Matthew 28:18-20 makes the duty of the church so simple. Many people make it so difficult. Scores of books have been written about the mission of the church, and seminars are offered to teach others the mission of the church, but Jesus reduced it all down to one command (verse 19): make disciples.
The other actions in these verses (going, baptizing, teaching) are all subordinate to Jesus’ main command to make disciples. The other actions tell us how to make disciples.
Making disciples is our plan. Going, baptizing, and teaching are our process. All of this is our mission.
I. OUR MISSION
Jesus said that the disciples were to “go . . . and make disciples.” This is certainly what the disciples understood to be their mission. They were to gather followers. They were to gather learners from all the nations of the earth. They were to teach them. They were to go into the world and seek to gather followers and instruct them, teach them, and train them.
Christ’s disciples were to “make followers of Jesus Christ”—following Him as their Master Teacher. They weren’t to make followers after themselves. They were to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That was their mission. That is our mission.
The disciples understood that to be a disciple would cost them their lives. Everything they had was to be given up (Matt. 10:37, 38).
Making disciples doesn’t just happen in the four walls of a church, nor does it happen only in Bible study groups. It happens when we rub shoulders with the world and speak with them of the marvelous richness of grace that is found in Christ Jesus.
Making disciples is “heart work,” and God is the one who changes hearts. Ultimately, for the work of making disciples, we are utterly helpless. Yet, look carefully again at Matthew 28, where we receive our sufficiency for the mission God has placed before us.
II. OUR SUFFICIENCY
As we come to the world with the message of the gospel of grace, we realize that we aren’t our own authority in this process. We alone can’t convince people to forsake the world and follow Christ. Only Jesus—through the Holy Spirit—has the authority and power to do this (Matt. 28:18; John 10:27, 28; 17:2). “But without the presence of the Spirit of God, no heart will be touched, no sinner be won to Christ.”1
Jesus has promised His involvement in this process. He seams to say, “I am with you always! I have the authority. I will get the job done.” You remember that Jesus promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18). Our task is to make disciples. Jesus is the guarantee of our work. Jesus has guaranteed the work by His authority (verse 18) and His presence among us (verse 20).
III. OUR PRACTICE
Let’s consider the following question: How did the disciples understand Christ’s command to make disciples? To understand how the disciples interpreted Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, we can study the practice of the early church to determine the same question in our context. We will discover that they preached the gospel and planted churches. They were proclamationfocused, and the church was central.
Remember the history of the early church? For the first three or four years, the church was concentrated in Jerusalem. “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7). Then, after Stephen was stoned to death, the church scattered. Philip went to Samaria and Caesarea. Paul was called to Damascus. Peter went to Joppa. Let’s look at Acts to see what happened:
- The good news of Jesus Christ spread north, and a large number believed (Acts 11:19-21).
- When the church at Jerusalem heard of this, Barnabas was sent to shepherd the church. But he quickly discovered that Paul was the man needed in Antioch. Paul was able to teach the church and lead them into maturity (Acts 11:22-24).
- The church was scattered. The gospel was preached. Many in Antioch believed. For a year, Paul discipled those in the church, grounding them in the truth of God. The church was maturing. The disciples were growing (Acts 11:25, 26).
- Now watch what God did through this church in Antioch. Turn to Acts 13, where the story of Antioch continues. They sent some of them away to repeat what God had done in Antioch! God had drawn believers to Himself in Antioch and had matured them. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) were chosen and sent away by direct intervention of the Holy Spirit (see verses 2 and 3). They came to Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos, Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They preached the gospel and strengthened the souls of the believers (Acts 13:1-3).
- This is “missions.” Preaching the gospel. Gathering believers into churches. Discipling them in the faith. Sending them out to do it all over again (Acts 14:21-23). This happened during Paul’s first missionary journey. On his second missionary journey, Paul sought to strengthen the churches he had established and to establish others.
- Now look at Acts 15. Paul was strengthening these churches by further discipling the people in these churches (Acts 15:40–16:1). The summary is given in Acts 16:5: “So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.”
- Then Paul went on to duplicate his efforts. He planted churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Luke records for us that Paul “settled there [in Corinth] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). In other words, Paul did in Corinth exactly what he did in Antioch before he was sent out—he discipled believers in the city.
We are called to do the same. As we do this, we will have to make several choices. Shall we go? What will we send people to do? We need to go and send people to make disciples! That is what our Lord commissioned us to do.
There are many different opportunities for people to go and do things locally and abroad. Many people go to do many different things— good things! But when the church sends people, our priority must be to make disciples!
I believe this is the most appropriate biblical model for personal and church growth. Therefore, let’s “go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
1 Ellen G. White, Christ Object Lessons, 328.
General Conference Ministerial Association