Our Great Commission

September 24, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

Matthew 28:18-20

Just as the Gospel writers each concluded their books with Jesus’ parting call to his followers to obey the Great Commission (then and in the future), we too are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded” (Matt: 28: 16-20). The call to missions is one of our core values: our task, our obligation of spreading the Gospel — in our neighborhoods, across our nation, and around the world.

Observation #1: God calls every one of us to live our lives on a mission.  The Great Commission, the climax of the Gospel of Matthew, is our most basic command from our Savior, as individuals and as a church. We are told by Jesus that “as you go, wherever you go, make disciples of all nations” (better translation from Greek of Mtt. 28:19). As believers, this is our constant mindset.

Observation #2: The command is for ALL nations (Mtt. 28:19).  The Greek word for “nations” here points not just to countries, but also to ethnic groups, cultures, people groups. This means reaching in and beyond our local communities to ALL peoples, especially “outsiders” we might normally overlook. Twenty five % of our total Perry Creek Church budget goes to missions: local needs, church planting, and foreign missions (largest amount).

Observation #3: The command is primarily about discipleship (Mtt. 28:19).  Perry Creek Church’s primary mandate from Jesus is to point people to the spiritual, and focus on the advancement of the Gospel. As we understand the depth of people’s eternal spiritual needs for their God, we become more generous with providing their physical needs, as did the early Church in Acts 2:45, who realized that their resources were only temporary while on earth and needed to be shared.

Observation #4: This command is only done through the presence of Jesus.  The Great Commission begins with Jesus’ authority (Mtt. 28:18) and ends with Jesus’ presence (Mtt. 28:20). We need the presence of His Spirit as we pursue this command wholeheartedly because this huge task will lead us to places way “over our heads”, and is fulfilled only with His presence and power.

Will we, as individuals and as a church, choose to leverage our lives and open our hearts to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth? Will we lean into and rely on Jesus’ authority and presence when we obey His command to “make disciples of all nations”?

Prayer: Speak to each of us through Your Spirit and show us Your next step.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the Great Commission an obligation or a privilege? Explain.
  2. What does it mean to “make disciples of all nations”?
  3. What is God showing you as you take the next step to educate, encourage, and engage others as you spread the Gospel?
  4. All of us as Christians should be sharing the Gospel by the way we live our lives. However, Jesus’ command in Matt. 28 is a call to action. Are you/your small group “going & making”?
  5. Why is actively sharing our faith so hard/intimidating? What could make it easier?

Introduction

You know last words – the last words we speak on earth – are important words. They can be funny words. This week I read about a tombstone that was engraved with the last words “I told you I was sick.” Or last words can be ironic words, like the last words of Major General John Sedgwick of the Union Army. His last words were literally “I’m ashamed of you for dodging like that. The Confederate soldiers couldn’t hit an elephant at this range.” Those were his last words! Or last words might just be expressive. The last words of Vince Lombardi were “Happy Anniversary. I love you.” Last words can take many forms, but last words are always important. As one of my Seminary Professors used to say: “Last words are lasting words.”

Today we are going to look at some last words. Actually, today we are continuing in our series called DNA. This is a series where we are looking at our church’s Core Values, the things we believe God has called us to major on here at the Church at Perry Creek. We have five Core Values here at Perry Creek. We talked last week about how to remember them. The Next Steps class last Sunday nailed it! They remembered all five! Let’s see if you guys can remember them. I won’t make you stand up and do the tree thing, but I’ll do it so let’s see if you can remember our values:

  • Drink Deeply from which two values? Bible and Prayer
  • Grow Richly from which two values? Family and Community
  • Share Freely from? Missions

Well done! If you don’t have any idea what that was all about, don’t worry about it! If you stick around here long enough, you’ll find out! Those are our five values: Bible, Prayer, Family, Community and Missions.

Today we are going to look at that last value, the value of Missions. Missions is our task, our obligation of spreading the gospel and making disciples in our neighborhood and across our nation and around the world. It is the way in which we share freely! We’re going to talk about that today. We are going to do it by looking at Jesus’ last words.

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew 28:18-20. These are Jesus’ very last words to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel. This passage is called “the Great Commission,” and it’s the greatest Missions passage in the Bible. It’s a passage that many of us could quote if we really tried. It is, in some ways, our most basic command as a church.

