Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A GREAT CHURCH HAS A GREAT COMMISSION”

 

In Matthew 28.18-20, we find the most well known version of what is typically called the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please locate that passage in your Bible for the reading of God’s Word:

 

18     And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

It may surprise you to learn that in Matthew’s version of the Great Commission we see our risen Savior telling His disciples what they are to go forth and do, as well as giving them a general plan for doing it. They are to make disciples by going, by baptizing, and then by teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded. However, notice what is missing from this version of the Great Commission. There is no mention in these three verses of precisely what is to be taught. If you want to know what is to be communicated to new disciples, and how that truth is to be communicated, you have to look elsewhere in the New Testament.

Now, turn to Mark’s version of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Great Commission, found in Mark 16.15-16:

 

15     And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16     He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

 

This version of the Great Commission makes no mention of making disciples, but is more specific about what message is to be communicated, and how it is to be communicated. The gospel is to be preached. As well, specific mention is made of the destiny of individuals being tied to their response to the gospel that is preached to them. Your eternal destiny hinges on your response to the gospel. It is fitting that the version found in Mark, a gospel thought to be written to benefit a primarily Gentile target audience, would make mention of preaching the gospel to every creature, while Matthew’s gospel, thought to be written to a primarily Jewish audience, makes mention of “all nations.”

A comment is needed to clarify this phrase in Matthew’s gospel, “all nations.” In the 21st century, the concept of a nation is quite different than it used to be, with nations all over the world now being populated by different people groups with different ethnic identities. However, the Greek word found in Matthew 28.19, that is translated “nations,” is the Greek word eqnoV, which refers to people united by kinship, culture, and common traditions.[1] Our word “ethnic” comes directly from this Greek word. Therefore, though it is thought these days by English speaking people that the Lord Jesus Christ was directing His followers to make disciples in every country, He was actually directing His followers to make disciples among every ethnic group. Thus, there has always been in the Bible a directive to reach people who do not share your ethnic background, who do not look like you, and who do not talk like you. What this means is, you cannot claim obedience to the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ by sending missionaries to foreign countries, all the while making no effort to reach those in your same city who grew up speaking a different language than you and eating different food than you are used to eating. Thus, what is not so obvious in Matthew is obvious in Mark, where the words Jesus spoke are, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Everyone is to be preached to. Every ethnic group is to be evangelized.

A third version of the Great Commission is found in Luke 24, where the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the two men He encountered on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection. Read Luke 24.45-48 with me:

 

45     Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

46     And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

47     And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

48     And ye are witnesses of these things.

 

In this version of the Great Commission we see the Lord Jesus Christ directing that repentance be an integral part of gospel preaching, something which is not so obvious from Matthew’s and Mark’s versions of the Great Commission. While the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is specifically noted in this account of the Great Commission, baptism and the training of new disciples is not mentioned, even in passing.

A fourth version of the Great Commission is found in Acts 1.8. Please turn to that verse. The Lord Jesus Christ uttered these words to His disciples moments before He ascended into heaven to His Father’s right hand, where He will remain until His second coming: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This version, too, says nothing about baptism and the indoctrination of new converts. However, it does clearly show that the entire world was the simultaneous mission field of those disciples. Thus, it is very clear from a comparison of the different versions of the Great Commission that are recorded in the New Testament that a certain thing is to be done a certain way to a certain audience, and that full compliance with Christ’s will requires that all of the versions of the Great Commission be studied and implemented.

From Matthew’s gospel, we see that the Great Commission is a directive to make disciples, something that is not done when your whole purpose is to persuade people to pray the sinner’s prayer. Furthermore, the Great Commission in Matthew shows the particular sequence that is to be employed when making a disciple, as well as emphasizing that every ethnic group is to be reached in this way.

From Mark’s gospel, we see an emphasis on preaching, on preaching to every creature, on preaching the gospel, on baptism for those who believe, and the destiny of those who believe and those who do not believe.

