One of the last recorded things Jesus said prior to ascending back into heaven was this:
“And Jesus came 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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Many Christians call this The Great Commission. It was impressed on my heart this morning to break down into its main components this passage.
I’m convinced that 1700 years of religion have saturated genuine Christianity, which Jesus designed to be a lifestyle. One effect of this is that The Great Commission has been degraded into something that is fairly impotent in the spiritual sense. This is similar to the way genetically altered seeds will yield a single crop but the plants that result cannot reproduce.
This sad situation is having a devastating effect on the Kingdom of God being advanced on the earth – both in current Christians and, then, through current Christians into the hearts of those who are currently lost.
THIS is grievous.
Jesus begins by saying that He was authorized to do something.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)
Just before baptizing Jesus, John the Baptizer proclaimed this:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:2)
Then, Jesus walked up. Kingdoms are about two things really. One is the establishment of order and the other has to do with the right one has to establish that order. This is called authority.
True spiritual authority on the earth is ALWAYS delegated or granted; it is NEVER seized. (Romans 13:1ff)
In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says that “all authority (power in the KJV) has been given to Me”. The word “authority” is the Greek “exousia” which means “delegated jurisdiction.”
This was given to Him by Whom? His Father in heaven gave that to Him.
In the next verse He starts by saying this: “Go therefore” and when He says this He is passing that authority on to us – Christians.
Now, I am aware that there are some who would say that Jesus is speaking here to the Apostles and that this pertained only to them. In response to them I would remind them that Jesus first gave these very same Apostles (minus Judas now) authority (again, “exousia”) over demons and authority to heal (Matthew 10:1) and then 4 verses later we read that he “sent them out” to do it. This was a dry run for The Great Commission.
It did not, though, stop with the Apostles-to-be.
“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.” (Luke 10:1)
In the next few verses we see that they, too, were given authority to heal, etc. This was also a dry run for The Great Commission. Why did Jesus send out these 35 teams of two consisting of regular, run of the mill disciples if He always planned that only “special” people like the original Apostles, official ministers and trained missionaries be the ones satisfying The Great Commission?
It’s because that was NOT His intention at all.
In Matthew 29:17-19, after Jesus told the Apostles that He was authorized to do what He was doing the first thing He did with that authority was pass it along to those who would remain on the earth after His ascension. He deputized, if you will, ALL Christians to do what He started on the earth: advance the Kingdom of God in and then through people.
Here is how He passed that authority along:
“Go…” (the first word in Matthew 28:19.)
We’ve been taught that the Great Commission has four components. Really, there are just three. Each is equally crucial….otherwise, Jesus would not have included them all in the commission He gave us.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20)
What most Christians consider the first component is “to go.”
Christianity has been hijacked. Satan wishes to neuter the Body of Christ so as to keep us from birthing new Christians. One way he has done this is to infiltrate us with what I call an “event mentality.”
God intends Christianity to be 24/7 perpetual lifestyle; however; spiritual events are scheduled, designed, orchestrated and people are invited to these events. God is invoked and called upon to perform spiritual activities at these events and then the events end and the people go home eager to attend the next event at which they can somehow be “filled up” again. It’s not the events themselves that is the problem; it’s the negative effects of the event mentality.
In stark contrast to this mentality we have verses like Romans 12:1 which encourages us to practice a LIFESTYLE of devotion to and dependency upon Jesus. Paul tells us that this “is your spiritual service of WORSHIP.” (NASB)
Paul also encourages us to “….be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18b) – also a lifestyle concept. Both these verses reflect Jesus’ own encouragement that we be constantly asking, seeking and knocking (lifestyle!!!) as reported in Matthew 7:7.
What happens when we take this event mentality and apply it to the Great Commission? We see it not as a lifestyle; rather, we see it in terms of events. We take the Matthew 28:18 command to “Go” and we boil it down to special projects or foreign or domestic missions only.
Now, I have done all three of those and they were wonderful things to do (provided God commands one to do them). And there ARE true evangelists on the earth today just as there were in the first century Church but, again, they tend to function only at special events like evangelistic crusades, door knocking campaigns, doing street ministry, etc.
Also, it seems that at any given time in Church history there is only a tiny percentage of the people who walk in this spiritual gift - yet we are all called to the Great Commission.
In the Greek, the command to “Go” means something a little different.
When Jesus says “Go” in the Great Commission, what He really means is: “As you are going…..” This speaks more to a lifestyle of spreading the Kingdom of God than it does to a series of sporadic missionary events. This also potentially mobilizes the entire Body of Christ and not the tiny portion that walks in evangelism as a spiritual gift.
We’re all living our lives: working, in school, visiting, shopping, etc. Jesus told those original 12 Christians that as they were going along working, visiting, etc. they were to practice the three real components of the Great Commission.
He speaks the same thing to us today.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The three components to the Great Commission are as follows:
1) As you are going, make disciples of all the nations
2) As you are going, baptize all the nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
3) As you are going, teach them to observe all Jesus commands us
When we look at these three components what strikes me is that the third one is being practiced a lot. There is a LOT of teaching being done in church buildings and ministries all across the earth.
The second is being done in some parts of the Church but is a crucial element that is often not practiced. When it is practiced it is often done as a mere ritual and seems to have little or no impact in the life of the one baptized.
Much of the time it isn’t even done properly, which is through immersion in water (since the word “baptize” is a transliteration of a Greek word that literally means to “bury in water.”) Many of the few who do baptize really just sprinkle or pour water on someone’s head. This is a spiritually meaningless practice. Any “baptism” other than immersion in water merely gets one wet.
