Were Jesus' words about sending his chosen disciples meant only for them?
Commentary on John 20:21
On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus appeared to His disciples. John's Gospel says Jesus greeted the group with the familiar Hebrew "shalom" (peace). To assure His followers that it was indeed He, Jesus pointed to scars on His side and on His hands. He then said, "I am sending you."
Those words should not surprise us. Throughout Scripture, Yahweh reveals Himself as a sending God. What makes John 20:21 stand out is the phrase: "As the Father has sent me."
In a 1950s song titled "So Send I You," Margaret Clarkson and John W. Peterson unpacked some of what might be wrapped up in John 20:21. Here are some of the words in the lyrics of that classic missions song:
"So send I you, to take to souls in bondage
The word of truth that sets the captive free,
To break the bonds of sin, to loose death's fetters
So send I you, to bring the lost to me.
So send I you to hearts made hard by hatred,
To eyes made blind because they will not see,
To spend, tho' it be blood, to spend and spare not --
So send I you to taste of Calvary.
As the Father hath sent Me, So send I you."
-- YouTube video
The opening chapter of John's Gospel says that Jesus (the Word) came and "made His dwelling among us" (John 1:14). We know from the Gospels that Jesus was on earth for more than a 10-day mission trip. Indeed, the Father sent Jesus to earth for 33 years. The Message paraphrase of Scripture emphasizes that fact by rendering the dwelling-among-us phrase as: "He moved into the neighborhood." Jesus' sending thus has clear parallels to a career missionary call.
For God-called missionaries, "as He sent me" means leaving familiar surroundings and moving across wide cultural divides for the long term. It means becoming "Jesus with skin on" and settling in among unfamiliar people groups "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
The Jesus-with-skin-on phrase comes from the story of a mother trying to calm a fearful child one stormy night. Motherly assurances that Jesus would be with them in the storm did little to comfort the small boy. He pleaded to get into bed with his parents because, he said, he needed "Jesus with skin on."
We must consider the fact that "as He sent me" may well imply, as Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis both said, that believers (including missionaries) become "little Christs." "As He sent me" thus points to Jesus' incarnation in which people saw things divine as well as human. Jesus came to reveal God to us. Today, those whom Jesus sends reveal Him. In this regard, Paul proclaimed that Christ lives in and through believers (Galatians 2:20 and Colossians 1:17).
"As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." One simple sentence. Ten powerful words.
-- Howard Culbertson.
This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.