Today as we look at the Great Commission, here’s what we are going to do. Seated front and center here today are two teams that are going to go serve Jesus among the nations: Kathy, Doug, Matt and Julie (who is with her Dad), just like you heard, are going to go to Mexico with Faith Ministries and build a house for the Zuniga family to live in. Joel Brown and Beau Jones – and they have room for one more, right Joel? – are going to Honduras in January to do the same thing.

What we’re going to do is today as we look at the Great Commission, we are going to make four observations about this command:

  1. Who it’s to?
  2. Who it’s for?
  3. What it is?
  4. How it gets done?

Each of these observations will obviously apply to you, as you go to serve Jesus among the nations so I’ll be speaking to you. These observations are also going to apply to us, as we live our day to day lives. We’re going to make these four observations and, as we do, we’ll be asking ourselves how they relate to us as we all live our lives on mission.

Let’s read these verses from Matthew 28:18-20, the last scene in the book of Matthew. After Jesus has trained his disciples, and gone to the cross, and risen from the dead, and showed himself to his eleven remaining disciples or Apostles, Matthew tells us one more thing: He tells us that Jesus called his disciples to himself, and he said this:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20

This is really the greatest missions passage in the Bible. Each of the gospels closes with some version of the Great Commission. Matthew’s is probably the clearest and best-known. Let’s just make four very simple observations from this passage.

The Command is to each of us

This Great Commission, this command to make disciples, is not just for the people from Bible-times. It’s not just for an elite group of Christian missionaries. This is a command for each and every one of us. Look at the passage again. Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20

Some people might think that this command is just for the eleven apostles. After all they were the one Jesus was speaking directly to when he said this. So maybe it’s just for them. But it’s not just for them. This is the climax of the book, the conclusion to which everything in Matthew’s gospel has been driving. It’s the point of the book. Matthew wrote this as he and the other Apostles were passing off the scene. I don’t know if you know that but some of the latest books in your New Testament are actually the gospels. You would think they would be the first things written in the New Testament, because they are the story of Jesus which happened before the letters of the New Testament. But they were actually written later as the Apostles began to pass off the scene and weren’t around to tell the story any more.

In writing this Great Commission, Matthew isn’t just telling his readers about an interesting conversation that Jesus had with the eleven Apostles. He’s handing the baton to them. He’s giving his readers a mandate. He’s saying “YOU go make disciples of all nations.”

He’s not just passing the baton to his original readers. He’s passing it to all his readers down through the years. Notice at the end of verse 20 Jesus says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Old King James said “Lo, I am with you always.” I used to have a Pastor who was deathly afraid of flying, and he would say “Low, I am with you always.” Notice that Jesus promised to be with the people to whom this command was given until the end of the age. The age hasn’t ended yet, so that means that this command is still going on. It’s not just for the Apostles. It’s for us.

Let me also say it’s for each and every one of us. Some people might look at that command – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” – and they might think that the Great Commission is really only for missionaries – that it only really relates to people who do go to other nations. But that’s a misunderstanding of this verse. Actually if you were to look at this verse closely, you would see that in the Greek there is only one command in the whole verse. Does anyone know what it is? Make Disciples. That’s the only imperative in the whole verse. All the other English verbs that look like commands – going, baptizing, teaching – are actually helping words that describe how we make disciples.

My Greek professor has told me the idea isn’t “Go and then make disciples.” It’s “AS you go, make disciples.” WHEREVER you go, make disciples. If you’re going to Mexico or Honduras, make disciples. If you’re going to River Bend Elementary, make disciples. If you’re going to the grocery store, make disciples.

So yes, this command is for people that God calls to the mission field. But it’s also for people who never leave Raleigh. It’s for Doug and Nancy Everswick, our missionary friends, as they go to Zimbabwe. It’s for our teams as they go to Mexico and Honduras. It’s also for Matt and Diane Arvizu as they go to Oriental, North Carolina. God has moved them there and, as they go, they go with a disciple-making mindset. It’s for you as you go to work, go to school, go to family get-togethers. The Great Commission is for every single disciple of Jesus of every time.

