Imagine if you found yourself in a situation where you had to leave your friends and family, and had one last chance to speak with them. What would you say? In this situation, you would undoubtedly want to focus on that which is truly important to you, the thing or things that you most want them to know and believe. In Matthew 28, Jesus has already been crucified, died, and risen again, and is now ready to return to heaven. Before He does so, His last words recorded in this book are found in verses 19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…”
Jesus truly loves all of us, and just as He loved us before we loved Him, He also loves the millions of unbelievers in the world today, wanting all of them to be saved. This is clearly shown in 1 Timothy 2:1-4:
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men… This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
It is this desire that led Jesus to command His apostles, and through them all of His disciples – to go and make disciples of all the nations.
In further examining this important commandment from Jesus in Matthew 28, we find four verbs. In the Greek language it is clear that one is primary and the other three modify, or relate to, the primary verb. So what is the primary verb? It is “mathēteusate,” translated “make disciples.” Thus, the commandment Jesus gave these men was to make disciples. This is the critical statement that Jesus made to them, and with which Matthew ended this inspired book.
So how do the remaining three verbs modify, or relate to, the commandment to make disciples? We are first told to “go” to the people who need to be made disciples. Where should we go? In Acts 1:8, in another of Jesus’s final statements, Jesus says:
“…you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Why does Jesus name three places to go? He starts with Jerusalem, the city in which they lived. Thus, we are to go and make disciples where we live. He then moves on to Judea and Samaria, the region/country in which they lived. For us, this would most likely relate to the United States. Finally, Jesus told them to go to the remotest parts of the earth.
The second verb used to help us to understand how to make disciples is “baptize.” To baptize others is to win them to Christ, so when we go to these people, we are then to win them to Christ. How can we win others to Christ? In Acts 17:16-17, the Apostle Paul has just been forced to leave Berea as his adversaries began to stir up people against him. Tired and having narrowly avoided another potentially deadly encounter, Paul was left to wait in Athens for two of his friends, Silas and Timothy, to join him:
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.”
So what did Paul do during this time? He:
- Was observant – he saw the idols and his spirit was provoked.
- Looked for opportunities – speaking in the synagogues and with people in the marketplace.
- Met people where they were – in the next few verses, we find that Paul was asked to speak at the Areopagus, a tremendous opportunity to speak the gospel! In this discussion, he quoted their philosophers and showed the people there how their own beliefs pointed to the existence of the one true God.
By investing in the people there, and developing an understanding of them, Paul was able to speak to the people from their own base of knowledge, and to effectively deliver the gospel to them!
The third verb is to teach, teaching them to “observe all that I (Christ) commanded you.” Once we have gone to someone and won them to Christ, we must then teach them to be effective followers of Christ.
What It Means to Us
Many people at Westbrooke participate in outreach-oriented ministries. God is calling Westbrooke to do more, however, by coming together as a church body to fulfill Jesus’s commandment to “Go therefore and make disciples”. The Lord has put it on the hearts of Westbrooke’s elders to:
Go to people in need. As Christians, we are called to seek out the poor and others to whom we may be of service. As Jesus stated in Acts 1:8, Westbrooke should seek opportunities to serve locally, regionally, and internationally. This will require us to invest further in ministries that members of our body already support, and to seek additional opportunities as the Lord leads us.
Meet both physical and spiritual needs. As we come to know and love the people who we are ministering to, we must find ways to meet both their physical and spiritual needs through prayer, giving, and personal investment in their lives!
Form deep, ongoing relationships. Outreach – and making disciples – requires more than donating to a worthy cause, and even more than making an annual trip. While these are important activities, Westbrooke must become a regular part of the lives of the people God leads us to serve. Our Lord “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. Westbrooke must reflect this desire through a substantial investment in time, resources, and our hearts.