Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and said to them,
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
and make disciples of all nations,
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;
and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’
There is a simple structure in this passage at the end of Matthew.
•The setting (vv16-17)
But the eleven go to Galilee, worship him there
(but ‘some doubted’ or ‘they hesitated’ ? – very ‘human’)
•Jesus’ self-revelation: (v18)
All authority has been given me
born in a stable
his life of poverty
arrested, tried, crucified
But now resurrected:
‘All authority in heaven and on earth given to me’.
I am the Son of Man,
about to ascend to the Ancient of Days (Dan 7.13-14).
Be given a kingdom.
To rule over all tribes, tongues and nations.
•Jesus’ command: (vv19-20a)
Therefore (because all authority is given to him)
Go to the nations of the world
Make disciples from the nations of the world
Baptize them in the triune name
Teach them to observe all I have commanded you
•Jesus’ reassurance: (v20b)
‘I will be with you always, to the end of the age…’
We note the universals:
•‘All authority has been given to me’
•‘Make disciples from the nations’
•‘Baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
•‘Observe all I have commanded you’
•‘I will be with you always…to the end’
The universals are potent. This is the will of Almighty God, spoken through his Son to the church.
Let me offer four observations about disciple making.
1. Disciple making was Jesus’ central activity
Matthew’s Gospel reveals Jesus as the Christ (= the Messiah). Christ is a title and only later did it morph into a surname. Jesus is the Christ.
Jesus manifested his Messiahship first in Galilee of the Gentiles. ‘The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a great light has dawned’ (Matt. 4:16). This he did by ‘going throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing every disease and every affliction among the people’ (Matt. 4:23).
Note those two main activities, teaching and healing. Matthew structures chapters 5-9 to draw attention to these two activities that revealed his identity. In chapters 5-7 we have his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and in chapters 8-9 we have eight passages about his healing.
The disciples heard his teaching and witnessed his healings. In many ways the climax of this Gospel is the disciple Peter’s confession to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matt, 16:16). This is the ‘rock’ on which Christ will build his church.
Is the ‘rock’ the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ? Or is it the recognition that Peter would be the first preacher of the Christ in Jerusalem and Judea? Or is it the prediction of the successors to Peter in Rome as the true ‘rock’ of Christianity? Scholars debate and dispute this but the answer almost certainly is a combination of the first two options. The ‘rock’ on which Christ will build his church is the confession that Jesus is the Christ of God, of which Peter was the first confessor, initially at Caesarea Philippi and then later in Jerusalem and then throughout the Land of Israel. The challenge for us remains: Is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
How did Jesus ‘build’ the earliest church, the community of his disciples? He did so by making disciples. Let us learn from what he did.
Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that people should therefore repent.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 4:17).
Great crowds gathered because of his teaching and miracles. He taught them from a mountain what we call the Sermon on the Mount. By that time only four fishermen had become his disciples. This famous sermon is the Messiah’s disciple making sermon, directed to the crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea and beyond the Jordan.
The ten ‘blessed are’ are not promises of rewards to the morally virtuous.
They are the prerequisites and accompaniments of the repentance that Jesus was teaching about.Without these ‘blessed’ attitudes repentance (metanoia), which means ‘do a mental U-turn’, is just a word. Repentance needs to be expressed by being ‘poor in spirit’, mourning over one’s moral failures, having an attitude of meekness, having a hunger and thirst for righteousness, showing mercy, being pure in heart, being a peacemaker, being prepared to be persecuted.
Repentance means not just an end to murder, but also to anger; not just an end to adultery, but also to lust; and an end to vengeance and its replacement by love. Jesus deepened and made positive the commandments the Lord gave to the people at Mt Sinai. These fill out and give meaning to the word, ‘repent’.
Repentance means the end of play-acting, as of the Pharisees who paraded their righteousness to win the applause of the crowds. Repentance means genuine prayer, genuine fasting, genuine almsgiving. All done in secret in the sight of God, not man.
Repentance means trusting the loving hand of the Father and freedom from anxiety about material possessions. ‘Look at the birds. Look at the lilies, O ye of little faith’.
