Fulfilling the Great Commission (Part 2)

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:16-20 KJV)

Last night, I pointed out that Jesus required his disciples to take a 7-day hike to Galilee before he gave them this commandment. Perhaps he was testing their faith and obedience because we cannot be effective evangelists without both faith and obedience. First, ambassadors of Christ must submit to our King. Second, we must trust him because our success as evangelists relies on his will and power. We do not possess the ability to transform sinners into Christian disciples. Faith is imperative.

Evangelism Starts With Worship

So now let’s consider what happened when the disciples arrived in the place where Christ sent them. In verse 17, Matthew tells us, “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Mt 28:17).

This moment is truly beautiful as well as telling. No matter how strong our faith seems to be or how willing we are to submit to the King, worship is a vital part of genuine service to Christ. Jesus once said, “True worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (Jn 4:23). Before we are qualified to seek out others to worship God, we must be worshiping him ourselves.

We see here that worship precedes evangelism. Evangelism should stem from worship, not the other way around.

Just imagine what would happen if we made converting sinners the priority of our worship. Inevitably, the church would degenerate into a seeker-friendly organization where our priority becomes pleasing men rather than God. Our songs would need to appeal to the unspiritual. We would need to limit our sermons to the very basics of the Christian faith so that we don’t overwhelm the unconverted. Meanwhile, the church’s spiritual growth is stifled because everything we say and do is designed with the world in mind.

While evangelism can certainly take place during worship, worship itself is not evangelism. We may open our corporate worship to the public, but worship is for redeemed, born again, converted disciples of Christ. Evangelism, then, is an extension of our worship. It springs from our worship. It is built upon our worship if you will.

Last night, I said that the local church often neglects evangelism because we’re too focused on ourselves. We know that worship is our priority and that the church should always come first. And as a result, we often forget about our God-given obligation to seek the lost. We need to find a healthy balance. Worship comes first, but never to the neglect of evangelism. Evangelism is necessary, but never to the degeneration of our worship.

Think of it this way. When the local church gathers, our priority is to worship God. Hebrews 12:28 says, “Serve [or worship] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” At the same time, we meet to support one another. We are here to encourage fellow believers, build up one another, and grow together in our sanctification. Hebrews 10 says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:24-25).

But then what? What happens when the meeting is over, and we return back to our homes and our jobs? What do we do the other six days of the week? Well, even then our worship should continue through prayer, Bible reading, and personal devotion. But also, it is out there that evangelism takes center stage. While we are mingling with the world, we are not merely interacting with insignificant people from day to day; we’re walking through the mission field. Out there is where we find the lost sheep in need of repentance.

Before Jesus told his disciples to go, they worshiped him, and so should we.

Matthew adds, “But some doubted” (Mt 28:17). Now Jesus indirectly addressed the doubters in what he said here. But before we consider what he said, notice how honest and candid Matthew was with his account. Details like this one lend credence to the inspiration of Scripture. Had I been writing this story, I may have been tempted to leave out that detail. I’d much rather give the impression that everyone believed and proved to be super-spiritual disciples from that day forward. But the truth is, some people doubted, and Matthew was faithful to tell the whole story.

The Great Commission Is By Divine Authority

In verse 18, Jesus says to his disciples and the doubters, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Mt 28:18).

In Matthew 11, he said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father” (Mt 11:27). In John 3, he said, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (Jn 3:35). Jesus had the supreme right and authority to speak on behalf of God the Father. He is our Sovereign King. He is our Lord and Master. God granted him the divine authority to issue the commands that follow.

In its historical context, this statement was extremely controversial. The unbelieving Jews considered it blasphemy. There are many people today who consider it blasphemy. Even so, Jesus wanted to make his deity and authority abundantly clear. To the doubter and the believer, he says, “What I say carries the weight of God himself.” You see, Christ does not present the Great Commission as an option. It is a commandment with the force of heaven behind it.

The faithful believer will not only respond to this command positively but also enthusiastically. He or she says, “Yes, my Lord. I will gladly act as your ambassador.” According to Luke chapter 15, “Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). The believer says, “Lord, I know it is your desire for sinners to repent, so I will do as you’ve commanded me. I want to rejoice with you and with heaven.”

