What is the whole point of our lives on this earth? What is the purpose of every church? What is the task of every Christian? Just what exactly are we supposed to do with the handful of decades that God has given to us?
How many books have been written, sermons preached, and videos directed in our attempts to answer these questions? We ask these questions as if they exist as mine shafts miles deep when really the answer to each is so straightforward and simple: We are to be disciples of Jesus who live to make disciples of Jesus. Individually and collectively, the answer remains the same.
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:18-20
One command, two promises, and three parts.
The one command is: Make disciples. Defining a disciple remains straightforward enough. In Luke 6:40 Jesus taught, “A disciples is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” As Christians, we may have many people who guide and offer wisdom and instruction about God and his Word; but we have only one teacher, one instructor—Jesus (Matthew 23:7-10). Jesus gave the command of Matthew 28 to his disciples (28:16). So disciples are to follow Jesus to become like Jesus in order that they may help lead others to follow Jesus to become like Jesus.
So what does it mean to become like Jesus in this sense? Will we walk on water, calm storms with a word, and feed thousands with only a few fish and loaves of bread? Probably not, though we worship the God who created everything from nothing so anything is possible. But the sure nature of becoming like Jesus is growing in our love for God that overflows into a love for others. Jesus lives as the perfect embodiment of a person who loves God and loves others without fail. Just as the Father sent him into the world, so Jesus sends us (John 17:18, 20:21).
We spend so much time learning truths and facts about the world that we may go and learn more truths and facts that we may go and work hour upon hour year after year just to consume bread that nourishes for a moment before being expelled, buy clothes that last for a time before fading and tearing, and build roofs that protect for a period before crumbling or passing on to someone else. It is so consuming that to an outsider it must seem like the purpose of our lives, yet even the jobs we work day after day or night after night must be a tool in the way we love God and love others, or they are wasted foolishness.
A love for God and a love for others must consume all that we do in order that we help others come to love God and love others. Be a disciple to make disciples. Simple.
The two promises Jesus gave involve his authority and his presence. The world likes to tell us to keep our faith to ourselves while Jesus tells us to engage the world for the sake of his name (his glory). Why do we follow Jesus no matter what the world may say? Because he is King.
All authority belongs to him—all rule, all power. It is his. There are other kings but he is the King. Even the mightiest on earth will one day bow before him. It is upon this authority that he tells us go therefore. We go because he has ordained it.
Then as we go, Jesus is with us. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Not only has the King given us a task, but he is right there with us, indeed, right there in us through his Holy Spirit, empowering us for involvement in this task. We pray to experience more of the presence of Jesus, for sometimes God seems far off; we pray to see more of the power of Jesus, for sometimes the victory seems far from sure. And yet in the simple task of making disciples, the one of all power promises that he is with us always.
Maybe if we want to dwell more in the intimate presence of our Lord and live in the awesome power of our God, we should just simply obey.
The three parts of this one command are summarized by three simple words: go, baptize, and teach. To go is to actually live on the mission field. For the church universal, this field is as big as every inhabited square inch of our globe. If even a single person dwells there, our aim is to reach them. Though straightforward, this does require some strategy: we have to learn their language and their customs so that we can clearly communicate the message of Christ. This takes effort and time. We must make travel arrangements, usually involving planet tickets and passports. There is money involved.
But let’s not get lost in these details… The one with all authority and all power is with us, his Spirit is within us. Though we might have to strategize and plan, ultimately if he wants us to be there he will get us there. And that brings us to our individual mission field.
You are somewhere.
Profound, right? Simple, yes?
You are somewhere. And if you are actually dedicated to be a follower of Jesus, you are in the somewhere you occupy this instance because the sovereign Lord of all power has led you there. “The heart of a man plans his ways but the Lord establishes his steps” ~ Proverbs 16:9. If you follow Jesus, then your heart and mind are open to the possibility that your somewhere may become someplace thousands of miles away in a culture you don’t presently know. But for now, for this moment and for this instance your somewhere is exactly where you stand, sit, live, breathe, work, and play.
Be a disciple who makes disciples right now where you are at. Love God in a way that overflows into a love for others and as you love those others seek to help them love God and love others. If they don’t know Jesus, tell them about Jesus as you serve them. If they don’t follow Jesus, tell them what it means to follow Jesus as you live it. If they follow Jesus, spur them on to love and good works and growth in their love for God. Look around. The harvest is plentiful…
The second part of this command is to baptize. We don’t have the space here to get into a developed theology of baptism, so let’s go simple. Baptism is an initiation—we are plunged into water and brought out of it to show that we belong to Jesus in union to him in death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6, etc.). If we are united to Jesus, we are also united to his body, which happens to be his people we call church. Baptism stands as an act which declares our faith and our desire to belong to Jesus and his people. As we go with the gospel to live it and share it, there will be a response—either people will reject it or they will receive it and turn to Jesus. Those who turn to Jesus, we baptize.