A disciple is a penitent and Jesus filled out what it means to be a penitent in this great disciple-making sermon, the Sermon on the Mount.
2. Disciple making is Jesus’ great and final command to us
Jesus’ last words to his disciples, was ‘go, make disciples’. The ‘go’ was literal to them. They were to ‘go’ to the nations of the world, and they did – to Greece, Italy, Mesopotamia, North Africa. Over the next two centuries, through their labours, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion.
But for us today the word ‘go’ may not be the focus. The focus is ‘make disciples’ wherever you are. ‘Go, make disciples’ or ‘stay, make disciples’. ‘Make disciples’ is the thing Jesus commands, whether our calling is to ‘go’ or to ‘stay’.
Congregations are to be made up of disciple-making members. A congregation is not a music club, or a social club, but a fishing club. ‘I will make you fishers of men’, said Jesus to those original fishermen. I enjoy fishing but I don’t belong to a club. If I did I imagine I would meet with the other fishers and we would discuss our successes and failures and share ideas about bait and tackle. When Christians meet they should be thinking and praying about fishing for people for the kingdom of God. Sadly, that is the last thing we do when we meet.
How do you make disciples? As opportunity arises, based on prayer, it is by sharing what we know about Jesus.
•A workmate shares with a workmate.
•A neighbour with a neighbour.
•A grandparent with a grandchild.
•A brother with brother and sister; a wife with husband.
One of the perils of having clergy is that we think they are to do all the jobs, including disciple making. Closely connected is what is called the 80/20 syndrome, that 20% only of the members do all the work while the 80% do nothing. I think those numbers are too generous. One minister said to me it’s more like 99/1. He said, ‘I do 99% of the work whilst the rest do nothing!’ Christ was a disciple maker. His disciples were disciple makers. You and I are to be disciple makers. This is not just for clergy, it’s for all of us.
Fishing takes patience. You have to be there with your line in the water, patient but ready. Hours pass and nothing happens. You pack up and go home. And you do it again, and again. Nothing. Then, somehow, the tide is right and the fish are biting and you catch some. Why do you keep coming back? But when the fish are ready you have to be ready. It’s the joy and excitement of catching a fish. How much more the joy of catching a sinner for Jesus.
Disciple making is an infection that is caught as much as it is taught. It challenges our Christian faith to be real, joyous and others centred.
The key to disciple making is to be others-centred, love motivated.
Listen to Jesus:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
The church congregation is the nursery where we practice loving one another, as Christ has loved us.
Consistency and sincerity are important. Kerry O’Keefe the ABC cricket commentator and former test bowler writes about Brian Booth, whom he played alongside at the St George’s Cricket Club.
Batting at number three was Brian Booth, a wiry test batsman who could whip the ball through mid-wicket with the dexterity of a VVS Laxman. He was a committed Baptist and his genuineness and sense of fair play were a shining example of how one should live one’s life. His grace in both victory and defeat should have been more obvious to a somewhat headstrong young leg spinner…He never preached; his example was enough.
Brian Booth went on to captain Australia and was an Olympic representative in hockey.
But disciple making also requires a certain confidence about what we believe. We need to equip ourselves so that we know more about our Christian faith. Moore College has developed external courses that are touching the lives of thousands of people in Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as Australia. I know of eminent medical doctors who have become bishops, based mainly on what they had learned from these external courses. You don’t need to go to classes. It’s all done at home and it’s very good. I have some brochures. See me afterwards.
3. Disciple making involves baptizing and teaching
The New Testament connects baptism with careful instruction. In Romans 6 Paul connects the ‘pattern of teaching’ to which the new Christian is committed at the time of baptism, marking the transition from the old life to the new life. Paul assumes the Roman Christians will have been instructed in the ‘pattern of teaching’.
Jesus was accompanied by followers. They called him ‘teacher’ and he called them ‘disciples’, which means ‘learners’. The Gospels are the record of Jesus the teacher instructing the learners, his apprentices. What is an apprentice but someone who is going to become a master at his or her trade? In this case, their trade, like his, was to teach others.
