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Back to the Basics: The Church's Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20)

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I am glad to be back at Living Hope! We have been working through a year long series called “Back to the Basics: Knowing why you believe what you believe.” We are almost at the end now. I am hoping we will finish this series by the end of this month. We have been talking about the church of Jesus Christ with this point:

10. That the church, consisting of all true believers, being Christ's own and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is the Body of Christ, the invisible church; that the church is holy, universal and one in Christ; that the invisible church manifests itself in the visible church, the local congregations consisting all who profess to believe in Christ and are baptized; that as the people of God and a kingdom of priests, the church is called to grow unto the stature of the fullness of Christ and to fulfill her missionary work through the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in worship, ordinances, fellowship, discipline, and services.

Today I want to take a closer look at what has been called the Great Commission of the church. What is the purpose of us being here on Glen Ellyn Road? What is the purpose of our church? Generally speaking, if you asked people what the purpose of the church was, some might say fellowship. We all are here in this country or this state or neighborhood and we love to hang out. And so since we love to hang out and we grew up in Christian homes, let’s hang out together as a loving community until Jesus comes back. Now there is partial truth to this right? Jesus said that unbelievers will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35).

Still others would say the purpose of the church is preaching and teaching. We are called to strengthen, edify, build up, people through God’s Word into maturity in Christ. Due to lack of knowledge, the people perish, Hosea says (Hos. 4:6). There is truth to this too. We all want to grow and the Word is important and central to that happening.

Last time we looked at what a God-honoring church looked like and that included fellowship and being devoted to the Word. But I want to propose to us today that the purpose of the church is bigger than fellowship and teaching, though those two things are essential ingredients. All of that is under a larger umbrella. In the climax of the gospel of Matthew here in Matt. 28:18-20, we find Jesus giving His disciples essentially the point of their and our existence. I summarized it this way: The church, fueled by the authority and presence of Christ, is called to be God’s vehicle of bringing glory to Him through making disciples of all people, without distinction.

Let’s unpack that here today. Here is what I want to start with: 

I. The church is fueled by the presence of Jesus Christ (vv.16-18a, 20b)

Let’s set the context. Jesus has resurrected and appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:1). Jesus then appeared to Peter next (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5). He then appeared the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Later that evening, He appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23) and then eight days later, He appeared again, and the whole Thomas doubting-then-believing incident occurred (John 20:24-29). Shortly after this, he shows up at the sea when the disciples decide to go fishing (John 21). We learn in Acts (Acts 1:3) that Jesus was with the disciples, off and on, for 40 days following His resurrection.

So Matthew 28:16-20 deals with the time probably halfway within the 40 days before Jesus ascends to Heaven. This is because the Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascends to Heaven in Acts, is outside Jerusalem, and it would take a few days to get there from Galilee. Now Jesus had told the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (Matt. 28:10) at a mountain where we are not sure of, but was familiar to them.

Mountains seem to be significant in Matthew. Each time a mountain is mentioned, there is some significant revelation about Christ there. In Matt. 5:1, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, as the New Moses, who was given the Ten Commandments on a mountain. Again in Matt. 17, Jesus is transfigured with Moses and Elijah, showing us that Jesus fulfills both the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah). Now here in Matt. 28, we see Christ will send His disciples on a mission, again like a greater Moses, giving the people their purpose in life.

Some have suggested that more than the Eleven (Judas has killed himself) are here. In 1 Cor. 15:6, Paul tells us Jesus met with 500 people at one time. Many scholars think this was during the Great Commission here. Initially I thought we should just go with the basic reading of the text, which seems to indicate it was just the eleven. However, the more and more I think about it, it is  after all the Great Commission and though the 11 are the core group, I don’t see a reason for Jesus to limit His commission to just them, since all believers are called to carry out this call. John Macarthur adds, “The command here given to go and make disciples of all nations doesn't know any hierarchy, that's a command given to everybody, whether you're an apostle or not, it fits all those who love and follow Jesus Christ. And certainly our Lord would have wanted to give this commission to the largest group possible and the largest group possible would be the 500 gathered in Galilee….”[1]

And this makes more sense when we see that when they showed up to the mountain, perhaps with all 500 or so people, some worshipped (taken literally means “to prostrate oneself [in homage]”)[2] but some hesitated. Jesus has already met with the disciples twice, so why would some of them hesitate? By the way, I know some of your translations say “doubted,” but the verb used (edistasan, “[some] doubted”) occurs in the NT only here and in 14:31 and does not denote disbelief but hesitation.”[3] Why did they hesitate? Look at Matt. 28:18, which tell us that, “Jesus came…” Literally, this can be translated, “He drew near, approaching…”[4]

