John Piper famously begins his work Let the Nations Be Glad! with a declaration of the crucial importance of missions: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” The heartbeat of missions is Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of the universe. Since the church’s foundation, the gospel of Jesus has gone forth into the whole world. This is an exciting time in the history of the church as the gospel has invaded areas once thought to be unreachable.
One of the central texts of scripture that fuels the modern missions movement is the Great Commission given by Jesus to the apostles in Matthew 28:16-20. In this text, Jesus comforts and commissions his disciples to go out into the world to tell everyone about the good news of his reign.
Today on Wednesdays on the Word, we are going to explore this famous text and understand how the person of Jesus and the promise of Jesus influence the proclamation of Jesus in evangelizing the nations.
Our missionary savior
Matthew opens this final section of his Gospel with Jesus standing on a mountain after his resurrection. Some of the disciples worshipped him as the risen Lord, but others doubted what they saw before them (Matt. 28:17). Not put off or let down by the disciples unbelief, Jesus announces to them something radical, something they could not have imagined in their wildest dreams: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
All authority! No government, no business, no group, not even death itself has authority over Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus’ death and resurrection has turned the tables on the so-called powers of this world. The reigning king has come, and he comes with his foot on the neck of everything that sought to destroy him. It is this person, the Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4), who stakes his claim over all creation and shows his apostles that fear of other authorities is utter foolishness.
Always and forever
Before we move on to the commission itself, let’s look at the promise that bookends this whole passage. Jesus comforts his disciples in Matt. 28:20, promising them, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Only the resurrected savior of the cosmos has the authority to make this type of promise. False messiahs and the insane can make statements like this one. But only the Son of God can make good on a promise with such magnitude. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)
The person and the promise of Jesus are the only reasons that any type of missions effort will succeed. It has never been of our own will and power that the nations have heard the glorious gospel. It is by the power of the Lord Jesus alongside his sustaining promise that we are able to evangelize the world.
What’s the mission?
The most straightforward of this last part of Matthew is the commandment itself: “Make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19). We aren’t to make disciples for ourselves or for our group, but are to tell others about Jesus and implore them to cling to Christ as the only living savior. This involves both baptizing them into the covenant community of the church and to teach them about God and the Christian faith.
Christians can have a tendency to focus on the mission without realizing that the car can’t drive without the engine. Matthew reminds us that our efforts to evangelize the lost can only come from the strength that Christ provides us. Knowing, however, that Jesus is present in our witness to others, let’s be bold and engage others, knowing that our treasure is laid up in heaven with our Lord who has all authority.