Lesslie Newbigin described the work of the church as being a sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s coming Kingdom. He envisaged the people of God as carrying the reality God’s Kingdom (present and future) to others in ways that invite them to join with Jesus. I want to look at Newbigin’s 3 metaphors in this micro-series of posts and see how these images can help you understand what following Jesus on mission is all about.
Signs have one purpose. They exist to grab your attention and point you somewhere. A sign that seizes the spotlight and refuses to yield it is a failure. If all you do is stand at a sign and admire the colours, script or pictures, it has missed the point. Just think about it. Signs tell you how to get somewhere. Or they may tell you about something. They may be big or colourful but they always have a purpose – communication.
John used the word ‘sign’ when writing about Jesus’ miracles. His point is clear. The miracles pointed to who Jesus was. They weren’t supposed to draw all the attention but instead direct people to the one behind the miracle.
Churches are known for having bad signs. Just Google it and the images come. Frankly, it is embarrassing. I follow Jesus and they make me cringe, just imagine what those who don’t follow him think. Whatever they are meant to be, the signs outside of church buildings are not signs of God’s Kingdom.
So, what is missional sign living?
Missional Sign Living
I grew up dreaming about chips and muesli bars. These were what all the other kids at school would eat. But I got apples. We weren’t a health-driven family; we just couldn’t afford junk food. But we could buy apples. And so, every day I took apples. But I wanted something more.
I never thought of us as being poor, but being one of five children, money was tight. I just didn’t know how tight until I was older. My parents told me how at one stage their Bible study group were paying the bulk of our rent.
This is sign living. It is generous and incredibly sacrificial. But this isn’t enough. Sign living points beyond oneself to something or someone. My parents Bible study group pointed to a God who is generous and sacrificial.
Jesus – Who The Sign Points To.
Jesus never paid anyone’s rent. He never gave people money for the groceries, although he did feed a few thousand a couple of times. But Jesus is undoubtedly both sacrificial and generous. Just think about it. Jesus left heaven and became human. He embraced humility and endured death and resurrection for humanity. Isn’t this the model of sacrifice?
That’s not the end of the story. Jesus also brings us into his family. He makes us his brother or sister. Jesus shows us mercy, grace and kindness. He offers us friendship, travels with us through life and is continually redeeming our brokenness. And he extends his inheritance to us. Could anyone deny this generosity?
This is the point. Jesus didn’t help pay our rent. But the actions of his followers pointed to him, the one who is infinitesimally more sacrificial and generous. The people knew this generous Jesus and showed him to others. This is what it means for our mission as followers of Jesus to be signs. It is to know the reality of the Kingdom of God and live in a way that makes it real for others.