When people talk about the church’s mission, they refer to what is called the Great Commission: “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 all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV). I used to read this with more than a bit of apprehension. How was I to go and make disciples? How was I to go teach others to observe all Jesus commanded? I didn’t know where to start, and the whole concept of a Great Commission seemed ominous—a huge amount of work I didn’t feel qualified for. I’ve since learned I am not alone in how I viewed this passage.
Like you, I’ve been taught this is the Missio Dei—the mission of God. I’d been taught that God is a sending God and an important part of his purpose to call us was to send us. While all of this is true, I felt like he was sending us out like a lamb to a den of wolves. I could not possibly do what he asked me to do, and it frightened me that God was putting this responsibility on my shoulders.
I did not realize my apprehension was due to reading this verse out of context. I was missing what I now see as not only the most important part of this Great Commission, but what would qualify me to participate in making disciples. Notice the word, “Therefore.” Therefore means “for that reason,” “consequently,” or “that being the case…” It is raining; therefore, the grass will get wet. I broke my arm; therefore, I need to see a doctor. Seeing the word “therefore” points us to something stated earlier.
Reading the Great Commission passage, we need to ask what precedes this “therefore?” Then we will realize we are quoting only part of the Great Commission. Jesus began by saying, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Muse on that statement for a moment.
How much authority does Jesus have? All authority in heaven and earth. Is there anything, then, that Jesus does not have authority over? No! It’s important to get this in heart and mind. The King James translates this as “all power.” The point is, Jesus knows all things and is in complete control.
So, when Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, we should listen, not just because he has the authority to tell us what to do but because he has authority over everything—circumstances, systems and resources. The point of his statement is to encourage us that he knows what he is doing. Everything is subject to his authority—including the enemy. Nothing can stop what Jesus has started. And in Christ we have everything we need.
But there’s more. At the end of the Great Commission is another powerful statement: “And behold, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Who is with us always? The one who has all power and authority over heaven and earth. How long will he be with us? To the end of the age. So, the one who has all power and authority promises to be with us always as we go and make disciples.
Suddenly, the Great Commission doesn’t seem so ominous or frightening. In fact, if you allow me a bit of “literary license,” I suggest reading it this way:
“Friends, I’ve got some news you want to hear. I have been given all power and authority over heaven and earth. Think about it, nothing can stand in our way. This gospel will be preached, and guess what, I’m inviting you to join me. That’s right, I’m inviting you to participate in this incredible journey of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. I’d like you to walk right alongside me as I live in you through the Holy Spirit. Let’s make disciples, let’s tell them they are forgiven and let them share in my baptism. Let’s teach them the New Commandment I taught you—you know, to love one another as I have loved you. Let’s walk together in communion to bring about kingdom change in this world. I’ll never leave you alone, it’s you and me all the way to the very end of the age. Are you with me?”
God sends us by inviting us to join him in his Missio Dei. He sends us because he wants to share his life with us and experience the joy of watching sons and daughters come to glory. He sends us because he loves us, and he loves those he sends us to.
This is the “rest of the story” of the Great Commission. This also starts our next series of articles unpacking the Love Venue of healthy church, that aspect of church life that entails outreach to others. I pray our response to Jesus’ call will always be: “Here I am, send me!”
On a journey with Jesus,