The Great Commission
Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lecture: The Great Commission
We have come to the end of the gospel story. Jesus has died to provide forgiveness of our sins; he has died to provide access to God. He has been raised from the dead to show us that he has earned victory over death. It is within the context of Jesus' death and resurrection that the disciples go north to Galilee to wait to see Jesus. It is important to remember the context when we look at the Great Commission. It is easy to become detached from it, but we cannot afford to do that. The God who is going to give the Great Commission is Jesus who died, who was raised again and with all that wonder and amazement and glory, they go north to Galilee and they meet Jesus. In Matthew 28:16-20 we read, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Some were hesitant, they didn't know quite how to respond to this Jesus.). And Jesus came and said to them, '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.'” Jesus' command, what we call the Great Commission, is not only to the eleven. I want to make this very clear right up front that this is not ancient history. The Great Commission stands at the conclusion of the gospel, and it stands as a commission to all disciples of all times of all places; to every single disciple who ever has lived, lives or will live Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me."
All Authority Has Been Given To Me
I am reminded of Paul's instructions to the Philippian church in chapter 2 where he says, "God has highly exalted (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." All authority has been given to Jesus. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is sovereign. Jesus is the boss. He is sovereign over absolutely everything. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It is easy to say those words, but I invite you this morning to think through what that really means because it is within this context of his authority that He is going to utter the Great Commission. What does it mean to say that all authority has been given to Jesus? It means that he is sovereign. That means He is sovereign over the natural world. He is sovereign over the largest things in the natural world. He's sovereign over the wind and the rain, sickness and death, volcanoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes. He is also sovereign over the smallest things in the natural world. He is sovereign over my DNA and chromosome structures. He is sovereign over the electrons that are circling the neutrons in my body and yours. He is sovereign over the germs that infect and the while corpuscles that protect. He is sovereign over the natural world.
He is also sovereign over all human authorities. He is sovereign over human authorities that are close to us, those human forces that at times seem overwhelming and unconquerable, the forces of our cities and nation. He is sovereign over the political forces that seek to kill the unborn. God's even sovereign over Planned Parenthood. Just think about that for a second. He is sovereign over human authorities that are close and human authorities that are far away. God is in charge of North Korea. God is in charge in the Al-Qeda network. He is not surprised. He knows what is going on and he is still sovereign. Jesus is still sovereign over the spiritual world. All authority has been given to him. He is sovereign over demons and Satan. He is sovereign over the occult and the skinhead, ghosts and medians, psychics and tarot cards. He is sovereign over the spiritual world. He is sovereign over other religions. He is sovereign over Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and the Animists. Jesus is sovereign over Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, New Age and Spiritualism. And someday all of these people will kneel in submission during judgment before Jesus to whom all authority has been given. Jesus is sovereign over every part of every person. He's sovereign over my desires and my goals. He's sovereign over my money and my time. He's sovereign over our abilities and our dysfunctions, our past and our future. He is sovereign over our children and our friends and our neighbors and our co-workers. You get the idea? Jesus is Lord of all. He is sovereign over all and it is this Jesus to whom all authority has been given who says to you and says to me, "Go make disciples. Go make disciples of all nations."
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"
We spend a lot of time in various stages of our life wondering about the will of God. It was the number one question I was asked when I was teaching, "What's the will of God?" Do you want the answer to that question? It is really simple. The will of God is that you make disciples. There. Period. End of discussion. No more wasted time about the will of God. God's desire is that you be a disciple, that you pursue sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 5. And then you make more disciples. God's will for your life and mine is that we become learners, that we become followers of Jesus Christ, that we become disciples and then make more disciples. Notice the word "therefore?" As my old teacher used to say, "Whenever you see a therefore, ask what's it's there for." It is because all authority has been given to Jesus that he can tell us not only what we ought to do but what we must do. And the sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords says, "Go make disciples. Make followers of me." You know what is freeing about that? I don't have to wonder what my job is. That whatever specific profession I am in, I know that my purpose of being here on earth is to glorify God by replicating the work that he has done in my life by the power of the Holy Spirit. My job is to make disciples. I have been told to do it by the sovereign God. And the really cool thing in this is I do not need anyone's permission. If I want to share Jesus Christ with someone, I do not have to ask their permission. I do not have to ask their parent's permission. I don't have to ask the school board permission. I do not have to ask my employer for permission. I do not have to ask the political powers for permission. The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords who possesses all authority and all true power said, "Bill, go make disciples." And that is freeing. So whether I am walking in the halls as a student or I am in the lunch room at work or I am talking to my neighbors, I understand that I am his ambassador; I am his herald and as I witness and proclaim that behind me and beside me and in front of me stands the sovereign Lord who has all authority and has told me and has told you, "I want more disciples." If someone doesn't like it, tough! Neither you nor I answer to them. We may have to be smart in how we do this. But ultimately, I don't answer to them; I do not answer to my neighbor or politicians. I answer to God. And God has all authority and God told me to do something and by his grace, we will do that, won't we?
