Jesus: The Master of Missions

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the August 15, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8, NIV

When I was a medic in the United States Army and involved in the Vietnam War, I discovered that there was an impromptu segregation of the soldiers in the combat theatre. There were those who were actively involved in the fighting on the front lines (if there is such a thing as a frontline during a guerilla insurgency), and there were those in the “rear echelons” providing the necessary support to keep those front line soldiers healthy and well supplied. While this was necessary to allow the battle to continue and hopefully be won, those on the front lines nonetheless often referred to the support troops in unflattering, derogatory terms. This may have been bravado. Also, it may have been the outgrowth of a co-dependent relationship between the units that was challenging at best and dysfunctional at other times.

Interestingly, the bulk of the forces in Vietnam were support and logistical, the rear echelon troops. Only about 35% of those assigned were in combat units responsible for confronting the enemy in the field.[i] An army at war remains at war because of the tremendous investment in administrative and logistical support. Gone are the days when armies remained in the field by plundering the local civilian population for food and sundries. Perhaps this change in perspective regarding supply and support was in part influenced by the need to win the hearts and minds of the local populace and to suppress any desire on their part to aid and support any indigenous guerilla operations. While there are various theories regarding the effectiveness of this view, in the end, despite the extensive military science behind the support to combat ratios, victory is more than the sum of these parts. The United States did not prevail in Vietnam and continues to struggle with the specters from that war.

Unlike the uncertainty of the conflict in Vietnam, as Christians, we have been assured that the outcome of the conflict between good and evil is victory for the good. Jesus is to ride to Earth from heaven on a white horse with glowing white raiment dipped in blood, leading a vast angelic cavalry and reclaiming Earth for the Kingdom of God.[ii] This is the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for at His first advent. Disappointed, they will finally get the Messiah they wanted at the Parousia. However, they will not be looking upon Him with joy, but fear.[iii] The very ones who crucified Him at His first advent will behold what to them will be a fearful sight.[iv] The path to the cross which they paved with His bloody footprints will be evidence for the entire universe of their perversity. The rough cross piercing His flesh with splinters, the hand-forged nails splitting tendon from bone, the well-honed spear head, slicing into his abdomen, the flogger’s whip which tore pieces of flesh from His back, and the derisive crown of barbs that pierced His temples, all add their bloody testimony of condemnation and judgment to those sanguine prints on the “Via Dolorosa.”

While we have many stories of missionaries who travel to foreign lands to share the message of the Gospel, Jesus was the penultimate traveling missionary. He traveled from the comfort of His home in heaven, laying aside all the commensurate advantages and blessings of such a place. He did so as one of those He was ministering to. It was not as royalty or a member of the priestly class. He was not born into wealth or power. Instead, He became as one of the common people. Acculturated to the lot of the skilled working class, He did not use abilities that may have made it possible to ease His path. He did so even when faced with overwhelming temptation to bend just a little. Whether tempted to satisfy His hunger by making stones become loaves of bread,[v] or encouraged to deliver Himself from the cruelty and agony of the cross,[vi] He resisted rising beyond what would normally be available to struggling mankind. Because of that willingness to suffer and die as a human instead of delivering Himself with the power available to divinity, His mission was successful and all mankind may now cling to the blessed hope of that victory.

In a sense, His successful mission was the type to every anti-typical missionary who traveled from the safety and advantages of the First World to face disease, poverty, famine and possibly death in foreign lands which were not only ignorant of that shining light, but at times, even openly hostile to the gospel. Some died from horrible, wasting diseases. Others died from cruel tortures and executions. Some, who may not have died, nonetheless faced the loss of those dear to them or suffered chronic debilitating illnesses themselves as a result of their mission service. But often having left family and friends behind, they found new family and friends in those whose hearts they opened to Jesus and the Holy Spirit through their witness.[vii] In spite of the great sacrifices made, perhaps this was a golden age of missions where the light shown in many dark lands and thousands were drawn to that light. Many of those who served in those foreign fields saw their sacrifices as small compared to those of their Savior. Perhaps it was that perspective that made possible their willingness to serve. They may also have been drawn by the unquestionable love of a Savior who would sacrifice so much for them.

When we consider the impact of these missionaries around the earth, we cannot help but notice the magnitude of the harvest and how few workers there now are in the ripening fields.[viii] Perhaps there are many who stay within the protecting walls of the institutional church who could be serving in those fields. Maybe they comfort themselves with thinking they are the logistical support for those who are on the front lines. After all, shouldn’t there be more people in the rear supporting those who are actually in the mission field? There may be some merit in this view. However, if we look at the missionaries from the perspective of the church militant which is what this paradigm suggests, then we might also consider the level of support necessary for support of that tactical view. As we have mentioned previously, does the percentage of those working actively in the field begin to approach the 35% that constituted the actual combat troops out of the total manpower of the force engaged in Vietnam?

What does this mean in actual church membership numbers? Per the “FACT 2010 Study for North American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church,”[ix] forty-eight percent of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in the North American Division have no more than fifty members in regular attendance. Another twenty-two percent are more than fifty and up to one hundred in regular attendance. Most of the remainder are those with fewer than three hundred attending, with 16% of churches experiencing from 101 to 200 in attendance and 8% between 201 and 300. Four percent of our churches have attendance in excess of 300 per week. If we apply the 35% number to these figures, we discover that for the many churches of less than 50 members in the 48% grouping, this would mean up to 17 or 18 members actively engaged in Bible studies, various types of evangelism, and other forms of front line ministry. For the 22% of churches between 50 and 100 active members, this would mean a minimum of 17 members and a maximum of 35 actively working as missionaries in the harvest fields. Those churches between 100 and 200 active members would have from 35 to 70 active workers on the front lines witnessing. Those of course with over 200 active members attending could expect to have from 70 to as many as over 100 active missionaries and more in those few churches with an excess of 300 active, attending members. All of these figures of course predispose that the remaining members who are not participating in front line Bible studies, evangelism, etc. are actively supporting those who are with their own work and resources building up the support network to make it all possible.

We share these numbers not to find fault with any church’s evangelism program. However, we may never, as a church, have looked at what the numbers might be for a church militant organizing for spiritual warfare. Of course the Lord provides where the support is lean in order to keep things moving forward, but at what point might our desire to rely on that support cross from following faithfully where He leads to presumption on His grace when we are unwilling to make a full commitment to missional evangelism as individuals and as a corporate body of believers? We at times hear the nebulous goal of having every member involved in evangelism, but what does that really mean? Who should be doing what? Perhaps these numbers can help us to answer some of those questions.


[i] "The Other End of the Spear: The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (TR3) in Modern Military Operations," John J McGrath, Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, pg. 31

[ii] Revelation 19:11-16

[iii] Revelation 6:15-17

[iv] Revelation 1:7

[v] Matthew 4:3-4

[vi] Luke 23:35-39

[vii] Matthew 12:47-49

[viii] Luke 10:2

[ix] "FACT 2010 Study for North American Division of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church," Roger L Dudley, Petr Cincala, and Raquel Y. Rodríguez, Appendix I, April, 2011



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