Back to Basics (Matthew 28:16–20)

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Our annual World Outreach Celebration (WOC) is not so much an event as it is an exhortation to remind us what we are all about. This one was very special, since it featured our homegrown missionaries and ministries.

Our recent WOC did a lot for me personally. It returned me to my roots. It reminded me afresh of why I do what I do. It reminded me of why BBC exists and how we need to keep before us what it is we are to do and why we to do it.

I was reminded of the difference that God’s gospel has made in my life, and in your life, and in our lives as a congregation. It reminded me that there is much work yet to be done.

I was reminded of the early days when we fearlessly because faithfully enacted real reform in the church.

I was reminded of the early days when people said things to me like, “It can’t be done that way,” or, “It will never work,” or, “We are too small to do such and such as a church,” only for such statements to be proven wrong.

I was reminded of a time, perhaps twenty years ago, when I stood before a much smaller congregation and laid the challenge before us to raise R100,000 that week to begin a Scripture printing ministry. And I remember the next Sunday celebrating as we received every single rand of that amount.

I remembered the time that we raised over R100,000 above our goal of R140,000 in order to settle a missionary family in its anticipated mission field—within one week of announcing the need.

But more importantly, I remember the faith challenges that we have experienced and, by God’s grace, overcome in our quest to make a difference as we have sent out our own as missionaries to the field.

I remembered God’s faithfulness in supplying, primarily through this community of faith, their support.

But I also remembered the cost to the church, not only financially, but also in the loss of labourers here at home and the loss of up-close blessed fellowship with dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

I remembered the vibrant sense that pervaded the congregation that we could indeed make a difference in another part of the world and the excitement that existed.

Finally, I remembered what it was that doctrinally brought us to these wonderful experiences: the biblical teaching concerning the Great Commission.

The Great Commission is not an option. It is the church’s primary calling. It is the local church’s obligation. It is the mandate given by our Lord to every Christian. And this mandate was given in a corporate context. In other words, though the commission to make disciples of the nations is the responsibility of the individual Christian (we each will give an account before the Lord, see 1 Corinthians 3:5–17), this mandate is to be carried out corporately; it is to be carried out in community.

The community of faith is commissioned to make disciples of the nations, thereby making a difference in this world to the glory of God.

This may not sound very “sexy,” but it is our calling. Social ministry and the pursuit of social justice seem so much more relevant. But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, apart from the Great Commission of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we really have no means of knowing and truly pursuing social justice. Our primary calling remains making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we get this right then the by-products of social justice begin to sprout. It is not either/or; rather, it is both/and. In fact, it may be more accurate to say first/then.

The Great Commission is basic to the church. It is the basis of the church.

BBC, we are a community established by God and commissioned by Christ to make disciples of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are not centred on this understanding then we have missed the point completely. If you profess to be a Christian and you are not in some way functionally focused on contributing to this commission then you are missing the point—completely. This brings me to some negative remembrances that occurred during our WOC.

It occasioned the reminder that we face some of the same challenges today as we did twenty years ago. We are up against some of the same problems. And we must face them the same way that we have over these decades: with the sword of the Spirit in our hands and the Spirit of God in our hearts. In other words, we must face them in the fullness of the Spirit, faithfully clinging to the Word of God for the fame of God’s name.

I was reminded that, as a congregation, we need a wider commitment to an involvement in the Great Commission.

The absence of several members from the WOC proclaimed this. As I wrote recently, I was very blessed by the children’s choir, but at the same time I looked at them and wondered why it was not larger. Where were the other children of church members? Why were they not participating? Why were their families not here?

We brought a gifted children’s teacher to care for the four to six year olds. The numbers were low. Why? And where?

I am very grateful that the majority prioritised the WOC. But I am a shepherd. And I am responsible for the whole. We can all use the challenge to get involved with those who are seeking to spread the faith.

Matthew 28:16­–20 is a wonderful text from which to exhort us to remember and to obey the basics. In this study I want to bring a simple message, which I have titled, “Back to Basics” (or, originally, “What We Are All About”). I trust that it will serve as a reminder of why BBC exists.

Perhaps, as you read this, you are in some way affiliated with BBC. As a new member, I trust that this will give you clarity. If you are considering membership, I trust that you will be helped to know what it means to be a member of BBC and therefore to aid you in your decision. As an older member, I trust that you will be reminded to be encouraged to continue and to be encouraged to return to doing what you agreed when you were added to the membership. If you simply refuse to submit to the biblical mandate of what we are all about, I pray that you will make a decision, that you will choose this day whom you will serve.

This is indeed a back-to-basics message.

The Context of the Great Commission

This chapter actually contains two commissions.

First, there was the commission to spread a lie (vv. 11–15). The soldiers guarding the tomb at the resurrection were commissioned to spread the lie that His disciples had stolen His body while the soldiers slept. This was a highly implausible claim, but it spread nevertheless. In fact, many today still believe this.

Second, there was the commission to proclaim the truth (vv. 18–20).

The former was an evil commission; the latter, of course, was a great and glorious commission. One of the major goals of this commission is to rescue those who have been ensnared by the former commission. Thank God that multitudes have been.

I recently met a man at our church from the Middle East. He was converted from a Muslim background, and told me of his church back home. The church comprises twelve members, each of who has been converted by the gospel from a Muslim background. Many others have a similar testimony. Many can testify to the fact that they were once ensnared to lies, but were delivered by the truth proclaimed in the Great Commission.

The Scene

This is a hopeful scene, especially when you consider that these men had forsaken the Lord. But now, having received word from the women who had remained faithful, they were in the appointed place to receive the commission. There is a principle here for us: We should gather as the Lord commands. Gathering is vital to our involvement in the Great Commission.

As we gather under Christ’s lordship, as we gather with one another in communion with the risen Lord, we receive our marching orders from Him. It is precisely because many Christians do not consistently gather that they are inconsistently (if at all) involved in the Lord’s Great Commission. In fact, that is precisely one of the reasons for the intensity of our WOC week. We meet nightly from Wednesday to Saturday and then again on Sunday because we need to be reminded of the importance of the Great Commission. What might we miss if we, like Thomas, are not present when the Lord manifests Himself to the gathered church?

The Sifting

Verse 11 speaks of “the eleven disciples.” This is an important phrase. It was no longer the Twelve. Judas Iscariot was gone. In fact, he was dead. He was in hell. But the eleven remained.

A sifting had taken place. Those who truly belonged to the Lord, who were abiding in the Vine, literally remained, and they were about to bring forth much fruit.

They had lost about ten percent of their work force, yet this did not impact our Lord’s expectation of the mission. They were more ready than ever. There was no dead weight to hinder them. There had been a purging before the sending.

Someone has well said that the greatness of a church is not measured by its seating capacity but rather by its sending capacity. We should keep this in mind.

BBC could probably do with a good purging. And perhaps we will experience this. So be it. However, if we keep the Great Commandment as the main thing then the Great Commission will likewise remain the main thing. And that is the main thing!

The Summit

The Lord had commanded the disciples to meet Him on a particular mountain somewhere in Galilee. This was significant on a couple of fronts.

First, the disciples were from Galilee. The Lord was therefore commissioning them in familiar territory. Like the man in Mark 5 who wanted to join the Lord in His ministry, these men needed to make their faith work at home before they would be used abroad. It remains the same today.

If you wish to have an influence elsewhere, you need to have an influence at home. Are there people in your own church whom you can point to as your disciples? Do you perhaps need to be praying about the Lord sending someone across your path to evangelise and to disciple in the faith? I suspect that that is the type of prayer that God would be pleased to answer.

There is a danger that we romanticise missions, but the reality is that the Great Commission is difficult and often even a thankless task. But we prove our commitment to Christ and to His commission by being faithful first of all right where the Lord saves us. If we are faithful in this (often most difficult) spot, we will most likely be faithful wherever we find ourselves.

Second, don’t forget where you came from. Remember God’s grace in your life.

Third, related to this geographic issue is that this mission was to be cross-cultural, and therefore Galilee was the best place to commission it. Jesus was broadening the mission beyond the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jerusalem would have been the worst place because it was so ethnocentric. The Great Commission is to all the nations and therefore Galilee was a strategic and a significant place from which to launch it. We must keep this cross-cultural vision before us. Yes, our people need the gospel, our culture needs to be discipled, but so do all the nations.

Fourth, the summit is metaphorically significant. Mountaintops in Scripture often speak of majesty and authority. For example, it appears that Eden was actually a mountain (note that the rivers ran down from it). Think also of the significance of Mounts Sinai, Carmel and Zion. Further, as some of these examples highlight, covenants were often ratified on mountaintops, most notably at Sinai. Think of the Sermon on the Mount, where our Lord gave the mandate for His kingdom. In our present text, the King was about to issue another commandment, and His disciples needed to pay heed.

We must never lose sight of the fact that the Great Commission is not a suggestion but an obligation; it is a commandment. So, how are you responding? How will you respond?

Are you making disciples? Are you seeking to be equipped in order to make disciples? Are you contributing in some way to do so? If not, why not? Ultimately, salvation is an authority issue. The King requires service. Are you serving?

Submission

“When [the eleven] saw Him, they worshipped Him” (v. 17). That is, they bowed the knee. Worship is the proper context, the correct disposition from which we are to hear the Commission. When we worship, we are ready to work.

The eleven were having an encounter with the risen Lord. If we similarly encounter the Lord, it will make a difference how we hear. We need this vision, otherwise we will merely do our own thing (see Proverbs 29:18).

It is true that “some doubted,” but at least they were where they were appointed to be. And because they had obeyed this word they were in the best position to have their doubts blown away. And from what the book of Acts records, I would assume that this is precisely what happened.

Sometimes the best way to become convinced of truth is to be exposed to it and to test it. So often, our doubts are because of our disobedience. But when we launch out in faith to obey the Word of the Lord then we find ourselves experiencing truth and becoming convinced of and by it.

A church member recently told me that she had woken up one Sunday morning with no desire to go to church. She decided as she lay in bed that she would skip church that day. In the end, she opted to go, and as she sat under the ministry of the Word, she found herself thanking God for prompting her to attend despite her feelings. God ministered in a great way to her heart that day. She knew that attending church was the right thing to do and God blessed her obedience.

It should also be noted that their doubt did not affect the Lord’s commitment. God cannot and will not deny Himself. In fact, it should be observed that the Lord responded to their doubt by simply giving them a command. We call it the Great Commission.

Ponder for a moment this scene. It is as if the Lord was saying, “The best way for you to overcome your doubt is not by argument but rather by involvement. Simply do what I tell you and you will soon discover that I really am alive.”

Obedience is a great instructor. If you want to know the Lord, if you want to learn what it is to experience the promises of God, then obey the Word of the Lord. As Jesus said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17).

The best way to handle the doubts is by hearing the Lord’s self-revelation. Further, obedience to this revelation will blow away your doubts as you experience His claims in real life scenarios.

The Content of the Great Commission

The Great Commission, according to Matthew, is located in vv. 18–20:

And Jesus came 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, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

(Matthew 28:18–20)

The Extremity

Without belabouring a point made in a recent study, we should hear in v. 18 the extreme, but not exaggerated, language of our Lord as He describes His authority: “All authority has ben given to Me in heaven and on earth.” He clearly claims to be God. This should encourage us as we go in obedience to the Great Commission, for with such authority behind our mission we have every reason to be encouraged.

The Emphasis

Verse 19 begins with a participle (“go”), which could read, “As you are going.” The emphasis is not so much on going out, but rather on going on. That is, the command is not to go, but to make disciples as you are going. It is assumed that you are going. As you go through life, you must do so with a worldview of making disciples. This is the call of every believer: to make disciples of the Lord Jesus.

At our WOC, one of our missionaries was asked how a man should respond if he feels called to the field but his wife is resistant. He argued that the wife needs to understand her calling, not to be a wife, but to make disciples. If she understands and embraces her call to make disciples, she will surely be willing to follower her husband who is led to make disciples elsewhere.

Of course some would want to ask, what about being sent? In other words, is it not only those who are sent who are to “go” and “make disciples.” That can be answered in a couple of ways.

First, according to John 20:21, the disciples were sent by Jesus and, by extension, so has every disciple of Christ since that time. “As the Father has sent Me, so send I you” are precious, powerful and prioritising words. Jesus was sent on His mission with the Father’s agenda and authority. Jesus was telling the disciples that He was now sending them with the same agenda and authority: God’s authority. Every Christian since that time has been sent into the world to be guided by this divine agenda and under this divine authority, being sent with the assurance that God’s agenda will succeed. It is for this reason that, while we are going, we are to do so with the outlook of making disciples.

But what about the local church sending out her own? Is this a different kind of sending? Yes—and no.

Those whom the local church sends have already been sent by Jesus. But it is a different sending in the sense that the local church is sending out those who will reproduce what they come from. We call these missionaries.

