By Calvin Burrell
Any short list of the Bible’s great texts should include the creation account in Genesis 1, the Twenty-Third Psalm, John 3:16, and the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. Expanding our list to the five or ten greatest texts, would we add Christ’s Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer? Probably. His great commandments to love God and love others? For sure!
How about His Great Commission? I would, and here’s why: It is Jesus’ supreme saying after His death and resurrection, His pinnacle prescription just before returning to heaven. In these last earthly words, our Savior and Lord assigned all His followers our corporate mission in the world He came to save. Let’s unpack it here together, as if for the first time.
This huge commission appears in five different forms in five books: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:7, 8. Each of these texts gives essentially the same commission. Note the similarities in their core elements.
- All five versions of the Great Commission speak of Jesus’ disciples going, being sent, or becoming witnesses to all nations of the world, to all peoples.
- Matthew identifies the commission’s central activity as making disciples; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all of Jesus’ commands.
- Mark describes the commission as preaching the gospel that gives salvation to all who believe and are baptized.
- Luke describes it as preaching repentance and remission of sins.
- John links Jesus’ sending His disciples with others being forgiven of sins.
The differences in the five forms of this worldwide commission is seen in their introductions and conclusions.
- Matthew begins it with Christ’s claim to universal authority given by His Father (28:18). He ends with Jesus’ promise of His never-ending presence (v. 20b).
- Mark begins the Great Commission with Christ’s rebuke of the disciples’ lack of faith (16:14) and ends it with the promise of signs and wonders to follow (vv. 17, 18).
- Luke’s Gospel begins the commission with Christ’s teaching about His death and resurrection (24:46) and ends it with instructions for the first disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised power from above was received (v. 49).
- John begins it with Christ’s greeting of peace (20:21) and concludes it by Christ breathing His Spirit on the disciples (20:21).
- In Acts, Luke begins the commission with Jesus saying that His disciples’ knowledge of prophetic times and seasons was much less important than their obedience to His commission (1:7). The promised Holy Spirit was poured out shortly thereafter (2:1ff).
Reading and hearing Jesus’ words in the Great Commission is the place to start. The next step is even more important. What will we do now that we know His climactic instructions for all His disciples? The question is hugely personal.
What do you think of Christ’s Great Commission? Do you see it as another one of Christ’s impossible commands, like being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect is impossible (Matthew 5:48)?
Yes, the Great Commission is beyond our reach, for sure — personally, congregationally, and denominationally. The answer to this dilemma of impossibility is that God, for whom nothing is impossible, has already promised, when He blessed Abraham, that this “impossible command” would be completed. His promise was “In you [and in your seed] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed . . .” (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:18).
Do you feel that your contribution to the Great Commission is insignificant? After all, what can just one person do to reach so many unreached people?
Imagine a dozen or a hundred folks in a group — a local church. Imagine that each one in the group is thinking silently, What can one person do? Imagine that each one in the group chose one or two mission-supporting actions and started doing them faithfully. Imagine if each one agreed to merge their mission efforts with all the others in the group. Now imagine if people in a hundred or a thousand other groups agreed to pray or give or serve together in a dozen or more projects like the ones above, and then all those groups formed a network with fifty thousand other groups of like mind and action. The gospel good that could be done around the world by such “co-oper-action” is not imaginary; it is real.
Can you see the Great Commission as an invitation to join Christ in loving people everywhere, starting with the folks next door? Most of us can’t take the gospel around the world, but we could take it around the corner, if we would. To love the world is no big chore. Our problem is the people closest to us. To take the love of Jesus next door is an essential piece of taking it to the whole world.
Can you think of the complex Great Commission as the natural extension of a simple invitation to a Christ-centered and others-serving lifestyle?
Can you see the Great Commission as Christ’s invitation to join Him in what He has done and is doing: sharing His love and mercy, His grace and truth with people wherever they are in the world? Tell God now that you want to be all in for Jesus. Then follow up with fresh action and prayer that prove it.
Think of the Great Com-mission as an invitation to love, trust, and obey the One who has all authority, ability, and intent to complete the job alone, if necessary. He has not only commanded that it be done but already promised it will be done. What He has promised, He will do.
God’s will is to accomplish this work through people like us. With each of us doing our part, all congregations working together, and God’s Spirit harnessing, harmonizing, and energizing the efforts of faithful people in every age, the gospel will be preached as a witness to bless every nation, ethnicity, language, and people group on earth — before the end of this age (Matthew 24:14).
Then Christ will return to put down every foe and complete the missionary task, until the glory of the Lord covers the whole earth like the waters now cover the sea.
Why wouldn’t we join God in a worldwide cause of truth and beauty that He has said will ultimately succeed?
Calvin Burrell has served for decades in the Church of God Seventh Day (CG7). This article was originally printed in the July-August 2019 of the Bible Advocate.