“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt 28:16–20)
These are the famous words of the “Great Commission,” which is a commission, as we know, not just for the apostles or the apostolic age, but for the whole church down to the present day. We call it the “great” commission, but it is to be feared that Christians today do not really appreciate its greatness or its importance. Our purpose, therefore, is to consider seven aspects of the “Great Commission” — which is our Christian commission — which we can see in these verses, in order that we may have a right apprehension of the significance of this commission for our lives today.
The first aspect of the commission that we see, is that it is a planned commission. In verse 16, Jesus met the disciples on a mountain “appointed” — this was a specific place, in Galilee. In verses 7 and 10, after His resurrection, Jesus reminds His disciples of what He told them in 26:32; and this is mentioned so many times because it is significant. The Great Commission, given to the disciples on that mountain, was not an afterthought for God: in fact it was so much a part of God’s plan, that even the place where it was to be given was appointed beforehand. Yes, Jesus’ work of redemption is finished, but it was always part of God’s plan for that finished work of redemption to be carried to the ends of the earth and proclaimed, that lost sinners might be saved.
Yet this is precisely where we often go wrong. Our Christian commission, not an afterthought to God, is somehow treated like an afterthought by ourselves. It is an important part of God’s plan for the salvation of the lost! Yet it does not feature prominently in our own plans at all. If a man were to be commissioned as an ambassador of our country to a foreign land, and we saw him spending all his time on other things, not related to his commission, we would decry him as a failure — yet here we are, ambassadors of God’s kingdom, acting as though we have never been commissioned to do any of the work of His kingdom. We have no sense of duty, no burden for the lost.
The fact is that we are all missionaries, because we are all on a mission: we have all been commissioned by God. And since this commission is an important part of God’s plan, it must be central to our thoughts and plans for our lives as well. We must have this sense of duty as we go about our day. We are on a mission from God!
The second aspect of the commission that we see, is that it is a gracious commission. In verse 17 we have this note, that while the disciples on that appointed mountain worshipped the risen Lord Jesus — they recognised Him as God — strangely, “some doubted.” Now we are not told the precise nature of this doubt, but it is specifically mentioned here, I believe, in order to emphasise for us the gracious nature of the commission that was about to be given.
If we were to think of modern-day instances of commissioning — the commissioning of an officer in the army, for example — we would expect those chosen and commissioned to be the best of the best, the cream of the crop. Who can bear the weight of that responsibility, except those who have proven themselves capable? Yet here we have those commissioned by the King of kings Himself, ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom, at the very point of their commissioning, still wavering, and still struggling with doubt.
The same applies to us: are we any less doubtful, any less weak in our faith? We also are entirely unworthy of being commissioned by God! None of us deserves even to be a citizen of heaven, let alone an ambassador — we dare not take the privilege for granted, but humbly, faithfully, joyfully, serve our God as unworthy, unprofitable servants, yet trusting in Him to enable us.
The third aspect of the commission is that it is an authoritative commission. Now in verse 18, against the backdrop of the disciples’ doubt, the sovereign power behind the commission is declared. This is an authority that dispels our doubt: note how Jesus graciously draws near to the disciples in their doubting. It is a comfort to us also, to know that what we cannot do alone, we can do if He is with us.
Then this is also an authority that directs our lives: because we ourselves are under His authority. If “all power” has been given to Him, then our Christian Commission carries the full weight of this authority, and thus claims the full measure of our attention and submission. Put aside the allurements of the world! Let nothing distract you from your mission! The world with all its attractions cannot and must not supersede the sovereign prerogative of Christ, in the heart of the Christian. If all power is given unto Him, and He has commissioned you, then you can do nothing less.
Finally, this is an authority that deserves our proclamation. It is a message that the world needs to hear. All power has been given to Christ! Those who will acknowledge this, and bow the knee now, may still find salvation — those who refuse will still have to bow, on that day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him as Lord; but then it will be too late for them to be saved.
