Sunday – February 18, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20
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.”
Christian pastor, author and speaker Dr. Tony Evans shared this thought at a conference back in 1986: “In football they have a huddle, the goal of the huddle is to give you thirty seconds to call the play, that is why they give you a huddle. At a professional football game there may be sixty thousand people watching you huddle, they don’t mind you taking thirty seconds to call the play. They understand that you have to get organized, you have to know where you are going to go, the ends need to know where they are going to go, the quarterback needs to know where he is going to go, the backs need to know where they are going to go. A huddle is a necessary part of playing the game. But let me inform you, if you do not already know, sixty thousand people do not pay $20 a ticket to watch you huddle. See, people don’t come to football games to watch the huddle. They want to see if their team can overcome the opposition who is daring them to snap the ball and move down the field to score. What they want to know is does your practice work? Now what Christians often do is get high on their huddles. We gather together on Sunday morning and Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and we go nuts over the huddle! We say, “Boy did we have a huddle!! My quarterback can call plays better than your quarterback. And boy do we go off on the huddle. But what people don’t seem to understand is that the huddle is so that we can play the game. The effectiveness of your church cannot be measured by how well you do on Sunday morning. … The test of the church is what it does in the marketplace. What we need today are churches that are representative of Jesus Christ not only when gathered but when disseminated.”
Who are we? What are we doing? As a church, and as THE Church, what is our purpose, our mission? Are we here to have a really good huddle or is there some higher purpose in what we gather for? Furthermore, how did we get from the death and resurrection of Jesus, around 2000 years ago, to around 41,000 denominations of churches, world-wide, today? For that matter, does it really take 41,000 denominations to accomplish the basic task Jesus set out for us? Oh, and one more thing: basic task you say?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus had simply left us some guidance on what it means to be the Church and the kinds of tasks we should be focusing on? Well . . . it turns out that He did. There are all kinds of verses in the Bible to get us from the huddle to the end-zone but, perhaps the most important, is what we commonly refer to as The Great Commission.
The Great Commission comes as the closing to Matthew’s gospel. Chapter 28 begins with the resurrection of Jesus and ends with His final words to the 11 remaining disciples. Matthew’s resurrection account is dramatic: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes where white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)” Next, Matthew debunks what was, apparently, a common myth regarding what really happened. The chief priests, upon hearing what happened from the guards, made up a story and paid off the guards to circulate it. I imagine the story was embarrassing to the guards but there were other witnesses of this event, Mary Magdalene and another Mary, who had gone to look at the tomb. Finally, the 11 disciples gather in Galilee where Jesus meets them and delivers this important commission to the disciples and, through them, all believers to come.
The commissioning from Jesus has 4 action elements to it altogether: Go, Make Disciples, Baptize in the Name and Teach to Obey. This commission is then sealed with a promise at the end – that Jesus will be with us every step of the way. Let’s take a moment to think more about these action elements.
The first step of action Jesus gives us is to Go. The word for “go” is “poreuthentes (por-euth-ent-es).” Its meaning is rendered well enough but the key is its position in the sentence. When a Greek writer wants to emphasize a word or concept, he does so by putting that word right in the front of the sentence. English sentence construction would find this practice difficult to read but Greek doesn’t have that kind of constraint. In this sentence “poreuthentes” is the very first word. The author is trying to emphasize the word “go” more than all the others. It’s the core concept here. There are tasks to go and do but the main point is the going – the commissioning and authority of Jesus, the One who directs the “going.”
The first step is always the hardest. The one thing that separates those who “do,” and those who “don’t,” is that first step. That’s how “doing” begins. It’s easy to ask a lot of “what if” questions and contemplate failure. It’s also easy to get paralyzed by those “what ifs.” But our “going” is rooted in a commission given us by Jesus. If you ever had doubts about taking that first step in joining the mission of the Church, you need to know how important it is to Jesus. This is His idea and it’s what He has commissioned you to do. It starts by “going.” It starts by putting your faith into action.
So what is it that Jesus wants us to “go” and do? He says, “make disciples of all nations.” “Matheteusate (Math-et-eus-at-e)” is often translated simply as “teach” but it means “make disciples.” How important is this command? This is the second word in the sentence right after “go.” The commissioning is following the life of Jesus. He came and made disciples first of all. He taught the truths of the Kingdom of Heaven to all who would come and listen but, more specifically, he gathered 12 disciples and taught them night and day. In the noun form of this verb (mathetes) the meaning is a “learner” or “imitator of the teacher.” Jesus wants you to imitate your teacher, who imitated their teacher and so on down through time all the way back to the disciples who imitated Jesus. Even more important, those original imitators wrote down stories and teachings from the one they were imitating so we can know what Christ looked like.
Now you and I are the disciplers. It’s more than teaching someone what the Bible says; it’s living it and teaching others to live it by your example. To make a disciple, then, means to lead another to a belief in and relationship with Jesus and then to spiritual maturity right alongside of them. Discipling involves a relationship that is intentional and seeks to pass down and strengthen the faith of another. How are you doing on this one?
The commissioning of the disciples, and all Christians, continues with baptizing the new disciples from the nations “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” To be baptized into a name indicates a bonding process. This is part of baptism as a ceremony but also, in a spiritual context, a very real spiritual bonding. In ceremonial water baptism, the sense is that the one baptized becomes, as W. E. Vine puts it, “closely bound to” or became “the property of . . . the one into whose name he was ‘baptized.’” As per the commissioning of Jesus we, as Christians, are baptized ceremonially in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – we are announcing to the whole world that we are bonded with God. This is also accomplished, in a spiritual bonding, through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We are spiritually bonded with Him and the water baptism signifies to the world, outside of our spirits, that we are connected with him. You’ve probably heard this description of baptism before: “It is an outward sign of an inward cleansing.” Cleansing is certainly true but the statement would more true if we said, “it is an outward sign of an inward bonding.”
The last step of action in the commission from Jesus is to teach the believers of the nations to obey His commands. The word for “obey” is “terein (tayr-ain),” which seems to require a lot of different words, in English, to convey its meaning. The NIV uses “obey,” the ESV uses “observe” as does the KJV. The same root is translated as “guard,” in Matthew 28:4, in reference to the men guarding the tomb of Jesus. This versatile word means “keep.” So a guard is a “keeper, watcher or preserver.”
There are other words that are more often used to convey the sense of obedience, or observation, so it is interesting that Jesus uses this word here; it is unusual. Obey and Observe are good words to convey the meaning Jesus is getting at here but it’s interesting to note the original sense of the word that makes us “keepers” or “guards” of the commands of Christ. Jesus commissioned the disciples, and all Christians, to teach new believers to keep His commands. There is the sense of teaching the commands so they can be obeyed but also so they can be preserved or kept. Maybe we can better summarize what Jesus is saying in this way: go and teach my commands to new believers so those commands can be obeyed and passed down from generation to generation. This is precisely what the disciples did – they passed along their faith and continually taught the principle teachings of Christ to new believers. We’re talking about spreading the faith and passing it down through the generations. This is how it has reached us today, nearly 2000 years later. We are still keepers of the commands of Christ and the next generation is learning from us through discipling and through teaching. In Luke 6:40 Jesus says, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” If the next generation will look like you, what will they look like?
The final element to The Great Commission is the promise of Jesus to be with us always and to the end of the age. Someday He’s coming back and we will understand His presence in a completely different way but, for now, we know He has promised to go with us every step of the way. He is working through the hearts of believers to continue reaching the lost until He comes back and makes His presence full with us again. This was His mission and He has commissioned all believers to complete this mission with Him, throughout this age. We are not alone, nor are we powerless. Jesus has promised his presence and we are a part of His Church. He is continuing to build us up in order to reach the lost. His power goes with us as we go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of all three persons of the Trinity, and passing our faith down from generation to generation as we teach fellow believers what Jesus taught.
Jesus wants us to do more than huddle on Sundays. His commissioning of the disciples, and every believer, sets us in motion to continue the mission He started when He walked on this earth. This is His plan. This is His purpose for the Church. As a believer you are commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples of all the nations, to baptize them in the name of God and to teach them to follow His commands. It’s a mission that moves from the huddle to the end-zone; but it’s not just a mission, it’s a Co-Mission. We are not alone; Jesus is with us every step of the way. We walk in His strength and we are all on this mission together. So let’s huddle right now, but let’s march toward the end-zone when the time to huddle is done.