Matthew 28:18-20 is the famous ‘Great Commission’ passage:
And 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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
This commission is not ‘great’ as though there are other, lesser ones. I think this is it! It is ‘great’ because it is the only one and it means joining with Jesus in his commission. We get to do what Jesus did, and actually is still doing!
So what does it mean? Libraries have been written on this, but the Lord has been emphasizing a couple of aspects to me recently that I have found very helpful and encouraging. I hope you will, too!
Along the way
‘Go…make disciples’. It is easy for this to sound like a direction to drop everything we are doing, join a mission society and move to foreign places – go, get out of here. That ‘go’ word isn’t really a onetime action. It would be better translated ‘going’. So the commission is ‘going…make disciples’, or ‘as you go…make disciples’, or maybe ‘along the way…make disciples’.
The point is that this is a continuous activity. We don’t have to leave where we are. Rather, as we go through our life we should proceed with an eye toward making disciples; be making disciples continuously, intentionally, in everything we are doing.
This takes the pressure off the fear of having to go to Outer Mongolia and at the same time it opens up all of life to the ‘great’ commission. We all get to do it, all the time – along the way.
This understanding of go/going/along the way leads to a re-examination of what Jesus meant by ‘make disciples’. In modern Christianity we equate this with leading people to a commitment to Christ, or training them in the Bible or theology. It is something done by evangelists or teachers or pastors, often in classes or book studies.
Jesus defined it for the disciples as ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’, which included the way of disciple making itself. Jesus lived life with the disciples. Sometimes he taught formally, often he used the circumstance of the moment to prompt instruction. They observed him and he observed them and they talked about it. They lived life together and in the process Jesus intentionally passed on his life to them.
A helpful description of this sort of discipleship is ‘helping people move from unbelief to belief in every area of life in the light of the Gospel’. This involves the head (understanding), the heart (believing/accepting), and the hands (actually doing!). It is a cumulative, really, life-long process. And it is one that every believer with the life of Christ in them can participate in.
We can all be helping those around us on this journey from unbelief to belief – along the way!