The message burning in Jesus’ heart was not one of syrupy self-improvement. Jesus knew that human beings needed radical transformation, the kind of transformation possible only as we surrender ourselves to divine intervention.
As Jesus began his ministry, He said we all must be “born again.” That wording by Jesus in John 3 graphically captures humanity’s need for profound transformation. Indeed, the Gospels tell of people radically transformed physically, emotionally and spiritually by encounters with our Lord. Lame people that met Jesus walked again. Blind people began seeing. Demon-possessed people were liberated.
In an episode recounted in Matthew 21:31, Jesus horrified Jewish religous leaders when he said corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes would be allowed in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was right, of course. Matthew gave up being a tax collector to become one of the 12 apostles. A tax collector named Zacchaeus radically changed in attitude and behavior. A promiscusous Samaritan woman was transformed when she met Jesus at a village well (John 4).
An encounter with Jesus on Golgotha radically transformed a dying thief’s relationship with his Creator. Jesus knew that Peter could be transformed into something more than a loud-talker who crumbled under pressure. Jesus wanted a wealthy young man to be transformed. Sadly, that young man refused (Matthew 19). When Jesus encountered Saul on the Damascus road, Jesus expected him to be radically transformed and Saul was, including even to the point of taking on the new name of “Paul.”
If the Church is to truly fulfill the Great Commission, its missionaries must share Jesus’ belief in divinely-wrought transformation. People’s individual attempts at self-generated transformation will always fall short of what they really need.
As the Church of Jesus Christ tries to minister around the world in Christ’s name, its objective must be more than simply helping people. We want people everywhere to have clean water, health care, and decent schools. We want to help those who have lost homes and possessions in natural disasters or civil unrest. We would like good people to get even better. However, our overarching missionary desire must be for the radical transformation of hearts and lives and, eventually, whole societies.
That conviction of Jesus regarding people’s need for radical transformation must grip us. Proclaiming its possibility must be a top priority for us. That message must permeate everything we do in global cross-cultural ministry.