As We Go

“Why am I even here?”  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  If we are honest, I believe we all wrestle with that thought at one time or another in our lives.  There are days, weeks, or even years where we seem to merely exist without any purpose in life.  It is at moments like those when we may wonder why the Lord simply did not call us home to heaven the instant we were saved.

Yet He has a greater purpose for us that we are to fulfill, though in our 21st-century American culture, we all too often forget it.  Before Jesus’ ascension, He gave His disciples a charge, a charge we now call “The Great Commission.”  It is our marching orders, if you will, instructing us what we are to be about as we live out the rest of our time here on earth.

But what exactly does that look like?  I mean, we have all heard the command, “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” but not all of us are called to be missionaries to a foreign land (Matt. 28:19).  Many of us are called to be engineers, electricians, doctors, teachers, and so many other vocations that God has uniquely equipped us for, so what are we to do with Christ’s command?

 To begin with, we need to understand what Christ was saying, and to do this, we have to look at the different accounts of the Great Commission simultaneously, for they will help us reach a fuller grasp of what Jesus was saying.  It will also help each of us understand our unique position in His plan.  For this post, we will look at the two most well-known ones, which are found in the books of Matthew and Acts.

“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.’”

Matthew 28:18-20

“So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’  He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’”

Acts 1:6-8

As we look at these two passages, there are several similarities that we need to note.  In the context of each, the Biblical authors clearly state that Jesus spoke these words to the eleven apostles, for Judas had already killed himself (Matt. 28:16; Acts 1:1-5).  Jesus said that they would need power to accomplish the work He was giving them (Matt. 28:18, 20; Acts 1:8).  The thrust of the message was to testify of what Jesus had said to them while He dwelt on earth (Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:8).

Yet there is a subtle difference that we must highlight here to reach the fullness of this charge.  In Matthew’s account, believers are charged with making “disciples” and “teaching them,” yet in acts, Luke says that Jesus told believers to be “witnesses” of Himself.  While both refer to things Jesus spoke about and taught Himself, they are not the same thing.  Matthew focused upon training individuals who have already come to faith in Christ, while Luke emphasized the spread of the Gospel throughout the world.

These cannot entirely be the same activity for numerous reasons, but mainly those of logistics.  Jesus told the apostles to “make disciples,” which cannot happen in a few weeks, months, or even a year (Matt. 28:19).  Jesus Himself spent three years in intimate interaction with these eleven men, “teaching them” what it meant to be His followers.  Yet as we look at Luke’s account, the spread of the Gospel is described in words that conjure up an image of explosive growth.  The Gospel cannot be contained in just Jerusalem, so it spreads to Judah, which has to give way to Samaria, and so on until the entire world has heard the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).  On the one hand, if the apostles stayed long enough to make disciples as Jesus had patterned for them, they could not take the Gospel to the world; they would be staying in relatively the same place.  Yet if they only focused on spreading the Gospel to the farthest reaches of the globe, who would disciple the new converts?

Despite this seeming incompatibility, the Lord Jesus was not contradicting Himself, nor were the Biblical writers recounting misinformation.  Our Lord commanded both to be done, and He provided the means by which this was to be accomplished: the Church.  Remember, these two passages describe the same event, so the context of one helps us understand the setting of the other as well.  Jesus told the disciples that He held the power of the entire universe, and He promised to be with them as they went forth to fulfill His command (Matt. 28:18-20).  In acts, however, He explained how He would do this. 

The Bible says that Jesus strictly charged the apostles “not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for what the Father had promised,” going on to explain that He meant “the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4, 5).  This is why He said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).  They would need the Spirit’s enabling to complete their mission.  When was the Spirit given? At Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).  Years later, Peter would tell believers that the act of the Spirit descending at Pentecost was “the beginning” of the Church (Acts 11:1, 15).

The implications of this are clear: to fulfill the Great Commission, believers cannot try to both take the Gospel to the world and make disciples on their own.  The Church is the catalyst by which we fulfill Christ’s charge.  It is only through a united effort in God’s ordained pattern that believers can truly both take the Gospel to the world and make disciples.

In this combined, united effort, each and every member of the Body of Christ has a role to play.  For some, it may be traveling on missionary journeys like Paul (Acts 13:1-5).  For others, it may be helping to personally disciple other believers (Acts 18:24-26).  Or perhaps you are given the task of especially devoting yourself to prayer (1 Timothy 5:5).  Whatever the specific role we each have been given, we are to work together to take the Gospel to the world, then teach converts what it truly means to follow Christ.

This is why God has established the local church.  As missionaries are sent out, the congregations support missionaries monetarily to enable them to focus upon spreading the Gospel in distant lands (Philippians 4:15, 16).  At the same time, believers are to grow alongside fellow Christians in their congregation, exhorting and being exhorted as they fellowship with one another and listen to the preaching of the word from their pastors (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:24, 25).  None of these are to be slotted to a program, as if bringing someone to church will fix everything.  Instead, it requires all the members of a congregation to strive alongside one another in this work.  This is why the tight, close, personal bond that the New Testament commands for the local church is an imperative: it is part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

This is our calling, our purpose in life—to seek out our own role in carrying out the charge Jesus gave to the Church.  Now granted, simply acknowledging that does not in and of itself help us find our sense of purpose.  We may still look around, see one friend pastoring a local congregation, another witnessing mightily to co-workers, another pouring out her heart earnestly to God in unique ways, leaving us to wonder where we fit in.  Let me assure you that since Christ has saved us, God has given each one of us a work to accomplish in His plan (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Seek it out.  Serve where you can.  If you find you are not gifted in one particular area, try another aspect of service.  But in all that you do, pray and seek the Spirit’s guidance—He will lead you.  You have been given a role.

So while we are not all called to the same office or ministry, we are all called to give the entirety of ourselves in making disciples of the world, which includes both preaching the Gospel and teaching converts.  We cannot do it alone, nor did Christ intend for us to.  The great Commission is not fulfilled in simply bringing people to repentance for salvation, but in making disciples of them, teaching them how to follow what Christ taught.  The only way we can do this is by serving along with fellow believers in the local church, always seeking for opportunities to share Christ, supporting missionaries as we send them out, and always being ready to answer whatever call to service God may give each of us.  Church, we have been given a charge.  Let us carry it out to the full.

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