The world today is in chaos. There are fights and arguments, protests and riots. There are clashes — verbal and physical — between those who supports President Trump and those who supported Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.
There are clashes over social issues such as illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage. We are challenged by war, conflict and terrorism.
Churches face a struggle in this turbulent world. Denominational membership is dropping as denominations split. Our Christian “unity” is revealed in a recent report that there are now 54,000 denominations in the world.
And the landscape is changing for families. A child growing up in America today is the least likely of any generation thus far to grow up in a church.
Many Christians and church leaders see the numbers — the counting of noses (attendance) and nickels (offering) — and know that we are in a state of decline.
The question is, “What has changed?” Is it that the world changed or is it that we have lost sight of the mission?
To remind ourselves of the mission, we turn to Scripture. The Bible presents a huge build up to the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why the time Jesus is back with his disciples seems so brief. In Matthew, the entire period is covered in the span of a chapter. And, Matthew ends with Jesus calling his disciples together one last time to give them the instructions before his ascension.
Last words are always important and those last words of Jesus lay out how to take everything he taught and put it into practice in light of the resurrection.
We call those words from Jesus the “Great Commission. Here is the account from the NIV translation:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
How can we make this an application for us as we attempt to carry out the mission of Jesus?
- Jesus invites us to the mission. All of this begins simply with Jesus calling his remaining disciples to come to Galilee. The purpose of this call is to hear Jesus and to worship. Listening to the call, the invitation of Jesus, will involve an act of worship – a song, a sermon, a prayer, baptism, communion, etc. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist move that would eventually lead to the United Methodist Church, summed it up this way: “You have one business on earth — to save souls.” And, that’s the job of every single follower of Christ.
- There’s room for doubt. Jesus called his eleven disciples to the mountain and he worships with them. But here’s the key phrase — “and some doubted.” It’s just 11 people plus Jesus and there are still some who doubt. Some implies that there are more than just “Doubting Thomas.” Even with the doubters, Jesus is going to give the mission. Paul Tillich states it this way: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
- You must acknowledge Jesus is Lord of Lords. Jesus says that all authority and heaven has been given to him. Scripture says that Jesus is Lord, Lord of Lords, the Son of God, etc. This mission has the backing of God and, maybe, that’s why we should view it in a different way. We don’t just go to make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world. Because Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, (You fill in the title), we go to introduce others to him. If you don’t recognize the lordship of Jesus Christ, you will not be able to become a disciple or make one.
- “Therefore, go and make disciples…” The implication of this statement is that since all of the power of heaven and earth is in Jesus, get moving on this mission. There’s much commentary on this verse and some suggest that it really translates out as “As you are going.” In other words, followers of Jesus are actively involved in making disciples. Don’t stop and think about it — Go and make! Discipleship is not something that can be learned in a class or in a vacuum. Discipleship is what is formed and made as followers of Jesus are active in the mission of God’s Kingdom. To some degree, disciples of Jesus learn on the fly and have the opportunity to perfect and change as they are involved in the mission. You don’t have to be perfectly prepared to “go” — You simply have to go. Disciples are people who follow the Teacher and who are still learning what it means to follow. When it comes to Jesus, disciples are life-long learners. The Great Commission is not to sit and wait, it’s to go and make.
- “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Denominations battle over who can baptize and when people should be baptized. That particular fight is never going to go away. If we take Jesus at his word here, he is saying that part of the life-learning and journey of disciples is seeing that new disciples are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a full action of a Triune God. It’s placement here might suggest that a baptism of Father, Son and Spirit precedes learning all that Jesus has commanded. A step of faith and trust in God comes before believing what Jesus has said and done. The key, maybe, is the why and not the how. Why? Because Jesus identifies it as an act of disciple-making. Tony Campolo says, “In baptism, new Christians become part of a body of fellow believers who are called to spiritually encourage one another and hold one another responsible for consistent Christian living.”
- “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” One of the best ways to learn is to teach others. You have to prepare, you have to have knowledge of the subject and you think through how you will present it. When we teach others about the things that Jesus has commanded, we are learning more about Jesus in the process. When we are making disciples of Jesus, then we are becoming disciples of Jesus. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
- “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The word Immanuel/Emmanuel appears twice in Scripture, but the concept flows throughout the entire Bible. Emmanuel means “God with Us.” That’s the promise that Jesus gives to his disciples: Keep going, make disciples, baptize disciples, teach disciples and know that I’m always going to be there with you. It’s in the process of sharing Jesus with others that we move closer to Jesus ourselves.
If you don’t recognize the lordship of Jesus Christ, you will not be able to become a disciple or make one.
These words from Jesus come shortly before his ascension back to the Father. In a relatively short period of time, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the followers of Jesus. Peter preaches a sermon with the first great “altar call” and 3,000 people join the ranks of the world’s first megachurch.
In the process those 3,000 are baptized and given the mission of making disciples. The process worked so well that the church was growing daily. Paul would arrive on the scene and take that mission out into places the disciples had never dreamed.
Thousands of years of people living into the Great Commission leads us to our place today.
The greatest question for us, for all of us, is, whether we take the baton and continue this race that brings others to know Christ?
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