I sat in the Upper Room, hanging on to the end of my rope. Over a few short weeks, I’d lost my wife to cancer and my purpose in life. Although I was in ministry at a local church, had a master’s degree from a leading seminary, and was living the American Dream, my head and heart were a mess.

I no longer wanted to serve the church. In early morning convocation with God, I pleaded my case for either clear direction and purpose for my life or release from vocational ministry.

After stating my heartbreak, disappointment, and anger, I waited. As clear as the sunlight breaking on a cool morning, God spoke! “I love you, and you’re My son. I’ve been with you every step of your journey, and I’ll remain faithful forever. I created you to equip and encourage Christians on their journey toward Christlikeness.”

I thought: Did that really happen? Did God actually just tell me He loves me and He’s with me? Did He actually define my purpose in life?

Feeling humility and boldness, I asked, “How am I to actually fulfill this purpose?”

His reply was short and to the point: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have and will teach you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Since that moment, I’ve not only known but also strived to fulfill my life purpose. I journey toward Christ-likeness in confidence, and I’ve dedicated my life to help others do the same.

Over the past eight months, we’ve journeyed together, reading the Gospel’s in harmony. Approaching the final verses of Matthew and Mark, we stand in resurrection power. We stand with the 11 disciples to see, hear, and worship Jesus. Speaking His final words before ascending to heaven, we experience authority, direction, purpose, and comfort.

The brevity of Matthew’s account of the resurrection allows him to go quickly into the final application of his Gospel. This closing passage served as a resurrection appearance, testifying to the truth of it. It also provided the central purpose for all believers.

Reading this passage reminds us that our lives don’t belong to us but instead to the One who died to purchase our freedom from sin and death. Along with our freedom, He purchased our availability and usefulness to become tools for the conduct of His ministry. When we fail to fulfill His marching orders, we rob Him of His rights.

The entire Gospel of Matthew serves to equip us for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Matthew…

  • Gives the historical basis for our status as disciples of the Messiah and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
  • Gives us our true identity.
  • Shows us the person with whom we have a deeply intimate, loyal relationship.
  • Reveals the Master’s unbending demands and unending grace, contrasting Him with other masters who clamor for our loyalty. None of these false gods will reward us for faithfulness as He does. None of them care for our well being.
  • Demonstrates the authority with which we’re sent out so we might fulfill our disciple-making ministry with confidence. This confidence isn’t in ourselves, but instead it’s in the Lord and Savior who promised to be with us.
  • Promises us the reward that awaits the good and faithful servants, motivating us to faithfulness in our earthly kingdom task.
  • Sets before us a detailed example in the Messiah, showing us exactly how to carry out our commission.
  • Provides, through the teachings of the Messiah, the basis for the right character of kingdom citizens as well as guidelines for right relationships within the church family.
  • Gives us a message of warning and hope for a world heading for destruction. We must proclaim this message fearlessly and lovingly. Some people will become disciples because of our proclamation of Matthew’s message.

Seen from the perspective of the Great Commission, Matthew’s Gospel is a training manual for life and ministry. We’ll become true disciples of the Messiah, effectively reproducing other disciples, if we abide with Him and live out what we learn from Him. In essence, we become more than disciples, we become “Disciple Makers.”

Before issuing His commission, Jesus laid the foundation for the success of their future ministry: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. This was critical. Without His authority, the mission of the disciples, and our mission today, would be doomed to failure.

The heart of the Great Commission is 28:19–20, the last words of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew knew this principle: “last words are lasting words.” He chose carefully, under the Spirit’s direction, those words he wanted to linger in his readers’ minds. Therefore, he identified Jesus’ authority as the reason the disciples must carry out His orders.

The central command is this: make disciples. At the heart of our mission is the reproduction in others of what Jesus has produced in us: faith, obedience, growth, authority, compassion, love, and a bold, truthful message as his witnesses. They were learners commanded to produce more learners.

Jesus’ disciples reproduced other disciples of all the nations. The word translated “nations” is the plural of ethnos, meaning “peoples, ethnic groups” (24:14). He was hinting that their fulfillment of their commission would ultimately lead to His second coming.

It’s significant that Matthew ended his Gospel with one more reference to the Gentile mission, challenging the Jewish Christians to lose their prejudices and unify the church. This also challenges us to break down any artificial boundaries erected by our culture. We must minister impartially. Jesus was an equal opportunity Savior.

We see three participles here that are subordinate to the central command to make disciples. Each of these clarifies the way in which Jesus’ disciples are to make disciples.

First, even before “make disciples,” is the participle “go.” In the context, this Greek participle is best rendered, “when you have gone.”

“Going” is one of the three means by which to fulfill the central command to make disciples. Going means more than traveling across geographical borders, although this is part of Jesus’ meaning. The point is that we are to be active.

It means crossing boundaries to make disciples—going across the street, to dinner with an unbelieving friend, into the inner city, beyond one’s comfort zone—all to make the gospel accessible to the lost. Living life is “going” with a purpose, every day. It’s where we live, work, and play.

Second, we come to the participle baptizing (present participle of baptizo meaning “continually immersing them”). Because baptism was so closely associated with the decision of faith (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:36–38; 10:47–48), it may be best to see baptizing as Jesus’ way of summarizing the evangelistic half of the disciples’ ministry.

The third participle teaching (Matthew 28:20) represents the other half of the disciples’ ministry—the edification of those who are already believers. Baptism is an initiating rite that “immerses” the believer into a whole new world.

Baptism isn’t a step to salvation. Rather, it’s an initial step of obedience that results from a person’s decision to trust Jesus. Baptism represents the identification of people with this new way of life and faith. Baptism should be experienced as soon as possible after a person trusts Christ.

Jesus specified that we’re to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The use of the singular name implies clearly that this listing of three persons should be thought of as one name.

Here’s a clear affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity: one God, three distinct persons. The believer who chooses to submit to baptism into this name identifies with God’s name as well as the spiritual family of all others who are identified with this same name.

Third, the participle teaching (present participle of didasko, meaning “keep on teaching them”) completes the series of three means by which we fulfill the Great Commission. This represents the other half of our mission—the edification or building up of those who are believers.

Jesus instructed us to not only teach content, but to also train people into obedient action—teaching them to keep everything He’s commanded us. The teachings of Jesus, recorded in Matthew, are the essence of the practical teaching we’re to pass on to new disciples. There’s much more teaching from Scripture beyond Matthew that the church needs. But His teaching in Matthew serves as a strong foundation.

By fulfilling the teaching portion of the Great Commission, we take believers at every stage of spiritual maturity to the next stage of growth. This can range from the infancy of a brand-new believer to various levels of spiritual adulthood.

Every believer should progress toward the perfect character of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–16), but none will arrive there short of eternity. So we must see ourselves as learners in a family of teachers, who themselves are also learners. The believer who is most mature will be most ready to listen and learn, even from the newest member of the family (cf. Matthew 18:4).

The Great Commission isn’t a request. It’s a command for Christ-followers. It provides authority, instruction, direction, and purpose for life and ministry.

Reflection Questions

  1. Do I have a clear view of my purpose in life? Does it involve moving toward Christ-likeness?
  2. How do I respond to Jesus’ command to be a “Disciple Maker”?
  3. What do I need to study further from today’s passage and devotional?

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