In the summer of 2005, I said to Kandi, “could life get any better?” we had great friends, Kandi worked at the seminary, I was in school full time and traveling on the weekend. Then unexpectedly, we left our home for what was a routine storm evacuation, or so we thought. Little did we know, our lives would change forever. We never returned home. 1 week later we were moving to Spartanburg, SC. All of our expectations and aspirations were turned upside down. Have you ever been there before? Have you ever been to a place where you have exhausted every avenue and said, “now what?” Have you ever had your plans changed at the last minute, and said, “now what?”
That’s where the disciples are at this point. In 1 month’s time, their whole world has turned upside down. Jesus was tried and murdered for a crime He didn’t commit. He was buried in a tomb which couldn’t contain Him. On three different occasions, Jesus appeared to the disciples and explain His mission. And some still are struggling to make sense of everything. My goal this morning is to remove your fears and give you a plan for participating in the great commission.
Matthew 28:16, “the 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. 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 everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Posture of the Disciples
Every lesson that was taught, every miracle demonstrated, every healing witnessed, and every teachable moment over the past 3 years of ministry led to this day. This was not theoretical discipleship. This was a command that was demonstrated by the life and ministry of Jesus. The challenge for some leaders is that they’re telling people to make disciples and they’re not doing it. This wasn’t the case for Jesus.
The confusing section is verse 17, “when they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.” At face value, it looks like they doubted Jesus. When you don’t know the backstory like we do, you may believe whether they doubted it was really Jesus or that He really was God. However, this can’t be the case. Jesus has already appeared to these guys 3 other times. They know exactly who He is. They ate with him on 3 occasions. They listened to Him talk. So what does doubted mean? It can mean to waver or question the reliability of something. But the BDAG lexicon suggests an alternative meaning for this verse. They suggest that this word means to be uncertain about taking a particular course of action or to hesitate.
What were they hesitant about? The mission that Jesus was asking them to embark on. Where were they the first 2 times Jesus came to them in John 20? Behind locked doors. They were hunkered down and scared. You can’t blame them. Their leader who possessed superhuman strength was just killed and they thought they were next. When the text says they doubted, it doesn’t me they doubted Jesus. They doubted themselves. There is a contrast between doubt and worship. Worship is focusing on God. Fear or doubt is focusing on self.
“Can we do this?” “We don’t know enough” “What if they don’t listen” “What if they imprison up?” “What if they kill us?”
Shoosh. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Any questions?
The Providence of God
We know they were scared because Jesus starts with “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” When you look at the great commission, you will notice the inclusive word all is used 4 times. (1) Jesus possesses all authority, (2) He sends us to all nations, (3) we are to teach people all he has commanded, and (4) as we do, we are to know that Jesus will be with us all the days, or always. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The word authority refers to the freedom to speak and act as one pleases. The word all shows that Jesus is sovereignly and absolutely in control of everything. When you read these verses there are 2 Old Testament verses that come to mind: 2 Chron. 36:23 and Dan. 7:14.
Daniel 7:13 talks about the Son of man who will come: “13 I continued watching in the night visions, and I saw one like a Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the ancient of days and was escorted before Him. 14 He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
The Jewish Bible, which is called the Tanak, is divided into different sections than our Old Testament. Instead of ending with Malachi, it ends with 2 Chronicles.
Listen to the last lines of the last book of the Old Testament:
2 Chron. 36:22, 22 In the first year of Cyrus King of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and also to put it in writing: 23 this is what King Cyrus of Persia says: the Lord, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a temple at Jerusalem in Judah. Whoever among you of his people may go up, and may the Lord his God be with him.”
Sounds familiar? The words of Jesus speak of his sovereign power over all things.
This can mean that the authority He exercised on earth will be realized in heaven. This is a clear picture of Jesus’ divinity. How do you look at Jesus? More as God or as a man? He is 100% God and 100% man. If you are like me, then you view him as more God.
The disciples had a different view of him. He didn’t have to convince him that he was a man, they knew that. He was constantly proving to them that he was God. Jesus was constantly explaining that He and the Father are one.
