Matthew 28:16-20 CSB
16 The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So far, in our study of discipleship and discipling, we discovered from the tassel text (Numbers 15) that discipleship is designed to pass from generation to generation, that it begins with repentance and devotion and specific obedience, and that it is a response to who God is.
Then we stopped of at the doorpost text (Deuteronomy 6), where we learned that becoming a disciple is a one-time decision, but being a disciple is a life-long process where we internalize God’s word, personalize and normalize it by making it part of your everyday life. You also publicize God’s word by spreading it to everyone who visits your home and everyone who lives in your city.
Last week, we looked at the rich young ruler in Mark 10, who seemed to be perfect, but he had just one area of his life that he was not willing to surrender to Christ. The kingdom of God is an all-or-nothing proposition.
Now that we have looked at those foundational texts, we are going to take a closer look at the great commission passage, because there are still some questions that need to be answered about the process of discipling.
First of all, I think it’s important to clear up some possible confusion. Last week we looked at the almost perfect son and discovered that we was not perfect enough to inherit eternal life. That might cause some of us to worry that we are not good enough to be a disciple, much less make disciples.
We do not have to be perfect to make disciples (17).
- “When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted”
These were the eleven apostles who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. But even at this point, after his resurrection, there were some who were not 100% ready.
To me, that is wonderful news. I personally spend a lot more time in Romans 7 than I do in Romans 8. In Romans 7, Paul confesses that he struggles with living an obedient life, and in Romans 8, Paul praises God for the Holy Spirit who gives him victory.
Like Paul, we are going to continue to struggle to live the lives of faith that we began when we became disciples. The good news of today’s text is that those struggles will not prevent us from making disciples. They all worshiped, but some doubted. They had doubts, but they still obeyed. Their doubts did not disqualify them from the task of making disciples.
Our struggles are not going to keep us from leading other people to Christ. In fact, those very struggles may open the door for us to reach people who would never be reached by anyone else.
Jesus knew the potential in those eleven apostles. He knew they had what it takes to begin making disciples. He knows the same thing about us.
Second, we need to understand something about this present age, and how it is put together politically. Some people are turned off when they think about evangelism because they do not want to interfere with anyone’s right to choose their own destiny.
We do not need anyone else’s permission to make disciples (18).
- “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”
Jesus told the eleven that he has all authority in the universe. There is no human being who has the right to say “no” to Jesus Christ. He is our king. In fact, he is everybody’s king. There is not an angel in heaven, nor a human being here on earth who has the right to disobey Jesus Christ.
There are some early rulers who will choose to disobey Christ. There will be some of your friends who will refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ. But there will not be one person who has the right to say no to him.
We do not need anyone else’s permission to lead our friends and family to Christ. We do not need anyone else’s permission to go overseas and lead people to Christ. By giving us the command, he has given us the permission, and there is no authority above him that can rescind it.
And, at the end, when we all stand before our Savior and king, there will not be one person there who will object to the fact that you and I shared the gospel with them. In fact, given the fact that we who follow Christ today will inherit permanent life on that day, all those with whom we have shared the gospel will be grateful that we invited them to join us.
Third, we have to understand that from the very beginning, the discipling process was designed to happen as people went about their daily lives.
We should not expect potential disciples to come to us (19).
- “Go, therefore”
This translation follows a certain tradition that understands the word “go” as being practically the same thing as “make disciples.” It sees the word as having practically the same force as the imperative “make disciples.”
I don’t think that is correct. I personally translate the word “after you go.” Remember, the context. The apostles are in Galilee, and they are heading to Jerusalem. I think what Jesus is telling them is that from now on, wherever they go, making disciples is going to be their primary occupation.
But however you read the word, there is no way it can imply that our job is to stay where we are and disciples will come to us. All eleven of the apostles became missionaries, leading people to Christ and making disciples wherever they went.
In the same way, we need to keep looking for ways to reach the unreached. That often means getting out of our comfort zone and going where we are not familiar, and doing what we are not comfortable with. There is a time to stay, and pray, and pay for others to go. But we need to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading, and be ready to go. It is about 80 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem. Ask yourself: am I willing to travel 80 miles to reach someone with the gospel? Now – think of it this way. It probably took the apostles four days to go to Jerusalem. There is not a point on the globe that you and I cannot reach within four days.
In the book of Acts, when God’s people were not going as they should, the Lord allowed persecution to scatter them. One way or another, the gospel is going to get out there to the masses that do not know the truth. We receive the greater blessing when we go voluntarily.
Fourth, when Jesus gave the great commission, he told his apostles how to initiate the process. He said they were to disciple people by baptizing them. You have to understand what that meant in the first century. Baptism had been made popular by John the Baptist. John lead people to commit themselves to becoming part of God’s coming kingdom which the messiah would lead.
So, in today’s lingo, John the Baptist was an evangelist. What John did was lead people to repent of their sins and join Christ’s kingdom. The baptism was the evidence of repentance and faith.
We cannot make disciples without actually sharing the gospel (19).
- “baptizing them”
We are not discipling if we simply call on people to join the church. Discipling happens when people understand the gospel and commit themselves to obeying Christ and living according to his kingdom principles.
But that commitment is not the end of the process. It is the middle. The process of discipling begins by hearing the gospel. It reaches its crucial point when the hearer has chosen to be baptized, identifying both with the coming kingdom and the local congregation. But there is more.
Fifth, Jesus commanded the eleven to teach those who are baptized to obey their new king!
We cannot make disciples without change (20).
- “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you”
Discipling is only half done once you have led people to the altar. The other half of the process is teaching them how to live their daily lives in obedience to their new king.
It should not surprise us that this is our role. Jesus himself made disciples this way. He first recruited the twelve. Then he spent time with them, teaching them how to live. Then, when it was time for them to go on without him, he told them to do what he did: make disciples.
Sixth, there is one more bit of very helpful instruction about discipling in this text. Jesus told the eleven that even though he was going away, he would still be with them. That is very good news.
We do not have to make disciples by ourselves (20).
- “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”
If we were left alone, without the abiding presence of the Savior himself, we would certainly fail. But with his presence there is power.
We do not have to make disciples by ourselves. He has placed us in churches where we can work together to obey this great commission. Perhaps that is why Jesus assembled the eleven to give them this charge.
And he has promised to be with us throughout the whole process – from the proclamation of the gospel, to the joy of baptismal commitment, to the ongoing process of learning to live according to the principles of our king.
He will be with us wherever we go. Wherever we go, we will find him, and his Holy Spirit – there too. We might go to some strange places. But his presence will help us to adjust, and to find just the right words to turn those strange places into strongholds of his kingdom.
He will be with us always. He is not going to be with us for launching and then abandon us in mid-flight. No, If he’s there at the launching, he will be there at the landing.