- Date: April 16, 2023
- Bible Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
- Free Resource: Today’s Missionaries (Cross+Gen Worship, NL)
- Unit Theme (April 2—April 16): God’s Greatest Promise
- The Point: Jesus sends us to make disciples by teaching others to follow Jesus.
Jesus commands his eleven closest disciples to expand his work in our world. But, beyond the Eleven, who is this commission for and what are they specifically to do?
A blessed and joyous Easter season to you and yours! Today’s post marks the end of our short unit on God’s Greatest Promise that started on Palm Sunday. Indeed, the events leading up to the crucifixion demonstrate the love of God for us with great clarity. And the resurrection shows us that not even death can defeat God’s love nor invalidate God’s promises. Now Jesus appears to his closest eleven disciples in Galilee as he promised the two Marys (Matthew 28:10).
The Great Commission
Jesus doesn’t meet his disciples just to hang out as he does in the Gospel of John (John 21:1-14). He has a mission for them, or rather, a commission.
“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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”Matthew 28:19-20
One way to look at this is not that going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching is part of a list of four separate actions. Interestingly enough, the commission itself (verses 19 and 20a) only has one imperative (commanding) verb: mathēteusate (disciple/make disciples). “Go,” baptizing,” and “teaching” are all participles. A literal translation could be:
“Having gone therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them…, teaching them…”
So, “having gone” is the assumed circumstance of the command. But what does the command itself—make disciples—mean? Jesus explains: it means baptizing and teaching, bringing others into the spiritual community (and communion) and educating them in the ways of Jesus.
Grow or Transform?
Teaching about Jesus (or at least producing educational resources to help teachers teach) is what we are focused on here at Spirit & Truth Publishing. But as I reflect on this Great Commission, I wonder if our mission, as Jesus’ followers, is only to grow the Church.
Now, there has been much ink spilled (and even blood at times) over the questions about the purpose of bringing people into the Church, but those are questions of soteriology, ecclesiology, and missiology (theologies of salvation, church, and mission). Not all Christians answer those in the same way and there are many nuances there. So, I’m not going to touch that.
Regardless of why people should become disciples of Jesus (and join the Church), my question still stands. Is our entire purpose to grow the Church? Or do we also have a mission to transform the world, even the lives of people who never do become disciples?
I think that the answer is both: Jesus calls us to make new disciples (grow the Church) and be a light (and holy priesthood) that transforms the world as a whole. While the Great Commission only focuses on growth (to put it crassly), part of that mission is to teach what Jesus has commanded. And among the things that Jesus has commanded is to love our neighbors (even the Samaritan ones) and be salt and light to the world. And love in action—works of compassion, service, and justice—can indeed change the world.
All or Some?
Another question that comes to mind as I read this passage is: Who? To whom is Jesus directing this Great Commission? The most obvious answer in the text is the eleven disciples. But is that it? Jesus is giving a command to just eleven people? No, of course not. Thankfully, Jesus’ followers throughout history didn’t just think that that message was for the eleven alone. But—beyond the eleven—who is it for?
A common answer is that it’s for everyone, everyone who is a disciple of Jesus. But that can’t exactly be true, can it? One of the key points in the Commission is “baptizing” which is something that most Christian traditions limit to designated church leaders (clergy). And is everyone to teach? I would honestly hope not. Not all Christians have the necessary background or understanding to teach, though that is what faith formation creators like us are for. But, as Paul says elsewhere, some are called through the Holy Spirit to be teachers. Not everyone.
Whom God Calls
So, one way to understand the Great Commission is that it is meant for those whom Jesus calls to those services (permanently or even for a particular occasion). For everyone else, we are called to be disciples by following the way Jesus has set before us (“to obey everything that I have commanded”). And as those disciples, we are to do our part in bringing our world closer to God’s peace (shalom): transforming the whole world.
Faith Formation Connection
Ultimately, it is your responsibility as a faith formation leader to teach participants the interpretation of this and all other Scripture passages according to your theology. In our materials, we strive to leave many of those theological specifics open for leaders to do just that. Beyond teaching the appropriate interpretation of this passage (and how your participants fit into it), this is also a great opportunity to share about the work of missionaries your congregation or denomination support. That’s the purpose behind our free activity this week “Today’s Missionaries.”
May you experience peace and joy at Jesus’ resurrection.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
Note 1: While my introverted self is happy to let others spread the word about God’s love in Jesus, it is important to note that sometimes God calls us to be leaders—disciple-makers—for a particular situation, perhaps for a particular person. Our responsibility as disciples is to listen for God’s call and follow God’s lead, whether that makes us comfortable or (more likely) not.
Note 2: It might be clear that my reflection here is different than The Point listed above. While the general theological framework might be common between my reflections and our products (me being the theological editor and all), I tend to be much more specific—and challenging—in my reflections than we ever would in our products. We do not write our products for me but for everyone, which leads to a much more neutral, albeit inclusive, perspective.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free “Today’s Missionaries” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL) (Year 1, 2022-2023, including individual worship guides, and Year 2, 2023-2024) worship guides. This activity would not necessarily work at home, but it should be adaptable for class or worship settings with most age groups.
Order Faith Formation Resources
Looking for VBS, summer education, or even an Easter season series? Check out our Learning Together series! These five-lesson units are available on six different topics, one of which is FREE! The other five are much more affordable than standard VBS curricula with pricing starting at $25 for a program with 1-10 participants. Perfect for children’s and intergenerational ministries.
It’s not too late to order Spring lessons for our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources (going until Pentecost Sunday, May 28th)! As soon as your payment is processed you can download the lessons and start using them!
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (2022-2023) (or 2023-2024) (intergenerational classroom)
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (2022-2023) (or 2023-2024) (products for all ages)
- Classic Sunday School Curriculum (key Bible stories for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th)
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Worship and Liturgy Education