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Not an Option
The New Testament Training Command–Matthew 28:16-20
Did it happen to you? You were in high school and you just didn’t want to go to church that Sunday. You decided to put your teenage foot down–you’re tired and want to sleep. Three times Mom and then Dad twice tell you it’s time to get up–each time with greater heat. You’re still hoping for two more hours. You know you’re too big to spank, but now you can’t sleep because you’re wondering, “What will they do?”
Then it happens—tough love. The door explodes open, three giant steps and your covers are off the bed. Not just the sheets–all the covers. And not pulled down off of you, but in one sweeping motion, sheets, blankets, everything covering you is now stuck to the wall on the opposite side of your bedroom.
There’s no possibility of misunderstanding–no chance of remaining in bed, you are now up. The bull-like breathing of your father and the fire in his eyes lets you know, this is a deadly moment. Get ready now–and any doubts that may have lingered vanish when he growls only three words. “Not an option.”
My parents were serious about me getting saved–they knew I needed to be around God’s Word and God’s people and as long as I lived in their home, I was going to church. It was “not an option”—and eventually, after three years of torment to my parents from my lifestyle, the Lord graciously answered their prayers. I was saved and I thanked my parents for all their efforts.
Our Lord is even more serious about His commands–they’re “not an option.” But one command demanding obedience today has fallen on hard times and the reason is this. The Lord made this command a top priority–a commission. You and I were saved to make disciples–to fulfill the Great Commission.
As soon as I say that, many believers freeze up, internally gasp, pretend to have a fatal disease or write me off as some radical. Or they say, “I’ve never been discipled–therefore I have never discipled.” The reason for this is . . .
1. The CONFUSION about discipleship
Some treat making disciples like it was an extra responsibility God lays on the shoulders of those who are mature. They view discipleship as a one-on-one meeting, talking over a book once a week at Starbucks. Or they view discipleship as a growth option, only when there’s a desperate need. Or they think discipleship is meeting with a spiritual leader to talk about the Bible. Every one of those concepts are incomplete or wrong.
2. The CLARIFICATION about discipleship
1 Discipleship is intentional relationships for the purpose of growth in Christ
2 Discipleship is learning to live life in obedience to Christ through relationships with the same goal
3 Making disciples is enjoying friendships with those seeking to become like Christ together
Not random relationships, not merely one-on-one relationship, but relationships which are purposeful. Discipleship relationships are one of the means of grace God uses to mature His children. How many marriages are represented here today, where both husband and wife are believers? The reason you got married was to have an intentional relationship, so both of you would grow to be more like Christ individually and together, right?
As a Christian, you’d never say, “I will marry them cause they drag me down spiritually,” or “I’ll marry my spouse because they make following Christ and obeying His Word impossible.” No, your relationship is to glorify God by becoming like Christ through obeying God’s Word. But is it all that important?
3. The CRUCIALNESS of discipleship
One of the greatest threats to the church today is a lack of spiritual reproduction. Often student ministry in church facilitates discipleship and desperate parents welcome it. But it’s rare to find a church where adults, students and kids are drenched in discipleship. Yet discipleship is not extra–discipleship is not merely for mature churches. Discipleship is not an option.
Discipleship is so crucial to the health of a church and a home, Deuteronomy 6 last week passionately commanded the parents of Israel to train their children in God’s Word with formal teaching, informal talking, and everyday life modeling. Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
God’s goal for every believer in every church is to see making disciples as not an option, if the Church is to become more like Christ. The Spirit of God wants to make us like Jesus, and He uses first the Word of God, then second the discipleship process to accomplish His goal. So turn in your Bibles to Matthew 28 and follow along in your outline.
The command to make disciples is called the Great Commission–today it’s often the Great “Omission”. It is found throughout the New Testament in various forms, but Matthew 28:16-20 contains the clearest description of discipleship. Read it with me.
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up 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 the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
This Great Commission is simply the command to make disciples. Matthew describes discipleship as the briefing before the battle, the risen Lord giving His final directive. This is Christ’s most important assignment. Nothing has changed today–it’s as if FBC is with Christ on this Galilee mountain. The same command exists.
There is no new instruction. There is no new battle plan. Discipleship is the Lord’s method to reach the world. This is His priority–make disciples. Look at what’s going on with . . .
