The Church: Real Mission
How many of you have heard a message on Matthew 28:18-20? How many have heard more than two messages on Matthew 28:18-20? How about more than five? Many of you have heard a message taught on this passage before, so there’s not a great likelihood that I’m going to say anything incredibly new, innovating, and mind-blowing. But one thing I will say is this. A message on Matthew 28:18-20, what we call the “Great Commission” is like going back to the basics. It’s like practicing the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Think about Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players of all time. How do you think Jordan got so incredibly consistent at his game? Hours upon hours upon hours of lay ups, free-throws, jump shots, and three-pointers. Going back to the basics. We have to continually go back to practicing the basics if we’re going to “succeed” at something.
And there’s a similar dynamic in the Christian faith. We need to go back to basics and be reminded of the mission of the Church, straight from the lips of Jesus Christ. That’s what Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission, is all about. It’s going back to the basics.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
These are the final words that Matthew includes in His Gospel. So His words have got to be very important–a command for us to remember and a calling for us to live by. It’s our part in the Story of God. It’s our part as a group of ordinary people who make an extraordinary impact for Jesus. There are three things that Jesus shares in this passage for us to join Him in His mission of re-creation:
All of the power and authority of the universe belongs to Jesus Christ, and it is by His power that we are sent and lives are saved and changed.
The context of this passage is immediately after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The eleven disciples (remember Judas, the betrayer, hung himself) and likely many other followers head up to Galilee in the northern part of Israel because Jesus has told them that He will meet them there.
I think there’s something very important about Jesus giving this Great Commission to His followers in Galilee. Galilee is called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” It is the northernmost part of Israel where many Gentile immigrants and mixed-race families lived. Jesus in giving His great commission up in Galilee of the Gentiles lets us know that this mission is way beyond simply the Jewish people. This is a mission that will change the world. People from every tribe, tongue, and nation will come to call Jesus Christ the Risen Lord.
And vv. 16-17 tells us that some of Jesus’ followers were “doubtful.” The word is better translated as “hesitant.” I think there was simply confusion present. Many of these followers had seen Jesus crucified on the cross. They had seen His body taken down and put in a tomb. Many hadn’t personally seen Him yet after His resurrection, and there was hesitancy. But they went anyway. They needed to see Him with their own eyes and hear Him with their own ears. What they would see and hear would change the world.
Can you imagine the scene? You’re gathered there in the hill country in Galilee, waiting with an overwhelming sense of expectation. And far off in the distance, you see Him walking towards you. It’s true. He is risen! All of your hopes haven’t been dashed. Everything that you’ve given your life for in following Him, everything you’ve left behind, hasn’t been for nothing. He’s risen, and here He comes. And the first thing that He says to this gathered group of followers is “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” All of the power, the right to rule, and the victory belongs to Jesus. Remember that Matthew’s Gospel is written primarily to Jewish people who are longing for the Messiah, and this last great proclamation from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel let’s us know that Jesus has all of the authority and power of the Messiah because He is the Messiah. He is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the King of the Universe.
I believe that Jesus immediately tells them about His power and authority because His followers are going to need to know and believe that as they are sent out into the world. He knows that they are going to face overwhelming odds against them as they take the good news of Jesus Christ out into the world. Jesus knows that the gospel is going to turn the world and its system of rebellion and utter selfishness upside down. Jesus knows that His followers are going to be ridiculed and persecuted as they follow and proclaim Him. Jesus ultimately knows that it is His power and His power alone that changes hearts and lives. So He begins with His power and authority. He sends us with His power. He goes before us with His power. He changes people’s lives as we pray for them in His power.
You need power when you take a risk. I love to ride motocross. While I don’t go crazy, I do like to catch a little air when I’m out riding. When you jump a motocross bike, you take a risk. You’ve got to give the bike some power. You’ve got to lay on the throttle during the approach, and then most importantly when you’re approaching the top of the jump, you’ve got to give it more throttle, more power. It’s a bit on the scary side, but you can’t do it without the power of the motorcycle.
We desperately need Jesus’ power. We need His power to give us compassion for the lost right around us. We need His power in praying for courage and conviction in our own lives to share Him with our world. We need His power to go before us and begin to soften the hearts of the people that we are led to share the gospel with. It is His power that sends us and His power that changes lives.
