Summary: Apostles, Pt. 23 (Final)
TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH (MATTHEW 28:18-20)
A story recounts the return of Jesus to heaven after His time on earth. He returned bearing the marks of His earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached Him and said, “Master, You must have suffered terribly for people down there.”
“I did,” said Jesus.
“And,” continued Gabriel, “Do they now know all about how You loved them and what You did for them?”
“Oh, no,” said Jesus. “Not yet. Right now, only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have You done,” he asked, “to let all people know about Your love for them?”
“Well, I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few others to tell people about Me. Those who are told will in turn tell others, and the Gospel will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of humankind will hear about Me and what I have done on their behalf.”
Gabriel frowned and looked skeptical. He knew that people weren’t dependable. “Yes,” he said, “but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? And what if, way down in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, people get too busy to bother telling others about You? Haven’t You made any other plans?”
“No, I’ve made no other plans, Gabriel,” Jesus answered. “I’m counting on them.”
God has entrusted and charged the church with the Great Commission. This passage is traditionally called “The Great Commission,” not “The Great Suggestion,” as someone reminded. There is no alternative but to put God’s word to practice. If the church is not reaching the lost, the church becomes part of the lost, part of the problem and not part of the solution, just as many liberal churches who forsake the ministry of lost souls for social concerns found out.
A. B. Simpson shares his perspective on Matthew 28:18-20, saying: “Unless I am sure I am doing more at home to send the gospel abroad than I can do abroad, I am bound to go.”
The Greek text reads, “Go therefore, make disciples…baptizing them…teaching them.” As you can see, there is no “and” word connecting “go” and “make disciples.”
What is Christ’s challenge to the disciples and to the church? What happens to a church without evangelism and missions? Should we stop at conversion?
Avail Yourself to Christ
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-19)
A communist once challenged a Western Christian: “The gospel is a much more powerful weapon for the renewal of society than is our Marxist philosophy, but it is we who will finally beat you...We Communists do not play with words. We are realists, and seeing our object, we know how to obtain the means...We believe in our message, and we are ready to sacrifice everything, even our life...But you people are afraid to soil your hands.” (“Called and Committed: Work-Changing Discipleship,” David Watson, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, or Discipleship, Hodder and Stoughton pp 3-4, 1982)
What has happened to today’s witnesses? It is ever harder to go than before, because Christians are domesticated by the comforts of the world. Increasingly church leaders cannot leave their neighborhood schools and city conveniences to take up challenges out of town, never mind out of country. I remember persuading a seminary graduate with an expiring visa not to wait for offers from local churches but to leave Los Angeles for a church in the Midwest that was willing to sponsor his green card; it was like pulling teeth getting him to leave. They are too attached to their Ranch Markets, New Capital and Sam Woo restaurants. The much-admired Rev. Philip Teng said, “Out of 100 Christians, 95 do not preach the gospel, the other five have to shoulder the work of 100.” (Ten Great Visions of the Bible)
What is a disciple? The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament, in contrast to the word “Christian” that occurs merely three times in the New Testament and KJV’s 61 listings for the word “saints.” A disciple is a learner and not a lodger, a student and not a stranger, a follower and not a fan. A disciple is not merely a Sunday Christian, a regular churchgoer, a voting member or a baptized convert. A disciple is a follower of Christ through thick and thin, have and have-not, near and far. The word “disciple” is not exclusive to Jesus’ disciples. John the Baptist had his disciples, the Pharisees had theirs (Mark 2:18, Luke 5:33) and so did Moses (john 9:28).
What separates Jesus’ disciples from others then? It is not their suffering, their humility, their knowledge. The marked distinction from other disciples is that His disciples cross national boundaries and racial lines. I did an interesting study on Jesus’ master plan of evangelism. Jesus taught and preached in the towns of Galilee. (Matt 4:23, 11:1, Mark 1:39), but He did not stop here. He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Matt 19:1) Then He made his way to Jerusalem. (Luke 13:22). Matthew gives us an insight into Jesus’ plans. After He had proclaimed, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt 9:37) and chose his twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1), He sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:5-6)