Our Discipleship Mission
Passage: Matthew 28:18-20
This morning we will continue our series “Foundations for Church Ministry.” We spent the first two weeks talking about the fact that our ultimate purpose as Christians and as a church is to glorify God. Last Sunday, we saw from Acts 1:4–11 that a primary way that the church glorifies God is through evangelism. Just before Jesus ended is earthly ministry and ascended to heaven, he told the disciples they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit and that in this power they were to go out and be witnesses of Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Jesus gave the church an evangelistic mission. If you believe the gospel, it’s hard to debate the importance of evangelism. After all, the Bible is clear that people are on their way to God’s judgment, and the gospel is the only way they can be rescued from hell and look forward to a home in heaven. Evangelism is of eternal significance; therefore, the church should be motivated to engage in evangelism, and we should rejoice when someone believes the gospel, is rescued from hell, and has a home in heaven. It’s such a big deal that we feel such a relief when someone accepts the gospel that sometimes we feel as if our job is finished. But is that true? Have we done our job as witnesses once we convince someone of the gospel and they respond in faith? I believe the NT is clear when someone accepts the gospel, we haven’t finished the task; we have only begun the task of reaching them for Christ. That’s because Jesus didn’t merely commission us to rescue people from hell but to see them grow into mature disciples. This morning, I’d like to consider “Our Discipleship Mission.” To do this, I’d like to consider a text that is closely related to the text we studied last Sunday (read).
You can immediately recognize some parallels between this passage and Acts 1:4–11. In both passages, Jesus is giving a charge or a commission to his disciples that has a ring of finality as Jesus prepares to leave. As well, both charges have to do with worldwide evangelism, and they both include a promise of God’s presence or power. But there are some differences. First, Acts 1 takes place on the Mt. of Olives, outside Jerusalem, immediately before Jesus ascends to heaven; in contrast, this passage takes place on a mountain in Galilee a few days or maybe a couple of weeks before Jesus’ ascension. And while this passage has the same basic focus, it expands more fully on the ultimate goal the church is fulfill by being witnesses of Christ. This goal is summed up by what is grammatically the central theme of the text. The church is not merely commanded to engage in evangelism but to make disciples of all nations. I recognize that this is a familiar, but it is crucial to understanding our purpose, and so we want to walk through it carefully.
As in Acts 1, Jesus gives us great responsibility, but he also promises great help. Verse 18 begins our text with a statement of…
Jesus’ Authority (v. 18)
The Character of Christ’s Authority:
Jesus begins the commission by stating that he possesses “all authority.” This is the first of four occurrences of “all” in the passage. Jesus has “all authority.” We are to make disciples of “all the nations.” They are to observe “all things” Jesus commanded, and he promises to be us “always.” The repetition of this word indicates that we have a big task, but we have an even bigger power behind us. Jesus possesses “all authority.” Authority includes the idea of power that we discussed in Acts 1, but it goes a step further. Jesus isn’t just powerful, he was granted a new authority to rule after his resurrection. It’s important to note that Jesus is not saying he didn’t have authority beforehand. Jesus is God, and he demonstrated tremendous authority before his resurrection. The Gospels note that he had authority to cast out demons, to forgive sin, to heal diseases, and to stop the weather. But the NT also teaches that after his resurrection, the Father granted Jesus a new authority. Philippians 2:9–11 state that because Jesus went to the cross, “God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The Father has determined that Jesus should rule his creation, and one day all people will bow before him and confess that authority. At times, we may not see evidence that Christ is the authority. Evil often prospers and expands in ways that are very troubling while righteousness and goodness are minimized or mocked. As well, the majority of the time when we share the gospel, people reject the message and sometimes they mock the message and the messenger. But we have to remember, that Jesus’ will is being accomplished, and one day, he will assert his authority in a powerful way. We are on the winning side because we are servants of the one who possesses all authority.