So it seems like Jesus was at a distance and the disciples knew it was Him. But there might have been some in the 500 who had not seen Him yet, so they hesitated initially, but I think as Jesus approached them, His presence and His Word would dispel all fear and doubt.  Notice that Jesus makes no mention or even rebukes some of their hesitations. His presence and His Word is enough. But I love the fact that Matthew leaves that in there, that some hesitated. The resurrection did not transform all hesitating, fearful disciples into immediate spiritual giants. Sometimes our worship is mixed with fear and doubt, but His nearness and His presence is what ultimately what we need, more than anything. I hope this encourages you as we hope to be a Church carrying out the Great Commission. It is the presence of Jesus Christ that fuels us.

Look down at Matt. 28:20, the latter part: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew had begun his gospel with Jesus’ birth and Him being called “Emmanuel,” which meant, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). God with and not against us. Then later in this Gospel, he had undertaken to be in their midst when only two or three disciples were gathered in his name (Matt. 18:20). John Stott observes, “Now, as he repeats the promise of his presence, he attached it rather to their witness than to their worship. It is not only when we meet in his name, but when we go in his name, that he promises to be with us.”[5] And so here as he closes his gospel, he makes sure to end with Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Interestingly, “the English adverb “always”… [means] “the whole of every day” (Moule, Idiom Book, p. 34). Not just the horizon is in view, but each day as we live it.”[6]

Note the emphatic introduction with “Behold” or “Remember,” or “Take note,” “Pay close attention,” “Look.”[7] Also, his I is emphatic, “no less than I…as “conveying the feeling of certainty.”[8] Jesus says, He Himself, will be with the church as they carry out His Great Commission, until God’s purpose on earth is completed. Jesus will do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is Christ living in us. Notice Jesus does not say, “I will be with you only when your church is growing and thriving, when people are getting saved left and right, when the ministries are great and everything is perfect.” No, in our successes and failures, our fears and faith, our doubts and delights, He is with us. Don’t even pray for Jesus Christ to be with you, because His promise is sure. Pray that we will be able to see that He is with us! I pray this encourages you Living Hope. Boice encourages us when he says, “We have been given a very great task, but we do not need to attempt it in our own strength. We have the Lord’s power at work within us as well as his promise to be with us to the very end as we obey the Great Commission.”[9]

It is His presence that fuels us. It is Him always drawing near despite our hesitations that keep us going. Every time you meet to live out the Great Commission in any form or fashion, Jesus is there. Even if people you are discipling are not responding, He is still drawing near. Even if you feel unappreciated and unrecognized, know that He draws near and His promise is sure as the sun rising today! Even if you feel like your expectations for your ministry are not being met or if you feel inadequate in serving, remember that He draws near to you.  It is His promise of His presence that comforts us. Remember that as you serve here in Living Hope. Let’s keep serving faithfully, whole-heartedly, despite what we can see. I pray when people look at us, they won’t just say, “They’re good at welcoming people” or “They love to have fun together,” but that they can say, “They are really good at enjoying and experiencing Jesus Christ!”

Secondly notice here:

II.  The church is fueled by the authority of Jesus Christ (v.18b)

Jesus immediately fills them with courage. He is almost like by moving close to them and speaking to them, saying, “Stop being consumed with all your fear, doubt and hesitation. Look away from your inability and inadequacy to my ability, my adequacy and my Word now.” Notice that the word all occurs four times in this passage: (1) Jesus possesses all authority, (2) he sends us to all nations, (3) we are to teach people all he has commanded, and (4) as we do, we are to know that Jesus will be with us all the days, or always. There is a sense that this is the all-inclusive, this is what Christianity is about, the whole thing, the whole nine yards regarding everything about life.

Jesus starts with saying, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” One commentator notes, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” echoes Dan 7:14, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him,” a kingship which is to be everlasting and indestructible.”[10]

Christ drew near to them and they knew Him. Now He tells them to make Him known. That is the Christian life: Knowing Him and making Him known. And how will they make Him known? Jesus tells them first the basis of why they can do what He is about to tell them to do. Because all authority, which means “official right or power,” had been given to Jesus by the Father,[11] the disciples can boldly and confidently fulfill His command.

