Do What He Said
In his book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a company whose president had to travel out of the country and spend an extended time abroad.
Before leaving, the company president gathered his employees together and said to them, “‘Look, I'm going to leave. And while I'm gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I'm away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.’
“He left and stayed gone for a couple of years. During that time he wrote often, communicating his desires and concerns.
“Finally he returned. He walked up to the front door of the company and immediately discovered everything was in a mess — weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the [secretary] at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business had suffered a great loss.
“Without hesitation, he called everyone together and with a frown asked, ‘What happened? Didn't you get my letters?’
One of the company managers stepped forward proudly and replied, “‘Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We've even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have 'letter study' every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.’”
“But what did you do about my instructions?” the company’s president asked.
“Do?” replied the manager. “Well, nothing. But we read every one of them.” [Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p. 242.]
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, the story of this company comes entirely from the imagination of Dr. Swindoll. But it was sorrowfully easy for him to imagine this story, because it so closely mirrors the story of so many modern Western churches and of so many modern Western Christians.
We are often very good at reading the instructions that the Lord gave us in Scripture, in His letters to us, but we too often fail to DO what He told us to do.
This week, we begin a series of messages that I’ve titled “Go and Tell,” and I hope that by the end of the series, which should conclude by the end of May, you will find yourselves gripped by a fresh desire to not just read and study and even memorize our Lord’s instructions, but also to DO them — to go and tell, to share the gospel, to be proclaimers of the good news of Jesus Christ.
We will begin this week by looking at the passage in which Jesus gave us our marching orders. It’s probably a familiar passage to most of you. We know it as the Great Commission, and it’s found at the end of the Book of Matthew, in chapter 28.
We’ll pick up with verse 16.
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up 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 the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Let’s concentrate this week on the words of Jesus in verses 18 through 20.
In these three verses, we see the basis of His command, the content of that command, and the promise connected to the command.
What is the basis of the command? By what right could Jesus command His disciples — and, by extension, us — to do what He commands in verses 19 and 20?
The basis of the command is His authority.
Prior to His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus’ authority had been restricted by God. Throughout His ministry, Jesus had deferred to the authority of His Father in heaven.
Paul talks about this in his letter to the Philippians, where he writes:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus came as the Suffering Servant, made in the likeness of men and obedient to His Father’s will, even to the point of bearing the sins of mankind and dying on the cross.
But after God raised Jesus from the dead, He transferred His authority to Jesus, who is now the one through whom God mediates all His authority.
In that same passage from the Book of Philippians, Paul describes how this looks:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So, the basis of Jesus’ command is His complete authority. Now, let’s look at the content of the command.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
Now, what you should understand here is that there is only one imperative verb in these verses — “make disciples.” Make disciples is the core of this commandment.
The other verbs you see in these verses — “go” and “baptizing” and “teaching” — all describe aspects of that process.
The first verb, “go,” should actually be translated as “While you are going” or “Having gone.”
The idea is that there is no question in the mind of Jesus as to WHETHER His disciples will go into all the nations. He expects them to do so, because He expects them to be so transformed by the gospel and by the Holy Spirit who would indwell them that they could not possibly keep this good news to themselves.
And so, while they were going, they were to make disciples of all the nations. And how would they do that?
They would go, they would baptize, and they would teach.
Now, let’s understand what’s wrapped up in that word “baptize” here.
Baptism assumes that a person has trusted in Jesus Christ as their savior. It should be among the first acts of obedience for a new believer.
Baptism is the public proclamation that you have become a disciple — a follower of Jesus. There is no power to save in baptism. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And that’s why we do not baptize babies here, because a baby cannot make the decision to follow Jesus in faith.
But once you are old enough to make that decision — once you put your faith in Jesus as the only one who can reconcile lost sinners to a perfect and righteous God — baptism should be your next step.
So, having gone and having baptized, the next step in making disciples is teaching them to observe the commandments of Jesus.
