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The Great Commission: Does It Still Matter?

2010 6 May

The story is told in Matthew 28:18-20. This is the story of the famous last words of Jesus Christ. If you're familiar with your Bible you know that the words are called the Great Commission. And justly so. Because the words that Jesus spoke that day were a charter and a foundation and a blueprint for the movement that his followers were going to establish after he was gone. These words are important to us for three reasons.

First, these words are important because, at least in Matthew's gospel, they are the last words of Jesus. Last words are always important. When a loved one dies, one of our questions is, Did he or she have any last words? We all realize that the last words that people say represent that which is closest to their heart. So these words are important because they are the last words of Jesus Christ recorded in Matthew's gospel.

Second, these words are important because they explain what the followers of Jesus Christ are to do in the long period between his first coming and his second coming. Jesus knew it would be a long time before he would come back. Just before he departed for heaven, he gave them these last words which are the marching orders of the Christian church. These verses describe what you and I are to be doing during that long period of waiting between the first coming and second coming.

Third, these words are important because they apply without exception to all Christians at all times, in all places, in every possible situation. Four times he uses "all" or some form of the word "all." Notice verse 18, "All authority has been given to me." Verse 19, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations." Verse 20, "Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you and surely I will be with you always." That's very clear, isn't it? All authority, all nations, everything, always. The words of Jesus Christ have a permanent and enduring and universal validity for you and for me. That's why they were given and that's why they were recorded. We ought to pay special attention to what Jesus is saying here.

Now in these three verses I find three great things. First, I find a great claim. Second I find a great commission. Third, I find a great promise.

Verses 19-20a say, “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. I confess to you that as I ponder this, because these verses are so familiar to us, I am perplexed to know exactly what to say to you about these words that you have heard so many times before. But let me tell you what I see as I read these words of our Lord Jesus Christ. I see first of all what we are to do. Second, I see where we are to do it. Third, I see how we are to do it. Fourth, I see what result we are to expect when we do it.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Now, I am going to tell you something in the Greek. You’ve got to trust me about what I am going to say. This is an important point. In the original Greek, there is only one verb. That’s important because you could read this and it might seem as if there are two or three or maybe four verbs depending on what translation you use. You might read this and say, Well, “go” looks like a verb; “make disciples” looks like a verb; “baptizing” might be translated as a verb; and some people might even translate “teach” as a verb. It might look as if he’s telling you to do four things—go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.

His Last Words: Our First Command

I make my conclusion and I am finished. If this is the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, then this ought to be our great commission as well. If this is what was uppermost on Jesus’ mind, then this is what ought to be uppermost on our minds. If this is what Jesus’ heart was beating for at the end of his ministry, then this is what our heart ought to be beating for. Here is the bottom line: We are called to be Great Commission Chris-tians and to build a Great Commission church. Disciples who make disciples. To be people in the parade who are bringing others to join the parade, who will bring others who will bring others.

 We find out the result is supposed to be a spiritual multiplication. The result is to be a church full of spiritual multipliers. A church full of people who can reproduce themselves. As the great parade of God’s purpose moves down through history, and as we join in the march with Jesus Christ, we’re going up into the stands and we’re saying, Hey, brother, come on down and join us in the parade. When we get our friends with us in the parade, we’re to teach them and then we’re to send them back into the stands and we’re to say, Go get somebody else. They’re to bring them down and they’re to teach them and they’re to send their friends back up into the stands. And so it is that we win one and we teach one and baptize one and we bring them into the church and we equip them and send them back out. And he brings his friends in and he wins them and he teaches them and he sends them out and they win their friends and they come in and he teaches them and we send them out. So it’s an unending cycle of spiritual reproduction.

The real mark of the health of the church is not the size of the budget, the size of the staff, the beauty of the choir, the glory of the music, the wonder of the architecture, or any of the worldly measures we like to use. The real mark of the church in Jesus’ eyes is a church that is 100 percent dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission. Getting in the parade and bringing others into the parade and sending them back up into the stands to get some other people and bring them back down and send some others back into the stands who will bring some others back down. That’s a good standard for evaluating all our ministries. Are they equipping people to do this? Are they somehow involved in the disciple-making process. If our ministries are not doing that, we ought to change them or adjust them to bring them back into line with what Jesus was talking about two thousand years ago.

If this is the Great Commission, then this ought to be our great commission. Everything else is of lesser importance compared to these ultimate words of Jesus Christ. Nothing is as important than that we become this kind of people and this kind of church.  

Excerpted from "Famous Last Words" from Keep Believing Ministries (used by permission).