The Significance of Christ’s Authority:
But what significance does this have for the mission of the church? I believe it ought to significantly impact how we think about the tasks of evangelism and discipleship. Very often when we share the gospel with people or talk about our faith, we do so timidly. We enter the conversation as if our ideas are on an equal plane, gingerly hoping people will listen, and thinking they have the right to reject or accept the gospel like any sales pitch. But we need to remember that when we do evangelism and work to make disciples that we are doing so in the name of Jesus who possesses all authority and power. For example, suppose that a major war broke out and Congress decided to reinstitute the draft. The army came to Apple Valley with a plan to recruit soldiers and with the authority of the US government behind them. I promise that they would come into town with confidence. They would deliver their message and go about their business regardless of what people thought. Why would they work with such confidence? It’s because they have authority. And we need to recognize that the church has an authority to fulfill the Great Commission that far exceeds the authority of US government. We have the authority of Christ. And this fact ought to cause us to do the work God has given us with boldness and confidence. We have the right to preach the gospel and to build believers. We have the right to plant churches and to see them grow. The point is not that we should be needlessly offensive or ignore God-ordained human authorities, but at the end of the day, we must obey God rather than man, and we have the authority to do Christ’s work no matter what man may say.
Jesus has given us a great authority. Because of that, we must fulfill his command.
When you read v. 19–20, there are four activities at stake—going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. It’s not clear in our English Bibles, but the Greek grammar clearly sets one of these activities above the others. The only imperative construction is the one to “make disciples.” All of them have the force of commands, but Jesus clearly intended to set making disciples apart as the central issue. Jesus commands church to “make disciples of all the nations.”
Meaning of Discipleship:
What does this command mean? Is this simply evangelism or is more at stake? The term translated disciple literally means a follower. In the 1st century world a disciple would attach himself to a teacher and follow him everywhere. Matthew has a lot to say about discipleship. It emphasizes that discipleship is costly. Matthew 16:24–25 states, “Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” To be a disciple requires putting Christ above every human concern or care. As well through the parable of the soils, Jesus states that a true disciple “hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt 13:23). A disciple embraces the truth and produces fruit in keeping with new life. One of the primary ways that a disciple bears fruit is that he matures to the point that he can reproduce himself. That’s what Jesus was calling the original 11 disciples to do in our text. They had spent three years as Jesus’ disciples learning from him, and now they were responsible to make new disciples. You could say that the Great Commission is a command for us to do with others what Jesus did with his disciples in the Gospels. He loved them, prayed for them, taught them, corrected them, and trained them to reproduce.
And God commands us to do the same. Our responsibility as Jesus’ disciples and as a church is to reproduce ourselves by maturing believers who can also disciple others. Of course, that begins with evangelism. We can’t make disciples unless we see people get saved. But the work is just beginning when someone gets saved. We must help them mature to the point that they are bearing fruit and reproducing. This is our basic task as a church. All of us should be growing toward better reproduction. We should be building reproducible disciples through our children’s and youth ministries, and this should also be the goal of our outreach. We are commanded to make disciples.
So how do we go about this task? The other three verbal ideas define how we do this.
The Means of Fulfilling the Command:
Each of theses actions are Greek participles, so grammatically, they support the command to make disciples. However, they all have the force of a command.
The first means is that we are to…
Go to all the nations.
This was a very new concept in the Jewish world. The OT frequently reflects God’s concern for the nations, but the OT prescribed a very different method for reaching them. OT worship was centered in the temple and the sacrificial system; therefore, Israel was responsible to attract the nations to Jerusalem. They were to pull the nations inward as they saw God’s abundant blessing on Israel. That’s what happened in the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. God richly blessed Solomon, and the Queen came to Jerusalem to see. Israel was to be a city on a hill—a shining light that would attract the nations. But Jesus has done something very different in the church. Rather than pulling everyone together in a temple, the church is to scatter. Jesus said of the local church “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). And in our text, he says again that we are to go out to the nations. That begins in our community. It’s not Jesus’ will that we sit back in one location and wait for people to come and ask what they need to do to be saved. We have to go find them and tell them. This text is commanding you to go across the street, across the room, or wherever is necessary. And then as well, we are commanded to go and make disciples of the nations. As I said last week, a healthy local church culture of evangelism and discipleship is engaged in reaching the nations with the gospel. We have to go.
