And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Human beings were designed to be fueled by a true sense of commission.
When we talk to little kids, for instance, we ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When those same kids become high school seniors, we ask them, “What do you want to study in college?” And when those same college students become young professionals, they begin to express the sentiment, “I want to do something with my life.”
When God created Adam and Eve, he told them to “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Creation was immediately followed by commission. The first human beings were designed to be fueled not by preservation, provision, or protection (even though God knew that they needed these things and would give instruction concerning them); they were designed to be fueled by commission.
So what is your mission in life, and what is the ambition that drives that mission? What is it that God truly expects for us to do with our lives? As Christians, we are a part of the Church that Christ is building. As a Church, we are indeed the “called out ones.” But called out to do what?
Truth be told, you can’t build up the next generation by teaching them to be obsessed with monetary provision, protection, and safety. You don’t raise up soldiers of Christ by entangling their minds in civilian affairs, but rather by helping them grasp the noble battle that they were called to fight. I’m not ignoring the reality of practical needs; even God knows we need them. But if the goal of life becomes about making sure we have enough to eat, drink, and clothe ourselves, then we are on the road to shrinking life to something far smaller than it was meant to be (Matt 6:25).
But these are the things that the Church is being pressured to focus on today. Given what’s been happening with COVID-19 and the Shelter-in-Place orders, the church has become focused on what we are and are not allowed to do. Can we have indoor services? Can we sing? Can we visit people in their homes? Do we have to wear masks? Can we hug? Can counseling still happen? The Church is obsessing herself with what the civil government is allowing and not allowing. But the Church must be driven, not by compliance to the civil government, but by the commission of the King of Kings—Christ himself.
Christ has given the Church a commission. It is the Great Commission, the most monumental task ever given to humanity. And this task is not about lowering the COVID-19 curve. It is about the work of global disciple-making. Yes, it’s that simple and straightforward. What does Christ expect from us as Christians to be doing now and today? He expects us to be giving our lives to making disciples of Christ of all the people groups on our planet. Listen to Christ’s final words to his disciples before ascending to heaven:
All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.Matt 28:18-20
Respecting the Authority Behind the Commission
Amidst all the noise coming from our civil authorities, one of the major questions that we’ve been asking is, “Who is in charge?” What do we do when our president directs us one way, our state governor directs us another way, and our local health officer throws in her two cents that differs from both? We are called, after all, to submit to our civil authorities (Rom 13:1), but what exactly is the “highest law of the land?”
To put it simply, the highest law of the land is the edict of Jesus Christ. Before he commissioned his disciples to their global task, Christ reminded them of the authority he has over the globe: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” “All” means all. Authority is the power to do something and the prerogative to command something. So, when Christ says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, it means that every square inch of the planet and everything that happens on our planet has been placed under the authority of Christ.
In other words, everywhere we go belongs to Jesus. This is his planet, and all the nations in it belong to him. That includes America, and every single one of her fifty states. That includes California, and every single one of her counties in which Californians live. So, if Christ commissions his church to carry out the task of global disciple-making, there is no nation, state, county, or city that can rightfully say, “Our land is off limits.”
And because Christ is not only the Lord of heaven and earth but also the head of the church, he and he alone has the authority to say what his church ought to be doing and not to be doing. I’ll put it simply: civil governing authorities have no say in how the Great Commission ought to be carried out and administered in any part of the world. This endeavor belongs to God, not to Caesar. When Christ commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all nations, he didn’t ask them to ask for permission from Caesar; he reminded them of his authority. Amidst all the chaos and confusion being presented by our civil governors, let us be reminded of Christ’s ultimate and unchallenged authority over our land.
Knowing the Essence of the Commission
So, if the King of Kings has commissioned his church to make disciples of all the nations, what does this entail? What exactly is the church’s “job description?” While global disciple-making requires a tremendous amount of wisdom—the church needs to understand how to become all things to all men—the essence of the commission has remained the same.
