Intro: What did Jesus expect of His church? What is the mission? Many today are confused or ignorant of the work the church is called to do. They easily view the mission of a church to be socially driven (make society a better place) and determined by the consensus of the body itself. Our mission is what we want it to be. What is it good for us to do, let’s take a poll? Therefore churches advance through the many “good ideas” that are proposed. But what about the church of the N.T.? What did God expect of them? What did they do?
Jesus’ Good Idea: There are several ways to explore this. We are not going to consider all of the work of the church. But I want to focus on one passage. Let’ start where we should always start – with Jesus. Matt 28:16-20 –16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore* and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
A. The gathering of the eleven apostles in Galilee was in response to Jesus’ promise that He would meet them there after His resurrection. (Mt. 26:33). We cannot be certain about the exact timeframe of this meeting, but it was sometime between 20 – 35 days after Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
B. Jesus’ words here have been rightly described as a commission – a great commission. What is a commission? An authoritative order, charge, or direction (noun); to authorize; send on a mission: (verb)
• Jesus gave the apostles the authority to proclaim His saving message. But a close look reveals more. The impact of these commands would go beyond the initial teaching of the apostles. What was the mission of the great commission?
C. This marks the transition of Jesus’ personal mission (seek and save the lost) to the mission of His coming church (Matt. 16:18-19). It reveals the continuing process of disciples making more disciples. What Jesus commanded is precisely what the apostles, and the church actually did. It became their mission. What are the elements of this work?
I. Christ’s Absolute Authority: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” – Jesus’ claim to have all authority is a claim to His divinity. If spoken by just a man, these words are nonsense. Ten times in the Greek N.T., Jesus is actually called God, besides all the times when He claims the attributes of God, (“Before Abraham was, I am”). Christianity is founded on the absolute divinity of Christ. Anything less than this regarding Christ is blasphemy!
A. Jesus’ claim to absolute authority naturally prefaces this apostolic commission, as His authority was the necessary implication of His resurrection. Notice that there is no recruiting speech by Jesus here. He does not attempt to motivate them by telling them how accepting this mission will benefit them. On what basis could Jesus expect these uneducated Galileans to accept this mission? He was standing before them alive! – Rom 1:4 – declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. His resurrection was all the reason they needed to follow Him wherever He led them. Is that enough for you to follow Him? Colossians 1:18 – 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
II. “Go Therefore and Make Disciples” – This phrase contains the first of three verbs that define the mission of the commission. “make disciples” is sometimes translated “teach” (KJV). The apostles (and all of God’s people) were commanded to “go & teach” – (go and make disciples)
A. Disciples can only be made by teaching. As a prerequisite to discipleship, teaching is a basic principle of faith. (Faith comes by hearing the word of God – Rom. 10:17). This excludes infants as proper candidates for baptism because they cannot be taught. Disciples are not made through genealogy.
B. This command places teaching at the heart of the mission of the church. Teaching the word of God is the only legitimate and divinely authorized manner of making disciples. Attempting to draw people to Christ through social enticements or recreational programs violates the heart of the great commission and denigrates the gospel message. Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
C. But mere teaching is not the full import of the phrase “make disciples”. Although a person cannot be a disciple without being taught what he does not know, the word used here means more. (This is not the same word used later in vs. 20.)
1. The word, Disciple comes from the Greek word, Mathetes, (Math-ay-tes), which means a learner, one who follows the teachings of another. The connotation of this word focuses on the Person of Christ. The apostles were to make others followers of Christ. This involves a commitment to live as the teacher lives. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says… “In all cases it implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent… In the widest sense it refers to those who accept the teachings of anyone, not only in belief but in life.”
2. The gospel message was not designed to draw the sinner to a religious organization or affiliation. It was a message to bring the sinner to his Savior, Jesus Christ. Luke describes the work of teaching here in Acts 11: Acts 11:20-21 -those who had come from Jerusalem were preaching the Lord Jesus…21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. v. 23 – Barnabas encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. v. 24 And a great many people were added to the Lord.
3. “of all nations” – The commission of Jesus breaks down all of the nationalistic or racial barriers and extends the mercy of God to all people. No limitation or abridgement is permitted. Mark account says they were to preach the gospel to “every creature”.
III. “Baptizing them” – Burton Coffman declares in his commentary on this passage, “If nothing else appeared in all the Bible relative to the ordinance of baptism, Christ’s mention of it in this circumstance would have been more than sufficient to bind it upon all people for all time to come.”
A. This second verb participle (baptizing) grammatically modifies the first (making disciples), so as to literally mean make disciples by baptizing them. The participle (“baptizing”) explains “the manner in which the given action [“make disciples”] was performed” (Green, p. 332). This inherently links water baptism to becoming a disciple. So you cannot, in the context of Jesus’ own words, be a disciple without or before baptism.
