Friends: This is the seventh chapter of a short book I wrote a couple of years ago. Comments welcome! Subsequent chapters to follow!
Saved! Chapter Seven: LAUNCHED!
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first men to set foot on the moon. Aldrin later suffered an emotional breakdown, followed by a slow, painful recovery. One writer asked what caused the breakdown. Aldrin said it resulted from the terrible disillusionment he felt after working so hard, achieving every goal set before him, and then finding it empty when it was over. His dreams, fantastic though they were, were not lasting enough. After accomplishing that great goal in his life — walking on the moon — he was left with no purpose or meaning.
What is your mission in life? George Bernard Shaw once said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
I believe Shaw’s quote could be easily adapted to describe many Christians today. They haven’t found the true joy in life even though they’ve found Jesus. They don’t view their lives as being used for a mighty purpose. And, if the truth be told, they each seem to give every appearance of being a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances who complain that the church will not devote itself to making them happy!
How wonderful to be found when one was once lost, to be loved by an eternal God, to be lured into the joy of the gospel, to begin a life of learning eternal truths, to experience a bit of suffering by being labeled by those who oppose Jesus, and to be set free — liberated — to serve the living and true God! All these blessings are truly amazing, but we were never intended
to sit in the corner of our church and, as the old song says, just “count your blessings, name them one by one . . .” We discover in this chapter that we have been launched, sent out on the grandest of all missions!
We learn about this sending out in the passage of Scripture known as the Great Commission:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt.28)
Before the Great Commission
Before we look at this passage in detail, let’s notice what has happened before the giving of this Great Commission. In Matthew 28 we have the story of the two Marys visiting the tomb of the Lord Jesus. A violent earthquake takes place, and an angel of the Lord comes down from heaven and rolls away the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb and sits on it. The guards at the tomb are overcome with terror, shake violently, and “became like dead men.” The angel calms the women and announces that Jesus has risen just as He said. He invites the women to inspect the empty tomb, then to go quickly and tell His disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee.
The women hurry away from the tomb, “afraid yet filled with joy,” to run and tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus Himself meets them and greets them. They grab onto His feet and worship Him. He tells them not to be afraid but to tell “my brothers” to go to Galilee and “there they will see me.”
Matthew 28 also tells us about the lie the chief priests and the elders convince the guards to spread, that Jesus’ disciples had come during the night and stolen the body of Jesus. With an appropriate bribe their deception is purchased. Then we read our text on what transpires in Galilee.
Grand Hoax or . . .
Occasionally, as a theologian I have shared some of my research in a professional meeting of other theologians. The act is called “presenting a paper” and often involves very heavy, sometimes esoteric, topics which can instantly cure anyone’s insomnia. A number of years ago I did an in-depth research of I Corinthians 15 and called the paper “Paul’s Consequent
Nihilism in I Corinthians 15.” There. Now, don’t you feel your eyes getting heavy?
The point of the paper was the centrality of Christ’s resurrection, especially as seen in verse 32 where Paul says if Christ has not been raised, then “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Nihilism as a philosophical term refers to an extreme form of skepticism which rejects all values, challenges one’s belief in existence itself, and even doubts the possibility of communication. Essentially, nihilism refers to living as one chooses, living it up, not caring about consequences. My point in my paper was hopefully Paul’s point: that if Jesus is still dead in the grave somewhere, it doesn’t matter how we live. We should “party hearty!”
But because He has risen from the dead, we have every reason to expend our lives for His cause. After giving several strong lines of evidence for Christ’s resurrection, Paul concludes his chapter by writing, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (v. 58).
Because Jesus Christ kept His word — He predicted His own resurrection — no sacrifice for Him can be too great. He is the risen Savior, the Son of God, God manifest in the flesh, and what He commands, we must do. The Christian faith is not faith in faith (meaning that we believe because we have to believe something), but faith in the truth about a living Jesus who will one day judge the living and the dead.
Sent on Mission
here in Matthew 28: “. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We have been launched; we have been sent on mission, and nothing should deter us from fulfilling our assignment! If we are convinced that the gospel is true, and we see that we have been sent on mission, nothing should hinder us from doing our part in fulfilling that Great Commission.
