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Christ's Power and the Church's Mission

A potential concern that may have circulated among the disciples after the resurrection is whether or not Jesus was going to be actively involved in their lives going forward. His resurrection was such a momentous occasion and extraordinary exaltation that a disciple could be excused for wondering if Jesus would still have anything to do with this earth. With such a “promotion,” would Jesus still be available for his disciples, or was he so highly exalted above earthly things that the disciples would now need to get along with only his wise teaching and Jesus himself?

How much the disciples consciously wrestled with this is the property of speculation, but what we can be sure of is that Jesus made it clear in his third post-resurrection appearance in John 21 that he was still very much interested in and available for his disciples. More than that, on the heels of John’s version of the great commission, this third appearance supplies in narrative form what Matthew records Jesus saying in his version of the great commission: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20 ESV).

Beyond providing encouragement to his disciples, the interplay between Jesus’ display of power and invitation to participate in his work serves as the only solid ground on which the church’s mission could begin. More than that, Christ’s confirmation that his almighty power and presence were for the disciples and consequently the church is the only reason that the church’s mission is viable.

In his short book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer brings together these dual concerns of Christ’s power and authority and the disciples’ participation in Christ’s ongoing ministry in an effort to encourage the church to fulfill its mission. In his book, Packer is actually dealing with the opposite problem, which is a tendency to skip out on evangelism because God is sovereign and will save whomever he will anyway. However, Packer’s words are also instructive in encouraging tentative or even fearful members of the church who might wonder how in the world their gospel witness could make a difference.

Toward the end of his book, he declares, “The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism.” Then he expands on this idea in a most helpful way:

The sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful. Apart from it, there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.[1]

Applying this first to John 21, as the disciples fished at night, they must have thought that there was no more complete waste of their time than what they were doing. But then the daylight broke through the darkness, and the risen Lord demonstrated his power and authority for them, thus creating the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that their commission to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth would be fruitful.

As an inheritor of this commission, you, too, must appreciate how Christ serves his church by making his power and authority available for us in the discharge of our mission. If he can position a school of fish to be in the right place at the right time, he can sovereignly direct the circumstances of the world to make his mission successful. More than that, God guarantees the catch, as it were. “For God does what man cannot do.” Packer writes, “God works by his Spirit through his Word in the hearts of sinful men to bring them to repentance and faith.”[2]

As Packer concludes, he says that this truth, and consequently the point of John 21, should make us both bold and patient. We may be bold because we are backed by the ultimate power and authority in the universe. If someone is going to repent and believe, it will infallibly come to pass at some point before Jesus returns. But we must be patient. Our Lord does not guarantee that our fishing expeditions will always be fruitful. The church at large may wait through a long and fruitless night before Jesus acts. May we boldly and patiently continue the ministry of Christ through his almighty power and universal authority to the praise of his glorious grace.

 


[1] J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012), 104.

[2] Packer, 110.


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