John 8:53, “Are you greater than our father abraham, who died?
John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, “I assure you: before Abraham was, I am.”
In case the audience missed it, Jesus says it again. John 10:29, “My father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the father are one.” Because of his death and resurrection, He is in control of the heavens.
Colossians 1:16, “ for everything was created by Him, in Heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything. 19 for God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him, 20 and through Him to reconcile everything to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Mar, the writer of the New Testament gospel, wanted us to know that Jesus was empowered by God to do accomplish his purpose.
In 1st few chapters of Mar, Mar wants you to see that Jesus has all authority.
Authority over animals:
Mar 1:13, “and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by satan. And He was with the wild animals,” With gives us the idea of being in harmony.
Authority over angels:
Mar 1:13, “and the angels were ministering to him.”
Authority to teach:
Mar 1:22, “and they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
Authority over nature and the demons:
Mar 1:34, “and He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.”
Authority to forgive sins:
Mar 2:10, 4 men carry the paralytic,
“which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”
Authority over the sabbath:
Mar 2:28, “and He said to them, “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. 28 so the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath.”
Authority to give authority to others:
Mar 3:15, Jesus calls the 12 so that they might go out and preach and have authority to cast out demons.”
Time and time again, Jesus demonstrated his authority to his disciples.
In order to carry out the great commission, you and I must have a healthy view of the sovereignty of God. God’s authority is like the curtain providing the backdrop for the play of our lives. You don’t notice the curtain throughout the play, but it is there. The sovereignty of God is the backdrop for mission. It is behind everything we do. Sadly, many believers live in fear of the devil. They are always worried about what he can do to them. Instead they should fear God. God has set us free from the bondage of the enemy through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We have nothing to be afraid of. In fact, we’ve been given authority over the evil one. Nothing happens on this earth apart from God’s working.
Matt 10:28, “and do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 but even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
If Jesus has the whole world in his hands, don’t you think you can trust him with yours.
Plan of Action
Knowing this, we have no reason not to make disciples. Who is Jesus speaking to? Ordinary men. These aren’t elite teachers of Israel or trained theologians. They were like you and me. They needed some direction because they didn’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do you don’t do anything at all.
At the SBC, we had a Replicate discipleship booth. Tim conducted an informal survey asking about 50 pastors “do you have a comprehensive strategy for making disciples?” No one did. One prominent pastor in the SBC, said, “we’ve collected all the data, but we don’t have a comprehensive strategy for making disciples in the church.” Why has disciple-making been looked over and overlooked for so long?
A few years ago I began collecting Bible leaves. I was at one time unaware that copies of actual Bibles that have survived the ravages of time are sold for exuberant amounts of money. Much like dealers sell baseball cards or comic books, pages of Bibles that have fallen out—no one wants to buy an incomplete Bible—can be acquired through savvy internet dealings.
54 (although only forty-seven are mentioned by name in the printed copy) of England’s foremost Bible scholars were divided into six panels—two at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. After the translation was complete, a committee of 12 was convened, comprised of two scholars from each of the six panels. The actual translation took the panel 3 years to present a completed copy. The committee of twelve spent another three years reviewing the translation, and an additional nine months was needed to prepare it for the press. What does this have to do with discipleship? The extensive translation process produced a Bible translation that has been a Christian staple for over 400 years. The KJV’s prominence, I suggest, is one of the reasons why there has been such a glaring lack of discipleship over the last four centuries.
In order to carry out the command of the great commission, we must understand properly a crucial term in Matthew 28:18–20. The KJV of the Bible renders the greek word for “make disciples” as “teach.” The KJV of Matthew 28:19 reads, “go ye therefore, and teach all nations….” all modern versions translate the verb matheteuo as “make disciples” instead of “teach.” Even the New King James version states, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
Could this oversight be one of the reasons for the minimization of discipleship among Christians for centuries? Many diligent believers simply read this word and “teach” people about salvation, that is, share the gospel and lead them to a decision for Christ. This is good and admirable, but it is not enough. More is required to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is only one aspect of Jesus’ command. Making disciples requires equipping, training, investing, and replicating the process.
