vs.16 “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. vs.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. vs.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. vs.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, vs.20 teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matt 28:16-20 ESV)
The so-called “Great Commission” is justly famous, but even when partnered with the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-38 ESV) it’s usually presented in a way that places undue emphasis on the missional task to the exclusion of Jesus as the person who commissions. (This is part of the reason why so-called “para church organisations”, like “Power to Change”, are known for their activism rather than a more reflective spirituality.)
Making disciples of Jesus is much bigger and harder than making converts.
In various African countries, like Congo, over 90% of the people are professing Christians, but anarchy rules (Kenyan pastor to JY, “even the bank robbers ask God to bless their pursuits”).
While Jesus had already told the apostles before his death and resurrection that the gospel would be preached to all nations1)Matt 24:14 ESV; Matt 26:13 ESV a radical transformation had to take place in his own life before he could send them out to disciple the world.
The place to begin understanding the nature of this personal transformation is to recognise that the Son of God was himself the perfect disciple.
JESUS’ AUTHORITY TO DISCIPLE
The risen Lord had unlimited authority to tell the eleven to make disciples who would “obey all that I have commanded you” because he could earlier testify, ““If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”” (John 15:10 ESV).
The climax of Jesus’ obedience to the Father is his suffering and death; as Paul puts it, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8 ESV).
The Son of God could never make mature disciples until he himself had gone to the place of complete obedience; as Hebrews teaches, vs.7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. vs.8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. vs.9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:7-9 ESV).
The cross is a crisis in Jesus’ life in a way that is rather unimaginable to us.
Whilst Hebrews 9:14 ESV, tells us that Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God”, we must ask where is the Holy Spirit when we hear the Lord crying out, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 ESV).
At the very pinnacle of his obedience, the Spirit who inspired all his words and works (Matt 12:28 ESV) and the intimate prayer, ““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:36 ESV), seems completely absent.
On the face of it this appears to be a complete contradiction to Peter’s preaching in Acts, “the Holy Spirit… is given by God to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32 ESV).
In his hour of experiencing forsakenness Jesus does not feel he is the Son of God honouring his Father; rather, he looks like no-one’s disciple because he is bearing our rebellion and our godless disobedience2)2 Cor 5:21 ESV; 1 Pet 2:24 ESV.
The wild, crazy, incongruous and to ordinary human understanding foolish love of God is perfected in the obedience of Jesus on the cross when it seems he has no reason to obey.
Obeying without the manifest presence of God (feeling good about God) is how Jesus’ sonship/discipleship was perfected – and that’s how it works in us.
The resurrection is the manifestation and release of Jesus’ completed authority to make disciples.
It is in raising him from the dead that the Father affirms to Jesus the truth of his obedient death; he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”.
It is as an affirmed righteous fully obedient Son in the power of the Spirit that Christ has an inner relational authority to disciple the world.
He does not disciple by sheer power but by the imperishable quality of his life; which is what “eternal life” is all about (1 John 1:2 ESV).
There is an immediate connection between the risen life of Jesus as a vindicated Son and our call to disciple the nations into obedience.
Christ vs.4 “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, vs.5 … to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:4-5 ESV cf. 1 Tim 3:16 ESV).
Paul was so compelled by love (2 Cor 5:14 ESV) to disciple the nations because he had a revelation of the obedient sonship of Jesus. vs.15 “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, vs.16 was pleased to reveal his Son in me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” (Gal 1:15-16 ESV).
Paul had a revelation of the all obedient Son of God who had obeyed all the commandments in his place. And he immediately comprehended that as Christ’s obedience came only through suffering he too would have to suffer greatly(Acts 9:16 ESV) in order “to bring about the obedience of faith” in all nations (Rom 16:26 ESV).
Which is why in 2 Corinthians he recounts an experience that shares in the forsakenness of the cross. vs.8 “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. vs.9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. vs.10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” (2 Cor 1:8-10 ESV).
This pattern of despair and restoration in the perfecting of obedience shapes the whole of Paul’s ministry3)cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12 ESV; Col 1:24 ESV as a share in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil 3:10 ESV).
Only such God-appointed crises of discipleship in our own lives can deepen our authority to make disciples of others. This is not a popular truth.
I remember a pastor arguing with me in a public meeting that a genuine born-again believer could not suffer from depression.
Not only did he not understand the cross, he didn’t understand the lives of Paul, Moses (Num 11:15 ESV), Elijah (1 Ki 19:4 ESV), Peter (Luke 22: 31-32, 62 ESV) and saints like Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis and Mother Teresa. We cannot rise with Christ unless we go down into the depths with Christ.
Our spiritual authority to disciple others is in proportion to our sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Since the Lord Jesus is 100% committed to the realisation of the Great Commission he himself will give us many opportunities to die and rise with him.
I was talking with a businessman recently who from the age of 5 always believed that God had called him to be P.M. In his adult life he was deeply involved in political and civic leadership. Then stirred up to go and pray at 2 a.m. one morning the Holy Spirit told him to pull out of all these commitments. It was agony, but an essential point in his growing to be more like Jesus and make disciples.
Paul understood these things when he said, “that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10 ESV).
What do you have to die to today; perhaps you have heroic view of becoming a spiritual giant without sharing in the brokenness of Jesus and those who have exercised enormous spiritual authority in Christ’s name?
The plan that the Father has to make you more like his Son is nothing like your own spiritual aspirations (Isa 55:9 ESV). It will prove to be as unpredictable as the cross was to the first disciples.
The discipleship crisis in the Church today holding back the discipling of the nations can only be healed when we experience the reality of how Jesus concluded the Great Commission, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This echoes the words with which Matthew’s Gospel begins, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23 ESV), but in a radically different way.
The depth of the presence of God with us in the incarnation of Christ in Mary is nothing compared to the depth of the humanity of Jesus as he gave the Great Commission.
There stood before them not only as someone they now worshipped as God (Matt 28:17 ESV) but one who they worshipped in his crucified, risen and triumphant humanity, a humanity he progressively, if painfully and gloriously, shares with us in the process we call discipleship.
The key to the revelation of Jesus as Son of God through our lives (Acts 9:20, 25 ESV) is submission to the call of God, whatever the cost.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 6. December, 2018 Location: Power to Change – Fremantle
Author: Dr. John Yates
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Matt 24:14 ESV; Matt 26:13 ESV|
|2.||↑||2 Cor 5:21 ESV; 1 Pet 2:24 ESV|
|3.||↑||cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12 ESV; Col 1:24 ESV|