Go and Make Disciples

Do you believe Christ is the Sovereign King? Do you believe God gave Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth? If so, Jesus says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Mt 28:19).

Based on the authority of God, Jesus tells us to go, which implies intentionality. He did not say, “Wait for the nations to come to you.” No, he said, “Go, therefore.” To be clear, that doesn’t mean we need to knock on doors or circumvent the globe in order to carry out the Great Commission. You are more than welcome to knock on doors or travel overseas, but intentionality seems to be the emphasis here.

Let me give you an example. In Mark chapter 5, Jesus saved a man who was possessed by a legion of unclean spirits. Once the man was in his right mind, he begged to literally follow Jesus. He wanted to get into Jesus’s boat and travel with him. Obviously, Jesus had particular men that he wanted with him as he traveled and preached the gospel. But this man wasn’t one of them. So he said to the man, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mk 5:19).

You see, not everyone is called to be a globetrotting evangelist. At the end of Acts chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas debated whether John Mark was suited for the job. Barnabas said yes; Paul said no. Whether he was or not, who knows. My point is, God may not call you to go door to door or to another country. He may simply request that you go to the people you already know. “Go home to your friends.” Learn to share the gospel with those closest to you. After all, if we can’t talk about Christ with our friends, what makes us think we have enough courage to share our faith with strangers?

Do you know where this intentionality starts? It begins at home. How often do you talk about Christ and spiritual matters with your spouse or with your children? Evangelizing our children is especially important. Parents, your primary responsibility is to teach your children the Word of God and lead them to Christ.

Listen to this passage from Deuteronomy 6: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Dt 6:4-7).

The Word of God should be in our hearts. We should teach it to our children. We should talk about it when we’re at home. We should talk about it when we’re outside of the home. We should talk about it from morning until night, from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. Thoughts of God should consume our lives. And more to the point, we should saturate our children’s minds with the Word of God.

There’s a graphic illustration of this point in Mark chapter 10. We’re told that people were bringing their young children to Jesus, literally. They wanted Jesus to bless their children. But the disciples stood in the way. In their minds, Jesus was too busy for little children. He had more important things to do. But Jesus became indignant and rebuked his disciples, saying, “Forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:14). In other words, it was a noble act of the parents to take their children to Christ.

Listen, if you’re not teaching your children, somebody else will. Furthermore, if you can’t even teach your own children about Christ, how will you ever teach someone else?

What We Teach In Evangelism

The essence of evangelism is teaching. The KJV says, “Teach all nations” (Mt 28:19). Most Bible translations say, “Make disciples of all nations.” Both translations are correct because the process of making disciples (or students) of Christ involves teaching. Now that doesn’t mean you have to be an overly gifted, proficient teacher. You don’t have to be a seminary-trained theologian. You just have to be a Christian disciple yourself who knows there is only one remedy for the problem of sin and his name is Jesus Christ.

In Luke 9, Jesus asked the apostles, “Whom say ye that I am?” (Lk 9:20). And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” Once they had affirmed their belief in his true identity as the Christ, he then said, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Lk 9:22). In short, he preached the gospel. He preached Christ crucified and resurrected. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, that is “the gospel…wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved” (1Co 15:1-2).

Jesus continued: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

That is evangelism in a nutshell. Who is Jesus? What did Jesus accomplish? And are you willing to confess your sin, turn to the Savior as a helpless transgressor, repent, and follow him? I wouldn’t recommend that you ask people those questions exactly that way, but that is where you are leading them. And if you want an even simpler formula, it goes something like this: You are condemned before God, and Christ is your only hope. Run from your sin and fall at the feet of your Savior. Jesus says, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Lk 9:24).

Let me give you that list again. In evangelism, you are teaching people (1) that Jesus is both Lord and Savior, (2) that Jesus died on our behalf to satisfy the wrath of God and was raised from the dead, and (3) God has commanded us to believe in Christ and his atonement, and repent of our sins. That’s it.

“What about the inerrancy of Scripture?” you ask. “What about the doctrines of God’s providence, or election, or justification? Shouldn’t we teach them something about the marks of the true church or perhaps the millennial reign of Christ?” Sure, but not yet.