In one of my seminary courses this past semester I required students to select, read, and critique a book which I described as one which would “boil your blood before you get past the preface.” What I meant was that often we Christians only read what we agree with. We need to know the strongest arguments against our faith firsthand, and that involves reading such books. I do not recommend that new believers read such books, but this assignment was given to graduate-level, seminary students.
Most of my students read their books (from a list I recommended) and did a superb job of evaluating and critiquing the various challenges they were seeing to biblical Christianity.
One student emailed the following to me when I asked him where his “Boiling Book” review was. “Dr. Dixon,” he wrote, “I did not complete a ‘Boiling Book’ review because I could not find a book that makes my blood boil. I do not entertain peoples’ opinion concerning scriptures; I spend enough energy trying to keep up with my own thoughts.” I wrote him back and said we should have discussed his perspective earlier in the
semester because this assignment was worth 20% of his final grade!
But what was this student really saying? I had given the class a list of “Boiling Blood” books, so he did not have to “find” such a book. Was he saying that he had more than enough to do and didn’t need to waste time reading a book he knew he would disagree with? Was he saying the assignment was unreasonable, that it was not at all conducive to what he was trying to accomplish in the course? Could he have been saying that nothing could make his blood boil as a Christian? I certainly hope not, for that would indicate that nothing could outrage him, could anger his Christian sensibilities, could provoke him to respond rationally to the arguments hurled against his Jesus. I can agree to some extent with his sentiment that “I spend enough energy trying to keep up with my own thoughts.” He should wait until he’s my age when the challenge is remembering what one’s thoughts were!
I don’t pretend to know the exact meaning of my student’s email or his inner motivation for not doing that assignment, but I do know this: If I am sent on a mission for Jesus, it will require the full complement of my emotions to sustain me in my role in that mission. And if I really care about lost people, I will expose myself to their best reasons for not believing the gospel. And I should expend my very best energy to respond to their opposition so they can move from the category of enemies of God to the category of His fellow-workers.
The risen Jesus appears to His eleven disciples (Judas, the betrayer, had hanged himself) in Galilee. When the disciples see the Lord, they worship Him, but there were some who still doubted. There always are. We do
not read that Jesus rebukes those who are doubting, but He simply issues the Great Commission.
He begins the Great Commission with a declaration of His own authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He says (v. 18).
Christians believe, for good reasons, that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. So when we read, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” the thinking follower of Jesus should react, “Wait a minute! He’s God the Son. What does that expression mean, ‘All authority has been given to me’?!” The answer, we believe, is that He is making this statement as the incarnate Son of God, the One who became flesh (Jn. 1:14) and dwelt among us. As God- become-man the Son is given all authority. Theologians, who get paid big bucks to try to figure out such matters, suggest that certain things became true of the Son of God when He became human, things that were not true before He took on Himself our likeness. For example, it is impossible for God to die. But Jesus died, didn’t He? He had to become human to die for our sins. Similarly, the Son of God temporarily gave up His position in heaven as He descended to earth (Phil. 2:6-8), but has now been exalted to the right hand of the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). As God-become-man Jesus could give the Great Commission to the disciples because God the Father had commissioned Him!
In considering the Great Commission, we must focus on the Person of the Lord Jesus. If He was truly God- become-man, then He has the authority to command us to do anything! Someone has said, “Eternity is an awfully long time to be wrong about Jesus.” That certainly applies to those who have not yet believed the gospel,
but it also applies to us who have. We dare not minimize the authority of the Lord Jesus as He gives us our marching orders.
Our Calling to Disciplize
Let’s look at the words of Jesus carefully. He says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .” (v. 19).
Most translations of the New Testament translate this verse as we have it in the New International Version: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .” There are some interesting renditions, such as The Message which says, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near . . .” The Wycliffe Bible has, “Therefore go ye, and teach all folks . . .” [We don’t use the word “folks” enough, do we?]. I prefer Young’s Literal Translation which says, “having gone, then, disciple all the nations . . .”
A little Greek is a dangerous thing, but the verse does indicate that the emphasis is not on the going but on the disciplizing. The “going” part is actually a past participle which could be translated “after having gone.” The main verb, then, is “disciple” or “make disciples.”
