Jesus began his ministry on earth by proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He taught us what it was like, demonstrated its power, showed us its character, and invited us to become citizens of it. God’s Kingdom is perfectly pure and it’s eternal, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that as the God-appointed Saviour of the world, Jesus came to take away our sin, purify our souls, and defeat death on our behalf so that we can live forever. What a Saviour! There is truly no one like him in heaven or on earth, our God, our Saviour, our Hope and our Joy.
Once Jesus made a way for us to receive ALL that by receiving him by faith, he then left his church with a commission, The Great Commission, to finish the work that he stared. The door to heaven was now open; Jesus was the door, and he empowered his church by his Spirit to share the good news that anyone can now enter, if they’re willing to come through him. This is what The Great Commission is, as witnessed by his disciple Matthew:
‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’ (Matthew 28:18–20)
There are a number of things to draw out from this command, but we’ll focus on four key biblical ideas – Evangelism, Church Planting, Discipleship, and Sound Doctrine.
The word evangel-ism comes from the root (Greek) word evangel-ion, which simply means, good news. To evangel-ise is to tell people the good news. Used in relation to Jesus, it’s to tell people the good news of who Jesus is and what he’s done. Essentially, the Great Commission was a command to evangelise the world. Jesus gave it to his disciples, and once they accomplished the task, they left it to those who came to trust in Jesus through their message. This happened from generation to generation, and has now been entrusted to us.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
How many faithful men and women have shed their blood over the past 2000 years to share this good news, and now it’s in our hands. We’re alive. We know the truth. Life is short. What are we going to do with it?
One of the greatest tragedies in church is seeing people come to know this truth, then spend their lives doing everything but share it with others. We don’t believe that everyone will be especially gifted in evangelism, but all of us who know the truth have been given the opportunity to direct our time, treasure and talent toward making Jesus known. Oh brothers and sisters, let’s not waste our lives pursuing anything else!
When Jesus sent his disciples out with The Great Commission still ringing in their ears, they shared the good news with people and brought those people together as churches. As we continue to read the New Testament, we see the local church is so much more than a place to learn about Jesus… it’s both the goal of evangelism and the method God intended for the world to be evangelised.
The local church is the goal of evangelism, because when a person believes in Jesus, they’re immediately brought in to the body of Christ. Only exceptions like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8) exist on the front line of world mission, and only because they’re the only believers to speak of in that place and at that time. But God’s intention is that everyone who believes in Jesus goes on to belong to a local church. To use the language of the New Testament, when we connect with the Head (Jesus), we become part of the body (his church). The local church is the goal of evangelism.
The local church is also the means or method of evangelism. That is to say, Jesus makes himself known as his church proclaims the gospel, and as the gospel is proclaimed through the display of unity and love within each localchurch. Twice in John’s gospel Jesus says the way we treat one another will be its own witness to the world that we belong to him, and are loved by him (John 13:35 & 17:23). And no doubt the ‘… city on a hill that cannot be hidden’ in Matthew 5:14 is a reference to his church.
The local church is also the place Christians are equipped, encouraged, corrected, supported, strengthened, empowered and sent out to continue the mission. The local church is the goal of mission, but it’s also God’s method for mission. We are the body of Christ, and Christ is proclaiming this good news, by his Spirit, through us. As the Apostle Paul said to the church in Colossae,
‘He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.’ (Colossians 1:28–29)
As the disciples obeyed The Great Commission, they went out and planted churches, then spent their lives equipping, protecting and providing for them, so that Jesus could fulfil his mission through them.
The Great Commission also speaks of discipleship, and this is also connected to the local church. Notice Jesus didn’t simply say, ‘Go and tell all nations…’ But ‘Go and make disciples of all nations […] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ Making disciples is so more than sharing the gospel, in the same way that there is so much more to raising a child than simply giving birth. Disciples are life-long learners, and life-long learners will take a life-time to learn to obey. This is another reason why the disciples of Jesus obeyed this command by planting churches.
As we’ve looked at these past two weeks, the local church is the most natural and likely place for Christians to apply the law of love that Jesus modelled and handed down to us. It’s also the place we are most effectively transformed into Christ’s likeness, as we are encouraged and corrected according to God’s Word. It was always God’s intention that disciples were made, and the local church was the place God designed for that to happen. It’s in the local church that we are given opportunities to identify and develop gifts of the Spirit; it’s there we are equipped to serve one another and the wider body; and it’s through the church that we entrust what we’ve learnt along the way to others, who will in turn be given the opportunity to disciple others.
Finally, The Great Commission was also a command to guard what the Bible calls sound doctrine. Jesus was clear, false teachers would come and distort the truth of the gospel. The Apostles were just as clear. It was Jesus’ intention that people would obey everything he had handed down to us, and he made sure that would happen by guarding sound doctrine in two specific ways – the presence of his Spirit, and the establishment of his church.
Before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples,
“…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
“… when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)
Jesus wanted his disciples to teach the truth, so he empowered them by his Spirit to ensure they did.
Jesus also made sure the truth of the gospel was preserved by establishing his church. This is why the Apostle Paul said to the young pastor Timothy,
“… if I am delayed, you’ll know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
To summarise, God sent his Son into the world to save his people. God then sent the Spirit of his Son to gather his people together to form his church. The church then became the method God used to fulfil The Great Commission, by making disciples of all nations as they proclaimed the truth of the gospel, according to his word.
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