Sunday, January 10, 2016


The very last words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven, at least as recorded by Matthew, are these:

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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Face of Jesus - by Rembrandt
For the first apostles, these were the final instructions. They were the parting words of their Master. These words would carry great weight for them, even for the rest of their lives. If we say that Jesus is also our Lord and Master, they should also carry great weight for us.

Notice that there are basically three instructions here: We are go and make disciples of all the nations, we are to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we are to teach them to observe all that Jesus has taught us.

I think that when most Christians read this, they look at it primarily with a political mindset and perspective. They read the instructions of Jesus as if he were saying, “Go out and convince others that they should also be Christians. Initiate them into the Christian doctrine, and teach them to live like a Christian is supposed to live.”

So far this may not seem too far off the mark, but I am afraid that for many, these instructions of Jesus are not much different than saying, “Go out and convince others to be Republicans (or Democrats). Indoctrinate them into what Republicans (or Democrats) do, and teach them to talk and to live like Republicans (or Democrats).”

But Jesus was not speaking politically, at least not in this way. An interesting aspect of the ministry of Jesus, when he was on earth, was that he actually was not looking to gather a large following of people who were attracted to his message. If that had been his intention, he could have raised a great political party. He had thousands who were willing to follow him, based simply on the things that he did in his time on the earth.

The “Jesus Party”

After all, every political candidate assures those whom they want to vote for them, that if they join their cause, they will be better off economically and have food to eat. In his ministry, Jesus handed out food freely.

All political parties talk about health care. Jesus went right past the talking points and simply healed all who came to him who were sick and lame.

The “Jesus Party,” if there had been one, could have promised to fulfil all of the needs of the people. His poll numbers would have left all competitors in the dust.

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But Jesus did not come to earth to start a political party. Interestingly enough, he did not even come to gather a huge following of popularity. He instead came to rescue the few who recognized that the kingdom of this world did not have the answers to the true questions of life and of living. He came to seek those who knew that this world could not even tell them what was true. The world had no definition of truth – not really. And since truth could not be found in this world, Jesus came in order that we may know the truth.

Jesus was not looking for party members. He was looking for disciples.

The reason that I am making this comparison is to point out the fact that, whenever we are looking to gain a large following of any kind, whether it be a political party or even if it be a church, we will make it as easy as we can to become a part of it. If our main goal is a large following, everything that we do will be based upon whether or not it will attract people.

This was not what Jesus did. When he did have large crowds, he often would say some things that turned many of these people away from him. Or, sometimes he just wandered off so that they could not follow him. He did not make it easy to be his disciple. By the end of his time, at his crucifixion, almost all of his followers had abandoned him. Actually, to some extent and at some point, every one of his followers had abandoned him.
Betrayal of Christ - (Caravaggio)

Making Disciples

His true disciples, after they learned of his resurrection, did return to him. However, these were only a few. There were thousands of others who at one time considered themselves followers of Jesus, but who then no longer followed him. In the end, these people were not interested in truth. They only wanted full bellies and to be healed of their diseases.

Thus, shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus told the few that were still with him that they were to continue this work. By extension, if you are a disciple of Christ, he is also telling you. “Go to all the nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

With these thoughts in mind, let us look again at this commissioning of Jesus to his apostles. What did Jesus mean when he told us that we should “make disciples?” How are we to go about this task?

Making disciples of Jesus is not the same as finding votes for a political party.

Speak of What You Have Seen

I quoted this commission of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, but all of the other Gospel writers, Mark, Luke and John, also wrote some additional words from what Jesus said at that last meeting with the disciples. I am going to tell you what Luke said first:

Jesus said: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-47 NAS)

Here again Luke points out that Jesus commissioned his apostles to go to all the nations, but he also elaborated a bit on what it means to make disciples. Jesus told those few apostles present with him at that moment they had been witnesses of the fact that Jesus was crucified and that he rose again on the third day. These events were the direct fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies, some of which were written thousands of years earlier.

This is what the apostles were supposed to talk about when they went out to the nations. They were to tell the people what happened. However, even with this message that was in itself a compelling declaration, the apostles were not immediately to plan some type of international campaign. There was something else yet predicted for which they were to wait.

In the Power of the Holy Spirit

“Stay in Jerusalem,” Jesus told them, “until this promise from the Father is fulfilled” (Luke 23:49, Acts 1:4).

Then Jesus told them about this promise and why it was important for them to wait for it until they started their task of making disciples. He said to them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

This is the difference between making disciples and running a political campaign.

Yes, the disciples were to get the message out, similar to how one would in a political campaign – it is accurate to say that. They were to tell the people about what they had seen and heard. They were to teach the people. But even such a compelling message as the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the resurrection from the dead of the promised Messiah is not sufficient for the making of disciples.

