Jesus changes the world. This is not a new idea. In fact, when Jesus taught that his followers were supposed to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:13-14), surely he meant for his followers to be active in changing the world as well. But changing the world is in vogue these days. Making the world a better place has become a common crusade, though a multitude of organizations have a kaleidoscope of agendas to help make that happen. Reduce obesity by cutting out sugars. Eat organic. Go vegan. Make healthcare affordable for all. Make it possible for everyone to earn a living wage. Ensure equal rights for all. End war, and the list goes on. None of these crusades are bad, per se. (Though I have to confess: I like meat. I’m not going vegan. Sorry). Because of the plethora of causes that crowd for space on our agendas, we have to ask, “How does Jesus intend us to change the world?”
I ask this question because this is precisely what Jesus tells Peter they’re going to do in the current History Channel mini-series, The Bible. After the miraculous catch of fish, Peter is evidently overwhelmed by Jesus’ power and asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus replies, “Change the world.” Of course, Jesus never actually said those words. At least the gospel writers have not recorded them, but it is hard to read the gospels, or the rest of the New Testament for that matter, and miss the truth that Jesus came to do exactly this. So how did Jesus intend to change the world and how does this influence the church’s mission? Let’s think about this.
The Bible consistently tells us that following God obediently involves acting to address the needs of the world around us. Take, for instance, the opening chapter of Isaiah. The prophet condemns Israel for worshipping God without faith. Following this devastating critique of their worship, he calls on them to repent and change their ways. He tells them, “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause,” (1:16-17). If we are going to worship God with a clear conscience, we work to see that God’s righteousness is honored and upheld in society. It is part of our calling.
Jesus understood it as part of his mission as Messiah. When Jesus began his public ministry, he spoke at the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. He could have spoken out of any Old Testament text, but he asked for the Isaiah scroll and opened it to the 61st chapter and began reading: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn,” (61:1-2). Part of Jesus’ mission as Messiah was to heal and liberate. The Messiah came to change the world around him.
And yet Jesus came to do more than to change the plight of those suffering here in this world. Repeatedly in the Gospel of John our Lord makes this point. He is the water that quenches the thirst of the soul. He is the bread that gives eternal life. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the resurrection and the life. Jesus came to change the plight of those who suffer from the oppression and domination of sin. He came to bring eternal freedom.
How do we wed the two? How can the church pursue the goal of alleviating human suffering and seeking eternal salvation for those who do not know Christ? We evangelize through service. As an example of how to do this well, check out Operation Inasmuch, a movement Indiana Baptists will hear more about in the coming days. Our calling is to connect with people who are in need, share the resources we have, and share the message we have received. In our world today, people are looking for a gospel that changes the world. With Jesus, they will find so much more. Let’s make sure they get to hear Him.