The Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20

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Faith Bible Church, NY

September 10, 1995

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20

This morning I not only want to explain the text, but share my heart on this matter as well.

All of Matthew’s gospel account culminates in this short passage. It is often called the Great Commission because it is Jesus’ final command which encompasses all of His other commands. It is great because it is the preeminent command that defines the purpose of the Christian, and so defines the reason for all that Jesus did.

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17 And when they saw him, they worshiped him: but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: {teach…: or, make disciples, or, Christians of all nations} 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

Jesus Christ left the glories of heaven for a purpose, and it is not the purpose that many people think. Luke 19:20 is often used to show the central message of the gospel is that Jesus came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” Certainly that is true, but man centered theology has distorted its meaning. Salvation is now often promoted as being rescued from an unsatisfactory life to a wonderful life, or among those that still will preach about hell, being rescued from hell to heaven. The most often used tract of our time begins by stating that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” True, God does love you and He does have a wonderful plan for your life, but wonderful is according to His definition, not yours. That “wonderful” life according to Jesus will include being hated by the world (John 15:19) resulting in persecution and false accusations against you because of your relationship to Jesus (Matt. 5:11,12 etc.).

The purpose of the Lord Jesus leaving the glories of heaven behind in order to become a man, live a sinless life, die on the cross for our sins, and then be resurrected from the dead was to enable you to be useful to God. In other words, Jesus came that you might be saved from sin and its effects not for your sake so much as for His own sake. Paul states it this way in Eph. 1:6,7 “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved…” or as he adds a few verses later, 11 “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory…”

Salvation is not man centered, it is God centered. It is God redeeming man to Himself that man may again accomplish the purpose for which he was created – to bring glory to God.

For those who are true Christians, the great commission is not an option. Though it is popular in some circles to talk about being a disciple as some second step in Christianity, our text this morning shows that being a disciple and making disciples is central to the very purpose of being a Christian. The great tragedy is that the majority of those who profess to be Christians do little to nothing in fulfilling Jesus’ commandment here. Why? Two reasons.

First, is that many of those that profess never did confess, and are in reality, Christless. In other words, they have a false profession of faith. They either do not know who Jesus really is or they have not placed their trust in Him alone for salvation, and their faith is actually in something else, or both.

The second reason is ignorance, and by that I do not mean they are stupid, just untaught and inexperienced in the walk of faith. I hope to clear up the first part of that this morning and challenge you to fulfill Jesus command here. What exactly is it that Jesus does command? And how does a person become capable to fulfill this great commission?

There are three things necessary for the Christian to be able to carry out the great commission, and all three are foundational in being a Christian. These are availability, worship, and obedience.

In verse 16 we find that the eleven disciples have followed Jesus’ directions to meet Him in Galilee. From the other gospel accounts we know that Jesus had appeared to the disciples several times in Jerusalem, so going to Galilee was for some purpose other than to reveal Himself. Jesus appeared to all eleven disciples including Thomas on the eighth day after His resurrection. It would take about a week to go from Jerusalem to Galilee, and since Jesus ascended from Heaven to the Mt of Olives, another week for them to come back to Jerusalem. Since Jesus ascended forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3), then Jesus and the disciples would have had about 2 1/2 weeks together in Galilee.

There were two advantages in going to Galilee. First, they would have not been bothered in Galilee because they would be away from those that opposed them in Jerusalem. Second, there were a large number of Jesus’ followers in that region and this would have given them easier access to Jesus. Paul points out in 1 Cor. 15 that over 500 of Jesus’ followers saw Him at one time. The evidence would lead us to believe that this occurred in Galilee, and most likely on the occasion being mentioned here in Matthew.

We do not know which mountain Jesus designated for them to meet him on, but it would likely be one of those where Jesus had spent time with them before. We find here that the disciples are now there, and that is the first requirement to being used by God : you must be available.

The greatest ability you can give to God is your availability. None of these men were great prizes at this point. All of them except John had run away when Jesus was arrested and had stayed hidden. None of them were noted for great faith either. All of them had also missed Jesus’ point that He would be raised from the dead. These were just ordinary men complete with all of a man’s failures, the kinds of things you wives have seen in your husbands, often selfish and proud, failing to understand the obvious, and boastful, yet proving to be weak and afraid in the area of boasting. Ordinary men, but God worked with them and turned them into men that later “turned the world upside down” as reported by their opponents in Acts 17:6.

Are you available to God? Are you willing to go where He wants you to go, to do whatever He wants you to do. The question here is not if you are capable, but are you available? God will see to it that you will be capable of doing anything He asks you to do.

