Jesus Christ the First Missionary

by Derek Gentle

Missions is when evangelism crosses cultural and or geographical boundaries. By that definition Jesus Christ was the first - and foremost - missionary.

When Jesus came from heaven to earth, it was certainly a change of geographical locations. Heaven is a place; Jesus said so- "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3). Where a person is from determines much about their personality. For example, southerners are not merely from the south geographically; they are southerners. Jesus is not merely from heaven; He is heavenly: "And He said to them, 'You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world'" (John 8:23).

In order to carry out their work missionaries leave one culture and adapt to another. Often, they move from a culture of relative comfort and convenience to one with less. One missionary told of going to a new village with someone from a village where he had already ministered. The people from the new village welcomed him, offering their best food. When no one was looking, his helper, seeing the look on his face, commented sympathetically, "You are right; the grub worms in our village are much better." In another tribal group, when its members want to give their guests a grand welcome, they will carpet their huts with fresh dung. Not all missionaries have to adapt to such extreme differences as this. Yet Jesus came from heaven to earth. Can one imagine a greater leap in cultures?

Imagine Jesus answering the same questions missionaries get about the place from which He came:

Do they have electricity there? "They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light" (Revelation 22:5).
What is the principal crop? "The tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).

What about crime? It's very safe, for kept, "Outside are... murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie" (Revelation 22:15)

Is it a nice neighborhood? Very exclusive; it's a gated community. "Each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass" (Revelation 21:21).

What language do they speak there? The language of praise. They, "give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever" (Revelation 4:9).

What are the wedding customs there? "They neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Mark 12:25).

What a change! From being the recipient of worship to going unrecognized. From the throne of glory to a feed trough. From gold asphalt to manure on the floor. From omnipotence to being a nursing infant. From speaking worlds into existence to making furniture by hand. From a sinless environment to a sin-filled world... and finally the victim of sinners' cruelty. The incarnation was culture shock of inexpressible proportions.

The whole point of this, however, was not to travel and see the sights. It was not to visit. It was, as the angel said, an occasion of, "Good tidings of great joy which will be to all people" (Luke 1:10). The cross lay ahead. Suffering and death and the bearing of sin. Jesus had come on history's greatest rescue mission, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). It is the message of that cross that our missionaries carry around the globe today. It was horrible treatment for the first missionary, but good news for His people.

Missionaries return on furloughs and eventually come home. Jesus completed His ministry and mission. And then, as He had told those to whom He was sent, "A little while, and you will not see Me... because I go to the Father" (John 16:16).