The Church's Mission
Topic: Missions Passage: Matthew 28:18–28:20
"What do you do?" In the DC area, that's like a critical element of the standard greeting when you meet someone. Right after you ask their name, the next most important piece of information you need to acquire is their occupation. "Hi, what's your name?" "What do you do?" And your answer to that question really determines the interest level for the rest of that conversation. You can almost see someone's face drop when you answer in a way that doesn’t meet their expectations.
Lately, I've gotten more and more dropped faces as someone asks, "What do you do?" and I say, "I work for Metro!" "Hmmm". Its not a pleasant exchange. I'm met with horror stories of 3-hour long commutes, broken trains, and so on. No matter that I don't drive the train, or work on the rail, the association is bad enough. But if they're not turned off by the association and actually press to find out what I actually do at Metro, I'm often stuck. Because maybe like some of you I've got one of those positions where my actual functions differ drastically from my job description. I'm doing almost a hodgepodge of a lot of different tasks, and so I have to explain, "Well, I do some of this, and some of this, and some of this, and some of this." It gets kind of fuzzy when someone asks, "What do you do?"
I wonder if that same kind of fuzziness is present when someone asks the question "What does the church do?" What if someone this afternoon, saw you dressed in your Sunday’s best, and sparked a conversation about where you came from. And perhaps you tell ‘em, “I’m just coming from church”. And they might say, “Oh, that’s great! "What does your church do?" What answer would you give? Perhaps there's a lot of different answers you would think to give, or that someone is expecting you to give. Perhaps they're expecting you to say, "we give to the poor". Or, we operate a food pantry. Or we have outreach events to the community. Or, we preach the gospel. Or, we get together on Sundays. Or we have programs for the children. Or we have a vibrant women's ministry. Or a strong men's ministry. Or, we clean up the neighborhood. "What is it that you do?" And does that vary from what the church should be doing?
Well, this morning we want to try to refocus. We want to get clear thinking as we look to Jesus, our boss, for lack of a better word. Our commanding officer, as He gives us the church's job description, or the church's mission. So I invite you to turn with me to Matthew 28, and we’ll start at verse 18.
 “And Jesus came and said to them.” Now, let’s go ahead and just stop right there, and just acknowledge who’s speaking. Or even that the one who is speaking, is actually, speaking! Just one chapter earlier, in Matthew 27, we read of this Jesus being condemned to death. We read that He was scourged...his body beaten with a multi-lashed whip containing imbedded pieces of bone and metal; he had a crown of twisted thorns shoved onto his scull, he was spit upon and struck on the head with a reed, his hands and feet were nailed with pegs to a wooden cross, and His body stretched upon it and lifted up to die the excruciatingly painful and humiliating death by means of crucifixion. And there, on the cross, He actually died. We read that He gave up His spirit and breathed His last breath. And his dead body was taken away and put into a tomb, sealed with a large stone, and guarded by a troop of soldiers.
But at the beginning of this chapter, we read of an open tomb. An empty tomb. With the proclamation being made that this Jesus is risen! Now, saints I know that Halloween is next week. And some people will be dressed up as zombies. There seems to be this whole zombie craze going around with tv shows and movies being made about zombies. There’s zombies everyone. But let me tell you, there is nothing ordinary about someone coming back from the dead. That’s altogether extraordinary. And only one person has ever done it of His own power: this man Jesus.
And Matthew shows us that this risen Jesus has a specific purpose. So, if you let your eyes drift up to verse 7, we see the angel at the tomb instructing the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body to, “Go quickly and tell his disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you in Galilee. You will see Him there.”
Then two verses later in verse 9, we see Jesus meeting the women, “ And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Then we move down to verse 16, we read, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus directed them.” You see the pattern here? Jesus has been specifically navigating his disciples to meet him in Galilee.
And as we move back to verse 18, and we read, “And Jesus came and said to them”, we understand that Jesus has summoned his disciples to this mountain in Galilee because He has something to say, something important to say. And this is it: ”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me!”
