A story is oftentimes judged by its ending. Whether it be the final scene of a movie, the last lines of a book, or a person’s dying words, the most important point is typically made at the end. The ministry of Jesus Christ is no exception.
While the “Great Commission” is referenced by each of the four Gospels, Matthew’s account in Chapter 28 of his Gospel is often the most quoted and arguably the clearest interpretation.
These were Christ’s parting words to his followers.
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
I love all of the red letters, but this statement is profound.
Although Jesus is speaking only to eleven men at the time, his words are targeted at every believer from that point on.
I can only imagine being one of the eleven disciples that day.
These men had been following Jesus throughout the past few years watching him heal the sick and the blind, turn water into wine, feed thousands with one boy’s lunch, cast out demons, and fulfill countless prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible.
The proof was in the pudding.
In one of my previous posts, “The Art of Belief,” I talked about the difference between knowing something and actually believing it.
By this point, Christ had already told the disciples that He was God’s own Son and had allowed them to bear witness to his acts which only He was able to accomplish.
Yet, there was still doubt.
On this day, on a mountaintop near the Sea of Galilee, the eleven men looked into the eyes of their previously slain and now risen Savior and actually believed what He said and what they had seen to be true.
When knowledge transforms into belief, behavior changes. This was exactly what Jesus was setting the stage for.
“All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me.”
By this point, I hope they fully understood this.
If I’m Jesus, and I’ve performed my miracles, died on the Cross, resurrected, left the grave, and walked through walls to appear to them as proof that I have all authority and they still doubted, I would just give up.
I mean, come on, what more do I have to do!?
Thankfully, Christ has a much more merciful and patient demeanor than I, yet He drives home this point laying the foundation for the behavior he expects from the disciples contingent on their believing this statement.
Jesus wasn’t just bragging to the disciples that He was all-powerful only to tack on some random commands to it.
Without using the words “if” and “then,” Jesus gives a blatantly conditional sentence. Let’s rephrase it as a formally conditional statement..
IF (you believe)… “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me…”
THEN, “..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.”
Jesus makes it very apparent that our action is contingent on our conviction of the truth that all authority has been given to Him.
Obviously, and thankfully, the disciples took this truth to heart.
We know this because 10 of the 11 became martyrs of the faith dying horrific deaths to share this truth with the world.
Steven Hawthorne’s paper “Mandate on the Mountain” strikes a chord with me on this subject. He singles out the action verb “teaching” and contextualizes it for us.
“When Jesus said “teaching” they (the disciples) would not have had the slightest impression that they were to transfer mere knowledge to newcomers. They heard him (correctly) say, “teaching them to obey.” They were not sent to round up students for classes in Hebrew ways and thought. They were supposed to train people to know and follow Jesus in the fullest way He could be known. Their evangelism was to be primarily a matter of life-obedience rather than pressing for conformity of beliefs.”
- Steven Hawthorne
Now this is interesting.
In re-reading the text, we see Jesus didn’t just say “teach.”
He clearly says “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Or, in other words, teach them to live as I have lived.
To be as I have been.
To do as I have done.
To love as I have loved.
For Christ was His own best example of a life lived according to His commandments.
This mandate was more purposeful than to simply encourage us to emulate Jesus’s life and ministry.
Whittling the mandate down in this way is a prime example of the danger of our culture viewing Jesus in the same light as other religious figures.
For many today, Jesus is simply a good guy and religious figure whose example we should follow.
In reality, Jesus is the Son of God who holds all authority under Heaven and Earth, and most of all, desires a relationship with those whom He died to save.
The mandate to obey and teach others to obey is so that we might enjoy a closer relationship with Him and the father through our obedience.
Christ is Holy as God is Holy.
Though we were made in His likeness, we are far from holy.
In order for us to enjoy a relationship with the holy God at all, we needed a holy sacrifice to atone for our sins. Christ is that sacrifice who bridges the gap of sin which keeps us from being in God’s Holy presence.
God chose to become man rather than require men to become Gods in order to restore their relationship with Him.
While Jesus’s death checked the box for us to have a relationship with the Father, He didn’t stop there.
This relationship is not a one-size-fits-all.
Jesus’s life of obedience served as an instruction manual on how we could experience the deepest, fullest relationship with Him.
The depth of our relationship with Christ is commensurate with the level of holiness our lives exhibit.
As sin increases, so does our distance from Christ and the Father.
As our holiness increases, so too does our proximity to Him who makes us holy.
Please don’t misinterpret this as a mandate of works.
Let me be very clear. YOU AND I CAN NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH TO GET TO HEAVEN.
Only Christ can get us through the gates.
Paul makes this very clear in Ephesians 2: 8-9.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
If you believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins, and you accept Him as your personal savior, then congratulations! You are saved!
It is as simple as that.
But being saved is only part of the abundance of blessing Christ died to give us.
More than saving us from death in sin, he offers us life in Him.
Our obedience to His commands doesn’t make us any more or less saved; however, obedience to his commands does allow us to understand and experience deeper levels of fullness and depth inside our relationship with Him.
If you’ve ever hiked a mountain, you’ll know that staying on the path gets you to the top much quicker than trying to pave your own.
Someone struggled to pave a path in the past so that today it would keep you and others cleaner, safer, and more energized on their climb.
They paved the path so you could enjoy the hike.
This is what Christ means when he asks us to obey and teach others to obey his commands. He wants us to see the fullness of His glory.
He wants us to know and understand the mountain we’re climbing.
He knows our experience will be much richer and we’ll understand Him much better by obeying his precepts and by staying on the path he’s paved for us.
He suffered so we could enjoy our climb.
When you think about it that way, it’s a wonder why we stray from the path at all.
To obey is much more than a command.
Christ is no dictator.
Although He died for all, He never forces anyone to obey him or accept him.
He died knowing that many would deny Him, yet He died for them anyway.
He doesn’t demand we obey, rather He provides us the opportunity to know and experience Him on a deeper level through our obedience to his commands.
The fruitfulness of your spirit is a product of your obedience to His commandments and serves as a litmus test to the depth of your relationship with Him.
Look no further than the ground on which you stand to provide proof to this point.
Deeper soils provide more water and nutrients to plants than shallow soils. The God who created you and the soil you stand on desires that we be rooted in deeper soil.
Not only will we not be swayed by the winds that come our way, but we’ll grow quicker, stronger, and healthier in Him than we ever could in more shallow ground.
Galatians 6 says we reap what we sow. If so, what will your harvest look like?
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