In a GPS world of instant “you are here” technology, maps have become wall art. There once was a time, long ago, that in order to know how to reach a land far far away, a person needed to carefully read maps. As spoofed in the animated movie Cars, the lost minivan loses touch with reality while repeating, “I never need a map again”.
The famous explorer and missionary, Sir Livingstone, traveled through uncharted parts of Africa sharing the hope of salvation through Jesus while developing a map for others to follow. The combination of sharing the Christian gospel and helping others to understand the map is as important today as ever.
When God sent Abraham off on mission, he said “Get up and go to a land that I will later show you”. The commission to “go” preceded the map that showed “where”. So it is for Christians. In what is often referred to as the Great Commission, the Bible announces the charge at the starting line, “Go, ye into all the world”. Like kids tied together in a three-legged race, off we go, not always in step with each other.
Jesus’ parting words, that launched the mission of his Church, need to be carefully understood, if we are to be faithful to continue along the path he has set before us. Broad is the way that most will travel, and throughout history few will care to “go” along that narrow and straight trail.
This series will focus on 6 features of the map:
Defining the Commission
Commissioning the Commission
Sustaining the Commission
Maintaining the Commission
Measuring the Commission
Culmination of Mission
Perhaps the most useful place to begin a brief review of defining what the commission actually is, is to read the evidence of what Jesus said:
“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” (Mt 28:18-20).
Many teachers will attempt to summarize and limit this holy directive to “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Remember, a slight degree of error at the starting point on a map can translate into getting deeply lost in a tangled jungle.
There are at least 7 main points that are critical in understanding this passage.
- To start with, the entire commission is founded, not in the command to Go, but rather in the absolute authority of Jesus over the entire land. We can go, because he has the right as High King to send us anywhere on his mapped universe, to any people, at any time in history. In addition to establishing his omnipotent authority, this point also establishes the commission as a continuation of the commission God gave Jesus in coming to earth. The Church is being sent, just as the Lord was sent by God. The Church commission is not new; it is the continuation of Jesus’ mission.
- The specific instruction is to then “Go”. We are not called to stay in comfort or safety, waiting like timid mice in a hole, afraid of the dangers that lurk in shadows. We are to travel everywhere, venturing into every corner, seeking people who will respond to the gospel of Jesus.
- The focus is to evangelize throughout the world. The commission is a direct command of God to convert people to Christianity as disciples of Jesus. Faith in him is the only way God accepts for eternal life (Act 4:12). The enemy hates this and will even use popular ministers and large church organizations to replace the commission of a salvation-gospel with a Social Gospel. The gospel shows no favoritism, but it is very exclusive in calling those who will deny themselves and accept Jesus instead as Lord and Savior of their life.
- Private professions are common among those who believe, but are too afraid of the consequences for revealing their faith. Discipling people to become believers, requires a continued effort toward open and declared faith through baptism. As the Lord stated, If you won’t publicly confess the Lord’s name, then he will not allow your name to be given to God (Mt 10:33). The commission is to bring willing believers to baptism and openly defy the enemy.
- Disciples, even baptized ones, must grow in Jesus. The commission doesn’t end in foreign mission fields, nor with acquiring new believers. It involves training and teaching throughout a Christian’s life in how to mature in the likeness and character of our Lord. We teach believers, young and old, new and mature, to “obey everything I have commanded you”.
- The great commission remains a work of the Lord and not something humanly produced. He is always with those who “go” with the commission. No matter how individually scary or difficult, it will be accomplished according to his power and presence. And, it will stay that way, generation after generation, from age to age, until he returns again.
- Maps often have cut-out sections that reveal closer details of the topography, and that is also true of this commission. The good news message of the Church, for those who rightly promote the holy commission, is based in continued repentance. Check out what Luke records of Jesus’ final words on what he wants taught to all nations as part of his commission:
“repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lu 24:47).
The Great Commission has the same foundation as the start of Jesus’ ministry on earth:
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17).
It is the same as John the Baptist’s ministry:
“The kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15).
It is the same as Peter’s apostolic ministry that launched the church:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Act 2:38).
It is the same as Paul’s missionary teaching:
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Act 20:21).
That is “what” the Great Commission is specifically about. The rest of the details are wrapped up in what the Bible calls the fullness of the gospel.
How will you “go” to the lost, the afraid, and the mature?