Saints, that’s the first and foundational point we want to consider in this passage:
I. Jesus has all authority
I wonder how often we’ve read this familiar passage and skipped right over that fact and jumped straight to the command in verse 19. But to do so, is to presume far too much about who we are or what we can accomplish, as if there’s some inherent or independent power that we have to “change the world”. No, as is the case in much of Scripture its important to dwell on the indicatives before we get to the imperatives. It’s important for us here to dwell on this indicative statement of fact in verse 18 before we get to the imperative statement of command in verse 19. Its important to reflect on what has been done, before being told what we must do. And what has been done? All authority has been given to Jesus.
Now if you’re perceptive, you might have some questions about the wording of that. Hasn’t Jesus always had authority? Don’t us Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God, who eternally existed? Doesn’t the apostle John in his gospel tell us that Jesus created all things and that nothing exists that He did not create? Didn’t we just finish a sermon series in the gospel of Mark where we read that Jesus had authority in his teaching, He had authority on earth to forgive sins, He had authority over sickness to heal people, he had authority over unclean spirits to cast out demons, He had authority over nature to calm a storm simply by speaking to it, so what does Jesus mean here when he says that “All authority has been given to me?”
Well, in no way is He denying His deity. In fact, at the end of the next verse, we’ll see Jesus emphasizing His equality with the Father and the Spirit, as the eternal Son. Three persons in one Godhead, all possessing the divine nature and eternal power that alone belong to God.
But in His incarnate state, the Man, Christ Jesus had to accomplish something for men. There was a power that needed to be defeated. And He was sent by God the Father on a mission to dethrone this seemingly unconquerable world power.
To give a brief overview of the Bible, at the beginning of creation, the first man, Adam was created by God and given dominion over all the earth; serving sort as God’s vice-king. But tempted by Satan, Adam sinned, rebelling against God, seeking to be His own ruler. As a result, the whole world (including you and me) was subjected to sin and the power of the devil; or as 1 John 5:19 puts it: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”. It’s into this world, under the temporary reign of Satan, that the Son of God stepped into; to as 1 John 3:8 puts it, “destroy the works of Satan.” Jesus came pronouncing a new King is here, and a new kingdom is here on earth: the Kingdom of God. Jesus lived the perfect life that the first man, Adam, failed to live. And then laid down His life, and through His death, Hebrews 2:14 tells us, destroyed the one who had power over death, the devil, and delivered those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
When Jesus rose from the grave, a victory had been won – over sin, and over Satan. He had disarmed the rulers and authorities of this world, put them to open shame, and triumphed over them. Having accomplished His mission on earth, the Father exalted the Son, and gave Him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. So that on this mountain in Galilee, this risen Jesus, God in the flesh, can rightly proclaim that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. He is the only one who can rightly sing, “Victory is mine, victory is mine! Victory today is mine! I told Satan, to get thee behind. Victory today is mine!”
Maybe you’re here this morning and victory is the furthest thing from your mind. Maybe you’re crushed by the weight of your own failures this past week, of your own sins. By now, you thought things would be different; you’d be a different person; and in a different place. Maybe life’s circumstances have you bemoaning and despairing of life itself. Maybe you’re not a Christian, and you’ve tried everything there is to bring you a sense of peace and contentment and happiness, but there’s still this huge hole of emptiness that resides in your heart. Still this stubborn longing for something else, something better. Still this lingering question: “What is the point of life?” Well this very day, the Lord Jesus is directing all our hearts, all our eyes to the same place, to focus on Him. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He is the hope that we all desperately desire. He has come and rescued, ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language, and people, and nation. He has purchased for Himself a people, and won for Himself a Kingdom. And is calling us all to turn from our sins and put our trust in Him that we might come into His Kingdom, an everlasting kingdom. And in coming to Him he fulfills our deepest desire for purpose in life: to know Him, and make Him known. And He now commissions His people to spread His kingdom’s reign abroad.
Which leads us to our 2nd and final point:
II. Jesus commissions His people
Having established His sovereign authority over all the universe in verse 18, we read Jesus giving the following command concerning all peoples starting in verse 19:
 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.”