Jesus says, “I have control over everything. I’m in charge.” This Commission I am about to give you is not just something to do before I return to pass time. It is not like I say “goodbye” and “good luck” and “see you soon” and hope you do well. As a matter of fact, I am sending you under my power and under my watch. I am aware and concerned with every soul you will encounter. I am with you to use your words from your mouth to make myself known to those who don’t know me. I am in control of your life. I am in control of everything. So trust me as you carry out the Great Commission. Warren Wiersbe adds, “Since Jesus Christ today has all authority, we may obey Him without fear. No matter where He leads us, no matter what circumstances we face, He is in control. By His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated all enemies and won for Himself all authority.”[12]

Wait, didn’t Jesus always have authority? Well, remember that in the Incarnation, when He became man, He laid aside His rights to die for us (Phil. 2:6). Now that He has paid for our sins and is risen, He has been given limitless authority, full control over everything.  Really, Christ is claiming to be God here since truly on God can have all authority. God rules over all and now Christ says, I rule over all. Our church is fueled by the authority of Christ. We are called to bring all people under His authority and control. This also encourages me.

How reassuring to know that Living Hope is being flown by the Captain Himself to whatever destination He wants for us! Recently we went down to Houston to visit family. When we came back, we were on those express jet planes. These planes are much smaller, and there are two seats on each side. I feel like with the bigger planes, they are so smooth that you forget you are on a plane sometimes. However, with these planes, you know when the landing gear is released, you feel each turbulence really well.

I don’t know if you are like me, but one of the things I like to wait for is the Captain telling us everything is alright and we are cruising at such and such altitude. I especially love the part when they say, “we are now beginning our initial descent to Chicago.” It reassures me and lets me know I don’t need to pace around, wringing my hands, biting my nails, etc. worrying. I just need to trust. Anyway on this flight, I noticed the time and we were supposed to land already, but we were still the air? And I didn’t hear anything from the captain. I started to get a little impatient (I think mostly because our girls had woken up and they can kill people with their screaming if provoked). In the past I would feel like to rush up to the cabin door and knock and find out what’s going on, but since 9/11 and since I already look like a terrorist I avoid such courageous heroism.

Sometimes we wonder if anyone is flying the plane anymore in our lives and ministry. Sometimes we may feel like we are better in flying it than God can. But here the word of the Lord Jesus: I am in control. Sit down and do your part as a passenger. Enjoy the flight. There are bumpy times. There are cruising times, but Jesus says here, “I got this.” I got your future, I got Living Hope, I got your health, I got your family, I got your marriage, I got it all in the power of my hand. Your job is to submit and obey me by trusting me. Thirdly and lastly,

III.  The church is called to make disciples of Jesus Christ (vv.19-20a)

Whatever God calls us to, He supplies. He sends us to stony paths, He will give us strong shoes. Now we have the heart of the command. One commentator says here, “Jesus’ universal Lordship now demands a universal mission.”[13] Knowing that we are fueled by His presence and authority (notice the “therefore”), we are called to make disciples. I love the fact that Matthew talks about Jesus “drawing near” and Jesus talking about His authority, before we hear the command that we are to make disciples of the world! What a staggering and paralyzing command, unless we knew it was sandwiched between assurances of Christ’s presence and authority!

Notice it does not say, “make converts” or “get people to accept Christ.” The word “disciple” means above all “learner” or “pupil.”[14] So the idea here is to “make learners.” A disciple is not simply one who has been taught but one who continues to learn.[15] Let’s be clear here. As soon as you become a Christian, you are His disciple. So I don’t think you can say you are a Christian and not a disciple. But that’s not the end. You continue to be a learner and grow as His disciple.

Let’s look closely here. There is one main verb in these verses and that is “make disciples.” Three other verbs are under this main verb: going, baptizing and teaching.[16]  As a result, I was taught these two verses were teaching that: “As you are going about your life, whether to the grocery store or hanging out, you should be making disciples. As you are going, make disciples. When you are at work, or shopping or on vacation make disciples. In other words, Jesus was not telling us to go be missionaries per say. It should be more of a lifestyle. There is truth to this, but I am not sure if it is complete.

In studying this further, it looks like even though the main verb is a command to make disciples, the Greek structure does not demand that the other participles like going, baptizing or teaching must NOT be seen as a command either.[17] So it is wrong to say that there is no sense of a command/imperative force here with “go,” “baptizing” and “teaching.” So what is Jesus saying?

He’s saying the way to make disciples is to go, baptize and teach. Pastor James Boice says, “Preach the gospel to them so that through the power of the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit they are converted from sin to Christ and…follow him as their true Lord.”[18] This is precisely what the disciples did. They went everywhere and proclaimed Jesus Christ crucified and resurrection. They called people to repentance. And as the Lord brought people who became believers, they then demonstrated and testified before others through water baptism and they were taught to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. These disciples then reproduced and made more disciples, eventually to reach the whole world!

