The Message of Jesus governs our witness to the nations.
Jesus taught that good works glorify the Father. Without an outrageous demonstration of good deeds in championing the marginalised of society, we have no witness to the nations and the Gospel appears barren.
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A Witness to All The Nations
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
(Matthew 24:14, italics added)
In Jesus’ longest discourse on the end times, He pointed the spotlight explicitly on the advance of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Jesus was emphatic. The end of this age did not hinge on world events like wars, rumours of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. While these tend to grab our attention and hog the spotlight, to Jesus they’re mere symptoms of a world out of sync with its Father and Creator (Matthew 24:3-8).
Instead, Jesus declared that the consummation of this age hinges on a demonstration of the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Notice, Jesus didn’t just say the Gospel will be preached as a word (or a message or a tract or a podcast); He declared the Gospel will be proclaimed as a “witness to all nations”. (Of course, messages, tracts and podcasts are helpful tools but they’re not the endgame.)
The throwback to Isaiah is unmistakable.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
(Isaiah 60:1-3 NIV, italics added)
The prophecy foretold that nations would witness the glory of God upon His people and even kings, those in positions of power and influence, would be drawn to this light. Of course, this prophecy does not stand alone. Numerous prophecies in Scripture refer to God’s glory manifest to the world, none so emphatic as God’s declaration:
As I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.”
How did God intend to demonstrate His glory?
Jesus was the catalyst.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14, italics added)
Jesus put flesh on grace and truth and in doing so, He revealed the Father’s glory.
Let’s take a moment to consider the word “witness” in Matthew 24:14 and “glory” in John 1:14, Numbers 14:21 and Isaiah 60:1.
The Greek word for “witness” (martyrion) in Matthew 24:14 means “something evidential, a testimony,” and stems from the word for “martyr”. It speaks of more than just the message spoken but the message fleshed out.
The word “glory” in both Hebrew (kabod) and Greek (doxa) refers to the weighty worthiness of God that evokes a good opinion or favourable impression.
In other words, to put it bluntly, Jesus gave a good impression of the Father and the world witnessed it.
Our mandate as the ekklesia is to do the same, to put flesh on grace and truth, to serve as a visual and tangible testimony of the Message of Jesus … giving a good impression of the Father.
Beyond Image Repair
The overall impression the church makes on the world today is not a favourable one. We do not give a good impression of the Father.
Jesus was known as the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34) and gave ample cause for such claims (Matthew 9:10-13). The early followers of Jesus were known for their multi-ethnic, cross-class communities, famed for their generous orthodoxy, unbounded love and outrageous good deeds.
In contrast, the church at large is known for hating gay people and minorities.
While the vast majority of believers don’t hold these views, it’s not hard to understand why this impression has taken root in the public mind. From the idea of conversion therapy to careless comments on social media platforms by immature public figures, it’s easy to see why we’re all labelled arrogant, judgemental and bigoted.
The early church was known for its outrageous generosity, heroic acts of service and good deeds. Early believers advocated for the poor and marginalised of society and found solutions to the chronic orphan problem in their society. They were also responsible for the widespread provision of care and hospitalisation of the sick and the needy. With compassion and grace, they heroically opposed social injustice and oppression—and wicked social ills such as infanticide.
The modern church is predominantly known for moral issues it stands against.
Think about that for a moment.
We are the custodians of the greatest message. A message of self-giving love, inexpressible joy and unshakeable hope that literally transforms the human heart and mind.
Yet we’re largely known for the issues we oppose.
While the church needs to repair its image, what’s needed is more than simply good PR.
More Than Words
To be a witness to the nations requires more than words.
In fact, a new default position is needed.
Not “new” as in “never done before” … but “new” for the modern church as we rediscover the pattern set by the first followers, a truth Jesus taught in the Parables of the Soils (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23) and the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
Jesus taught these two parables in a chapter laden with Kingdom parables. Relative to the other parables in Matthew Chapter 13, they are lengthy, and they are the two parables that Jesus took the time to unpack.
While both parables are powerful in their own right; together, they reveal a compelling truth.
Compare them for a moment.
Who is the sower in each parable?
In the Parable of Soils, the sower is unidentified and presumably refers to anyone. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, “the Son of Man” is the sower—Jesus Himself (Matthew 13:37).
What does the field represent?
In the former, it’s the “heart” (Matthew 13:19); in the latter, it’s “the world” (Matthew 13:38).
What is the seed?
In the former, it’s the “word of the Kingdom” (Matthew 13:19).
