Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 181 of Missions on point. Thanks for joining us.
Hello everyone, my name is Joel Hollins. I’m filling in for David Meade for the next several weeks. And I need to start here with a big thank you to David. I’m so grateful for his ministry with Propempo and I’m honored to help out with this work as the Lord has provided for us. And I’m thankful to all of you for having me.
We are beginning a series today on Matthew 28 and the church in the Great Commission. As you know, if you are a regular listener of the Missions on Point Podcast, the Propempo Perspective on church and missions is especially interested in the intersection of our understanding of the doctrine of the church and our understanding of the Great Commission that Jesus has given to his church. In fact, we would say that you cannot rightly understand one without the other. The local church and global missions go hand in hand. Before Jesus returns in judgment and glory, the local church is to be busy with the task he has given us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. And there is no better place than the Great Commission as it is articulated in Matthew 28 to understand how the local church is integral to both the sending of missionaries and the goal of missions in forming local churches. The local church is all over Christ’s Commission to us. And I hope that as we unpack these three verses at the end of the book of Matthew that you will see along with us how central the church really is to missions.
Today we will simply focus on the one command that is found in these verses and an overview of the five aspects of that command. And in the following weeks we will then look at each of those aspects in closer detail.
So, let’s turn to that familiar passage, and we pray that we can gain a fresh sense of what Jesus is saying to his church. Here it is, Matthew 28:18-20.
Matthew 28:18-20 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 it is often noted when this passage is discussed, there is one central command here, and that is that Jesus tells us to make disciples. It’s the only imperative in this passage. All other words in English that seem to be a command are not commands in the Greek. Words like “going, baptizing, and teaching” are all participles. In other words, these help to explain what it means to make a disciple. Included in disciplemaking is going and baptizing and teaching. But very simply put, obedience to the Great Commission that Jesus is giving here is the making of disciples. And anyone who is seeking to obey the Great Commission needs to be laser focused on this one command: make disciples. This, of course, begs the question, what does it mean to make disciples? And so, we need to get a good definition of discipleship, and we will try to do that from this passage. But before doing that, I hope that a bunch of other questions immediately come to your mind. Not only do we ask, what does discipleship mean? But we should be asking questions like: How do we make disciples? What’s our plan or strategy? How can we distinguish between someone who is truly a disciple or someone who is simply a curious learner? After all, Jesus had many people who followed him for quiet some time, yet were not truly his disciples. We should also be asking, What’s our authority in disciplemaking? In other words, how do we know that a person is truly becoming a disciple of Jesus or alternatively – and we would hope that it’s not the case – that the person is just attracted to the charisma of the disciplemaker? And we should also be asking what our staying power is in making disciples. Because anyone who has tried to launch out on this endeavor will know, making disciples can be hard. And when those hard times come, what strength or power will keep us in the game for the long-haul? How can we endure? These questions and many more are all briefly touched on in Matthew 28:18-20, and they help to make up the different aspects to our definition of discipleship.
So without further ado, here is my proposed definition of discipleship.
Discipleship is the Christ-commanded and Spirit-empowered equipping of all true Christians everywhere through the church to fully know and obey Jesus.
Let’s hear that again. Discipleship is the Christ-commanded and Spirit-empowered equipping of all true Christians everywhere through the church to fully know and obey Jesus.
Now there’s a lot to that statement, and I’ll briefly unpack it here. And I’ll mention again that our purposes here in the Missions on Point podcast is to highlight the intersection of the church and missions. The church is prominent in every facet of disciplemaking. From beginning to end the church is essential for disciplemaking. Every time you think about making disciples, I hope your mind immediately turns to thinking about the church. That’s what the church does. That’s what Christ has commanded us to do before he returns. But what exactly does that look like. I’ve identified five aspects of discipleship as it’s seen here in Matthew 28. Those five aspects are the authority of discipleship, the scope of discipleship, the beginning of discipleship, the end (or goal) of discipleship, and the power of discipleship. And we’ll see that those five aspects make up the content of our proposed definition. Let’s see those aspects in our definition.
