Jesus: The Great Commissioner
I pray that all of you have come prepared to be transformed by the power of God’s word. I also pray that even though Easter is over, you are still in awe of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior. You might have assumed that last week was our final look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But after Christ rose from the grave, He remained on earth for approximately forty more days, and during that forty days, He appeared to several different groups of His disciples. And this morning, we are going to be looking at a time when Jesus gathered all of His disciples together, and officially sent them out to spread Christianity around the world.
And as most of you know, this message from Jesus is known as the “Great Commission.” And if you are not already there, I invite you to turn to Matthew chapter twenty-eight, and we are going to be reading verses sixteen through the end of the book. So again, Matthew 28, starting in verse 16.
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’”
As always, let’s begin our time of study with a word of prayer.
Who here can tell me what major event happened in Christian history in the 1500s? That’s right, the Protestant Reformation. And as Baptists, we claim those reformers as our fathers in the faith. It was during this time that Martin Luther declared that it was only by faith that we are saved; not by confession, and Mass, and Hail Marys. It was those reformers that boldly declared that the Bible is the sole source of our faith and practice, and not centuries of traditions. And along those lines, I think we would all say, “Praise the Lord!” And yet, reformers like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all shared in the same theological error. They all said that the Great Commission only applied to the eleven disciples, and not to the world today. So whenever the Catholic church was sending missionaries to Latin America, India, and China; the Protestants concluded that it was simply not their place to tell other people about Christ. And this morning, as we study these short five verses, we are going to decide if they were right.
We will decide this by answering two questions. First , we are going to answer the question, “What is the meaning of the Great Commission?” And second, we are going to answer the question, “What does the Great Commission mean for us?” Sound good? All right then, let’s begin.
Question #1: What is meaning of the Great Commission?
Before we actually look at the message of the Great Commission, I want you to notice three things about Christ in verses sixteen and seventeen. But for right now, let’s read verse sixteen again. “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” The first thing I want you to notice is that our Savior called His disciples to a mountain in Galilee. While this may seem like an unimportant detail, Christ was very intentional in what He did. You see, the disciples had made many memories with Christ while on mountains. Remember the week that we studied the Lord’s Prayer? That prayer was a section of the Sermon on the where? The Sermon on the Mount! As a matter of fact, many commentators believe that the Sermon on the Mount happened on the same mountain that the Great Commission occurred on. And for Peter, James, and John; the mountaintop carried extra significance, because it was on the mountain top that Jesus was momentarily transfigured into His heavenly body. Remember the agony of Christ in Gethsemane? Yep, that happened on a mountaintop, as well. For whatever reason, our Savior chose mountains as the location for some of the biggest moments in His time on earth. And this event was no exception. And while I don’t want to preach an entire sermon on mountains, it is also significant, because as Christ is telling them to preach the gospel to all people, they are high on a mountain; and from that mountain they would have had a great view of some of the towns and villages Christ was sending them to, and it would have begun to sink in what exactly He was telling them.
But another interesting thing to note is that there were probably many more than just the eleven disciples. Verse sixteen tells us that the eleven disciples were up on the mountain that day, but that does not mean that there could not have been many more. While I am not going to ask you to turn there, I am going to read 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” In that short passage, Paul is giving the Corinthian church some hard evidence of the reality of the Resurrection. He does this by telling them that there were many eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, including one time when Christ was seen by more than 500 people. Many commentators believe that this passage in Matthew was the time when Christ was seen by 500 people. The reason they think that is because most of the times Christ was with people after the Resurrection; it was in a house, a garden, walking down a road, or eating breakfast on the beach. Obviously, those locations would not be ideal for preaching to 500 people at once. But right here, Christ is on a mountaintop, commissioning His church to take the gospel to the nations. While we cannot know for sure, it is a very good guess to say that there were probably about 500 people on the mountain that day with Jesus.
And I hope that these two little details are not boring to you. I just think that it helps us get a more accurate idea of what the Great Commission was like when we realize the significance of Christ preaching from the top of a mountain, and when we realize that He was probably speaking to a crowd of more than 500 people. Look now at how this crowd reacted to the presence of Christ in verse seventeen. “And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted.” Last week, I mentioned how the worship of the two women in the garden showed that Jesus Christ was God in human form; because the Bible says to worship no one but God, and Jesus allowed people to worship Him. And now, on top of this mountain, most of this crowd is worshipping the Jesus who they now realize is God incarnate. But Matthew is starkly honest when He says that some people doubted the truth. Ironically, the fact that Matthew mentions that some doubted is actually a great piece of evidence for the truth of the Bible. And that seems somewhat illogical, doesn’t it? How is the fact that some people doubted the Resurrection provide evidence that it really did happen? Here’s how: Many critics say that Matthew simply made up the story of Jesus raising from the grave. And I’m going to put someone on the spot this morning. (person’s name), if you were writing a gospel, and you were making up the story about the Resurrection, what would you write in verse seventeen? All right, thank you. You see, if someone were making up the story, they would have said that everyone believed and worshipped. But instead, Matthew’s blatant honesty shows that the biblical account is reliable.