First Christ’s PRELIMINARIES
Verses 16 to 18a, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,”—stop. This post-resurrection appearance is for Christ to explain His mission to His men.
But make no mistake– your Lord is also giving this commission to you right now. Look at verses 19 and 20–this command is given in order to, verse 19, “make disciples of all the nations,” which is still happening today. You say, “No, Christ meant this for the apostles.” No, at the end of verse 20 Jesus says, “even to the end of the age.”
You’re not at the end of the age yet, which means this command is not an option for you now. We obey the command to make disciples until Christ returns. Dogs bark, ducks swim, Stead roots for USC and Christians make disciples. Most commentators believe this is the moment when Christ spoke to over 500 people at one time described in 1 Corinthians 15:6. That would explain verse 17, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”
Who was doubtful? The disciples had all seen Christ by this time. Even doubting Thomas had already cried out, “My Lord and My God.” The twelve were no longer doubting. Those who were doubting were the others, some of the 500–they doubted if they were meeting the resurrected Christ, until verse 18 . . . until, see what it says? “He came close and spoke to them.”
They were doubting, but once Jesus came up close and was physically present, standing in front of them and speaking to them, their doubt mostly likely disappeared. If it were the twelve who were doubting, they might have been asking, “Is this for real?” They had deserted Jesus. One sold him out, another denied Him three times, so what does Jesus say? “Let’s take the world, men!”
Even though most of them had never been outside of Israel–take the world? You know this kind of doubting, right? “How are a bunch of losers like us going to change the world, Jesus?” I love that. Verse 16, “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.”
This commission is given during the forty days between Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Christ told his eleven remaining disciples and other followers to meet Him on an unidentified but familiar mountain in Galilee to give this command. The fact that Christ pre-arranged this gathering implies this command is crucial. You realize it’s crucial as soon as Christ teaches this commission.
This passage marks a dramatic turning point in God’s redemptive program in the world. This is big. Christ now directs His mission not merely to Israel, but verse 19–to “all the nations.” That will not be easy, which is why all believers will need . . .
Second Christ’s POWER
Verses 18, 19 and 20 make three crucial declarations about discipleship and the first one is your desperate need for Christ’s power to disciple. In the second half of verse 18, Jesus declares the power to accomplish this commission has been given to Him. “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’”
The verb “given” is declaring the fact of Christ’s authority. In the Trinity, the Father gave the Son the right to rule over all existence. His authority includes great power. In the gospels, Christ demonstrated His power over human sickness by healing leprosy, His power over physical death by raising Lazarus and His power over creation by calming the storm.
All of which identify Christ as the King of all kings. Christ is God the Son. Christ has all power–Christ is omnipotent. The term “authority” describes the ability to exercise power along with the freedom and right to do so. Christ’s power and authority extend over everything. Christ has all power and the phrase “Heaven and Earth” points to the all-inclusive nature of Christ’s authority over everything in the universe, including all beings in that universe. Your life is never random.
Christ alone controls all things–initiating or allowing every detail of your life. Christ alone sustains all of creation. And Christ alone oversees who goes to Heaven and Hell. Some day in the future, at the end of the age, Philippians 2:9 to 11 tell us every knee will bow before Christ. Why? Christ is the “Lord of all.”
So Christ’s power and authority are crucial for you to rely upon–why?
1 You and I will face opposition and difficulty when making disciples
2 You will need encouragement as you pursue making disciples
The world will say, “There is something better to do with your time.” Your flesh will remind you that making disciples is too difficult. And the devil will tell you, “Making disciples isn’t that important.” So you will need Christ’s power to make disciples. Making disciples of all the nations is an impossible job.
Making disciples of all your children is an impossible job. The Christian life is not difficult–it’s impossible. Christ said in John 15:5b, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” The New Testament teaches believers to follow God’s Word dependent upon the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is not what you do for the Lord, but what the Lord does through you.
And along with Christ’s abiding presence promised in verse 20, Christ’s authority here in verse 18 provides the motivation for parents to train children, staff to train students, and adults to train future leaders for His glory. We must rely on Him. Making disciples is a command from our general to His soldiers. Disobedience is AWOL–every church must be focused on the next generation.
