First a little context: Moses and Aaron had confronted Pharaoh and God unleashed ten plagues upon Egypt, showing the might of God and the impotence of the gods of Egypt, until the Israelites were allowed to leave after 400 years of slavery. Even then, Pharaoh sought to enslave them again and the Red Sea opened up to allow Israel to cross on dry land, but it closed to swallow Pharaoh and his chariots. Following that, God provided food and water for a large multitude of people. Moses went up the mountain and returned to the people with a more formal introduction from this God.
Exodus 20:1-3 ESV
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
This introduction begins with a showing of authority, as many covenants did in the ancient world. One king would rescue another, then they would covenant together with a preamble. “This is who I am. This is what I have done for you. Therefore, I am requiring you fulfill these terms as I fulfill my portion of the agreement.“ I know it sounds a bit odd to us in this time, but should it? We reached out to a bank because we couldn’t just write a check for our home. The bank agreed to pay for our home and we agreed to reimburse the bank, adding interest. We also agreed to protect this investment with insurance and to maintain the property. Not just because this is our nest egg, but also because the bank requires their investment not to be devalued through any malice or negligence on our part.
All agreements have terms to the relationship between the parties. In Exodus, God begins by saying that He will be the God of Israel, the God who removed the slavery status from the people and removed them safely from Egypt. Just as the people had been beholden to Pharaoh, so they were to be beholden to God. Just under different terms. And the very first term was that there was to be no worship of any deity besides the One who had rescued the people. He was to be God and there was to be no other.
Fast Forward about a millenia and a half. Give or take.
First a little context: Jesus walked on the earth and taught a message unlike anything the people had contemplated before. He backed this message up with signs and wonders. He spoke as one with authority, not like the scribes and teachers of the day. He lived the life of total fealty to God that I should have lived. He amassed a following that threatened the political figures of the day and was crucified for it, a death on the cursed tree that should have been my punishment under the wrath of God. And then he rose again on the third day, walking out of the tomb that had been guarded by the strongest empire of the time. He appeared to hundreds of people, and continued to teach his message until it was time for him to return to Heaven from whence he came. And before leaving, he introduced the marching orders for the new covenant.
Jesus was speaking to men who had walked with Him for years. They were all devoted to Him, even before His resurrection from the dead. Granted, all but one of them scattered when it looked bleak, but let’s offer them some grace here. He cemented His message by carrying the sins and sorrows of the world to the cross and then by rising from the dead. Neither the Sanhedrin nor the Romans held any power over Jesus any longer. As a matter of fact no authority was above Him. None on Heaven and Earth. And His final instructions begin with this statement of authority.
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In a very real sense, the God who brought Israel up from the house of slavery is the same God who holds all authority, including the slavery to sin that once captivated us. See Romans 6 for my reason to include this concept here. And just as God included instructions of what His people would look like in Exodus, we have instructions of what we are to be about in the Great Commission.
We are to be people who:
- REMEMBER that all authority belongs to Jesus. Yes, this is part of the instruction. The key part of the instruction.
- Go to others both near and far to make disciples. And this looks like:
- Baptizing in the name of all three members of the trinity
- Teaching the disciples to observe/obey all that Jesus commanded
- REMEMBER that Jesus is with us. The power to accomplish these goals comes from Him. Always.
The word translated as “Baptizing” refers to immersion. I don’t mean to spark a baptism mode debate here, but instead want to point out that a disciple is to be immersed, engulfed, in the Father/Son/Holy Spirit. We are to marinate in God. We are to desire God, to borrow from John Piper. And coupled with that, we are to teach the disciples to obey all of the commands of God. Those commands are discovered over 66 books in the BIble and not just the red letters in the gospels.
Nations are comprised of people. The people are to be reached and thus the nations will be transformed as the residents are won by the gospel through the power of Jesus, not the power of our presentations of the gospel. The Onus is never on us! The power is always from God, never sinful disciples making other disciples. God doesn’t require “winners” in any sense that we would think of. God demands faithfulness. And even when we prove to be faithless, God remains faithful. For He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13) This Great Commission will succeed! And we get to play a small part in it!