Note that Jesus doesn’t simply say here that we should TEACH His commandments. Instead, he says to teach disciples to OBSERVE, to obey, His commandments.
And the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, were these: Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.
So how do we teach others to do those things?
Well, the most effective way to teach something isn’t to stand up in front of the class and say it. The most effective way to teach something is to DEMONSTRATE it.
How do teenagers learn to drive? Well, they go to a driving school somewhere, and they get behind the wheel with a courageous driving instructor in the passenger seat and they start driving, right?
But what’s behind all that behind-the-wheel instruction? What’s behind it is years of riding in cars with their parents and grandparents and others. Years of observation give them an implicit understanding of how to operate a vehicle.
That’s one good reason to pay attention to your driving habits when you’ve got youngsters in the car with you. Your bad habits can very easily become THEIR bad habits.
The same thing is true of discipleship. If I model bad behavior as a pastor, then it will be much less likely that you will practice good behavior as a Christian.
If I do not demonstrate love for my neighbor, and if you do not see that I love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, then how likely is it that you will do those things?
So, making disciples requires us to teach them what Jesus commanded, and it requires us to teach them to DO what He commanded.
That includes teaching them to do THIS commandment. It includes teaching them to be disciple-making disciples, people who duplicate themselves in others.
And don’t miss the scope of this command. “Make disciples of ALL the nations.” This is a universal mission that we have been given, one that is in line with Jesus’ universal authority. There is no nation, and there is no person, who is beyond the power of God’s grace to save them.
What a huge task our Savior has given us! It can seem incredibly daunting to think of this little country church having the job to go out and make disciples of all the nations.
But I am encouraged by two things.
First, I am encouraged by the fact that Jesus said to do this “while you are going.” Disciple-making can and should be done in all corners of the globe, but it also can and should be done while we go about our everyday lives right here.
I look forward to the time when I can return to Haiti for a visit and for the chance to share the grace of Jesus Christ with the beautiful people of that broken nation, but I also look forward to the opportunities God gives me to share the grace of Jesus Christ with the beautiful people of this broken nation as I work my shifts at the shop in North Suffolk and as I interact with restaurant servers and as I meet new friends in all manner of situations.
Every relationship God gives me, and every person He sovereignly puts in my path is one new opportunity to share the grace of God and one step along the path of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s encouraging to know that I can follow Jesus’ marching orders without necessarily having to become a full-time missionary in some foreign land.
In fact, the best full-time missionaries I’ve met were missionaries at home before they ever heard God’s call to foreign missions.
The other encouraging thing I see in these verses comes at the end of verse 20: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is the promise connected to the command.
The word that is translated as “always” here literally means “all the days.” And the phrase that’s translated as “to the end of the age” literally means “the whole of every day.”
So, we could read this promise like this: “And lo, I am with you all the days, the whole of every day.”
Isn’t that encouraging? Isn’t it wonderful to know that if you have followed Jesus in faith, He is with you all the days, the whole of every day?
That means that whenever I am talking to people about Jesus, He is right there with me. I don’t have to keep this command in my own strength, because I have Him right there with me in the person of the Holy Spirit, giving me wisdom and discernment about how to engage with them.
The Holy Spirit is a powerful Helper when it comes to evangelism, but that power is wasted on us when we choose not to treat every relationship as an opportunity to share the grace of God.
So, what keeps us from DOING what Jesus told us to do? What keeps us from making disciples as we are going?
For some of you, it comes down to fear. Maybe you don’t want to be labeled a Jesus Freak. Maybe you feel like you’re overstepping boundaries by talking about Jesus. Maybe you’re afraid of losing a friend.
We’re going to talk about some of these fears in the coming weeks, but today I want to close by talking about what I suspect is one of the most common reasons Christians don’t share the gospel: They feel as if they don’t know what to say.
Now, I stand up here every week and share gospel messages, and that’s in addition to the times I do so outside these walls, so I have a lot of experience in crafting what I hope are eloquent treatments of the gospel. Many times, they are quite long, and I imagine that’s intimidating for a lot of you.
