The Gospel is a great light in this dark world and Christ has called us to share it. It is our mission as people of God and our mission as a local church. One reason I am so proud to be Southern Baptist is because, as a denomination, we hold mission work as a very high priority. It seems that we cannot follow Christ well if we are not actively involved in His mission everyday.
What is the Gospel? What is the mission of God’s people? Who is charged with the task of pursuing this mission? If we do not take part in this mission, will people hear the good news of Christ? What are Christ’s promises regarding this mission? What if we choose not to share the Gospel? Why should we share such great news?
So many times in a church setting we are content to admit that we need to share the Gospel but we do not talk about what it is or why it is we should share. We admit that it ought to be done, but then we leave the church building and go about our lives not pursuing the mission. Maybe it is because we don’t know how. Perhaps it is because we are not exactly sure what it is. Maybe we haven’t been given a good enough reason to actually declare the message of Christ. After all, couldn’t God reach the world without us? Has He not promised that rocks testify about Him? Doesn’t Romans 1:20 declare that people are without excuse because creation reveals God? If God does not depend on us, why does it matter if we share the Gospel or not? Won’t God still reach people? Won’t He still bring people into our church if we just pray hard enough?
Jesus answered all of these questions as He declared the great mission to His disciples. We have the great opportunity to examine these things together:
Matthew 28:16-20 (HCSB)
The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
A mission for whom?
We arrive at this story in Scripture where Jesus left His legacy for His followers. All of history led to this moment. God created the world. People rebelled against Him and lost their position before God. God brought the Messiah through the nation of Israel and the Messiah died to pay the price for humanity’s rebellion. Then, He rose from the grave to prove His authority and affirm His promise to give His people eternal life. Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He addressed a specific group of people: His disciples.
Here are some things that I notice about these disciples. First, they were following Christ’s direction. Being a follower of Christ is not just about calling ourselves ‘Christians,’ it is actually about what we do. Our works matter. James, Jesus’ half-brother, even wrote that faith without works is dead by itself (James 2:17). While works do not save us, if we trust Christ we will strive to do what He has called us to do because we trust that He will not lead us astray. If we do not strive to do what Christ has called us to do, then we show that we do not trust Him. If we do not trust Him, why would we call ourselves Christians? There are so many people who take the Christian name, but do not trust Christ and who do not care about honoring Christ. They live according to a cultural version of the Christian faith, but this means nothing if we do not actually follow Christ. These eleven disciples were following Christ’s direction, and it seems that if we truly have a relationship with Christ we will also follow Christ’s direction because we can trust that He will not lead us astray.
Second, the disciples worshipped Christ. Even in their worship, some doubted. The eleven disciples were imperfect. I find it so amazing and refreshing that Jesus did not condemn his disciples for doubting or for being imperfect. We can so easily get into this mentality where we feel imperfect and insufficient to do the work of God, who rules over the universe. We can also get into the habit of condemning others because they seem insufficient to us or because they mess up. Jesus gave this mission to his imperfect disciples even when they doubted. This mission is for every Christ follower despite imperfections and despite doubt. Our insecurities, our mistakes, our insufficiencies and our image does not rid us of the high calling we have in Christ Jesus. We may have limitations because of our age. Young men and women lack some experience. The elderly lack some energy and strength. The workforce lacks free time. People in poverty lack resources. Those who doubt lack confidence. We worry. We are afraid to use our resources when we need to. We are insecure. We don’t want to stand out. We are imperfect!
Just as Christ gave this mission to His imperfect disciples, the mission has been passed down to us, and we are also imperfect as we try to follow Christ. Since equality is such a topic in our world today, I feel it necessary to say that Christ is the greatest supporter of equality there ever was: He invented it! God created all people equal in their worth. While we do not have the same role, we each have the same exact mission: young and old, ladies and gentlemen, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, those who wear suits and those who do not, those who have tattoos and those who don’t. Christ calls us all to His great mission, despite our sin, despite our insufficiencies, despite our insecurities, despite our ethnicity, despite our gender and despite our age.
God is so good. Not only should we accept God’s goodness by working toward this great mission, but we should also follow God’s example and extend this goodness to others: accepting one another and working with one another despite insufficiencies and insecurities. We can give each other opportunities to pursue God’s calling and to fill roles in His kingdom. While we need to deal with sin, sin cannot keep us from pursuing this great mission together. God is so good!
The reason for the mission
So, we know that all those who follow Christ are called to Christ’s mission. Why? Why is it that God wants us to reach people with His Gospel? Why does He want us to make disciples of all nations? Why does He desire for us to teach all disciples to obey everything that He has commanded? Does He need us? Are we to accomplish some end goal that is beyond our grasp?
I have more good news. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, does not leave us in the dark. We do this because Christ has been given all authority. It is the reason that He gave. He did not say that we would be responsible on our own to reach the world. He did not say that the end goal was for us to reach the entire world with our efforts. He did not say that the number of people we reach determines our success as individuals or as a church. He did say that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Therefore, or because all authority is His, we should make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.
This passage helps to illuminate Acts 1:8, which records Jesus also saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is a description of what God’s disciples will be and cannot be a command or a prescription placed on God’s people. The command, and our goal, is to honor Christ’s authority. It is to live for the glory of God. It is not to take the responsibility of reaching the entire world upon ourselves. We make disciples and our motivation is honoring God.