Examine the sermons of Christ and the apostles as they spoke to the masses. You’ll find elements of all of these things in their words. But the emphasis was always on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ with a call to believe and repent. Concerning the other matters of Scripture, Jesus taught them to believers in private. Paul taught them to believers who were already grounded in the gospel and converted. The doctrine of election, for instance, was not used in an evangelistic setting. Rather, it was used to give comfort to those who had already made their “calling and election sure” (2Pe 1:10).

Our goal in evangelism is not to make theologians; our goal is to make disciples. We are leading people from “Who is Jesus?” to “I need Jesus! I will follow him. Tell me more.”

Maybe now would be a good time to point out that our aim in evangelism is not to convert the converted. What I mean is, teaching another Christian our church or denomination’s distinct doctrines is not evangelism. There is room for that, but we call it discipling, not evangelism. You see, evangelism is the initial step of making a non-disciple a disciple. Then, according to Christ in this passage, comes baptism followed by further teaching (or discipling). I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

We Should Never Discriminate

Another aspect of the Great Commission worth mentioning before I move on is that we should never discriminate. In Acts 17, Paul said, “[God] commandeth all men every where to repent” (Ac 17:30). According to Mark 16, Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

Let’s be honest here. The church in the United States remains one of the most segregated institutions in the world. And I’m not referring only to race or skin color. We tend to be segregated by socioeconomic classes and cultures as well. Our churches rarely share the same degree of diversity as the communities around us. Why is that? It’s because we’re human. We gravitate to the people with whom we have the most common.

For most of us, the target of our evangelism tends to be white, middle-class Americans who have already shown some degree of morality. Many times, we’re not even practicing evangelism; we’re merely inviting believers from another church to our church. That is our tendency because it seems easy. It’s more comfortable than, let’s say, talking about Christ to a homeless man addicted to drugs. It’s more comfortable than talking to your unbelieving co-worker who swears like a sailor and cheats on his wife.

But what does the example of Christ teach us? It shows Jesus sitting with the despised tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low-class” people. And when the Pharisees demanded to know why he would hang out with the outcasts of Israel, he said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mt 9:13)

Of course, we need a balanced perspective in this area too. On the one hand, we shouldn’t be afraid to preach the gospel to those who obviously need Christ. On the other hand, we shouldn’t overlook those people in our lives whose need of Christ isn’t so obvious.

The Bible teaches that there are people who have the appearance of godliness but are not truly converted. Some of these people are sitting in church pews every Sunday. They joined the church not because they felt the weight of their sin and submitted to Christ, but because that’s what decent people do. Their parents are members. Their friends are members. So they thought, Yeah, I might as well join too.

Just look for the fruits of genuine conversion (or lack thereof). Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Mt 7:20). While I realize he speaking specifically about false teachers, he went on to say, “Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father” (Mt 7:21).

The disciple who truly loves Christ will keep his word. That is why Paul told us, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2Co 13:5).

Evangelism Should Lead To Commitment

Now, notice where Jesus said our evangelism should lead: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

I won’t spend much time on the subject of baptism, but we should be aware that baptism is the very first step of Christian obedience. It is the act that signifies the believer’s faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Paul makes this case in Romans chapter 6 when he says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Ro 6:3-4).

When Peter preached the gospel in Acts 2, and those convicted by the message asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Ac 2:37-38). When the Ethiopian man in Acts 8 was converted, Philip immediately “commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Ac 8:38).

Needless to say, baptism is where our evangelism should lead. By God’s grace, we are working toward not only the conversion of new disciples but also their commitment. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he doesn’t want people who respond, “I will follow you wherever you go, but let me first [insert your own excuse here].” To that, Jesus says, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).

I have known people who have professed a belief in Christ for years. They have joined the church for worship every Sunday. But no amount of prodding or encouragement will persuade them to submit themselves to baptism. Well, in the best-case scenario, the one who is unwilling to be baptized is disobedient. While a failure to be baptized won’t preclude them from salvation, it is a dangerous precedent for anyone to set. The commandment is clear: Repent and be baptized.

Discipling Follows Evangelizing

So the Great Commission has three distinct parts, two of which we’ve covered. First, make disciples. Second, baptize them. Third, Jesus said, “[Teach] them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mt 28:20).

