Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
18 And Jesus came and said to them, h “All authority i in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 j Go therefore and k make disciples of l all nations, j baptizing them m in 1 n the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them o to observe all that p I have commanded you. And behold, q I am with you always, to r the end of the age.”
The Missionary Charge
In Matthew 28:18-20, we have the clarion call for missions - Jesus charging His disciples to convert the nations. This wonderful commission comes in a glorious fashion: Jesus gives us two truths about Himself before and after He tells His disciples what to do. The first truth is His supreme authority. Him having authority is the grounds for His disciples' missionary work. The second truth is His eternal presence, which serves to comfort the disciple in the work. Jesus displays what we must understand to fulfill His call fully: the missionary work can only be done in the context of Jesus' authority, and the disciple can only fully understand his charge in the context of who Jesus is. Having laid that foundation, the topic at hand then is the call and the work of the missionary. Looking at 19a-20a, we have 4 parts - the going, the disciple-making, the baptizing, and the teaching. It is difficult to fully express in English what is going on in Greek; the imperative verb here is "to make disciples" - the command to go carries imperative force but is a participle, as are the commands to baptize and to teach. Making disciples, then, is the main thrust of Jesus' command; going, baptizing, and teaching are to be included (perhaps not as the only means of disciple-making, but certainly an integral part in the process). This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the current perception of missionary work. The first notion of the missionary might seem like the revivalist from the late-19th to early-2oth centuries; a solitary man preaching for all to hear, under a tent or on a street corner, winning souls by confronting the people with the truth of the Gospel. There certainly is merit to this paradigm, as many a soul became faithful converts through this process; however, this is not a complete picture. This picture is the picture of teaching - teaching to observe the commands of Jesus. Hearing sermons, however, is markedly different than being discipled! There are stories of preachers going to Africa or Asia (that I am personally aware of) who preached in a tent or an auditorium, and saw many people come to the altars to place their faith in Christ; these preachers then left, telling the wonderful stories of their work yet with little to no idea of the continuing state of affairs for the "converts" at their meetings. These preachers only fulfilled one aspect of Christ's call. Another notion might be the person who goes on what is termed a short-term missions trip. Such a person might not be called a "missionary" per se, but the consensus seems to be that missionary work is being done. Clearly the "go" is being fulfilled in this instance - someone is leaving home to enter a completely foreign culture to work (building or preaching or serving) on behalf of the Lord; while this is certainly a good gesture, it doesn't truly fulfill the commission Christ called His disciples to. The missing component is the disciple-making process - the main charge in Christ's command. This is the heart of the issue: one assumes that by simply going abroad, he is doing the Lord's work because he is working on behalf of the Lord; the truth is, he may be pouring money into a corrupt system and doing very little to make disciples of Christ. A third picture, and one that seems closer to the truth, is this: a man moves to a new culture, learns and understands the culture, shows the truth of the Gospel to those he encounters through preaching and teaching, baptizes converts as they come to saving faith, and continues to labor alongside these converts - showing by his life how a Christian is to be. The discipling process doesn't end at the "conversion prayer" or the baptism ceremony, rather, the discipling process is a long, arduous, messy, wonderful process that continues for many many years. Christ's call to make disciples is not something that can be done in the short-term; nor is it something that can be done only through preaching or baptizing. No, this commission is for a long time; Jesus took 3 years to disciple the Apostles, and He was perfect. We must be willing to spend a lot longer than that if we are to truly do what Christ has called us to do.
Main point summary
Jesus tells us to make disciples, including baptizing and teaching, because He has ultimate authority.
And Jesus came and said to them,
Jesus said the following:
h “All authority i in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
"I have been given the authority over everything, in heaven and on earth;
j Go therefore
and k make disciples of l all nations,
and disciple all people,
j baptizing them m in 1 n the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
baptizing them in the Triune Godhead
teaching them o to observe all that p I have commanded you.
and teaching them to obey the precepts of Jesus.
And behold, q I am with you always, to r the end of the age.”
Do this, knowing that I will always be with you."