B. I find it fascinating, and somewhat troubling, that many Calvinist commentators and teachers can easily see the imperative nature of baptism in Jesus’ words (and elsewhere in scripture) but are unwilling to abandon their faith only doctrine. John MacArthur’s comments on these verses are a good example of this Calvinistic double talk.
• He says… Baptism has no part in the work of salvation, but it is a God-ordained and God-commanded accompaniment of salvation. He quotes Mark 16:16 and calls on all believers (whom he contends are already saved) to be baptized as soon as possible.
• He then concludes… The person who is unwilling to be baptized is at best a disobedient believer, and if he persists in his unwillingness there is reason to doubt the genuineness of his faith.
• Then after rehearsing the many occurrences of baptism in apostolic teaching and the conversions in Acts, he writes… “Throughout the book of Acts, baptism is shown in the closest possible association with conversion.” The obvious seems too difficult to ignore as he comments on Matthew 28:19 – “In the context of the Great Commission, baptism is synonymous with salvation, which is synonymous with becoming a disciple.”
• Mark’s account certainly places baptism (along with belief) as prerequisite to salvation – Mark 16:16 – He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
C. “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – This is not a sacramental formula, and there is no example of conversion in the N.T. where these precise words were used, so the apostles did not view it as such. But the phrase is packed with meaning.
1. The word “name” is singular here, thus indicating the unity of the Godhood. They all have one name, or one essence. Yet each of the nouns—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is preceded by the definite article (rendered “the” in the English Bible). In Greek grammar when the article is repeated before each noun, “the distinctness of each” thing or person (as in the present case) is emphasized (Warfield, p. 42). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are thus not merely three qualities of the One-Person God, as alleged by the United Pentecostal Church. Rather, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate divine Persons.
2. The word “in” (KJV) is best translated as “into”. A name embodies the fullness of a person, encompassing all that he is, has, and represents. When the believer is baptized, he is identified with everything that God is, has, and represents.
a. Arndt & Gingrich take this phrase further. In New Testament Greek this phrase signified that “the one who is baptized becomes the possession of and comes under the protection of” the one into whose name he is immersed, (p. 575). Hence, one is not possessed by the divine Godhead until he submits to baptism. Mueller contends that baptism “into the name” means that one enters a relationship or “communion” with deity by that act (p. 371). In the light of such lucid instruction, how can anyone deny that immersion is essential to a proper relationship with God?
IV. “Teaching them” – This is the third imperative of this passage. Again the word is teach, but this teaching follows the baptism, as a continuing process. Those who were baptized (as a necessary ingredient in becoming a disciple) were to be taught more, after becoming disciples. Thus baptism was not the end, but the beginning of learning more about our Teacher, Christ. Teaching and learning is the heart of the process of spiritual growth. I am to be involved at both ends – as a teacher, and as a learner.
A. How many times will you eat today? Why? Your body naturally seeks food, because you are involved in the process of growth. Life is not static, it is dynamic. So spiritual life is dynamic is well. We are involved in a growth process that demands the spiritual food of God’s word. 1 Peter 2:1-2 “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” True disciples will cry out for the word of God. They will seek every opportunity to hear what God says.
1. The apostle Paul the young Timothy “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” He further commanded him to “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Tim 4:13-16)
B. What should we teach? – “to observe all things that I have commanded you;” There are some important implications here:
1. We must teach toward obedience – “teach to observe” Jesus used the same word in Matt. 19:17 when he said, “if you would enter into life, keep the commandments.” Our efforts must be directed toward repentance and obedience. Hebrews 5:9 “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him”
2. We must teach every command of God (all things). Acts 20 depicts Paul’s relationship with the church at Ephesus: Acts 20:20-21 “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Vs. 26-27 – Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
3. We must teach only what Christ commands. The authority of Christ is sovereign in the teaching and practice of the church. The apostles were commissioned to teach what Christ had commanded- not Moses, or the Rabbis, or any council.
C. How well are we doing here? Do we teach disciples or do we baptize them and leave them alone? If those who brought him into this world are unwilling to care for him, should they be allowed to keep him? How many have we lost to the world because we simply neglected to care for them? They needed to be taught more.
V. “Lo, I Am With You Always, even to the end of the age” was a promise of encouragement to those who would willingly carry out this mission. They would be persecuted and Jesus was going back to heaven. But He promised to be among them. The term “always” here means, each moment of every day (Expos. Commentary). How important was (is) this promise?
A. The apostles were who they were on the day Jesus issued this commission because they had been with Him. They had all scattered in fear at his crucifixion, but now He was among them again and they were not afraid anymore. Later Peter and John were cast into prison for preaching the things that Jesus had taught them. Acts 4:10-12 – “let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” What was the reaction to such bold and forthright preaching? Acts 4:13 – “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. Have you been with Jesus? Can world recognize it? If you have been growing and learning more about Christ the world cannot help but recognize it. You need to be a learner and follower of Christ.
Conclusion: Are you a disciple of Christ? Peter was right about Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
• Will you wear His name alone, and turn from the world and its sin?
• Will you confess His name before men?
• Will you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins?