Calvary’s 2019 Conference on Global Engagement (C.O.G.E.) featured Greg Sanford as the main speaker. His sessions challenged all in attendance to “stick to the business.” For Christians that “business” is the Great Commission. Mr. Sanford was a church planter in the Yanomamo tribe for 12 years, so he has first-hand experience and stories to tell. In addition to the four main sessions, students had the opportunity to attend seminars dealing with various missions-related topics. The Langmade Room was filled with display tables and more than 40 representatives from 25 different organizations. The whole campus spent time in prayer on Wednesday morning, and the evenings also offered more exposure to what God is doing in the world through presentations and prayer.
I have given many reasons already as to the importance of missions, and there are many more that could be given. Far above them all however, is the command of Christ, the Great Commission. If there were no other reason than this, it alone should suffice. The reality for Christians is that Jesus has told us what He wants us to do. He has given us our marching orders. No Christian should sit around wondering what God’s will for their life is. He has already given it. He has given it in the many verses of Scripture which declare, “this is God’s will for you”. Furthermore, Christ Himself has told us five times in Scripture what we are to be doing right now.
The Great Commission
The Great Commission is usually the name given to the command of Christ in Matthew 28:18-20. However, the reality is that there are a total of five verses which make up the Great Commission.
Matthew 28:18-20 – “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 have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Mark 16:15 – “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole of creation.’”
Luke 24:46-48 – “and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”
John 20:21 – “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’”
Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
We have seen how the Great Commission is not the only thing that directs the missionary activity of the Church. Also of importance is, the character of God, the position of mankind, the content of the Old and New Testaments, and the provision made by Christ. However, the Great Commission stands out for several reasons.
The Great Commission Informs Our Mission
The Great Commission guides us in how we do missions and outreach to a lost world. We find the purpose of the commission in Matthew 28, to make disciples. Frequently, when Matthew 28:18-20 is reflected upon, it is said that “go” is a command. However, in the original Greek, “go” is assumed. It would be better translated, ‘as you are going’. The command, the imperative, in this verse is ‘make disciples’. The rest of the verse goes on to explain how that is to be done, by baptizing and teaching obedience to Christ’s commands, one of which is the Great Commission. Mark gives us the method of carrying out the commission; proclamation, or preaching. We are to use words to explain the message to people. Mark and Luke together tell us what the message is, the gospel; the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). Luke informs us of who is to carry out the commission in both his Gospel and in Acts: witnesses. We (those who have already believed) are witnesses to those who have not. Matthew and John give us the authority for carrying out the proclamation of the gospel message when they declare that Christ is sending us in His authority. We do not go out on our own accord but in the authority of our Lord. Finally, all of the repetitions of the commission, except John, tell us the scope of this mission, the whole world. Acts 1:8 makes it the clear that we are to take this message to the ‘end of the Earth.’
The importance of the Great Commission cannot be understated. It sharply focuses the missionary thrust and responsibility of Christianity beyond reasonable doubt and disputation. The Great Commission tells us exactly what the Church is supposed to be doing until the Lord returns. As important as all the ministries of the church are, missions and outreach; sharing the gospel and making disciples are among the only ones that Scripture clearly spells out we are to be engaged in. No believer in Christ should ever ask the question, “Should I share my faith with this person?” The answer is always yes, because the answer has been given already! Its restatement by every one of the gospel writers testifies to its place in the tradition of the early church. The book of Acts serves as a record of the early church carrying out the commission. Other than ‘wait in Jerusalem’ the Great Commission is the single command of the resurrected Christ. We often consider a person’s last words to be of significance because they are the last thing they will say to us. The Great Commission stands as Christ’s ‘last words’ until His return.
The Great Commission and the Church
The Great Commission clearly spells out the mission of the Church and the mission of each local church. Every year, my students are required to memorize the following argument because it shows how clearly the Great Commission applies to each and every local church.
The Great Commission was given to the Apostles on each occasion by Christ Himself
The Apostles were instructed to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit before carrying out the Commission (Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:4-8)
The Holy Spirits coming resulted in the birth of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2, 11:15-17)
Therefore, the birth of the Church at Pentecost was necessary for carrying out the Great Commission. It is “believers as the Church” that are responsible for carrying out the Great Commission (Luke 24:47-49, Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2, Acts 11:15-16, 1 Corinthians 12:13)
The local church is the manifestation of the universal Church, therefore; missions is the responsibility of the Local Church.
Now, let’s unpack that just a bit more. First of all, every time the Great Commission is recorded in Scripture it is Christ who is speaking it. These are the very words of our Lord and Savior. This completely removes the possibility that the commission was a later invention of the Apostles, or the Church. These are the very words of Christ! This is our Lord, giving us our marching orders! Second, while Jesus gave them the commission, essentially telling them what He wanted them to do, He also told them to wait. Jesus was basically telling the disciples, ‘this is what I want you to do, but I don’t want you to do it yet, this other thing has to happen first’. That other thing was the coming of the Holy Spirit, which gave them the strength and the boldness to proclaim the message. Think about it; prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit the disciples were hiding out in a locked room, afraid of what might happen to them. However, at the very moment that the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they proclaim the gospel with boldness and urgency. The Holy Spirit gave them the power to proclaim the message (Acts 1:8). The only question that remains is; what does this have to do with the Church? Everything! While we readily recognize Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit as the birth of the Church, it is Acts 10-11 that prove it. Acts relates the account of Peter’s visit to Cornelius and the Gentiles receiving the gospel for the first time. In Acts 11, Peter is in trouble with the Jerusalem council because he went into a Gentile home and ate with them! It’s always about food! As Peter gives his defense, he specifically refers to the Acts 2 event and calls it the beginning (Acts 11:15). What else could it be the beginning of, except the Church. So, we see from these events, that the birth of the Church was necessary for carrying out the Great Commission. Before the Church was born, the disciples huddled together in fear. Afterwards, they boldly proclaimed the gospel message, gladly undergoing suffering, shame, and death to tell others of the riches of eternal life to be found in Christ Jesus.
The Great Commission and Strategy
Finally, the Great Commission informs our strategy for engaging all people with the gospel. We are to proclaim the gospel to all people groups. We are to lead people into a personal experience and relationship with Jesus Christ through God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We are to separate people from their old lives through baptism as a symbol of their new walk with God. We are to teach people the value of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how to walk in obedience and dependence on Him so that He can renew and transform their minds. We are to train them to go out and repeat the process of making disciples who make disciples who make disciples, for that is what disciples do.
A Gordon-Conwell study in 2010 listed 2.04 billion people as unreached with the gospel. Two years ago that number was 2.5 billion. Today that number is 3.1 billion people unreached with the gospel. While allowing for differences in how the numbers are counted, population growth among the least reached and unreached peoples of the world is quickly outpacing the Church’s current capacity to reach them.
Missions (the pioneering proclamation of the Gospel to a lost world at enmity with God) is the mission of the Church, as well as every local church. Missions is not just another program of the church. It is not just a once a year conference. It is the church’s every day. Missions is not just 10% of the budget, it is the entire budget. Missions must be the mission of every church because it is the mission of the Church and it is the mission of our Lord.