From Luke’s gospel we see that repentance is an integral part of genuine evangelistic preaching, something rarely emphasized these days. In the other New Testament book, that Luke wrote, the book of Acts, we observe what we have seen in the other gospel accounts of the Great Commission, that all of mankind is our mission field, and that the Lord Jesus Christ’s directive is to take the good news to everyone.

With that background review of the Great Commission concluded, let us consider that a great church has a Great Commission. Though there are different accounts of our church’s marching orders, with each providing a somewhat different perspective and emphasis, recognize that there is only one Great Commission. Review our Christian history. For two thousand years, we have been mostly poor, wretched, blind, and naked. For two thousand years, we have been for the most part penniless and without the resources most would think are necessary to accomplish our objective. In the earliest days of the Christian era we read Simon Peter’s words to a beggar desiring alms for the poor. He said, “Silver and gold have I none.” However, despite the fact that we are scorned and ridiculed by this world for our convictions and our meekness, the world has been changed, souls have been saved, lives have been transformed, eternal destinies have been forever altered. By what means? By means of the Great Commission, that prompts our efforts.

Three questions need to be asked with regard to a great church having a Great Commission:

 

First, WHAT IS THE GREAT COMMISSION?

 

We have already reviewed the texts containing the Great Commission, so it will help us to distill down what we know about the Great Commission to a few vital points:

First, why is this commission referred to as being great? Your own observations will reveal that it is not referred to as great in the Bible, but has been so described by Christians down through the centuries for obvious reasons. Great refers to something that is much more than ordinary, something that is very high with respect to quality or degree, something that is lofty with respect to importance, and something that is eminent and imposing.[2] It is reasonable, therefore, to refer to this commission as the Great Commission, owing to its source being none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Next, why is the Great Commission referred to as being a commission? A commission is properly understood to be an authorization to perform certain duties or tasks. It is the authority granted to act on behalf of another. Thus, a commission entails not just the granting of permission by one who is authorized, but also the delegation of the authority necessary to perform the task for which the person, or persons, will be held accountable. For example, an officer who is commissioned to serve in the armed forces of the United States possesses well-defined presidential authority to act on behalf of the executive branch of the federal government in ways that noncommissioned officers and civilians are not authorized. Thus, by means of the Great Commission the Lord Jesus Christ commissions some people for activities and for the discharge of duties, obligations, and responsibilities that are defined in the Word of God.

Third, precisely whom does the Great Commission authorize to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ? Here, of course, we have a division of opinion. Roman Catholics are of the opinion that only the Roman Church is authorized to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, with their Pope being the Vicar of Christ on earth. Protestants, on the other hand, are of the persuasion that all Christians are authorized to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the distinctives of Baptists over the centuries is the Bible-based conviction that by the Great Commission the Lord Jesus authorizes individual congregations, autonomous churches, to act on His behalf. A large body of truth in the New Testament can be brought to bear in support of the Baptist position, if time permitted.

Fourth, what is the end of the Great Commission, this authorization to act on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ? Though I already covered this ground in my opening remarks, let me quickly review it for you once again: First, the Great Commission is the means by which the Lord Jesus Christ authorizes churches to engage in gospel preaching for the purpose of bringing sinners to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. To be sure, individual Christians should always endeavor to witness and bring the lost to Christ, but this is most effectively done and most obediently accomplished by Christians who are themselves in a church relationship, since the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.[3] Next, the Great Commission is the means by which the Lord Jesus Christ authorizes churches to baptize those who have responded to the gospel in a saving way. To be sure, individuals actually perform the baptizing of qualified individuals, those who have turned from their sins to embrace Jesus Christ by faith. However, the baptizing of a Christian by immersion is the public profession of a saving union with Christ, as well as the means by which a new Christian becomes a part of and under the discipline of a church, and is properly authorized by a church. Once a person has been converted to Jesus Christ and baptized in obedience to His command, he is then engaged in the lifelong process of being discipled, of being trained, of being equipped under the oversight of his pastor to live for and to serve the Savior.[4] During this time, the Christian church member is subject to the discipline of the church he is a part of, and is taught and nurtured under the oversight of his pastor.

