Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
FEBRUARY 21, 2016
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 28:18-20, ESV
There are certain things God reserves for Himself, certain things He gives to His people, and a certain place on earth where God’s mission of being God and our mission of being God’s people come together in the great co-mission. As a matter of fact, we call it “the great commission,” a title not only of the great text that closes the Gospel of Matthew, but of the great task that is carried out by God and God’s people.
We are already involved, and there is an urgent need to become more committed to sharing the gospel with our community, country, and world. But before we begin again to carry out the great commission, we need to look again at how the most important task on earth unfolds. The gospel begins and ends with God, who gets all the glory and honor in the saving of souls. It comes to and is carried along by believing men and women, who bear the great responsibility of this great co-mission. And it comes to fruition in a torn and tattered institution that needs as much renewal and refocus as the great commission itself.
So let’s get reacquainted with the great commission and recommitted to the great co-mission, by beginning at the beginning, with God.
The Sovereignty of God
Our Lord Jesus Christ, God of very God, begins the great commission by asserting the absolute authority of God. “All,” in this case means all, and “authority” is power, privilege, to do as one sees fit without outside interference. There is a word for “all authority,” and it is the word sovereignty. God is sovereign, and the gift of the gospel is in accordance with God’s sovereign grace.
Sovereignty is sometimes hard to fathom in our modern democracy. We the people choose to do what we the people want to do. We choose to keep or break the law. We choose to exercise or forgo our liberties. No sovereign, no emperor, no king chooses for us. We choose, period.
So when it comes to the gospel, we tend to think we have it because we chose God. In our age of the sovereign self, it is easy to be self-centered even with something as sacred as the gospel. But Christ reminds us, at the outset of the great commission, that those who are summoned to the commission of God are those who are sovereignly chosen by God.
Jesus had already taught this to His disciples in the bread of life discourse (ref. John 6:37-44) and punctuated it with the first great commission (ref. John 15:16). The book of Acts records the carrying out of the great commission and the great conversion of peoples through great and sovereign grace (ref. Acts 11:18, 13:48, 16:14). The eminent theologian of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, declared the great doctrines of grace throughout his inspired writings (ref. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-14; etc.). Salvation by grace alone means grace alone saves, through the means of God-given faith, focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Just like the first Christians who stood at Jesus’ feet on the mount of ascension two thousand years ago, we are under the authority of the Lord. He chose us, He saved us, and He commands us. Chief among His commands is the great commission, to take this gift of grace and share it with our world.
Are you saved by God’s grace? Are you one of God’s people? Are you listening to the great commission? Then you have a great responsibility to carry out this co-mission with God, the God who has promised to be with us “until the end of the age.”
The Responsibility of God’s People
God is with us, and we must be with Him. God’s grace saves, but it does not save in a vacuum, robotically, apart from means. The means of grace is faith, and the means of faith comes through faithful people. For the faithful people of God, our great and glorious co-mission with God is to share our faith in the gospel with others. Generally, we do this by living the gospel. Specifically, we do it by giving the gospel.
With “authority,” Christ compels us to “Go,” a two-letter word in English derived from a powerful punch of a participle in the original language. It’s passive tense conjoins with a commandment (“make disciples”) to teach us that based upon one thing, we proceed to do another.
Let me explain it in the context of the great commission. Because Christ has claimed authority over the Christian, the Christian proceeds to live as one under the authority of Christ. When Jesus makes you a disciple, you live a disciplined life, which in and off itself is a witness to the gospel. The first step, therefore, in our great co-mission with God is to live the gospel, to live a genuinely Christian life, with all of the loves, sacrifices, virtues, and disciplines empowered by the Holy Spirit and instructed by God’s holy word. People will notice, and they will either be repulsed or attracted (ref. 2 Corinthians 2:16).
The next step is to give the gospel. People will be attracted to you, if you are standing for Christ and walking with the Lord. You will be attracted to people, for God will speak to by His word and Spirit to tell you to go to someone specific. The living is done, now it is time for the giving of the gospel in words, words of Scripture and words of testimony, which God’s grace will use to put God-given faith into the mind, heart, and will of another human being. “Making disciples” of the Lord Jesus Christ is on ongoing process whereby Christians obey the great commission and produce new Christians to be on a co-mission with God.
And what do you do with a new Christian, once one has been made? The great co-mission includes baptizing, teaching and learning the great doctrines of the faith. The means find an end on earth where we gather to wrap ourselves in the constant power and presence of God.
God and God’s People
The gospel and the great commission is the story of God and God’s people. Love produces love, life produces life, a disciple made will makes another disciple. The story is best told, however, in the complete context of a peculiar institution, one that has been attacked for two millennium and in desperate need of reformation and revival today.
Campus Crusade, or Cru, is great at making disciples, but they don’t baptize. There is a site on the Jordan River in Israel that may be the best place in the world to get baptized, but they don’t evangelize or conduct Bible classes. I teach at a Christian college, but most of the students there are already reached for Christ and my classroom does not have a baptistry.
My point is that there are many points along the way in the kingdom of God where parts of the great commission are being realized, but there is only one place, one people where each glorious component of the co-mission is carried out. The story of God and God’s people is best told in God’s church.
I thank God for the many “para-church” organizations. Missionary sending agencies, campus ministries, homeless shelters, food pantries, and others do wonderful gospel work. But the unfinished task of getting the gospel out to the whole world will not get done unless the whole church gets involved, with our many members committed to praying and giving and going.
And, the whole of the gospel story can only be fully and rightly celebrated in the whole church. It is in the church where we worship God in all of His authority, sovereignty, triunity and respond to His eternal presence. It is in the church were being disciples makes disciples of our children, family, and friends. It is in the church where the sweet fellowship of fellow disciples shares the sacred burden of the gospel. It is in the church were the ministry of the Spirit reaches in and launches out. It is in the church were an emphasis like “Finishing the Task” can fan the flames of world missions to get the whole gospel out to the whole world. It is to the church Christ was first talking when He gave His great commission at the end of the first advent, and it is for the church Christ will come on the great day of His second coming.
God will not share His glory nor His sovereign authority with us. But God shares His mission. It is our co-mission, God’s and ours, to be the church that lives and gives the gospel to the world. Who will commit to the commission and face a task unfinished?
“Facing a task unfinished,
That drives us to our knees,
A need that, undiminished,
Rebukes our slothful ease.
We, who rejoice to know Thee,
Renew before Thy throne,
The solemn pledge we owe Thee,
To go and make Thee known.”