Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical

This is something that struck me this morning, as I was reading through the last chapters of the gospel of John. In John 21, where Peter asks Jesus, “What about this guy?” (John 2121), Jesus answers, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22; emphasis in you in the original language).

I’ve heard a number of terms over the years that get coined and discarded to describe the kind of Christians we should be. ‘World Christians’ was big for a while. For a while, the word, ‘Extreme’ or the creative spelling, ‘XTreme’ was used for a while. Now, the term ‘Radical’ seems to be used a lot.

The problem that I have with adding the other adjectives and superlatives is that Jesus didn’t do it. His call was to follow him – no words of radical, simple, world, sold out, surrendered and consecrated or extreme. And it may seem like this may become a desire not to be an average pew sitting Christian, however in your own church background and experience you may define, ‘average.’ And so that may also become a desire to be better than some others that you may see as average or below average in your experience – when Jesus’s call is to follow him.

So, if you do set out to follow Jesus, you may actually end up doing some of the things that may be termed at some time as being radical, world, missional, missionary, Spirit filled, or extreme – but it won’t be from attempting to be any of those things. And you will likewise avoid doing some of the foolish things when people try to be radical, world, missional, extreme or whatever, and they end up doing things that Jesus did not call them to do.

Advertisements

Ahab’s Tantrum and the Age of Rage

I have heard this passage, I Kings 21:1-28, mentioned once during a sermon, by way of illustration, though I don’t think that the entire sermon centered on it. I’ve had some remarks prepared for a while on why I think that this is an appropriate passage to preach on today, but the recent riots in London have given me more encouragement that this passage speaks to a real need in our age. After having heard recently several more preachers mention the common passages such as David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the woman ad the well in John 4, and now the rich young ruler, I’m suggesting that this one be given more consideration as one which speaks to a problem nowadays.

The passage is at least as notorious, though not as salacious, as David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Ahab, one of the wickedest kings, if not the wickedest king, that Israel ever knew, makes an offer to buy the vineyard of Naboth, a resident of the city of Jezreel, because it is conveniently located. Naboth refuses, so Ahab become angry and sulks. Ahab’s wife, the notoriously evil Jezebel, find out the reason, and takes action to have Naboth slandered and murdered by false accusation, and Ahab manages to get the vineyard after all. God then pronounces judgment on the life and family of Ahab through Elijah the prophet. For perhaps the only time in his life Ahab demonstrated a humbled, repentant attitude, so God postponed the judgment upon his family and dynasty for a few years.

The first thing to note in the passage is that Ahab makes a plausible offer for the vineyard to obtain it for his personal convenience, of the, “You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” This is the kind of offer that takes place many times in businesses and lives, and such negotiations are not in themselves wicked. Under the Old Testament Law family parcels could be ‘sold’, in terms which are more like land rental, and this would not have been wrong in itself, though by the Law the land would have reverted back to Naboth’s family in the year of jubilee. In the northern kingdom of Israel, it is probable, though, that the year of jubilee had never been celebrated, if it had ever actually been put into practice at all in the history of Israel. But in the Israel of Ahab, it is more probable that all land sales were permanent, as when his father purchased the hill of Shemer which became the citadel of the capital city of Samaria (I Kings 16:24).

This then forms the basis of the rebuff of Naboth. He realized that the land was not just his personally, but part of what God had given to his family, as part of their inheritance of the promised land. His refusal may seem abrupt or even rude to modern ears, but it seems to have come from a genuine faith in the God of Israel. For him to have made this assertion, it is well possible that Naboth may have been one of the seven thousand faithful remnant in Israel whom God mentioned to Elijah in 19:18. What is not said is that this would also have entailed his making a deal with Ahab. That Naboth may have also had his doubts about Ahab’s holding up his part of the bargain is not stated, though it is easily understandable that he might also have desired to avoid making a deal with an untrustworthy king. But the emphasis is that his refusal was entirely justified and also the statement of faith by a righteous man.

So then, the refusal of Naboth provoked the tantrum of Ahab, and this tantrum is noteworthy in its childishness. He apparently did not gibber in rage at Naboth – which I’ve seen some selfish and unscrupulous people do when faced with even a mild refusal entirely justified and perhaps even being based upon scripture – but went to his room and refused to eat. This reaction is an example of the type of depression that I’ve seen mentioned in some books by psychiatrists as repressed rage. And I think that there can be a lot of it, and it can actually become an obsession that rules the the lives of some people, when they find themselves faced with not receiving what they want from the church, from other people, from the circumstances of life, and even from God himself. Something or someone has said, “No,” to them, and they cannot stand it.

I think that the repressed rage like that of Ahab is around nowadays in two areas. The first area is that of narcissistic rage and narcissistic misery. This is the rage and disappointment of those who through their monstrous self conceit believe that they are entitled to something that goes along with and reinforces that self conceit. The second is the repressed rage of men in modern society. This has been reported by a number in the psychiatric profession, and it may be more prevalent than many realize, even among men in the church. Simply put, it may be that the unexpressive man of few words, or the man who needs alcohol to become talkative may be dealing with deep rage and disappointment with his wife, family, work and vocation, and other circumstances. And I wonder myself how much of this may become an emotional leakage that helps to fester the rage that erupts in verbal and physical abuse.

To go on with the passage, Jezebel came up with a cowardly and despicable scheme to appease her husband and get the vineyard from Naboth. It often seems that there’s a Jezebel to go with an Ahab, in a marriage where the two are not growing in godliness but partners in crime, so to speak. In the passage it’s clear that from the viewpoint of her pagan background she shared her husband’s sense of entitlement to the property of Naboth. So, through the holy pretense of a day of fasting, she arranges for the slander and murder of Naboth, and for the theft of his family inheritance – three of the ten commandments broken right there.

So, the judgment pronounced by God through Elijah is explicit and terrible. Dogs – not a pet dog but the pariah dogs common to the ancient world —  would lick up Ahab’s blood and devour Jezebel, and the entire dynasty of Ahab would be destroyed. This is actually in addition to the judgment pronounced by another unnamed prophet in 20: 41-43, and also through Micaiah the prophet in 22:17-23. But because Ahab demonstrates repentance in 21:27-29, the full effect upon his own family is postponed. God had already told Elijah about Jehu as one of his instruments of judgment, but Jehu would not be actually anointed king and set about fulfilling the prophecies of judgment on the house of Ahab until II Kings 9. As an aside, this passage explained to me why the commands of God in I Kings 19:15-16 to Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor, Hazael as king of Aram and Jehu as king of Israel were not completed until II Kings 8 and 9. In terms of geography, Elijah would been closest to Elisha on his return journey from Sinai, so he anoints him first. But the installments of judgment that would come with the anointing of Hazael and Jehu were postponed until later, and may have been delayed in anticipation of the demonstration of repentance by Ahab. If Ahab had not repented, it’s possible that Jehu may have been anointed king much sooner and commissioned to carry out the full judgment of God on the house of Ahab during the lifetime of Ahab.

This passage then shows a different kind of anger than much of what is found in the counsel on forgiveness and refraining from revenge, when one has been the target of the aggression and abuse of another person. Had Naboth lived, and had he lived with the full New Testament teaching on forgiveness, this kind of forgiveness would have been appropriate for him to give to Ahab. That would have been the same kind of forgiveness that Jesus gave to the soldiers who performed his crucifixion, that Stephen gave to his lynch mob in Acts 7 and Corrie ten Boom gave to the guards who had tormented and abused her sister Betsie. It’s very hard to call what Ahab would have justifiably owed to Naboth as forgiveness instead of anger, since Naboth had really done nothing wrong. Naboth had only given Ahab a fully justifiable, “No.” And this is the kind of rage that needs to be addressed much more: the outraged sense of privilege and entitlement. This is the kind of rage that comes from outraged pride and thwarted desires – ego wounds – where the angry person has actually not been wronged. That person may be frustrated, disappointed and outraged, and may disagree with the refusal of their self conceits and desires by either the legitimate no of another person or even of God through circumstances.

This passage also shows a common reaction of others to this kind of tantrum: appeasement. If Ahab had had a wife more like Abigail (I Samuel 25), she most likely would have tried to do something to deflect and assuage his anger, but Jezebel chose the alternative of appeasement that many spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even fellow Christians and pastors may choose when they face a person filled with this kind of rage. They will try to get that person what that person wants to make that person feel better. And being entangled in appeasing someone else may well entangle someone in the same judgment of God as the person who is rushing towards judgment in his or her defiance of the explicit will of God.

If I were to preach on this passage, it would not be myself as a prophet of doom on those in the outraged sense of entitlement and privilege – though it would bear saying that the righteous judgment of God will come against those who engage in these kinds of wicked deeds in pursuit of what they feel they deserve from others, from circumstances and from God himself. Rather, I would contrast the conduct of Ahab and Jezebel and the choices that they made that doomed their dynasty with what the New Testament teaches on  humility, contentment, forbearance, and trusting God to supply one’s legitimate needs and desires.

‘Weird’ People, Christlike Love And Pastoral Care

Updated AGAIN!!!

Corrie ten Boom once told a story about an elderly couple who attended her meetings in post World War II Germany. They were from an isolated rural area of Germany, and their unkempt appearance and lack of physical hygiene put off some of the people at the meetings. The more spiritually mature Christians who attended the meetings encouraged the group to accept them and demonstrate the love of Christ to them. Before long, they both made professions of faith in Christ, and without anyone saying anything to them, they began to make use of the washing facilities, laundered their clothes and combed their hair.

The more spiritually mature Christians at those meetings got it exactly right. One of the most difficult human tendencies to deal with is the tendency to label people as ‘weird’ because of the ways that they may differ from others. And most certainly it can be extremely difficult for a person to deal with the dehumanization that may take place once others have given that person the ‘weird’ label. But the question then comes for the fellowship of believers: what are you doing to demonstrate the love of Christ to that person? And the question comes to those in leadership, as pastors and elders: what are you doing to lead the others in the fellowship of believers to show the love of Christ to that person?

The label of ‘weird’ can arise in several different ways. Sometimes it can come from the false expectations, stereotypes, prejudices, and preconceptions of others. For instance, one of my favorite coworkers told me that one of her friends called her, ‘weird,’ because she had minored in art history in college. I advised her that I found that to be quite the opposite of weird. This may well be from mere minor differences in upbringing, educational background, or region of origin. In addition, many times there can be highly exaggerated understandings of what ‘normal’ is, based on looks, popularity or athleticism. A person is not ‘weird’ if he or she is not the best looking person, most accomplished athlete, etc.  Just as much, this can even come from highly exaggerated and misunderstood observations on one time incidents and off hand remarks. For instance, if one encounters someone who has been up all night or who has just experienced the loss of a family member, it should go almost without saying not to make any snap judgments about that person, since one is not encountering that person in normal circumstances. And in all these situations the question remains: what are you doing to demonstrate the love of Christ in that situation?

I venture that the applicable passage of scripture in those more minor situations is Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Even more, if there is an inclination to label a person as ‘weird’ because of these minor personal differences, preconceptions and expectations, there are two further questions to consider: what did you expect from that person? And what right do you have to put those expectations upon that person? So in this case, James 4:11-12 applies: “Speak not evil of one another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?”

Another way that someone may receive that label is because of social backwardness due to personal immaturity or having come from an addictive, neglectful or abusive family, or even a family with one or more members suffering from a mental illness such as depression. The truth is that neither of these situations is either permanent or spiritually crippling in themselves, and people who are in this situation may have received little more than avoidance, ridicule scorn or angry demands for change from others, and very little of the love of Christ. For instance, there was an episode of the TV series Wonder Years where there was a classmate who was trying desperately to be the friend of Kevin Arnold, the main character. She was socially inept, had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and had a quirky hairdo, to say the least. The narrator said that his reaction was, “Why did she have to be so weird?” And at the end of the episode, he learned that she was part of a military family which had moved around the country several times a year, so that she never really had much of a chance to develop strong, lasting friendships.

The immature or socially backward person may actually find huge benefit in the stable environment of loving patience in Christ –a church which is living in Ephesians 4:11-16 rather than in I Corinthians 3:3. And for someone who is in the place of immaturity, the need is for growing in knowledge of, faith in and obedience to the Word of God, which “ . . . is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). So the questions then become, “What right do you have to treat that person with contempt or disdain for whom Christ has died due to an unloving, malicious, childish, prejudicial or pejorative label or stereotype? And if you have spread ridicule and tried to involved others in contempt for that person, shouldn’t you rather repent and seek to correct the false and disdainful impressions of another person you’re encouraging? Are you rather willing to sit back, pray, love and let that person grow in Christ?” In these cases the applicable scripture is I Thessalonians 5:14: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”

Finally, someone may receive this label due to demonstrations of irrational and immoral thinking patterns, words and behavior. Here I’m referring to persistent patterns which are markedly deceptive, malicious or even unimaginable for a person in touch with reality, and which cannot be charitably attributed to any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above. These may in fact be signs of an accelerating degenerative addiction or abusive lifestyle, mental illness or even demonic influence. I would counsel against any kind of snap judgment or superficial diagnosis by anyone in these areas, and attribution of any kind of addiction, abuse, mental illness or demonic without due consideration for the alternatives. This is one area where spiritual leaders need to stand strong in firmly rebuking what may turn out to be hateful and slanderous attributions by others and making extremely serious scriptural and sensible assessments if these kinds of patterns are evident. While I don’t have a great deal of experience in making these assessments, here are some things which I’ve learned from others and some situations.

First, do not be determined to find something wrong with someone, to find a label or diagnosis for a person, and, even more, be extremely diligent and cautious to protect each and every confidentiality in these cases. There can be strong legal sanctions in these cases where confidences are breached, particularly if there are violations of HIPPAA regulations in the United States. A spouse, an elder or a fellow pastor is not qualified to be a confidant in such a case, even if someone tries to justify breaking the confidence to request prayer. In addition, no referrals should ever be made without the explicit knowledge and probably written permission of the person being referred, and that person should always be aware of anyone attempting to refer him or her to any professional for anything.

Second, be ready and willing to consider that there may be physical problems which are contributing to the person’s behavior. D. Martyn LLoyd-Jones, whose background as a physician included assisting the leading diagnostician of his day (the Dr. Gregory House of Great Britain), counseled this in his book on healing, and he named some of the problems which could contribute to irrational and eccentric behaviors which might otherwise be labeled as mental illness. With this he agreed with Jay Adams, the originator of the nouthetic branch of pastoral counseling. It may take a thorough physical exam to find a physical cause, but it would certainly be in the path of Christian love and pastoral care to advise a physical exam. A pastor and a church could easily join together to pay doctor’s bills or to refer to a Christian doctor who might perform an exam pro bono for someone who might be in need of such an exam. For more on how physical ailments can be confused with ailments labeled as mental illness, see the Wall Street Journal blog entry on Confusing Medical Ailments With Mental Illness. In addition, an examination specifically for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be in order for people who have come through moderate to severe and protracted physical abuse, particularly if they show signs of heightened vigilance—a kind of unusual caution and jumpiness.

Third, where physical or organic causes, syndromes or illnesses are known, prayer for physical healing is easily an act of Christian compassion and love. Jesus healed those who were, as the King James Version put it, ‘lunatick’, or, in a more contemporary sense, suffering from physical afflictions that caused seizures and other abnormal behaviors. Compassion and faith in Christ to heal out of his own compassion for the physically afflicted are in order here, not fear, mere pity and avoidance.

Fourth, while the pastor, elders and other spiritual leaders need to avoid trying to play the part of amateur psychiatrists, the insights of psychiatrists can be quite helpful, especially when dealing with illnesses that carry perceptual and cognitive distortions such as schizophrenia. While I myself would prefer to offer prayer for healing as well as medication for people who have these kinds of afflictions, in these cases medication may in fact be the plan of God.

Finally, there may be demonic influence in some lives, and in some cases there may be an intertwining of the demonic, the psychological and the physical problems. These kind of problems are pretty rare, although Jesus dealt with cases, such as in Matthew 17:18, where he both took authority over the demonic and healed the person at the same time. Certainly none of those problems are necessarily mutually exclusive. But in the diagnosis of these kinds of problems, both Drs. Kurt Koch and Martyn Lloyd-Jones agree that someone who is truly under demonic influence will have a sense of spiritual darkness and show rejection and avoidance of the Word of God and the name of Jesus and resist prayer in the name of Jesus, sometimes with awful blasphemies and maybe even physical violence. It’s true that a rare few will believe that they are inhabited by demons and perhaps identify real physical symptoms that they are experiencing as demonic, yet remain calm while people are praying for them and honor the name of Jesus and his sovereignty and Lordship. This is most likely confused thinking that comes from an organic cause, and the only people that I’ve encountered like this had been institutionalized. In these cases the pastor may need to team with elders, medical doctors and mental health personnel to deliver wise, scriptural and compassionate treatment.

Assignment: Earth

The following post is the transcript of a sermon that I have preached in every church where I have served as pastor, and several other churches as well. The last time I preached it I mentioned that it seems like a whole generation has grown up in our churches which has never heard a single sermon on the Great Commission, and the leadership of that church seemed to be both shocked and in agreement. I offer this in the hope that we never let this be the final word. Rather, I would encourage preaching not only on Matthew 28:18-20 – the passage commonly called the Great Commission – but also in its alternative forms, in Luke 24:46-49 and Acts 1:8.

The style will be kind of rough in some area, since I preach primarily from an extended outline. Because my writing and speaking styles are different, and I have a strong memory, I was never able to write out a sermon effectively and preach in the same way, since the memory of what I wrote and the way that I wanted to express it in my speaking style always interfered with each other during the time of actual preaching. I was always able to preach most effectively when I was preaching extemporaneously from an extended outline. So, in an actual preaching situation, this wouldn’t have represented my actual words, but more the way I would express my meaning in my writing style. 

******************************************************************* 

Matthew 28:18-20

The founder of the China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor once said, “The sun never sets on the world. One half of it is always in the light of day. Likewise, God never intended part of his world ever to lay permanently out of reach of the light of his truth.”

The concern of the God of the Bible is for the entire world. This concern has been revealed above all in the person and mission of his Son Jesus Christ.This concern is motivated by a love that reaches each person no matter who he or she may be, and this is demonstrated shown by the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, so that salvation may be available for all. Even more, it is shown in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord to be the ultimate authority in the universe. And again it is  shown in the constant repetition of the assignment to his church, to reach the world with his message. This assignment was given during the forty days of his teaching ministry to the apostles after his resurrection and before his ascension. This assignment is based upon all that he has already done, and is  backed by his universal authority and constant presence for their assistance. Thus through the apostles he gave to the church the command to reach all the people of this earth with his gospel. This command was repeated in the passage of scripture generally called the Great Commission, namely, to go and make disciples of all the world, from all the nations of this world. 

This assignment is the great, unfinished task of the church of Jesus Christ. This task that always requires renewed attention and constant prayer;  this task makes it necessary to learn the direction of the Lord to fulfill his command and to receive from him all that is necessary to fulfill the task. And this task is completely impossible to us if it were up to us alone. But, it is not to him as he works through us as we respond to his command with faith and obedience.