And Teams, this is your Commission. It’s given to you from your Savior who died for the people in that landfill in Juarez, and Honduras and who rose again in victory and has the authority to give this command all authority in heaven and on earth. This is YOUR commission. Will you receive it? Will you go taking this to be your command?

And congregation, let me ask: What about you? Will you own this command from your savior? Will you make it yours? (1) The command is to each of us.

The Command is For All Nations

The word “all” is very important in the Great Commission. It’s used four times there: “All authority. All that I’ve commanded. I’m with you at all times” In verse 19, Jesus points out that this is for “all nations.” Look what he says:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations
– Matthew 28:19

To really understand this command, we have to understand that the word for “nations.” There is the word “ethne.” It means not just “nations” in the sense that we normally use that word, not just countries like Mexico, or Honduras, or Zimbabwe. Rather ethne means nations in the sense of cultures, people groups you might say “ethno-linguistic groups.” Jesus us telling us to make disciples of all of them.

The idea is just because I go to Zimbabwe and plant a church among the Shona people there doesn’t mean I’ve fulfilled the Great Commission. The job’s not done, because there are other ethnes in Zimbabwe. There are the Ndebele and the Shangaan, who don’t speak the same language as the Shona. There are the Tonga, who don’t even have an alphabet. Jesus told us to reach them too.

The idea is “all nations” – all ethne. We want to reach our nation, but we want to reach other people groups as well, because Jesus isn’t just the Lord of America. He’s the Lord of the Shona. He’s Lord of the Tonga. He’s the Lord of the Afrikaners. He’s Lord of the Ito and of the Philippinos. He’s Lord of unreached people groups that don’t even know he exists yet. So the job’s not done until we go to all nations.

I don’t have any statistics for this, but I feel like there’s been a shift in the past few decades in churches and their view of missions. It seems like more and more American churches are focusing on local missions in their own neighborhood, and I think there’s less focus on reaching other people groups. I’ve heard Christians say “Why should we ignore people in our own backyard and go to another country?” So some churches ignore foreign missions and focus mostly on America or on their own neighborhood.

I understand there’s a certain logic to that. But listen – Jesus told us here to go to the nations. We need to go to other nations, because that’s what our Lord told us to do. We need to go, because people in other countries may be more receptive to the gospel than the people in our own backyard. Some people in our own backyard have rejected the gospel again and again. But there are places in the world like Nepal, and China and Iran where the gospel is exploding. They’re ready. They’re receptive. They need someone to go to them.

We want to reach our nation, and we want to reach the nations. So as a church, we going to endeavor to do that. Here’s how: Most of you know that 25% of everything we take in goes to missions. That really is to missions. It doesn’t get back to us. What we want to do is take that 25% and, with your approval because you guys approve the budget, we want to divide it into three buckets:

  1. One bucket for local missions: missions efforts in our own nation.
  2. One bucket where we save for a church plant, because we hope and believe that God is going to plant a church from our church.
  3. The last bucket – the biggest bucket of the three – will be for foreign missions, for going to the nations.

We want to reach our nation, and we want to reach the nations.

To keep the nations on our minds, we want to develop these “areas of focus” that Kelley mentioned. Just a handful of areas around the world that we believe God has brought to our attention where we can support missionaries in that area and send teams to those areas and really, as a congregation get to know all about that area pray for that area and see how God would have us make a difference there. We want to fully own our part of “making disciples of all nations.”

This is for all nations. Let me say one more thing about that term “nations” before we move on. The command to go to the nations is familiar to us many of us, who have heard this all our lives. To us, it’s not unexpected. It’s what missions is. But to the Disciples, this would have been somewhat surprising. They would not have expected this. You can see that from their reaction in Acts when the nations actually start to believe in Jesus. It was a surprise.

It was a surprise, because that term “nations” – ethne – was not a neutral term for them. For them, it was negative. The ethne were the Gentiles. They were the pagan nations, the godless the people Israel saw as outsiders – not the pretty people, not the religious people, not the people who seemed to deserve God’s grace. In telling us to go to the Nations, Jesus is telling us to go to everyone, including the outsider.