One immediate and obvious observation is that we are not told to go out and make converts. What?! We are told to go out and “make disciples.” Now, the New Testament teaches that one can’t be a disciple without first becoming converted. Conversion occurs when one repents of one’s sins and believes the good news about Jesus. At that point one moves out of the category of spiritual death and into the category of spiritual life, out of the kingdom of Satan and into the kingdom of God. At conversion one begins the process of becoming like Jesus, sometimes called sanctification
(which means to be set apart). The normal Christian life is a process of becoming more and more like Jesus and that’s a pretty good definition of discipleship. The word “disciple” actually comes from a verb meaning “a learner.”
We were never sent out simply to make converts. We were and are sent out to make Jesus-followers, learners, disciples.
A Geography Lesson
So our text reads, “Therefore go and make disciples . . .” The implication may well be, “You can’t stay where you are comfortable. You must move out and communicate this message to all people everywhere.” This is what Christians refer to as “missions.” In many churches missions seems to be an afterthought, a minor item on the church’s agenda, a footnote in their annual budget. But from Matthew 28 it appears to be the believer’s defining purpose: we are to go and make disciples of all the nations.
Pastor John Piper, a man whom I greatly admire, puts it this way: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Worldwide missions is the believer’s effort to bring as many as possible into a worshipping condition before the God of the Bible.
For many, this will involve leaving their home country, learning a next-to-impossible language and culture, and moving to a location where people eat what people were never intended to eat. Why? So that those who have not heard the good news about Jesus can hear it, believe it, and become worshippers of this missionary God.
My wife Linda and I were missionaries in Germany back in the 1970’s. Although we were part of only a two- year team to West Berlin, we did our best to learn the German language and culture so we could effectively share the gospel with lost people. [We began our two- year term down in Munich and were present when the Israeli athletes were massacred at the 1972 Olympics].
German is a challenging language, but not as difficult as some others. I remember doing door-to-door evangelism in Berlin and using my new language. The old lady who answered the door first had to be assured by me that we were neither Jehovah’s Witnesses nor Mormons (these two cults had covered Berlin at least twice in their “evangelism” efforts). I then wanted to say to her, “I’m sorry to bother you, but we are inviting you to watch a Billy Graham crusade on TV this week.” The word “disturb” in German is stoeren. However, like many languages, prefixes can be added to words and can radically change the meaning of the simple verb. I actually used the word zerstoeren with her which meant that I said, “I am sorry to have to DESTROY you, but . . .” This was not an example of good evangelistic method!
Missions is not meant to destroy people or cultures, but to introduce people to Jesus.
I’ve always thought that one should immerse the candidate for baptism and as he or she is brought up out of water, the baptizer could ask, “Will you tithe 10% to the Lord?” If they say nothing, they should be dunked again and then asked, “Did you say you will tithe 20% to the Lord?” [I’m kidding].
There are various interesting views about water baptism among Christians. For some churches, a “waiting period” is required to make sure the new convert is really that — converted! Some have an extensive baptism class (lasting hours) that is probably more like a “Christianity 101” course. I guess they want to make sure that they are not baptizing those who don’t realize the step they are taking.
It seems to me that the baptisms in the New Testament were done so close to conversion that the two events are virtually identical. I get the impression that one hardly gets out the words “I believe” before they are saying, “Glub, glub, glub” (a sound some people make when they are immersed in water).
I have friends who hold to infant baptism, and I defend their right to hold that view, as long as they don’t teach that an infant is saved by being baptized.
When we lived in Canada, there was a church that was between pastors. They would sometimes have me come and preach. Once they invited me to baptize one of their college students. I remembered my pastoral theology class in Bible college when I was a student. We were taught how to properly immerse a baptismal candidate. Positioning yourself and the one being baptized in the baptismal tank was important, because you didn’t want to whack the person’s head on the side of the tank when you took them under.
The college student I was to baptize was quite tall, so I positioned us at one end of the tank, asked him to give a testimony to his faith in Christ, and missed whacking his head by an inch or two. However, it was obvious to all that I didn’t take him completely under the water. His head stayed above water, and everyone noticed it. Some of my friends kidded me and said, “You baptized all of him — except for his mind!”
Baptism is not an Evangelical option. It is one of two ordinances commanded by the Lord Jesus. It is to be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 19). This clear Trinitarian reference reminds us that this new disciple is now in a redemptive relationship with the Divine Trinity.
Our Pedagogical Privilege
The Great Commission, our being launched into the mission of God, involves educating the new disciple in the truths of Jesus Christ. Jesus commands that we are to teach them “to obey everything I have commanded you.” (v. 20).
