Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Church's Task of Discipling the Nations

Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

The passage before us today has appropriately been labeled the Church’s Great Commission. This commission contains both indicatives (statements of fact, of what is the case) and imperatives (commands, moral obligations). Let us consider each in turn. First, the indicatives. Jesus gives two. First, He informs the disciples that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – through His conquest of sin, death, and Hades, He is now Lord of all, God’s Messiah come to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Second, He assures the disciples that He will be with them forever – though He would be absent physically, He would remain present with them, by the power of His Spirit, to comfort, encourage, enlighten, and empower them to fulfill the task He has given them.

So what is this task? What are the imperatives, the commands? What is the commission? Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… Notice that the task is quite clear: our task is to disciple the nations. What does this mean? Well, our Lord explains the task by adding two phrases: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Notice the two components of the discipling process: baptizing and teaching. Baptizing introduces someone into the life of faith; teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments helps that same person learn to live out the faith. In other words, our task is both to bring the nations into the faith and to bring them up in the faith.

It is not sufficient for someone to be incorporated into the faith if they remain, in their thinking and acting, an outsider. If a mobster gets a job on the police force, we won’t rejoice if he’s simply puts on a uniform; we’ll only rejoice if he actually becomes an officer in heart and mind. So too – those who are brought into the faith through baptism are to be taught to observe the things that Christ has taught through instruction. Discipleship, in other words, involves both conversion and transformation.

Paul writes in Colossians 1:28, “we preach [Jesus], warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man [mature] in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words reveal that the church is called not simply to get people “saved” or to get them to “make decisions” for Christ, but to grow them up in the faith. We are to disciple the nations not just evangelize them. We are to aim for their growth and maturity. In other words, we are to create civilizations not mere converts.

Today we will see that the task Jesus lays out for the Church in the Great Commission is the same basic task to which Jesus calls parents. We are called to disciple our children. We are to train and instruct them so that they mature in Christ. We are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Parents are to warn their children and teach their children in all wisdom, that they may present their children mature in Christ Jesus. That is the task.

Parenting involves, in other words, not only having a child but raising that child in the fear of God. Any fool who has passed puberty can sire or conceive a child – can become a parent; however, it takes a man or woman of faith to raise a child in the fear of God – to be a parent.

So reminded that Christ is the exalted Ruler over all, that He remains with His Church to this day, and that He has summoned us to disciple the nations, including our own children, let us confess that we have often distorted or neglected our calling. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.