Discipleship is a buzz word in church these days. Everyone talks about it and everyone is wanting to do it and for good reason – Jesus said we should. In Matthew 28:19-20, after his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus gave some last instructions to his disciples.
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, baptising 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.” Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
I’d like to break down the instruction into four parts to see things more clearly.
- THE INDICATIVE
‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.’
Indicative just means something that exists or is true. Here Jesus makes an indicative statement – ‘He’ has authority. All authority and all power. He has authority because he is God and as God he instructed them on what their mission was. Disciple making begins with Jesus and ends with Jesus. IT EXALTS US!!! – Many people feel ill equipped to make a disciple, this is why we must not skip verse 18. It’s crucial. The God/man with all authority calls us to make disciples. If Jesus has all power and authority and then calls you to a task, then stop looking at what you don’t have and look at who you do have. Get your eyes off your insufficiency and put it on his sufficiency. IT HUMBLES US – Additionally Jesus reminds us that he alone has power and authority. Only by his gracious work in and through use can we make disciples. It’s his authority, his power, his ability and therefore it’s his glory.
Jesus warned the disciples earlier in Luke 10:17-20 that while he gave the disciples authority, they shouldn’t rejoice or boast in what comes of that authority but rather they should rejoice they have their names written in the book of life.
- THE IMPERATIVE
‘Go therefore and make disciples’
Imperative describes what we need to do in light of the indicative. Here it’s an absolute must, a command from the one with ‘all authority’. Jesus is going to leave earth soon and return to heaven and he’s leaving his disciples with some very clear instruction on what he wants them to do. Your mission, your focus – make disciples. Make disciples remembering that I have all power and authority.
- THE INSTRUCTION
‘Baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’
This is ‘how’ to do the imperative. Baptism is a sacrament given in scripture as an outward working of an inward reality. Those that repent and believe in the resurrected Jesus are instructed to be baptised as a symbolic act of their profession of faith. ‘Baptise’ means to immerse and I think it’s possible that Jesus had more in mind than simply immersing people in water. Notice that the text said to baptise in the, ‘name of the Father, Son and Spirit‘. Could it be possible that Jesus had both a literal and figurative idea in mind, or another way to put it is a physical immersion into water and spiritual immersion into God.
The instruction then continues,‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’. The order is no coincidence. If people don’t know who God is and what God is like theres a good chance they won’t follow or obey him. You don’t trust what you don’t know. So he basically says, ‘Immerse people in who I am and what I’m like as Father, Son and Spirit, then teach and call them to trust me and follow me’ Behaviour comes out of belief. The more one knows and understands that God is good, God is great, God is glorious and God is gracious, the more likely they are to follow him and his ways.
So we follow God’s instruction to make disciples by literally and physically baptising people in water and we continue to follow God’s instruction by figuratively and spiritually baptising people into who he is.
- THE INSURANCE
‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’
Often when people have been exhorted to get on the mission of making disciples the reaction is one of fear, uncertainty or lack of confidence. But Jesus not only began the command by declaring it starts with him having and giving authority, he also finishes it up by saying he’ll be with us the whole way. In other words he’s our insurance policy. What if I stuff this up? I am with you! What if I say the wrong thing? I am with you! What if I’m not even doing the stuff I’m teaching others? It’s ok ‘I am with you always, even to the end! This is awesome news. He’s telling us to make disciples and reminding us it has less to do with us and more to do with him.
The best ability we can give God is simply our ‘availability.’ We may not have all the answers; we may not have our own life all sorted out and cleaned up but what we do have is JESUS. And maybe the most important ingredient in making disciples is not a program but a person.
2 Corinthians 4:7 says, ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us.’ We’re the jars of clay, fractured with cracks, but the gospel – who God is and what he’s done – is the treasure. Let’s get our eyes off the vessel and put it on the treasure. When we are captivated by the treasure we’ll be far better at leading others to do likewise – we’ll make disciples.