Mark 10:45; par. Matthew 20:28. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Luke 19:10. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

From these statements, we learn what Christ’s mission was, but we also find an argument for his pre-existent deity. In his excellent study, The Pre-Existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Simon J. Gathercole interprets these passages as strong evidence for Christ’s deity in the Synoptic Gospels. He shows how this language “I have come . . .” is used in other Second Temple Judaism literature and makes the case that Christ was not simply leaving one earthly district and ‘coming’ into another one. Rather, he was coming from heaven to earth to do the will of his Father.

Therefore, we learn of Christ’s person and work in these explicit statements. However, there is more. Gathercole also lists six parables which contribute to a full-orbed picture of why Christ became a man. Acknowledging the dangers of drawing doctrine from parables, he suggests that the main figure of each parable adds shape to Jesus’ messianic mission. The parables include the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the fig owner looking for figs (13:6-9), the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine (15:3-7; cf. Matt 18:12-14), the binding of the strong man (Mark 3:27; Matt 12:29), and the sower who comes to sow seed (Mark 4:3) (170-72).

Then, to show how the parables and explicit statements relate and interpret one another he gives the following chart (172):

Luke 13:6-9: coming to seek fruit Purpose of mission in Mark 12:2
Matt 18:12-14: looking for lost sheep Purpose of advent in Luke 19:10
Mark 3:27: binding the strong man Purpose of advent in Mark 1:24
Mark 4:3: sowing the seed of the word Purpose of advent in Mark 1:38
Mark 4:21: coming of the light Purpose of ‘visit’ in Luke 1:78-79

All in all, we can see in these statements and parables a testimony to who Jesus is, to what Jesus came to do, and even to how we might follow in his footsteps. While Jesus primary mission was to die in the place of his sheep (John 10:14, 17-18), he also provides his sheep a model of how to live our lives.  In this manner, we can see that Jesus lived on mission, always making decisions based upon the will of his Father. He had freedom to say ‘no’ to others when such demands hampered his ability to obey God.

At the same time, his zeal for his Father’s house confounded his followers. When he took extra time to meet a Samaritan woman by the well (John 4) or when he stopped a crowd of people to ask who touched him (Matthew 8). Jesus’ holy compulsion to do the will of the Father caused him to act and speak in ways that his followers did not expect or understand (without explanation). But always his actions perfectly pleased the Father, because in every decision he lived according to his mission.

Therefore, if we are going to know Jesus, we must understand his mission—he came to bring good news, to cast out Satan from this world, to separate mankind, and to die for his elect (‘the many’). At the same time, for those who have benefitted from his mission, we can behold his unswerving commitment to his mission as a model for us. As Peter says, we must follow in his footsteps and join him in his Great Commission to make disciples of the nations. In this final way, watching Jesus prioritize his Father’s work gives us motivation to do the same.

May we give ourselves whole-heartedly to the Lord, such that we join Christ on mission for reaching the world with the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss