The Great Commission

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC and…Hilary’s husband

When we think of Jesus’ Great Commission, we often focus in on the word “Go” – the missionary’s charge — but in doing so, we risk missing the totality of Christ’s commission to His church.

In Matthew 28, after the resurrection and His initial appearance before His disciples, His church, He arranges to meet them again in Galilee.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a]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.” (ESV)

When Jesus speaks to His disciples, His commission to them encompasses three  distinct parts – He makes an announcement, He gives us a command, and He leaves us with a promise.

Don’t miss the fact that before Jesus commands us to do anything, He makes it clear who He is and the power He holds. John Stott once said, “Without this announcement of His authority, the Great Commission would have lacked any justification, let alone any impetus. Not until we are convinced of the full authority of Jesus Christ are we in a position to hear and to obey His commission to go.”

In other words, we would have no real reason to respond to the command that follows without acknowledging who it is that is sending us – the one to whom all authority and power in heaven and earth has been given.

What we might miss, though, is that this power and authority extends not just to us but to all creatures, whether human or superhuman, over the church, over the nations, and over satan and all his works. There is nothing that is not under Christ’s command and authority – and His authority transcends any barrier of language, race, or culture.

As Stott said, “Only because all authority on earth belongs to Christ are we to go to all nations. And only because all authority in heaven is His have we any hope of success.”

When Christ then makes His command, it is to go and make disciples, baptize, and teach.

Notice that Christ isn’t mobilizing simply for an evangelistic crusade or a ministry initiative – He’s mobilizing His church for His purpose.

Disciples are to be made through the clear proclamation of the Gospel. However, it doesn’t stop there. He commands us to baptize these disciples – ensuring a public act of profession and acknowledgement of discipleship. And finally, disciples are to be taught all that He’s commanded – ostensibly the breadth and depth of all of scripture.

This is Christ’s concept of evangelism – decidedly more comprehensive than our modern definition. All too often, we seem satisfied to share the four spiritual laws, walk the roman road, or make an altar call and call it a day.

However, Christ is clear that our commitment to the Great Commission is defined by three concerns, not one – the proclamation of the Gospel and the personal conversion, the public profession of belief and the joining of the body of Christ, and, finally, the lifetime of teaching and learning of scripture.

This isn’t a task for one person, though we’re all under this commission. This is the task of the church – the body of Christ. The church is the only institution ordained by God in the New Testament for the purpose of His mission.

Finally, Jesus leaves us with a promise as we are sent out – “And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV)  Immanuel – God with us.

So, just as Jesus promised to be present whenever two or three are gathered in his name, He promises His presence as He commands us to go out. Christ is present in His church’s worship as well as in His church’s witness — when we meet in His name and when we are sent in His name.

So, Jesus’ Great Commission isn’t just a command – it is an announcement, with specific instructions, and a promise to His church. Taken together, it demands a response from every disciple of Christ.

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