Elaine Storkey looks at two biblical passages in which God commissioned people – and shows us that we are called to the same mission today


Study verses: Isaiah 6:8 and Matthew 28:18-20

Most new jobs start with a selection process, an offer, a welcome by the staff and then immersion into the work. In the Bible, it is different. God’s workforce undergoes a crucial commissioning process. God commissions people into mission to make a difference in their world.

I have chosen two acts of commission in the Bible for us to look at together here, which are separated by 750 years or more. They are within different cultures, given to very different people and reported in different biblical languages. One commission is given to a single person, the other to a whole group. Yet they are strikingly similar.

In both passages the commission comes directly from God. The eternal God commissions human mortals for vital service. In Isaiah’s prophecy, the commission was received by the prophet himself; in Matthew’s Gospel it was received by the remaining eleven disciples whom Jesus had instructed through the women to go to Galilee. All of them were very normal people, certainly not hyper-spiritual. They were people somewhat like us: locked in culture, unsure about what matters, inconsistent, often not living up to their own values. Yet despite all their limitations, these people were commissioned by God for his mission. 

The context of commission

We notice that each commission was given in a context of spiritual worship. Isaiah described an overwhelming vision of a high, exalted God, surrounded by angelic praise and adoration that reached God’s very throne. In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples were on a mountain in Galilee, and, confronted by the risen Christ, fell down in worship before him. The kind of spiritual high described in these accounts may be experienced rarely in most people’s lifetimes. Yet all true worship takes us into the presence of God, and away from our routine, everyday preoccupations. 

God asked the question: “Whom shall I send. Who will go for us?”

When we do focus on God in worship we start to gain a different perspective on life and become aware of a reality, purpose and truth that stretches far beyond ourselves. So, it’s not surprising that in worship many of us become aware that God is commissioning us too. 

A closer look at those commissioned

Both commissions were received by relatively insecure people. There were no confident heroes; no moral perfectionists. Isaiah was utterly plagued by his inadequacies and his moral failings. He was a “man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). When he heard the songs of the seraphim, sung in the purity and holiness of angelic lips, he became convicted of his true state. For nothing like what the angels sang had ever come out of his mouth. He conformed to the culture around him; he was swayed by its pointlessness, dragged down by its hollow values. The remedy was extreme – live coals were put on his lips: coals so hot they could only be handled by tongs (v6). But they were needed to burn away all the muck that had contaminated Isaiah’s life. What a vivid image. In biblical terms it symbolises atonement, the taking away of sin, so that a new start can be made with God. 

The disciples were insecure too – they’d lost their purpose in life; they had put their faith in the man they had followed for three years and he’d been crucified and killed. At this point, even though he appeared to be standing right in front of them, some of them were still plagued with doubt. Could the women really have got it right ? Was Jesus truly alive or was it some sort of hallucination? There were no great visionaries, no outstanding candidates ready to be entrusted with a job to change the world. They were unsure about everything. Yet Jesus’ commission was all they needed. His words herald a new start and a new future. 

In each case, the commissions were accepted. In Isaiah’s vision, God asked the question: “Whom shall I send. Who will go for us?” What was he asking? Who would live in their culture, among the people, but live for him? Who would keep the reality of God alive so those around could understand God’s kingdom and how life should be lived, rejecting sin. And Isaiah, who moments before had felt so incapable of anything, takes the mammoth step of commitment, saying: “Here am I, send me.” 

In Matthew’s account, Jesus reminded his followers that he has all authority in heaven and earth, and commissioned them from that authority to preach the Gospel of the kingdom to all nations and make disciples throughout the world. Matthew doesn’t record their answer, but we know from the Acts of the Apostles that the commission was accepted and they became vital God-carriers to their generation and way beyond. 


Forever changed

The final similarity in each account is that God’s commission changed those commissioned and the world they lived in. Isaiah grew into a prophetic visionary who exposed the wrongs of world leaders. He confronted rulers of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon Moab, Ammon and Judah with the consequences of their wrongdoing. He addressed the corruption of unjust judges, identified the hypocrisy of rich landowners, challenged the people for their injustice and idolatry, and prophesied the coming of the Messiah. 

The followers of Jesus knew this Messiah through experience as well as prophecy. And they did indeed go on to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick, teach, practise community living, share and care for each other and confront evil. Only Jesus could die for their sins, but many of them died for their faith. And they have left their legacy across our globe today. The presence of more than two billion Christians throughout the world verifies the fact that disciples are still being called in all nations to believe and be baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

What about us today?

God’s commissioning is not confined to history. We too are commissioned to continue Jesus’ mission to go through “all the towns and villages, teaching…proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness” (Matthew 9:35). 

The presence of more than two billion Christians throughout the world verifies the fact that disciples are still being called in all nations

Yet the worlds of Isaiah and the apostles are very different from the world into which God commissions us today. Ours is a world of electronic connections, where people across the globe relate to others they have never met, but know online. Ours is a world where 820 million people go hungry (60 per cent of them are women and girls); a world of multiple poverty, with malnutrition, high infant and maternal mortality rates, low access to fresh water, illiteracy, low income, indebtedness, global exclusion, powerlessness, and increasing exposure to diseases and pandemics. We live in a world of global inequality where over the last two years one per cent of the global population gained twice as much wealth as the other 99 per cent put together.

In our world, like Isaiah’s, we have those of unclean lips: leaders who lie, people who trade in war and death, selling weapons of mass destruction across the world with little restraints by governments; those involved in human trafficking and rape, and who exploit others in many ways for greed and gain. We need prophets today to be commissioned by God to challenge the deep wrongs and suffering of our age.  

In our world, like the apostles’, we have those waiting to hear the good news of Jesus, those who want an alternative to lives that are broken or heading for destruction. We need disciples today to be commissioned by God so that people begin to understand the kingdom and are helped to repent and receive forgiveness and new life. 

Women have been commissioned into God’s service throughout the ages. In our own age the call to us is as urgent than ever. It might be to a place, a new job, a specific task, a journey or simply sharing the gospel and shunning wrongdoing. We can say “No”, feeling we’re not up to the commission or too afraid to move out of our comfort zone. Or we can join millions of women who, when God asks: “Who can we send?” have replied in faith: “Here am I. Send me.”

Elaine Storkey is a lecturer, writer and broadcaster. Her book Women in a Patriarchal World (SPCK, 2020) was based on Woman Alive articles. Her most recent book is Meeting God in Matthew (SPCK).