Again, we are not commissioned to create conversions but to develop disciples, and disciples — learners — must be taught! Please notice, however, that the purpose of teaching these disciples is so that they will “obey everything I have commanded you.” God’s truth is not meant to puff us up, but to grow us up.
I heard about a police officer who interrogated a teacher about a murder suspect. “Is it true that this man was your student?” The teacher replied, “He might have attended my lectures, but he was never my student.”
When a person becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ, there is a learning process which begins. It is not a learning curve. It is a brand new highway on which he or she will travel the rest of their days! Becoming a serious follower of Jesus Christ is not a correspondence course or a do-it-yourself project. It involves a life-long educative process.
We noticed in our fourth chapter about “Learning” the quote from Flannery O’Connor who said that, “The high- school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”
Christians on the mission of Jesus are not consulting tastes. They are, by God’s grace, forming them. Feeding on God’s Word becomes a holy habit, but Christians were never meant to enter God’s restaurant with the words, “Table for one, please!” No. We are meant to learn in community, to be discipled by older believers.
Jesus’ Promised Presence
The last part of the Great Commission is Jesus’ promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Let’s think about Jesus’ “being with” us as we go out on mission.
What does it mean to say that Jesus will be “with” us? If God is everywhere present (what theologians call the “omnipresence” of God), then is Jesus somehow more present with His disciples who are engaged in disciplizing?
In my theology class in seminary, I try to explain this concept by talking about the fact that God is not spacially limited in any way. As one fellow theologian puts it, “Wherever there is a where, God is there!” I talk a bit about Psalm 139 (a great text on God’s omnipresence) and then I ask my class, “Are you all with me?” Those awake will respond, “Yes!” I then ask, “No, are you really with me?”
Some give me a strange look as if to say, “Dr. Dixon, you’re repeating yourself again. Have you considered retirement?” I then explain the difference between being somewhere spatially and being somewhere relationally. We can physically be in someone’s presence, but not be tracking with them, not connecting with what they are saying, not in fellowship with them. Are you with me?
When Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” this is not mere physical presence. [Although, when you think about it, to have the “mere” physical presence of Jesus with us is about the best gift anyone could ever have!]. It is far more than geographical proximity. He is with us in our quest to fulfill the mission He has given us. He is with us in language-acquisition; He is with us in culture-learning; He is with us when we are persecuted, slandered, ignored, ridiculed, beaten, or rejected. He is with us. Do we believe His promise, or do we act like we’ve been abandoned, forsaken in our potentially life-threatening response to His marching orders?
Those who are followers of Jesus Christ have been launched.
Confession time. I am particularly weak in my grasp of the Old Testament. But there is so much truth in the Old Testament that I need to know. I think of the evil king Sennacherib’s message to Hezekiah when he said,
“Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says . . .” (2 Ki. 19:9).
When the God we depend on says He will be with us in our mission — we can take Him at His word. For we have been launched.
If we see ourselves as having been saved, we have much for which we must be thankful. He did not leave us in a lost condition, but found us and all heaven rejoiced in our being found. He has loved us with an everlasting love, even to the extent of showing us that salvation must be received as a gift, not earned by our goodness.
Something brought you and me to a realization of our need of Christ. And He lured us into His family so that He could catch men and women through us.
Those who are saved are now enrolled in what I call Jesus University. We are to learn of Him and our learning ought to give us a soul rest which strengthens us for our labor for Him.
Although we can offer no part of the price for our salvation, there will be a price to our living for the Lord Jesus. Some will consider us a stench in their nostrils. Others will label us intellectual airheads. But such rejection should be expected for those who have been saved.
Jesus gives a freedom to all who trust in Him, and that liberty should not be bargained away for anything. He wants us free! Free to serve Him, free to enjoy the abundant life, free to trust in His grace alone.
Such freedom is not to be enjoyed as an end in itself, but as the foundation for our being launched into the world for him. We are to be on mission, looking to establish not merely converts, but disciples.
Being rescued from God’s wrath is a wonderful thing, accomplished by the Son of God. There is no one else apart from the Second Person of the Trinity who could have secured our salvation. But God wants His house
filled. And we are called to become like the Lord Jesus, and to seek the last, the least, and the lost.