Making Disciples

Matthew 28:19-20 “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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Revelation 7:9-10 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Making Disciples
This message is part of a series of “how-to” messages built around the three most important commands of scripture: the commands that I call the foundations of life and ministry.

The first command is what Jesus called the greatest commandment: that we should love God with all of who we are: our heart and soul and might. This command is found in Deuteronomy 6:5, and is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38. This command motivates our relationship with the LORD, and our ministry to Him, including personal and corporate Bible study, prayer, and worship.

The second command is what Jesus called the second greatest commandment, that we should love our neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves. This command motivates our relationship with our neighbors. Neighbors as the Bible defines them include everyone on the planet, especially those that need our love, and those whose path we cross so that we have opportunity to express God’s love to them. This command is found in Leviticus 19:18, and is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:39.

The third most important command is what we usually call the Great Commission. It is one of the texts that we read for today’s message:

Matthew 28:19 “… make disciples of all nations,…

The reasons this command is important enough to “make the top three” are as follows:

1.God has always desired to bring all the nations back to himself, and this is the means by which he has chosen to do it.

Bear in mind that the original Greek word for nations signifies an ethnic, cultural or linguistic people group, not simply a political entity. Our churches should look more like soccer teams, which are usually multi-ethnic.

2.Jesus showed us how to obey all three of the greatest commands: he showed us how to love God, how to love our neighbor, and he was the first to make disciples like this.

3.One of the reasons that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit for all believers is that he can empower us to fulfill this commandment.

Luke 24:47-49 “… repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The book of Acts records how the gospel spread throughout the known world during the first century A.D. The book is called the Acts of the Apostles. It has also been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. I call it Obedience in Action because it is a record of the early Church’s obedience to this foundational command.

It’s not hard to explain why Jesus’ disciples – who had seen him ascend to heaven – would be so motivated to make disciples among all nations. After all, they didn’t know that the task would still be undone after two millenniums. They probably thought that if they worked as hard as they could to reach the world with the gospel – they would get to see Jesus again in their lifetime.
Nowadays we know better. We know that – chances are – we could spend our last dime, and our last breath on world missions, and still not be any closer to the second coming.

God’s timing is just that way. Peter says that a thousand years is like one day with God (2 Pet. 3:8). That means that if I’m really strong and live to be 100 years old, my entire lifetime is like less than the time we will spend in church today. So, even if we are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12) it still will probably not come in our lifetime.

So, why should we bother reaching the world for Christ today? Why should we bother reaching our neighborhood or our nation? Why should we care about those strangers so far away?

Here are four reasons why 21st century believers should keep on making disciples for Christ.

First, Love Motivates us to Reach the Nations for Christ.

Anyone who sincerely seeks to love God, and to love his neighbor, will naturally proceed to put the two together. After all if I really love God, I will want to share him with those who do not know him. And if I really love my neighbor in the same way that I love myself, I will want that neighbor to enjoy all the good things I enjoy, especially my relationship with God which is the source of all those good things.

Also, it is ridiculous to say that we love someone, while we are ignoring their greatest need. Love seeks someone’s welfare. The Good Samaritan expressed love for a Jew, who was a foreigner to him. Jesus told that story because someone wanted to know who was their neighbor. The point of the story was that love does not limit itself geographically, politically, or racially. Love looks for a need and seeks to fill that need. The greatest need that the nations have today is not terrorism or global warming. The greatest need the world has is that billions are living without the hope of eternal life.

Now, just how much do we love the people with the greatest need? A study recently published in Mission Frontiers magazine divides the world’s population into people groups. It found that “Only an estimated 10,000 of the global foreign mission force are working within the 10,000 unreached groups, while 41 times that number of foreign missionaries continue to work within people groups already reached.”1 This tells me that even though we are sending and supporting missionaries, we are still not expressing our love to the neighbors who are so different from us. Like the Levite and the priest in the Good Samaritan story we have our own little communities that we choose to express love to.

But when we choose to only love those who are close at hand, we are not expressing God’s kind of love. Remember that God loved us when we were separated from Him by the curse!

Romans 5:7-8 “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God’s love is unconditional. If he had decided to only love those who deserve it – those who are like Him – we would all still be lost. True love is like that. It gets out of its comfort zone and invests itself in the beloved. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to his Church, he assumed that we would invest ourselves in the nations. That is messy, because it involves going to strange places, and learning to live in strange cultures, adapting to strange cultures, and loving strange people incarnationally, the way Jesus did.

One of the best complements that I received when I was leaving the Philippines came from one of my former students, who is now a pastor. He simply said, “thank you for your investment.” That meant a lot to me, because I know he is sincere in thanking me for caring enough to spend the last thirteen years preparing him and others like him to serve the Lord. He recognized that he was a different person because of the investment of the faculty of Oro Bible College.

True love dares to believe that time, efforts, and resources invested in the lives of others is worth it. World evangelism and discipleship are manifestations of God’s love for the nations. God gives us the opportunity to love the nations that he loves. He allows us to love the world in the same way that he did. He loved the world and sent his Son to prove it. In the same way, we can go, or send, or support missionaries through prayer and money to manifest his love to the nations.