The original disciples became teachers of the word and their congregations were learners who in turn were to become teachers. The apostles appointed catechists, ‘instructors in the word’.
In the early centuries baptisms occurred at Easter, preceded by 12 months instruction in the Apostles Creed, which is really instruction in the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Throughout the centuries there have been catechisms to instruct believers in the faith.
The thing about our era is the lack of manuals of instruction, including as preparation for confirmation. It is possible that our generation is one of the least well instructed – ever. One of the problems is the lack of resource material available. Dr J.I. Packer with Mrs Bronwyn Short in Canada are currently preparing a comprehensive Anglican catechism, which I hope will be available soon.
But it is not necessary to wait. Ministers can devise teaching manuals on the Creeds and the Anglican Articles, that teach the centrality of the Bible as understood in the classical ‘Catholic’ and ‘Reformed’ sense. They can set about teaching those to be confirmed but also existing members of congregations.
There is a luke warmness, a half heartedness about much of church life today. May God revive his church to face the great moral and spiritual challenges of today’s world. Jesus commanded, ‘teach them to observe all I have taught’.
Congregations should free up their ministers’ time so they can do the research so as to properly teach and instruct their congregations. That is their main job. A minister is not a chaplain whose primary work is do services and visit people in hospital. The minister’s primary job is to teach the whole counsels of God in the Bible, which is done in those services and pastoral visits. This requires careful preparation. I recommend that ministers invest at least eight hours for every sermon, spread over say four days. It is the central part of an Anglican Priest’s work, as the Bishop’s Charge in the Ordinal makes clear. If there is one thing that explains the poor state of Christianity today it is the poor state of the preaching. ‘Sermon-ettes make Christian-ettes’.
Christians face enormous challenges today:
•The constant attacks of the new atheists.
•The ridicule by popular media figures.
•The entrenched affluence and pleasure-seeking of our society.
•The growth of other religions – Islam and Buddhism.
Their gain is at our loss.
Meanwhile our congregations are ageing and generally passive.
What is to be the future of the faith in this country?
Will there be a Christianity for our children and grandchildren?
We need to hear once more the Great Command of Jesus:
‘All authority is heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you’.
It’s time for our local leaders and bishops got back to the basics. Not least, they need to set the example by their commitment to the Word of God. Otherwise our church buildings will become museums, restaurants and concert halls. And Christ and Christianity will become a footnote in history.
It’s really over to us.
But not entirely.
4. Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Jesus promises to be with us but he makes that promise insofar as we ‘go, therefore, and make disciples, baptising and teaching them’.
An old Chinese preacher used to say, ‘No go, no lo’. If church people don’t ‘go’ Jesus makes no promise ‘lo, I am with you’. But of course it is not the ‘go’ that is important, but the ‘make disciples, teaching them’. That is the thing, whether we ‘go’ or ‘stay’. ‘No go means no “lo”’.
But when we are committed to ‘making disciples, teaching them’ we have the anointing of Jesus. He will inspire us, encourage us, strengthen us, lead us, help us, comfort us.
The ‘presence’ of the Lord with his people was vital to Moses. We recall the Lord’s conversation with Moses at Mt Sinai (Exodus 33). He was fearful of all the perils that lay ahead before they came into the Promised Land.
And the Lord said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’. And Moses said to him, ‘If thy presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here’.
When Paul was in Corinth and cast out from the synagogue he was fearful of continuing to preach in the city. He reminded the Corinthians, ‘I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling’ (1 Cor. 2:3). But the Lord Jesus spoke to him, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:9-10). ‘I am with you’, said Jesus, ‘do not be afraid’.
Paul had reason to be afraid. The Jews hated his message of the crucified Messiah and flogged him repeatedly for saying that Christ crucified, not law, was the means to ‘life’ with God. He was stoned once and thrice beaten with rods by the Romans for his message that the risen and ascended Christ, not the Roman Caesar, was the true king. For that teaching they eventually beheaded him. But Jesus was with him to the end, as his later epistles bear witness.
Let the command of Jesus ring out afresh. Go. Make disciples. Teach them. I am with you always, even to the very end.
Paul Barnett PhD