Jesus was clear on his expectations of his followers. In the statement known as the Great Commission, Jesus uttered something on that Galilean hillside before he left this world to his disciples that would make a difference for all eternity. He proclaimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). Those words have become the Magna Carta of the Christian church, the blueprint for his movement. For two thousand years his words have been read and memorized and pondered and applied and obeyed (and disobeyed) and discussed by Christians of every group, sect, organization and denomination. What Jesus said to his disciples that day was perhaps the most important thing he ever said to them. It was his burning passion, his singular focus, his magnificent obsession.
Why should we take Jesus’ commission seriously?
At least in Matthew’s gospel, they were Jesus’ last words. Final words are always important. They represent that which is closest to the heart.
Jesus’ words explain what the followers of Jesus Christ are to do in the long period between his first coming and his second coming. They were his final instructions, the church’s marching orders.
In addition, Jesus’ words apply without exception to all Christians at all times, in all places, in every possible situation. They apply to everyone, everywhere, every place, and every day.
These words of Jesus Christ have a permanent and enduring and universal validity for you and for me. We ought to pay special attention to what Jesus was saying here. Jesus’ words speak to us personally. The implied word in Jesus’ statement is “You.” Jesus directed his words to every follower, not just to pastors and missionaries alone. This command is not a suggestion, not conditional, nor optional. Christians can’t pass them off, delegate the responsibility to someone else, or get a substitute to fulfill them. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then these words apply to us.
Furthermore, Jesus’ words have a singular command. In the original language, there is a single verb. It might seem as if go, make disciples, baptizing, and teaching are all verbs, implying that Jesus is telling us to do four things—to go, to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach. But, the only verb is to make disciples. The other three words are participles—go (meaning “going” or “as you go”), baptizing, and teaching. These three actions are dependent on the action of the verb—to make disciples. Jesus in his last message to his followers was sharing his heart, as he was about to bid farewell to them forever, said, “Gentlemen, after I am gone I want you to do one thing and one thing above everything else. I want you to go and make disciples.”
By the way, it was never the purpose of the Christian church merely to acquire and retain more church members, or to produce intellectual Christians, or to be content with passive pew sitters and casual onlookers. It has always been the purpose of the Christian church to disembark from its holy huddles to share Jesus’ gospel with those who have not heard his story. By sharing the gospel disciples are made. They are baptized into God’s family and taught the truth of Jesus Christ so they in turn will make disciples of other people. It’s a simple yet effective strategy.
Isn’t disciple making what the church is about? If you were to ask a BMW employee what they make, wouldn’t it be obvious? They make cars. If you were to ask a Boeing employee what they make, I’m guessing they would confidently answer airplanes. Ask a church what they make. I’ve asked this question before only to receive a variety of answers, if not a confused and dumbfounded look. How have Christians missed this disciple-making emphasis?
Jesus’ commission is believer’s mandate. If Jesus’ words were uppermost on his mind, then they ought to be highest on our minds. If at the end of Jesus’ time on earth, his heart was pounding for making disciples, then our heart ought to beat for making disciples. Here is the bottom line: Christians are called to fulfill the Great Commission. We are disciples who make disciples. That is our mission.
Jesus’ last words are our first words.
To get more information and join the South Carolina Christian Chamber of Commerce (SC-C3) movement, go to www.sc-c3.org and become a member today
Rick Ezell is the Managing Partner of Employee Care of America, which provides care, chaplaincy, coaching, and crisis management to the workplace (www.employeecareofamerica.com). Read more of his writings at www.rickezell.com.