Summary: In English class, we've been given five questions to answer in every circumstance. How does answering those questions help us understand the marching orders we've been given in the Great Commission?
In 1944, Lt. Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese military was commissioned to guerilla warfare with squad of 4 in a remote island of the Phillippines. From the end of WWII, various leaflets and propaganda pieces were dropped onto the island to notify Onoda that the war was over, but he was sure it was a trick from the enemy and continued defending the island. Finally, in 1972, Onoda’s commanding officer came to the island and read the notice of surrender. Only then did Onoda relinquish his post.
What might it look like if one member of our church had the same kind of dedication to the Great Commission? I have here a gallon jug full of clear water. This jug represents our surrounding community, our remote island, if you will. In my hand, I have a bottle of food coloring. I’m going to release just one drop of the food coloring into this jug and we’ll return later to see what kind of impact that one drop can make.
Today, I’d like to examine this Great Commission as given by both Matthew and Luke. It’s how Matthew closes his gospel, while Luke begins the book of Acts with a version of his own. Each focuses on different aspects of the Great Commission, which we can get a complete picture as we answer the five questions of English class- who, what, where, when, and why. To answer the question of where, let’s begin with Luke’s account. Read Acts 1:6-9.
I find it interesting that the remainder of Acts describes the fulfillment of the commission as Luke shares where the apostles were to be witnesses. First in Jerusalem- I believe for us today that would be our neighbors, the people we see every day as we’re in our community. Then in Judea- I equate this to our family and friends. They are people with whom we have some things in common, we see them on a regular basis. Then in Samaria- I include people we see at school or work, maybe people whom we struggle to get along with, that person who constantly pushes our button. Finally, to the ends of the world- the global missions, going to places where the gospel has yet to be proclaimed. For some, that will mean packing their bags and heading out. For many of us that means supporting those efforts with prayer and finances.
For the rest of our English questions, let’s turn to Matthew. Read Matthew 28:16-20
Who? In this instance, Jesus is speaking directly to the 11 remaining apostles as they have gathered at His request in Galilee. Considering the promise is made that He will be with them as they carry out the Great Commission to the very end of the age, I believe the case can be made that Jesus’ words are intended for all Christians until the day of His return.
When? This question is answered by the word, “go”. It’s actually more of a description than a command, carrying the idea “as you go”. I’ve always liked to quip, “Wherever you go, there you are.” You may recognize that expression as the motto of Star Trek’s USS Excelsior. But it’s originally a quote from Thomas a Kempis in 1440, from his book, Imitation of Christ.
"So, the cross is always ready and waits for you everywhere. You cannot escape it no
matter where you run, for wherever you go you are burdened with yourself. Wherever
you go, there you are."
No matter where we find ourselves, there will be people in need of the Lord, so we go.
What? Sometimes when we read the Great Commission, we see four parts to this answer: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. But when we recognize that the go is a description as we’ve already noted and baptize and teach describe how to make disciples, we can realize that we are commissioned for one job- make disciples.
Developing people to be disciples, or followers of Christ, is a 2-step process. It begins with baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Notice a person doesn’t have to know all the ins and outs of faith to be baptized. They simply need to understand they’re a sinner in need of grace, which has been offered to them through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God has extended the offer of grace, people accept the gift by recognizing they need Jesus as their Lord, determine to follow the ways of God, and baptism by immersion. Paul tells us that this baptism is a way for the new believer to join in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why we immerse, or dunk, someone who desires to be a disciple.
Disciple-making doesn’t end at baptism. Quite the contrary, we must continue by teaching them to observe all the things Jesus commanded. Now, it can be overwhelming to think about all those rules that must be included in this step. But really, we can summarize every rule or command to be followed with two. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is like it- love your neighbor as yourself. Every other command falls under one of these two things. Does this choice honor God? Does this choice show godly love to the people it will impact?