Jesus' Great Commission remains a vital text for understanding God's mission. Here are some reflections that seek to draw out its key components.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)
1) Cross centered. The backdrop of Matthew’s view of discipleship is the death of Jesus on the Cross. The Cross is paradigmatic for the life of discipleship (Matt 10:38; 16:24). The cruciform life defines the essence of following Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ground of salvation. Matthew does not provide a detail discussion of the “how” of atonement, but instead simply states its reality (e.g., Matt 1:21; 8:17 [cf Isa 53:4]; 26:28). Modern Christ followers must resist any pragmatic or theologically driven attempts to whitewash or marginalize the centrality of the Cross. Jesus’ call to “deny oneself and take up the cross” is a counter-cultural and revolutionary. It envisions a movement of Christ followers who live as dead (wo)men walking–persons who have died up front to self so that they can follow Jesus into the world to bring the Gospel to those who desperately need it. Mission assumes that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is the defining reality for our world.
2) A Sent Church. Jesus modeled movement during his earthly ministry. Following his resurrection this movement is expanded to encompass all nations. Communities of faith that follow Jesus must engage the world by going. As my friend, Alex McManus says, "Christ followers must either be sending or being sent." Jesus did not wait for persons to come to him. He moved around the countryside modeling a ministry that actively seeks out lost persons so that they may be found and welcomed into the movement.
3) All hands on deck. Matt 28:18-20 contains the marching orders for all Christ followers. It is not merely a call to overseas mission work or the game plan for an evangelism committee. It is the modus operandi for all who follow Jesus. Making disciples requires each follower to deploy his/her gifts for the sake of the community and the world. It assumes that each follower exerts kingdom influence in the world. Sociologists have learned that each person has the opportunity to influence 10,000 people during their lifetime. What would happen if all Christ followers used their lives to influence even a fraction of these 10,000 with the Gospel?
4) Shaped by Scripture. The third leg of making disciples involves teaching everything that I commanded you. Disciples are mandated to instruct and shape the ethos of the community to reflect the teachings of Jesus. Disciples access the teachings of and about Jesus through the Scriptures. This is a point where serious reflection and reformation is needed today. Scripture is to be transformative, but too often the study of Scripture become merely a transfer of information or facts about the Bible. The mark of a mature Christian is how much a person knows about the Bible apart from how well a personâ€™s life reflects the Scriptures. Ironically, this has led some leaders to de-emphasize the study of Scripture in some cases or in others to base the interpretation of Scripture on the personal experiences of the reader. Neither of these options is faithful to the message of Matt 28.
The way forward here is to read the Scriptures in light of God’s mission. Matthew 28 offers the mission of making disciples of all nations as the centerpiece of the Christ following movement. It is vital then that the disciples learn to read the text missionally.
For a primer on a missional reading follow this link: A Short Primer on Reading the Bible Missionally
5) Conversion and Personal Transformation. Making disciples means the transformation of lives. The core of Jesus’ message was (Re)Align with the new reality that God is bringing about in our day (matt 4:17). Matthew’s Gospel is not about easy believism. It assumes that the Gospel changes lives and shapes persons to reflect the character of God. The Gospel is inherently counter-cultural. It challenges both the ideological/theological systems of the world as well as those of cultural Christianity. It invites persons to participate in God’s mission to save the world. This means that we ourselves must be saved and transformed into the sort of persons that can follow Jesus into the darkest places on earth because we have become persons of the light.
© 2007 Brian D. Russell (revised 9/2015)