All nationalities should be welcomed and accepted in our churches. This is what makes the church Missional. Missional church researcher Ed Stetzer warns against being missional in wanting to reach your local culture but not being Missions in wanting to reach those not in your culture. Some Missional churches are focused on the local not the global. Some Missions churches are only concerned with cultures an ocean away. The remedy is for the church to be “glocal” as Bob Roberts says in Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World. Driscoll, in Vintage Church, gives a good introduction to the Missional movement in chapter nine, “What is a Missional Church?” He strikes a balance: “It is unfortunate that foreign missions is not part of the vision of many missional churches….It is also unfortunate the local community is lacking from the vision of many missions churches….Subsequently, their youth spends ten days building a house in Mexico rather doing repairs on the run-down apartment building across the street” (page 242).
Christ’s mission statement for the Church is combined in five commission passages not just in the Matthew 28 version. We should interpret the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20 in the context of all five statements. The five commission passages were taught by Jesus over the 40 day post-resurrection period. The five statements combined give us the Great Commission:
We have been sent to make disciples by preaching the Gospel to every person which is the first step in making disciples which includes preaching repentance through the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth.
1. We Have Been Sent (John 20:19) given on the first Easter in Jerusalem
2. To Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) added two weeks later in Galilee
3. By Preaching the Gospel to every person which is the first step in making disciples (Mark 16:15) possibly stated at the same time of Matthew 28
4. Which includes preaching repentance (Luke 24:47) given just before His ascension in Jerusalem
5. Through the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) also stated just before His ascension
If our commission is to make disciple then we need to be able to profile a disciple.
1. A Disciple is an obedient follower of Christ.
In Matthew 28:1-15, the Jewish leaders reject Christ on the first Easter. In Matthew 28:16, at least two weeks later, the disciples obey Christ. Matthew juxtapositions these two responses by splicing them together with “But” to give the effect they happened one after the other to contrast disobedience and obedience.
Jesus describes a disciple as a believer who obeys His commands in John 15:8-10. The disciples who obeyed Christ to meet with Him in Galilee traveled probably by foot for five days from Jerusalem. Unlike all the other post-resurrection appearances, this one was announced and for this reason there were probably 500 believers there (1 Corinthians 15:6). Obedience is not always easy.
2. A disciple has a ministry to people to perform for the Lord. The Great Commission in Matthew was given in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). The setting of the great commission was among unsaved Gentiles. The Reformers believed the Great Commission was given only to the eleven. In other words, we are not responsible to reach our generation for Christ. Why is the Reformer’s interpretation wrong?
First, because the eleven did evangelize all nations. They also did not evangelize unto the end of the age. Lastly, non-apostles like Philip and Stephen participated in the Great Commission in Acts.
Now that we have examined the remote and immediate context of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 let’s unpack its content.
1. The Proclamation of Jesus’ New Authority (Matthew 28:18)
All authority has been given to Christ in heaven and in earth because of His resurrection (Romans 1:4). There is no reference to Christ’s ascension to heaven in Matthew but Jesus speaks as one already in Heaven ruling over all creation.
Alexander McClaren writes of the investiture granted Christ: “And so the hands that were pierced with the nails wield the sceptre of the Universe, and on the brows that were wounded and bleeding with the crown of thorns are wreathed the many crowns of universal kinghood.”
2. His Plan for the Church (Matthew 28:19-20a)
The Great Commission based on the authority of Christ is seen in Jesus’ “Therefore.”
The great commission centers on the one imperative “make disciples.” We disciple “all nations” which is a plural collective that describes the whole world outside the community of believers (Luke 24:47).
The method for obeying our authoritative King for making disciples is laid out in the three particles (verbs that serve as adjectives).
A. The Method of Evangelization “Having gone”
1) Through confrontation as in Acts 8 when Philip goes takes the gospel to the Ethiopian bachelor. Sometimes God opens the door to witness to a total stranger who sits down beside you on a commerical flight.
2) Through friendship as in John 1:40 when Andrew brings his brother Peter to Christ. The person who impacted my life more than anyone and was responsible for my salvation was my godly mother.
3) Through event evangelism as in Acts 10 when Peter preaches to the friends and family of Cornelius. Elmer Towns made popular “Friend Day” which has been by God to bring many to Christ.
B. The Method of Assimilation “Baptizing”
Baptism is a public pledge of our discipleship. Baptism identifies us with the local church as in Acts 2:41-42. Baptism is, however, more than getting the new convert all wet. Baptism is immersing the new convert into the life of the church. Entry level ministries like AWANA can help with getting them plugged in.
C. The Method of Education “Teaching them”
The Great Commission version in Matthew was given in the context of five major sermons in Matthew interspersed in the narrative of Matthew’s theme of the Messiahship of Christ.
The narrative in Matthew 3:1-4:25 discusses the Birth of the King
1st Sermon: Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
The narrative in Matthew 8:1-10:4 presents the credentials of the King
2nd Sermon: Mission to Israel (Matthew 10:5-11:1)
The narrative in Matthew 11:2-12:50 records the first rejection of the King
3rd Sermon (Matthew 13) Parables of the Mystery form of the Kingdom for reaching Gentiles in this age
The narrative in Matthew 13:54-17:27 records the second rejection of the King
4th Sermon (Matthew 18:1-19:2) Principles of the Kingdom
The narrative in Matthew 19:3-23:39 describes the presentation of the King
5th Sermon (Matthew 24-25) Olivet Discourse/Future Return of the King
The narrative in Matthew 28:1-15 details the Death and Resurrection of Christ
Now that Jesus is ascended back to Heaven, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 commands the church to carry on the same teaching ministry. We teach people “them” not just lessons or sermons. We teach to transform them not just to inform them.
3. The Promise of His Enduring Presence (Matthew 28:20b)
As we fulfill the Great Commission Christ promises to be with us in blessing our ministry. This is not just the omnipresence of Christ but the blessing of His approval as we implement the great commission. Paul experienced this presence in Acts 18:9-10.
It has been said that a church’s greatness is not in its seating capacity but in its sending capacity. As we understand and obey Christ’s mission statement God will bless us with disciple making disciples at home and around the world.