Committed to the Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)Written by admin on Aug 19, 2013 in - No Comments
Several years ago the house next door to us sold after being on the market for a long time. The neighbors who moved in were very nice people and we were glad to meet them and have them as neighbors. But surprisingly, very quickly after they moved in, I would say less than a month after they moved in, I came home from work one day and was shocked to see a for sale sign in their yard. I could not believe it. They had not lived there for a month and the house was already for sale. Why in the world would you go through all the hassle to buy a house and move into the house only to put it on the market just a few weeks after moving in?
As bad as I wanted to knock on their door and figure out what was going on, I refrained. I really didn’t know them very well yet and it was really none of my business. Well a day or two later I came home from work again and noticed that the sign was no longer in the yard. And at this point I was completely confused and could not control my curiosity any longer. I just had to find out what was going on. So I walked next door and knocked on the door. And what I learned was a pretty funny story. As it turns out their house was never for sale. Apparently a man who worked for a real estate company whose job it was to place for sale signs in the yards of newly listed homes made a mistake. He was supposed to turn right on a certain street and place the sign in the yard of the third house on the left, but instead he turned left and placed the sign in the yard of the third house on the left. And the funniest part about the whole incident was my new neighbor describing the look on his face when he turned the corner and saw a for sale sign in his yard and wondering what in the world he had done to make his wife so mad. Fortunately this was just a mistake by a well-intentioned sign installer and no real harm was done.
But my reason for telling this story is to point out that we can be committed, well-intentioned, and very diligent in our work, but if we are confused about what our mission is, we will be committed, well-intentioned, and very diligent about the wrong thing. I am sure the man who put the sign in the wrong yard had the best intentions. And no doubt he worked just as hard putting the sign in my neighbors’ yard as he would have if he had put the sign in the correct yard, but the fact is that he was confused about where he was supposed to be doing the work and did not accomplish what he was supposed to that day. And if we are not careful as Christians and as a church to pay attention to what our unique calling is in this world, while we may do a lot of good things, we will not accomplish the mission Jesus has called us to.
The fact is, there are lots of good things we can be a part of as a church that do not contribute anything to the carrying out of our mission. Often times we get distracted by these good things because we do not recall and rehearse what our true mission is on a regular basis. And then we get involved in activities that, while good, are not part of the special assignment we have been given as a church. And unfortunately, there are many churches out there today whose activities are hardly distinguishable from the activities of secular humanitarian organizations. They are doing a lot of good things, but they are the wrong things because they are distractions from the divine mission we have been given as a church.
So this morning I want to remind us of our mission as a church. And I want to call us all, as individual church members and collectively as a church, to recommit ourselves to that mission. It is important that we understand what our mission is and to use that mission as a guide when we are making decisions about how to best utilize the time, resources, finances, and facilities of this church and its people.
Making Disciples: The Mission of the Church
So what is the mission of the church? What is the specific thing that God has sent us out into the world to accomplish? What is the specific thing that God has gifted the church to do through its various parts? What sets the church apart from other organizations that are concerned for human wellbeing? What should the church be doing with its resources? How should we allocate our time? What is our guide when deciding what types of services and activities to offer?
The one thing that guides us in all of this is knowing what our mission is and being committed to it. And the mission of the church is Making Disciples. There are lots of good things we could spend our time doing, but making disciples is the special mission of the church and the one thing that should guide us in all our planning and decision making.
Many churches have become confused about this. They want to make the world a better place to live and that becomes their focus and they get off track of their mission. Some churches do this with the best intentions while others do it because they are either no longer committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ or embarrassed by it. They decide to water down the gospel so they don’t offend the people they are wanting to help. But in doing so they forget that, apart from the gospel, the only help they can offer is temporary help.
And while we obviously all want to make our community and our city and our world a better place to live, that is not our primary mission. It may very well be a result of our mission, but our mission is to make disciples, to make followers of Jesus Christ through proclaiming the gospel. But I do believe when we do our gospel work well, many times our community and our city will reap all sorts of benefits that are not stated in our mission, but are desirable for us as human beings living in this world. And so while it is important to avoid making the mission of the church too broad, by including lots of good things that are important to us as human beings, that does not mean we cannot be concerned about those things and be involved in them.
It is important for us as Christians to remember that when Jesus sent out his disciples he sent them out to preach the gospel AND heal the sick. He also tells us over and over to care for the poor and the needy. We are told in the Bible to feed and clothe them. The God of the Bible is concerned about the welfare of all people and particularly the welfare of the poor and the needy and the widows and the fatherless. And we should be concerned about those things as well. But we must remember that our special, unique mission as the Church of Jesus Christ is to make disciples by proclaiming the gospel.
