We’ve been progressing, over the last several weeks, from Christ’s agony in the garden and death on a Cross to pay the penalty for sin, His resurrection that proved that His sacrifice was accepted by the Father and through an episode where Christ restored Peter and Apostles to their ministry to build up His Church.
Today’s passage actually compliments last week’s message. As you might recall, Peter was told three times to feed Christ’s sheep. You will see the necessary connection as time moves on. Unfortunately, today’s passage is often preached in a rather narrow way that captures one aspect of the Truth of this passage but, in ignoring the broader aspects of this passage, actually distorts the message and, in the process, contributes to a lie about what God’s Word actually teaches.
I know that, if you’ve spent any time at all in a Church, you’ve probably heard this passage over a hundred times. You probably know what it’s called. Is anyone willing to tell me what this passage is commonly called?
Yes. The Great Commission. How many of you have heard it preached as if the passage is primarily dealing with the fact that we each need to get off our cans at the end of this service, find someone who doesn’t know about Jesus and go tell them about Him?
Well, there’s an element of truth in that but, again, there’s much, much more here. Let’s unpack this passage and find the treasure that Christ has revealed to us.
First, it is significant, in verse 18, that Christ begins this command with a statement about His authority. 18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
He’s about to issue a command here but I want to dwell on this for just a minute. When He states that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given Him there are a few important things that we need to take notice of:
- 1. He doesn’t mean by this that He now has all authority in heaven and on earth and didn’t have that before. Even before His triumph over death on a Cross, didn’t He demonstrate His authority repeatedly? He had power over sickness, over hunger, over demons, winds and waves, human hearts, and even death. Of course, the difference is that, before His resurrection, He purposefully commanded men not to mention His authority ahead of time. He commanded healed lepers to be quiet about their healing. It was not yet time for the News of His authority to go forward for He had not died to pay for our sins yet nor had He risen in testimony that the sacrifice was accepted. But, again, Christ has all authority in heaven and earth because He is the eternal Son of God.
- 2. I hope it goes without saying that, because Christ has all authority in heaven and earth, that He has authority over you and me. Of course it’s very popular these days to think of ourselves as belonging to nobody and that we don’t answer to God or any other man. But, in the end, that’s all part of our sinful self-deception. When you were a kid, did you ever close your eyes and cover your ears and hum when you didn’t want to hear someone? That’s the way the world treats God. They pretend as if God has no authority but it’s sort of silly. Psalm 2 even says that He laughs on high at such foolishness. The plain fact is, beloved, that Christ has all authority and you really need to pay attention. I would hope that those of us who really believe that He set us free from sins would have hearts that would desire to listen. We ought to be hanging on every Word that comes out of His mouth. But, because we’re still dying to self, we need to be reminded that He has authority and we are foolish if we don’t pay attention to what He says. Whatever follows from His lips, we must obey.
Keeping that all in mind, Christ’s command comes on the heels of His announcement and reminder that He has all authority: 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….”
On the basis of His authority, that we must obey Him, indeed, we have been redeemed that we desire to obey, the Church has been commanded to “Go, make disciples”. Notice I stated that the Church is commanded to do so. That will become more important as we understand how the whole command plays out. I just want to make sure you understand that this command is impossible to be fulfilled by individuals without the Church.
What Christ commands the Church to do is to go out into the world and make disciples. In Acts, He is more explicit in stating that it will be from Judea, to Samaria, to the outermost ends of the earth. That’s how Acts actually works itself out. The point is that the News is supposed to be heralded and the Kingdom is to grow in concentric circles as the Church grows and the Word is proclaimed further and further outward.
More importantly, though, is the fact that Christ commands the Church to make disciples. He does not command the Church to “get decisions”. He does not command the Church to simply have a man repeat the sinner’s prayer and then send them him on his way.
I’ve met several self-styled “Evangelists” or “Missionaries” that announce regularly that they had a chance to lead a child or an adult to the Lord. It seemed like, over a year period, that they must have reported a dozen or so such encounters.
My question was always this: Where are they? Why aren’t they at Church?
If they were led to the Lord then why are they not following Him still? Why are they not disciples? Didn’t Christ command us to make disciples? He didn’t command us to lead men and women and children to the Lord and then leave them to grow by themselves. He commanded us to make disciples. This implies a life of following. This implies nurturing. The idea of discipleship is that they are being discipled and Christ, in this passage is actually laying out how that discipleship is going to take place.
In fact, if you read again what the passage commands, Christ states a main command: Go and make disciples of all the nations. This command then entails two necessary elements that are attached to this main command. Those two elements that are part of making disciples of all the nations are:
- 1. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
- 2. Teaching them everything that Christ has commanded us
A man, woman, or child that has simply been “led to Jesus” by a sinner’s prayer and is not baptized or taught is not a disciple. The Church has failed its mission if it stops at decisions. The Church’s mission is not being fulfilled unless it disciples the nations and it is not discipling the nations unless it baptizes disciples and teaches them everything the Lord commands. If you have a problem with me mentioning that obvious point then your problem is not with me but with Christ whose command is crystal clear. I don’t have the authority to tell the Church what to do but, remember, Christ has all authority and He clearly commands this.
First, the Church is commanded to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, as in the English, He states to baptize in the name and not the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is one God but in the Godhead there are three persons. We are baptized in the name, or in the authority of, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some translators have argued that it ought to read “…baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit….” I believe either “in” or “into” probably communicates both aspects of baptism.