Secondly, Obedience Demands that we Evangelize and Instruct the Nations.

There is only one command in the Great Commission: MAKE DISCIPLES. But there are two specific means by which we carry out that command. In other words, obeying the Great Commission requires that we accomplish two specific tasks. If we accomplish neither of those tasks, we will not make disciples. We will have not been obedient at all. If we only accomplish one of the tasks, we have not made disciples. We will have not yet been completely obedient.

Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

Circle the words “make disciples.” That is the command, the imperative case in Greek. Now underline the word “baptizing” in verse 19. That is what is called an adverbial participle of means in Greek. In other words, that is one of the means by which the persons commanded (that’s us) can obey the command.

But what does it mean to baptize? There was only one person in the New Testament called the Baptizer. His name was John. He led the people of Israel into a new and authentic relationship with God. The sign of that new relationship was baptism. The Israelites repented and turned to God, and testified to that new relationship with God by being baptized in water.

John was doing the work of an evangelist. The role of baptizing in obedience to the Great Commission to MAKE DISCIPLES is winning people to Christ – making converts. Therefore obedience demands that we evangelize the lost in every nation. God accomplished that for the Israelites by sending John to lead his own people back to himself. Likewise, we can be obedient to the Great Commission by sending people – not just books, or money to specifically target the lost with the gospel of salvation.

But that is not all there is to obeying the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:20 “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Underline the word “teaching.” That is another adverbial participle of means. It is the second stage in the disciple-making process. If we do not teach people to obey the commands of Christ, we have not discipled them. It is not enough to make converts -people who want to do God’s will. We must teach them how, because being a disciple is doing God’s will.

A few years ago, I did a Bible study on all the commands of Christ. I found hundreds of commands, and all of them are just as relevant today as they were when Jesus first commanded them. I also found that many of those very things that Jesus commanded are seldom even mentioned in our pulpits today. I was challenged to focus my teaching on the things that Jesus focused on. You see, it is not just teaching in general that Jesus commanded. He did not say “teach them anything you want,” or “teach them whatever you think they need.” He commanded us to keep teaching the things that he had taught his disciples.

So, obeying the Great Commission is not over when we have planted churches and established church conferences in the nations of the world. We must ensure that those new converts and churches are firmly grounded in God’s word, and equipped to continue the disciple-making process themselves. That is where Bible colleges, like OBC, and other training programs come in. They can be tools by which we finish the task, and train the next generation to be obedient to the whole Great Commission.

Thirdly, Victory is Assured because Missions is God’s Will.

I draw your attention now to today’s second passage, from Revelation 7.

Revelation 7:9-10 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The apostle John sees a vision of the end result of the Great Commission. This great multitude which no one can number is all believers of all time. If you are a disciple of Christ, you are in the picture. But it is not just you, it’s your children and grandchildren, if they are in the Lord.

It is important to know why Jesus revealed this picture to John. It is like the answers in the back of the textbook. It’s good to know that there are answers in the back of the book, otherwise we might get overwhelmed with the problem. If we get stumped, we can always check the answer key in the back.

Here was the problem for John. Earlier in the vision he had seen 144,000 Jews. I believe these were the Jews who came to Christ at Pentecost and the generations that followed them in obeying the Great Commission up until the time when John received the vision. Many of them gave their lives for the gospel. That was the problem. John’s vision was encouragement for those still struggling to obey Christ’s Great Commission. It let them know that God’s plan was being, and was going to be fulfilled.

If you want to be on the winning team, get on the Great Commission team, because victory is certain. When we invest ourselves in doing God’s will, his victory is ours.

Finally, Every Christian should be Involved in the Task of World Missions.

Jesus gave the Great Commission to the eleven, who at that time represented every disciple he had. I believe he did it that way so we could not rely on the professional clergy to do the task of discipling for us. Don’t get me wrong: I believe in professional clergy. In fact, I am one. But a more biblical term for us would be equipping ministry.

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry”

The reason for the professional clergy is to train all the saints for the work of ministry. Ministry is the work of all the saints. To put it in Great Commission terms, the equipping ministry trains the evangelists and the teachers. The church is the venue for that training. The goal is to make disciples of all nations.

We can divide the work of ministry into the three categories as well. There are ministries which are primarily ministries of love to the Lord: devotions, bible study, praise and thanksgiving prayer, meditation on the word, memorizing the bible, and personal and corporate worship. There are ministries which are primarily ministries to our neighbors: helping the needy, intercessory and supplication prayer, visiting and assisting the sick and shut-in, giving to various needs, emergency relief work, and some kinds of missions work, for example. There are ministries which are primarily discipling ministries: Bible studies, evangelistic events, outreaches to specific groups, and short and long term missions, to name a few.

Remember the three great commandments: love God, love your neighbor, and make disciples. God blesses those whose foundations are sure: who put the first things first.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !

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