The third part of this command is to teach. We teach a specific content: the Bible and the commands Jesus gave us in this Word of his. And we teach for a specific purpose. Yes, naturally, it will be growth in information, but if all we ever do is hear what Jesus says then we are forgetful fools (Luke 6:46-49, James 1:22-25). Instead, we learn that we might do, and hence Jesus said, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”
Books, Bible study material, Sunday School programs, and the likes might be helpful tools, but the point is to teach the word. If your church is like my church, then I’m sure you have people who have spent years reading books, going to Bible studies, and flipping through Sunday School materials and yet they don’t know the Bible so they don’t obey the Bible.
Throughout the Bible we see examples of how the word was taught: Jesus, Paul, and others read it, spoke it, dialogued about it, answered questions concerning it, and modeled it. So what should we do—especially if we are the ones living as disciples to make disciples who make disciples? Well, we get together with others and we open it, we read it, we talk about it, dialogue back and forth about it, ask questions, answer questions, and live it as a model.
It is simple and straightforward. Make disciples.
So why does it seem so hard? Well…ready? We make it hard.
Sometimes it is because we just don’t do it. Here’s a simple question: Do you call Jesus Lord? If you answer yes, then do you live to make disciples? If you answer that with no, then I point you to Luke 6:46 where Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I tell you?” Seriously, reflect on that. What matters most in this life in view of eternity centers on the question of whether or not we actually believe that Jesus is Lord. If we say we do, then how on earth do we excuse our blatant disobedience to Jesus’ most basic command?
It’s someone else’s job. Really? Jesus calls his followers disciples. He tells his disciples to make disciples. It is the job of his disciples to make disciples. If you have no interest in taking part in making disciples, then how do you justify calling yourself his disciple? It’s time you rethink and reprioritize your life.
I don’t have the time. Okay. What exactly are you doing that matters more? If you’re going to school, it’s ultimately not about how many degrees you can earn so you can boost your paycheck. Rather, it should be about how you can use the information and the relationships you build in order to make disciples. If you’re working a job, it’s ultimately not about the money in the bank or your 401. Rather, it should be about how you can use that money and the influence you have on others in order to reach them for Christ. If you’re raising a family, it’s ultimately not about how great a basketball player little Timmy or Susie grows up to become. Rather it is about you loving your spouse, children, and grandchildren in such a way that you seek to compel them towards an all-consuming passion for Jesus and his commands.
I don’t know how. That’s fine. We all begin our life in Christ as spiritual infants who need to grow. But…What are you doing to grow? With whom are you involving yourself so they can help teach you to obey everything Jesus commanded and encourage you to go out and make disciples?
Let’s stop with the lame excuses already.
Other times we don’t obey because we don’t really know Jesus and his word. To know someone you have to spend time with that person. To know a book you have to spend time reading and meditating on it. It isn’t going to happen with a few minutes in the word here and there combined with a few minutes of prayer, and then a few more minutes added in on Sundays. We treat prayer and reading the Bible like chores, when they should be delights as we spend time with God the awesome and holy creator of all things! God reveals himself as Father and Jesus as brother. We are his children and brothers and sisters. We are family. What kind of family doesn’t want to spend time with each other? What child doesn’t want to speak to his or her father? What brother or sister doesn’t want to spend time with their brother? A dysfunctional one… but God is not a dysfunctional and distant Father, and Jesus is not a brother who delights in nothing else than giving us wedgies. We should delight in spending time with him personally and corporately.
Personally, I don’t get it. I don’t get the attitude that wants a church service to last only an hour and a sermon to last only 20 or 30 minutes. Why are we so eager to get away from our family in Christ and to be done with hearing the word of God? I suppose if the ones preaching do nothing but read a verse or two and tell stories then, yeah, we might as well go home. I suppose that if you actually have no interest in really getting to know the people sitting around you, then you might as well scurry off to the restaurant with people you actually like. And if that’s the case, then whatever it is you go to ain’t a church gathering, no matter what the sign out front says. Watching grass grow is more spiritually uplifting.
But you get a group of people together who love God, love others, and crave the word—and it should be hard to peel them apart from that time of corporate worship as they seek to know Jesus and his word together. And yet, when peeled apart, it is encouragement to go into the world and make disciples.
In the end, no reason(s) should take priority over the command Jesus has given us. It’s simple—make disciples. Let’s quit making it hard. Let’s quit putting ourselves in the way and exalting other priorities. Let’s set about the task and commit ourselves to the very thing for which Jesus promises to always be with us.