February 18, 2024

Do You Have Your Marching Orders?

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Topic: Discipleship Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Gary Glasses Inc.

Through the blurriness, try to picture with me a world without any kind of corrective lenses. Then comes a man. Let's call him 'Gary Glasses'. Like a Ferris wheel or a Jacuzzi or a Petri dish, Gary loans his own name to his latest invention: 'eye Glasses'. Now at first, Gary Glasses simply goes door to door, by himself, selling these corrective lenses. But after a while, he has a whole group of glasses-wearing people who want to be part of his business; who are true believers in both him and the product. So... they help manufacture the glasses, and package them up, and make maps for Gary's sales calls, and handle the follow-up. But after a while, Gary announces he's leaving to begin a new business in a faraway land. So before Gary leaves he gathers his executives and other teary-eyed employees and gives them a sincere and impassioned farewell speech, a speech that includes this challenge: get a pair of glasses on every person in the country who needs them.

So in light of this alternative history, here's the question for you: if you worked for Gary Glasses Inc., how would you personally take up this final challenge issued by your founder and CEO? Keep that question in mind and turn to the final chapter of Matthew's Gospel, chapter 28.

II. The Passage: “Go...and Make Disciples” (28:16-20)

Having just finished Matthew's Gospel in Our Bible Reading Plan, look with me again at the closing verses of that book. Beginning in verse 16...

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. [17] And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. [18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So, even though this book has mainly taken place in two small regions called Galilee and Judea, and though it has mainly focused on just a handful of individuals (with Jesus at the center), it ends with this big, broad, far-reaching, global perspective. And as a result, we're sitting here today (on a far-away continent), reading these words in a totally different language, and treating them as powerful, authoritative, and precious.

Now, if we run with the traditional title of this passage, The Great Commission, I think it's incredibly important that we answer two basic questions: first, “Who is being commissioned here?” and once we answer that, second, “To what exactly are they being commissioned?”

Well, these aren't difficult questions to answer: “Who is being commissioned here?” It's right there in verse 16: Jesus is speaking to “the eleven disciples”. These are the twelve men (minus Judas) who were appointed as “apostles” back in chapter 10; the twelve men (minus Judas) who’ve been described throughout this book as being with Jesus as his “disciples” (his students, his followers, his apprentices). Similarly, “To what exactly are they being commissioned?” Again, this is clear from the text; v 19: they are being commissioned here to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...”.

As they themselves had been made disciples of Jesus by Jesus, they were now being called to help other people, in the name of Jesus, become his disciples as well.

But guess what? If we start pressing on these 'easy' answers, things become less clear. For example, if Jesus commissioned just these eleven men, how in the world (no pun intended) could “all nations” (even a sizable group of people from “all nations”) actually be reached by this small handful of guys? And wouldn't this disciple-making work have ended when these men died? If that's the case, how are we even sitting here today as disciples of Jesus? We might also ask, “If the work to which these men were commissioned was to 'make disciples', what exactly does that entail? How exactly were they to make disciples? And was it a one-time event, a one time transaction, or was it an ongoing process?

Those are the kinds of questions that force us to look for answers beyond this passage, in other parts of Scripture; specifically, at several other examples of this same kind of commissioning by Jesus (passages like Luke 24:46-47, John 20:19-21, and Acts 1:8), and to the continuation of this story; that is, to a New Testament (NT) book called the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of these apostles. It's in these other parts of the NT that we find answers when we press a little harder on those questions, “Who was commissioned? and “To what were they commissioned?”

What do Acts and the NT letters go on to reveal about this commission in Matthew 28? How do they help clarify the words of Jesus here?Though we can't fully unpack everything the NT reveals on this topic, let me suggest a few simple ideas to get us thinking. For example, we learn,

1. These men did commission other men for the work of making disciples. In both Acts and the NT letters, we read about other leaders who were raised up in addition to the Apostles. These would include prophets, evangelists, and elders (also called pastors)(cf., Eph. 4:11). And in terms of elders/pastors, instructions were given for raising up still more (e.g., Titus 1:5-9).

2. But those men were called to equip still others for the work of making disciples. In the book of Acts we find all sorts of people involved in this disciple-making work, and in the letters, we find instructions and encouragements intended to equip all of God's people for participation.

