The Great Commission
Acts 1: 8-9
Jesus said to the disciples: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
I Corinthians 2: 1-5
When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God (or ‘God’s mystery’) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
The Church’s Missionary Mandate
News travels fast today… especially bad news!
- But we have news for the world… the best and the worst news…
The best news is the good news of salvation available through Jesus Christ to every person who repents and calls upon Him to save
The worst news is that God hates sin and will not abide it in His presence… The wage we receive for sin is death
The best news is that lives can be and are transformed by God’s indwelling Spirit… the hopeless gain hope… the outcast finds welcome
The worst news is that Satan is at work in the world… those who do not call upon the Lord are exposed to Satan’s influence and power
The best news is that God does not want anyone to perish… eternal life with God is promised
The worst news is that Hell is a real place.
Think about the people you know… They can probably be described in one of the following ways…
- They never give God or church a thought.
- They are cynical about Christianity and use any opportunity to scorn and criticise. (A small group but extremely vocal!)
- They consider churchgoers to be quaint and harmless.
- They show a polite interest in Christian things but don’t see them as significant for their lives.
- They will attend church social events, as long the events have little or no ‘religious’ content.
- They attend a few church services then fade from the scene.
- They embrace the truth about Christ and His saving power but don’t respond wholeheartedly… They remain on the fringes.
- They embrace the truth and become an integral part of church life and witness.
As we consider the Great Commission and the most appropriate way to influence this diverse group of people, it is important look closely at exactly what Jesus said and how He went about it…
Five points are relevant:
- The Great Commission is for ‘ordinary’ people
- Jesus interacted with ‘ordinary’ people: slaves and free; naughty and nice; men and women; rich and poor; married and single
- No one was seen as beyond His influence or not worthy to be helped and challenged apart from insincere time-wasters!
- And Jesus used people from a wide spectrum of society to take the message of the Gospel… fishermen, intellectuals, accountants, doctors, family men, single and married people…
- He didn’t look for super-saints or someone of a particular status
- He simply looked and still looks for people who will follow Him…
As for Christians, James Stewart commented as follows:
The concern for world evangelisation is not something tacked on to a person’s personal Christianity, which he may take or leave as he chooses. It is rooted in the character of the God who has come to us in Christ Jesus. Thus, it can never be the province of a few enthusiasts, a sideline or a speciality of those who happen to have a bent that way. It is the distinctive mark of being a Christian.
To enhance our effectiveness in carrying out the Great Commission, scholarship and careful study of the Bible (especially the NT) is important … but in doing so, we have to be careful of three areas of potential failure:
(a) Failing to study the Bible closely! It is possible to read the Bible as a duty and not with eager expectation of what God might say to us
(b) Assuming that knowledge of itself is sufficient to equip us for witnessing… We need the word and the Spirit (See later)
(c) Making our lack of knowledge a reason to avoid being witnesses… probably out of fear that we will be asked a difficult question or challenged about a controversial subject
Church leaders have an important role in developing their own understanding and assisting others to grasp doctrine and, crucially, to examine and think through difficult issues to which people demand answers.
However, Jesus promised that we will be given the right things to say when placed in tricky situations… We don’t have to feel stressed or anxious about the things that we don’t know or fully understand… We simply speak of what we DO know.
- The Great Commission is about pointing people to Jesus Christ
- “You shall be witnesses unto me” said Jesus
- Not witnesses about the lovely church or the nice people or exciting events or great music or free food!
- Of course, these factors can act as an incentive for the un-churched to enter the building, have a positive experience and, perhaps, decide to return…but they should not be an end in themselves… People are found by Christ ‘in the market place’ as well as inside a church building.
Perhaps we feel embarrassed to speak of Jesus… Sometimes this awkwardness is because we struggle with inappropriate childish images of Him…
- It is very unlikely that He had a long beard or long white robes or long hair… and He certainly didn’t have blue eyes or a halo!
- The man Jesus would have had Jewish features… He must have been extremely fit and healthy… certainly not a wimp!
It is much easier to chat about the weather, the football match, the state of the economy or the homemade recipe…and these subjects are useful “ice-breakers”…
- But at some point, we need to speak of Jesus Christ and point people to Him… We need Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance.
- And don’t be surprised if some people snigger and refer to “the tooth fairy” or “flat earth society” or “homophobia” or “hypocrisy” or “bigot”
In the words of Jesus: “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen” …transformed lives… hope for the present and the future… acts of love, forgiveness and the abiding grace of God.
- The Great Commission applies worldwide
“Go into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”
There are three elements to this command:
- The gospel is relevant in every place, including our own street!
- We should be alert to (apparently) spontaneous opportunities, though so-called coincidences are often “God instances”!
- Or, as someone suggested… ‘Coincidences are times when God chooses to remain anonymous’!
- The most important single issue is to be in the “right place”, led by the Holy Spirit
Here is a poem (written by D Hayes) that offers reassurance to those who wonder if they have missed the will of God or are in the ‘wrong place’. It is based on an old, anonymously written poem, considerably amended.
JUST WHERE YOU STAND
Just where you stand in the conflict
That’s the place that you should be
Just where you think you are useless
Lift up your head and you’ll see
God placed you there for a purpose
Whatever that purpose may be.
Believe that he chose you especially
And work for the King loyally.
Put on your armour, be faithful
Whether you labour or rest
Whatever you do, never doubt Him
For God’s way is always the best
Out in the battle, with friends or alone
Ever stand firm and be true
For this is the work that the Master
Has decided that you, only you, have to do!
Some years ago, I had a friend who was apparently disinterested in Christianity, church and religion … but God had other ideas!
- He was wonderfully converted… went to Bible College, married a Christian, served overseas, became a pastor and now trains Christian leaders around the world!
- When he first approached a Bible College, he was met with this response… “If you want to be a missionary overseas, begin with the people you know first!”
Not everyone is called to go overseas but every Christian IS “called” to serve the Lord, not least through prayer…
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army once wrote:
Not called, did you say? Put your ear down to the Bible and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonised heart of humanity and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world. “In our lifetime, wouldn’t it be sad if we spent more time washing dishes or swatting flies or mowing the yard or watching television than praying for world missions?”
- We need heavenly power to fulfil the Commission
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”
- Without God’s supernatural power, our efforts will be in vain
- Like trying to start a car with a dead battery… or running out of fuel
No matter how attractive our advertising… how enjoyable our music… how powerful our preaching… how modern our technology… We work… but only God provides the increase.
- It is possible to be active in the Lord’s service, having a form of godliness but denying its power
- How does this happen? There are at least three possibilities:
- We have convinced ourselves that the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (other than bringing about conversion) was exclusively for the early church and is no longer relevant… We have lost sight of the miraculous!
- We evaluate ‘success’ in terms of the effort we exert rather than the results it achieves.
- We are afraid to take hold of what God offers for fear of being thought ‘extreme’ or unsettling others in the church.
Finally, note that the Great Commission has a time limit
- How long before the Lord returns?
- How long before you take your final breath?
- How long before bodily weakness constrains your witnessing?
- None of us know!
Arthur Pierson was a Christian leader, pastor and writer who preached over 13,000 sermons and wrote over fifty books. He commented:
If missions languish, it is because the whole life of godliness is feeble. The command to go everywhere and preach to everybody is not obeyed until the will is lost by self-surrender in the will of God. Living, praying, giving and going will always be found together.
Each one of us has a part to play. The Great Commission needs to involve everybody, home or abroad, old and young, fit and unfit, talented and ‘ordinary’. The most important factor is to know that we are in the right place and determined to pursue God’s will with faith and conviction.
May it be so for His name’s sake. Amen