As I look back at my life, it is marked over and over again of being used by God not because I was capable, but simply because I was available. The reason I am here today is because I made myself available. If it had been left up to my own wisdom, I would have found more reason not to come here 4 1/2 years ago than to come. I like my relatives. I like my friends. I like being warm without humidity, I do n’t like being cold. I like the ocean, the mountains, and the deserts with their grand vistas. Why should my family and I have left all that 3,000 miles behind to come here? Only one reason: a Christian is to be available to God.

My life is not my own, and neither is your life yours. Jesus Christ purchased me and you with His blood. You and I belong to Him. He is our master. We are His servants and the servant goes were the master sends, whether that is around the corner to talk with your neighbors, or across the country, or around the world. It is not a matter of being capable. I am certainly not capable of meeting all the demands that are placed on me as a pastor. I may not be capable, but my God is able, and He does! The disciples were ordinary men, but they made themselves available. Are you available?

Second, we find in verse 17 that these men worshiped Jesus. The heart-beat of the Christian should be in the worship of God. These men saw Jesus and fell down and worshiped Him.

The phrase that states that some were doubtful refers to those in the crowd that were unsure if it was really true that Jesus was alive. Remember that if the eleven disciples had also been unsure, certainly some of the 500 would also be. Now they had come to find out if it was really true.

Matthew’s inclusion of this here demonstrates the veracity of what he is saying. If the resurrection had been a hoax, no one trying to promote it would have said anything that would have cast uncertainty on their case.

Certainly doubting will leave us in a weaker position as James 1 points out, but doubts are neither to be feared nor dismissed out of hand. We find that God is gracious and helps us work through any doubts that we have that we might stand firm in our faith. Did not Jesus do that with “doubting” Thomas and the other disciples that also had doubted until they had seen Him? But once the doubt was removed there was no hesitancy in their worship of Him.

What is at the heart of your relationship with Jesus Christ? If it is not worship, then something is wrong. Worship is the natural response and demonstration of a true Christian. Someone who really knows who Jesus is and has placed their faith in Him. If you look to Christ as the magical genie who will get you out of trouble, you do not understand Him. If you look to Jesus as your servant who is supposed to make your life wonderful and happy, then you do not know who He is. Jesus is available to us anytime, anywhere, but He is not at our beck and call to accomplish our will. We are to be at His beck and call to accomplish His will. If you are here for some other reason than to worship our God and savior, then you need to have your heart changed. I suggest you begin by praying that God will reveal His holiness and your sinfulness that your heart may be changed to one that will bow down before Him.

The third element needed to serve Christ is obedience. In verse 18 we find that Jesus comes up and begins to speak to those on that mountain. His coming close and speaking would help to remove the doubts that some had that it was really Him. As Jesus begins speaking, He says two things that demonstrate the necessity of obeying Him. First, what He says about Himself, and second, the command He gives.

Jesus says that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus’ claim here is unlimited. Authority refers to Jesus’ right, power, and freedom to do as He pleases and command others to do as He pleases. Jesus’ claim here is that this authority has been given to Him by the Father and that it encompasses everything. The word, “all,” and the phrase, “heaven and earth,” reinforcing each other in expressing the idea that Jesus has authority over all created things.

It is Jesus’ right to command us. It is our responsibility to obey. Failure to obey subjects us to either His chastisement (Heb. 12), forced obedience (Eph 4), or His wrath (Rom. 1, Rev. 20). Jesus has the authority to command and he does so in verse 19.

It is important to make sure you understand that what Jesus says here is a command, not a suggestion. It is expected that those that belong to Christ will obey it. It is ludicrous for someone to say that they believe Jesus’ claims and trust Him for salvation and then reject what He says and not submit to His authority. That only proves they do not believe Jesus’ claims about Himself, and one of His claims is authority over all creation.

What is the command that Jesus gives? It is one command accomplished in three elements. The Greek grammar here is one verb: “make disciples”, with three participles; “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.” We are to “make disciples” by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching.”

The command is not arbitrary but based on Jesus Himself. Notice the command begins with a “therefore”, which brings back into focus Jesus’ authority. The command to make disciples can be fulfilled because Jesus has the authority to send us and the power to accomplish His work through us. As I said earlier, it is not your ability, it is your availability given in worshipful submission. Jesus will accomplish His work through you. Since Jesus is who He claims to be, therefore go out and do what He commands. You can rest on His power.

The command itself is to make disciples. Whatever else the church does, the center of its focus needs to be in making disciples. Our fellowship, our ministries, and even our worship all revolve around being and making disciples.

