The Great Commission to Make Disciples

The Great Commission to Make Disciples

The mission of Grace Clovis states: “We exist to transform the people of Clovis by finding, equipping, and multiplying followers of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.” This mission really comes from a combination of the Great Commission to make disciples and Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

A lot of mission statements include things about renewing the culture, beautifying the city, or pursuing social justice. Some are quite specific (i.e., reduce poverty, promote racial equality, etc.). These additions are largely a distraction. It’s not that they’re unbiblical, but they tend to pull the leadership of the Church away from their primary calling.

On the other hand, some focus so much on making believers, that the mission becomes nothing more than evangelistic endeavors. The seeker-sensitive movement was faulty in that it never sought to grow mature followers of Christ. There needs to be a balance. Packing too much into the statement is distracting, but saying too little is misleading.

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert suggest:

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.

What Is the Mission of the Church? p.241

We could point to plenty of commands that believers are to follow, but the mission of the church is not meant to be all-encompassing. It is meant to highlight our purpose as an institution established for the glory of God. So, in formulating that mission, we must consider the last words of instruction given by Christ to his disciples before ascending into heaven. In this Great Commission, he calmed their fears and gave them a purpose. It can do the same for everyone who worships Christ as their risen King.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

I. The Recipients of the Great Commission (16-17) 

A disciple is literally a follower or a student. They learn from and obey their teachers. But, in this passage, these disciples also worship. This wasn’t just any teacher, and they weren’t following him like typical students. They didn’t merely respect Jesus, they were willing to live and die for him. At the same time, we also see that some of them dealt with doubt. It will be telling to consider how Jesus deals with doubting disciples and how those same disciples recover their faith.

Disciples Who Obey

Let’s begin by noting the obedience exemplified by the eleven who followed and learned from Jesus throughout his ministry. The eleven disciples obediently went to the mountain that Jesus directed them to go so they could meet (16). This was the instruction that the angel, as well as Jesus, gave to the women earlier (vv 7, 10). Galilee was the location Jesus chose to begin his ministry (Matthew 4:15). It was a Gentile region that perfectly represented the kind of people Jesus was calling them to go among and make disciples.

Disciples Who Worship

Upon seeing the glorified and risen King, “they worshiped him” (17b). Just as the women worshiped Jesus from a posture of humility and faith, so the disciples did the same. Seeing Jesus sparked an immediate response of worship. It is an emotionally powerful scene. I am moved by the thought of the abrupt transitions these disciples made. One moment they were confused and mourning. Then next they are encouraged and hopeful. Then, finally getting the chance to see him would have been nothing short of overwhelming. Could you imagine their sense of relief?

Disciples Who Doubt

At the same time, “some doubted” (17c). This is not suggesting that we can worship while at the same time being filled with doubt. I think it is suggesting the opposite. Matthew is telling us that some of Jesus’ most committed followers—the eleven men who did not fall away like Judas—doubted rather than worshiped him.

This is quite typical of the disciples in the gospels. They were oftentimes slow to believe what Jesus was teaching. They were frequently confused and in need of correction. More often than not, Matthew highlights the extraordinary faith of outsiders: 

  • When the Roman centurion suggests that Jesus could heal his servant without even going to him, Jesus responds “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).
  • When the friends of a paralyzed man brought him to Jesus we read that “Jesus saw their faith” and forgave the man and healed him (Matthew 9:2).
  • When the unclean woman with a flow of blood reached out and touched the garment of Jesus he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew 9:22).
  • And when the Canaanite woman came in great humility and asked Jesus to heal her demon-oppressed daughter, Jesus said, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” (Matthew 15:28). 

On the other hand, the disciples were frequently filled with questions and fear. Matthew records multiple occasions of Jesus saying, “O you of little faith” to the disciples.

How Jesus Deals With Doubting Disciples

When Peter witnessed Jesus walking on water, he asked to do the same (Matthew 14:28-33). Peter began with faith, but once he caught the waves, he doubted and began to sink. Jesus reached out and supported him, but said, “why did you doubt?” It is the same word we find in Matthew 28:17. 

It is not that Peter stopped believing in Jesus. His commitment to Christ remains, even though he was filled with doubt that Christ could cause him to remain on top of the water. He is not conscientiously rejecting Jesus Christ, or even denying him as he would do later. This is the doubt of one who is not convinced of the power of Christ to accomplish something miraculous in and through him.

After the resurrection, we know that Thomas and other disciples doubted that this was the risen Christ (Luke 24:36-43). Thomas became convinced after receiving physical proof, touching the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side (John 20:24-29). But Matthew leaves all of that out of his account. Is he giving us something significant to consider?

Jesus didn’t single out those who doubted and ask them to leave the room or ignore the commission he was about to give. No, he gives them all the same instruction. He never singled out Judas either. Judas interacted with Jesus and the other disciples for three years and no one ever thought he would fall away as he did. Jesus washed Judas’ feet just as he did the other disciples. Judas witnessed and benefited from the miracles that Jesus performed throughout his ministry. Judas heard all the same instructions, but he betrayed Jesus.

How Doubting Disciples Recover Faith

Here, these men who are still doubting, seem to recover the faith that had been shaken. But, what is remarkable to me is that Jesus doesn’t suggest that their doubt means they did not belong there. 

He didn’t say, “Well, those of you are still questioning all that I’ve taught and accomplished, those of you who are currently filled with doubt about who I am and what I have done, let me first convince you…then I’ll instruct you.” He doesn’t say that. He simply gives them the same commission. 

