Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 was about authentic care for the hunger of the crowd, but He also wanted to engage their hunger in a way that transcended their need for physical food. Luke and John both show us that Jesus cared for the crowd physically and spiritually. He fed them (Luke 9:13–17); He preached the kingdom to them and did works that pointed to the eternal kingdom He would one day bring (v. 11); and He presented Himself as the true bread of life (vv. 22–59). We are called to follow Jesus’ example of caring for the physical needs of others in order that the gospel witness of the kingdom might saturate the earth.
What would it look like for the church to mirror Christ’s pattern of meeting physical needs in order to have access to the hearts of men and women? The early church got it right. Acts 2 shares the story of how they gave themselves to the teaching of the apostles, and whenever they discovered that someone had a need, they would sell some of their possessions and distribute the proceeds to care for the need. And God responded by “[adding] to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Doing inner-city work keeps my eyes open to the justice gaps daily. I see fatherlessness, violence literally on our front steps, educational challenges, gentrification, redlining and a lack of food options for the poor. These realities could be daunting without the riches that heaven brings us through Jesus. I love to walk and ride my bike through the neighborhood and meet people. It’s been good to see what’s going on, share the gospel and dream of the kingdom coming to the neighborhood. As difficult as it is sometimes to witness the brokenness, I find hope in what Jesus can do through the church.
As exiles in this world, we must see ourselves as incarnational missionaries in the world for justice. Shalom is the means for justice to be done. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9 niv). Since we are children of God, we must be peacemakers. Ignoring injustice, particularly systemic injustice, is a sign of an inauthentic believer. Even Israel during its exile in Babylon was called to be a kingdom people who sought the peace and prosperity of the city (Jer. 29:7). Although this is specific to the exile of Israel, Jesus and the apostles pick up the exilic theme of being peacemakers.
God’s shalom is God’s divine work of re-stitching broken creation to His purpose and design. Tim Keller defines the biblical concept of shalom as universal flourishing, wholeness and delight: “God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent.” I love this picture of the church as “woven together and interdependent.” It suggests we need one another. We can’t reflect Christ to a watching world apart from each other.
As incarnational missionaries, our mission flows from the gospel mission of practicing peace. In the words of Darrell Guder, “By incarnational mission, I mean the understanding and practice of Christian witness that is rooted in and shaped by the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus”—the gospel. As we walk as a Holy Spirit community, we are empowered by His divine presence to fight for peace in multiple layers of society. Our witness depends on our commitment to showing off the glory of Jesus in how we work to be agents of change in the world. Being agents of change means speaking to brokenness but also having the skill to use truth in bringing solutions. The ability to see the problem and formulate viable solutions is our vocation.
This reality may call on us to broaden our understanding of missional community. Missional community is not just when you gather. Whenever and wherever you are, you’re supposed to be opening up your life so God can give you common ground with people who are not like you. This is where we live out the gospel. The gospel is supposed to bring people together who wouldn’t naturally be together.
I agree with Justin Martyr, the early Christian apologist: “We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”
This is what the gospel does. It causes those who used to be enemies to now become friends.
We desperately need the gospel. I need the gospel. Every day I need Jesus’ gospel to shepherd my heart and mind. When I see all the bad news on Facebook, I will lose my mind if I’m not in my Bible, preaching the gospel to myself, looking at the eschatological hope. And so I’m glad that when we see the injustices and the brokenness of our society we have the tool of God’s Word to help us become change agents—to make a difference in our spheres of influence. The gospel is the truth that unites us. It is the common ground that knits our souls together as one.
How big is the gospel? Big enough to root out indifference, apathy, ignorance and poverty of soul. It’s big enough to change lost men and women into bold champions of faith. It’s big enough to wake a slumbering church from its sleep. It’s a gospel that cries out for a Woke Church.
Adapted from Woke Church: An Urgent Call For Christians In America To Confront Racism And Injustice by Dr. Eric Mason (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.