The Great Commission
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-20.
What a comfort it is that He who has all power in heaven and on earth is with us! He is along in all our works and in this great task that we have received.
When Jesus commissioned us to “make disciples of all the nations,” He adds they shall be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This baptism is not only a public declaration of faith in Jesus, but a baptism into a new life – a life without living in sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6: 1-4.
Observing all the things Jesus commanded us
Here we see becoming a disciple not only involves baptism and accepting Jesus in our heart. It involves observing all the things Jesus commanded us; it is a life of following Jesus, the Master. When Jesus’ disciples go out and make more people into disciples, it involves teaching them not only about the forgiveness of sin, and coming to faith, but about the obedience of faith that belongs to disciple life. It means teaching them to take up their cross daily, denying their self-life that is bound by sin, as Jesus commanded us. This is also what Paul means with being “baptized into His death.” A disciple who does this is raised to “walk in newness of life,” gaining more and more of Jesus’ virtues, His life. In other words, a disciple becomes more and more like His Master.
Very few are willing to give up everything to become disciples in truth. Jesus Himself experienced this in His time. Many people are willing believe in Jesus to receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus said to those who to believe Him: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciple indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:30-36. Here Jesus refers to the truth about our self-life – the sin in our nature. His words shine on the wretchedness of our human nature like a spotlight. The intention is that we can acknowledge it, deny it, take up our cross daily and follow Him, and be set free from this sin. But when Jesus started to preach this, people begin to hate Him.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” John 3:18-21.
It is just the same today. When people realize becoming His disciple will cost them their own life, many become enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18) They are not enemies of Jesus’ work on the cross of Calvary, where he became the atoning sacrifice for their sins. They are enemies of the daily cross of denying themselves, and are unwilling to lay down their own life (or sin in the flesh). For this reason they cannot be disciples.
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ”
We can only help others to become disciples as far as we have been helped ourselves. What we teach others must be in accordance with our own life. We have to be disciples ourselves, following Jesus on the way of the cross. In that way we are being transformed to His image, and in time we can join Paul in saying: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. This life becomes tangible – something the others can see, or as Paul put it, a fragrance they can smell: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
Those who have a longing to follow Jesus and come to that same life, those who are tired of their sin, sense the life in other disciples and are attracted to it. They have open hearts and minds to receive the gospel. For others, the “message of the cross” that disciples bring is foolishness, and they reject it. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Today we live in a time where that are many Christian assemblies and many who call themselves Christians, and many have therefore received the forgiveness of sins. But just like Jesus’ time, there few who are willing to become His disciples, and even fewer who are able to show the way to becoming disciples by their lives and therefore by their words. Jesus Himself said: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2. He needs workers who can present their lives as instruments for His work, and who never draw back when sacrifices are required.
As we do that, we are truly comforted and strengthened by Jesus’ final words on earth: “… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’’ Matthew 28:20. He who has all power in heaven and on earth is with us. He will not abandon us! He has promised that our work for Him will succeed.