Pursuing Jesus’ Vision for Ministry

It is well known that Jesus had an itinerant ministry.  A cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that he traveled extensively. As I pondered Jesus’ travels, the question occurred to me, “Was Jesus just wandering around in all these travels or was he pursuing a specific purpose?” Taking a closer look, I found several surprising answers, which I will point out here, as well as how these insights apply today.

Pursuing a God-given Purpose

In the early days of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, Mark records a saying of Jesus that gives us great insight into his ministry vision.  But to grasp full significance of his statement, we will need to examine Jesus’ saying in context.

When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left {the house,} and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. (Mark 1:32-39 NASB)

I’m initially shocked that Jesus would leave the interested and needy crowds to preach in places that had not yet heard the Gospel. That seems counter-intuitional.  Would it not make sense to stay and follow up on those who are open and interested? A closer reading of verse 38, though, reveals that Jesus had a clear vision of what he should do.

“Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38).

Luke provides a complementary perspective on the same event. There Jesus says:

“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

This passage is even clearer in showing that Jesus was pursuing a God-given purpose.

Both Mark’s and Luke’s passages taken together give us additional insight into how Jesus’s vision directed his actions. In both passages, Jesus justifies his surprising action by referencing his purpose. So we can conclude Jesus was not just wandering around aimlessly. He was pursuing a clear, God-given purpose.

A further examination of the Gospel accounts of Jesus ministry provides further insight into Jesus’ ministry vision.

A Saturation Vision

Jesus’ Early Ministry in Galilee

Mark 1:39 shows how Jesus acted upon his God-given vision. “And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”

Galilee in the Time of JesusMatthew’s Gospel also accentuates the scope of Jesus’ itinerant ministry. Matthew observes, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matt. 4:23). Latter Matthew in chapter 9 repeats the phrase “Jesus was going through” and then adds additional detail: “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages… proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” (Matthew 9:35).

In the time of Jesus, Galilee was an area roughly 40 by 70 kilometers (25 by 44 miles), similar in size to a county.  Josephus, writing during the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome noted that “There are two hundred and forty cities and villages in Galilee…” (Life of Josephus, 45). Estimates for the population of Galilee in Jesus time range, on the low end, from 200,000 – 700,000 upward to 2-3 million inhabitants. If indeed Jesus’ purpose was to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in each location in Galilee, he had a significant task ahead of him.

Note that in the second reference (9:35) Matthew adds the phrase “all the cities and villages.” This is significant.  Jesus could have established himself in one location, perhaps a major urban center like Jerusalem or Capernaum, and expected people to come to him.  But he did not.  Jesus’ approach was to take the good news of the Kingdom to people where they lived, not to expect them to come to him.

Jesus’ Later Ministry

Jesus’ saturation vision is also evident in the last phase of his ministry and his post resurrection appearances, but here we will see it applied at a new level. Earlier we saw how Jesus pursued his saturation vision regionally in Galilee. In the later phases of Jesus’ ministry we will see how the saturation vision is applied universally. We will start with three passages in Matthew that indicate how Jesus intended his vision for geographical saturation to be carried out universally.

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Other post resurrection accounts also show Jesus describing the end goal of his saturation vision:

“”Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15). 

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49)

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Note prior to the resurrection, Jesus’ spoke descriptively about the Gospel of the Kingdom being preached in the whole world. It is only after the resurrection that Jesus speaks prescriptively, that is to say, he gives commands about communicating the good news to the whole world. Contemplate: prior to the resurrection Jesus shared the good news of the kingdom; post resurrection there is the Great News of salvation.

To summarize, early in Jesus’ ministry we see his saturation vision applied regionally. At the end of his ministry we see it applied universally.

A Multicultural Vision

There is another aspect of Jesus’ ministry that is often overlooked: the cross-cultural aspect. A careful reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus came to be the Messiah, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles. The prophets foretold that the Messiah would be for both Israel and the Gentiles (see for example Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). Is it not surprising, then, to find Jesus ministering not only to Jews, but to Samaritans and Gentiles? Matthew points out that Jesus began his ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). Then Matthew shows Jesus ministering simultaneously to both Jews and Gentiles that came to him in Galilea from Syria, Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:24-25). On other occasions we see Jesus ministering to non-Jews, for example, a Samaritan, who was one of one of ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and the Roman Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10).

Palestine in the Time of JesusJesus did not just minister to non-Jews that occasionally crossed his path (that is to say, people who sought him out), but he also intentionally traveled across geographical barriers to minister to non-Jews.  In John 4 Jesus went to Samaria. (Note John’s interesting comment that Jesus in John 4:4 that “He had to pass through Samaria”.) His ministry to the woman at the well affected the entire village, who exclaimed, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Jesus also traveled to the Gentile regions of Decapolis, Tyre and Sidon and ministered there. Here are a few other examples of Jesus’ ministry among the Gentiles:

  • The exorcism of demoniac in Gerasenes who then preached in Decapolis (Mark 5:1-20);
  • The healing Canaanite woman’s daughter from Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24-30);
  • The healing of a deaf man in Decapolis (Mark 7:31-37);
  • The feeding of the 4,000 took place in Decapolis (Mark 8:1-9 cf. 7:31).