First of all, the authority of discipleship is found in our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. He says so himself in v.18. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Discipleship must have authority. We must be making disciples of someone. And this is the first thing we say in our definition. Discipleship is Christ-commanded. He has authority. By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus has all authority. Authority is essential, because commands are being made of which Christians are expected to obey. The authority of Jesus says that we should turn from our old ways and now follow Christ, denying ourselves to instead obey him. And this is the thing that he has commanded, that the church be about making disciples.
Second, I want to jump to the very last thing that we find in Matthew 28, and that is the power of discipleship. The power of discipleship is the personal presence of Jesus’ Spirit in us to give us the strength and endurance that we need to accomplish the task we have been given. It’s a great comfort to hear Jesus say, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That’s significant. Don’t forget that last phrase when thinking about the Great Commission. Jesus goes with us through the presence of his Spirit. So, with these first two aspects together we say that discipleship is the Christ-commanded and Spirit-empowered equipping of believers. That’s the first and last thing Jesus says in the Great Commission. He has all authority, and he will always be with us. And so, these two aspects are like bookends to what we find in the middle. And what we find in the middle are the next three aspects of discipleship, which are those three participles we saw earlier: going, baptizing and teaching.
The third aspect of discipleship we will derive from the “going” of the Great Commission, and we’ll call this one the scope of discipleship. The scope of discipleship is directed toward all nations. We are told to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” As it is reiterated throughout the New Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all peoples everywhere. It’s not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles too. There is no demographic limitation to the gospel. Every true church must not shut its doors to any particular people, but be welcoming and inviting all to come to Christ and find rest for their souls. But more than being welcoming to all people, churches must be going into all the world. They must actively seek to continue on what began at the Day of Pentecost and reverse the curse of the Tower of Babel. To be going we must not get comfortable in our churches that look and sound just like us, we must seek to break down the dividing walls of hostility that remain in this world. We cannot limit the scope of discipleship to just one group of people that we find easy to minister to. The scope of discipleship is focused on all peoples everywhere. So, discipleship is the Christ-commanded and Spirit-empowered equipping of all true Christians everywhere.
Fourth, discipleship also has a beginning. And this is the next participle modifying discipleship. The beginning of discipleship is baptism. Baptism is that public profession of a person’s faith declaring that they are a child of God. I say that this is the beginning of discipleship because discipleship is all about obeying Jesus as our Lord, and the first public act of obedience that a person should take when they recognize that they have faith in Jesus, and that is to be baptized, just like we see demonstrated throughout the book of Acts. The significance of baptism goes beyond this though in that it publicly identifies believers as belonging to the church. Therefore we say, discipleship is the Christ-commanded and Spirit-empowered equipping of all true Christians everywhere through the church. The beginning of discipleship is baptism into the church. And if discipleship has a beginning it also has an end, which is the next point.
Fifth, and last, but not least, is what most people think of when they think of discipleship. Discipleship has a goal to it, an aim, or purpose, or end we might say. The goal of discipleship is the teaching and observance of all of Christ’s commands. This is the third participle. Jesus says, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And I say that this is the goal of discipleship because of that word “all”. All is a lot. It’s everything that Jesus has commanded. It means that discipleship is a life-long process, and we will be engaged in it until Jesus comes back.
And so there we have it. Five aspects of discipleship all surrounding and helping us to define the one command given to us. That command, of course, is that we are to make disciples. And we understand discipleship because of these five aspects. And we’ll put them in that order that we find them in Matthew 28. There is an authority, a scope, a beginning, a goal, and a power. Jesus has raised from the dead, and told his followers to go to every nation, to baptize new believers, to teach them Jesus’ word, and to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in us. And this is the essence of making disciples.
In the coming weeks, I hope you will stay with us in this series as we dive into each of these aspects one by one. And I hope you will especially stay tuned as we discover here that the church is essential to each aspect.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at Propempo.com and missioserve.org. We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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