Revisiting Ezekiel through the Lens of the Great Commission in North America

by Mark Stebbins

What do you think is the condition of the Great Commission in North America today? In other words, how is the Lord’s commandment to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” faring from the North American corner of the globe?

What do you think is the condition of the Great Commission in North America today? In other words, how is the Lord’s commandment to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” faring from the North American corner of the globe?

Would you say it is a movement that is going strong, or a movement that is losing steam? Is it doing just fine, in need of repairs, or badly broken? Will the mission contribution of the North American Church be robust or anemic as the end draws near?

To help us wrestle with our answers, let’s look back to a critical time in Israel’s history when God’s people were at risk of losing their mission for God in the world. I believe the Old Testament accounts of the condition of the wall surrounding Jerusalem give us an unexpected and concrete analogy for evaluating the state of the Great Commission in our day.

Ezekiel 22:30 draws our focus to an intense dilemma God’s people faced regarding their future fate: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” 

The state of the wall around Jerusalem had precipitated a crisis. The dramatic dynamics within this verse extrapolate to give us valuable reference points for assessing and improving the health of the Great Commission in North America.

The context for this conundrum was the pre-exilic moral decay of Jerusalem and Judea, and God’s imminent judgments against them. Those who could and should intervene were corrupted.  Princes were conspiring to devour (v. 25). Priests were guilty of violence and profaning holy things (v. 26). Officials were like wolves tearing and killing prey (v. 27). Prophets were whitewashing sins (v. 28). And the people of the land practiced extortion and robbery (v. 29). A grim and sordid editorial indeed!

Ezekiel 13:5 is a prior, similar indictment against God’s people who had “not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord.” The two presenting problems of Ezekiel 22:30 were a broken wall and an empty gap

A Structural Problem

The first problem was primarily a structural one—a broken wall. A wall, like the wall around Jerusalem, represented a strong and integrated containment for the mission of God through his people. The wall was a symbol for the preservation of productive activity inside. A wall represented a structure (not just for defensive purposes) that enabled God’s agenda to be accomplished through the mission of his people. Sound structures enable mission.

A broken wall meant a loss of dignity, respect, strength, and competence for the affairs of its inhabitants. Consider the insight of Proverbs 25:28: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Without a solid wall there is no organized and disciplined resistance against threats and harm.

For our purposes in the Church today, the broken wall could represent a breakdown in the enterprise of the Great Commission, including the utilization of its component parts. Our broken walls might be:

•  Broken down mission vision, passion, and will
•  Broken down mission teaching and obedience
•  Broken down mission strategies and systems

•  Broken down integration of believer’s daily lives with the mission of God on earth

A Relational Problem

The second presenting problem in Ezekiel 22:30 was primarily relational—an empty gap.  Standing in the gap was the job of a mediator, and in the absence of a mediator, there was a relational void between God and his people. There was no one to intercede, teach, and persuade for the will of God.  

An empty gap meant there was no ambassador from God to his people. There was a grave and grievous breakdown in communications! Without such a mediator, since none could be found, God chose to allow the destruction of the city, the land, and many lives.

For our purposes in the Church today, an empty gap in the Great Commission could mean there are entire fellowships with:

•  No one to say “Lift up your eyes and see the fields are ripe for harvest”
•  No one to pray and ask God to thrust workers into his harvest
•  No one to rally God’s people around his mission on earth to “Go to all with the gospel”
•  No one to mobilize God’s people into various Great Commission tasks and roles locally and internationally

Someone Is Desperately Needed

The solution in Ezekiel 22:30 to the presenting problems of a broken wall and an empty gap was a person. God “looked for a man among them” to tackle these problems, but “found none.” A someone, seemingly anyone with the things of God on their heart, was desperately needed. An ordinary, everyday believer willing to take courageous action for God would suffice, but there was no one.

Psalm 106:23 describes how Moses filled the gap when God needed such an intermediary in Israel’s history: “So God said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.”  

Moses’ example also reinforces how mediators play a vital role in holding back the wrath of God, so that he might not have to destroy sinners. Those who mediate for Great Commission obedience help satisfy the heart of God, who desires that none should perish. When would-be ambassadors are also corrupted in their sins, however, they too become necessary targets for God’s wrath. Such was the case of the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea during Ezekiel’s sobering prophecy. Such may be the case in our North American fellowships.

The Role of Mission Mobilizers

In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim describe two kinds of apostles (2012). There are Pauline apostles, who pioneer among the lost, and there are Petrine apostles, who mobilize among God’s people. Mission mobilizers who are Great Commission activists are needed in every fellowship of God’s people.

Mission mobilizers are Petrine apostles who awaken, inspire, and activate believers for outreach to the nations. They help build and repair Great Commission structures and stand in the gap, mediating with God’s people for God’s will to be done among the lost.

Mission mobilizers who are modern-day champions for the wall of the Great Commission are wall-builders and gap-fillers on God’s behalf for the lost of the nations. They are designers and communicators, providing structural solutions and relational mediation to allow the mission and movement of God to happen from local fellowships to remote locations across the planet.  

For our purposes in the Church today, mission mobilizers build by creating promotions, pathways, processes, and programs that enable the people of God to reach the ends of the earth.  Mission mobilizers are also communicators who help God’s people get their hearts right toward God and toward his Great Commission on earth. They educate, advocate, consult, and invite participation toward mission needs.  

Mission mobilizers help provide access and motivation to complete the critical work of God at the wall of the Great Commission. They build and promote gospel bridges to everywhere.

In summary, the work of mission mobilizers is simply that of servant-redeemers, who in the words of Isaiah 58:12 are “rebuilders of ancient ruins, raisers of age-old foundations, repairers of broken walls, and restorers of streets with dwellings.” May God empower and provide for his Church in North America for this noble work to flourish!

Missions’ Mobilization Paraphrase for Ezekiel 22:30

“I looked for Mission Mobilizers in every fellowship of my people 
Who would revive and rekindle zeal for my Great Commission among them
And represent me in leading my people into Great Commission obedience
So that none of the lost of the earth should perish 
But in many fellowships I found no one.”

Questions for Application

•  What would it take to see a new movement of multiplying mission mobilizers across North America?
•  Could we ask God to raise 10,000 new North American mobilizers for such a time as this, who over the next decade, will help send a new 100,000 North American missionaries to the unreached and unengaged of the earth?

Reference
Hirsch, Alan and Tim Catchim. 2012. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

. . . .

Mark Stebbins has worked for thirty-seven years with The Navigators, including eleven years in Africa and eighteen years in mission mobilization. He is Western director and national missions coordinator for the U.S. Collegiate Navigators and serves as mobilization consultant with MissioNexus.

EMQ Jul 2015, Vol. 51, No. 3 pp. 246-249. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors. For Reprint Permissions beyond personal use visit our STORE (here).


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