3. The work of making disciples was both singular and ongoing. Acts tell us that disciples can be “made” (14:21) simply through proclamation of and acceptance of the Good News about Jesus. And yet, Acts and the NT letters also point to an ongoing teaching ministry carried out by both leaders and non-leaders. These singular and ongoing aspects of making disciples seem to be reflected in our main text, when Jesus speaking about “baptizing” (once) and “teaching” (ongoing).

III. More of Us Doing More of This

So, it's good to stop and ask, “Why is all this so important?” Well, I think v. 20 makes that clear: genuine disciples will teach genuine disciples to “observe” or obey all that Jesus commanded. That means if Jesus commanded them to “go... and make disciples” (as we see here), then every disciple needs to learn how to obey that command. But remember... we learn how to obey that command in light of how that command was obeyed; not only by those Jesus appointed, but also by those they subsequently appointed... and then... those they went on to equip. Brothers and sisters, trying to clarify some of this is so important because one of the biggest struggles the church has always faced is how to help every single disciple understand how he or she can personally obey this command to “go... and make disciples”. If we take any other command of Jesus, like 'lay up your treasure in heaven and not on earth' (6:19-20), most of you probably have some idea how you can put that command into practice.

But what will you do today, or this week, or this month, to obey this command to “go... and make disciples”? As you think about that issue of personal application, let's go back to Gary Glasses Inc. I believe Gary wanted every employee to take his challenge, to take their mission, to heart. But this is important: does that mean all of them now had the same role in the company? No. But it meant that no matter their department, no matter their specific position, all of them were working toward one goal: to get eyeglasses on every person in the country who needed them.

So think about this: if Maria works in the manufacturing department, and Phil works in sales, does that mean Maria will never talk with anyone about eyeglasses? If Maria's at a family picnic and sees her grandmother squinting at a photo album, does she need to contact Phil in sales and pass along her grandmother's contact info? No. That's silly. If she is grateful for her glasses and believes wholeheartedly in the product and in the mission of the company, she's personally going to talk with her grandmother. We talk about what we care about. Maria's glad to tell others about her job. Might Phil in sales factor into the equation at a later time? Sure. All of them are on the same team. In the same way, Ricky who works in the warehouse, if he sees a fellow employee getting distracted or dispirited, he doesn't need to contact the HR department about a morale-boosting, refresher course. He can simply come alongside his coworker and remind him about the founder's visionary vision regarding vision!

In the same way, brothers and sisters, each of us comes with different personalities and perspectives and strengths and experiences and spiritual gifts. But sometimes, our conception (oftentimes, our caricature) of what it means to make disciples (our conception) only aligns with a few people's personalities and perspectives and strengths and experiences and spiritual gifts... but maybe not with ours. So how can Gary help us see more clearly? Well, the illustration reminds us that all of us are called to take our founder's mission to heart; to hear his final challenge and joyfully receive his marching orders. If we do that, here are two things to keep in mind:

First, however we serve within and beyond this church family, whatever that service looks like, we should do so with joy and gratitude that all of us can support the disciple-making work of God's people. If setting up chairs, holding babies, adjusting sound levels, cleaning the ministry house, opening up our homes, donating a stroller, making photocopies, cooking a meal, or any-thing else will allow someone else (maybe someone from a different 'department') to give or receive more of Jesus, than we should be thrilled to do such things. Why? Because we should be thrilled by the mission of Jesus, who alone provides anyone who comes to him with a radically new kind of sight; sight not even the best corrective lenses in the world can give us.

Second, if as we talked about in September, disciple-making is [simply] spiritually investing in others with an eye toward their wholeness in Christ, then all of us can serve in the disciple-making work of God's people. Through prayer, all of us are called to “[speak] the truth in love” to one another (Ephesians 4:15). Similarly with outsiders, all of us are called to “Let [our] speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt...” (Colossians 4:6) In light of God's word, aren't both of those kinds of speech going to be fueled by the gospel of Jesus? Absolutely. So let's pray that hearts full of the gospel will result in mouths full of the gospel. It really is that simple. But please be careful. Sometimes we excuse ourselves from serving in this disciple-making work by the ways we're supporting this disciple-making work. But it's both/and not either/or. So ask yourself this: how can more of us do more of this? Let's start or keep talking about that as a faith family.

Have you taken to heart the mission of your King? Of your Redeemer? Having been redeemed, by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone, does it thrill you to know that you can participate in this life-changing, history-altering, globe-encompassing work? As disciples of Jesus, let us observe/obey all that Jesus commanded, through his power and for God's glory.