The Great Commission

Mathew 28:16-20

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2021

We are often interested in a person’s last words.  A person’s last words are important. A man’s dying words often tell a lot about him.  What will your last words be?  What were Jesus’ last words?

Luke tells us what His last words on the cross were.  His very last words before He died was a prayer.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46 NIV)

Those were not His last words.  After Jesus died, He rose from the dead and appeared to people on earth for forty days.  What were the last words before He ascended into heaven?  The last thing Jesus said in Matthew, Mark and Luke before He ascended was the Great Commission.

Last time, we looked at the resurrection of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus rose from the dead and then He appeared to people.  Matthew actually mentions two appearances of Jesus in two different places.

He appeared to a group of women and He appeared to a group of men.  He appeared to the women after they left the tomb.

Later in the same chapter, He appeared to a group of eleven men, not in Judea but in Galilee, and gave them the Great Commission.  These were the final words of Jesus to the church before He ascended into heaven.

What did Jesus talk about in His final words?  His final words were not teaching on some topic. They were not words of comfort or words of instruction.  They are words of exhortation.  They are commands.  He tells us to DO some things. [1]

The Great Commission is something that we are to do.  Jesus tells us what He wants His church to do until He returns.  Jesus was sent on a mission and He sends us on a mission.  He said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIV)

We are sent on a mission.  It is a mission for the whole church.  This mission is NOT just for the apostles.  It is NOT just for missionaries.  It is NOT just for church leaders.  It is for EVERY believer.  It is a mission for everyone in the church.  Everyone has a special assignment from Jesus.

This mission is not optional.  These are commands.  It is called “The Great Commission,” not “The Great Suggestion” or “The Great Recommendation.”  These are not just good ideas.  They are commands.

Jesus has the right to tell us what to do.  He has more authority than anyone in the universe.  He said, “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:17 NIV), not “some authority” or “most authority.”  Jesus has ALL authority in heaven and on earth.

The Main Business of the Church

In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us what the main business of the church today should be.  Many churches are involved in other things than what Jesus said, like helping the poor and feeding the hungry.  Those things are not wrong, but they should not be the primary focus of the church.

Many black churches focus on politics and improving life on earth, fighting for social justice.  That is also not wrong.  We need to be salt and light in the world.  It is not wrong for Christians to serve in public office.  It is not wrong for Christians to serve in government.

We should stand up for truth.  We need to take a stand against sin and injustice is sin, but the church is not to just be some political institution. That is not the mandate of the church.  What should the main business of the church be?  We will find out in the Great Commission.

Three Problems Today

When He appeared to the men, He gave them the Great Commission.  Today, we have three basic problems when it comes to the Great Commission.

Some Christians are IGNORANT of the Great Commission.  Some Christians MISUNDERSTAND the Great Commission.  Most of us DISOBEY the Great Commission.  Which of the three describe you?

1) Ignorance of the Great Commission

The first problem is that many Christians have never even heard of the Great Commission.  Many churches do not teach the Bible.  Some can go to church for twenty years and never learn the Bible.

Barna did a poll of Christians and asked them if they had heard of the Great Commission.  Fifty-one percent said that they had never heard of it.

It is a recent poll.  It did not come out seventy-five years ago.  It came out three years ago.  It came out in 2018.  Even some professing Christians and many in the church seem to have never heard of the Great Commission.

2) Misunderstanding of the Great Commission

The second problem is that many have heard of the Great Commission but do not really understand it.  There is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Great Commission is all about.  There are a lot of myths about the Great Commission that Christians have.

The biggest myth about the Great Commission is that it is just about evangelism.  It is about getting as many people as possible to pray the sinner’s prayer.  The most common view of the Great Commission in the church today is that it is all about soul winning.

Soul Winning is part of the Great Commission.  It is an important part of it but that is not all of it.

The truth is that even if you evangelized every single person on the planet in every country on the globe, and got them saved, you have NOT fulfilled the Great Commission.

Why?  The Great Commission has three parts, not one.  Most people think it has only one part, including some pastors.  It actually has three parts.  What are the three parts?

Part One – Evangelism

Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”   Jesus did not say to go into all of the world and make Baptists or Methodists.  He said to make disciples of all nations.  What does that mean?  Some have completely misunderstood this command.

Christian reconstructionists teach that the way to disciple the nations is to get into government, impose biblical law on society and try to reform all areas of culture and society in order to bring them into submission to God’s will.

That is not what Jesus is talking about.  Making disciples in the Great Commission does not come through legislation.  It does not come through politics.

It comes through EVANGELISM.  It comes through regeneration. How do we know?  There are two reasons.

1) The CONTEXT of the Great Commission

Note the parallel passages.  He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15 NIV).  

Preaching the gospel to all creation is parallel to making disciples of all nations.  We see this in another parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel.

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:45-47 NIV)

2) The ORDER of the Great Commission

The three parts of the Great Commission are chronological.   Notice the order of the verbs.  Going and making disciples is mentioned FIRST.  Making disciples (evangelism) comes BEFORE baptism.

You don’t baptize people and then start preaching to them, unless you are Presbyterians and do infant baptism.  You baptize people who have already responded in faith to the gospel.

Today, we make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship.  When we talk about discipleship, we talk about something we do AFTER we are saved.  We talk about making disciples, not just converts.

It is true that we need to make MORE than just converts but the word for “making disciples” is used in a lot of different ways.  Here, it is used for making converts.  It is used for evangelism.

Part Two – Baptism

Baptizing is part of the Great Commission.  If your church does not practice, it is not fulfilling the Great Commission.  The man who led me to the Lord was the pastor of a church that did not practice water baptism.  It is an extreme position.