The third component of the Great Commission, tragically, seems to be all but completely absent from almost all of the Body of Christ. In its place are sermons and Bible classes – both of which can be quite valuable….but neither is a substitute for Biblical discipleship.
Now, I want to stress that I do not consider myself to be an expert in discipleship -. I’m learning as I go. I have, though, become aware, especially in the last few years, how much I craved being discipled and how gratifying it has been to be discipled by the man who watches over my soul.
I’ve also become very aware of how devastating to the Body of Christ the lack of true discipling has been. It has truly crippled the Church of Jesus.
This lack is what I call the Great Omission.
This has prompted me to spend a lot of time praying, meditating and seeking God as to why so few are being discipled in the modern Church. The conclusion that I have come to is that there are two main reasons for this.
The first is that the event mentality that has seeped into the Church worldwide (but especially in the Western Church) wires us to expect that everything worthwhile that will happen spiritually will only happen during these regular events scheduled by man.
Since these events are almost always scripted and run according to a time table this means that what is presented as “discipleship” becomes a class taught in a lecture format.
One problem with this is that only a small percentage of all people receive in a lecture style. The other problem with it as this is not “discipleship” – it is a “teaching” by group style. As we will see in a little while, “discipleship” seems to be a lot more personal and spontaneous than that.
The second reason there seems to be little or no discipling happening in the Body of Christ is that…well, it’s hard.
Our model for discipleship is Jesus and His original 12 disciples. He spent roughly three years with them. They spent a LOT of time together. They traveled together. They did things together. They ate meals together.
They did participate in events together like when Jesus spoke to thousands but they didn’t schedule these. These events came together organically – orchestrated by Holy Spirit - and Jesus and the disciples participated in them. Afterwards, they would discuss what happened with Jesus explaining deep spiritual aspects of what had happened.
It has been my experience in disciplining others….and in being discipled…that it is a time consuming endeavor. It is often uncomfortable and can be heartbreaking and disappointing. We’re people…..we’re not always fun to be around. We do disappointing things and we do things that sometimes break one another’s hearts.
Don’t you think Jesus and the original disciples experienced that? I do.
But….while there have been difficult aspects to discipleship there have been many, many wonderful things. There is a lot of laughter. Happy tears. DEEP fellowship. There is a special joy that can only be found in these deep personal relationships and on-going experiences.
Discipleship is a rich experience and is not designed for the one discipling to be superior or elevated above those being discipled. NO ONE in authentic Christianity is at a higher level than anyone else. Only Jesus is elevated…..high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1).
So, even the one chosen by God to disciple another is equal with the one he disciples. This is a matter of equals in Christ learning together, healing together, being purified together, discovering together……drawing even more near to Jesus together.
Can you see why satan is threatened by this key component of the Great Commission?
And…wait! There is an even more exciting aspect to discipleship that truly TERRIFIES the enemy.
Real discipleship builds disciple makers.
This is how the first century Church grew and propagated to the end that it was still in existence when we were saved.
How, then, does this happen? Through discipleship events?
It happens “as we are going.”
How can we address the glaring need the current Body of Christ has for real discipleship? First, let’s resist the temptation to go start a program.
Instead, let’s resolve to go to our heavenly Father and ask Him to whom we are to turn for that person to disciple us. With whom would He have us be connected in personal spiritual relationships? Most likely, He has already connected you with others who are there for this reason; He will give you eyes to recognize that. This can happen within the confines of institutional congregational Church as well as smaller, more organic Church groups.
Then, ask Him to show you who is yours to disciple.
The third thing we can do is…..actually practice discipling and submitting to being discipled – and to do it even when it is difficult to do….ESPECIALLY when it is hard to do.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
God chose the term “body of Christ” for a reason. It’s to convey the reality that He intends the Church to be more of an “organism” than an “organization” (or collection of separate, non-cooperative sub-organizations.)
Organisms give birth. They reproduce.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
I’m convinced that the way the Church is to reproduce is through discipleship. Since Jesus modeled this with the original twelve disciples, the result was that those twelve men moved through the countryside as reflections of the One Who “birthed” them spiritually. They looked like their Father in heaven, since that is how Jesus looked.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
It is VERY important that as we practice discipleship we keep in mind that we are not making disciples of ourselves.
Jesus used the possessive pronoun “My” when describing disciples:
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.’” (John 8:31)
We’ve taken this verse to mean that spending time in the Bible will make us a disciple of Jesus. That’s not what this verse says (although I DO love to read the Bible.)
What Jesus is saying here is this: “My disciples instinctively abide in My word.” The term “abide in My word” literally means “continually live a lifestyle of obedience to My teachings”. This is simply what disciples of Jesus look like.
Living or acting a certain way does not make us disciples of Jesus. That would be behavior modification. BEING a disciple of Christ results in having a lifestyle of obedience to the ways and teachings of Jesus.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Being a disciple of Jesus results in people living in sacrificial love for one another.
So, it is VERY important that as we approach discipleship we be aware that we will be tempted to make people disciples of ourselves or our congregation or our denomination. We must resist that.
Satan does not want people to be disciples of Christ because people who live like and are ambassadors of Jesus are a real threat to his destructive kingdom on the earth.
Let’s deny him that.
I hope this article has been a blessing to you. I believe the Lord had me write it, as always is the case, primarily for me to be taught something that I needed to see and understand. I share it…because I believe He would have me do that. I think that what was shared here needs to be seen by others who have a desire to see God’s Kingdom advanced in their own hearts…and then through them to others.
I simply want to be a good disciple of Christ….and to partner with Him to build other disciple makers.
Perhaps this is your heart too.
Let’s, as we are going, practice the entire Great Commission as Jesus has commanded us and equips us to do.
"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)