The Essence of the Mission: Make Disciples
“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
This is a verse where getting the grammar right is so key. Like English, the Greek uses tenses of words to communicate emphasis. In this verse there is one imperative and then participles that surround it to explain the character and nature of the imperative.
Take a look at the verse again. What do you think the imperative is? What are the participles?
Let’s begin with the imperative of the mission. Make disciples. It is a command. It is the prime directive of the mission. It is the essence of why we exist. Make disciples. What’s the point of a church? Here is how we say it at Bethel, “Our mission is to make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ whose lives are all about Him.”
If that is our mission, do we know what a disciple is? Essentially, it is to follow the leadership and teachings of another. The meaning is captured in the words Jesus said to Matthew (Levi) himself when he called him as a disciple. Jesus said, “Follow me.” (Luke 5:27)
The mission of the church is to make disciples. Making disciples includes the beginning of discipleship—conversion normally through evangelism. It also includes the process of growing and maturing in our spiritual lives, called progressive growth or progressive sanctification. The new birth and the new life are all part of the mission.
It’s like saying, how do we make brain surgeons? In the immortal words of the Jackson 5, “A-B-C, it’s easy as 1-2-3.” No. Brain surgeons aren’t made overnight. It’s a long process of growing, learning, and becoming.
A healthy church and healthy Christians will be intentionally active in both the beginning and the process. Multiplying and maturing. Evangelism and edification. Jesus describes what making disciples will entail: Going. Baptizing. Teaching.
The “Go” mission
The co-mission is a “go” mission. There is nuance to the word and lots of arguing about whether Jesus was requiring everyone to go somewhere different from where they live (a favorite theme of missions conferences) or if Jesus was saying as you go or as you live your life, make disciples.
Here’s what I think. The mission is to make disciples of all nations. Whether exegetically it is required to “go,” logically, it certainly is. How are disciples made in all the people groups of the world if everyone stays right where they are?
At the same time, not everybody can go and the goers need senders to support them and make disciples on the home front. It takes both goers and senders and this word has something to say to those who are on mission in their own Jerusalem. Make disciples! It’s not just pastors and missionaries. In a sense we are all missionaries. It really is a lifestyle. We are disciples ourselves who are on this mission to multiply ourselves by intentionally helping to make disciples.
So if Jesus asked you today, what are you doing to obey my command to make disciples? what would you say? Think about it.
Right in the King’s speech is baptism. It’s not the central word; make disciples is. But it’s right in there with it. Not only is this a command to baptize but it is also a command to be baptized. A disciple begins his following of Jesus by following this command to be baptized. Are you a Christian? Have you been baptized? The early church would have been confused by someone who claimed to be a Christian and wasn’t baptized. They’d be like, you know Jesus told us to be baptized so what’s up with that? It hasn’t worked into my schedule. I’m just not ready. I don’t want to offend my family, blah, blah, blah.
The great commission isn’t a buffet bar where you pick and choose what you want. All of it is important because the King of kings commanded it. Churches, baptize! Christians, be baptized! If you want to be baptized, tell us. Let’s get on with it. Let’s get obedient.
Teach, teach, teach what Jesus taught, like Jesus did
“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
Every few years somebody comes along and says, enough with the teaching and doctrine; let’s just love people. Jesus commands love elsewhere, but the great commission inescapably prioritized teaching what Jesus taught to disciples so that we may grow. Jesus modeled this himself. The early church was filled with teaching and preaching. This doesn’t simply mean pulpit teaching, but the loving of God’s Word and a culture of yearning for learning. Not as an end, but as a means to knowing Jesus better.
The Encouragement in the Mission: I am with You Always
Our King doesn’t just promise his power, he promises his presence with us in the mission. All authority. All peoples. Always with us. His authority is trans-spherical. Creation. World. Heaven. Hell. All authority. His presence includes all those spheres, but he adds, “even to the end of the age.” His presence with us transcends time. Every second until the end of all history, he is with us.
We learn later in Acts at Pentecost that his presence with us is through the Holy Spirit who is also called the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). A good Trinitarian theology allows us to understand the unity of the Godhead and not to be somehow disappointed in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said having the Holy Spirit is even better than having Jesus himself with us.
What a promise! As you go, as you make disciples, as you reach the nations, I am always with you. David wrote something similar, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4) Every sphere. Every age. Everywhere. He is with us, in the success and the failures. In the ups and downs of life, he is always with us. Right now. Right here. Do you believe that?
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Barry Gordy Jr, Alphonso Mizell, Deke Richards, Freddie Perren, “ABC,” 1969, Motown Records/Capital Music Group/Universal Music Group
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