So what sets these doubters apart from Judas? They obeyed! They did what Jesus commanded. We know from the book of Acts that all of these men go on to meet and gather together for prayer until the day of Pentecost. We don’t know how long their doubt lingered, maybe it was only for a fleeting moment, but they obeyed Christ and honored him in their response even though they struggled to understand it all. 

Isn’t that encouraging! Do you ever doubt? Do you struggle to believe the gospel at times? Does the temptation that surrounds you trip you up and cause you to question your commitment to Christ? You are not alone. Christians have always struggled with these things. You can take those doubts to the Lord. You can repent of your unbelief. And you can know that He will be faithful to bring comfort and assurance in his timing.

These are the recipients of the Great Commission. They are the one’s who receive…

II. The Contents of the Great Commission (18-20) 

The disciples are a mixture of faith and doubt. They are still reeling from the shock of seeing their risen Lord. But, surely his words would have brought greater confidence. Hearing him speak of his authority establishes his right to give them their commission. In the Great Commission, Jesus calls them to make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching all that they had learned from Him. And the concluding promise of the Savior’s presence would have been on their minds in all of their future triumphs and trials.

The Authority of the Savior

Jesus has received “all authority” as the Lord and Savior who conquered sin and death (18). Again, I appreciate how DeYoung and Gilbert discuss this:

“There can only be a mission imperative because there is first this glorious indicative. God does not send out his church to conquer. He sends us out in the name of the One who has already conquered. We go only because he reigns.” 

What Is the Mission of the Church?

This nicely wraps up the theme of our series: The King and His Kingdom. They were not left alone to fumble through establishing the religion of the new covenant. 

During Christ’s earthly ministry he gave his disciples the authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick (Matthew 10:1). He now commissions these eleven disciples from His exalted place of authority. His work continues through them, even as he prayed in his high priestly prayer, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). We know he also instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit who would fill and empower them for the mission (Acts 1:8). 

The Great Commission of the Savior

“Make disciples” is the only imperative in the verse. The other three verbs (going, baptizing, teaching) are participles that support the command to make disciples. Their mission went well beyond evangelism and baptism. Jesus was not commissioning them to crusade from town to town sharing the gospel. They were called to actually make disciples. These believers were to become fellow Christ-followers and learners by joining the Church in baptism and partaking in the ongoing work of the Church. The task for believers is to make disciples who are disciple-makers themselves.

Making Disciples By Going (19a)

The Church is to accomplish this, first of all, by going. Going is a necessary component of the command. Just as some overemphasize the first step of evangelism, so some overemphasize the equipping component—as if evangelism will take care of itself. No, a believer should be committed to the proclamation of the gospel. In order to proclaim the gospel, the disciples could not remain isolated. They couldn’t simply hunker down and wait for the persecution to pass. They were going to have to risk public shame and abuse. 

Making Disciples By Baptizing (19b)

Baptizing represents the entrance into the covenant community. We will see the disciples immediately applying this to entire families, just as the sign of the old covenant was given to entire families. This would naturally include members of all ages. Under the old covenant, infants were circumcised. Under the new covenant, we can assume that infants were baptized. 

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

Genesis 17:7 (ESV)

That ought to be our assumption unless there is a clear veering away from that aspect of the old covenant. But, as we see from Acts 2:39, the promises were not only meant for individual believers, but for them and their children. In other words, these promises remain relevant to entire households. 

Baptism alone does not make one a disciple regardless of one’s age. The recipients of the sacrament of baptism must improve it by faith. But the benefits of the sacrament are not tied to the timing of its administration (just as it was under the old covenant). We see continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants.

Baptism is to be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Christians believe in one God who exists in three persons. There is one “name” for God that is an expression of the three persons. Matthew has given hints along the way. At his birth, the name Immanuel “God with us” is applied to Jesus (Matthew 1:23). At his baptism, where the Father speaks, the Son is baptized, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13-17).

Baptism is something we take seriously to improve with faith and obedience throughout our lives. 

Making Disciples By Teaching (20a)

The disciples were also told to pass on the teaching they had received from Jesus. This would include teaching the whole gospel. They weren’t to limit their preaching and teaching to whatever itching ears wanted to hear. Nor were they to limit their teaching to sound bites of doctrine and truncated slogans. They were to teach “all” that Christ had taught them. It ought to include doctrine and practice. Christianity involves orthodoxy and orthopraxy, that is, the right belief and the right conduct.

I would argue that involves not just his formal instruction, but the way they observed Jesus living before them. Discipleship is not limited to classroom lectures and sermons from the pulpit. We ought to be observing and learning from the way Christ-like followers faithfully exhibit their beliefs through their actions.

The primary mission of the church is to make disciples of Christ by proclaiming the gospel of Christ. When you combine all of the elements in the Great Commission (going, baptizing, and teaching) it is apparent that the saints will need to gather in community for equipping and sending in order to accomplish the task. 

In other words, the mission of the church is to make more churches. We fulfill the Great Commission by planting churches that plant churches. And, at the smaller level, we can only plant churches as the followers of Christ become disciples who make disciples. The whole body is involved in the process. Everyone is critical to the mission.

Conclusion: The Promise of the Savior’s Presence (20b)

After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus promised them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” They understood that he would be departing physically, but he would remain with them spirituallyIn reality, this not so much Christ’s mission given to the Church to accomplish, as it is His mission to accomplish through the Church. The promise of His presence is the promise that He will continue to work in and through His disciples to carry out His eternal purposes.

In light of this promise, those who turn to Christ by faith, are baptized into his covenant community, ought to regularly sit under His teaching, and seek to obey the Great Commission to make disciples of their families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. To that end, let’s ask the Lord for his help in doing so.