If the work of the first apostles was to simply gain a following for the “Jesus party,” this perhaps would have been enough. Especially since, as we read on in the historical account about the first years of these apostles’ ministry, they continued to do miracles very similar to what Jesus had done. But healings and feedings are not the main objective in making disciples. The main objective for a disciple is truth.

Jesus had told the apostles, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

That was why Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem. He told them to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit, because anything that they would do before that time would not make disciples. It may make converts, much like a Republican can be converted into a Democrat, but it could not make a true disciple of Jesus.

The Ministry of Truth

A true disciple of Jesus does not follow him based on the fact that Jesus will supply all of his or her needs, or because he fulfills them in some way. A true disciple follows Jesus because Jesus speaks the truth.

At the trial of Jesus, he told Pilate, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

To this Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate did not know what truth was. How could he know? In this world, truth is relative and it changes with the times and with the culture. If one knows only the perspective of the world, truth remains a fleeting idea, seemingly within reach but always just beyond our fingertips. It is only through Jesus that we can know truth that is not only true today, but will be true tomorrow and into eternity.

Baptism and Salvation

When Jesus gave the commission to the first apostles to make disciples, he told them that they were eventually go to all the nations. That part is easy to understand. He told them that they were to teach these new disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded. That also makes sense. People cannot be disciples without knowing and doing what Jesus said.

Do you remember what the third element was of the commission? It was to baptize the new disciples. Jesus said to “Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”

Why do you suppose the act of baptizing is so important?

In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, the importance of baptizing is emphasized. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

When John the Baptist first came baptizing people, the way in which he was doing it was a rather new phenomenon. It was not as though baptisms of this sort were not known previous to John, but they were rather rare and were used as part of a ritual for proselytes when they wanted to convert to Judaism.

What made John’s baptisms different was that he clearly stated that the baptisms were to signify repentance. When people came repenting of their sin, John baptized them as an indication that they were cleansed. The imagery was that they went down into the water with their sins clinging to them, and emerged from the water washed clean.

However, John recognized that his baptisms of repentance were not enough. He knew that he was the forerunner of the Messiah who would bring true cleansing. “After me One is coming who is mightier than I,” John said.  “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).

John Baptizes Jesus

One day, Jesus himself came to be baptized by John. John’s baptism was one of repentance, and there was nothing in Jesus for which he needed to repent. Because of this, John at first tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized.

But Jesus said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 4:15).

John was correct in thinking that there was nothing in Jesus for which he needed to repent, but Jesus wanted to be baptized so that all would see that this is the proper way for his disciples to fulfill all righteousness.

After being baptized, Jesus came up from the water, and the heavens were opened. Then John saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him. John then heard a voice coming from the heavens and saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

Baptism and Salvation

When Jesus was baptized by John, he was showing us that what John was doing by emphasizing repentance from sin is something that is necessary for all disciples of Jesus. As Jesus put it, “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” That is also why Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”

Repentance is necessary for forgiveness and cleansing.

When Jesus said that “He who had believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” he meant it in terms of both time and of eternity. “Being saved,” of course, implies that there is something from which we need salvation. When we are drowning in the lake, being saved means that someone rescues us and resuscitates us.

When we speak of being saved in the spiritual sense, we normally think of being saved from hell. But if we are being saved in eternity, we are also being saved in time. Hell is not a present threat to us while we are on this earth. Certainly, it is the threat and is the destiny of those without salvation when they die. However, while we yet breathe, hell poses no present threat.

So then, what is the present threat? Our present threat as followers of Jesus is the evil of the world that continually tempts us back into the sins of which we have repented. The world does not easily let us go. It will continually seek to drag us back into its way of thinking and into its way of acting.

When Jesus gave us the pattern for baptism, it was done in a very public setting. When John baptized the people, he did it in the Jordan River. This was not something that was done secretively. Those being baptized were making a public declaration of their repentance from their sins.

The Strength of a Public Declaration of Faith

This is where the public act of baptism becomes meaningful. It is a public declaration saying, “I no longer live for the world but I am now living under new leadership.

When we baptize someone in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are declaring that this person is now under the authority of God. He or she is no longer under the authority of worldly forces. We are declaring allegiance to God.

When this baptism is public, we have announced this loudly to the world. With this declaration, we cannot as easily fall back into our old ways. Our public announcement saves us from much internal turmoil. In very many ways, this baptism saves us from a present day sinful lifestyle.

The Calling of a Disciple

Jesus has called all of his disciples to be involved with his work of bringing truth into a world that has no definition of this word. “You shall know the truth,” he tells all who will hear, “and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

The end of the matter is this: When Jesus came to establish his power in this world, he did not come to start a political party. He came to rescue his people from the world. He came to make disciples. It is also what we are called to do.

1 comment:

  1. As we disciples increasingly share the truth with each other, this encourages all of us to make more disciples of Christ, in Jesus' name.