Allow me to explain my point. Imagine that you received a note from your father about lawn care. “Go to the garage, take out the lawn-mower, weed-eater, and blower. Bring each of them to the front yard. Finally, fill the lawn-mower up with gas. Have this done before I get home from work.” What is dad going to find when he pulls into the driveway after work? Uncut grass, clean machines, and a confused son. When your father asks, “why didn’t you mow the grass?” “why didn’t you edge the curb with the weed-eater?,” “why didn’t you use the blower?,” what will be your response? Because you didn’t tell me to do that.
Maybe the reason we haven’t seen discipleship at the forefront of our ministries is because we have just been going to the nations to “teach.” I know what you’re saying, “isn’t teaching synonymous with making disciples?” Yes and no. Teaching is a part of discipleship, but discipleship is far more than teaching. Discipleship is not a class you take, a seminar for which you sign-up, a degree you earn, or a program through which you go. It’s not a 12-week Bible study, a 40-day home group, or a weekend class.
Discipleship happens in circles not rows.
One time I was speaking on discipleship and a church member said to me after the service, “we’ve been doing discipleship for years in sunday school.” Unfortunately, sunday school or life groups is not the final stop on the train. They are the fishing pools for discipling relationships. A life group or sunday school class is to reach, teach, train workers, and fellowship.
Here is what you miss by not being in a discipleship group:
Here is what’s baffling about this command. The only thing believers have been authorized to do, is the one thing we’re not doing.
Notice how Jesus ends this section. “I will be with you always to the end of the ages.” why does he end this way? He knew the mission would be tough.
The greatest example of the authority of the mission is found in the outcome of the lives of the disciples who heard it.
After the death of Jesus, all of the disciples but John died for their faith.
- James the son of zebedee was the older brother of John was beheaded by herod agrippa.
- James (the less) –brother of Jesus and writer of the epistle. History says that he was thrown out from the temple tower and was not killed from the fall, so his head was smashed with a club.
- Matthias- he filled the vacant place of Judas as one of the 12. It is said that he was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
- Andrew- the brother of peter. Tradition says that he was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
- Bartholomew- tradition says pagan enemies beat him first then crucified him.
- Thomas- he was tortured by hindu priests before they ran a spear through his body, and threw him into an oven of flames.
- Jude – brother of James was crucified.
- Matthew- tradition says he traveled to Ethiopia. Writings say that he was pinned to the ground and beheaded.
- Mark- wrote the New Testament gospel was dragged to pieces.
- Peter—was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same position of his Lord.
- Paul-. he was taken to the execution block and beheaded.
How were these men able to willingly lay their lives down for the sake of the gospel. They were as certain about their future as they were about their past. As they trusted him and depended upon them, they were able to be faithful to the end. They were as certain about their future as they were about their past.
One saturday fall morning a husband was waiting for his wife to get ready before traveling on a journey to visit family. The team they pulled for needed 2 touchdowns to win with less than 2 minutes left. Miraculous, the team came from behind and scored twice with the final touchdown coming in the last seconds of the game. As soon as the game was over, the husband yelled to his wife who was still getting ready, “honey are you ready yet.”
When the started down the road, his wife was skimming through the stations and found the same game he heard earlier being rebroadcasted on the radio. The husband turned to the wife with 2 minutes left in the game and said, “I will bet you that the team that needs 2 touchdowns comes back and wins.” There is no way. They will never do it. As his wife stressed over every tick of the clock, the husband drove down the road calm and cool. “Why aren’t you getting upset?” she asked. I have faith they will win.
As the team threw the last second pass to win. The wife, now exhausted from the anxiety of the game, looked at her husband and asked , “Why weren’t you worried? He said, “I knew the outcome.”
It may look like we are losing ground at times. The movement of Christ may look bleak by the worlds standards. However, we have faith in a promise: He never leaves us or forsakes us. And He is coming back to get us one day. We have nothing to fear because we know how it ends: we win in the end. We win in the end. So give your life to making disciples. You’ll be glad you did.