 

Next, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR CHRISTIANS?

 

How do Christians fit into the program outlined by the Savior when He issued His Great Commission? My goal at this point is simplicity:

First, the Christian’s calling is to submit to the church’s endeavor to see if he really is a Christian. Jesus Christ promised to build His church. He builds His church by first saving sinners in response to their obedience to the gospel that is carried forth by the church. God’s Word is preached and the sinner comes to Christ. That new Christian is then called upon to submit to the scrutiny of the church so his qualification as a proper candidate for believer baptism can be determined. This is done by a careful consideration of his conversion testimony and manner of life since he responded to the gospel. It is the church’s responsibility to ensure that the believer’s hope is not a false hope.

Next, the Christian’s calling is to submit to the church’s authority to baptize those who have come to Christ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. It should be noticed that the command to baptize in the Great Commission is a command that is not directed to the baptismal candidate, but to those who would do the baptizing. This is because as the pillar and ground of the truth the church congregation is properly understood to be both the guardian and the administrator of the church ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thus, though Simon Peter did tell his audience in Acts 2.38 to repent and be baptized, it is significant that the form of the Greek word used by Peter on that occasion was a passive imperative, meaning Peter was directing his listeners to allow themselves to be baptized.[5] Therefore, we see on the Day of Pentecost, and the principle remains in effect to this day, that the Christian is called upon to submit to being baptized.

Thirdly, the Christian’s calling is to then submit to the church’s authority to teach him all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. This is what we normally think of when we speak of discipleship, since a disciple is properly seen to be a student or follower, someone who is given direction. Thus, the new Christian is called upon to submit to the ministry of the church in three general areas: First, submit to the church’s effort to persuade you to come to Christ and to then verify that you really are a Christian. Next, submit to the church’s role in administering the ordinance of baptism. Third, and this of course involves the longest amount of time and commitment, is to submit to the church’s role in showing you how to live the Christian life and serve your newfound Savior. This is a lifetime endeavor, with no Christian ever having so arrived that he no longer benefits from the consecrating impact of the church’s ministry in his life.

 

Finally, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR LOST PEOPLE?

 

To be sure, the Great Commission ideally figures very prominently in the life of a lost person, as well as a saved person, though in a different way. While the Christian’s response to the gospel message delivered in response to the Great Commission is a saving and sanctifying response, the unsaved person’s reaction to the Great Commission is of profound importance. My unsaved friend, please understand some things about the Great Commission issued by the Son of God two thousand years ago:

First, understand that the Great Commission authorizes us to present the gospel message. We sing a hymn from time to time with the words, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” Though you may not enjoy hearing that story, One who has all power in heaven and on earth to tell that story has commanded us. So potent a directive is this Great Commission that Simon Peter, speaking for the other apostles, was so bold as to respond to orders that he be silent and not spread the Word by saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” Acts 5.29. Understand, then, that while we are not particularly interested in irritating anyone or causing any ill will, we will not shut up. We will not be quiet. We have been commanded by our Lord and Savior, as a church, to speak up, not to shut up. Therefore, that is just what we will do. You do not want to hear that you are dead in trespasses and sins, and headed for a devil’s Hell. However, not only have we been ordered to convey that truth to you, but also to tell you that Jesus saves from sins, and to encourage you to obey the gospel. That is why we are all about urging sinners, persuading you, to come to Christ.

Next, understand that the Great Commission authorizes us to not only administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but also to protect those holy ordinances. That being the case, we have no right to baptize everyone who wants to be immersed, just as we have no right to admit to the Lord’s Table everyone who wants access. We are not asking anyone to violate their consciences in these matters, only insisting that no one tempt us to violate our consciences in these matters. With respect to baptism, we are sure the Bible teaches baptism to be the command of Jesus Christ for believers only, those who have consciously and intentionally turned to Jesus Christ for salvation and forgiveness. Therefore, rather than playing fast and loose with baptism, as most churches do, we are determined to be conscientious in this regard. Thus, those professing Christians who insist that their profession of faith and qualifications for baptism are their business and no one else’s business are in conflict with the clear teachings of the Bible.