Fourthly, this commission is a going commission. “Go ye therefore,” the Lord says, in light of our unworthiness and dependence on Him, in light of His sovereign power and authority — go. What does it mean when we say that our Christian commission is a “going” commission?
In the first place, this implies something about God’s plan — it is an unfolding of His plan (not a change, for He cannot change!). Whereas the instruction in Matthew 10:5 was to “go not” to the Gentiles, now the charge is to “go” to “all nations.” God’s plan of salvation, indeed, always included the Gentiles, as we read even in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 49:6), but there was an order to this plan: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Now, then, is the appointed time for the Gentiles to be brought in.
But in that case, there is also an implication for our attitude. If this is the unfolding of God’s plan, and if this is the appointed time for the Gentiles to be brought in, then we are to have a “going” attitude! We are not to be idle but active; pro-active — praying, seeking opportunities to speak of Christ. The time is now; not tomorrow, but today. Today is the day of salvation for some lost soul near to you, if you will only open your mouth to speak! There is yet room in heaven, at the Lord’s table. The door of opportunity has not yet closed. We must be active and diligent, as the servant in the parable (Luke 14:16–24), that God’s house might be filled.
Fifthly, this is a baptising commission. Baptism is specially mentioned here, in verse 19; a sacred ordinance instituted by God as a sign and seal of the new birth, whereby we declare publicly our repudiation of and repentance from all our past sins. It is a sign of our new relationship: no longer children of wrath but children of God, through the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our redemption.
So what does it mean when we say that our Christian commission is a “baptising” commission? It means our charge is to call people out of the bondage of sin, into communion with God — out of the devil’s kingdom, into God’s kingdom. In other words, we are calling people to a salvation that does not accommodate worldly pleasures and ambitions. We are commissioned to call people to a commitment and a consecration that extend to every aspect of life; to a love and devotion that compel us to submit all, even our innermost thoughts and desires, to God. To be baptised in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is not a game! We are commissioned to bring people into that sacred relationship!
This means that churches which treat Christianity as a “Sunday religion,” without placing any emphasis on a separated, consecrated life, do not obey the Great Commission. Churches which are so “seeker-sensitive” that they cannot tolerate preaching against sin and immorality, do not obey the Great Commission. And Christians who harbour a secret love of the world — or who flaunt such a love openly — need to consider again the message of the gospel which they claim to have believed.
Sixthly, this is a teaching commission. “Teach” in verse 19 has the sense of making disciples, bringing the lost sheep into the fold. But here in verse 20, “teach” translates a different word, with the sense of indoctrinating, equipping new believers with a knowledge of “all things” that the Lord Jesus has commanded His disciples. God has given us all this word, and every part of it is profitable for us (2 Timothy 3:16). We cannot neglect anything! Just as any child needs a balanced diet to grow, so also we need a balanced diet of all the counsel of God for us to grow spiritually as Christians — even the vegetables and bitter herbs are necessary.
So what does it mean when we say our Christian commission is a “teaching” commission? It means we must give diligence to study all of God’s word, not being content with a superficial knowledge of any part, but always searching the scriptures. And we must all be able to teach! There is indeed an ordained ministry of teaching in the church; some are specially appointed to be pastors and teachers. But as we read in Hebrews 5:11–14, every Christian must mature to the point where he or she is able to teach, instruct, and guide a younger believer. Of course we must never be proud in this (cf. James 3:1), but at the same time we cannot absolve ourselves of this responsibility.
Finally, this is a comforting, or we may say, a cooperative commission. The Lord Jesus ends with these words of comfort, assuring us of His abiding presence with us — “I am with you alway.” While the world remains, while we have breath, while one lost sheep remains, we must go in the strength of this assurance: He will be with us, helping us, guiding us, enabling us to fulfil the mission that He has entrusted to us.
This world more than ever needs the good news of salvation. Will you, who have believed and experienced for yourself the saving power of the gospel, now carry it to others, that they also may be saved?
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