From the start of our Christian faith, we all have received the testimony of Matthew’s Gospel regarding the resurrected Lord’s appearance to His disciples in Galilee where they met with Him on the mountain to which He had instructed them to go (Matthew 28:16). At that time the Lord Jesus declared what we have come to know as “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18–20). Our resurrected Savior commanded His disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (v. 19). Thus, this significant command from the Lord came as a result of His resurrection. Because He was not dead, but alive, He could promise to be with His disciples “always, to the end of the age” (v. 20). The theological and practical implications of the Great Commission testify to the fact that the resurrection of Christ resulted in His inauguration of what we know as Christian missions. If Resurrection Sunday becomes merely a liturgical observance devoid of obedience to the Great Commission, the Church has denied the purpose of His resurrection and has defaulted on His command.
Christ’s Resurrection and the Soteriological Driving Force of Missions
In Acts 3:1–4:12 Luke records for us how the apostles Peter and John healed a lame man at the entrance to the temple and then preached about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result of their preaching, around five thousand people were saved from their sins (Acts 4:4). The Jewish leaders arrested Peter and John for the healing and for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:1–3). As the two apostles stood before the leaders to defend their actions, they again proclaimed the Lord’s resurrection and openly declared that those leaders had rejected Him (Acts 4:11). Then they went on to make a very clear statement regarding the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV). Thus, no matter where any Christian goes under heaven in this world, the message proclaims the salvation the resurrected Christ provides to mankind.
Therefore, when Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he explained that God had
set [him] apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, . . . (Romans 1:1–5, ESV)
In other words, Paul believed that the gospel message to all the nations must include the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:1–4). The message of salvation to the nations is the result of Christ’s resurrection and His resurrection is a key element of that gospel proclamation—the cause for missions and the content of the missionary message.
Christ’s Resurrection and the Universal Scope of Missions
Later in Romans, Paul expands upon the gospel message and its relationship to the resurrection of Christ. He declares, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Not only is the resurrection of Christ what must be believed, but God makes that same demand of all people, “[f]or there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12–13, citing Joel 2:32). The same message applies to everyone. If the message applies to everyone, then it should be obvious that someone must take that message to everyone, just as the resurrected Christ mandated in the Great Commission.
And, that is exactly what the apostle Paul explains to his readers as he directs the challenge of global missions to them:
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14–17)
Paul’s reference to Isaiah cannot have been clearer in the implication that the Roman Christians should respond the way Isaiah himself responded: “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).
Christ’s Resurrection: The Foundational Truth for Missions
Let’s let the Scripture speak for itself:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19)
Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ no salvation from sin exists. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ no gospel message brings hope. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ no missions mandate carries any force or urgency. If Jesus did not rise from the dead according to the Scriptures, then missionaries possess no mandate, no gospel, and no personal faith or salvation. Shout aloud from every mountaintop and from every housetop and every church steeple: “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead!” However, such an announcement possesses no worth whatsoever if it is not accompanied by obedience to the Great Commission. A church without a strong and purposeful missions focus demeans and denigrates Resurrection Sunday. Missionaries omitting the declaration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead contradict their claim to represent the Great Commission to the nations—they are false ambassadors and traitors to the Savior.
How important is Resurrection Sunday to you and to your church? Can you celebrate the resurrection of our Savior while defaulting on Christ’s missions mandate? How can we all reassert and reaffirm the essential association of Christ’s resurrection with Christian missions? Perhaps the following suggestions can help in a practical fashion:
- Repeat the resurrected Savior’s missions mandate on Resurrection Sunday.
- Commission new missionaries on Resurrection Sunday.
- Skype with one of your church’s missionaries during Resurrection Sunday services.
- Challenge your church’s members to personally obey the Great Commission by inviting unbelieving friends, neighbors, and family members to Resurrection Sunday services.
- During Resurrection Sunday messages, include a missions illustration related to the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and its impact upon individual lives in a different culture and language.
- Take up a special missions offering on Resurrection Sunday.
Jesus Christ is risen!—He is risen indeed!