I know that talking about the Great Commission sets off red flags in many of us. The Great Commission applies to every single person in this room. There is no one exempt who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no one exempt from the Great Commission. The word "go" is technically not an imperative. There is actually only one command, one imperative, in the Great Commission and that is "make disciples." For some people, God's call on their life will be such that they will go because they are going to be making disciples in all nations. But the Great Commission equally applies to those of us who stay because our nation is part of all nations. So whether you go or stay, the Great Commission is equally the same; we are to make disciples. Either blooming where we are planted or uprooting ourselves and planting ourselves somewhere else. The Great Commission stands as the culmination of the gospel story, and it is within the context of Jesus' supreme authority and power that he calls each one of us to make disciples. The question is then, how do we do that? How do you go about making disciples? Fortunately, Jesus continues in the account and tells us how we make disciples, and it is at least a two-step process.
Number one, we make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We begin to obey the Great Commission when we are involved in evangelism. We begin to obey the Great Commission when we are involved with people becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. As we baptize new disciples in the name of the triune God, they are proclaiming by their words, actions and lives that they have become his disciples. It Is not the dipping, immersion, or coming out of the water; it is in the fact that we are involved in people becoming disciples and new disciples want to proclaim that they are members of new families, which is what baptism is all about. Again, I know when evangelism is mentioned that something inside many of us says, "Well, okay, you can talk about that because I'm not an evangelist. This really doesn't apply to me. That's not my gift. You know, I have the gift of mercy so I'm going to show mercy to people." The Great Commission is for all disciples regardless of their special gifting. What better venue for sharing God's love and desire to change people that within a context of showing mercy to that person. Evangelism is so much more than street corner witnessing and tent revivals, as important as those are. Evangelism happens when our hearts are broken in desperation for our neighbors and we fall to our knees, begging God for the chance to tell people that they are going to hell. We beg God and say, "Make me the kind of person that it is so obvious that I believe in hell."
Evangelism happens when our mouths are so full of thanksgiving for what God has done for us that it just pours out of our mouth. We open our mouths and out comes praise and thanksgiving and the name of Jesus Christ, that people know that we are different. Evangelism happens when our changed lives proclaim that God changed my heart; evangelism happens as we explain the hope that we have, the hope that the world does not have. And then people come to you and hear your words and see your life and they ask, "What is different about you?" And you say, "Let me tell you the ABC's. I Admitted that I was a sinner. I accepted the fact that my sins separated me from my God. I Believe that Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty for my sin. He made it possible because he's the God–man. And I Committed my life to him. I became his child and I live for his glory not mine. That's why I'm different." That is what real evangelism looks like for most of us. So the question you have to stop and ask yourself, "Is that what my life looks like? Is my life a living testimony to the power of God to change people? Do I pray on a regular basis for the opportunity to establish a relationship with my neighbors? Or when I see them drive up do I turn and pretend that I don’t see them and ignore them because it's a little uncomfortable because they are a little different?" Are our mouths full of thanksgiving? Do we open the mouth and out comes praise and grace (Ephesians 4 says the only thing that is supposed to come out of my mouth is praise and thanksgiving, the extension of grace that which edifies and builds up)? Or when I open my mouth do I sound just like everyone else? Am I so consumed with a critical and judgmental spirit that negative after negative words flow off my tongue? Then I look like everyone else. No one would know I was a Christian by the way I talk. Or our lives different? We are the salt of the earth but do we look like every other kid at high school and no one could see that there is any difference in our life? Are we ready to share the gospel? Do we live like we believe in hell or do we live like we don't believe in hell? What does our life look like? Is it a living tool of evangelism regardless of what specific gifts God has given us? Part of the Great Commission has to do with us being involved in people becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. But that is only half of it because there is a second part to fulfilling the Great Commission; that is that we must "teach people to observe all that I have commanded you."
