January 30, 2022 | refocus | Sacrificial Service| Matthew 28:16-20
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Why does God gather his people?
Why did he establish the Universal church and its local expressions?
What is God’s desire for his followers beyond loving and caring for one another?
All of these questions lead us to the question ‘What is the purpose of the church?’
Stated as simply as it possibly can be, it is to ‘make disciples’.
C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, is credited as saying it this way
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
In a time where people resist plain statements and prefer things more ambiguous, in a time where many will say that we each get to decide our own purpose in life, in a society that rejoices in inclusivity and rejects exclusivity, we must, more than ever stand on the foundational principle that the church is God’s and therefore what he says it is, it must be.
The purpose he gives must be embraced, lived out, and defended.
The reality is, the church does not exist to make you feel good, to entertain you, to feed you, or provide a place for you to worship. It is not primarily for your fellowship, your enjoyment, or your satisfaction. Now, not all of those things are bad and many even have a place in the church, but if the church is going to be the church, everything must be done in service to its God-given purpose of making disciples.
There is a time when Jesus came to the temple and found that the people had perverted the purpose of the temple (Matthew 21:12-16). He cleared out the things that were distracting the purpose and restored it.
In the same way, sometimes we need a fresh reminder that God gave his Church a mission, a purpose, and we need to constantly be on guard against the things that creep in and either distract or deter the mission.
The church must have a missional mindset. A mindset that filters everything we do through the mission, or purpose of the church.
How do we do that?
I think the way we do it is the same way Jesus did, we go back to scripture, we go back to what he said about his church and her mission.
Now can I be honest with you? I believe that means Jesus may be getting ready to flip over some tables, tables that you like sitting at. Jesus may be about to drive out some of the distractors that you hold dear. Before Jesus could reestablish the mission and purpose of the temple, he had to clear out some stuff. Now, we can either get mad about that, like the money changers and religious leaders, or we can welcome it like the blind and the lame who received freedom to come to Jesus.
My prayer is that as you read this is that your reaction is the second.
In Matthew 28, beginning at verse 16, we find Jesus establishing the mission of his church. We often call this passage ‘The Great Commission’. This records some of the final moments Jesus had with his disciples, the final summary of what he was calling them to do with this new reality that he was alive, that he had conquered death, sin, and the grave, and that he was going to the Father for a time, and he and the father were going to send the Holy Spirit to empower then to carry out the mission until he returned.
Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV) 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.”
As we work our way through this scripture, I want to give you three statements to internalize, that I believe are essential to establishing a missional mindset.
The first statement is…
1. I have been commanded to go.
All authority has been given- (Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) Jesus, as the Son of God, always had authority, but he exercised only a fraction of it during his ministry. He taught with authority and healed people with a word, but now the Father has bestowed full authority on him. He exercises it in a wider sphere: in heaven and on earth, over men and angels, over his disciples and over all mankind.
Therefore- whenever you see the word 'therefore', it always refers back to some previous statement, as in because these things are true, you must…
Sometimes in the new testament epistles, after a few chapters, Paul will say, "Therefore...". Since all of that is true, sometimes referring to multiple statements or arguments, here is what you should do in response.
Here, with Jesus, it refers to the immediate and singular statement. I have all authority, because that is true, I am commanding you to go.
If I am God, if you understand my divinity, and you have declared that I am your Lord and that you are mine, then go. This then is for every believer. The gospel message declares that Christ is Lord and by accepting that as true and placing your faith and trust in his forgiveness of your sins and his salvation, you have declared him to be the ultimate authority in your life.
Go- what does Jesus mean by go? Go therefore and make disciples. Too often, I think we excuse ourselves from this command because we don’t rightly understand what Jesus is saying here. Does that mean we have to leave where we are and become missionaries (as in go to a foreign place and make disciples?) Does it mean, go on short-term mission trips (as in every once and a while go somewhere else and make disciples)? Does it mean that I have to become a pastor or minister? (As in go and vocationally make disciples)
It may mean some or all of those things for you, but it’s also bigger than that. Jesus is describing what his disciples are supposed to be doing with their lives.
A few helpful understandings of this word from Strong’s concordance can help. The word go here can mean ‘to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey, or to lead one’s life.
That’s what Jesus means here. As a follower of mine, this is your purpose, this is your mission.
No matter your vocation, your age, gender, or personality; no matter your location, education, financial situation, or any other describing factor, this is what you are supposed to spend your life doing.
The first thing we have to internalize if we are going to develop a missional mindset is that the command to go applies to me. That to follow Jesus is to spend your life on his mission, to go. Anything less falls short of what it means to be a Christian. The second thing is to look more clearly at the mission itself. The second statement we have to internalize is…
2. I have been commissioned to make disciples.
Linguistically, the verb ‘to make disciples’ is the only imperative verb. This is the central command; this is the mission Jesus gives his church.
The Reformed Expository Commentary points out that
‘The essential commission is not “Tell people about Jesus.” It is not “Preach the gospel.” It is not “Grow your church.” It is not “Make converts.” Jesus’ commission assumes all these, but goes deeper, commanding that we make disciples.’ They then offer this simple definition. ‘To make disciples is to lead new believers to maturity, so they understand and follow Jesus and eventually become leaders too.’
Let’s examine two components of this commission. Who are we commissioned to make disciples of and how are we to make disciples.
Make disciples of all nations- that is pretty clear in and of itself, but let’s look at the parallel accounts of Jesus giving this commission.
In Mark, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
In Luke we find “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
In the book of Acts we find, 8 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.”
We get minor details from each one that are helpful, but they all communicate the same overall message: that the disciples were to begin where they were and advance the gospel by making disciples until Jesus returned.
There was no one outside their responsibility and even though it took them a while to figure that out, they eventually dispersed carrying the gospel to the nations. That is the responsibility we inherit as disciples.