So this, then is the command: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The risen Lord has commanded his followers to make disciples everywhere in the world. All the people of the world are to be targets for the gospel and prospects for becoming disciples. The mission field for the church of Jesus is everywhere, and everyone is a prospect for becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The basis of this command is the complete and universal authority of Jesus Christ. The risen Lord has all authority in his hands to claim disciples from all the world, and upon this authority he has the right to give his church this command.

In verse 19  the risen Lord Jesus asserts his own universal authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This startling statement is yet backed by the amazing fact of the crucifixion and resurrection. The nail prints were still visible in hands and feet of that person who made this statement, and who stood there, alive, to make this claim before those who were eyewitnesses of this resurrection. He was no ghost or apparition, but the Lord risen in the same body which had walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, who had touched and healed many, and who had taught them, corrected them, and loved them. Even more, it is his claim to have the authority of God himself over all the universe, as he had claimed and demonstrated himself to be the unique, eternal Son of God in all that he had said and done. Moreover, his claim to have all authority implies rightfulness to claim the individual submission of all on earth to himself. So, his call to make disciples comes from his own right to the faith, obedience and worship of each person, based upon his being the ultimate authority in the universe.

Therefore this is the assurance that everywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ is valid, that it is right to call others to become disciples of Jesus, even if they are adherents of other religions: it is the authority of Jesus Christ himself. The authority of Jesus himself is behind all evangelism, discipleship and missions. It means that everyone everywhere has to answer to Jesus Christ above all, because he has all authority in heaven and on earth. And that means that what we will say will be not from our own opinions when we speak his gospel but ultimately based in the word and authority of the Lord to who all must give account. So this, then, is the total and complete justification for the work of evangelism, discipleship and missions: the Lordship of Jesus Christ himself. So also his possession of all authority in heaven and on earth is the beginning,  center and goal of missions, and is the reason for becoming a missional church and a missional believer in Christ.

Making disciples, then, requires going to the world with the message of the gospel.  Making disciples requires those who are disciples to go to those who are not disciples. Making disciples then requires those who are disciples of Jesus Christ to share the gospel so that others might become disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is then the heart of the assignment that Jesus gave to his church, in verse  18: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”. This means that it is the responsibility of his church to go to others with the gospel.  For the apostles this would have meant first evangelizing Jerusalem and building a strong church there. And then would have meant ending out missionaries – such as Philip, Barnabas, Paul, Silas and Timothy to build strong, witnessing churches in other cities. These churches would then send forth more missionaries, until all have heard the message which Jesus gave them to share with the world, the good news of his death and resurrection, to make forgiveness and eternal life available through repentance and faith in him. (See Luke 24:46-49 for the parallel passage in which he give the actual message and his promise of the power of the Holy Spirit for witness.)  Making disciples would mean for them to call others to the same faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ that they had come to, as the entry point into discipleship, just as they had done. 

The mandate to go to others is thus the responsibility of the whole church and of every individual believer. This is contrary to the “come” strategy of churchianity. The “come” strategy attempts to attracts others to our group, and may put the emphasis on the pastor and the pulpit, our wonderful group of people, our entertaining and uplifting services, or our humanitarian works of mercy and kindness. All those may be good, but they are not the fulfillment of the command of Jesus. And Jesus definitely put the task of evangelization before every believer  with this command. His command means that every believer is to be a missionary, or, in the current trendy, word, missional, in the sense of being ready to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to make disciples for Jesus Christ, and to go into all the world that message until there is no where else to go with that message.

There’s a story of a Marine who asked this question of the drill instructor: “Sir, what are our chances of going overseas?”

This was the answer: “There are three kinds of Marines. The one who are overseas, the ones who have been overseas, and the ones who are going overseas. So I would say your chances are pretty darn good.”

