Last Sunday at church we took a fresh look at a very well-known passage of Scripture: the Great Commission. The reason it is called the Great Commission is they are some of the last known words of Jesus to his disciples before he ascended to heaven and took his seat at the Father’s right hand. Jesus wanted to make sure his followers were very clear as to what they were to do after he was gone. He didn’t want them wandering aimlessly around trying to come up with the next plan. And so he gave them this charge:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Now every time I have heard this passage taught the emphasis is always put on the middle part – the call to go and make disciples. But even here Christians get confused because they keep getting mixed messages. The missionary speaker get up and says, “Jesus is calling you to the mission field. He wants you to GO! So where is it going to be – Africa, China or South America?” Then the Evangelist turns up and says, “No, no – the only place you need to go is to your neighbour across the fence. That’s your mission field.” Then the clever Pastor stands up and says, “Actually folks the main verb here in the Greek is not going or evangelizing but making disciples. This is about growing and maturing followers of Jesus.” So who’s right? Is this a call to missions, evangelism or discipleship?
The answer of course is all three. They are all part of gospel ministry; the task of disciple-making. And they each have their particular place. Evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelon which means “good news.” So evangelism involves the verbal proclamation of the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose again that we might experience new life. Discipleship comes from ‘disciple’ which means learner or a follower. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40). In the Christian’s case our Master is who? Jesus. So our goal in the discipling process is to become more and more like Jesus. Missions entails the task of mobilizing disciples to go to places where there are no disciples for the purpose of making more disciples. Any support – whether it be prayer or money or resources, given to believers to aid them in the work of making disciples either oversees or local has to come under the banner of missions.
But we have still only dealt with one portion of the Great Commission – a great command. There are two other parts to it which are just as vital: a great declaration – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and a great promise – “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” You might call them book-ends or supports to the great command. They serves as the buttresses to hold the command up. Without them we are in trouble.
A Great Declaration
Matthew tells us it was only the eleven that were on the mountain when he uttered these words. They hear this command, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” That 11 up against how many who were alive at the time? Estimates of the world population in their day are around 300 million. That’s a daunting task. Now the odds are a little better today, there are more Christians alive than ever before – about 700 million followers of Jesus. The world population however is nearing 7 billion. Now Jesus tells us to take the gospel to them. I find that a little overwhelming – don’t you?
But it’s not when we have this great declaration. Jesus says all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. If this is true, Jesus is Lord over the entire universe. He has authority over armies and authority over governments. He has authority over world leaders and authority over evil dictators. He has authority over the United Nations and authority over the world economy. He has authority over terrorists and authority over Jihadists. There is nothing and no one that Jesus Christ does not have ultimate jurisdiction over.
Do you know what that means? It means there is no power on earth that can tell you that you can’t go to the nations and preach the gospel. No power on this planet can tell you, “You can’t come here and talk about Jesus,” because Jesus is in charge, and he says to his people, “I give you the authority to go anywhere and everywhere and tell people about Me, because I’m the only One under heaven by whom a person can be saved. I don’t care whether human authorities tell you can’t do this. I’m in charge. And I’m telling you that you can go.”
Don’t you find that empowering? So whenever you encounter opposition, whenever the world says, “you can’t do that” you can answer with the apostles,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20)
And so this week, when you are sitting at your desk at work wondering how you can tell your boss that the answer to his problems is Jesus or you are listening to your teacher at school prattling on about how Christianity is an invention of man like every other religion, or the woman at the checkout at the grocery store sighs and says, “Sometimes life gets so hard I wonder why we even bother” – remember that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth and he has authorized you, as his personal representative, to speak to them.
That’s the great declaration. It paves the way to the great command. But it still seems like a daunting task doesn’t it? That’s why Jesus follows the command with a promise.
A Great Promise
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We know from Matthew 18:20, the Lord said where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (which is often taken out of context). But this promise is different. It’s not the coming together of God’s people he’s talking about, but the scattering of God’s people to the far reaches of the earth. When they meet together he will be with them and when they scatter he will be with them. Whatever circumstance we are in, he will be there with us!
When Moses was about to undertake a big job, going to Pharaoh, delivering the children of Israel, God said, “I will be with you” (Exod 3:12). When Joshua was afraid to carry on the work of Moses, and cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, the word came, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” (Joshua 1:5). When Gideon cowered with fear at the thought of taking on the Midianites the Lord comforted with the promise, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16). And now we see the same promise given by Jesus to us who are faced with the daunting task of taking the gospel to our neighbours, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
O what a difference it would make in our lives if we truly experienced his powerful and loving presence! How much more confident and bold we might be!
- What if they ask me a question I cannot answer? I will be with you
- What if I forget what I’m supposed to say? I will be with you
- What if they laugh and scoff at me? I will be with you
- What if they get angry at me? I will be with you
- What is someone says I’m narrow and judgemental? I will be with you
Jesus says, “Don’t worry, I’m more powerful than anything you can run into”
Jesus says, “I’m going with you wherever you go. You’re not on your own”
When Jesus gets involved in his mission my friends, you cannot fail. This is his mission. And he promises to be right there alongside of you.
Therefore don’t be fearful. You cannot fail!