As a part of Christ’s body, parents must be concerned with others who are not their children. In the Church, Christ saves widows, singles, students from unsaved homes who are all to be discipled as well as their own children. Discipleship is crucial for the new believer to be grounded and for the mature believer to grow. This is our Lord’s, our Master’s commission. As we depend on Him, Christians make disciples. But how?
Third Christ’s PROCESS
Christ describes the process for discipleship in verses 19 and 20. Here is the heart of Christ in calling this mountain meeting, showing us our heart for all genuine believers and all true churches until Christ returns. Understanding God’s discipleship process is crucial in order to effectively raise godly children, disciple students and train men in the local church.
Gallup did a survey of religious life in America–the summary statement was shocking. “Never before in the history of the USA has the Gospel of Jesus Christ made such inroads, while at the same time making so little difference in how people live.”
Why is that? First) shallow preaching, Second) a man-centered gospel, and Third) no true discipleship. It comes from a fascination with making decisions, without making disciples. It’s like having a baby, then actually letting that baby raise itself. A commitment to making disciples is superior to a commitment to making decisions.
Compare the difference between an evangelism approach and a discipleship approach. Imagine an evangelist whom God uses to win one person to Christ per day, compared to a discipler who trains two new believers per year, who then train others in the same manner. The evangelist in year one wins 365, year two 730, year five 1825, year ten 3650, year twenty 7300. The disciple in year one disciples two, year two 4, year five 32, year ten 1024, year twenty 1,048,576.
DISCIPLESHIP is God’s process to impact this world
This is the Lord’s mission. How do you do it? Matthew 28:19 and 20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
There are four activities in verses 19 to 20—1) go, 2) make disciples, 3) baptizing and 4) teaching. What is the main verb? Not go–the main verb is dogmatically “make disciples” and this command is then explained by the three participles—going, baptizing and teaching. Making disciples is for the eleven, the 500 and for you until Christ comes.
“Going”–the participle translated go has the idea of as you are going, or having been gone, or as you continue going. It’s tough to translate, but rich in meaning. Going reminds us that making disciples can’t occur unless you’ve gone and they come to Christ. You can’t make disciples of those who have not turned from their sin to trust in Christ.
Going means share the Gospel, proclaim Christ as the absolute King all must submit to. Going reminds you that your everyday life circumstances are your mission field. As you are going to school reach the lost. As you go to work, that’s your mission field. As you gather with unsaved family, share the Gospel of Christ. Jesus is telling his children that evangelism is not a part of your lifestyle, but is your lifestyle.
The participle going also tells you to never give up–keep going, even when it seems like they’ve shut the door. Keep praying, keep sharing, keep living the truth. Going also tells you to go out to them–don’t wait for the lost to come to us. Like warning an inner tube floater headed for a rocky waterfall around the bend, warn them.
Spurgeon said, in effect, “If the elect had a yellow stripe up their back, I would go around pulling up shirt tails, but because they don’t and I don’t know who the elect are, I preach to all, I share with all, I talk to all so that those who are elect will respond.”
Jesus tells us this going also means traveling to the nations, all the planet’s people. So going also involves prayer, financial support of missionaries, investing in our international pastors and wives and assisting national pastors to reach their own peoples. And for our church, going involves church planting around the world. Going is not an option. All Christians are going with the Gospel in everyday life and involved with overseas efforts.
Next—“making disciples” is the main verb and the focus of the Lord’s commission. The verb is an imperative–a “not an option” command to be obeyed. Then what is it? Disciple(s) is used 269 times in the New Testament and was the first title describing a believer. Only later and infrequently were disciples actually called Christians. Acts 11:26b, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
The term disciple means learner or follower and is used to describe a person who seeks to become like another–for us, like Christ. To learn from Christ, follow Christ, become like Christ, submit to Christ and have every area of your life conform to Christ. Mathēteúō (make disciples) is not only to learn, but to become attached to one’s teacher personally and to fully become his follower in doctrine and life.
Read these disciple verses. Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” Luke 14:26, “’If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.’”