But the point I want to drive home is that every Christian has the vocation of making disciples. Christians must make disciples as they raise children, as they interact with neighbours, as they go to work, as they attend school, and as they connect with others in sporting events. We might summarise it this way: As long as you are going (that is, as long as you are alive), you must be discipling.

In fact, ultimately the reason that we gather as a congregation is for the purpose of making disciples: to be equipped as well as to equip.

So, before moving from this point, let me ask a very important question: What do you see as your purpose in life: to make dough or to make disciples? Perhaps you would argue that you are ill equipped to make disciples because you are broken yourself. But the same can be said of all of us. Get fixed up so you can get up and build up by fixing up others.

The Extent

Notice the repetitive word and recurring theme that fills this passage: “all.” Jesus speaks of “all authority” and “all nations.” He implies that all converts are to be baptised and that all are to be taught “all” that He commanded. This commission can be carried out safe in the knowledge that Jesus is with us through all the age.

That is extensive! It is extremely comprehensive. In fact, in the light of this, all of God’s people should join our Lord in saying amen because all of God’s people are to be participating in His mission.

I came across a tweet this week, which sums up what is all too often my approach to life: “Too often I am guilty of praying that God will be a part of what I am doing, instead of praying to be a part of what God is doing.” And you?

We need to appreciate the greatness of the Great Commission. It is massively comprehensive. It involves all of the church making disciples in all parts of the world with the promise that all we need will be supplied by the one who is at all times with us. Wow! That is great!

The Expectation

What is expected as we faithfully carry out the Great Commission? I would suggest at least two things.

Exploits

As I look back at the history of our church, one of my fondest memories is the sense of expectation that permeated our congregation. And we had good reason to expect great things from God, for the Scriptures informed us to do so. The result was that we actually attempted some great things for God. And there is no reason whatsoever for us to have any lesser expectations or any lesser attempts today.

Who would have imagined ten years ago a Faith Promise commitment of R1.4 million? But we have been saved to serve a great God and so this has happened. And we have every good reason to expect this to continue to grow in the years ahead. But money aside, we should expect further fruit amongst the unreached and we should expect the Lord to raise up more missionaries from our midst.

We need a generation that will raise their children with the expectation that they may well be missionaries one day. Perhaps some should be praying to be used in such a way themselves. At the same time, we should expect church growth. We should apply the effort for church growth. These things are basic to the Great Commission, and we need to get back to basics.

Transformation

How can we sum up this Commission? Perhaps the word change is the best way to do so. The Great Commission aims at great change. The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about changing those it saves—both in time and for eternity.

  1. S. Lewis was correct when he said, “Human history is the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” But the Great Commission is about reversing that long, terrible story by the power of the gospel of God. The Great Commission is about restoration to things as they once were, which in fact will one day be much more than restored (Romans 5:20–21).

The Commission was about change: changed people pursuing change in and for others. This is what the local church is all about: Christlike change by the unchanging Christ. This is what we are all about!

Yes, we should expect and invest our efforts in the changing of the nations. Of course, this will focus on individuals being transformed by the gospel, but the cumulative effect will be the transformation of nations. This has been the history of missions, and it will continue to be so.

Why should we think that this is impossible? After all, Jesus has all authority, His Word addresses all areas of life, and He has already transformed all kinds of people. So why not believe and obey Him towards the same kind of transformation in our time?

I am eschatologically what you might call a postmillennialist. That is, I have an optimistic view of the future. I anticipate a time, perhaps not in my lifetime, in which the gospel will so conquer that the world will be populated by a majority of true Christians. I must admit, I sometimes find that emotionally hard to believe. When I read of the ungodliness that surrounds us, and of the hostile opposition that Christians face, I sometimes find it difficult to believe that the gospel will indeed conquer. But ultimately I must affirm what I believe the Bible teaches.

Though this is neither the place nor the space to address this matter with the attention it deserves, let me say that prayer failure is probably the reason for our often pathetic aspirations and expectations when it comes to the Great Commission. And this is where some of you who are not as mobile as you used to be can be of great service in the Great Commission. There is a dear older saint in our church who, every time she sees me, assures me that she has prayed for me that week. I am thankful for her prayer ministry. We need people like that who are serious about prayer (see Matthew 9:36–38; Acts 4:23–31; see also Paul’s frequent requests for prayer: Ephesians 6:18–20; Colossians 4:2–4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5; etc.).