Jesus ministered to the Gentiles because he understood that he was the Messiah for all peoples.  Jesus shows this understanding when he declares, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16). Jesus came to be the Messiah of all peoples.  Should it not be surprising, then, that he intentionally ministered to both Jew and Gentile?

A Multiplication Vision

Jesus’ vision was larger than he himself could fulfill.  So from the beginning of his ministry he intentionally called others to follow him and sent them forth to preach (Mark 3:13-15– Even earlier See Mk. 1:16-20). These Jesus equipped, empowered and sent forth in ministry (Matthew 10:1,5ff). Jesus did this first with the twelve and then with the 70 (Luke 9:2; 10:1). Finally he charged his apostles to make disciples, following his example (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; 13:15). Comparing our ministry to Jesus’, let us ask: are we trying to do everything ourselves, or are we mobilizing, equipping and sending forth others, multiplying workers for the harvest field? Also, as we follow how Jesus selected, trained, empowered and released the Twelve, there is a process or strategy that we can also follow. (I intend to write more about this Jesus Multiplication Vision in the near future).

Applying Jesus’ Vision for Ministry

Jesus vision for “saturation” and reaching the nations has inspired and guided many kingdom workers. For example in 1836 Robert Moffat, pioneer missionary to South Africa, shared in a meeting in England:

“Many a morning have I stood on the porch of my house, and looking northward, have seen the smoke arise from villages that have never heard of Jesus Christ. I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages—villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world.”

I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages—villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world." Robert Moffat

In the audience was young David Livingston, whose heart was captured by the vision of taking the Gospel into the interior of Africa.  Moffat’s words “the smoke of a thousand villages… the smoke of a thousand villages…” weighed upon his heart. Livingston would later marry Robert Moffat’s daughter and devote his life to opening the interior of Africa to the Gospel.  Livingston’s God-given vision drove him on. “I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.” “I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.” In recognition of his accomplishments, Livingston is buried in Westminster Abby and it is said that his grave is one of the most visited in the Abby. (For other inspiring quotes by David Livingston see: http://www.azquotes.com/author/8949-David_Livingstone).

In more recent times, Jim Montgomery, when he was a missionary with OC International in the Philippines, received from God a vision of how to reach the entire nation by planting an evangelical church in every barangay (roughly translated village). In the 1970s, it was estimated that 50,000 new churches would be needed in the Philippines by the year 2000 to complete this goal. The Philippine Church leaders committed themselves to this process and by the year 2000, they exceeded their church planting goal. (The first part of this story is told in Montgomery’s book, DAWN 2000.) However they did not succeed in planting a church in every barangay. So the process continues on, but now with the vision to also send Filipinos out as workers to other nations and peoples who are least reached.

Montgomery’s vision led to a strategy called DAWN – Discipling A Whole Nation. It has also been called Saturation Church Planting (SCP). Montgomery left OC International to start DAWN Ministries in the 1980s, as there was great interest in establishing national church planting processes in outer countries. The DAWN strategy was also championed by the World Evangelical Alliance and the AD 2000 Movement in the 1990s. As a result National Church Planting Initiatives were birthed in over 100 countries.

With the opening of Eastern Europe after the Fall of Communism in 1989, the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting formed and began works to catalyze Saturation Church Planting Processes in the Post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. This is where I got involved on the ground in Romania, when the Romanian Evangelical Alliance invited OC International to assist them in planting churches in more than 10,000 villages. We developed a strong partnership with the Romanian led Alliance for Saturation Church Planting team and many others as we pursued Jesus’ ministry vision.

Although DAWN Ministries and the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting closed their respective ministries about a decade ago, others continue to promote Jesus’ vision, the Global Church Planting Network being one example (www.GCPN.info).  We are encouraged to see a new generation of leaders catching Jesus’ vision for reaching their nation – and beyond.

Currently I am surveying those who have been involved in DAWN, SCP or national initiatives over the last 30 years or so to in order to gathering insights from leaders who have made significant contributions to national church planting processes around the globe. The insights from this survey will be incorporated into in Dr. Murray Moerman’s forthcoming book, National Church Planting Processes: The Next Generation and will be shared in various venues in 2018 and 2019.

From Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels we can conclude that his aim would be to see that the Gospel proclaimed in every city, town and village and to every people. Consider your own area.  How many people within a 10 mile radius of your church have not heard the Good News? How many locations within, say, 10 miles of your church do not have an evangelical church? What might God want your church to do about this?

Jesus would also minister to those outside his own people group. Here lies a great need. In the world today approximately 2 billion people, or 30% of the world’s population, have no opportunity to hear the Gospel because there is neither missionary activity nor a viable church among them. These too need the Gospel. What is your church doing to make disciples of all the nations?

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel”, or to “make disciples of all nations”, or to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, unto the ends of the earth,” Jesus never asked his disciples – or us – to do anything he himself did not do. Jesus was on the go. He made disciples of the Gentiles. He went to all cities and villages in his region to preach the gospel and went beyond his own cultural and geographical boundaries to preach the gospel to other peoples. Thus Jesus left us an example to follow.

How, then, will you and your church follow in Jesus’ footsteps beginning today?

 

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