So it’s the same thing with the church of Jesus Christ: there are no exceptions to his command to go into the world and make disciples. There are those who are going out to do it, those who are preparing, and those who are continuing to do it. It may be in another culture, or in another nation, or it may be with the people in one’s own city and neighborhood. But there is no believer who can claim to have Jesus as Lord of his or her life and make the claim at the same time that he or she is exempt from this command.

Making disciples, then, means leading people to a complete commitment to Christ as Lord. The full Biblical implications of his sovereignty means becoming responsible disciples for oneself and to understand what this means for making disciples in dealing with others.

This is how Jesus explained what he meant by making disciples: (v. 18b –19): “ . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Making disciples is thus the process of evangelistic reproduction. Jesus’s meaning for the apostles would have been for them to reproduce the process they had been through with him.They had responded to him with repentance and faith in him, baptism, and then following his Word, as it can be found in the gospels. The goal of conversion, of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior would be defined as discipleship. This would begin with a public commitment of water baptism, and the disciple of Jesus would then continue as a responsible follower of Jesus.

Therefore the measure of evangelism is not decisions recorded but disciples that are made. Disciples tend to reproduce disciples. So, many of the failures in areas of expecting baptism as the outcome of a real conversion and teaching complete obedience to Jesus  are a strong reason for why many churches see shallow conversions, and may record a number of professions but may not produce  godly, consecrated believers with a life of witness, missionary vision and support. The command of Jesus means that his teaching and commands must be absolutely central in the life of the person whom the church can legitimately consider to have been saved with the salvation of Jesus Christ.

There was once an author who reported this on the evangelistic efforts in another denomination: “ We have too many nonresident members today . . . people who feel they have made the one-time decision, walked to the altar in answer to that appeal, and yet are not aware of what they were doing and what is expected of them.” I mention this not to say that my own denomination is any better, but that it describes the case of many in the churches who are sitting back, soaking in sermons, reveling in praise and worship, but living little for Jesus as the Lord of their lives as far as having demonstrated that they are seeking to learn and follow everything that he was commanded them.

Therefore Jesus’s directions for our mission challenges some present notions of evangelism. His assignment redirects our attention to first of all to going to others with the gospel and then training those who receive the gospel to be responsible disciples here. And since like produces like, this also implies the need for the person sharing the gospel to be a responsible disciple himself: for the person claiming and proclaiming salvation to have been baptized and a conscientious follower of Jesus Christ in his or her daily life. This means our seeing ourselves as Christ’s missionaries, whether we go outside the our own country and culture or not, since our own country and culture will always be included in the nations. It means that the vision and burden for the world of Jesus Christ, his standing assignment for his church, therefore must penetrate our lives.

But Jesus does not leave us just with a command, though; he gives a promise that makes it certain that it will be fulfilled. Those who go can take complete confidence in this:  The risen Lord is also present with his people wherever they are making disciples. His promise is often used as a general kind of comfort, and it is definitely that. But in the original meaning, he promised his presence not so much as a general comfort but specifically in the context of the mission that he has given his church to reach the world. His promise of his presence thus finds its true fulfillment when his people are fulfilling their mission.

Jesus promises he will be with us, wherever we go, until our mission is done. He will be with us as we follow his will and as we share his concern for the world. His promise is therefore the basis of an indescribable confidence to go into the world with the gospel.

Jesus gives the promise of his presence in verse 20: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. This was meant not as his assurance of companionship – although that is a part of his promises, as he promised in John 14:21 and 23 — as much as the promise of his helping presence. In the fullness of the his own teaching about his mission this promise is to be understood in the light of the promise of the Holy Spirit that fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in prayer on the day of Pentecost. That day is to be understood not as the birthday of the church, as Augustine mentioned, but rather as the coming of the power of God through the Holy Spirit upon his church to empower them to be witnesses for Christ throughout all the world.  The point was not the tongues, but the witness of power, as Jesus himself said in Acts 1:8.  So the impossible challenge of the assignment which Jesus gave was to be fulfilled only with the assurance of the divine presence and power to do so. The promise of his helping presence was looking forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit, who can justifiably be called the Spirit of worldwide missions.

