This is the final message in our series on the Great Commission. The Great Commission is not an option; it is a command given by Jesus to his disciples. In the beginning, it was to the original disciples, but the command was not just to the twelve. The Great Commission is for everyone who calls themselves “disciples”—anyone who has decided to follow Jesus. If you have decided to follow Jesus, you are a disciple and this Great Commission is for you.
Jesus said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore…” In other words, we had better pay attention and heed his command because it has the authority of the Son of God, the Lord of all Heaven and Earth, behind it. The Great Commission is a command that transcends all other missions we have in life. It is the Christian’s ultimate objective. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said it this way: “You have one business on earth—to save souls.”
So let’s look at the Great Commission as it was passed on to us in the Gospel of Matthew 28:18-20.
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Christ’s followers are to spread out into the whole world and live the Great Commission wherever we are. We go to our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, our work, and even to faraway places to spread the Good News about Christ wherever we are, every way we can, in whatever we do. A disciple is someone who makes Jesus the first priority of their life—even leaving everything else behind if necessary—learning Jesus’ ways and living them every day as they seek to make new disciples. Today, we will consider how Jesus said we are to make disciples. He said, baptize them and teach them all of his commands.
Baptism is the initiation rite for new disciples. It is the beginning. Jesus welcomes anyone to be his disciple, but anyone who wants to be his disciple must make a conscious decision to follow him. They must recognize that Jesus is the Son of God, that he has the power to forgive their sins and save them. They must choose to trust Jesus to save them, accept him as their Lord, and become his disciple.
Churches have a surprising number of people in them who have never made this decision. Jesus has always had a lot of people gathering around him who were curious, attracted by his ideas, or who admired the way he lived (maybe that describes you). Crowds of people followed Jesus around the countryside during his earthly ministry, but he had only 12 disciples in the beginning who made a conscious decision to be completely committed to Christ.
I want as many people as possible to come hear the Good News about Jesus. Everyone is welcome to come and listen. But just because a person comes to church doesn’t mean they are a disciple (AKA a Christian). Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car! A person starts their life as a disciple when they decide to put Jesus first. And the usual way for us to acknowledge that decision is baptism. Through baptism, we recognize a person is adopted into the family of God and God grants grace to help that person to live and grow as a child of God.
Some might say, “I don’t ever recall making a decision. I know that Jesus is my Lord today. I know he is first in my life and that I would do anything for him, but I don’t remember when I first made a decision. I grew up in the church and sort of came to it gradually.” That may be true and you might not ever remember the moment you made a decision, but you obviously have decided. There’s nothing wrong with that. The key here is that you have decided to be Jesus’ disciple (remembering the moment is not that important). Unfortunately, there are many in the church who have not decided. They may even think they are Christians because they go to church, but they aren’t because they have not decided to leave everything else and follow Jesus.
Some might say, “Well I was baptized as a baby and I don’t even remember it. Am I still a Christian?” We baptize babies as a decision of the parents to raise a child from the very beginning of their life as Christians with the hopes that one day they will make their own decision to follow Jesus. It is a chance for parents to seek God’s grace for themselves and the child that they will do everything possible to make a true disciple of their child. It is the act of parents who are faithful disciples, but the child must eventually decide for themselves. The baptism is not complete until a child grows up and decides for themselves to be a Christian (most often around the age of 12 when a child in confirmed in the confirmation ceremony).
If we are going to make disciples, we need to invite people to make a decision to follow Jesus. Now that doesn’t mean you have to walk up to everyone you meet and immediately bombard them with some evangelistic sales pitch. Sometimes you have to be patient. Sometimes you have to get to know people and build a real relationship with them. Sometimes you have to pray for people for a while so that God will give you the opportunity to make a disciple. But at some point if we’re going to make disciples, we have to challenge people to choose who will be their Lord.
I would like to challenge all of you today to decide who is your Lord. Have you ever decided? (I don’t mean do you remember the day you decided, but do you know today who is your Lord? In other words, do you put Jesus first in your life—above your work, your family, your ambitions, your money, etc.?) If you have never decided who is your Lord, I implore you to decided today. Just because you've been coming to church for a while, doesn’t mean you are a Christian. Choose today if Jesus will be the Lord of your life.
The decision to be a disciple of Jesus is the beginning, but it doesn’t stop there. Next, we must teach people all of Jesus’ commands. Gavin will graduate from high school this year. Over the last year, Gavin has been considering which college he would like to go to after high school. He finally decided on studying computer network engineering at Georgia Tech.
Now suppose Gavin gets accepted into Georgia Tech’s computer networks engineering program. Will that automatically make him a computer network engineer? Of course not. In order to become an engineer, Gavin will have to study for at least 4 years and pass all his courses and earn his degree.
A person who decides to be a Christian has made a wise choice, but it is only the beginning. Now they must learn Jesus’ teachings. This is what the disciples did. As they followed Jesus, he taught them his ways—how to pray and fast, how to live, things to avoid, how to minister, how to love people, etc. He spent three years coaching them. And it was more than book knowledge or just listening to a sermon. It was “on-the-job” training. In other words, he gave them opportunities to actually minister—to heal the sick, to preach and teach, to show mercy to the needy.
This aspect of discipleship is so important. Think about it: how do you teach a child how to throw and catch a football? You could explain it to them—describe all the elements of proper catching and throwing—and you probably will, but that’s not enough. They have to practice; they actually have to spend time throwing and catching to learn. The same is true of Christian disciples. It’s not enough to come to church and listen to a sermon. We actually have to practice our faith. We have to pray. We have to practice self-sacrifice. We have to love others. We have to serve. We have to trust God to help us do things that are beyond our ability. We have to be a witness. We have to make disciples.
Discipleship is an ongoing, contextual education experience. We learn by doing. And just because you’ve been a Christian for 30, 40, or 50 years, doesn’t mean you’re done. You still have more to learn. The Apostle John outlived all the other original 12 Disciples. He lived to see all the other’s martyred for their faith. John is the only one who died of old age. Yet John never retired from being a disciple; he never said, “I have finally learned it all.” So even if you are a Christian who is 70, 80, or even 90 years old, you are still a disciple who is learning while doing the work of Christ.
Jesus concludes the Great Commission with a promise. He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” As we decide whether or not to be Christ’s disciple, as we encourage others to be disciples, as we practice our faith, as we teach others Jesus’ commands, Jesus is with us. Isn’t it good to know Jesus is with us?
As we close, I invite you to:
· Spend a moment in prayer and identify someone you could mentor for the next 2 or 3 years the way Jesus mentored the disciples—teaching them, encouraging them, coaching them in the faith, giving them opportunities to serve.
· And if you’ve never made a choice to follow Jesus, I invite you to make a decision today. Will you go where Jesus asks you to go? Will you love who Jesus asks you to love? Will you follow him?