A Christian is a slave of Christ, but also a disciple, and disciples are students—not those who merely submit to the will of another, but those who learn from another. Christians are to busy themselves with the task of making followers—learners—of Jesus Christ. They are to do it to every single people group and ethnic group on the planet—not a single people group is to be left out. Jesus didn’t say, “All people groups are welcome.” Rather, he says, “make disciples of all the people groups.” It’s not about all being welcome; it’s about all being reached. And what is the disciple-making process? It is, as Christ instructed, baptism and teaching.
Baptism is the formal declaration of one’s association and union with the Triune God, and formal renunciation of the idolatrous faith from which one previously came, at whatever the cost. Once that decisive declaration has been made by a person—that he has placed his faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the full forgiveness of sins—transformation needs to happen. Those who have formally declared union with Christ are to be taught to observe all of the commandments of Christ as found in the Scriptures. This act of teaching is the primary task of the church (Acts 6:4; Col 1:28-29).
It is a monumental task to teach the entire Scriptures for the transformation of the entire person to the entire planet, especially because the planet is hostile to the name of Christ. But while the world hates Christ, in another sense the world has also been prepared by God to receive him. In Acts 17:26-27, Paul says,
He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
In his providence, God scattered humanity over the face of the earth and orchestrated the formation of distinct people groups so that they may find him. And how would they find him? Through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And who would bring that knowledge of Christ to them? None other than me and you, along with the rest of God’s church. The world is ripe for global disciple-making. The people groups are there, prepared by God to find him. The world has been set up by God for the church to make disciples. And it is not to be suspended by the season or by circumstances. In season or out of season, the Great Commission must be carried out.
The Church then needs to stay focused on her commission. It is not our primary calling to lower viral pandemic curves or to eradicate poverty (John 12:8). It doesn’t mean that Christians don’t show practical care to their community. But at the end of the day, the answer to both pandemics and poverty is none other than the kingdom of God.
In Christ’s kingdom, there will be neither poverty nor pandemic. Therefore, there is no nobler commission that upholds the dignity of human life and the dignity of every ethnic group than to usher people into the kingdom of God through the making of disciples. It is a task that requires the participation of every single Christian—leaders and laymen, men and women, the youth and the seasoned. And it is a task that cannot be carried out to its fullness either from home or online.
Hebrews 10:24-25 makes it clear that the physical assembling of people is needed in order to stimulate and encourage one another to engage in the love and good deeds that come with disciple-making. First Thessalonians 3:10-11 makes it clear that in order to disciple people to maturity, there needs to be in-person interaction. Can parents raise their kids through Zoom? Can married couples carry out a marriage primarily through FaceTime? We all know that in-person interaction is needed to build a household. It is nothing short of absurd to think that the household of God can be built without in-person interaction.
Remembering the Promise for the Commission
And as was the case with every other commission that God has given his people, he promises his ever-abiding presence with the church. “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). The completion of the age will come when Christ returns to establish his Millennial Kingdom over the earth. Until then, the church is to make disciples of all the nations of the earth.
And she will not do it alone: the presence of God is a steady reality for the people of God who engage in the work of God. He will not leave his people after giving them this most monumental and noble of duties. His presence is needed because this is a dangerous commission. Doing this work of the gospel requires being willing to join in the suffering that comes with the work (2 Tim 1:8, 3:12). The Great Commission will not be given into the hands of fearful men, for everyone who wishes to save his life and not lose it for Christ and his gospel is simply not fit for the kingdom of God. But for all those who continually and steadfastly abound in the work of Christ, they will also experience the true empowering presence of Christ.
The world as we know it is a mess. God is presently revealing his wrath to this world that is filled with unrighteousness and ungodliness. But in his grace and out of love for the world, God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners from every nation on the planet. He purchased them with his own blood, paid the penalty for all of their sins, and is now summoning all of them to him (John 10:16). The vehicle through which he will accomplish this is the church, which you and I are a part of.
The mission is clear. Let us fulfill it. Now and today, even to the end of the age.