Great Commission Day, 14 May 2023

Great Commission Day
Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

Big Idea: The Great Commission— the act of global disciple-making—is for every follower of Jesus,
The first words I spoke from this stage as your pastor more than seven years ago were a question.
Why are you here?
Why are you here this morning?
If we’re honest, there are probably multiple answers to the question, some more “spiritual” than others. One of the hardest things for me as a pastor is when someone leaves our congregation for another one. Sometimes the answer is obvious: they moved to another state. When the answer is more subjective, I wonder what attracted them in the first place. Was it the music? The preaching? The location? The staff? Friends?
Why are you here? Why are you here on this planet? Why are you?
Today is Great Commission Day and I want to be crystal clear about what the Great Commission is and how you can participate in God’s mission on planet earth.
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.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)
These were Jesus’ final words as recorded by Matthew. Last words are important, right? The words of someone on their death bed, the last sentence or two as someone heads off on a trip, even the last words of a parent to the babysitter before going on a date are often the most important words spoken.
In this text, known as the Great Commission, we read what Jesus said to his closest friends as he prepared to ascend into heaven. Let’s unpack this.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18, NIV)
Jesus has all authority. He has been given all authority in heaven. He has been given all authority on earth.
Authority and responsibility go together. If you’ve ever been given responsibility to do something without the authority to do it, you’ve surely been frustrated. If you have authority but no responsibility, there’s nothing to do! Jesus has all authority, and as he prepares to exit the earth, he is essentially passing the baton, granting his authority to his friends. Here’s the mission:
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. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
We know what the therefore is there for! Go. That requires action, movement. You can’t stay and go at the same time!
Make disciples. What’s a disciple? A disciple is a follower, an imitator, an apprentice. it’s a learner. Jesus did not say start programs, teach lessons, or distribute religious goods and services. He said make disciples. Follow Jesus and train others to do the same. A disciple is not someone who is merely spiritual. It’s not just someone in a church building on Sunday mornings. It’s someone who truly loves God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength…and who loves others as they love themselves. It’s someone who is developing their character and discovering their calling.
I must admit I love church planting. I’m an entrepreneur, and it’s a joy for me to start new things and help others start new things. I love the idea of forming new communities of faith to reach the unchurched. Helping launch Visible Church and L.E.A.D. Community Church last year were not only highlights of 2022, they will surely go down as highlights of the decade!
But Jesus never said to plant churches. He said to make disciples. If you plant a church, it’s possible to do religious activity without seeing people truly follow Jesus. On the other hand, if you follow Jesus and help others to do the same, eventually a group of people will emerge and a new church might naturally form.
Traditionally, churches in our culture have said, “Come and see.” Come to our Sunday services, give money, and maybe help out in the nursery or as a greeter. The focus is on the stage, the professional, the event. I’m very glad you’re here today, and I love to be with you in this context, but Sunday morning attendance does not make you a disciple. The Great Commission is Go and Be. Making disciples, therefore, requires more than a few songs and a good sermon. It’s a 24/7/365 lifestyle all of us are invited to experience, with Jesus as our leader, our Master, our LORD. You were created to go and be a disciple…a disciple-maker.
In our cultural context, people often think a church needs a building, a professional pastor, and lots of structure. Making disciples is something any Jesus-follower can do at home, work, or play. Recently I was thrilled to hear the story of Jennifer and how Betty Kasubski and Lois Eddy discipled her, showing her what it means to surrender her life to Jesus. Betty and Lois did not start a church. They do not pastor a congregation. But they loved Jennifer well. They poured their life into hers. It’s usually much easier to sing a few songs, teach the Bible, and say a closing prayer than it is to be fully present with another person over months, years, and even decades. We are called to Launch Presence, to be with people. To do life together. Our primary tool for this is called Life Groups, clusters of people doing life together.
But did you know people are messy? People can be slow. People can be frustrating. I’m sure there are people who find you and me to be challenging, at times! The thing about discipleship is, in the words of the late Richard Bush,
Discipleship is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.
But this the mission. This is the commission. This is what Jesus instructed his followers, his disciples. Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you a disciple? Disciples go and make disciples.
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. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
We noted the verb go (some have said the original Greek meaning is like “as you are going,” as you are living your life) and make disciples. Note it says “of all nations,” which we’ll come back to in a moment. Baptizing is the next verb, ensuring they obey Jesus and go public with their faith. The final verb is teaching. Jesus doesn’t just say teach but teach them to obey. Obedience is God’s love language.