So where did I come up with this idea that the mission of the church is Making Disciples? Well, I didn’t come up with it. I read it in the Bible. Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 28:16–20. Many of you will recognize that this is the passage we often refer to as the Great Commission. After Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead on the third day, he spent 40 days appearing and presenting himself alive to his disciples to give them instruction and strengthen their faith. During one of these appearances, Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples about fulfilling the mission he had given them when he called them to be his followers. Follow along with me as I read the words of our Lord and Savior to his followers. I will begin with the introductory material in verse 16.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16–20 ESV)
The Greek verb translated “make disciples” in verse 19 is the main verb in the Great Commission. Oftentimes, because of the way our English translations render the sentence, we believe that the word “Go” is the main verb, but it is not. The main verb is “make disciples.” And then the words “baptizing” and “teaching” are included to describe the work of making disciples. And grammatically they support the verb translated “Make Disciples.” So, “making disciples” is the primary command of Christ’s commission. And that is why I say that “making disciples” is the mission of every Christian and the mission of the church.
What is a disciple?
So what is a “disciple”? What does it mean to be a “disciple”? Very simply put, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. Oftentimes Christians make the mistake of believing there were only 12 disciples. One time when encouraging someone to be more committed to Christ I was told, “You cannot expect me to be one of Jesus’ disciples!” That person’s point was, Jesus had his 12 disciples and they were called to one level of commitment and I was foolish to expect a “regular” Christian today to be that committed. “Well actually,” I said, “it is not about what I expect, it is about what Jesus expects. And when Jesus called you, he called you to be one of his disciples. He called you to follow him.” The Gospels do not use the term “disciple” as a specialized term to refer only to his 12 closest disciples. The term “disciple” is used in many places to refer to all those who were followers of Jesus. Let me give you one example. Turn over with me to Luke 6 and look with me at verses 12–17.
12 In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. 17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, (Luke 6:12–17 ESV)
So do you see that? In this passage we see that there was apparently a large crowd of disciples following Jesus and it was out of this crowd that Jesus called the twelve, the ones we often call the twelve disciples. But this passage shows us that the twelve disciples were only a subset of a larger group of people called disciples. Again, a disciple is nothing more than a follower of Christ. But to make myself clear here, I need to say more. Because there is something else we see in this passage from Luke and from elsewhere in the Gospels.
Notice that Luke makes a distinction in verse 17 between the “great crowd of his disciples” and “a great multitude of people” who were following Jesus around as well. The point I need to make is that there were followers of Jesus and there were true followers of Jesus.
Some followed him around because they were curious. These are the “crowds” or the “multitudes” that are often mentioned in Scripture. They were made up of people who were curious about Jesus but not committed to him in any serious way. They liked seeing or benefiting from his miracles, but they were not committed to him. They followed him around physically, but they had not taken his yoke upon them.
But there were others who had committed their whole lives to Jesus and were more than just curious. They were devoted followers. They were his disciples. They obeyed his commandments and learned from him. They had counted up the cost and committed themselves to Jesus and his mission. They were not only following him around physically, but they also followed his way of life.
So my point is that the word “disciple” should never be understood simply as a title for Jesus’ twelve disciples who later became his apostles and leaders within the early church. And the term must also not be used to describe someone who is only loosely associated with Jesus. The term “disciple” is a word the Bible uses to describe every true follower of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you are a disciple. The Bible doesn’t have any other categories. If you are a Christian, you are a genuine follower of Christ. And as his disciple, you are to be about the business of making other disciples. That is your mission and that is the mission of the church. And it is a very large mission.
What is the scope of that mission?
The scope of this mission includes our neighbors next door and our neighbors in India and our neighbors in China and our neighbors in Austria and our neighbors in every part of the world.
If you turn with me now back to Matthew 28:19, you will see that the scope of our mission includes all nations. In Acts 1:8, Jesus describes it this way:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
Jerusalem to the ends of the earth—that is our mission field. Many preachers have often compared “Jerusalem” to our own hometown, and “Judea” to those areas near us, and “Samaria” to further away parts of the earth, and “the ends of the earth” to those far away mission fields needing to be reached with the gospel. And I think that type of comparison is helpful for us today. But the mistake has often been made that we are to focus on “our” Jerusalem first and then once we have everything squared away here we can then worry about getting the gospel to Judea and beyond, to the ends of the earth. But that is not what this means. If we are going to be faithful in our calling we must do what we can to reach all of these areas simultaneously.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19 to “Go!” And whether that means I get up and physically “go” or whether I “go” by sending my prayers and financial support, the fact is that we cannot reach the ends of the earth, or even the city of Huntsville by focusing only on our church, ourselves, and our little neck of the woods. Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples” requires us to look outward. It means that we cannot be satisfied with just being comfortable and inward focused. We cannot be satisfied with simply meeting our own religious and spiritual needs by designing services and ministries that cater to us. And that means we might have to set aside our personal preferences from time to time just like Thom Rainer points out in chapter three of his book, I Am A Church Member. When we insist that our church is about our own preferences and desires we are going to struggle to fulfill our mission to make disciples of all nations.
So if we are ready to commit to fulfilling our mission to make disciples there are things we need to focus on. And so we need to ask some more questions. What does the process of making disciples entail? What does it look like? Well, Matthew describes for us two aspects of the disciple-making process: Baptizing and Teaching.
