Welcome to Missions on Point, the propempo perspective on church and missions. Thanks for joining me for episode 144 of Missions on Point. This is third in a series on The Centrality of the Local Church in Missions. Today we're going to look at the Great Commission in a fresh way and Lord willing, hopefully, unpack a clearer vision of its proper use. No doubt you've listened to or read many messages on the Great Commission.
In this episode, I want to unpack and give you a better perspective of the significance and importance of what we call the Great Commission, specifically the Matthew passage in relation to the centrality of the local church in missions. Unfortunately, in the larger Christian community, there has been a lot of misunderstanding or even misrepresentation of the Great Commission in our thinking. Here's some of those ways.
First, a lot of people think that the Great Commission is only one verse or one passage, even just a collection of isolated passages from the gospels. In fact, there is a really good case for the idea of the Great Commission being woven throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. The second popular misconception actually perpetrated by a lot of mission speakers and mission agencies is that the Great Commission is primarily about going to the nations and evangelizing. Period. And that's about the end of it.
The Great Commission actually is much deeper and richer and fuller than that. It anticipates and even mandates that the picture of Christ's command is much more comprehensive in its effect. We will see that today and in some upcoming episodes of Missions on Point. Let's look into the word at this cluster of parallel or similar commands through the Gospels and the Book of Acts. We'll start in Mark and then work our way through the gospels and acts and come back to Matthew.
Let's start in Mark 16:15. This is the Great Commission recorded in the Gospel of Mark, and I realize there are some textual issues with this latter half of chapter 16, but here we read in verse 15, and he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to every creation." It's very simple. It's consistent with Jesus' teaching throughout his life ministry, but it's also got just a few elements that we're going to pick up in the other instances. Going, that is going out presumably from wherever you live into all the world and that's comprehensive in its scope and proclaim the gospel. There's content there proclaiming the gospel. It's a particular action. It involves verbal proclamation of the content of the gospel to the whole creation.
Next, we go to Luke 24. This is an amazing account, actually two different parts of the resurrection day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Two men were walking from Jerusalem. They were followers of Jesus, and apparently it was late afternoon, Jesus joins them on the walk toward the little town of Emmaus, and as they're walking, they don't recognize him yet and they're talking about Jesus in the events of the past days, including his crucifixion. And he says in verse 25, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken." Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Now, they became excited when they did recognize Jesus and they went all the way back to Jerusalem and found the disciples gathered together and they were talking about those things, about seeing Jesus again. And Jesus comes to them and says, "Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet that it is myself, touch me and see for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."
Then he said to them in verse 44, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures and said to them, thus, it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.
This is an amazing scene, but on top of that, Jesus adds this commission kind of statement that says it is written in all of these things of the Old Testament that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations. Again, we see these elements of going out to all nations and proclaiming specific content about Christ that is the gospel that he should suffer and rise on the third day, and he adds this bit, which is essential that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed.
There is a proclamation aspect to it with this content that really the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to receive repentance and forgiveness of sins. He goes on to say in verse 48, "You are witnesses of these things and behold, I am sending the promise of my father upon you but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." So this sending aspect is here in Luke 24.
We see these elements again in the Gospel of John in chapter 17, right in the middle of Christ's high priestly prayer. He praised this in verse 18, "As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." And then skipped down to verse 21, he says, "So that the world may believe." So there is this sending aspect as Jesus was sent. He's expressing that he's sending them out into the world so that the world may believe. There's content to that, there's action, there's going out into the world.
And then the more well-known statement from John 20 after the resurrection, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord Jesus. In verse 21, Jesus said to them, again, "Peace be with you as the Father has sent me even so I am sending you." It's a small but powerful statement. Now, we come to the Book of Acts, also written by Luke, and also emphasizing this scene after Christ's resurrection and just before his ascension.
In Acts 1:6, it says, "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority, but you'll receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Couple of little notes on this. It's interesting that Jesus says, "Don't worry about the end times, worry about right now. This is the job I have for you that you'll be my witnesses, and it starts where you live now and goes through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the end of the earth." And this term witnesses is the same term that we use in English for martyr. It's also an interesting correction to many thinking that the point was the Holy Spirit coming with power and the power is not to be spent on ourselves. The power is intended for this activity and action of witnessing to all the nations.
