How to Handle Missions History, Part One

imageI was just looking for some lunch on our first day in Jerusalem. What I found, however, was my dumbfounded feet on the Via Dolarosa. Mind. Blown.

The Via Dolarosa is the presumed route that Jesus took as he carried his cross. Forget food, I was devouring the streets. I was standing where Jesus stood. There was even a landmark where Jesus had rested his hand. Are you serious—of course I put my hand there too! Then I rounded a corner and, behold, a scale droppeth forty feet below me. Some party-pooping archeologist had set it up to show the growth of Jerusalem over time. The ancient city had constantly risen, one foundation being built on another. And the foundation of Jesus’ day, the holy ground that I thought I was walking on, was actually about five feet below me.

It had totally slipped my mind that history had gone on long after Jesus stepped there.

The funny this is, I do the same thing with missions history. I open up the Book of Acts and presume I’m walking the same paths. And though the Scriptures totally inform my life on mission, it’s easy to forget there has been nearly two millennia of missions history in the meantime.

If we embrace our identity as people sent on mission, this history must become more than information. We can be informed, but still sit on the sidelines. If we are to take the baton into the next leg of missions history, we’ve gotta do something with this great saga.

Here’s the thing though: missions history is like American Ninja Warrior—step into it without much preparation and you’re gonna get owned. It can be deeply encouraging, but also frightening and confusing. How do we handle all the death and suffering and bad examples and lingering unreached places? We can’t. Not without (1) setting our eyes on Jesus and (2) building a hardy theological foundation. Matthew 24 helps us do both.

There, Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem with his disciples for the last time. He’s cleared out the temple—again. And he has pulled no punches about the arrival of his kingdom. At night he retreats to Bethany to rest and his disciples finally get their chance. They ask,

when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (v. 3)

Ever ask someone a question and then realize you had no clue what you were getting into? That’s pretty much what’s happening here. The disciples seem to be thinking, “Lord, you’re talking a big game and we believe you—so when are you gonna put on your Superman suit and take over the world?”

So Jesus answers them in verses 4-14—but by giving his take on the last days, the period of time from the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to the day of Christ’s second coming. It’s a great little summation of the church age and missions history. And it breaks down into three movements: the nations rage, the church suffers, the gospel advances.

Next post we’ll unpack them one at a time…

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