Baptism is the outward symbol of the inward reality that the one being baptized has become a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. It is the symbol that the one being baptized has died with Christ and been raised with Christ into a new way of life. It is a symbol of someone’s burial in the waters of baptism and their resurrection to a new way of life characterized by a total devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Those who are baptized are those who have heard the gospel preached and believed what they heard to the point they commit their whole lives to Jesus Christ. Acts 12:21 describes for us the relationship between preaching the gospel and making disciples. Turn there with me and follow along as I read.
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. (Acts 14:21 ESV)
So we see in this verse that disciples are made through the preaching of the gospel. And when the gospel has been preached and believed, those who believe are baptized. Baptism is the symbol that something supernatural has taken place in the life of the one who has believed and committed them self to Jesus Christ. And therefore, baptism is an integral part of the disciple-making process. It is the initiation ceremony into the Christian life. But baptism is only the beginning. And while baptism is a once-and-for all act of obedience, the second part of the process, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” is an ongoing and life long activity.
In other words, “making disciples” includes not only making “new” disciples, but also making “mature” disciples. Disciple-making is more than just evangelism. Evangelism is only a part of the disciple-making process. Leading people to Christ AND then guiding them to maturity is the full process of making disciples presented to us in this passage.
Most of you are probably familiar with the term “discipleship” and the term “discipleship training.” Both of these terms have been used to describe the teaching aspect of making disciples. The word “discipleship” has fallen out of use today, but I think it still has a lot of value because it reminds us that the goal of our teaching is making disciples of Jesus Christ. The word discipleship is just another way to say “making disciples.”
But so often we forget the “teaching” part of the disciple-making equation. We understand the need to preach the gospel and baptize those who believe. But the process of making disciples does not end there. The process is far from over at that point. And the result of this incomplete view of disciple-making has resulted in many churches full of spiritually immature Christians who barely know the basics of the Christian faith. And while one only has to know the basics to believe, that is not where they should remain for the duration of their earthly life. The church has the responsibility to teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded his followers. We have the responsibility to teach them the weightier portions of Scripture that will nurture them to maturity and carry them through the trials and tribulations of life. And with this information, we are further instructed in our mission as a church.
Are we doing the things we need to do to ensure that we are carrying out the “teaching” part of disciple-making well? If you have a teaching role in this church, I want to encourage you this morning to see yourself as an integral part of the disciple-making process. If you give money to this church, I want you to know that a portion your money goes toward purchasing teaching resources for our adults and children, and that you are also an integral part of the disciple-making process. And really, if you serve this church in any way, you are a part of that process. And it is an important work of this church. And so I ask us all this morning to recommit ourselves to this teaching part of making disciples.
But being committed to discipleship requires more than just being committed to seeing other believers instructed in the faith. Part of this commitment requires asking yourself whether you are still committed to being taught as well? Discipleship is a lifelong process and teaching is really a two-way street. It is impossible to teach someone who refuses to learn.
So, is the disciple-making process still at work in your life or has it stalled? Maybe you need to recommit yourself this morning to being a life-long student of Jesus Christ. Ask yourself if you are still committed to learning the Bible? We have lower attendance during Sunday School than we do in worship every week. And the same is true on Sunday and Wednesday nights where there is important teaching going on as well. I pray that we would all commit ourselves to being present at every opportunity for learning that this church offers. We are going to talk about this more next week, but you are all part of this body of believers and when you are not present the body is incomplete and it is not healthy and the mission of the church is hindered.
And the reality is that the best disciple-makers are those who firmly know and understand what they believe. If you ask the average Christian what hinders them most from sharing the gospel with others, a large percentage will respond that they do not feel like they know their Bible well enough to do so. Therefore, we all need to commit ourselves to being students of God’s Word with the goal of being teachers of God’s word. Not necessarily in an official role, but simply as someone who knows the Bible well enough to communicate its message with confidence and accuracy to others. In other words know the Bible well enough that you are able to be a disciple-maker.
My goal as the pastor of this church is to make disciples who make more disciples. I want that to be your goal as well. We need to be about the business of making disciples. That is the Jesus-prescribed mission for the church and if we want to be faithful to Jesus we must be committed to that mission.
Next year this church will celebrate its 50th anniversary. And no doubt we have a lot to celebrate. God has been faithful to us over these 50 years. So this is certainly a time to look back and recognize and celebrate this church’s history and God’s faithfulness to it. But it is also a time to commit ourselves to Looking Forward and Looking Outward. Looking forward to see what God has in store for the next 50 years and looking outward to see what role we have to play in fulfilling the mission of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
And so this morning I would like to ask all of you to commit with me to seeing this all-important mission of making disciples carried out faithfully and effectively by this church. It is my prayer that every member of this church will be burdened for the lost in this community and around the world. It is my prayer that we will not be content with working diligently at the wrong thing. It is my prayer that we will not be content with being comfortable and at ease while millions of people die each year without saving faith in Jesus Christ. And so I pray that you will commit with me this morning to be a church whose mission is making disciples.