After all, who wants to have to come up with a 3,000-word way of telling their neighbor that he needs Jesus? And, for that matter, what neighbor is going to stand and listen to you recite those 3,000 words?
But let me tell you this: You don’t have to make it that complicated. For a class last year, one of my professors gave us an assignment to “tweet the gospel.” We had to find a way to distill the gospel to 140 characters — characters, not words — or less.
Now, I’ll tell you that this was one of the hardest assignments he could have given a pastor who speaks for 30 uninterrupted minutes every week, but I was able to come up with this:
“God: Good Creator. Us: Condemned rebels. Jesus: Took our condemnation and lives again. Faith in Him and His promises brings eternal life.”
That’s 22 words, 136 characters, including punctuation. I came in 4 characters under the limit.
Here was another option I came up with: “God makes only good things. We break it all. Jesus will restore it all. Faith in Him and His promises ensures we are part of the renewal.”
Now, can you go around and just spout off these short Twitter messages and be satisfied that you’ve shared the gospel? Of course not. You need to give some context and explanation.
So, here you go.
God is the creator of all, and He only makes good things. He made us in His image, and so we were supposed to be people who only did good things.
But each one of us fails in that task, and the failure is called sin. Every one of us rebels against God in small ways and in large ways. We break the good things that God has made, and we break the relationship we were created to have with Him.
We are rebels against His Kingdom, and like all rebels, we are condemned for our rebellion.
The sentence for us as condemned rebels is death. Death is the wage we earn for serving sin. We see this in a physical way here on earth. Everybody sins, and everybody dies.
Now, death means more than just the end of our physical lives, and it means less than the end of our souls. Death also means the eternal separation of your eternal soul from God.
And there is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves before this perfect, good God. Even one sin — and we all commit far more than one sin, we all break so many good things and hurt so many other people throughout our lives — even one sin causes a rift between you and the perfect God that you never could bridge with ANY number of good deeds.
But God loves us, and He wants to have a relationship with us, and so He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to show us God’s perfect character, to live a sinless life of perfect obedience and then to take our sins upon Himself as He died on a cross so that He could reap the wages that we had earned.
The innocent died for the guilty.
And then God raised Jesus from the dead so that all who put their trust in Him as the only one who could reconcile sinners to Himself could experience eternal life.
Though we might die physically, we who have followed Jesus in faith will experience eternal and perfect fellowship with God and with Jesus in heaven.
Jesus restores the relationship that sinners have lost with God. What’s more, He will restore God’s good creation to the perfect state that God made it in.
He will make all things new. All of the brokenness that has resulted from thousands of years of mankind’s sins will be gone.
And you can be a part of this new creation if you will only put your trust in Jesus. If you will admit that you are a sinner — that you have fallen short of God’s perfect standard — and if you will believe that Jesus’ sacrificial death and supernatural resurrection provide your only way to be reconciled to God, and if you will confess that He is Lord, then you will be saved.
That’s the gospel. That’s the good news. That’s the glorious message of God’s amazing grace.
There is more to the story, of course, and every new layer that we begin to understand shows us even more powerfully the extent of God’s grace. But what I hope that you see this morning is that sharing the gospel doesn’t have to be complicated.
If I can figure out how to distill it into 136 characters, I’ll bet you can figure out how to work it into conversation with your neighbor.
Each one of you who has followed Jesus in faith has been commanded by our Savior to make disciples. Every Christian here today is called to be a disciple-making disciple. Disciples should be the fruit of disciples.
So, today, while you are going from here, I want to challenge you to think about your own 140-character gospel presentation.
How will you share the grace of God with the next person God brings into your life? How will you teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded?
Jesus said to His disciples that "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Let’s get to work. Let’s get to harvesting souls for eternal life. Let’s get about the business of DOING what we’ve been told to do.