After his resurrection, Jesus makes the powerful proclamation that he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Every molecule and mountain, every atom and atmosphere, every particle and person is subject under the rule and reign of King Jesus. After proclaiming his cosmos-encompassing authority, Jesus issues the precept that is to be the single aim of his church throughout the ages until he returns to once and for all consummate his kingdom.
Let’s turn again to Matthew 28.16-20:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Make disciples. But who should make disciples? And of whom should they make disciples? And how are they to make disciples? The text tells us who Jesus appoints as the disciple-makers, who he identifies as the disciples and how he defines disciple-making.
First, the disciple-makers. Verse 16 indicates the eleven disciples (the twelve less Judas Iscariot) is the audience to whom Jesus makes his address in verses 18 through 20. This does not mean the command to make disciples was meant only for the eleven men standing on the mountain in Galilee that day. It means that the precept was given to the apostles who are, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:20, the “foundation” of the church so that disciple-making would be foundational to the identity and function of the church. By giving the command to make disciples to the eleven apostles, Jesus is embedding disciple-making in the DNA of the church that he is building. The church is to be marked by a culture of making disciples. Therefore, the participation of the individuals of the church in making disciples is not optional. Much like an apple tree can no longer really be an apple tree if it stop producing apples, the church will fail to be the church if she fails to obey the precept given her by her Lord—make disciples. We must make disciples. This isn’t a task reserved for the theological elite or spiritually mature. We are all, every one of us, to make disciples. Whether we are acting the part or not, we are all missionaries. You may get paid by the county school system or Home Depot or Coke or Delta or whoever your employer is, but you are a missionary. And your primary charge is to make disciples.
Second, the disciples, or those who are to be the focus of the church’s disciple-making. Verse 19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” All nations. Of which peoples should we make disciples? All of them! Every single one. There is not a single nation, people group, ethnic group or linguistic group that the church should not engage for the sake of making disciples. But pride is the great enemy of making disciples of all peoples. In pride we posture ourselves over and against others. Hear this, brothers and sisters: we cannot make disciples of all peoples if we are puffed up with pride—whether it is racism, socio/economic elitism, intellectual snobbery, athletic arrogance or the hundred other ways pride manifests itself. Until the reality that our sin hung Jesus on the cross drives us low to repentance, we will always be rising up in pride, and in pride, never be making disciples of all peoples. Trevin Wax says it this way, “The repentant heart renounces the stepladder of superiority; looking up to God for salvation keeps it from looking down on anyone else.” We are exposed and laid bare before the cross. Can we in such humiliation rise up and posture ourselves over another? The answer, clearly, is no. So, as the resurrected Christ reminds us, all peoples, including you and me, are in desperate need redemption, and he shed his blood for all peoples so that one day, as Revelation 7.9-10 anticipates, before the throne there will stand “a great multitude that no one [can] number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, crying with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!.”” Make disciples of all nations.
Third, disciple-making, or the how the church ought to make disciples of all nations. The precept to “make disciples” is supported by three participles in the Greek—going, baptizing and teaching. In other words, the answer to the question how does the church make disciples of all nations? is by going, baptizing and teaching. Going. Making disciples of all nations requires going to all nations. Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless someone is sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”” Making disciples of all nations requires going. Next, baptizing. Entrance into the church upon repentance and belief is marked by baptism. Baptism is a symbolic demonstration of the reality that the believer has been baptized with Christ into his death and raised with him to walk in newness of life. Third, teaching. Making disciples requires teaching “all that [Christ has] commanded.” “The new life of a disciple is a life of obedience to Jesus’ commandments, or it is not a new life at all. It is worthless to acknowledge the lordship of Christ in baptism and then ignore his commandments.” Going. Baptizing. Teaching. These are the primary actions involved in making disciples of all nations. This is how Christ will grow his church. Not by starting new church programs, not by building new buildings, not by gathering in holy huddles, not by waging culture wars, not by parading our morality. All these efforts lack the power of the gospel which is as Romans 1.16 declares, “the power of God unto salvation.” All we do as a church should serve the end of making disciples of all nations, and therefore, all we do should be marked by going, baptizing and teaching. This alone is Christ’s final precept to his church—make disciples.