I just completed participating in an extended group study of the book of Isaiah. As a wrap up to that profoundly impactful time, I had the opportunity to facilitate a session on Isaiah and the Great Commission. Here is an adaptation of that session.
The Great Commission is seemingly full of paradox & contrast:
– God loves the nations, yet because he does, He will judge them
– We (and the message) are to be a light and go out to them (centrifugal witness – more on that below…)
– Living by his statutes reveals His character: people see the difference, want to know more, and He will draw them in (centripetal witness – more on that also below…)
– He hates sin, but He forgives it freely, when people respond in repentance
Some of my resource material mentioned these two types of ‘witness’ (centrifugal and centripetal), but really did nothing more than mention and discuss their outward and inward direction respectively. It seemed to presume that the reader understanding that would be sufficient. It wasn’t, for me.
Ironically, just a few months ago I engaged in a lengthy online conversation with someone well-versed in these two ‘forces’, and while I was more aware of the former than the latter, I really didn’t understand them very well. My friend helped me to grasp the concepts better, and what follows is first some of his descriptive words verbatim, and then my further insights. (Thanks to Troy Lawrence, and for those interested in more fascinating information, check out his book ‘ Origins: The Origin of Matter, Space, Time, and Life’)
Centrifugal: center fleeing – an apparent ‘force’ we feel / perceive. It is derived by the calculations of centripetal force
Centripetal: center seeking – an actual force which can be determined by calculations
Please bear with me as this may seem to get a little technical…
Centripetal: is measured on a tangent line around the object – in other words, if there is no angular momentum, then Centripetal force is zero. So when using centripetal force there is always a circling around another object. Dropping a stone off a building has zero centripetal force, thus gravity is 100%.
Centripetal force (Cp) counters gravitational force (G). Regarding satellites orbiting the earth (which includes our moon):
If the sum of G – Cp force = zero, then there is geosynchronous orbit, no change in altitude;
If the sum of G – Cp force = > 0 then gravity changes the space and time of that object and the natural straight course is altered so that the object comes spiraling down to earth. An example of this is a rubber ducky in the bath water which has the drain plug just removed. The water is the space and time around the rubber ducky, and the drain, which is Earth’s gravity, doesn’t pull on the rubber ducky, it merely changes the space and time around the rubber ducky, which alters its trajectory;
If the sum of G – Cp force = < 0 Then the object spirals away from Earth into space because of escape velocity.
So, the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to me that there was some spiritual truth in these physical relationships. It’s like God is Gravity, in this sense: Unchanging, and having more effect on us the closer we are to Him. And it’s like we are the satellites, and control the amount of centripetal force with how our boosters are directed. This is where our free will affects the trajectory of the rest of our life.
As we focus on seeking God, ‘always circling around’ Him, allowing the Spirit of God to ‘push’ us towards the Father, we sense more acutely His heart for people, which drives us outward to share the Good News. That’s what we and those around us perceive: our activity. Hopefully, our lives reflect or bear the characteristics of the grounding force, and those who see a ‘life’ building which withstands an earthquake unscathed, someone who remains cool under fire, or who can love and forgive the most awful circumstances, want to know more about this ‘Gravity’, this pivotal Centre around which we orbit.
It is only this ‘drawing in’ which is measurable – in lives being saved, changed and dedicated to Him – not our efforts, so we shouldn’t focus on that. We can always be reaching out, not static, or status quo, and not acting on our own impulse, will or emotion. As we to remain ‘tethered’ to Him, constrained to seek Him, we cannot fly off as our own will overpowers His gentle promptings, nor will there be a lack of effort or outward focus causing us to spiral inward to ineffectiveness.
There are 5 instances of the Great Commission given in the NT: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:7-8. I’ve distilled it to:
– Be witnesses: ‘Go preach the gospel’ (Mark 16:15-16)
– But first He says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:21-23)
– Make disciples: baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:18-20)
Isaiah preaches (outward to Israel and the nations) revisiting three themes: I. God will judge the nations (Is. 13:9-11, 19-22; 14:24-27; 24:1-22 and so many more examples…)
II. God will show Himself sovereign and matchless (He has a right to judge: Is. 10:15)
III. God will bring the nations to Himself (there is mercy, forgiveness, compassion and salvation too: Is. 14:1-2)
Romans 11 discusses Israel and ‘Gentile’ (non-Jewish) believers, in the context of a vine, and branches pruned or grafted in by the Vinedresser. Among other Old Testament passages quoted by Paul in this chapter, there are these quotes from Isaiah:
Romans 11:8 quotes Isaiah 29:10 (and Moses – Deut. 29:4).
Rom. 11:26 quotes Is. 59:20-21;
Rom. 11:27 quotes Is. 27:9;
Rom. 11:34 quotes Is. 40:13.
There is so much delicious fruit to be gleaned from tugging at these passages that I couldn’t begin to do anything but this brief sampling here.
The Great Commission (positively ‘doing’, as contrasted with ‘omission’) authorizes us to carry out an assignment – a mission – in cooperation with the Lord, to ‘converse’ and ‘convey’ His message, amazingly in the context of every shade of meaning of these two words:
1. v. to engage in the exchange of ideas by writing, speech, or signals;
n. conversation, communication
2. adj. diametrically opposed, opposite; (contrary, converted)
n. that which is diametrically opposed, opposite (conversion)
1. to cause to come along with oneself
2. to move while supporting
3. to cause to be transferred from one to another
4. to serve as a conduit
5. to make known
6. to put into words
7. to give expression to
8. to cause to pass to another (as in a disease)
9. Law: to change ownership (of property) by means of a legal document
Not only is the Great Commission found contained in the context of Isaiah, but Isaiah factors strongly in the context of the Great Commission. Jesus’ Great Commission didn’t represent a new strategy to both be converse and to converse/convey the message of salvation to the world – we see it there all along (right from Genesis, really), but certainly woven inextricably throughout the tapestry of Isaiah as well.