There is nothing magical about baptism. When we are baptized, the Pastor does not use magical words and the water does not do anything magical. In fact, if you do not have faith that is born from above then baptism does not change you simply by the washing of water or by the words of the minister.
But God has given us baptism in order that the Church might declare to us the promise of God and that the person might be set apart from the world and brought into the community of faith. It is the Church where discipleship occurs. It is the Church where the Word is proclaimed and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are used to build us up in the faith. It is the Church where, just like we raise our physical children, we train spiritual children to be adults. We Baptize because we are saying of the person that he or she is now a member of the Church and the Church is committed to the person and required by God Himself to train the person in the faith.
In our baptism, also, the promise of God is proclaimed. In our baptism, the minister proclaims that God is faithful to save all who place their trust in Him. God attends to this promise so that when the person has faith in Christ, he can look back at the time of his baptism and remember that God was present. God was there as the waters flowed over you and promised to you: “As surely as the waters of baptism have washed away the filth of your flesh, so are your sins washed away when you believe upon my Son.” In other words, when the Evil One assails you and questions whether or not you deserve heaven, you can rightfully answer: “No, I don’t deserve Heaven. By myself I deserve Hell. But God promised me in my baptism that He would save me if I believe in Christ. My faith is weak but it is enough. I believe in Jesus Christ who died for sin and rose again. And, Satan, I also believe the promise of God that He promised to ME at MY baptism that he would save me if I trust in Christ. I do! Be gone!”
Secondly, Christ has commanded that the Church teach men and women everything that He commanded them. Now, I want to ask you a question: how much is everything? Is it the portions of teaching that we think are important? Is it the portions of His teaching that we like? No.
The reason I keep having to remind us all of the authority of Christ is because we think that sometimes circumstances or our better judgment allows us to determine what part of God’s teaching we should shave off. Are we not placing ourselves in a higher place of authority than Christ when we do this? Did He not say that the Church is to teach disciples everything?
Beloved, I believe that it is disrespectful to Christ’s authority that we often neglect this important point and that disrespect is sin that we need to repent of. I also believe that when disciples themselves are content to stop learning because the Christian faith just takes up too much of their time, or learning about Christ is something that only sophisticated believers are called to, then I think that is disrespectful as well. Your Savior has commanded you learn everything.
In fact, part of the Great Commission is being fulfilled right now in your midst. You see, you and I aren’t going from door to door handing out tracts. We’re not “leading people to Christ” right now but I am fulfilling Jesus’ command, in part, to teach His disciples. You are disciples. You haven’t been taught everything yet but I’m teaching you something and next week I’ll be teaching something more and something more the week after that. My job is to teach and to be taught by others. Your job, like mine, is to be teachable – to be disciples – to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I realize it is not easy but this is what we ought to be in prayer for ourselves and others in the Church – a desire to learn and to grow as disciples.
Until we see the Church as more than a place where we just give you basic information about Jesus, dunk you, and then give you tracts to hand out so you can bring more people in to give a surface level understanding of the Word, then we’ll never achieve what Christ has commanded. In fact, Christ gave us Apostles, Pastors, and teachers to fulfill this very commission we’ve been talking about:
11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
14As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
16from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
You see, we are baptized into the Body of Christ. Christ has lifted up and gifted men to be able to shepherd and teach the flock toward the goal of the unity of the faith. That unity is achieved by knowledge of the Son of God and the goal is a mature man and woman.
We’d be shocked if our child was 20 years old and didn’t know how to read, didn’t know any history, and couldn’t add. We’d be shocked if our child at the age of 20 years old was still asking us to hold his hand when he crossed the street, to change his diaper, or to feed him pudding because he didn’t have any teeth. Yes, those things occur but we recognize those as handicaps. But for a healthy child, we expect the child to mature in physical as well as moral areas.
Why, then, do we accept immaturity in ourselves in spiritual matters? Why do we think ignorance is a Christian virtue? Why do we refuse to learn our Scriptures? Why do we so easily forget elementary truths about the Gospel? Why do we need to have our hands held when we’ve been Christians for 5, 10, 15, 20 years?
Part of that answer is at the feet of your shepherds who may be doing a poor job of training you and teaching you. They have to answer to God for that. I recognize there are plenty of Pastors who believe it’s OK to leave people with a simple faith and ignore that part that Christ commanded about teaching them everything. They’ll answer to Christ for their lack of diligence.
But, Beloved, I’m asking you today to consider whether or not you are hungry, as a disciple, to search the Scriptures. I’m asking you today whether it is a priority for you to learn the things in Jesus’ Word that you are still ignorant of. I’m asking you today if you believe that Christ truly has all authority on heaven and earth and whether you agree with Him that you’re supposed to be willing to learn the things He has commanded.
If you believe the Gospel of Christ that He has saved you from your sins and redeemed you from the death you deserve then I ask you to continue to pray to Him and ask for grace that He might work on your heart so that you can start having affection for knowledge of Him. I’d ask that you pray regularly that you be given a heart and mind that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. I’d ask that you pray to Him that you learn the delight of David who proclaimed in Psalm 119:97-104:
97O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever mine.
99I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
100I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Your precepts.
101I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
102I have not turned aside from Your ordinances,
For You Yourself have taught me.
103How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104From Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.
God delights to answer such a prayer that He would give us a heart like that. In fact, we have every confidence that a Church that desires this will be given this desire for the same Christ that has all authority on heaven and earth has promised us: lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.