Now, many of you have probably already heard this, but the main verb there in verse 19, is not the most obvious one. At first glance, you might conclude that Jesus’ main charge to his disciples is to “go”. But really the crux of his command is what they are to go and do “make disciples”. That’s the command that is given, “go…make disciples”. Just as you might tell your child to “go clean your room.” Now if they go, if they leave your presence, but fail to clean their room, either they’ve misunderstood your instructions or just flat out refused to follow them. In the same vein, Jesus’ intent is not just that they go, but as they go, wherever they go, they make disciples.
Now, what is a disciple? That’s a question your elders have been mulling over the last few months. What is a disciple and what is discipleship? These terms are so familiar that they’re often times vague. At its most basic and fundamental meaning, a disciple is a learner, and discipleship is learnership. In the Scriptures, we read that the Pharisees had disciples, that John the Baptist had disciples, but here Jesus is calling his disciples to make disciples, to make learners of Him. In fact earlier in Matthew’s gospel, we hear Jesus expressing this same charge when he told a crowd, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”
But this isn’t the type of learning that’s purely intellectual. This is learning a new way of life, from the One who is the very Source of life. As one author puts it, a disciple is “someone devoted to learning Jesus.” And because of who Jesus is, “his learners are called to follow him in an exclusive, life-and-death commitment. The same author goes on: To “learn Jesus – to submit yourself to his teaching, to walk in his ways – will mean leaving behind all your current loyalties and commitments.”
These disciples well knew that. It cost them houses, and families, and occupations to follow Jesus; to devote themselves to learning His way. And here was Jesus commanding them to call others to this way of life. And not just here in their hometown of Galilee, but among all the people groups of the world. To make disciples of all the nations.
And what does making disciples involve? Two things: Baptism and teaching. Verse 19: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism might seem a rather odd disciple-making aspect, doesn’t it? What can we possibly learn about following Jesus from baptism? I mean to look at it from a purely worldly standpoint, its pretty foolish for grown people, or even little children for that matter, to dress in silly white robes (like we do here), in front of a bunch of other people no less, and get their entire body dunked into a pool of water. That is so uncivilized! So foolish! And it would be, if baptism were only a matter of getting our bodies wet. But we must understand what baptism signifies. And why Jesus insists upon it as a primary and initial way of identifying as a disciple. We’re told elsewhere the symbolism of baptism. In Romans 6, the apostle Paul says this: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism is a symbol. As our bodies are dipped down into the water, it symbolizes our death to sin, to our old way of life, our identification with Christ in his death. And as our bodies are brought back up out of the water, it symbolizes our resurrection, our being raised with Christ from the dead.
Baptism is a picture of our death, burial, and resurrection in union with Christ. It is a renouncing of our old way of life, and pledging allegiance to God. That’s what it means to be baptized in the name (singular) of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So here, Jesus is saying that his mission involves calling men and women, boys and girls, of all nations, nationalities, people groups, languages, cultures, to learn to do one thing at the outset: DIE...so that they might live!
This is an offensive message! It smacks against the pluralism of our Western world where whatever you believe or don't believe is just fine. There are no objective rights or wrongs. It smacks against the supposed monotheism found in Jewish and Muslim cultures. It is in essence, telling everyone, everywhere that the way that you have been living is wrong; that your living isn't really living, that you need to die to self; die to self-righteousness, die to self-sufficiency, die to the selfish sins that have characterized all our lives, and that you need to identify with the one and only sinless Savior in His death, who died for the sins of all who would trust in Him, and who was raised for our justification. This is the type of "narrow" thinking that the world hates about Christianity. This exclusivity. But its what our Lord has called us to...to teach "all the people groups" all the "nations" that there is indeed life to be had, but you've got to die to get it. But it’s not far off, because One has died to give this eternal life, namely Jesus.
And this initial death-to-life symbol of baptism that marks the entrance into the Christian life, that marks the beginning of being a follower, a learner, a disciple of Jesus; is followed by a life-long learning to obey His commands. We see that in verse 20, “teaching them to observe (or obey) everything that I have commanded you.” Now this phrase has been worn out, but it bears repeating, “Jesus isn’t calling his people to make decisions, but to make disciples.” He isn’t interested in flash-in-the-pan confessions, isn’t interested in someone simply praying a one-time prayer, or giving assent to the truths of the gospel, or just being baptized. Jesus is after life-long followers, whose lives will be continually transformed as they learn from Him. Who learn to obey everything that He commanded.