And now that we have seen that Jesus was on a mountaintop, most likely preaching to more than 500 people, and we have seen that this account is historically reliable; let us now look at what Christ commanded His fledgling church. Let’s read verses eighteen through twenty again. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Jesus begins His commission by telling them that all power in heaven and earth belongs to Him. Why do you think it was important for Christ to say that? It was important because Jesus was about to send this group on the most difficult mission the world had ever seen. And Jesus did not want His followers to think that He would not help them on their mission. On the contrary, He wanted them to know that He was all powerful, and that He was going to be with them as they began their mission.
As a matter of fact, Jesus ended the Great Commission with another encouragement to this group. At the very end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told His disciples that He would be with them, even until the end of the world. The idea in the Greek is that Christ will not only be with us for all eternity, but He will be with us every step along the journey. So for us here this morning, Christ is not only saying that He will be with you for the rest of your life, He is reminding us that He will be with us for every step of our life’s journey. Isn’t that nice to know?
Now that we’ve looked at how Christ encourages them to accomplish His divine mission, let’s look at the mission itself. I have already read the Great Commission in the King James Version, but to give you another interpretation, I will now read it out of the English Standard Version of the Bible. “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.” You will notice that within this commission, there are four distinct things that Jesus tells His followers to do. First, He tells them to go. Second, He tells them to make disciples. Third, He tells them to baptize. Fourth, He tells them to teach them. One of the interesting things about the Greek language is that in Greek, it is very common for some verbs to be subordinated to other verbs. In fact, in these two verses, three of the verbs all revolve around one dominant verb. And that one dominant verb is the second one, “make disciples.” So what does that mean for our understanding of the commission? It means that the entire Great Commission revolves around making disciples.
But that begs the question, “What does it mean to be a disciple?” A disciple in Jesus’ time was someone that followed a teacher around all day, just hoping that the teacher would impart important lessons to them. The end result of being a disciple is that they would be just like their teacher one day. That is what the twelve disciples did with Jesus. They were constantly with Him, being taught by Christ. The end result is that they would be as much like Christ as possible. As a matter of fact, the word “Christian” literally means “little Christ.” And so Jesus is telling the disciples to go turn other people into disciples of Christ. Jesus did not say, “All right guys, I want you to go out and get as many people as you can to say a sinner’s prayer, and then go home, because your mission is accomplished.” No, Jesus told them to help people become disciples, just like they were disciples. So what is the significance of the other three verbs in the Great Commission? Well, the other three verbs serve as a three-step plan for making disciples.
Step one is to go. While it seems that this would be obvious, we cannot help other people become disciples of Christ if we do not first go out and tell them. Step number two is to baptize. Our Savior chose baptism as the symbol with which to show that a person had chosen to follow Him. Just a little side note, it is absolutely amazing the way that Christ works out the timing of things in our church. As I mentioned earlier, J.J. and Danielle are going to be following the Lord in baptism today, and today is the day we are looking at the passage where Christ tells us to baptize people! And does anybody remember what passage we studied the day when Stacy was baptized? That’s right, we looked at the baptism of Christ! And I did not do that on purpose. But obviously God did that on purpose, and I praise Him for how He works things out for His glory! The third step for making disciples is to teach new converts everything that Christ has taught us. Without a doubt, this is the most time-intensive part of the Great Commission; and yet, in so many churches, it is painfully ignored. In some groups, the entire goal is to lead people in a prayer, and then go and put one more mark on a tally. But Jesus has commanded us to take new converts under our wings and show them how to be Christians. That takes time and energy, doesn’t it?
So I think that we can successfully answer the question of what the Great Commission means. The Great Commission was a time when our Savior gave His battle cry to some of His closest followers. He told them He was all-powerful, and that He would be with them every step of the way. And He told them that His mission for them was to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. Now that we have answered that question, there is only one more question we need to answer.
Question #2: What does the Great Commission mean for us?