Teaching Them to Observe All
In other words, the Great Commission is equally concerned with evangelism and sanctification. It is equally concerned with people becoming disciples and people living as disciples. I do not know how many times I have had to hear people say things like, "Well we're a Great Commission-driven church. Yes sir, we take the Great Commission very seriously." And they mean that you are going to hear a sermon on John 3:16 every Sunday. I am partial to John 3:16, but preaching it Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year is not a Great Commission-driven church. That is half a church. But even more than that I hear people say, "Oh we're a teaching church. Come to our church and be fed." And they mean that their church is completely unaware that God is drawing people to himself, they are not interested in seekers and, in fact, they often get in the way of Bible study. Both are equally disobedient to the sovereign God. God's will for your life and mine, individually and corporately, is that we make new disciples and we make fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. So how do you do that? You "teach them all that I have commanded you." The Great Commission involves content, it involves doctrine; theology is not a dirty word. It is a good word because that is what we are supposed to be teaching. And teaching starts with basic theology. That is why I am preaching a 52-part sermon on the major events of the Bible. I want you to have the overall picture. I want you to have the pivotal events, the main girders that tie the building together. Teaching involves basic theology, but it is more than just that. It also involves advanced theology. I think the King James translation is the only one that got this verse right: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever." The construction is emphatic. Everything that Jesus taught his disciples, they are in turn to teach the next generation. And that generation in turn is to teach everything whatsoever Jesus taught to the next generation that comes after them. Now it doesn't mean we have to all be seminary professors. But it does mean that every one of us must move beyond theological milk to theological meat. This is what is going on in the church that the book of Hebrews is written to. They were a church comprised of Jews who had become Christians. They were being persecuted for their Christianity and they had come to the conclusion that it was okay to go back to Judaism, to apostatize, to renounce their faith; let the persecution pass and then later on come back and be Christians again. The author of Hebrews is all the way through pulling out his hair saying, "If you only knew something beyond the basics, you would know you can't do that kind of thing." And so you have to learn the basics and then move on to advanced theology. That is what Hebrews 6 is all about. Hebrews 6 is a controversial passage, but this part is not. He says, "Therefore, [because of your bad theology] let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, [advanced theology] not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." He says that these are all good but basic things, that you have to move on to the meat. You need to know what the Christian life is about so that you do not come up with these hair-brain schemes of how to avoid persecution rather than embracing persecution. So we have to teach and we have to teach all things. But I have left out a word, haven't I? We have to teach people to observe all things.
The Great Commission is not only about doctrine, but it is also about ethics; how we live, how we observe, how the truth of God's word that we have learned changes us. The Great Commission is not only about the profession of our lips but the confession of our lives and how we live. It is not enough to simply know the right stuff; you and I must do the right stuff. Not in any sense of earning favor with God, that cannot be done, but when God has changed our lives and our love for him starts to overflow we start to learn about him and his Spirit changes us and it starts to effect our confession, how we live our lives. A fool is someone who learns but does not move to observing; their learning does not change their lives. The Bible calls that kind of person a fool, Matthew 7:26 and half of the Proverbs. Jesus had plenty of examples of fools. The fool who built his house on the sand and the storms of life washed it away is the person who hears the word of God but does not do the will of God. Jesus had lots of illustrations of fools in his day. Pharisees, people who knew the Bible from cover to cover were fools; pharisees knew the truth but did not let it transform their life. Much of the American church is on a starvation diet. There is no meat; there is no doctrine. There is also a large segment of the American church that is spiritually obese. These are our "teaching churches," where people come and say, "I want to learn. I want to learn, learn, take, take, eat, eat;" but then the food never leaves their system. It never changes their lives; they never observe the truth. Both extremes are wrong. We teach by the power of God's Spirit, we observe and our lives are changed. How do you do this? How do you teach someone to observe? I cannot do it from up here. I cannot teach you to observe from the pulpit. I can encourage you. I can prompt you. I can teach. Some Sundays I can irritate and meddle, but I cannot teach you to observe. That is impossible. That kind of behavior happens by example. It happens within the context of friendships, Sunday School classes, and small groups ministries. It happens one on one, one on three, and one on ten. It does not happen by lecture. It happens by example. The Great Commission starts at home. Please hear that. The Great Commission starts at home because it starts with me. I cannot impart what I do not possess. You cannot impart to others what you do not possess. Great saying isn't it? I did not come up with it; it came out of John Piper's church. If I do not know the truth then I cannot teach the truth and if that truth is not transforming my life, I cannot model it to anyone. When we look at the Great Commission, it is not about giving a few dollars to missionaries far away; that is not sufficient. The Great Commission begins in my heart and in your heart and in your life as we learn and as we model. Then the Great Commission grows from individuals to families, if you have one. The Great Commission moves to our children or to our grandchildren or perhaps to the kids in your Sunday School class. We look at the first part of the Great Commission and say, "Okay, I need to teach them." So we read the Bible, we learn about the Bible, we teach them to pray, we teach them how to talk to God, we make the most of opportunities day in and day out to explain the character of God to them. When you are sitting outside and you see a sunset, what do you tell your child? "Look at the beauty of God. Look how he has written his name across the heavens and the beauty of that sunset." When you are driving past a homeless person, what do you say? "Now Junior, you look at that person, that is why you stay in school. You don't want to be like that!" Or do you say, "Junior, I once was that man. I once was homeless and filthy and ragged. I had nothing to offer God in exchange for my life. And God picked me up, he dusted me off, he put me in the back seat of the car and he took me to church where I could learn and I could grow and he adopted me into his family." Are we making the most of these opportunities to be Great Commission parents? Are we then modeling it, are we doing the observing? Maturity can't be taught, can it? I can lecture until I'm blue in the face and it is not going to make any difference to my kids. All they are going to do is get bored to death.