In the latter, it’s the “sons of the Kingdom” (Matthew 13:38)—the redeemed in whom the word of the Kingdom has taken root in their hearts, producing fruit: “some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times as much” (Matthew 13:23).
In summary then…
|Soils||Wheat & Tares|
|Seed||Word of the Kingdom||Sons of the Kingdom|
So, here’s the question that unlocks the core insight…
What do people eat? Seeds or fruit?
Of course, people eat fruit, not seeds. You don’t give a hungry person an apple pip; you give the person an apple. And in receiving an apple, they get their own seeds!
So, what’s the point?
When the word of Kingdom produces fruit in our lives, Jesus sows us into the world. And when others eat and enjoy the fruit of our Kingdom-enriched lives, it provides the opportunity for them to receive their own seed. The word fleshed out in our lives produces the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23) upon which others “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
As mentioned earlier, through His incarnation, Jesus put flesh on the truth and dwelt among us … and then we beheld His glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
It was St. Francis Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”.
His wise words underline the importance of Christlikeness as the foundation upon which the Gospel is proclaimed.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean I need to be perfect before I can preach the Gospel. If that was true, I’d never get started.
And it certainly does not mean that words are not important. That was not what St. Francis Assisi was implying. Words are vitally important. It’s not either/or but both/and.
However, in a world drowning in words—a lot of them empty and hollow—our words, His Message, must be backed up by both the integrity of the messenger and an outrageous commitment to good deeds.
The modern church is not short on words. To be blunt, we’re too often a flurry of good intentions and a whirlwind of hot air. When all is said and done, there’s often too much said and very little done.
The Gospel speaks most effectively when people see Jesus in who we are and what we do.
We need a new default position: good deeds that validate the Gospel.
As James said,
…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead … I will show you my faith by my works.”
(James 2:17, 18)
Good Deeds Validate the Message
When reminded that Jesus was the friend of sinners, a common retort is…
Yes, but He told them to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
He certainly did so but such a retort completely misses the heart of Jesus.
Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to sin no more after FIRST defending her, advocating for her and showing courageous kindness to her (John 8:2-11).
He literally put Himself in harm’s way, saving her life from the mob ready to stone her. Only His courage and wisdom defused the crowd’s murderous intent. Only His love and compassion restored the woman’s dignity. And in doing so, He won her heart. She gladly received His counsel.
Until we build a platform of goodwill through genuine acts of kindness, consistent and sincere advocacy of the marginalised of society, and the generous and tangible support for the rights of all people, our message sounds hollow … and even patronising.
The world doesn’t care two hoots what we have to say. In fact, our words only harden an already sceptical audience. There’s a lot of truth to the well-worn saying, people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.
In a nutshell, only outrageous good works, as our new default position, will change the narrative and restore our role as a trusted voice and a shaping force for good in society.
My goodness, we have a lot of good work to do. Still, we find hope in the words of Jesus.
After envisioning a new kind of believer through the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), Jesus said,
You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:13-16, italics added)
Jesus could not be more clear. Shining our light ought to translate into good works. And these good deeds win hearts for the glory of our Father.
Without a consistent and sincere demonstration of good works, our message falls on deaf ears and hardens cold hearts. Without outrageous good deeds, the Gospel appears empty.
Orphans and Widows
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
(James 1:27, italics added)
The most marginalised people of first century society were orphans and widows. Women and children were entirely dependent on the men in their lives, who alone held public status. To be a widow or an orphan left you vulnerable in every way. James was concerned for those falling through the cracks of a society fraught with male chauvinism and injustice, and he called us to keep “unspotted from the world”.
However, he was not alluding to personal piety; he was not calling his audience to merely shun worldly vices.
Rather, in the very next verse James explained what he had in mind. He confronted our tendency towards prejudice (James 2:1ff)—the very virus from which injustice goes airborne—before calling us to an exemplary faith backed up by works of justice and service (James 2:14ff).
In other words, the call to a pure, unspotted faith is not a fixation on personal piety, but it has everything to do with a heart free from prejudice, corruption and self-seeking. A life motivated by God’s self-giving unbounded love. A life given to serving the marginalised of society.
We tend to think of good works as primarily right behaviour. We’ve truncated the meaning of the word “righteousness”, equating it solely with personal piety: effectively cutting the heart out of the word.
In contrast, the New Testament focus is largely on good works that relieve the misery and suffering of others. And the word “righteousness” is synonymous with the concept of justice—one of the major themes throughout the Scriptures.
For a deeper look into how we’ve botched the word “righteousness”, please see What Does Dikaiosune Mean?