This morning I would say this: Teams, you guys aren’t going to the pretty people. You’re not going to the movers and shakers. You’re going to outsiders, in some cases to people who literally live in a landfill. Will you give them your heart? Will you take time to really see them? To see what’s significant in their world? To celebrate their little victories? To grieve their losses and love them? Will you pray for God to open your heart to them? Jesus called us to go to everyone. And Church, what about you? Will you go to everyone? Will you open your heart to the people around you?

The other day Kelley and I were in the grocery store, and the lady who bags our groceries just comes up to her in the aisle, and talks to her for like ten minutes, telling her all about her Labor Day plans, and her family etc,. etc, etc. At first, I was like “Come on. Let’s go. We’ve got places to be!” But then I realized this lady is talking to my wife, because Kelley sees her. Kelley knows her name. It’s Melissa. Kelley knows about her struggle to get clean of drug addiction. Kelley knows from the look on Melissa’s face when she’s having a rough day. When she’s talking to Kelley, Melissa feels like a person.

Church, as you go, will you go to all the people around you? Will you open your heart to them?

(1) The command is to each of us (2) the command is for every nation. Everybody.

The Command is Primarily about Discipleship

This is something we really need to talk about if we are going to understand how Scripture views missions. Because when people talk about doing missions work, they are often referring to one of two different kinds of things. Sometimes when people talk about missions, they are talking about meeting physical needs through what we might call relief work, helping the needy and responding to a disaster relief work. Other times when people talk about missions, they are talking about the spiritual work of disciple-making, preaching the gospel, discipling people, planting churches.

Relief work and discipling. Now these two are not mutually exclusive. Lots of disciple-making ministries do relief work and visa-versa. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are different kinds of work. Some churches only do one or the other. I grew up in a church that was big on missions, but only did disciple-making.

So which of these are we going to do as a church? Discipleship or relief work? Well, we’re going to do both. James said “Pure religion and undefiled is to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction,” so we are going to do relief work. The Great Commission says “Make disciples of all nations,” so we’re going to do that!

We’re going to do both, but we are going to remember that our primary mandate is the spiritual work of making disciples – that is our most fundamental task in missions, the spiritual work of discipleship. Missions is primarily about the spread of the gospel, and we always want to remember that.

In some ways, it’s easier to work on the physical. In relief work, you are dealing with a visible need, where you can see visible progress. You don’t have to be a super-mature Christian to do it. You don’t even have to speak the language. It’s so good to help people in need is soul-filling work.

So in some ways it’s easy to focus on the physical. It’s good, but we never want to forget that underneath that physical need – as compelling as it is – is the deeper spiritual need of discipleship. Our primary mission is to make disciples.

We see this in the New Testament. The primary command in all four versions of the Great Commission is to make disciples. If we look at that ministry of Jesus as much as Jesus attended to people’s physical needs (and he did – he healed the sick and fed the hungry), but as much as he did that he always pointed people to the spiritual. When he fed the 5,000, he multiplied the bread for them so they wouldn’t go hungry. If you keep reading in John’s gospel, he tells the same crowd “Do not labor for the bread that perishes labor for the bread that endures to eternal life.”

The spiritual is more important. Here’s the thing: You would think that having that perspective – that the spiritual is more important – would make us less generous with the physical. You might think that saying that the spiritual is the deeper need – that making disciples is primary – would make us less likely to share our physical resources. But in reality, it’s the exact opposite! Understanding this actually makes us more likely to share the physical.

Think about the incredible generosity of the early church. Remember that passage we read last week? Remember how it said “Nobody considered their possessions their own, but they sold them, and shared with those in need.” The early church had incredible generosity.

Do you know what fueled that generosity? It was seeing the resurrection. It was knowing the importance of the eternal that made them more generous with their physical resources, not less. Why? Because they finally understood that the physical was of limited value. They finally understood that this stuff that we can touch and see is not real treasure, because it’s passing away. That’s what fueled their generosity.

Let me give you an illustration: The other day, Kelley and I went to the grocery store. While we were there, we found this impressive loaf of bread. This is Artisan Bread. It’s says it’s a Multi Multigrain loaf. As you can see from the sticker, it was originally priced at $2.99. But when we got to it, it had this yellow sticker on it! They had marked the price down to $1.49. That’s half price! 50% off! That’s a pretty generous thing for Kroeger to do! Now, why do you think they did that? Did they do it out of the goodness of the manager’s heart? Did they do it because they felt bad for charging $2.99 originally? Why did they do it? It’s Day Old Bread. It’s passing away. It’s good, but it’s not going to be good for long. They know that. In three days, this won’t be worth anything. That motivated the store manager to be very generous on his pricing.