Saints, this is why we open up the Bible together every Sunday morning in Sunday school, and in our morning service. It’s why we open up the Bible every other Sunday evening. It’s why we open up the Bible every Wednesday night. To find what Jesus commanded, we need but look into Jesus’ Word, the Bible. And it’s why we jump from Ephesians, to Job, to Mark, to Leviticus, to Matthew: to learn everything that Jesus commanded. But the call here isn’t to just know what Jesus commanded, but to obey all that He commanded. We don’t like that language do we? To “obey” “commands”. As much as we love language of “God being sovereign over all things and all people”, sometimes by the way we talk and the way we live, that “all things” includes everything except “me”, or “my life”, or certain areas of “my life”. This kind of hard-hearted rebellion against even God’s authority to tell me what to do.
Let me tell you something of what was going on in my own heart even last week as Harvey preached. He’s talking about going, and giving, and praying and about how all Christians are to be involved in this epic mission of making Christ known to the nations. And part of my heart is saying, “That’s right! Its so biblical…it’s right here in the Bible. And I love the Bible!” And yet, another part of me was kicking against the goads. Was finding all kinds of loopholes and excuses of why “going” for me and my family right now was totally out of the question. Why our “giving” was sufficient. And why my “praying”, well, who’s really content with their prayer life. And pushing against being told that I need to be involved in this mission. Pushing against obeying this command. But when we became Christians, what do we think we became? We became those who gave up their own rights, and committed ourselves to obeying everything that Jesus commanded. Including this command to “make disciples of all nations.”
So what does that look like for us? How should we understand, interpret this command, this “great commission”? I think the best way is to look at how the original recipients understood it. How did these 11 disciples on the mountaintop in Galilee understand this commission from the crucified and risen Jesus? One might think they’d immediately call a brainstorming & planning session, with everyone putting their best ideas forward as to how to accomplish this mission in the shortest amount of time possible. Maybe they try to tally up just how many nations there were, divide it by 11, identify each others’ strong points, and then start divvying out territories and plotting out timelines for completion. I mean, that’s how some of us would have taken it, right? This kind of programmatic pragmatism is almost hard-wired into our nature. We would have been doing strengths and weaknesses analysis, taking spiritual gifting tests, seeing which region had the best weather. Maybe we would have developed a little manual or playbook of all the basic questions and topics we needed to cover once we got to a certain people. And then developed a timeline for an exit strategy to go to the next group of people, until all the nations were “reached”.
But how did the disciples take the command to make disciples of all the nations? They started a church. The book of Acts opens up telling us that in the next chapter after Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel, and a local church was born -- with those who received the word being “baptized” and “devoting themselves to the apostles teaching”. “Make disciples of all nations, “baptizing them”…and teaching them to obey” was exactly what the disciples were doing, in the context of a local church. They understood the Great Commission not to be about randomly going, but about intentional disciple-making in and through the local church. They understood this mission not to be solely their own mission, but to involve calling people to repent and believe in Jesus, and come together, on mission, to make more disciples of Jesus.
And its not like this was a misunderstanding of what Jesus wanted. Because earlier in the gospel of Matthew Jesus Himself said, “I will build my church, [not I will build my disciple-making ministry], “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The church is Jesus’ vehicle for making disciples of all the nations. The disciples understood this mission to make disciples to be the mission of the church, and the tasks of baptizing and teaching people to obey Jesus’ commands to be most naturally carried out within the context of a local church. Because its in a local church where we help each other learn from, and submit to, and follow Jesus.
It might sound spiritual to say, “I’ll follow Jesus wherever He takes me!” But if you’re not following Jesus where He has you, you’re fooling yourself. Perhaps God is calling you to make disciples in Turkey. Perhaps God is calling you to make disciples in Thailand. Perhaps God is calling you to make disciples in Tajikistan or Tanzania or Tunisia. But the Lord has definitely called you to make disciples and be discipled in Temple Hills. Now I don’t mean to pit the two against each other, but hear me when I say: You won’t do there, what you’re not doing here. You won’t do there (wherever there is), what you’re not doing here.