Brian Schwertly says, “When God created Adam and Eve in the garden He commanded them to have dominion over the whole earth (cf. Gen. 1:26-30). God’s intended purpose for man before the fall was to develop a world-wide godly culture, a culture that honored and glorified God. All of man’s activities and pursuits were to be done God’s way and for God. All the accumulated labors of mankind over time: music, art, science, medicine, architecture, economics, infrastructures and so on would be done obediently and would reflect man’s love of God and mankind.”[19] However we know that Adam fell, and even in Genesis 3, we see God initiating restoration and reconciliation from the fallen couple asking in grace, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). And even when God called Abraham, He told him that this calling was to bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). Israel was supposed to follow God’s heart of mission, but they failed. God’s heart of mission did not start in the NT. His heart has always been a heart of mission (and we saw that in Jonah too).

So now through the second Adam, God will in fact, rule the world again. Jesus said His mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And guess what? Jesus is telling them now to do the same. The Great Commission is simply living out God’s heart of mission. Let’s break these a part here:

Notice the scope of this mission: “all nations.” Pastor Ray Pritchard notes, “Of all nations is a good translation, but it suggests political boundaries. The Greek word translated ‘nations’ is ethne. We get from it the English word ethnic, a word often used to describe the various people groups…When we read nations we think political boundaries. But that’s not what Jesus means when he talks about nations. He means the ethnic groups of the world. The people groups of the world. The language groups of the world. The racial groups of the world. He means that his church is to be a church going out to all people groups of the world and all language group and all racial groups of the world.”[20]

Now how are we supposed to make disciples? First we go. Jesus was telling them not to just think about Israel and the Jews. They took a long time to understand that, we find out when we read Acts. The idea is that with His presence and His authority behind you and in you, you can step out of your comfort zone and go! Commentator S.K. Weber says, “The point is that we believers are active; we are not inert. Going means crossing boundaries to make disciples—going across the street, going to dinner with an unbelieving friend, going into the inner city, going beyond one’s comfort zone to make the gospel accessible to the lost. Living life is “going” with a purpose, every day.”[21]

Secondly, baptize. The idea is, invite them to me by going. Then bring them into the community as they publicly confess me through baptism. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but let me say a few things here about baptism. First of all, baptism is an outward demonstration of an inward change. Have you ever seen a can in a store with no label on it? This would be a problem because you could not tell what is in the can. The label makes known the contents. The label tells you what is found inside. The label says, "I am a can of green peas. I want you to know that green peas live in me!" It is a public declaration to the community of faith that you would like to follow Jesus and be His disciple and be about the Great Commission. So baptism is not what one does TO BE saved; but it is what a saved person does.

We looked at Galatians earlier where we saw that some people in Galatia were teaching Jesus circumcision (outward ritual) = salvation. Paul was very angry about it because when you say you can go to Heaven with what Jesus did what you did, you are devaluing His work on the cross. It is Jesus nothing = everything. I also do not see Scripture teaching infants should be baptized. The pattern is Scripture is preaching of the gospel, people believing on the Lord Jesus for salvation and then baptism. The only time I see baby water is perhaps when Moses as a infant was put in a basket and left among the reeds in the river bank in Exodus 2.  Now if a child is old enough to give a believable profession of faith, let him/her be baptized. I know some of you are not baptized. If you believe that Christ died for your sins and you are born again, what are you waiting for?

Moreover, it also seems from Scripture that the practice of baptism was with immersion and not sprinkling. The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, immerse” something in water.[22] It seems from Scripture that immersion was used (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). This is because immersion best demonstrated outwardly what was going on inwardly. When the baptized is immersed, he/she goes under the water, a picture that this person has died with Christ and when he/she comes up from the water, it is a picture of the fact that now he/she is resurrected with Christ, the old is gone, the new has come (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12).

I know sprinkling is used here at EFCC. This does not bother me, though I would prefer immersion. I am not going to die over the mode of baptism, because at the end of the day, the point is that the baptized declare before all his/her decision to follow Christ. Notice Jesus doesn’t make it the main verb here in Matt. 28. The point He tells us is that we are to be about making disciples and not getting caught up in secondary things and fighting over it. Notice also the mention of the Trinity. Notice “name” and not “names” emphasizing unity and diversity. The early church did not use this is a formula as they baptized people in the name of Jesus in Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48). This merely meant that they being a follower and disciple was to be in community with the community of God.