It is now our responsibility to make disciples, and no race, ethnicity, or religion is exempt from our calling. There is a big implication here that I think we often miss.
Oftentimes we understand we should be making disciples, but we don’t know where to start. The ironic thing is while we are waiting on God to bring us someone to invest it, literally everyone we meet is a potential disciple.
If our commission is to make disciples of all nations from where we are to the end of the earth, then we should always be looking for ways to fulfill it.
So, as a believer, Christ has commanded you to live your life on his mission, he has commissioned you to make disciples, and everyone you meet is a potential disciple. This morning, if you, as a follower of Christ, accept that, the question many of you may be wrestling with is how do I do that? How do I make disciples?
Here is the good news, Jesus told us how to do it when he commissioned us.
By going, by baptizing, and by teaching.
We have already established what is meant by going, that is we are to live our lives for the mission of God. Now let’s examine the next two components, baptizing and teaching.
baptizing them in (literally- into) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Discipleship begins when someone understands and believes the good news of the gospel. That God loved mankind so much that he sent his one and only son Jesus to live the perfect life we could not live and died the death we deserved so that we could be saved, and he gives us His holy spirit as a confirmation and down payment of our future inheritance and eternal life with him.
We then call men and women who profess belief in Jesus as their Lord and Savior to publicly declare their identity with Christ through baptism. It is the first step of discipleship. They declare that they belong to Jesus and their lives have been buried with Him and raised to walk in the new life Jesus gives.
The Bible often does not distinguish between salvation and baptism because it was unthinkable that someone would come to Christ and be saved and not be immediately baptized as a public declaration.
People sometimes ask, do I need to be baptized to be saved? Of course not, we believe that you do not have to be baptized to be saved, but don’t misunderstand. Baptism is what saved people do.
Then Jesus tells us what continued discipleship looks like when he says that we are to teach them all that he commanded. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. We don't have to guess what that is. We have what Jesus taught his disciples recorded for us in the gospels. We make discipling a much more difficult concept than it is. You point a new believer to what Jesus said about an area of their life and you encourage and challenge them to obey it. You support and encourage them; you help them as they seek to allow Christ to gain control of that area and then you point them to another and another until they are walking in maturity and able to point new believers in the same way. Sounds simple enough, right?
So why is it that the majority of Christians could not name one person they are actively discipling this way?
There are a variety of reasons, but two primary reasons stand out more often than others.
We don’t because we are too busy, or 2. we don’t feel like we can.
If it’s the first one and you think, I don’t have time to disciple someone, there might be some tables that Jesus needs to flip over. If this is your primary mission as a Christian, not finding time isn't a reason, it’s a blatant disregard for the mission of God. There should be nothing we shouldn't be willing to rearrange in our life to make space for this, but in reality, we are not really too busy, we are too distracted by lesser things.
Listen, I am not saying I have this all figured out. My life is just as hectic as most people, but I am saying that if it keeps us from making disciples, it is wrong. It is wrong in my life and it is wrong in your life.
What we usually mean when we say we don't feel like we can disciple someone is "I don’t feel like I know enough", or "my life isn’t perfect".
The freeing reality is that neither of those are prerequisites to discipling someone else?
Discipling someone isn’t about having it all figured out, it is about being one step ahead of the person you are discipling. You can do this, in fact, in this same passage we find that not only have we been called to do it, but we have also been empowered to do it.
The second thing we must internalize if we are going to develop a missional mindset is that Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples. This is my responsibility. To follow Jesus is to make disciples, the third statement we must internalize is…
3. I have been empowered to fulfill my mission
Because Jesus loves his disciples, because he knows the weakness of the flesh and the temptations of the world, he closes his commission with a comforting truth. You do not have to make disciples alone or in your own power. He goes on to say that this will be the case until the end of the age.
How is he with us? Through his gifts to us.
Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through the church.
The Bible says that the holy spirit will guide us into all truth, that he will convict and convince. That he gifts us, that he will produce fruit in our life. We have the literal presence of God dwelling with us.
You cannot convince someone of their need for Jesus, but the Spirit, through you can.
You cannot convict someone of their sin, but the Spirit can use your words and presence to.
You cannot save someone, but the Spirit can use you to be the vehicle he uses to lead someone to himself.
I have never saved anyone, but I have seen God use my willingness to share his message to save people both from the pulpit and over a cup of coffee. It is an awesome and humbling thing that God invites us to participate in his work.
Furthermore, just in case you were wondering, there is no professional Christian, not team A and team B, no varsity and JV Christians. Every Christian is empowered with the same Spirit and God can and will use every Christian who will be obedient to his command and commission. Discipleship is not only for some Christians, it is the work of every Christian. As a matter of fact, the bible is very clear why God calls preachers and teachers.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Doesn’t the work of the ministry sound a lot like discipleship?
To build up the body of Christ to maturity, to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, who joins the whole body together. The pastors' and teachers’ job is to equip the saints for that work.
You have everything you need to do the work of the ministry, to live on mission, to fulfill your purpose as a Christian, to make disciples.
As we get ready to close, let me share this summary of the mission given to us through scripture.
Andy Johnson in his book Missions: How the local church goes global gives this summary of the mission given to us through scripture:
“the church’s mission is to display the glory of God by declaring the gospel to all peoples, by gathering churches in every place, and by filling them with disciples who obey God and will praise him forever for his grace”
The core value of having a Missional mindset is embracing that mission and spending our lives in the pursuit of it. It is measuring everything we do, both as individuals and as the church through the lens of our mission.
Say these out loud.
I have been commanded to go.
I have been commissioned to make disciples.
I have been empowered to fulfill my mission.
May God help you and me as we seek to walk in this purpose.