Selling Jesus To Earn A “Great Commission”
Have you ever felt guilty because you never entered the “mission field?” Were you made to feel as though you were an inferior Christian because others went on the special “missions” trip sponsored by your church denomination, but you stayed home? You were told Jesus commanded you to go, and therefore, you experienced the sense of letting Him down. Let’s take a moment to reconsider another piece of sacred ground as embraced by traditional Christianity … It’s called “The Great Commission.”
It’s another one of those phrases we hear so often, and without really stopping to think much about it, we assume it appears in Scripture. But the phrase is nowhere to be found. Of course, The Great Commission reference comes from the time and place where Jesus was giving some final instructions to the apostles, after His resurrection and before His ascension:
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Doctrinal assumptions are found throughout many church teachings which suppose that when Jesus was speaking to the disciples or apostles, He was always speaking directly to us. If we truly believed that everything Jesus spoke was meant to be applied to all future believers, countless contradictions would have been the result of the Scriptures.
In the case of The Great Commission, Jesus was speaking to the eleven apostles, and what He said was specifically meant for them. An apostle means “a messenger sent forth.” Jesus commissioned this specific group of guys. Why? Because they were actual witnesses! They saw with their own eyes the resurrected Christ, along with others who joined them on the day of Pentecost (because Jesus appeared to many after He rose). Paul was also called as a witness after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. You and I are not identified as witnesses because we didn’t behold or observe this resurrection event (see Acts 10:40-43).
When Jesus told them to make disciples (learners) of the good news, the real revelation here is that He was sending these Jews to proclaim the message of salvation to the (previously) unclean Gentiles. That’s right, non-Jewish people from any nation could come to God by faith in Christ … Previously, this would’ve been an unheard-of notion, considering God had made a covenant only with Israel when the law was in effect, and it was unlawful for Jews to even associate with Gentiles during the first covenant.
Jesus told those to whom He was speaking to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. He told them to go to all nations. How many of us have done either of those? He said to baptize believers. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume He is referring to water baptism … so how many of us have been actively baptizing people on a regular basis? I challenge you to ask your pastor if it’s okay for “regular” parishioners without formal “ministry training” to begin baptizing people during Sunday morning service. You see, the minister will claim the commission was for all believers with no exceptions … they’ll say it’s not optional, but should be considered a command for us. Yet most ministers will consider water baptism as part of their job, and may view others as unqualified or needing to be spiritually approved to perform this task … at the very least, don’t do it outside of their supervision or jurisdiction! Sometimes baptizing in the name of the Lord Jesus isn’t enough unless it’s done under the name of a specific church denomination.
By the way, if baptizing people in water is a necessary ingredient for salvation, and was a command for the entire church to perform, why did Paul say Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel? (see 1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul said he thanked God that he only baptized a few people in Corinth, in order to avoid people saying they were baptized under any other name except Jesus Christ.
Finally, how many times do apostles in New Covenant writings specifically refer back to “The Great Commission” as a reminder and command for all believers to follow? I think you’ll have a hard time finding it. Why? Because it was meant for those apostles to whom Jesus was speaking. Paul asked if all were meant to be apostles (those sent forth). The answer is no, because the body is made up of many different parts and we have different callings and gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12: 27-31). In Christ, we are simply prepared “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Putting aside the old ministry of the written code, and living in the ministry of the Spirit in this New Covenant will cause people to come to us!
Bottom line: If each one of us as individuals are not “commanded” to preach the gospel to all nations, while baptizing people around the world, the religious crowd will wonder how in the world believers could be motivated to share the message of Jesus Christ. From the legalistic paradigm where they abide, it’s difficult for them to understand the concept of living without the conditional command. We now share the good news with those around us because it’s just that—good news. We do it because of our love for others, and our love for God—Who first demonstrated His perfect and unconditional love for us. We instinctively respond to that love in a routine, but unforced manner. When people enter a relationship of the marriage covenant with another, usually they want to announce it to the world and have their friends and family celebrate with them. It’s a natural thing to do, not a requirement. If you are proclaiming a love for God, your spouse, or anyone else because you’re “commanded” to do so, that is not authentic love.
God bless those who feel called to share the gospel in different nations around the world, but remember this: Jesus did not commission the apostles to finish the job He started, He sent them to proclaim the work is finished. This is the message of the New Covenant we should be proclaiming. Simply encourage people to believe in this abundance of grace, wherever you live.
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