What would you say if you knew these were your last moments to communicate? Final words are important words. We even give hardened criminals the chance to say their final words before executing them. Whenever we hear the words of Jesus, we should perk our ears up. We should pay special attention. The God-man is speaking. The one who not only created this universe with His Word but holds it together with His Word is speaking (Hebrews 1:1-3). His Word is final, powerful, and should dictate our actions. What does Jesus say with His last opportunity to speak?
Matthew 28:18-20, “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 behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” There are some important aspects to these last words that we cannot miss.
The True Leader of the Church:
First, Jesus calls out His authority. Jesus has not been delegated specific authority; Jesus has been given all authority. Therefore, there is no way for us to misunderstand who is in charge. It does not matter what aspect of life; Jesus is in charge. We often get off, stating something ridiculous like “at my church…” It is not your church. It is not my church. It is Jesus’ church. He has been given authority over it. That is, “all authority.”
In case there is still a question in your mind, in Matthew 16, Jesus states, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18, ESV). Whose church is it? Who is building it? In Ephesians 2, we are told that not only is it Jesus’ church that He is building but that it is built on Him. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV).
What these verses mean is that the one ultimately in charge of and responsible for the growth and development of the church is Jesus Christ. Paul affirms this in Ephesians 5, where he says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:23-24, ESV). Jesus is the ultimate leader of the church and is responsible for building His church. However, instead of pastors sighing with relief, or thinking that they are off the hook, we need to understand the next part of these amazing verses.
The True Mission of the Church:
This passage makes a change. What starts with the reality of who Jesus is, now changes to what we are called to do. Because Jesus has all authority, He has the right to dictate how we live. Jesus tells his followers to make disciples. While this verse is often used to promote foreign missions, it actually has more to do with the mission of the church than missions around the world. It is not a call to leave all and go to a tribe in the middle of nowhere. Rather, we are in all circumstances, in all places, to make disciples, even to the ends of the earth. While there are many things the church can be about and should be about, the main mission of the church, the gathering of followers of Christ, is to make more followers of Christ. Dr. Warren Wiersbe said of this verse, “The Greek verb translated go is actually not a command but a present participle (going). The only command in the entire Great Commission is “make disciples” (“teach all nations”). Jesus said, “While you are going, make disciples of all the nations.” No matter where we are, we should be witnesses for Jesus Christ and seek to win others to Him (Acts 11:19–21)” (The Bible exposition Commentary).
The Means to Fulfill the Mission:
Jesus then transitions from the command to the ways by which we are to fulfill that command. First, there is an implied aspect to this. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Wiersbe said, “The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers.” (The Bible exposition Commentary). Therefore, the implication is that evangelism is taking place. To make a disciple means that someone who was not a disciple is now a disciple. The church, therefore, is a gathering of Jesus followers who are on mission to see others follow Jesus.
Jesus does not stop at conversion, however. Instead, He gives two more direct objectives for the church. These new Jesus-followers are to be baptized. This marks their new life. They were on one path and now, they are on a different path. This means the church is called to challenge people to not just affirm Jesus but to change and live out their belief in Jesus. Baptism is the public proclamation of the internal change that has taken place.
Finally, there is a call to teach the disciples what it means to follow Jesus. It must be noted that the baptism is into the triune name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, theological training is connected with this teaching. Otherwise, the triune name and nature of God would not make any sense. However, not just theological but practical themes are to be taught. The church is to teach disciples, “to observe all that I have commanded you.”
So, Jesus’ call on His initial disciples, those who days later are the foundation of the church, are called to make followers out of non-followers, baptize them, and teach them theology and the Christian life. These subsequent disciples then are to follow the commands of Jesus, which include His call to make disciples. Therefore, according to Jesus, the church is to be a gathering of disciple-making disciples. This is what Jesus commanded. This is how Jesus has built His church on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Himself as the cornerstone.
In one sense, this seems to dumb-down what the church is to be about. Is it not too simple? Yet, this is exactly what we see in the book of Acts when the church is described. In chapter 2, Peter stands and delivers the very first sermon. The first act of the church was not to form a worship team, missions committee, or a budget team, it was to preach! As a result, three thousand people get saved. Those who defend small churches on the basis of the book of Acts miss that the first church was an instant mega-church. The very next description pulls the curtain back on the life of the early church.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:41-47, ESV).
The church began as a large group of new disciples. These disciples were instantly baptized. They then devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles. We can read between the lines that this teaching was what Jesus taught as the disciples, now apostles, were taught directly by Jesus. It should be noted that when Jesus taught Scripture, specifically the Old Testament, He taught through the lens of Himself (Luke 24:27, ESV). Therefore, Christian teaching is Christo-centric teaching. The result of this teaching was a fascinating word, “favor”. The church, when functioning how the church was to function, had favor with normal people. The church will always be offensive to some, usually, those who have the most power to lose. But, to the rest of the people, this gathering of disciple-making disciples is to have favor. As a result, new disciples were made daily! Therefore, what Jesus commands in Matthew 28 is accomplished, disciples are made. The prediction Jesus made in Matthew 16 is fulfilled, He builds His church. Finally, what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 comes true. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The manifest presence of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit is experienced.
The gathering together of Jesus’ followers, on mission to reproduce other followers of Jesus, creates the environment for God to show up and amaze us. This is what James McDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, says is what the world is lacking today.
A real encounter with the living God changes everything. First, it magnifies the Lord, and then it puts me and my ego and my sin and my burdens all in their rightful place…Church today as a weekly experience with the manifest glory of God is the greatest lack we face. The lost are not found because God’s glory is not revealed in church. Children wander because church is pathetically predictable or shamefully entertaining but hardly ever authentically God. Marriages flounder because arrogance grows unchecked in our hearts and is not weekly cut down by the pride-withering presence of almighty God. Church was never intended to be a place where we serve God to the exclusion of meeting with Him…We cannot survive spiritually without that corporate connection in heart, soul, mind and strength with the One who made us (Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for What Every Church Can Be).
Disciples are to make disciples. That is the mission. These disciples are to gather together. That is the church. When disciples gather together, they form a place where the Holy Spirit can manifest Himself, revealing the glory of God, and allowing people to have the right perspective on their lives and the lives of those around them. The church is a gathering of disciple-making disciples who are encountering God.
Therefore, what is Grace Community Church here for? We are disciple-making disciples gathering together to glorify God. Or even more simply, Grace Community Church: Making Disciples, Glorifying God.
Written by Pastor Dave