The Unfinished Task

Bible Book: Matthew  28 : 18-20
Subject: Missions; The Great Commission; Witnessing

It has been called the "Magna Charta" of our Christian faith; the "marching orders" of the evangelical church, the "magnificent obsession" of compassionate believers. We commonly call it "The Great Commission." Variously stated in the Gospels, Matthew says "Go ye...teach all nations, baptizing them...teaching them...and, lo, I am with you..." (28:16-20). Mark's way of saying it is, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (16:15). Luke renders it, "Thus it is written that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations" (24:46-47). John succinctly reports Jesus saying, " my Father hath sent me, so send I you" (20:21.)

I do not know who first called it "Great," but I do know that no greater command was ever given than that by Jesus from that Galilean mountain. As we look at our world through the lens of the Great Commission, consider why it is rightfully called "Great":

I. Who Gave the Commission

"Jesus appointed them..." v. 18 "And Jesus came and spake unto them..." Great persons are often remembered for great sayings: Patrick Henry "Give me liberty or give me death"; Nathan Hale "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country"; John Wesley "The world is my parish"; Martin Luther King, Jr., "I have a dream"; and Jesus, "Go ye, therefore and disciple the nations"; immortal words from the greatest person who ever lived. Matthew offers two evidences of his greatness:

A. Came from the Resurrected Christ

Matthew 28 records the miracle of the resurrection, forty days after which he ascended back to the Father. The Commission was given after the resurrection and before the ascension. Just days before he is dying on a cross - - dead in a tomb - - his followers discouraged, disillusioned and defeated. But now! He is alive, having conquered death - - is his not a voice worth hearing? And heeding?

B. Came with Authority

We read in verse 18, "...All power (literally "authority") is given unto me in heaven and in earth..." What an astonishing claim! He who had preached with authority (7:29); exercised authority over disease, the lepers, blind, lame and deaf; demonstrated authority over the natural elements of wind, waves and storms; and raised the dead, John 11 - - now speaks as one already in heaven with a world-wide outlook and claims all the resources of heaven and earth. Is he great or not? Little wonder that Paul said of him, "he is declared to be the son of God with power" (Romans 1:4). I am compelled to ask if we would not finish the task given us by the One who had authority over demons, diseases and death, whom will we obey?

II. To Whom Was the Commission Given

In verse 18 we read, "...Jesus spoke unto them..." The question to whom does the "them" refer has a two part answer:

A. Initially to those who Heard Him

Verse 16 states, "...the eleven disciples" cf. Mark 16:14. Included were Peter, James, John and the others, excluding Judas. However, in 1 Corinthians15:6 Paul implies that as many as 500 may have been on the mountain. Whether 11 or 500 plus, the task of world conquest with no army or organization and little money, must have seemed preposterous. Nevertheless, no sooner had he spoken and they set about to do it - - and Acts is the incredible story of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. Yet, when the New Testament closes, the task is unfinished, so to whom else is the commission given?

B. Ultimately to all who would be His Disciples

Shortly after Jesus gave the Commission the number of disciples increased rapidly. For example Acts 1:13 mentions 11; Acts 1:15 numbers 120; Acts 2:41 speaks of 3,000 added at Pentecost; Acts 4:4 records "the number of men about 5,000; Acts 4:32 just says "multitude" and Acts 5:14 speaks of "multitudes." Today, approximately 25% of the world's 6 billion plus population is "Christian." More specifically, Southern Baptists, with more than 16 million members have the greatest responsibility and opportunity of any disciple group in history to impact the world for Christ.

III. Where Are We to Go

Then, in verse 19 we note, "...all nations" cf. Luke 24:47, Mark 16:15 "all the every creature." Three Greek words define the boundaries of our task:

A. All Nations

"ethnos" - Missiologists define "nations" as "ethnolinguistic people groups" - i.e. people with common language, culture and heritage. The SBC International Mission Board has identified approximately 13,000 of these groups around the world. More than 2,000 of them - - approximately

1.7 billions souls live on the "Last Frontier," an area where they have little or no chance of hearing the gospel. Among these "nations," 47,000 die each day without having heard the name of Jesus.

B. All World

"kosmos" - - This is the world of more than 6 billion people, living in some 191 countries, speaking 6,000 different languages. A great number of these are hostile to Christians, physically starving, homeless as result of repression, famine and war, financially hopeless and personally helpless. (Note: illustrations, data information and support material available from IMB materials.)

C. All Creation

"ktisis" - All creatures made in God's image have the right to hear the Good News - - Africans, where millions are infested with HIV and millions more are dying of Aids; Europeans, where self-sufficiency and indifference blind spiritual eyes to any need of the gospel; Asians where promises of false religions produce emptiness and anger; Americans, where the gods of materialism and indulgence have usurped the Lord's throne. The Great Commission is a word from God to all his creatures - - in all the nations -all over the world. That task is unfinished.

III. What Are We Commissioned to Do

Now, in verses 19-20 we see that the Greek grammar of Jesus' command involves four action steps, one verb and three participles:

A. The Discipling

Note in verse.19, "...teach all nations..." The word "teach" is the verb. And is best translated simply "you disciple (not "make disciples") all nations." Thus the primary objective is not to introduce others to western culture or make Baptists of pagans, but to disciple them as Christian believers.

B. The Going

Again, in verse 19 we read, "Go..." This participle means "going" or "as you go." Obviously, this may mean going physically as career or short-term missionaries. Since our beginnings in 1845,  Southern Baptists have appointed and sent nearly 15,000 career missionaries and many more thousands for short-term service and as volunteers - - from preachers to plumbers. Others of us can go financially by faithful and generous giving through the Cooperative Program and special missions offerings. Additionally, all of us can go by fervently praying for every effort to fulfill the Great Commission.

C. The Baptizing

Once more in verse 19, "...baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." This participle says as the people are saved they are to be baptized as a symbolic indication of their faith and obedience. Each year upwards of 400,000 people are baptized as result of our Southern Baptist international missions ministries.

D. The Teaching

Verse 20 states, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded..." As the lost are evangelized, the new converts need to be edified. Failure to do proper teaching produces anemic believers suffering from spiritual malnutrition. Great Commission believers have planted Christian churches all around the world, where people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds are taught the Word of God.

IV. Who Will Assist Us

These wonderful words appear in verse 20, "..and lo (behold) I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." As we recommit ourselves to completing the task given us by Jesus, two truths should be foremost in our thinking:

A. The Promise Of His Presence

"...I am with you alway..." The awkward KJV world "alway" means "always and in all ways" - - in all sorts of ways on all kinds of days. This is a precious promise to missionaries in remote regions of the world facing isolation, loneliness, and cultural shock - - away from families and friends - - missing holidays, birthdays, graduations, funerals, and anniversaries.

B. The Prediction Of The End

"...even unto the end of the world (literally "age")." The Great Commission comes with urgency. We do not have forever to finish the task. The scripture says in John 9:4 "...the night cometh when no man can work."

Following a Sunday School lesson on the Great Commission, a little girl asked. "Did anyone ever go?" For 2000 years disciples of Jesus have been under a divine mandate to dispel spiritual darkness. Yet, the darkness is greater than ever. Today, six times more people live in spiritual darkness than were alive when Jesus gave the Great Commission - - the task is unfinished - - the world still waits for the light to shine in the darkness.