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Called to Make Disciples
Spring Quarter: Discipleship and Mission
Unit 2: Call to Ministry
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 28, 2019
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Mathew 28:16-20; Acts 1:6-8
Key Verse: Matthew 28:19-20
- Give the content of Jesus’ commissions.
- To accept Jesus’ call and commission to make disciples.
To be effective, churches need to know where they are going. They need to know what business they are in and why they exist. And they need to make and keep “the main thing the main thing.” In other words, they need a road map to guide them. That road map is their mission statement.
Today’s lessons present two accounts of Jesus’ giving his disciples their road map (instructions) for continuing his ministry in his absence. The first account, from Matthew 28, comes immediately after the passage from last week’s study. As you may recall, that passage recounted events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection itself.
All that took place in and near Jerusalem. However, in the opening verse of today’s Matthew text (28:16), we see that a new geographical location is mentioned (Galilee).
The second account comes from the book of Acts. This book is Luke’s record of the history of the first-century church. An important part of what preceded the founding of the church (Acts 2) was a commission or charge given to the apostles before Jesus’ ascension near Bethany (Luke 24:50, 51).
Though geographical contexts of our two lesson-segments are different, the time frame is the same. Both occur during the 40 days of Acts 1:3. This period begins at Jesus’ resurrection and ends prior to Pentecost, when the church is brought into being.
Commission in Matthew
In obedience to the words of the angel and Jesus himself (Matthew 28:7,10), the disciples, now number eleven, journeyed north to Galilee. There they meet Jesus on an unnamed mountain.
It is reported that when the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him. Note that the disciples had never before worshiped Jesus. They had loved him, believed in him and followed him, but never before worshiped him. But things had changed. Before they had thought of him as a great man, a great teacher, and a great prophet. Now, they saw him as the King of kings and Lord of lords. So “when they saw him,” Matthew says,” they worshiped him,” just like the women had done earlier (Matthew 28:9).
Matthew also tells us that “some doubted.” Doubt is not the opposite of faith; the opposite of faith is cynicism, apathy, and indifference. As commentator M. Eugene Boring notes, “Whatever the nature of the resurrection event, it did not generate perfect faith even in those who experienced it firsthand. It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted.”
Hear me now! The very presence of Thomas in the list of the 12 apostles guarantees the intellectual integrity which Jesus expects of all who follow him. Jesus said that his kingdom was not simply a kingdom of grace, but a kingdom of truth as well. Faith is not so much the absence of doubt as the mastery of doubt.
So our God permits us to doubt, to complain, to even shout at Him repeatedly the ultimate question, “why?” But ultimately, as Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge suggests, the divine answer does not come in the form of a “why” but in the form of a “who?”
The late Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, noted Baptist minister, put it this way: “Doubt. Don’t ever be afraid to doubt. Doubt and doubt big. Just be sure you doubt long enough to doubt your doubts.”
At this point, Jesus proceeded to reassure his disciples and to challenge them.” I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Such a sweeping statement reflects Jesus’ conquest of death (compare Revelation 1:18). The word in the original language behind the translation “authority” is translated “power” in other contexts (example, John 19:10,11). Therefore we can think of “power” as the ability to do something while “authority” is the right to do something. At any rate, the two ideas are closely related and Jesus has both in an absolute sense.
The word “all” is inclusive, and in case his disciples might wonder the extent of the reach of “all,” Jesus made it clear: “in heaven and on earth.” He, the crucified and resurrected one, now defines the extent of the kingdom he has proclaimed from the beginning. He assures his disciples that his authority extends over it all.
And the fact that this authority “has been given” to Jesus implies that the heavenly Father, having sent the Son (Galatians 4:4), is the one who has given the Son all power and authority. Whatever is implied here is unmistakable in Matthew 11:27; John 3:35; 13:3; 17:2; Ephesians 1:20; and Philippians 2:9-11.
Almost immediately, Jesus told his disciples what this meant to them. It was not something to sit back and enjoy, nor was it about finding a place at Jesus’ right or left hands.
“Therefore go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” said Jesus.
To be sure, Jesus can do many things with the power and authority he has. And Jesus does indeed desire that “all nations” recognize and honor him. But the method here is not that of brute force. Instead, he desires it to happen by means of disciples making “disciples of those nations.” We should underline it. His disciples are to make other disciples in spreading the kingdom of God.
Note that this call to mission removes the earlier restrictions Jesus had put upon his disciples. When he sent them out earlier, he instructed them, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” Matthew 10:5,6). Now, however, the good news about Jesus is to be made known to everyone everywhere.
