What’s Jesus’ heart for mission? What’s his fundamental agenda?
We could derive a sense of his mission priorities from what we see him doing in the Gospels — where everything he does can be construed in terms of mission.
Alternatively, we could sit at his feet while he teaches his disciples the why, what and how of mission (making the necessary allowances, of course, for the fact that we stand on this side of the resurrection).
But I find John 17 — Jesus’ so-called high priestly prayer — to be deeply revealing as far as Jesus’ heart for mission is concerned. We see three things here:
We see, first of all, that for Jesus mission is about God before it’s about us. In fact, mission is the overflow and enactment in history of the relationship between Father and Son that’s the heart of all reality (verses 1-5):
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”
Even eternal life — an obvious benefit for us — gets caught up and transfigured into something that’s primarily a Father-Son thing!
In verses 6-19, the next thing Jesus’ prayer gives us a window into is that mission is to be characterised by faithful presence in the world.
Jesus’ prayer for those who belong to him is that God would protect them. Not that they would be taken out of the world (or even insulated from the kind of rejection Jesus received). But that they would be distinctive and holy.
Jesus wants his disciples to be present in and engaged with the world, just as he wants them to be faithful — demonstrating that they don’t belong to the world.
Finally, in verses 20-26, we glimpse the goal of mission. As far as Jesus is concerned, mission is to result in relationships of loving unity that draw others in.
Just as the love that binds Father and Son together reaches out to include others, so the oneness that is to characterise believers has an evangelistic edge (verse 21):
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”