Thirdly, how do you make a disciple? We said it was first by going and inviting them to Christ, baptizing them, and now he says also teaching. So far in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been the teacher. Here He passes on the torch. Notice they are not to teach their own ideas, but what Jesus has commanded. How much of what Jesus has commanded? I like how James Boice says that “Christ commanded us to teach them ‘to obey everything’ (or all things), which means that for all Christians a lifetime of learning must follow conversion and membership in Christ’s church.”[23]  To be a disciple is to obey Jesus’ teaching. Notice also that they were to “observe.” The goal was not to teach for information, but for transformation and application. The goal was not to teach so they would hear. The goal was to multiply and reproduce a reproducing follower of Christ.

Let me say this by way of application to all those in discipleship relationships. Discipleship is more than mere counseling. Remember the goal is not to help disciples feel better. The goal is that the Lord would transform them into reproducing reproducers. So though sitting around over a meal is helpful and asking about how the other person is doing is good, but that is not the end goal. So get them in the Word and keep praying and helping them grow to maturity in Christ as His disciple, to the point where the one being discipled can disciple another.


Pastor Tony Evans says, “People want salvation but don’t want to put in the time to be strong disciples of Jesus Christ. What many Christians want to do is to audit the Christian life. An audit is where a person goes to class to get information, but is not required to do any of the work. They don’t have to take a test or do any homework. They are only attending for informational purposes. They want the data without the responsibility. That’s an audit. That’s what some folks do every Sunday. They audit Jesus.”[24] Later he says that what Jesus wants is “a generation of followers who are so saturated in [His] thinking, [His] worldview, and [His] orientation that when integrated into the culture in which they are situated, the culture will have to live with the influence of Jesus Christ, who permeates the culture.”[25]

I hope you are not here to audit Jesus. God does not exist for us. We exist for God and to bring Him glory! And the way we can bring Him glory is to know His heart. Knowing His heart means realizing that it is always a heart for mission. As I close, from this text, what do you need to be reminded of? Perhaps you are struggling with fears, doubts and hesitation. You don’t know how to be a disciple or make disciples. And your worship is mixed today. Jesus draws near to you with His comforting presence. Perhaps you are struggling with wondering if anyone is flying the plane, if anyone is in control whether of your life or as you serve or wondering if God really cares what you do here at Living Hope since you don’t see any change or results from your labor. To you, Jesus draws near with His authoritative Word. He’s got this. Put your trust in His ability to carry you through. And for all of us, are we obeying the Great Commission? Or is it the Great Omission, (as someone put it)? Are we reproducing Christ’s life into someone else? If not, start by praying for a heart like Christ’s. And ask Him to help you live out His heart of mission here at Living Hope.


[1]Macarthur, J. “The Making Disciples of All Nations Part 1,” accessed 7 July 2011. 

[2]Mounce, R. H. (1991). New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew (267). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

[3]Gaebelein, F. E., Carson, D. A., Wessel, W. W., & Liefeld, W. L. (1984). The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (593). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[4]Macarthur, Ibid. 

[5]Stott, John quoted in Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (651–652). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

[6]Gaebelein, F. E., Carson, D. A., Wessel, W. W., & Liefeld, W. L. (599).

[7]Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 9: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New Testament Commentary (1003). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[8]Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew (749). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press.

[9]Boice, J. M. (652).

[10]France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (1112). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.

[11]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-). The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mt 28:16–20). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[12]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Mt 28:16). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

[13]France, R. T. (419).

[14]Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (887). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[15]Mounce, R. H. (268).

[16]Hagner, D. A. (886).

[17]Gaebelein, F. E., Carson, D. A., Wessel, W. W., & Liefeld, W. L. (595). When a participle functions as a circumstantial participle dependent on an imperative, it normally gains some imperatival force (cf. 2:8, 13; 9:13; 11:4; 17:27; cf. C. Rogers, “The Great Commission,” BS 130 [1973]: 258–67).

[18]Boice, J. M. (648).

[19]Schwertly, Brian M. “The Great Commission,” accessed 7 July 2011. 

[20]Pritchard, Ray. “Famous Last Words,” accessed 8 July 2011.

[21]Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (484–485). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[22]Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine (967). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

[23]Boice, J. M. (649).

[24]Evans, T. (2009). Tony Evans' Book of Illustrations: Stories, quotes, and anecdotes from more than 30 years of preaching and public speaking (77). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[25]Ibid. (78).

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