John 9:28, “They reviled him and said, ‘You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.’” Matthew 12:49, “And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers!’” Matthew 16:24, “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’”
These and other verses describe what it means to be making disciples. Disciples pursue learning from Christ as they learn the Word through their disciplers. The Greek word for learn is the verb form of the noun disciple. Disciples pursue following Christ as they follow their models who follow Christ. Like Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
Disciples demonstrate commitment to Christ. Responding to a heart that wants to obey God’s Word, they practice imitating those who are willing to do anything for Christ. Disciples grow complete in Christ, bringing every area of their life under obedience to the Word of God through accountability to their mentors.
A true disciple follows Christ and practices his masters’ teaching with his whole heart. One difficulty with understanding discipleship is the use of the term disciple in the New Testament. After Acts chapter 21, the terms “disciple” and “make disciples” disappear. In the gospels and in Acts, disciple is the key word to describe believers, but the term is not used once in the New Testament epistles–why?
The answer is simple–just as Christ physically discipled his men in the gospels, so now the body of Christ, the Church, physically disciples believers in the epistles. While the term “disciple” may be missing in the epistles, the practice of discipleship is everywhere in the New Testament letters. From older women training the younger in Titus 2:3 to 4, to younger men submitting to their elders in 1 Peter 5:5, to the charge from Paul to Timothy to train faithful men who will be able to teach others also in 2 Timothy 2:2.
When the body of Christ, the Church, functions correctly in relationship, it actually causes the growth of its individual members in a life-on-life, discipleship fashion in Ephesians 4:16. Making disciples is not merely maintaining a nice friendship. No, making disciples is a group of believers who are seeking to be submissive, growing, committed, desiring to live every area of life under God’s Word, loving Christ as their first love as they pursue Him together in relationship through everyday life.
Jesus discipled the apostles, the apostles discipled Philip, Philip discipled the Ethiopian eunuch, and tradition tells us God used the eunuch to establish the church in Ethiopia. The formula for discipleship is this–relationship + the Word of God + the Holy Spirit + time + life x intentionality x intimacy = discipleship.
Christians and churches are to “make disciples of all the nations” . . . all peoples. This phrase of Christ’s commission destroys racism, deletes national pride, alters your finances, elevates missionaries and church planters to the highest standing and transforms training international pastors into your greatest privilege.
Making disciples, for a few, means being sent out by a church into enemy territory–like a helicopter that sets you down in a hostile hot spot to establish a church in order to bring the Gospel message of peace with the one true God. The Great Commission causes believers and church bodies to look at the world through the eyes of Christ with the need of the Gospel—“all the nations.”
BAPTIZING is an ongoing action until Christ comes
But how is this part of making disciples? The plain sense of baptism is a public declaration where a born again believer is immersed in water, symbolizing their identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, now in union with Christ as a Christ-follower. And baptism publicly identifies the disciple with Christ’s church, symbolizing an immersion in the visible body of believers of a local church. The body of Christ, the Church, becomes the vehicle for believers to become like Christ.
Being baptized is like choosing up teams–you publicly declare Christ is your captain and the Church is your exclusive team. You find out what position the captain wants you to play and go for it with all your heart, as a part of His team. Early Jewish converts could become Christians with no consequence, but once they were baptized, they were cut off from their families and inheritance.
Like a wedding ring, baptism is a public declaration that you belong to Christ and His bride. No true discipleship is divorced from baptism by immersion. Baptism means you no longer follow your will, but God’s will in God’s Word. You’re immersed in Christ and immersed in His community, the Church. The Lord adds “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Discipleship is to grow a believer to follow the Triune God, not a single mentor. And discipleship is to include an understanding of the role and function of each member of the Trinity as they mature. The disciple is accepted by the Father, washed from sin through the blood of the Son and sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit, making the disciple truly a child of the three great persons of the one true God.
But this process will not be easy. The commission of Christ includes a lifelong, present tense, ongoing teaching. Verse 20, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Teaching them is referring to all of them together. All of us together are to be obeying Christ’s commands. The church together is to pursue discipleship.
Every pastor, elder, and everyone filled with the Spirit is expected by God to be making disciples–to be involved with intentional relationships for the purpose of obeying Christ. Teaching is a huge part of making disciples, but it is a particular kind of teaching–look at verse 20.
