In the famous conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel, we find the Great Commission:
This passage has been studied, taught, memorized, and put into practice to such an extent that it has transformed the world.
Yet I still feel there is one part of this passage that is neglected.
To be fair, perhaps some streams of the church understand this well!
It might be that what is neglected is primarily in the apologetics community? You’ll have to let me know!
Let’s look at the passage again, so we have it fresh on our minds:
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So what have (some of us) missed?
Did you see that Jesus said we are to make disciples of all nations?
And did you notice that Jesus promised, I am with you always?
If Jesus intends for his disciples to make disciples of all nations, that means Jesus is for everyone.
Of course, colleges are a modern invention. And even as of 2010, only 6.7% of the world had college degrees..
That’s not to say that in the ancient world, there was no advanced thinking! Even today, brilliant people do doctoral work to understand great thinkers from the past: Plato, Socrates… I won’t try to mention everyone.
But because Jesus is for everyone, he must be knowable by those who lack even a basic education.
So what does Jesus give his disciples to help them make disciples?
Does he give them an apologetics textbook?
Does he provide them with a systematic theology?
As best I can tell, that’s not the emphasis.
Rather, he provides the gift of himself and his way of life.
How does Jesus give this gift? We see it in Acts 2:4,
Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
And what happens when the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus’ disciples to announce God’s message?
We read in Acts 2:41,
So those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added to them.
And as these new disciples are taught to obey everything that Jesus commanded his original disciples, what happens?
We see the unique and appealing life of this community in Acts 2:43-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.
Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
What do we see here?
Jesus fulfills his promise to be with his people. And each new disciple is filled with the Holy Spirit.
The original disciples dedicate themselves to teaching what Jesus taught them. And the new disciples “devote themselves” to learning this teaching.
Further, the original disciples don’t just give information, but they focus on obedience to the Lordship of Christ. They demonstrate and explain the necessity of “observing” what Jesus “commanded” (Matthew 28:20). The new disciples put this way of life into practice.
The point is, actions speak louder than words.
What’s more convincing?
Arguing that Jesus rose from the dead — or showing how Jesus’ resurrection has transformed you, your family, and your community?
By far, it is the latter that God blesses.
As the new community of Jesus-shaped disciples experiences renewal, sacrificially loves one another and engages in their community, they “enjoy the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47).
So does this mean we give up apologetics?
No, not at all. I didn’t say that!
It’s interesting to see how persuasive the speeches in Acts are.
To Jewish audiences, the apostles speak of how Scripture is fulfilled, and that Jesus is the Messiah. (Do a word search in Acts for “Messiah”).
To Gentile audiences, the apostles go into public forums to present and discuss the resurrection of Jesus.
In particular, Paul often repeats his testimony of encountering Jesus — which reminds me, again, of Jesus’ promise: “I will be with you always.”
Paul also appeals to the public, historical record. For instance, in Acts 26:26, as he addresses the procurator, Festus, and King Agrippa he states: “For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice, since this was not done in a corner.”
How could Jesus show up in your community?
What I am suggesting is there are four sequential and inter-related components of revival:
- Experiencing Jesus’ presence
- Demonstrating Jesus’ transformation… together
- Going on Jesus’ mission
- Proclaiming Jesus’ message
Where are you stuck in this process?
Where has your community stalled out?
What does the next step of obedience look like?
And remember, Jesus is with you! This isn’t about increasing our religious or moral self-effort. This isn’t about impressing me or anyone else. This is about having " joyful and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:46) as we experience God’s presence and purpose for ourselves.