Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Great Commission

For some years now, we’ve had as our headline annual target: A year of the Great Commandment; New Commandment; and Great Commission.  How many have any idea what the Great Commission is?
  1. All four gospel writers record some final instructions from Jesus to his disciples, and Luke adds more in Acts.  They centre around how they should take forward His kingdom purpose to the wider world.
  1. Matthew focuses on Christ’s supremacy; Mark on the power believers receive; Luke on how all are to be reached; and John on union with the Holy Spirit.  The target of this disciple-making is every ethnic group.
  1. There are other gospel passages recording what Jesus expressed as His on-going purpose for his followers.  And the later New Testament writers consciously stand within this mandate to extend His kingdom.
  1. Historically, the church has coupled Jesus’s return being preconditioned on the gospel being preached world-wide.  What exactly may this mean?
  1. The Great Commission reminds us that our evangelism has a point, and carries urgency.  Also that obeying Jesus, for His sake, is a sustaining motive even where we may meet opposition.
  1. Reading Jesus’s words, we’re drawn away from clever methods and ideas for communication.  We must reckon with Christ’s incomparable unmatched uniqueness, and the power He gives humanity for new life.
So, what’s this about?  Jesus Christ is the Lord of humanity, whose disciple followers represent every background, place and age.  Herein is a challenge to push through boundaries to bring the good news of the gospel to all.
REVELATION 7:9  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  10 And they cried out in a loud voice:  "Salvation belongs to our God,”

Matthew provides us with the classic wording.  Note our confidence is in Jesus’s exaltation, not the validity of the gospel’s reasonableness, nor “helping people”.  “As you go” is a better translation for v19.  We’re to baptise those carrying evidence marks of discipleship, whom we are then to bring on in full obedience.
MATTHEW 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  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."

Mark also records some diffidence, but overwhelms it with promises and claims of remarkable proofs.  Missionary pioneer William Burton wrote a testimony to having seen each of these signs fulfilled in his work.
MARK 16:14  Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.  15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."  19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Luke writes two accounts: Jesus focuses the disciples away from self-concern onto the power for their mission.  
LUKE 24:46  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 
ACTS 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"  7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  8 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."  9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

John is more nuanced.  It is a personal, relational, not-of-this-world engagement.   
JOHN 20:20  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

A goal to reach.  There’s another Christ event to come: His return.  It seems a precondition is that people of every ethnicity may have had an opportunity to hear, understand and respond to the kingdom gospel. 
MARK 13:9  "On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.
MATTHEW 21:43  "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."
MATTHEW 25:31  "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

6.  Into action.  The first church obeyed Jesus, crossing nations, making disciples, extending the kingdom.
ROMANS 15:15  because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.  18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done --  19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.  So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
ACTS 14:21  They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.  23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Application  “As you go” is the key to a lifestyle of gospel propagation.  How’s your disciple-calling energy?
·       Jesus is disturbingly emphatic that power is needed to extend the kingdom; where does this leave our events?
·       If we focus on results, how we feel about things, or popular support, how far shall we get?  What’s the answer?
·       ‘The gospel hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it’s been tried, found difficult, and abandoned.’  Do you agree?

The full audio is on
(All quotations are from the New International Version)

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