Remember the Poor
When Paul recalled his visit to Jerusalem to compare notes with James and Peter about his understanding of the Gospel, not only were they of the same mind concerning the message itself, but they all felt strongly about serving and supporting the poor and marginalised.
They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
(Galatians 2:10, italics added)
To “remember the poor” wasn’t about giving mere mental assent to the idea. The Greek word for “remember” (mnemoneuo) means “to exercise the memory, to rehearse”. It is the word from which the English word “mnemonic” originates. Today, we would say, keep it front of mind.
Furthermore, Paul said he was “eager” to do so, a Greek word (spoudazo) meaning “to make haste, to be zealous”. This was an issue at the forefront of Paul’s mind.
Remembering the poor isn’t an optional extra or something left to a side ministry of the church. Rather, it validates our witness. Without it, the Gospel appears empty.
The question we need to ask is, who are the poor and marginalised today?
While this certainly includes orphans (and in some cases, widows, too) and those living in poverty, it also extends to all those denied their basic human rights—any person prejudiced, oppressed, exploited or marginalised by societal ignorance, indifference or injustice.
God’s people ought to be society’s healing balm.
A Missional People
As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
We are God’s missional people.
Whether we cross the seas or cross the street, go around the world or go around the block, God’s mission in the world is our defining reference point for life and community.
For some, “mission” refers to cross-cultural ministry. While that’s one valid expression of it, mission refers more broadly to our salt and light influence in the spheres of influence we already have in the world.
In fact, while cross-cultural ministry is important, just as critical is our everyday witness where God has placed us—whether this is in business, education, sports, the arts, media, politics, and so on. Your vocation, your place of work or study, whether it’s part-time or full-time, represents the place where Jesus has sent you.
For God so loved your world, He sent you!
This does not mean we need to take a Bible and bullhorn to work or campus. (In fact, please leave the bullhorn at home altogether.)
Rather it means we are to model the values of the Kingdom, to put flesh on grace and truth, and to live in such an authentic and attractive way that others ask the “reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:5, 6). And it means advocating for the marginalised, standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, confronting systemic injustice wherever it lurks and serving those in need.
You’re Not Alone
You don’t have to act alone. Following Jesus is not a solo experience. It’s outworked through a faith community, an expression of the ekklesia.
The ekklesia is both a training ground and a launch pad for outrageous good deeds that glorify the Father.
As an ekklesia, the King’s executive body, we learn to govern. Firstly, we learn to govern our own immaturity with the help of others (1 Corinthians 6:20; 9:24-27). As the wisdom writer taught, “he who rules his own spirit is mightier than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Secondly, as a faith community, we learn to govern our shared life and our collective sphere of influence (1 Corinthians 6:1-5; Hebrews 13:17). In every decision made as a community, in working through conflict, in serving and forgiving one another, we’re training for reigning.
The family of God is the training ground for character and service.
As an ekklesia, the King’s executive body, we release and support each other in our service and ministry to others. It’s from the safe place of accountable relationships that God sends us into the world. It’s from the training ground of the ekklesia that we advance the Kingdom, supported by people who are committed to us in love for excellence.
The family of God is the launch pad for Kingdom exploits.
What is in Your Hand?
It’s not difficult to feel overwhelmed. “Where do I start as a person?” one may ask. “Where do we start as a community of faith?” we ask together.
When Moses was called to deliver God’s people from Egypt, he was likewise beset with questions and doubts. What? How?
God’s response was ingenious (Exodus 4:1ff). He asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” Moses replied blankly … and then he got it.
With that piece of wood, Moses confronted Pharaoh. With that piece of timber, Moses parted the Red Sea.
Moses started with what he had.
As individuals, we start with what we have. What sphere of influence has God given to me and what resources—time, talents and treasures—do I have to serve it?
As communities, we start with the collective spheres entrusted to us and ask the Father how best He desires us to serve it together.
A guiding rule to work by is simply this:
When you see a need, intercede. When you feel led, intervene.
In this way, we need never be overwhelmed by what we cannot do. Instead, we’re inspired by what we can do.
Grounded in a faith community and following His lead, we serve as a missional people wherever God places us.
If you haven’t yet explored the Message of Jesus series, I recommend starting there first, as it provides the platform for all we cover on this website.
Otherwise, I recommend the below articles next.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to all people.
Jesus smashed the bounds of family, communal and national love, modelling a boundless love that includes everyone: our neighbour, the stranger and our enemy.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to government.
As citizens of a higher domain, we remain grounded in this domain through humility and servanthood, living lives of unimpeachable integrity.