If you want a good metaphor for discipleship, it’s parenting. The role of a parent is to help a little person develop into a mature, productive, godly adult. It doesn’t happen overnight! It requires time, energy, patience, and work! Making disciples is essentially spiritual parenting.
Who are you discipling? Do they know it?
This is not a question merely for the paid staff. It’s for all of us. We’re all called to help others become more like Jesus. Some do it one-on-one which is fine, though Jesus seemed to spend most of his time with twelve…and especially with a small group of three. Again, our Life Groups are designed to help you grow to become more like Jesus…in community with others, doing life together.
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. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
Then Jesus concludes with a beautiful promise, one of the most comforting sentences in the Bible.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
We are never alone. Jesus is with us, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are unable to make disciples in our own strength. We can’t change another person’s behavior, let alone their heart and motivation. But we can partner with God to build relationships, engage in spiritual conversations, share our story, listen to the journey of others, and invite people to give their lives to Jesus. When they do, we can help them grow to know, love, and share Christ. Again, it’s a process. It takes time. But it’s so important, the commission was among his final words spoken on earth.
The heart of our mission is
restoring God’s masterpieces. Ephesians 2:10 says,
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
God’s mission—the Great Commission—is to…go and make disciples…students of Jesus. I was with a group of friends recently and someone said the Great Commission is only found in Matthew’s gospel, but the extended version of Mark includes it, too.
And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15, NLT)
This is discipleship, a process that begins with evangelism, proclaiming Good News. Again, we can do this one-on-one. We can do this through these Sunday gatherings. We can do this through Dinner Church (are you coming tonight?). Perhaps our best discipleship vehicle is Life Groups, which is why our goal is to see every one of you participate in a Life Group…not just to obtain information through a Bible study, but to be transformed through community, doing life together.
But what about people that do not live near us? Do we have a responsibility beyond Toledo? Yes! Jesus spoke plainly about this, too. Luke records these words of Christ in the beginning of the book of Acts, a book that is essentially the history of the early Church.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)
The Holy Spirit came the next chapter, Acts chapter two. Jesus tells them the good news needs to go beyond Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. We have home missions partners which serve our Judea. We have faith missions partners which go beyond to serve our Samaria. The ends of the earth are being reached by our global Alliance family through the Great Commission Fund.
Some of you have been to churches where missionaries from other countries visit and ask for money. The Christian & Missionary Alliance has created opportunities for you to support individual workers and families overseas, but the Great Commission Fund is one big pot that helps fund all of our international work. We have over 700 family members scattered around the world making disciples, proclaiming Good News, and extending faith, hope, and love to masterpieces young and old.
So What?
The Great Commission— the act of global disciple-making—is for every follower of Jesus. We’re all invited to participate. This is not just for pastors. It’s not just for smart people or talented people or rich people. We all can be involved in making disciples, across the street and around the world. Here are some simple next steps:
1.             Pray. Pray for your neighbors. Pray for our church, city, state, and nation. Pray for our world. The founder of First Alliance, A.B. Simpson, was once seen by a guest in his house praying at his desk, holding a globe, and weeping as he prayed for the nations. God, give us all that passion for Your people around the world. 
             Go. That’s part of the command: go and make disciples. Go meet someone for coffee. Go invite a neighbor to Dinner Church. Go meet people at the gym or join a sports team. Go have a backyard BBQ. Go on an international missions trip.
             Give. Some ministry fundraising can be confusing. Heather and I give to First Alliance Church first and foremost, and then we give to the Great Commission Fund because I’ve seen the way it is used to impact lives in Germany, in the Dominican Republic, and across the globe.
Why are you here? Why were you created? To know God, love God, obey God, and love others as you love yourself. You and I have been commissioned by Almighty God to proclaim good news in word and deed to every one of the 8 billion masterpieces on earth. Through our Alliance family, the Great Commission is being fulfilled for God’s glory.
While I believe the coming sabbatical months will be valuable for me, I’m equally excited about how my absence will create new opportunities for you to “get in the game.” It has never been the paid staff’s role to “do” the ministry, but rather we are paid to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.” This is something I’ve repeatedly communicated, noting that if only the professionals do ministry, 99% of our workforce is deactivated.
Family, I challenge you to become a disciple, a learner, a follower, an apprentice of Jesus. I challenge you to go—as you go—make disciples. Share your story. Invite someone out for coffee and listen to their story. Become a Life Group apprentice. Serve at Sports & Arts Camp next month. Most of all, be present…with others and most of all with Jesus. I look forward to hearing great stories in August about how you have launched presence, made disciples, restored masterpieces, and loved well.

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