Matthew understands that God doesn’t seek individual believers as much as believers who participate in a community of people who obediently follow Jesus. Up until this point in Matthew’s account, baptism has been associated only with John the Baptist. But now, baptism…”in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” becomes a sign of membership in the community of faith. So those who follow will receive baptism. For the first time, the Trinitarian formula—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is spelled out specifically and clearly.
Another important notation, we disciples of Jesus are not only to be evangelists to the nations, seeking their baptism, but we are to be teachers. If evangelism is to move converts to discipleship, their converts must be carefully instructed so that they will know what their Lord expects of them.
As his disciples, we can take great comfort in the fact that in these verses, Jesus not only claimed power and authority and issued has his commission (known as the Great Commission), he also made an incredible promise of his abiding presence with us. Thus, the final saying of Jesus in this Gospel is what gives us the greatest assurances that we can carry out his purpose in our lives. Why? Because he promises unconditionally, “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Commission in Acts
In the first recorded words of Jesus in the book of Acts, he tells his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until the promised baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Here’s where our lesson begins. The 40-day period of Acts 1:3 is coming to an end.
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” (v.6). They had certainly been convinced of God’s power and rule as a result of everything that had happened with Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Jesus had not yet “restored the kingdom to Israel.” So was baptism with the Holy Spirit the event that would bring that about?
The very nature of the question reveals that the disciples just don’t get it. Jesus has taught them repeatedly, through both parables and direct teaching, that his kingdom is spiritual in nature. But these followers are still thinking in terms of a political kingdom. They are anticipating a conqueror who will overthrow Roman rule. They are expecting that the “glory days” experienced under King David will be restored.
Now, those followers after the resurrection wanted a timetable as to when Jesus would do what they were so sure he would do—make Israel the top power in the world.
Jesus’ answer, however, was blunt: It was really none of their business what God’s secret plans were—there were certain matters that God marked “Personal.” Right here, once and for all, Jesus suppressed the inclination to fix dates or to pry into God’s business. Jesus made it clear that what these followers needed was not a timetable but power. They were to focus on the task ahead and the supernatural help he was sending. Their priority must be to receive the power of the Holy Spirit (which happened on the day of Pentecost, Act 2). Thus, Jesus makes sure that the distraction question of verse 6 hasn’t caused them to miss his statement of verse 5.
Verse 8 is known as the keynote of the Book of Acts. It is also the charter of the church. The Greek word for “power” is “dynamis;” the disciples are to be a “dynamic community energized not by human power but by the Holy Spirit.
When this handful of believers is empowered by God Himself, Jesus tells them that they will accomplish extraordinary things. They will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in the farthest corners of the world. Thus, the power of the Holy Spirit was going to make these disciples witnesses.
The late scholar, William Barclay, notes these characteristics of a Christian witness. First, a witness is a person who says I know this is true. Second, the real witness is not the witness of words but of deeds. And third, in Greek, the word for “witness’ and the word for “martyr” is the same word. To be a witness means to be loyal no matter what the cost.
While the commission of Jesus in Matthew and Acts differ in certain details, they have one crucial item in common: Jesus wants his followers to take his message of salvation to the entire world. That is to be the number one priority for the eleven disciples as the Day of Pentecost approaches. And it must still be the church’s number one priority today.
Church consultant Ken Callahan warned over a decade ago that “the day of the churched culture is over. The day of the mission field has come.” To recast Callahan’s statement: “The day of the church “member” is over. The day of the “Disciple of Jesus Christ” has come.
As Christian disciples, we need to change our mindset from parishioners to participants, from consumers to contributors, and from church landmark to mission outpost. Come again, O Holy Spirit and empower your church! Amen!
- What do you think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
- What’s the best way to react the next time doubts interfere with your worship? Why?
- Why do you think we in the church don’t do a better job at making disciples?
Resources for this lesson:
“2018-2019 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary,” Uniform Series “International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 297-304
“The NIV Application Commentary, Matthew” by Michael J. Wilkins, pages 946-955
“Adult Bible Studies, Spring 2019, Discipleship and Mission, Teacher, Uniform Series,” Gary Thompson, pages 79-87
“Immersion Bible Studies Matthew,” J. Ellsworth Kalas, pages 88-91
“They Stood Boldly,” William P. Barker, pages 17-19
“The Acts of the Apostles,” William Barclay, pages 3-5
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).