Maturity is caught, it is not taught. Our children will never desire God above all things if we do not desire God above all things. It is as simple as that. And we have to ask ourselves, "Are we living in such a way that our children want to know God?" If your child's Christian growth, becoming a disciple and living a disciple, is dependent upon what happens in church, most likely your child will not live as a disciple and will go to hell. My favorite cartoon has a women standing by the door with the police taking her son away. And she cries out, "Where did my pastor go wrong?" We need to do everything that we can as brothers and sisters, as a family of God to encourage and help one another. If it is not happening in your home most likely it will fail and as soon as your children are financially independent they will leave. So I have to ask a hard question, is your home a safe place? Is your home a learning place? Is your home a place of discipleship? Is it a Great Commission kind of home? We can sit here and complain, "Wow, wasn't that shameful what happened at Super Bowl halftime? How shameful!" But can your kids flip on the TV and watch MTV and Showtime and HBO whenever they want? If they can, they are seeing exactly the same thing. Are our homes safe places? Randy Alcorn, in his book, ''The Purity Principle'', writes a rather annoying chapter titled, ''Getting Radical'' about gouging out eyes, that kind of radical, Jesus kind of radical. This will be difficult for some of you to hear. Let me tell you what Randy says, "Suppose I said, 'Hey there's a great looking girl down the street. Let's go look through her window and watch her undress and then pose for us naked from the waist up. And then this girl and her boyfriend will get in a car and have sex. Let's listen and watch the windows steam up. Do you want to do that?' You'd be shot. They'd think, 'what a pervert.' And you'd be right. But suppose instead I say, 'Hey, come on over, let's watch Titanic.' Christians recommend this movie. Church youth groups view it together. And many have shown it in their homes and yet the movie contains precisely the scenes I described. So our young men lust after the girl on the screen our young women are trained in how to get a man's attention. How does something shocking and shameful somehow become acceptable because we watch it through a television instead of a window." Is your home a Great Commission home where it is safe; where you are teaching and modeling God's truth? Discipleship is hard work, which is often why we do not like to do it. Discipleship involves making difficult choices; of limiting the exposure of the world to ourselves. It is a lost art for the most part, but it can become a joyful art once again as you and I desire God more than sexual titillation and wealth. The Great Commission starts at home. It starts with me, moves through my family and then expands through my friendships. Throw a roast in the crockpot on Sunday mornings for goodness sake; for God's sake and his glory. Throw a roast in the crockpot and some extra potatoes. Come to church and say, "I don't know you. You're my brother. We're going to spend eternity together. Let's get together. The roast may be burned (because the preacher talked too long) but it will be fun and we can talk about things that are important." It expands through the Christian crockpot; it expands through our small groups. It expands through Bible studies. The Great Commission will never be fulfilled if we try to do it only Sunday morning. It will not work. It's impossible. It will only get to this stage when we are in community. When we can teach one another; share with one another; be accountable to one another; to laugh and cry. The Great Commission then expands to the other nations. It is not about me, myself and I. It is not about spending money on me, myself and I. It is about us learning to look out through God's love to our families, our neighborhoods and the world. I would absolutely love it if the Missions Committee would come to the elders and say they just do not have enough money. God is calling so many people, young people, retired people into missions; three months, one year. They are staying home because we do not have the money. If this all sounds too difficult, Jesus ends with a note of encouragement: "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age." And the gospel ends as it begins with the announcement that this baby is Emmanuel; that this baby is "God with us." I hear the words of Romans 8 over and over in my head. "Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. May we become Great Commission disciples. May we learn and may that learning transform us; may we observe it. And then may we move into relationships where we can teach, encourage and model, and may we become a cloning church for the glory of God alone.