Can I tell you something? The physical things we have – the money we work so hard to make, the house we are so proud of, the cars, the clothes, the toys – they are Day Old Bread! They’re good, but they’re not going to be good for long. They are passing away. Just like that grocery store, that should make us more generous with our physical resources – not less.

It’s just stuff, and it’s passing away. Soon it won’t do anybody any good. So why not share it freely now? That understanding is what fueled the early church’s generosity, and it should make us generous with our physical resources as well. Our priority is the spiritual. Our priority is making disciples, but we can be generous with the physical as well.

We will engage wholeheartedly in both physical relief work and in the spiritual work of making disciples. So we’re going to do both. But the groups we work with on the physical side are going to be faith-based, like Faith Ministry. They are doing relief work, but it’s in the name of Christ and it’s to build Christ’s Kingdom. We’re going to spend the majority of our resources on efforts that focus primarily on disciple making, on evangelism, discipleship leadership training, church planting – things that directly advance the gospel.

And team, I want to encourage you. As you go on your trip and share your time and your labor and your resources, Will you go with a disciple-making mindset? Will you go not just to transfer resources but to build God’s Kingdom – to help others find Christ and be built up in Christ? Will you go to advance the gospel?

And congregation, how about you? Will you receive this commission? Will you live your lives in such a way that as you go wherever you go you are leveraging your lives to advance the gospel and build God’s Kingdom?

The primary command is to make disciples. Now, the last observation is very simple, and it’s this:

This command is only done through the presence of Jesus

This command is only meant to be accomplished through the presence, with the enablement by the power, of Jesus. I don’t know if you noticed this, but the Great Commission is actually what I would call “a Jesus sandwich.” What I mean is the actual command “Go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching ” is actually only the middle of the Great Commission. The Great Commission starts with Jesus. Jesus says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Great Commission ends with Jesus. Jesus says “Surely I am with you always even to the end of the age.” It’s a Jesus sandwich. The command starts with his authority and ends with his presence.

Do you know why that is? Because the Great Commission is a really big undertaking! It’s a huge task, 2,000 years’ worth, quite possibly the biggest thing mankind has ever attempted to do. This command is bigger than anything the eleven Apostles could do on their own. There’s no way they could go to all nations. It’s bigger than a little church like Perry Creek or a bigger church like Open Door could ever do. It’s bigger than you and me and what we could do on our own.

Talk about your Big Hairy Audacious Goals! This command is so big, so hairy, so risky that we were never meant to pursue it in our own strength. This command was deliberately crafted to drive us to Jesus. That’s why he gives it to us in a “Jesus Sandwich” with his authority at the beginning and his presence at the end.

If we pursue this command fearlessly wholeheartedly, unreservedly, it will lead us to places where we are in way over our heads. For some of us, places where we don’t speak the language. Places where we don’t know the rules or even if we’re getting through to people. For some of us, it will land us in conversations we don’t feel ready for:

  • Where we say “Can I pray with you?” to a total stranger
  • Where we tell people about Jesus before we can answer all their questions
  • For some of us, it may land us in places of real physical danger. Places where there are diseases we aren’t immune to and even people that may want to hurt us. It could lead us to those kind of places.

But that’s the gig. In this command, we are called to do things that we would only attempt by the authority of Christ – things that can only be accomplished by his presence, but that’s our calling.

So Team, is it your heart to go fearlessly as you go? To try everything that Jesus wants you to try? To speak everything he wants you to speak, to everyone he wants you to speak to? Will you lean into the moments where you have to rely on his authority and presence?

And congregation, what about you? You are surrounded in your neighborhoods, at your jobs, in your coming, and your going with people who need to know that Jesus loves them, and died for them. Will you tell them? Will you invite them to church? Will you have those conversations that only Jesus can enable you to have?

Will you be Great Commission people? Will we be a Great Commission church?