Discipling the nations starts with discipleship in the local church -- in this local church. And so I hope you don’t view Temple Hills Baptist Church as just a preaching point. Somewhere you just come to hear good sermons or sound doctrine, and then go back home. The Lord, in His divine sovereignty has saved you, and has intentionally placed you in fellowship with this specific group of people to encourage, and edify, and strengthen, and rebuke, and correct, and train, and teach one another. To disciple one another. And as this culture of discipleship takes root, and sprouts up, it has to spread out. Beyond the walls of this building, and onto Deer Park Lane and St. Barnabas Rd. And into the streets and avenues, and courtyards and complexes in this community. And over into other neighborhoods and cities in the county. And across jurisdictional boundaries into other states. And across borders and oceans into other countries. And spreading down into marketplaces and businesses and hospitals and schools and orphanages and villages and fields and barrios and favelas of other people groups. Making disciples wherever we go!
But fulfilling the Great Commission is going to require a few things from us a church: It’s going to take us as a church family intentionally pouring into each other’s lives. Spending time with one another. Persevering with one another through trials, and hardships, and heartache; through the messiness of sin and temptation. Its going to take us proclaiming the gospel to one another, teaching one another to obey Jesus, both in our corporate gatherings, and in the comfortable quarters of each others homes, around kitchen tables and on living room sofas. Practically, this might mean that you should consider moving closer to the church, or to other members of the church, so that you can more easily care for, and provide for, and learn from, and teach other members throughout the week. Wherever we live, we all need to understand this command to make disciples to be our command.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is going to take us pursuing our neighbors. Just as God has intentionally placed you in this church, he has intentionally placed this church in this community to be a beacon of hope and truth and light. Perhaps there was a time where the mantra, “if you build it they will come” was true; but now it’s going to take some intentional outreach on our part to make disciples of our neighbors, whether that begins with various events like VBS, or prayer walks, door to door evangelism, or just simple good works and acts of service. Now we know that good works alone, without good news don’t ultimately help anyone, but good news without good works is hypocrisy, at best. So we need to seek ways to serve our neighbors, to do good. One very practical way to do this: this afternoon Harvey is leading a group of our young people to clean up the area around the church in response to a request from one of our neighbors. Its so often just small acts of service like this that often lead to us speaking the gospel to others.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is going to take us praying for and partnering with other churches. What we can’t do alone, the Lord might have us join with churches in our area to do – whether that be training, or collaborating on mission trips, or giving to the SBC, we should be pleased in seeing the Lord use not just our church, but sister churches engage in this mission to make disciples.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is going to take us planting other churches. Perhaps that sounds strange to suggest as we’re just a small church. But 64 years ago, a small group of faithful members of Fountain Memorial Baptist Church in SE, DC who lived in the Temple Hills area began praying for a local church in their community. A year later, the Temple Hills Baptist Church was planted and held its first service. In the 60+ years since then, this church has had its many ups and downs, but the Lord has kept this church plant here and through its ministry, has made many disciples.
Over the past 3 or 4 years, the Lord has seen fit to keep our membership right around the 50-member mark. Some members go for various reasons, and the Lord brings others in, but we seem to stay steady right around that mark. Now over that time, I do think that we’ve grown deeper in God’s word, and in our commitment and care for one another. But I wonder, if the Lord is not so interested in growing us up numerically, but in growing us out geographically. We need to start praying and thinking about sending out 2 or 4, or 7 of our best people to plant or revitalize churches elsewhere. Whether in PG County, where there’s a dearth of gospel-preaching churches; or in the ungentrified, un-hip parts of DC, often neglected in church planting efforts, or in the New England or Northwest parts of our country, where there’s an even greater disparity of healthy churches, or amongst a people where today Christ is not named, and the gospel is not known.
In 2080, 64 years from now, will there be another healthy church that exists in some community, in some country, among some people group, because us faithful few members of Temple Hills Baptist Church obeyed Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations?
This is the church’s mission. This is our church’s mission. And we can gladly and whole-heartedly invest, and spend, and pour out our lives in pursuing it because we have this promise from our Lord Jesus at the end of verse 20: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Let’s pray.