How so? Because churches are authorized to represent the Savior in these matters, not lost people, and not people new to the Christian faith. Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ dispatched the twelve who were authorized to represent Him to the lost sheep of the house of Israel with respect to gospel matters.[6] The Lord Jesus Christ then sent seventy men into every city and place He intended to go, who were also authorized to represent Him with respect to gospel matters.[7] As well, we only recently considered the encounter the Lord Jesus Christ had in Jericho with blind Bartimaeus, when the Savior sent men to speak to Bartimaeus on His behalf, Mark 10.49. Therefore, how are we to understand this authorization to speak on behalf of the Savior, and to represent Him in matters related to other people’s sins and the offer of salvation to them by means of the gospel delivered to them by the Great Commission? The Apostle Paul does a most excellent job of laying it out for all to see, in Second Corinthians 5.20: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” There are four parts to the verse: First, Paul identifies himself and his co-laborers as ambassadors for Christ. Next, he points out that God beseeches men, or pleads with men, using men. Third, Paul prays in Christ’s stead, or urges as a representative of Christ. Fourth, the whole effort that is authorized is for reconciling men to God. Thus, in three different ways this verse shows God making use of representatives who are authorized to minister the gospel so that sinners will be reconciled to Him. This is a perfect explanation of the Great Commission.

 

Look around the auditorium. What do you see? Are any great men or women in attendance with us today? I think there are truly wonderful Christians in this room, but there are no great figures by the world’s estimation.

Does this disappoint you? Does this cause you to conclude that we do not have a wonderful ministry, or that we are not useful in God’s service? Before you make up your mind in this regard, consider some things we see in the Bible. When God sought to bring a people into existence and establish His covenant, did He begin with great fanfare and hoopla? No. He called one man from Ur of the Chaldees whose name was Abram.

When God established the dynasty from which the Messiah would someday emerge, did He begin with great fanfare and hoopla? No. He directed His prophet to anoint a shepherd boy, the eighth son of poor Jesse, named David. In addition, when God sent His Own Son into the world by means of the incredible and miraculous virgin birth, did He stage that event to occur at the center of Imperial Rome? No. Did He stage that magnificent event to take place at the Temple in Jerusalem? No.

God’s virgin born Son, Jesus, was born in a dusty stable in a backwater village in the corner of the empire that only the scholars who studied a very old book would know anything about. Therefore, you be careful when you draw conclusions about matters that are spiritual and eternal from a consideration of things material that will soon be consumed in fire. Your consideration of things should be determined by the significance given to them by our great God in His great book, the Bible.

You see, our great God, who gave us this great Book, and who sent His great Son to be our Savior and provide for us so great salvation, authorized His Son to commission certain people to do great things for Him. To Jesus has been given all power, which is to say all authority. The world does not acknowledge that God is great, that the Bible is great, that Jesus is a great Savior, or that He has provided so great salvation. Should it then matter to us that the world does not recognize the authority our Savior has granted to us as a church to conduct ministry on His behalf? No.

Therefore, you need to recognize that God will not speak to you directly, sir. He has chosen to speak to you through others. We convey His message to you about the forgiveness of your sins. That is our commission to discharge, and it is a great commission. As Jesus dispatched men to summon blind Bartimaeus, and as He dispatched the twelve to speak to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and as He dispatched the seventy to speak on His behalf, so too we have been dispatched by what is termed the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The message? You are doomed, sir. However, our Lord has told us how to guide you to safety. Will you humble yourself to be guided to Christ? I sincerely hope so, for if you will come to Christ, He will save you.



[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 276-277.

[2] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 798.

[3] 1 Timothy 3.15

[4] Ephesians 2.10; 4.11-16; Hebrews 13.7, 17

[5] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 267.

[6] Matthew 10.5-6

[7] Luke 10.1-16



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org