Our decision to follow Jesus includes the promise of Heaven. Even better: It also includes a miraculous transformation to become part of God’s family. He entrusts us with the task of announcing his kingdom, and making disciples fit for the king. He does not entrust this task to servants: He gives it to brothers. In a way, that means church planting is the family business.
Jesus began with a master-disciple relationship between him and the 12. After three years it had morphed into one between friends, and after his ascension, the relationship is family: “The one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2: 11) The call to come and follow is actually a call to join the family business. Not as a hired hand, but as a child of God.
Jesus makes all things new: a new earth, a new heaven and a new family, drawn from every people group on the earth. This work won’t be completed until the the end of this age, but right now, in this present age, Jesus planted evidence of what the age to come will look like. What will this new new age look like? The answer lies in another question: What kind of people has Jesus adopted?
According to the Apostle Peter, we are that people right now! Listen to the message: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 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.” (I Peter 2: 9 – 10)
The early church believed that Jesus had opened the way for heaven to “invade” Earth. This invasion meant that everyone who followed Jesus could draw on the same resources that Jesus used. Our lives should reflect the promise of Heaven. The expectation of the early church was that because Jesus had opened the way, Heaven would regularly break into the everyday business of Earth. Consider this long prayer, which came from the early church in Jerusalem:
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4: 24 – 31)
Notice the relationship between the people of God and the work of God? His people promised to speak boldly, and asked God to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through them. This was the pattern set by Jesus in the gospels, and it was the pattern applied to the church in Acts. Jesus was the firstborn of Heaven; the church was the firstfruit of his ministry. The church was both the harvest and the example of the whole harvest would look like. It was true then; it’s true now. The complete harvest comes at the end of the age. Meanwhile the church exhibits the promise of that harvest.
It’s a glorious picture of the church, but sadly, a picture largely obscured by many churches today. Perhaps we can dare to hope that the church will someday rise to this calling, but our personal, immediate challenge is to see that the church is comprised of individual family members. The we begins when Christ formed in me.