The second means is…
Baptism is a very significant ordinance of the local church. This verse teaches that it symbolizes are newfound fellowship with the godhead. The NT also teaches that baptism is a public declaration of our identification with Christ and with the local church. Some of us who grew up in Christian homes can miss the significance of this declaration, but if you were saved as an adult or out of a false religion, you know the weight baptism bore to those who knew you. It is a significant event, and I think the NT is also clear that it is the first step of discipleship. The fact that Jesus sticks it here indicates its importance to following Christ. And the practice of the early church bears this out. Throughout Acts, people were baptized as soon as they committed to following Christ. Because of that, if you have been saved but haven’t been baptized, I would urge you to take care of that soon because until you are baptized, there is a big hole in your obedience to Christ. There is no NT category for an unbaptized disciple. In review, we are to go and make disciples, and the first step of discipleship is baptism.
From there, we are to continue the discipleship process by…
Teaching Them to Observe:
This statement makes a couple of crucial points regarding discipleship. First, building disciples requires teaching believers everything Jesus commanded. Jesus says that instruction is at the heart of spiritual growth, and this instruction can’t be selective of superficial. A healthy disciple is learning everything Jesus said—the complex and the simple, the felt-need and the deeper need, the hard truth and the easy truth. A disciple needs to be instructed in all of it. That’s why teaching is so central to what we do as a church. It’s at the center of our services, and it’s a big reason why we have so many services. It’s at the center of our children and youth ministries. Children and teens need to know the Word, not simply be kept out of trouble or entertained. Discipleship requires a healthy and balanced diet of teaching. But notice as well that teaching is not the end. Jesus says that we are to teach disciples “to observe” what Jesus commanded. Knowledge must translate into practice. As James says, we must be doers of the Word, not simply hearers. A mature disciple doesn’t simply know God’s Word, he is living it on a day to day basis.
Jesus commands the church to go and make disciples of all the nations. They are to do so by leading people to Christ, baptizing them, and then bringing them to maturity through instruction that leads to practice. That means that our job as a church isn’t done when someone gets saved; rather, our job is just getting started. In fact, it will never be done because discipleship is a lifelong task. This has major ramifications for how the church functions. It’s easy for churches to be heavily driven by numbers. They can focus on getting as many people to church as possible, getting them to pray a prayer, and then on making the services enjoyable enough to keep them around. That’s not a left or right issue because it happens on both sides. And certainly we need to work hard to get people to church and to see them trust Christ. But we also must see the need for building maturity that is reproducible. A healthy church isn’t simply reaching people with the gospel; it is building mature believers who are living their faith in obedience to God’s commands. We need to be a disciple-making church. But as well, if you know Christ, you need to be a disciple-making Christian. We established earlier that a mature disciple reproduces himself, so you need to be reproducing your faith. If you have children, you should be busy passing your faith along to them. Titus 2 talks about how older men and women should be teaching the next generation. That can take various forms. Some are gifted to disciple through teaching, but even if you aren’t a teacher, you can still build relationships and model godliness to those who are less mature. All of us who know Christ ought to be engaged in significant relationships where we are helping to build other disciples. Jesus has given us a tremendous task.
Christians are to always be busy reproducing themselves and multiplying themselves. But Jesus concludes the text with a reassuring promise.
Jesus power and promise frame this entire passage. Jesus began our text by noting that he has all authority. Jesus possesses all power, and he concludes by reminding us that not only is he all-powerful, he is also everywhere present. He is with us as we seek to fulfill his mission.
Jesus promises that he is with us…
All the Time:
He is says that I will be with you always. What a blessing it is to rest in that fact as we seek to make disciples. Have you ever had someone tell you how to do something really fast and then leave? That’s what computer geeks do all of the time. You ask them how to do something, and then they fly through the process in five seconds and then leave. And you are left in a blur. That’s not Jesus’ method. He told us what to do, and then he promised to be right beside us helping us do it. He is with us all of the time.
I also want to note that he is with us…
For All Time:
Jesus says he will be with us until the end of the age, or until he takes the church to be with him. Jesus will abandon the church in our mission to make disciples. He is in this room right now. He is deeply concerned with and engaged in the work of Life Point Baptist Church to make disciples in this community and around the world. Praise the Lord that Jesus is with us.
Before I conclude, I want to extend an invitation to anyone who is with us today who has never become a child of God. We began our service today by celebrating the foundation of our faith that Jesus died, rose again, and is coming again. This is the foundation of the gospel and of the answer to how you can be forgiven of your sin and have a home in heaven. I hope that you will talk with me afterwards about how you can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ’s life and death.