I was converted in the year 1979. A lot of people know the day and time of coming to Christ, but not me. All I know is that God’s grace irresistibly drew me until I was exhausted. I think fatigue played a prominent role in my conversion!
As I grew in my faith, I became aware of something called “the Great Commission”. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I certainly saw the effect of it. It would suddenly snatch up college graduates and send them to far off places. John would be involved in leading a campus ministry, taking classes, dating Cindy, and then, BAM, he was gone! Oh how I wanted that experience! I wanted to be caught up in some great and grand adventure. I didn’t exactly know what the Great Commission was, but I knew it must be something special, because it could capture and catapult the best people in the church. I didn’t know what the Great Commission was, but I wanted in, and I didn’t want it to pass me by.
Here I am, almost three decades later. Things didn’t quite turn out how I thought they would. Sure, I have traveled some to various countries, but I never took up residence in a Third World country or secretly preached in a Communist country. For a number of years, I wondered if I somehow missed out on the Great Commission – did it pass me by? But what I’ve learned over the years, is that the thing that makes the Great Commission great is that it is available all Christians right where they live.
Let’s look afresh at the Great Commission, and see what makes it truly great.
The Great Commission Is Great Because It Starts With The Finished Work of Christ
Matthew 28:18 says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” Because of the cross and resurrection, all authority in heaven and on earth has been transferred to Jesus Christ from the Father. Think for a moment about all that is included in the words “all authority”. Jesus has all authority over Satan, the government, the economy, the media, those hostile to Christianity, and every other thing in the universe. The Great Commission invites us to ponder the power of the cross. Through his death and resurrection, Christ secured all authority for himself.
The authority of Jesus forms the foundation for all evangelism and missions. The authority of Jesus guarantees that we will see results when we proclaim the gospel. Jesus has all authority and power to accomplish his will, and his will includes saving a multitude of people through the proclamation of the gospel.
When we hear something like “results guaranteed!”, we think of slick salesmen or trendy diets. The Great Commission is not like that. The Great Commission is great because is guarantees results. It is great because is guarantees fruit.
This should greatly encourage us in our efforts to proclaim the gospel! Jesus has already guaranteed the success of the Great Commission, and we get to play a part in it! Let the authority of Jesus stir fresh faith in you for sharing the gospel.
The Great Commission is Great Because It Includes The Church
Often in the Old Testament, God would address leaders, who in turn represented those they lead. For example, when God addressed David, he wasn’t only addressing David, he was addressing all of Israel. We see the same thing at work in the Great Commission. When Jesus addressed the disciples, he was also addressing the Church who would follow in the footsteps of the disciples. This is clear from the scope of the Great Commission. Jesus called the disciples to proclaim the gospel to all nations until the end of the age. It was impossible for the disciples alone to fulfill this mission. Clearly, Jesus had the church in mind as well. You could say that the eleven received the commission, the church finishes the commission.
How does the church fulfill the Great Commission? Jesus spells it out in Matthew 28:19 – 20:
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.
The church is called to preach the gospel, baptize those who believe, and then teach them to obey the commands of Jesus. This mission involves every Christian! The Great Commission can’t be fulfilled only by pastors. In order for the Great Commission to be fulfilled, every Christian must be actively proclaiming the gospel and teaching others to obey the commands of Christ.
The Great Commission is great because it rests on the authority of Christ and because it involves the entire church.
The Great Commission is Great Because All Can Participate
In Romans 15:19, Paul says:
…so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ…
It’s important to understand that Paul himself did not preach the gospel to everyone from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. This geographical region was simply too large for Paul to say that he completely fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ in that region. It was not as if Paul had mastered technology in such a way that he was somehow able to get the gospel into every household in the area he mentions.
So how could Paul make the audacious claim that he had fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricrum? This extraordinary statement can only be assigned to one reality: Paul had planted local churches! Paul considered the ministry of gospel of Christ fulfilled when a church had been solidly planted.
In Expositors commentary on Romans, Everett Harrsion says:
The statement ‘I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ’ is not intended to mean that he had preached in every community between the two points mentioned but that he had faithfully preached the message in the major communities along the way, leaving to his converts the more intensified evangelizing of surrounding districts.
When Paul planted a local church, that church then accepted the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel in that region.
The Great Commission strategy as seen in Romans 15 can be summarized as: Called men planting strategic churches, which then are mobilized to penetrate a particular geographic region.
This means that every Christian gets to participate in the Great Commission! When I was a new Christian, I thought the only way to participate in the Great Commission was to get my passport stamped and travel to a foreign country. The reality is, most Christians can participate in the Great Commission by supporting their local church, reaching non-Christians in their area, and supporting those called to go into new fields.
This wonderful reality has some specific implications for pastors.
1. Pastors must realize that there is a mission beyond simply caring for the church.
A church will not be sufficiently healthy unless specific and proportional attention is given to Great Commission work. Pastors must redefine success so that it includes church planting and local evangelism. For a local church to have life, it must exist for something outside of itself. The local church exists to reproduce itself, and this always comes at a cost. Pastors must be willing to make that sacrifice, and include missional efforts and thinking in how they understand their role.
2. Pastors must define success not only by church growth, but by church growth through conversions.
The future of a local church depends not simply on growth, but on evangelistic growth. Too many churches enjoy growth simply from Christians transfering from one church to another. Those folks who study church growth believe that a church conversion rate of at least 25% is necessary if a church is going make a significant impact on the world. Pastors, what do you need to do to establish and pursue that goal?
The Great Commission is great because all can participate. The proclamation of the gospel is not only the job of pastors. It is for every Christian. Do you see the Great Commission as great?