Go and Make Disciples!
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 28:18-20
When Jesus came onto the scene, everyone knew something was different about him. He taught with confidence, charisma, sincerity, boldness, and authority. The combination was shocking to his hearers. During his public ministry, they followed him all over the region, often acting unusually to get their glimpse of this astonishing teacher. Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree, a woman pushed through the crowd to touch his garment, a group of men cut through a roof, all to see Jesus. However, in some ways, Jesus’ earthly ministry was only a shadow of his true power and authority. After the resurrection, the shadow starts to give way to light. When Jesus rose from the dead, he disarmed the forces of evil. He no longer set aside his true power. Now, he would pass the baton. He taught them. Now it was time to commission them.
Our memory verse this month is what is commonly called the great commission. They are the last words of Matthew’s gospel. These words have inspired discipleship, evangelism, and missions work for two millennia, and the mission isn’t over. Each of the three verses communicates a different important concept for believers to remember as they seek to be faithful witnesses for Christ today. We find them in the form of a proclamation (v. 18), commission (v. 19), and consolation (v. 20). Here are some of my reflections on the passage.
Proclamation (Verse 18)
When Jesus appears to the disciples for the final time in Matthew’s gospel, they are hesitant. Matthew 28:17 states, “when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” That probably doesn’t imply unbelief, but something like confusion, uncertainty, or poor comprehension. For the disciples, everything was happening very quickly. In only a few days, Jesus has gone from the humble person they walked with to the resurrected king. He probably resembled his transfigured state more than his earthly (Mt 17). Understandably, they didn’t know how to process these things.
In response to their doubt, he comes closer and exclaims that the Father has given him all authority in heaven and on earth. In other words, their worship was well placed, because his divine nature was now manifest. He will no longer be the humble man who “emptied himself.” His resurrection finalized his claims to authority and established him as the spotless one. He is undoubtedly the Son of God. Thus, he takes his rightful place and assumes authority over all creation. Jesus is going to pass the torch, so he wants them to be confident that his power will not be dimmed by his departure. You might recall that he did something similar during his earthly ministry. In Matthew 10, Jesus endowed them with his authority over unclean spirits while first commissioning them as apostles. Now they are going forth with orders from the highest authority, and he wants them to rest in that. Verse 19 contains the content of that commission.
Commission (Verse 19)
Now, for the charge. “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” There are four actions at play in this passage, but the wording can confuse us without close reading and study. There is only one command in this passage—make disciples! The other three actions describe how to go about disciple-making. According to Jesus, disciple-making involves three core elements. Let’s briefly discuss each.
1. Go – It seems obvious but is worth highlighting. In most cases, disciples will not fall into your lap or knock on your door and beg you to disciple them. You will need to challenge someone wherever God has called you to. That might mean taking to the mission field, but in any context, it means evangelizing unbelievers. It might mean intentionally pouring into a family member, friend, or neighbor. Either way, we are responsible for taking the initiative to disciple others. Jesus didn’t wait for the twelve to come running. He sought them, challenged them to follow him, and taught them along the way (Mt 4:19, 9:9). He commissioned us to follow his model!
2. Baptize – A rite of initiation for those who had received the message about Jesus and trusted in him for eternal life. The disciples were familiar with the baptism of John, so they understood the symbolism of baptism. However, Jesus no longer wanted them to go through a preparatory baptism for repentance. Now they would be baptized in the name of the Triune God. This change would serve to identify them as disciples of Jesus, having died to sin and been raised with Christ (Rom 6).
3. Teach – Specifically, he says to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” That is more than just information. Jesus walked alongside his disciples for three years. He was constantly instructing them in truth and explaining the proper application of the scriptures. We are to do the same. It is a grievous mistake to evangelize and subsequently assume that the converts are “all good.” A disciple is a student. They need instruction, guidance, and opportunity to learn by example. In other words, your disciple isn’t discipled until they are a fellow disciple-maker.
Consolation (Verse 20)
Third, Jesus consoles his heavy-laden followers. This commission is anything but easy. They are dealing with a seemingly impossible task on an unfathomable playing field. Jesus knows that. He understands exactly how difficult it seems. That is why he leaves them with words of consolation. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Their task may be difficult, but they don’t toil in their strength. Even in his physical absence, Jesus walks alongside his followers to accomplish the task. Imagine that for a moment. The omnipotent, omniscient, authoritative ruler of all things stands beside you as you follow his orders. With that kind of help, nothing he calls you to will be impossible!
Finally, consider these verses in your own life. This commission did not end with the apostles. You and I have the same responsibility. Do you remember Jesus’ authority? Are you submissive to it? If not, you should be. Are you a disciple-maker, or disciple-faker? Are you intentionally pouring into others? Do you challenge unbelievers to believe and be baptized? Are you teaching young Christians how to be Christ-followers? If not, you should be. Think about how you can orient your life around that purpose. Does this all seem too challenging? Without Jesus it would be. Thankfully, he walks with you through it all!