What is a disciple? A disciple is someone who follows the teachings of another. They learn from the teacher. They identify with the teacher. They seek to be like the teacher. Luke 6:40 gives a good description saying that the “disciple is not above his teacher… but after being fully trained will be like his teacher.” Paul tells us in Rom. 8 that all those that will be saved are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [Jesus].”

You can see from this that if you claim to be a Christian, then being a disciple of Christ is not an option. Even the term, “christian,” speaks of discipleship since as Acts 11:26 states it was the “disciples” that were first called “Christians” in Antioch. The term itself means to be “a little Christ.” A true Christian is someone who, as Paul describes in Gal. 2, has died to themselves and has Christ living in and through them. When people see you, do they see Christ living in you?

Jesus command is to make disciples of Him and you cannot do that unless you are His disciple first. We make disciples of Christ the same way that the apostle Paul did in 1 Cor. 11:1: by being ” imitators of me just as I also am of Christ.” We call people to follow us as we follow Christ. If others became like us, would they also be becoming like Christ? In a nut shell, that’s what making a disciple is all about: people begin to pattern their life after you, and since you have patterned your life after Jesus, they in turn are also becoming like Christ.

Jesus commanded us to “make disciples” and gave three elements needed to accomplish that. First is the going out. Notice that it is we that are to do the going. The little sign we have above the doors of this building as you go out reflect this. “You are now entering the mission field.” Christians are to go out to the nonbelievers in order to start the process of making them into disciples of Christ. We are the ones that need to be making the effort, we are the ones that will be inconvenienced, we are the ones that will be in places that make us uncomfortable, we are the ones that will expend our time and money in the endeavor.

We may be celebrating ten years since the dedication of this building to the Lord, but this building is not the church and it cannot do the Lord’s work. You are the church and you do the work. This is only a building designed to help partially facilitate one aspect of making disciples: teaching them to observe all that the Lord commanded. This building can’t go out and it cannot make disciples. It is only a building. You are the church, the body of Christ and only you can fulfill Jesus’ command to go.

Notice as well that we are to make disciples of “all nations.” That reflects the fact that in Christ there is no room for prejudice. It also shows the necessity of going out. We have to leave our comfort zone to reach out to people who are different from us. They have different physical characteristics, customs we do not understand, speak another language, eat foods we consider unusual, and live in a different climate. Whether they are around the block or the world, the command is for us to go to them that we might make them disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first aspect then of making disciples is to go out to the non-Christian community. What will you do when you go? You will proclaim the gospel, the good news of salvation from sin and reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. We need to proclaim it everywhere, and there are many, many ways and places to do this in our area. You are only limited by your imagination and willingness to be available. There are the obvious people and places like your neighborhood, school, and place of work. There are also all the people you do business with, who are involved in your hobbies or your social organizations. There are all the people you can make special outreaches too in jails, both adult and juvenile, convalescent homes, hospitals, parks, shopping malls, train stations, parades, fairs, flee markets, and so on. God will use you if you are available. Are you willing to go?

The second aspect of making a disciple is baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As you go some will respond and desire to follow Christ. One of their first steps in their walk of faith should be baptism. We believe all the evidence points to baptism by immersion. Baptism does not save nor does it extend any special grace. It is an act of faithful obedience in public identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be baptized into the name of God marks you as professing to belong to God. Note that “name” is singular signifying the unity of the trinity, one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The third aspect of making disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” There are those within the church that are specially gifted to teach, but this command is given to all. In addition, learning to do all that Jesus has commanded will be a lifelong process, but it only takes a short time for someone to learn enough to begin the process with someone else. Even if you have been a Christian for less than a year, if you have been careful to learn what has been taught to you about Jesus, you are already capable of working with a new Christian who knows less about living for Christ than you.

Making a disciple is not an academic exercise, it is the interaction of your life with someone else so that they will be capable of living for Christ. You do not have to know all the answers, but you do have to know the Lord.

Why am I so sure of this? Not because it is true in my own life, but because Jesus has the power and authority to accomplish it. In addition, we find here at the end of the last verse in Matthew, that Jesus will be with us through it all. “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus calls our attention by saying, “lo.” It is a call to be alert and focus our minds on what He is now saying. He then makes it emphatic that He will be with us to the end, a literal translation being, “I will be with you, even I, all the days even to the conclusion of the age.”

Jesus will be with you each and every day of your life even if that is to the conclusion of this age and you are transformed and taken to heaven without having to taste physical death. Jesus is present. His power is present. His command is given. The only question open is whether or not you will be available and obedient to let Him use you to make disciples of Him. What will you do?

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