Therefore the impossible task is ultimately the work of the Lord who does the impossible, and this is the assurance that the task will be fulfilled.The Spirit of Jesus is here to transform us into the likeness of Christ The power of the Spirit of Christ has come to give us his strength to endure in faith and obedience beyond our own ability. The Holy Spirit is available to give us boldness to witness to him, and above all to guide us to pray in his name for the provision of all our other needs. And this is not at all to make us comfortable here in our own situation, but to give us power and ability to make the gospel of Jesus Christ known everywhere.

Here is testimony of David Livingstone gave at Cambridge University in England. He gave it as he held the students in awe with his gaunt body, with one arm that had been crushed by a lion: “Shall I tell you what sustained me amidst the toil, the hardship, and the loneliness of my exiled life? It was the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’”  And that same assurance is available to his people when they go on his assignment to bring the gospel to the world and make disciples of all nations.

Jesus Christ therefore is in the midst of his people as they go out to fulfill his command to make disciples of all nations. His presence is the assurance that missions will not fail, because the because the Lord who is behind missions will not fail.

Our assignment is planet Earth Our mission is to make disciples everywhere. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message with which disciples make disciples. That good news is that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and that he rose from the dead to be seated in heaven with all authority in heaven and earth. He has provided eternal life as a free gift, but once that free gift has been received, the person who received it cannot remain the same. Thus wherever anyone receives that gift of eternal life, he or she enters into that living relationship with Jesus Christ called discipleship, and that assignment of Jesus becomes part of his or her life.

So then, are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? This question is the same as asking whether you have received eternal life in by faith in Christ. Jesus did not consider that anyone could be saved who was not also his disciple. If you have not made that step of faith, to receive eternal life by putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that is the first and most necessary thing for you to do. We cannot assume that someone is a disciple and is going to heaven because he or she simply shows up at church and goes through the motions in the worship service. So I ask you again: are you certain that your faith is in Jesus Christ now and forever as your Lord and Savior, and that only because he has suffered and died for you that you received forgiveness for your sins and eternal life?

But then again, if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, are you living as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Water baptism is the declaration of discipleship before the entire world. If you have not been baptized, therefore consider it according to the Word of God. Here it is the explicit command of Christ, and not something that comes from a church tradition. So ultimately the primary issue in following through with water baptism is the authority of Jesus himself. And this is one issue that we do not need to wonder what would Jesus do, because we have his own example of what he did do, that he followed through with water baptism himself, at the beginning of his ministry and reception of his own power for ministry with the filling of the Holy Spirit.  

Living as a disciple then means learning, believing and following the Word of Jesus Christ; what are you personally doing to learn and follow the Word of God in your life?

If you are a disciple of Christ, what are you doing to lead others to become disciples of Jesus? Do you know how to be an effective witness to Christ? have you been trained to witness in a scriptural manner? If you have been trained to witness, what are you doing to put it into practice in your daily life?

If you are a disciple of Jesus, do you stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the mission to reach the world with the gospel? For years we’ve talked about being missionary churches, becoming world Christians and becoming missional. But continuing as a disciple of Jesus Christ entails commitment to reach the world with the gospel, whatever the terms we use. It entails prayer in support of the worldwide mission of the church and giving toward the fulfillment of the worldwide mission of the church and also includes the willingness to go oneself, in whatever way the Lord might lead

Finally, is the church you attend truly a Great Commission Church? That isn’t just a cliché, and it isn’t something that we can assume is true without considering how much the assignment of Jesus Christ to your church determines what happens in your church. It means that the command of Jesus Christ is the primary direction of this church as a whole, and is the primary influence upon the way that every ministry is approached, and the way that every fellowship is directed. So, this question remains: is your church a Great Commission Church?