Not only does Jesus gives us His power, He promises His presence as well. He promises that He’ll walk with us every step of our lives as we pursue Him and His mission to the world–“and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The very last verse in Matthew’s Gospel, the climax, is the promise of Jesus’ presence with us. There are bookends to Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew 1:23, we find that God is with us… it’s a promise of presence. Matthew 1:23 read, “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And as we get to the end of Matthew’s story of Jesus, that promise of presence, God with us, holds true until we see Him again
What does “presence” have to do with mission? Why does Jesus, after giving us the Great Commission, the mission for our lives and for the church, remind us that He’s here with us? As our lives are transformed from the inside out by the presence of Jesus through His Holy Spirit, we begin to truly believe, not only intellectually but also experientially, that Jesus is real. We begin to believe that His love, His grace, and His lordship actually makes a difference in our lives. When we’ve experienced something life-changing, we tend to want to share that with other people. As we are changed, we want people we know and are about to be changed by the very same power and presence that has changed us. As we experience the presence of Christ, comforting us, guiding us, challenging us to trust, we are overwhelmed and overcome by the love of God. When that happens, we can’t help but share that. It simply overflows in mission.
I love “Northshore stories.” I love to witness when Jesus transforms lives, especially when that transformation goes “public” and overflows to the world in mission. Here’s another beautiful Northshore story–the story of Bob and Jane Sturm who are preparing to go to Ethiopia. It’s a story of Jesus’ presence with them through the tragic ups and downs of their story. It’s a story of Jesus’ presence overflowing in compassion and mission.
The Sturm’s story is the story of Jesus’ presence overflowing in their lives and spilling over to the world around them. God is using all of the experiences and pain of their lives to paint a new picture of hope. It’s the hope of the good news of Christ—and it’s changing lives in Ethiopia.
As Jesus has promised His power and authority to change our own hearts, to give us a passion for a broken world filled with broken people and broken lives, and as He promises to be with us in the beauty and ashes of our own lives, He also gives us a process to help clarify what we’re called to do on this mission. He tells us to go, to multiply, to baptize, and to teach.
“Go” – there’s been a lot of discussion about the translation of this word in Matthew 28. It’s not the main verb. It’s actually not an “imperative command” in the original language. It actually means “while you’re going…” As you’re living life in the world and as you build relationships with people that God puts in your path and in your life. But there is the force of a command because it assumes that we’re going. It assumes that we’re not cloistering ourselves in a Christian sub-culture never interacting with or impacting the world around us. Jesus tells us to “go” because we are the sent ones.
“Multiply” – as we go, we interact with people of our world. As we go into their lives and their world, we begin to build relationships with them. Then as the Lord leads, we share Jesus with them, and we invite them into the life-transforming community of Jesus. We multiply followers of Christ. That’s what “make disciples” means. As disciples, we are followers and learners (pupils) of Jesus Christ. As we live in the midst of a broken world, we invite those people into the life-transforming community of Jesus. We invite them to give their lives to King Jesus, to learn from Him, to experience His gracious and life-transforming presence. We are a part of the multiplication mission of Jesus to the entire world, across the street and across the globe.
“Baptize” – as we go, and as we share Christ and invite people into relationship with Him and His life-transforming community, the Church, we baptize them. Baptism (immersion in water) is not what saves you. But it is what publicly identifies you as a Christ-follower and as a disciple. Baptism means that your allegiance is now to King Jesus. It symbolizes that you are part of a new kingdom and that you have a new Master. Baptism means that for the rest of your days, you associate yourself with Jesus Christ. Baptisms means that you surrender to Jesus’ loving, sacrificial leadership in your life. Baptism shows that you are following Him.
“Teach” – as we go, as we share Jesus, and as people are baptized after they’ve given and surrendered their lives to Him, then we teach them what it means to follow Him for a lifetime. We disciple people. We teach them the how to study the Word, to pray, and obey Jesus in loving and gracious accountability. We teach them how to be a part of the life-transforming community in relationships with other believers. We teach them how to go into the world and join us on this mission. Evangelism cannot be separated from discipleship.
Jesus has given us His power. He has given us His presence. He has given us a process. Now it’s up to us to be joyfully obedient and join Him on His mission of re-creation for His glory and for our good. Let’s join Him!