For the most part, the church has done a pretty good job of following this command.  Most churches baptize new converts.

Jesus said that this baptism is to be done in the name of the Trinity, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 NIV).

There is one church that believes that baptism should be done only in Jesus name.  They are the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI).  They are called Oneness Pentecostals.  They don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.

The problem is that this is what Jesus said for us to do.  He said we are to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It is a command.  It is a clear command.  It is a command of Jesus.  Some churches may not like it, but we can’t change what Jesus said and rewrite the Bible.

Part Three – Teaching

Now we come to the most neglected part of the Great Commission.  We are not only to evangelize and baptize people.  Jesus said that we are to teach them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20).

Saved people need to be taught some things.  Our churches are full of people who have not been taught the Word.  They don’t know what Jesus commanded.  Many in churches today are ignorant of some of the most basic doctrines of the Bible.

In some churches, teaching has fallen into disrepute.  Some preachers mock the Bible.  Many churches have gotten rid of Sunday School classes for adults.

Many churches that have small groups no longer have Sunday School classes.  That is considered old and outdated.  The new model is small groups.

When I was a young believer, I went to a Baptist church where the pastor preached the same sermon every week.  He preached the salvation message every week with a different text.  There is nothing wrong with preaching the gospel.  We should preach the gospel.

The problem is that we are to preach the whole counsel of God, not just the four spiritual laws.  There are many other churches just like that one.  They preach part of what is in the Bible but not everything.

Jesus wants us to teach EVERYTHING He commanded.  This teaching is not just informational.  Jesus does not say “Teach them to KNOW all things I commanded.”  He did not just say, “Teach them to know all of the doctrines of the Bible or all of the books of the Bible,” as important as that is.

He said, “Teach them to DO all things I commanded.” “Teach them to OBEY all things I commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Learning alone is not enough.  The goal is not just head knowledge, but practical obedience to the commands of Christ, so what are they?

The Commands of Jesus

What are some of the things Jesus commanded?  Do you even know some of the things Jesus commanded?  Could you list ten things He commanded off the top of your head?  Let me list just thirty of the commands of Jesus.

Jesus commands us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moths destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

He commands us to give to the poor.

He commands us to beware of covetousness.

He commands us not to fear what man can do to us.

He commands us to seek God first and His righteousness.

He commands us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

He commands us to go two miles when we are compelled to go one.

He commands us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.

He commands us to take communion (“This do in remembrance of Me).

He commands us to let out light shine before men.

He commands us to settle things quickly with our adversaries.

He commands us not to do our righteousness before men to be seen by them.

He told us if our right hand offends us to cut it off.  He said if our eye offends us to pluck it out.

He commands us to feed His sheep.  In fact, He gave that command three times.

He commands us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

He commands us to rejoice when people revile us and say all kinds of false things because of Him, not just to patiently endure but to actually rejoice.

He commands us to turn the other cheek to those who insult and slap us.

He commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  He called that one “a new command.”

He commands us to love different races, like Samaritans (“Do and do likewise”).

He commands us to love our enemies (people we do not even like).

He commands us to forgive those who sin against us.

He commands us to pray for those who despitefully use and persecute us, praying for those who abuse us and hurt us.

He commands us to bless those who curse us.  Wish them well.  Say good things to them.

He commands us not to fear.  He says, “Don’t fear what men can do to you.”

He commands us not to judge others, lest we be judged ourselves.

He commands us not to worry about tomorrow or about anything.

He commands us to let our communication be yes or no.

He commands us to close the door when we pray and to pray in secret to the Father.

He commands us to pray persistently, to keep asking, to keep seeking and to keep knocking.

How are we doing with these commands?  These are not even all of the commands of Jesus.  Which ones do we need to obey this week?

Two Types of Churches Today

There are two types of churches today.  Some churches do ALL evangelism and NO teaching.  Others do ALL teaching and NO evangelism.  The passion of some churches is evangelism.  They have a heart for reaching the lost.  They want to get the gospel out to everyone in their neighborhood. That is good.  They want people to get saved.

The passion of other churches is in-depth Bible teaching.  They do verse-by-verse expository preaching.  That is also good.  They want people to know the Word.  The Great Commission is NOT just evangelism.  It is NOT just teaching.  It is evangelism. It is baptism and it is teaching EVERYTHING Jesus commanded.

3) Disobedience to the Great Commission

The third problem that Christians have today is that many of us know what it says.  We understand it but just don’t do it.

How are we doing in the area of the Great Commission?  We are to evangelize everyone.  Are we obeying it?  We don’t all have to go to quit our jobs, get on a plane and become missionaries on the other side of the planet. but have we shared our faith with anyone?

Do we have a passion for lost people?  Have we shared our personal testimony with anyone as to how we came to faith?  Are we silent believers?  Do people around us even know that we are Christians?

Have we led any believer into a deeper knowledge of their faith?  Have we discipled anyone?  Have we ever made disciples of anyone?  Have we ever taught another believer anything from Scripture?

These are questions worth thinking about.  None of us are perfect.  We all fail but we need to be conscious every day that we wake up that Jesus sent us on a mission for Him.  We have a job to do.

Encouraging Words

Some of us feel uncomfortable with sharing our faith.  If that describes you, there are two things that should encourage us.

First, Jesus is with us.  The Great Commission ends with the words, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).  Jesus does not send us on a mission and leave us alone.  He says He will be with us always.  We have Jesus.  We also have the Holy Spirit.

Second, we have the Holy Spirit.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV). With the Holy Spirit comes POWER.  The Holy Spirit brings supernatural power, power to witness.


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