Pray for opened doors; pray for our missionaries to stay focused on the Lord by being filled with the Spirit; pray for their insight into the Scriptures and how to effectively communicate them; pray for conversions; pray for the fall of walls of opposition; pray for more labourers.

We serve a God who is sovereign and who has determined that He will receive the honour due His name. So pray, behaving as though you believe this. This is basic. May we get back to basics!

So let me summarise: The expectation of the commission is that all peoples will be discipled, all disciples will participate, God’s name will be hallowed, God’s kingdom extended and God’s Word obeyed.

The Expense of the Great Commission

The Great Commission is costly. Discipling the nations costs money and people. There is nothing cheap about it. The Great Commission is centred in the cross, and it requires a cross. Death to self is the price of discipling the nations.

It requires death to material pursuits. I am speaking not necessarily of materialistic pursuits, for that is a given. Rather, I am speaking about the self-control to invest funds into the kingdom rather than into our kingdoms. Will you build bigger barns or seek to actively be a blessing to others?

It requires death to our ambitions in consideration of being sent to another place for the Great Commission. It requires death to our desires, natural and wholesome, in favour of releasing our loved ones to the mission field. It requires death to being people pleasing, willingness to make people unhappy in the church, and even angering people who think that church is all about them. Felt needs may need to go unmet, while real needs are always met.

It requires death to our desire for safety and security in favour of moving to someplace precarious and dangerous—like the many, many places in the world in which Christians are actively persecuted.

As a church, we know something about the cost of this commission—financially as well as the cost of and to family. A financial sacrifice is required in order to meet missions obligations. In our church, we manage this by means of an annual Faith Promise pledge, which is renewed every year at the church’s World Outreach Celebration. This year’s commitment was astonishing, but we have yet to fulfil it. We can utilise every cent of it for missions outreach, and we will in fact do so (see 2 Corinthians 8:8–15; 9:1–5).

Of course, we need to be careful of robbing Peter to pay Paul, in the sense of taking money from our general giving in order to support missions. The fact is, the church has a budget to meet at home even while it gives to missions. It is vital for church members to be faithful in both their general and their missions giving, in tithing as well as in faith promise giving. The key is to keep your heart properly located and your treasure will follow (Matthew 6:19–21).

The Great Commission will also require a personnel sacrifice. BBC has felt the reality of this in the past as it has sent some of its best members to the mission field, and there is no reason to assume that this will not be required in the future.

Our elders have recently been discussing the possibility of one day sending members from our church to strengthen other churches in our city—or planting new ones. We are not yet at the point where we can viably do this, but when our building reaches capacity and we have a membership significantly larger tan at present, why should we not consider, rather than a multimillion rand building expansion, sending twenty families elsewhere to strengthen or plant another church?

Experiencing the Commission

BBC, we have been brought together by the gospel for the gospel. We have been gathered by God’s Spirit to be discipled so as to be transformed like Christ. And we are called to do the same for others. Will you embrace this basic reality and seek to make disciples?

I read the other day of a man in the state of Texas who broke the record for the number of pull-ups in a 24-hour period. He did 4,321 to break the old record of 4,210. He is 54 years old! When interviewed, he said that his mission was “to let everybody know that it’s never too late to start to make a difference as far as improving and optimizing your health.”

Well, let me use that to make the point that it is never too late to repent and obey the Lord’s commission and to make a difference by making disciples. Seek to improve your own spiritual health as well as the spiritual health of others. The KJV translation of Psalm 67 speaks of God’s “saving health among the nations” (v. 2). Let that be our goal. Begin to make disciples here and we will then see disciples made elsewhere as well.

What can we do? How can we do it?

Pray for the furtherance of the gospel. Witness to the lost. Engage those who need to be reached with the gospel. Volunteer to an elder to be used, and ask him to help equip you. Perhaps use other opportunities to be equipped for gospel ministry. Give toward the missions endeavour of the church. Practically assist by, for example, being will to babysit the children of those who are keen to be involved in discipleship. Meaningfully connect to a Grace Group. Be holy, which will require communion with the saints. You cannot grow apart from Body life. If you are disconnected, you will not make the right kind of disciples. The Lord did not address each disciple individually but gave the commissions to a covenantal gathering of the group.

The Eventuality of the Great Commission

God’s commands are God’s promises. The nations will be discipled. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas. So let’s continue with the basics and make a difference, to the glory of God.