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What Does Juneteenth Have to Do With Global Missions?

By Anthony English, Jun 19, 2020

Today is Juneteenth, an important holiday for African Americans as it is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln, General Gordon Granger of the Union rode into Galveston, Texas, with his soldiers. There he read to the slaves General Order Number 3 which began with, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” From that day onward, June 19 has been known as Black America’s independence day and is celebrated every year with food, family, and good conversation on issues relevant to the African-American community. So what does Juneteenth have to do with global missions? 

Jesus’ Emancipation Proclamation

God created humanity in His image and our purpose as His creation was to glorify and enjoy God, be in upright relationships with one another, and steward His world well by spreading the Garden across the globe. All was well until our first parent, Adam, disobeyed God’s command and through his disobedience, introduced sin, death, and judgment into creation. Sin fractured everything: our relationship to God, our relationship with our fellow man, and our relationship to creation. All the brokenness we see in the world and in ourselves is a result of the Fall in Genesis 3 and it is because of the Fall that humanity finds itself under the judgment of God.

God didn’t leave us in that state however. Because of His great love, He sent His Son to Earth to live the only perfect life, die on the cross, and then rise again from the dead three days later. He took the sin of the world on Himself and received God’s judgment due us on the cross. All those who repent and trust in Jesus Christ are adopted into God’s worldwide family, receive the free gift of eternal life, and experience the forgiveness of sin. And through His work He has brought healing to what sin has broken. He came to mend man’s broken relationship to God, to one another, and to creation. He came to, as Isaac Watts wrote in his famous hymn Joy to the World, “make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Jesus came to Earth on a mission of blessing, healing, salvation, and emancipation. In John 8:31–32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus came to bring freedom to those held captive by sin and He did that through His life, death, and resurrection.

It is this gospel of Jesus’ emancipation proclamation that we as the Church have been tasked to take to a world held captive by Satan (Matt. 28:16–20; 2 Tim. 2:24–26). We are to let all know that in Jesus Christ, the “year of the Lord’s favor” has arrived and we are now called to announce this gospel news to “the poor … [and] to proclaim liberty to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind” (Lk. 4:18-19). We go forth to the nations and proclaim the gospel of the Great Liberator, Jesus Christ.

But wait, there’s more!

And yet, that isn’t all that we do as the Church. We also go and work as the hands and feet of Jesus in order to “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk. 4:18). He cares deeply about the oppressed, marginalized, and poor. Psalm 72:11-14 in speaking ultimately of King Jesus says, “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

Jesus of Nazareth cares so much about the oppressed, marginalized, and poor that He identifies with them to the point of actually becoming an oppressed, marginalized, and poor Jewish man Himself in His incarnation under the brutal and corrupt Roman Empire! And now this risen and exalted Middle Eastern King sends us as His Church to care for the oppressed, marginalized, and poor as well. This is why Mission to the World’s fourth core value is “Mercy, justice, and the love of God,” which means “a love for God that is demonstrated through acts of mercy and justice.” Our missionaries go cross-culturally and overseas to love others in word and deed. To preach a Jesus that didn’t just die for the salvation of their souls, but of their bodies as well. A Jesus who doesn’t simply care about their spiritual state, but cares about their physical, material, and economic state as well.

Just like when He walked the Earth, Jesus is still bringing liberty to the oppressed, marginalized, and poor today through His Church. Through His people, He is bringing freedom to those enslaved through sex trafficking by helping them get out of that demonic situation. He’s helping the poor by feeding them as well as teaching them how to create and run their own businesses. He’s loving children by spending time with them. He’s healing sickness and disease through doctors and nurses. He’s helping the refugee, clothing the naked, and casting out demons. He is still the Great Liberator and if the gospel we are preaching is only good news for people’s souls and eternity but not good news for their bodies and physical lives, then our gospel is too small.

CELEBRATE!

So what does Juneteenth have to do with global missions? Everything! We are to go and proclaim to those still held captive by sin and Satan the gospel of Jesus’ emancipation proclamation which not only deals with their spiritual oppression, marginalization, and poverty but also their physical oppression, marginalization, and poverty.

And Juneteenth doesn’t only speak to global missions, but it also speaks to us individually as Christians. Just as the exodus of the Hebrews out of Egypt leads us to praise God for His deliverance of His people and causes us to praise Him for the ultimate exodus of His Church led by the Greater Moses, Jesus, so Juneteenth should lead us to praise God for the deliverance of the African-American community out of slavery and cause us to praise Him for the ultimate Juneteenth in the person and work of Jesus Christ for us!

So celebrate today! Eat, drink, be merry, and give praise and worship to Jesus Christ, for our Great Liberator has come to inaugurate our freedom and He will come again to bring our freedom to a full and final completion.

Anthony English is assistant director of MTW’s West Coast hub.

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