History reveals that Christ’s immediate followers took His Great Commission extremely seriously. Doubting Thomas took the gospel all the way to southern India, where there are still churches that claim Thomas as their founder. An early missionary named Boniface took the gospel to the Barbarians in Germany. Patrick returned to Ireland to proclaim the gospel to the people who had enslaved him as a boy. Remember those savage sailors known as the Vikings? They would raid Christian lands, and haul off Christian men and women as their slaves. It was not long before those slaves converted masses of the savage Vikings. All of these acted in obedience to Christ’s command to “go.” It was in obedience to the Great Commission that stirred William Carey to leave mother England and journey to India. It was obedience to the Great Commission that caused David Brainard to live among the Native Americans in colonial America, even though it cost him his life. It was obedience to the Great Commission that caused Mom and Pop Willey to take up their roots and move to Cuba, sharing the gospel with thousands of people. It was obedience to the Great Commission that caused Bro. Morris’s father to pick up their family and drive two hours one way to pastor a church that barely paid him enough to pay for his gas. And it was in obedience to the Great Commission that faithful men and women planted this church in Weatherford, Texas, in the year 1909.
And here we are, in the year 2011, deciding what it means for this church to be obedient to the Great Commission. What would it look like for us as a church, and for you as individuals, to make the mission of our risen Lord the mission of our personal lives? My prayer for this church is that we would truly be a Great Commission church. So what does this mean for us? It means that everything we do as a congregation must revolve around one of two things. The first thing that we as a church must be about is worshipping God. And the second thing we must be about is making disciples. And if we do something as a church that does not accomplish one of those two things, it’s time to grab the axe. And this does not mean that we are going to stop doing things that are primarily about church fellowship. Fellowship is one of the best tools we have to disciple others within the local church. So don’t worry, this church will not stop having potlucks as long as I am the pastor!
My prayer for our church is that we would realize that we are one link in a long chain of Christian men and women who were solely dedicated to glorifying God by fulfilling the Great Commission. If you choose to come back tonight, we will be going over the history of the Free Will Baptist denomination. And while that may sound like a great segue into a nap, it is inspiring to hear the story of the men and women who were faithful to the Great Commission, and who started a world-wide movement as a result. And because we are a link in that long chain of Christians, we must be faithful to continue preaching the gospel. It would be a true shame if we were the last link in the chain, wouldn’t it? But you know, while the Great Commission should be the goal of our church as a whole, it should also be your personal goal, as well. My prayer for you, and for myself as well, is that we make the mission of our Savior the mission of our lives. Everything we do should be about making disciples. If you are parents with children at home, your number one priority should be helping your children become faithful disciples of our God. If you have a job, may sharing the Light of the World with your co-workers be one of your main motivations. May all of us look for opportunities to go out and boldly tell the world that while they may be dead in their sins, Jesus Christ died and rose from the grave so that they could be made right before God.
Because church, there will be a day when our lives on earth will be over, either through the grave or through the Second Coming. And on that day, we will stand before our Savior and give an account of how we lived for Him. The Bible says that it will be like we are going through a refinery, and everything that is impure about us will be burned away, and only the pure things will remain. On that day, it will not matter what kind of car you drove, or what school you graduated from. No one will ask you what your favorite brand of clothes were. The only things that will matter is first off, whether or not you followed Jesus Christ in your own life; and second, whether or not you helped others follow Him. That is it. My prayer is that God will transform every aspect of our lives to help us better accomplish these two things.
And the same prayer goes for our church. If there is something we as a church are doing that does not further God’s mission, my prayer is that God will bring it to our attention, so that we can stop wasting His time. But just so you know, I have been very proud of what I have seen from this congregation. As you know, J.J. and Danielle recently accepted Christ as their Savior. And this past Wednesday, I saw Brother Red grab a Daily Bread from the back, and I watched him show J.J. and Danielle what the devotional was, and how they could use it to grow closer to God. Church, that is making disciples! It is such an encouragement to me when I see you all bring in their friends and family, and when I hear more and more stories about how you have been inviting people into God’s house. I hope you realize how proud that makes our God. So my prayer is not that we will start fulfilling the Great Commission, because we are seeing the Great Commission already being fulfilled in our church! No, my prayer is not that we will start, but that we will devote more and more of ourselves into fulfilling Christ’s mission. Until every person on earth has heard the good news that Jesus Christ can take away their sins, I pray that we as Christians, and that we as a church will be boldly taking the gospel to all we meet. And when they have accepted the gospel, that we will baptize them. And that we will not stop there; instead, we will teach them everything that our dear Savior has taught us.
But if you are here this morning, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you cannot be a part of God’s mission until you have made Him the Lord of your life. The only mission that Christ has for you this morning is that you would confess that you are a sinner, and confess that you need Him to take away your sin. Whenever we baptize these two teenagers, I pray that you would realize that they are publicly acknowledging that they have died to their old sinful ways, and that they have been made alive unto Christ. And I pray that their decision would inspire you to do the same.
Church, may everything we do revolve around glorifying our great God. Is proclaiming the gospel easy? No. Is it nerve-wracking? Quite often, yes. Is the glory of our God worth it? There can be no doubt.
Let us pray.
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