God’s unchanging plans for mission. Part 4: God’s plan for followers of Christ
Posted on: 28th April 2021
Simon Gillham concludes his four-part series on God’s unchanging mission, asking how our identity in Christ will be reflected in our mission in this world.
Today many insist on the right to be identified as whoever or whatever they want to be. They may choose to be identified by by some or many elements: their achievements, their abilities, their sexual preferences, their personal decisions, their occupations, their appearance, or the group or tribe they belong to. They may even insist on their right to change their choices as often as they want.
How should we as Christians respond to the availability of such choices? We believe that fundamental to our identity is that we are disciples of Christ. Jesus is our Lord, our saviour, our God and our king. Because he is all of these things we belong to him and he defines us. In a sense we cannot even say that we choose Christ—for God chose us in him before the creation of the world. (Ephesians 1:3-4)
Add to this, as followers of Jesus we ask: how do we fit into God’s unchanging plans for mission? If we belong to him, this is a question we need to address.
The story so far
In this series on God’s unchanging plans for mission we looked first at the identity of the nation Israel. We saw how they failed to live up to the calling to be God’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
In part two we saw, from the prophet Isaiah, that Israel was intended to be the ‘servant of the Lord’ who would bring light to the world. Ultimately God sent Jesus to succeed in the role of the servant, where Israel the nation had failed time and again.
In part three we saw—especially from John’s gospel—that God sent his son into the world. His sending (that is, his ‘mission’) was to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
What does this have to do with us, as followers of Jesus and as God’s people? That is the focus of this fourth and final article.
In Matthew 21:33-46, Jesus speaks to the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem and tells a parable about a vineyard with some hostile farmers as tenants. The actual owner of the vineyard sends a series of servants to collect rent due from the farmers. Those messengers are variously beaten, abused and killed, until the owner sends a family member, reasoning, “They will respect my son.” But the son too is killed. Clearly the tenants will now themselves be judged. Even the Jewish rulers can work that out! Jesus warns them, quoting Psalm 118:
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?
Jesus himself is the ‘son’ in the parable he tells. He is sent by his Father to collect the honour that is due to God as the owner of the vineyard. Everyone who heard Jesus speak knew that he was referring to himself, and to the way he was being treated by the Jewish leaders. Immediately the Pharisees and scribes go away, plotting to kill Jesus, thus confirming the truth of Jesus’ parable and teaching. They have indeed rejected the stone (Jesus). Now God, as prophesied by Psalm 118, would honour the rejected Jesus as ‘the cornerstone’.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter reminds his readers of the ‘stone’ image. In 1 Peter 2:7-8 he writes:
7 Now to you who believe, this stone [Jesus] is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
Peter is not inventing a new teaching. He is repeating and applying what Jesus himself taught from Psalm 118, and other parts of the Old Testament.
Who are these recalcitrant builders that Peter and Jesus refer to? In the first instance, we understand that they are the Jewish leaders who had Jesus crucified. But now in 1 Peter, Peter broadens the application to include all who refuse to believe in Jesus. Ignoring or rejecting Jesus leads directly to disaster—those who do so will stumble and fall.
Our identity in the light of Jesus the cornerstone
Let us use Peter’s teaching (which is really Jesus’ teaching) to consider four areas:
- Who the Father thinks Jesus is
- Who the Father thinks we are (as followers of Jesus)
- Who the world thinks we are (as followers of Jesus)
- Who we actually are (as followers of Jesus)
after which we will conclude by speaking of how our identity in Christ affects every aspect of our life and our mission.
1. Who the Father thinks Jesus is
Jesus is the “chosen and precious cornerstone”. ‘Precious’ is an excellent word to describe a stone. But an even better word to use in this context (and still an accurate translation) is the word ‘honoured’. God the Father honours Jesus. Therefore, God has chosen and placed Jesus as the ‘honoured’ cornerstone within Zion (1 Peter 2:6).
This cornerstone is honoured because of the one who chose it, and because it is the stone that determines everything else: the direction and angles of the walls, the level of the floor, what is true, what is correct. Every other stone in the structure is measured against the honoured cornerstone.
Yet this cornerstone is the stone that the builders foolishly reject. Even today, people everywhere object to Jesus being the one who determines what is right, true and foundational.
As well as being the ‘honoured’ stone, Jesus is the living stone (verse 4). He is alive! Because of his resurrection, Jesus lives and rules today and for all days, and so is eternally honoured by God.
2. Who the Father thinks we are
If Jesus is the honoured and living cornerstone, where do we fit in the picture?
1 Peter 2:5 tells us that “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Then in verses 9-10, Peter goes further, quoting and applying words from Exodus 19 to all who trust in Jesus.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
We who serve and put our faith in the Lord Jesus have become the fulfilment of Exodus 19. What was originally promised to Israel in Exodus 19 has now come to include all who trust in Jesus for salvation. We have been chosen with this purpose: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
3. Who the world thinks we are
Therefore we hold a glorious and honourable position. This honourable position is ours by God’s mercy alone (“now you have received mercy”). But we should not expect the world to love us as a result. The world loves darkness more than the light (John 3:19) and has rejected Jesus as cornerstone. That means that if we follow Jesus, the world will hate us too.
The world does not think we are living stones. It thinks we’ve got rocks in our heads!
4. Who we actually are
So, who are we? Do Christians have rocks in their heads, as the world believes?
We don’t accept the world’s verdict upon us. But we can often try to assert our right to define ourselves, and we often choose very similar criteria to the world, perhaps emphasising personal ability or personal achievement or personal choice.
Peter is showing us a better way. We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. In Christ, God has gathered us into a global fellowship of people from every tribe and nation, joined together as living stones with the Lord Jesus as our cornerstone. We are not merely a collection of individuals. We are part of a greater whole chosen by God to be his, and to do his work in the world.
How our identity in Christ affects our mission
Our identity in Christ will thus affect every part of our lives. In particular, Peter tells us that it affects our mission. Because of who we are in Christ, we are to announce, proclaim, and declare the praises, the excellencies, and the wonders of the one who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
From the time of the earliest church in Acts, to the growth throughout the Roman Empire, to the more recent revivals in East Africa, or China, or the dramatic growth of the church recently in places like Mongolia, or Iran, or parts of India, the gospel has gone forward most powerfully when ordinary Christian people declare the praises of Jesus.
Because we are sent, as Jesus was sent,  proclaiming him is our mission. That is so not only for those we call ‘missionaries’, but for all who find their identity in Christ. We really are all in this together.
Encouragement: we are part of the greatest gang ever
When I was training in the Police Academy, (many years before I became a CMS missionary) we were visited by a Detective Sergeant who had been an undercover operative among the bikie gangs of western Sydney in the 1980s. He told us about a time when he was working undercover when somehow his identity was discovered. The gang members bailed him up and were threatening his life. But he just kept smiling! One of them said “what are you smiling about?”
He replied: “You think you belong to a big and tough gang. Well, you’ve just worked out that I belong to a gang of 16,000, and all my gang carry guns. If you touch me, they are coming after you.”
He told us that story because we were all young and scared. He wanted us to know who we were and what we were part of, so that we would not be afraid.
If we are in Christ, then we belong to an uncountable gang that includes people from every tribe and nation. While we are still in battle, in fact we know the war has been won and the victory belongs to Jesus. We might not be tough. But he is mighty.
So, we are unafraid to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into light. We can live with joy now, even if the world tries to shame us, knowing that we are chosen and honoured by God. We are the people of God, declaring the praise of Christ from now and into all eternity. Let us take on our identity with gladness and speak gospel truth to those around!