This week's text takes us to the Great Commission, some of Jesus' last words to His disciples. We'll see what this text means to us as His followers today.
This message based on Matthew 28:16-20. To read now, click here.
Quite a few years ago now, maybe 15 years ago, Fred Langham served as the president of American Baptists - NYS Region. When Fred was installed, he mentioned that he had recently read an article that indicated the American Baptist Churches are what you could call a bridge denomination. I don’t recall the name of the article, or even where it was published, but it said that the American Baptist Churches bridge the gap between the more independent denominations and the older mainline denominations.
Fred really liked bridges, especially the large suspension bridges with the support towers. He took that article and imagined it with two large towers supporting the weight of the bridge. And he said the first tower can represent that we are a John 3:16 people. “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We are a people that proclaim the love of God, and recognize that our forgiveness comes from the grace of God, and the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus.
The second tower then could represent that we are a Matthew 28:16-20 people, which suggests that we are a people of the great commission. That was our reading this morning. “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.”
He went on to say that some of the larger bridges have additional supports, and suggested that we are also a Matthew 25:31-46 people, that passage deals with serving others. We are a people who serve others, especially the underprivileged: the hungry, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren lists several God given purposes. The first one is that we are to bring enjoyment to God – that’s worship. The next, that we are created to be in God’s family – that’s the church and the fellowship we have with other believers. Next, we are created to become like Christ – that’s discipleship, growing in our faith, becoming spiritually mature. We are created to serve God, which we do as we serve others.
The last purpose he suggests is that we are created for a mission. That mission is what we read about this morning. That mission is the second support tower in Fred’s bridge illustration. Our mission is the same as any other believers, in that we are to go and make disciples. We are to share our story with others, sharing God’s love and his great mercy. Sharing with others the reason for the hope that is within us.
Christ himself started this work, and in giving us the great commission, the reference for this mission, he turns it over to us to finish. The early church took this mission seriously. A quiet little passage in the book of Acts shows this. In chapter 7, Stephen, one of the new deacons, is seen preaching in the street. The crowd turns against him, and they stone him to death. I would suggest that preaching in the streets is probably not the most effective way to carry out your mission, in fact it may get downright dangerous. But the beginning of chapter 8 finishes the story, and the end result of Stephen’s martyrdom is that a wave of persecution breaks out against the church. The bible says that “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” They left their homes in Jerusalem, they literally fled for their lives.
But these early believers didn’t just sit quietly in their new towns and keep their mouths shut. It says a couple of verses later, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” And many years later, Paul and Barnabas went out on their first missionary journey together and found small house churches in every town they went to. These early believers did their job well.
We have the same mission as these early believers. The overall responsibility for spreading the word in a local community belongs to the believers in that community. That’s you and me. We’re the ones that have been given the great commission. We’re the ones that need to share our message of hope.
One thing we need to remember when we begin to figure how we will carry out this mission is that we have all been created differently, we all have different likes and dislikes, different talents and abilities, so we will all be carrying out this mission differently. Also, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit that will ultimately bring salvation, we just live our lives of faith publicly, and always ready with the reason for the hope that’s inside us. With that said, there are four basics that Rick Warren points out that should help to get you started in sharing the reason for the hope we have to unbelievers. Our story should include these four parts.
The first is that your message includes your testimony, or your story. Our testimony is the story of how Christ has made a difference in our life. We are called to be witnesses. We’ve talked about this fairly recently, witnesses tell what they have seen! Nobody calls on a witness to report what they heard somebody else saw, or what they may have read somewhere – that’s all circumstantial stuff. And it’s a lot harder to get a conviction based on the circumstantial stuff.
People are a lot more interested in your story. They don’t care what happened 2000 years ago nearly as much as they care about what’s happening to them today. That should be obvious. So share about what Christ has done for you. If they are struggling with something similar to what you’ve been through, and your faith helped you through yours, they’ll listen to that.
One of the biggest complaints that are given for not going to church is that people say it’s not relevant. But Christ is here, and he’s working all the time. We just aren’t talking about it. He’s helping people through difficult things all the time. It can’t get any more relevant than that. We just aren’t talking about it, so they don’t know, they just assume nothing is happening. Spend some time really thinking about some of the areas where Christ has made a difference in your life, and be ready to share those at the appropriate time, when you hear someone struggling with something similar.
Maybe you’re like me – I grew up in the church. I’ve always been a believer as long as I know. I can testify to the times that my faith kept me out of trouble. By trying to live to please God, I’ve been spared a lot of struggles. I praise God for that. If that’s true for you, too, you have to be careful in sharing that testimony so that you don’t appear arrogant or prideful, but it can be just as effective telling people how God saved you from those struggles.
The second part of your message includes your life lessons. This is pretty similar to your testimony, but this refers to the lessons that you have learned from the experiences you have had. Maybe you have been through a struggle and learned a real lesson from that struggle. Share that lesson with others. God sometimes allows us to struggle for a reason. When we learn these reasons, these become part of the message that we should be sharing.
The third part of our message includes those passions that we have. Warren says, “As you grow closer to him, he will give you a passion for something he cares about deeply so you can be a spokesman for him.” You’ve probably all heard the name, Jill Kelly. Jill is the husband of Jim Kelly, the Bill’s former quarterback.
Their son Hunter had a terrible disease, and they started a foundation to fight this disease, and they have made a real difference, especially to the parents of other children fighting similar diseases. God has given her a real passion for people in the same position, and she is sharing her story and the passion she has to make a difference in the lives of others. God often uses our life experiences to help others in similar situations, by serving them, helping them through. But these situations also can become the passion that motivate us to share our stories with others that don’t know God. Jill has told tens of thousands of people about how God has helped her through the tough days with Hunter, that’s part of her message.
The last part of our message has to include the Good News. The good news is that we will be forgiven when we trust God’s grace to save us through what Jesus did. And the good news that when we let Jesus have control of our lives, we get a purpose for living and we are promised a home in heaven.
I was reading Called to Greatness by Ron Hutchcraft, and he points out that the bible says Paul shared the message with great fear and trembling. Even Paul feared this part of sharing his faith with others. It’s natural for us to fear this. But we have to share, fearfully or not.
Okay, so I’ve shared that the bible requires us to be involved in some kind of evangelism work. It’s not that difficult, we just share our message with the people we know, these are the people that God brought into our lives, these are the people we should be sharing with as the opportunities arise. I’ve shared the basic parts of our message – our testimony, life lessons, our Godly passions, and the Gospel message.
Now let me ask you a final question: When you get to heaven, how many people there will you see that you shared your faith with – that wouldn’t be there otherwise? Perhaps more importantly, how many people won’t be there that you know? How many will be asking, why didn’t you tell me? We can’t assume they know. People today aren’t being brought up in church like they were years ago. Many don’t know. The great commission, our reading this morning, tells us to go and make these people disciples. God doesn’t want anybody left behind, and he’s asked us to be the ones to make it so.