TEACHING them to OBSERVE—literally, keep all I have commanded you
Like obedience school, discipleship is training an individual how to live, how to follow God’s Word in every area of their life. Making disciples is the process of learning to obey God’s Word in all aspects of your life. A mature Christian is one who has come under the authority of the Word of God and it’s manifested in every area of their lifestyle–not perfectly but progressively, not self-righteously but living by Christ’s righteousness, not a decision but daily dependence.
The purpose of the teaching of the Word of God is not to make you a smarter sinner, but to make you more like Christ. The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity, but to change your life. The focus of God’s Word is not to fill your head with facts so you can win a doctrinal duel, but to mold you into becoming more like Christ.
We have more information today than ever before, yet less people who live like Christ. We have become “hearers, but not doers.” Therefore, verse 20, “observe” it—keep His Word and obey it. We need to know the Word. But discipleship is living by the Word. The verb “observe” not only involves obedience to Christ’s commands, but esteeming them.
People are not to only see our obedience, but also our affections–that we want to obey God’s commands and not that we have to. They need to see a transformed heart, desiring obedience. And like Deuteronomy 6, this is teaching all of God’s Word, all of Christ’s commands. Discipleship is learning and living all of God’s Word. It is to teach and be teachable.
The scope of this obedience training is nothing short of “all that I commanded you.” All means everything and the verb “commanded” underscores this–nothing is left out, suppressed, ignored, added to, altered or diluted. True discipleship is to expose believers to all the truth–the entire Word of God and all the expectations of our Lord. This is a difficult task for every Christian and every church. Tthere will be mistakes and there will be hardships, messiness and loneliness–so our Lord promises . . .
Fourth Christ’s PRESENCE
Christ has all the power needed to make disciples. Christ has designed the perfect process to make disciples. And Christ guarantees His presence in making disciples at the end of verse 20b, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
There is no need for doubts or discouragements in pursuing Christ’s commission. The missionary in the remotest part of the earth, seeking to reach the lost and plant a church, is never alone. The discipler in the darkest hour of life is never alone. Christ assures those gathered at the mountain of
His unique presence in two ways.
One “Always” assures them His presence will be continual, not occasional. Jesus is never not near–always intimate!
Two Christ assures them His presence will be with them “to the end of the age.” This extends far beyond the apostolic age, the Early Church and beyond today. His invisible presence is guaranteed until the day Christ visibly returns for His own. When you do what Christ delights in, He delights in showing His care for you personally. Making disciples has the promise of Christ’s continual, intimate presence. He is with you as you make disciples.
Making disciples is “not an option”–it’s the commission of Christ for today. Making disciples comes with Christ’s power, involves the process of going out evangelistically to reach the lost and plant churches, baptizing in identification with Christ and immersion into His Church, and teaching them to obey all Christ has commanded in His Word.
The process is difficult, so it also comes with the promise of Christ’s intimate presence. Get excited, get on board, embrace why Christ left you here–go after this command.
A Discipleship is giving the greatest PRESENT
Your happiness and joy in this life increases the closer you are to Christ and the more you are like Christ. The closer you are to our Lord, the sweeter life is. Making disciples is intentionally and relationally assisting others to walk closer and become like Christ. You are blessing others, and as a result, being blessed as you make disciples.
B Discipleship is an every day life PROCESS
Don’t freak out–decide today to intensify your marriage in order to become like Christ and view your children as disciples you’re seeking to have come to Christ and become like Christ. In community groups or ministry, seek to develop intentional relationships committed to pursuing becoming like Christ in every aspect of your life.
Students, hang with friends who want Christ formed in their everyday lives everywhere. Men, find those brothers who want what Paul wants in Galatians 4:19b, “I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” And challenge each other weekly to live for Christ in every aspect of your life, every duty and every relationship.
C Discipleship requires the ability to PRACTICE
No one lives for Christ perfectly, and to grow mature you need the freedom to try, fail and try again. You shared the Gospel, it went bad, get back at it. You need to look at much of what you do as practice now, so you are prepared for the big game later. It includes the freedom to fail, to try, and practice to improve. TC is a practice field. When you stop developing, you are deteriorating.
D Discipleship requires God’s PROVISION
God must provide you with salvation and God must provide you with power through His Spirit. Discipleship is God through you, while you pursue intentional relationships, seeking to obey Christ in all. Let’s pray.