Now, let's turn back to Matthew. This is probably the most well-known of the instances of the Great Commission, and usually when we say Great Commission, we mean the Matthew 28 passage. Matthew 28, starting in verse 18 and going to verse 20, which is the end of the chapter and the end of Matthew's record, and Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 behold, I am with you always to the end of the age." Every part of this is significant and I'm not going to expose it entirely, but I just want to walk through it with you and observe some of the key components.
We go with all authority from Jesus himself. The key verb is to make disciples, and the supporting verbs are going, baptizing, and teaching. Naturally, the reader or hearer asks, "What does it mean to make disciples?" Well, that's expanded in other parts of the New Testament. A disciple is a follower, a committed follower, and so it means that people have to be evangelized as we know it. That is they need to hear the gospel and repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone by God's grace for their salvation.
The going is also included in the other instances of the Great Commission, but what makes this one different is what happens after they are evangelized and they're becoming disciples. They're being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That's a key thought. While it's interesting that there are no specific guidelines for the process of approving a candidate for baptism or administering baptism per se, it does imply though that more mature believers are baptizing the new believers. So there is an instance in which we're talking about a different sort of hierarchy of structure within the family of believers.
In fact, church history is very solid on church leaders or recognized mature believers who are leaders within a local congregation are the ones who are doing the baptizing. And in the final component is, "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." This also has a lot of weighty significance that we need to think about. What does it mean to "teach them to observe all that I have commanded you"? And what are "all the things that I have commanded you"? I maintain that this clearly foreshadows a regular meeting of the saints in a local assembly of believers to hear the teaching and be taught all of these things. And "all of these things that I have commanded you," basically means not just the red letters in our red-letter Bibles where Jesus is speaking and they attribute that with red ink on the page.
Rather, it means all of the things that I am going to be teaching through the inspired scriptures of the writers of the New Testament. It's basically all the teaching of the New Testament that is revealed through the Holy Spirit to the inspired writers to write down for the sake of all who receive it. So take a step back and look at it. What we have in the Great Commission is all these elements of evangelization, of discipleship, of church ordinances with leaders that are recognized to officiate those ordinances and regular meeting with teaching of the word of God. What we have is a local church.
Matthew 28, the Great Commission, cannot be properly fulfilled apart from the planting of local churches which are defined through the New Testament as a mutually committed indigenous body of local believers worshiping regularly together around the teaching of the word of God and prayer, observing the ordinances of baptism and communion under the leadership of biblically qualified shepherds while being active witnesses of the gospel.
These elements and particularly the term indigenous that I use mean that they are local people. This includes the concepts of being self-supporting in their local congregation, self-governing by people who are leaders from among their own number and self-propagating in that they intentionally take the gospel beyond their normal sphere of influence to try to plant and develop other like-minded churches that is part of the Great commission.
So here are some tough things about applying this teaching. Number one, it seems pretty obvious, but I have to say it. Don't let anyone tell you that they are fulfilling the Great Commission simply by evangelizing and discipling. That's not the complete Great Commission. In fact, I would say that if anyone says that to you, you should immediately challenge them, at least in your mind, if not personally, to think that they are not fulfilling the Great Commission unless they are taking those who are evangelized in discipling and planting them, putting them into the context of an active Bible believing, Bible teaching local church.
A second aspect is the result side. You should always ask mission agencies or people involved in missions, even if it's for humanitarian reasons, if that's their methodology for the sake of a biblical and result, you need to ask the question, "So what are you doing with the local church? How is this affecting the planting and development establishment and strengthening of local churches where you are?" The people who are saying that they're fulfilling the Great Commission by doing evangelism and discipleship are falling short of true fulfillment of the full Great Commission.
They're going to give us all kinds of statistics about how effective they are and what kind of numbers they can accumulate in the spreadsheet with regard to results. However, from our mission field experience, I have to tell you, those results are very transitory and may not be all that they're stated to be even on the front end.
I remember a dear friend and a mission leader in another mission in the Philippines when we were there saying that if you believe the statistics that were published about the Philippines in our time, and that was a long time ago, then every person that has ever been born in the Philippines has been saved three times. Don't you see the foolishness of those kinds of claims? If believers are not integrated into indigenous local churches that preach and teach God's word with a mutually committed body of believers, then with few exceptions, they're just fooling themselves. That fruit doesn't last.
Here's the point of this whole episode. The Great Commission demonstrates the centrality of the local church in missions as the end result. We're going to see much more scriptural evidence of this in the next few episodes. Stay tuned. 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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