This means a couple of things for us. First of all, it means that Christ can return at any time. He does not have to wait until we have carried the Gospel to all people in our own power. We must remember as we think upon the glories of God that He simply does not depend on us, period. Second, we do not have to force the world into submission. We have the freedom to love people and the freedom to follow God’s convictions in our lives. We can trust God to convert the hearts and minds of people. After all, He reserves the responsibility to build his own Church (Matthew 16:18). When we make our reason anything other than honoring God, we actually sin because we take upon ourselves a responsibility that God has reserved for Himself. Perhaps in light of Acts 1:8, any local church might grow as it pursues God’s mission for the correct reason, but our motivation is and must be solely to honor God.
In all reality, we should be so relieved by this. If we work this out, it means that we do not succeed or fail based upon the number of people we convert or bring to salvation. God does not judge based on church size, budget, the impact of any particular ministry, how much money we have saved or gained, the size of the offering, or even the number of people baptized. God judges by one standard: Have we honored His authority by making disciples?
As a church and as individuals, I have to ask about our motivation for reaching this community and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we hope to build God’s church for Him, or are we simply trying to follow Christ well and honor His authority? Do we distribute the money of the church only to ministries we see as beneficial or only when we see progress that is already being made, or do we distribute money in prayer and in a way that honors Christ’s authority? Do we, as a church, do only what we think will reach people, or do we actually follow Christ and honor His authority whether or not we see the benefits? If Christ is leading us to do something, we should pursue it even if we are unclear what the results may be. Christ will not lead us astray. He will not lead us to make bad investments or sacrifices. If He calls us to spend, we should: not because of the benefits we see, but because we live to honor Him. If He calls us to share the Gospel, we should: not because we are trying to grow a church or see people baptized, but because we live to honor Him.
This is the reason we do what we do and there can be no other reason and no other motivation. Christ’s authority is timeless. He is asking us to respond to that timeless authority. Therefore, this mission must also be timeless, and our reason for taking part in this mission cannot have an end.
What is our mission? The mission is so simple. Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. The mission has three parts:
First, we make disciples of all nations. Remember, we do this to honor Christ’s authority and for no other reason. This means that evangelism, both as a church and as individuals, is a necessary part of the Christian faith. Evangelism includes sharing the Gospel, sharing testimonies and even inviting others to church. I promise that the Gospel will always be preached at my church and I try not to hold anything back. We love people as Christ loves them and tell them about the eternal life that Christ has offered. We declare with our loving actions and with our words that people have rebelled against God and that God has made a way for all people to be restored to Him. We share the truth of Heaven and Hell in a loving and respectful way, and we share that God desires for all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). He is so good! This is the most basic part of the mission and this step that must precede the others, but it is often the step that we skip.
Second, we baptize those who become disciples. Outward baptism is a symbol of the inward baptism and a symbol of the restoration of life by God Himself.
Third, we teach disciples to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
The mission truly is this simple. Whatever we do in life, whether at work, home, school or church ought to reflect this mission. The sermons on Sunday morning ought to reflect this mission. The money we spend as a church ought to reflect this mission. Our strategy as a church ought to reflect this mission. The media we use ought to reflect this mission. Our attitudes in life and on social media ought to reflect this mission. Our words ought to reflect this mission. How we treat guests no matter what they look like or smell like ought to reflect this mission. How we treat other generations or age groups ought to reflect this mission. How we treat people who believe differently than we do ought to reflect this mission. We are free to act in this way because Christ has reserved the responsibility to convict people and to build His own Church. We share the love of Christ and the message of salvation with the world because Christ has authority.
After stating the mission for his disciples, Jesus reminds them that He is always with them, even to the end of the age. This is a great promise for every believer. When we examine the text carefully, we see that there are no conditions attached to this promise. Christ’s love for us is not conditional upon our willingness to pursue the mission. Whether or not we share the Gospel, Christ is with us. Even if we mess up and sin, Christ is with us. Even when we deny Him, He pursues us so that we might be restored. I seem to remember Paul writing that God demonstrates His love for us in this way: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is love. We do not have to earn it. In fact, we cannot. This is one of the areas where the belief system of the Mormons, Jahovah’s Witnesses and Muslims contradicts the very words of Christ and the very message of God (all these worldviews esteem Christ as at least a good teacher). Eternal life is a gift that cannot be earned. This means what we do is a response to that gift, which is already available to us. We cannot do anything to earn that gift, and we shouldn’t require anyone else, no matter how different, to earn our love and our investment.
This is the mission and this is the high calling of every believer in Christ Jesus. There is a great unconditional love and a great eternal life available for all those who do not currently believe in Christ. All we have to do is ask Him to save us. Everything else will follow.
 It is interesting, here, that Christ claims to have been given all authority. Yet, according to John 1, he was God and was with God from the beginning and everything that was made was made by Him, through Him and to Him. My thought is that the authority given at this juncture was the authority to restore the world and open the scroll that may have contained the lawsuit against the earth in Revelation 5, which is an honor given to the Lamb and the Lamb alone. Christ has always had all authority. This is why it was possible at all for Him to come to earth, die to forgive sin, and overcome death. It seems the lawsuit, though, could only take place after this.