Since the KJV uses the word “teach” twice in this passage, you may be confused as to what makes this part of the command different than the first. Well, the first word Jesus used was mathēteuō, which means to make a disciple or bring someone under instruction. The second word is didaskō, which means to teach.

So in the first case, you are guiding them to a point where they are willing to believe and listen. You are enrolling them in school, so to speak. In the second case, you are actually instructing them. They are sitting at their desks in the classroom. It is the difference between evangelizing and discipling.

You see, our job is not done even after a disciple has been made and baptized. Every disciple needs further discipling, further teaching. Christ spent three years discipling the apostles. We also have the example of Apollos in Acts chapter 18. We’re told that he was “instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord” (Ac 18:25). Even so, Aquila and Priscilla had to “[expound] unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Ac 18:26).

Do you remember what I said before about converting the converted? The fact is, not all disciples are at the same level of maturity and understanding. And it is the responsibility of the spiritually mature to train the less mature. Whether they are members of our church or another church, we take them under our wing, teach them, mentor them, and lead them to know “the way of God more perfectly.” Or to borrow an expression from Paul, we are to show them “all the counsel of God” (Ac 20:27).

We Are All Teachers

Now before you say, “Well, that’s what pastors are for,” take a look at Titus chapter 2. Sound teaching does begin with pastors, but we all have an obligation to disciple others. Titus 2 says, “Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—” (Tit 2:1-3). Let’s stop right there for a moment.

So the teaching here began with Pastor Titus. Paul tells him to train the men and the women. By the way, when he uses the word “aged,” don’t exclusively think about old age. First of all, it’s a broad term that covers ages we might consider relatively young. Second, the kind of spiritual maturity marked by the characteristics Paul described here is not limited to older people. Rather than think of “aged” as old, think of it as mature.

Teaching begins with qualified teachers such as pastors. But notice what Paul said next: “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded,” and so on (Tit 2:4-6).

Who is teaching the younger, less mature people in the church? The answer is the older, mature people in the church.

It follows a principle related in Ephesians chapter 4. Verses 11 and 12 say, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).

Unfortunately, some of the meaning of that passage is lost in the King James translation. It sounds as though God has put pastors in place to perfect the saints and do the work of ministry and edify the body of Christ. However, the verse could read like this: “He gave pastors and teachers to perfect [or equip] the saints for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ.” In other words, pastors don’t do it all. Pastors equip the church to help one another and to build up the body together.

Much like evangelism, discipling requires intentionality. We have to look for opportunities to disciple others in the church, and we have to take advantage of those opportunities.

Maybe we become aware of someone who is struggling with sin. Maybe someone has a misunderstanding about an important doctrinal point. Perhaps you notice someone who is not utilizing his or her spiritual gifts. If you see it, it becomes your responsibility to guide and teach them. Spend some extra time with them. Call them on the phone. Invite them to lunch. Certainly, pray for them, but also do whatever you can to instruct them.

We Are Not Alone

Now let me address the elephant in the room. We would all love for the Bible to give us a step-by-step formula for evangelizing and discipling. How do we approach someone? What do we say? But there’s a reason the Bible doesn’t give us an exact formula to follow. It provides several examples, but there’s no perfect formula. The reason that it doesn’t is that every person and situation is different. There is no perfect formula because there is no perfect way to do it.

But I can leave you with an encouraging word. The Great Commission ends with this promise from Jesus: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). “World” is slightly misleading. The word is aiōn, a reference to time, not geography. As we commit ourselves to making disciples, baptizing them, and continuing to teach them, Christ has promised to be with us every step of the way until the end of the age. He will be with us always.

Maybe the thought of evangelizing or discipling scares you. It can certainly be intimidating. Maybe you don’t think you’re qualified or capable. But remember this: Jesus himself is with you. He is in you. You won’t always know exactly what to say to someone. You may not always see the results you were expecting. But when the church is faithful to carry out this Great Commission, I believe Christ accomplishes exactly what he intends, and we find fulfillment within our souls.

Preached at Eureka Primitive Baptist Church (Chula, GA) on March 12, 2017