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A Peculiar Mission

Billy Graham was famous for his large evangelistic meetings. He followed in the steps of other evangelists, such as George Whitefield and D. L. Moody. Graham was a pioneer in evangelism by radio and television. His aim was to invite all people by whatever means necessary to put their faith in Christ.

The mission statement in today’s passage seems much narrower by comparison. When Jesus first sent out the twelve, He included this surprising stipulation: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (vv. 5–6). If Jesus really is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, why didn’t He send the apostles to Gentiles as well as Jews? The answer is that Jesus did just that, but only after the Resurrection.

Some scholars call this mission the “little commission” to distinguish it from the “great commission” (Matt. 28:16–20). On this occasion they came as representatives of Israel’s Messiah, announcing the imminent approach of the kingdom in the person of Jesus Christ (v. 7). They were authorized to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. These were not marketing techniques or relief work, but signs of divine power and authority which served as proof of the nearness of the kingdom (Acts 2:22).

The focus of the apostles’ message changed after the Resurrection. The theme of the kingdom did not disappear (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). But now they proclaimed it in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul would later summarize it as “the message of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). His priorities mirrored those established by Christ: to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16; 2:10).

>> We are not bound by the limitations of the “little” commission. We can take along an extra shirt or more than one pair of shoes. But we are bound by the same gospel. We must preach faith in Christ as the only way to enter His kingdom.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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