God’s people are a missionary people, and this is not true only of the New Testament church. God called Abraham to bless the Gentiles through him, and one of Israel’s recurring sins was her failure to carry out this mission. Israel was supposed evoke praise from the Gentiles, but instead her idolatries and sins caused the Lord’s name to be blasphemed.
God’s people are a missionary people because God is a missionary God. In the eternal life of the Trinity, the Son eternally goes out from the Father in the Spirit, and the Spirit is sent out by the Father and Son. As the Trinity unfolds in time, the Father sends the Son, and the ascended Son sends the Spirit He received from the Father.
The church is the climax of this series of sendings. As the body of Christ and people born of the Spirit, the church is brought into this double mission. When He breathes the Spirit on His disciples, Jesus says: As the Father as sent Me, so I send you. The church’s mission is not a merely human activity. The church is a missionary church because we have been caught through the Spirit into the mission of the Triune God.
Epiphany, which begins on January 6, means “manifestation,” and the season commemorates the appearance of Jesus to the magi, the firstfruits of the gathering of the Gentiles. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus came as the Light of the world, and that we are sent to call the nations to that Light. It reminds us that mission is not a program of the church, but the very essence of the church.
Epiphany season is an exhortation to be what we confess ourselves to be, an “apostolic” church, a sent people.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.