It has been the experience of many pastors and churches that it can be quite difficult to motivate genuine and passionate discipleship and evangelism. Discipleship and evangelism are two aspects of a church’s ministry that remain stagnant more often than any other areas.
Do you need people to serve in outreach ministries like food drives or seasonal activities? No problem. Do you need people to invite others to church on Facebook? Cake. However, what if you are looking for people to intentionally disciple one another in a more significant way than the typical discussion-facilitated Sunday School setting? What if you are looking for people to not only invite their friends to church (which should be encouraged and done), but to actively pursue gospel conversations with their lost friends? What motivation is there for risk-taking discipleship and evangelism that accurately expresses a heart that adores Jesus?
I believe we can look no further than the words that came from the mouth of Jesus himself to find satisfactory motivation that can fuel passionate discipleship and evangelism.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).
The context of this passage falls directly after the resurrection of Christ. Evangelism, baptism, and all discipleship flow from the gospel. Jesus has already suffered the anguish of the cross. He has already bore the wrath of God. He has already taken on sin, so that by faith we might become the righteousness of God. He has already stood in our place as our sin-bearing, wrath-bearing substitute, as he became our Savior-King. And now he commissions his disciples.
But before he commands anything, he roots his commands in a glorious and powerful statement: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v. 18). Authority here means the power and the right to do something. Basically, Jesus is saying that there is nothing in heaven and nothing in earth that can frustrate his will. He has the power and the right to do as he pleases and to command as he pleases. The psalmist definitely alluded to Jesus’ proclamation when he exclaimed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).
It is on this declaration that the following command stands. Anything that Jesus commands must be taken seriously and observed because all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. This is why he follows this declaration with the word “therefore.” “Go therefore and make disciples…” In other words, because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, we are commanded to make disciples. Because Jesus is Lord over every man by his death and resurrection, we proclaim his gospel to all men. But we share the gospel, not merely because Jesus said to do it. We share the gospel because it is the only thing that makes sense.
Pastor David Platt once said, “Jesus’ authority compels us to go, for missions only makes sense if He has all authority in heaven and on earth.” The message we bring in the gospel is incredibly controversial. It confronts people in their sin and it is appalling to the human heart born in sin (Ps. 51:5). Calling people to turn from their sin only makes sense if the Jesus we call them to turn to is the Lord of every man. Since Jesus has universal authority, it would be incredibly unloving for us to keep the good news of salvation to ourselves. Why do we go and make disciples? Because Jesus is Lord!
Is this not tremendous news for us today? The mission that the church seeks to carry out in making disciples from East Bernstadt to West Africa and beyond is rooted in the truth that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth—all authority has been given to him. It is by that declaration that we call those outside of Christ to totally renounce themselves, flee their sin, trust in Christ, and live for him. It is by that authority that we call sinners to abandon their delight in sin and take up delight in God. Gospel proclamation finds confidence in the universal authority and lordship of Jesus.
“Of All Nations”
This declaration of Jesus’ absolute authority goes even further for our disciple-making. Because Jesus has authority in heaven and on earth, we are commanded to make disciples not only in our community, but in all nations. We are called to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord by proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth, because Jesus has all authority!
There is no nation or people group or person beyond the reach of Christ’s authority. And so there is no nation or people group or person beyond the reach of the disciple-making mission of the church. We must proclaim the gospel to all men with the absolute confidence that some will believe. In John 10:16, Jesus assures our missionary efforts: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Time to Work
Why should you engage your neighbor with conversations that lead to the gospel? Why should you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering? Why should you seek out a teen to mentor? Why should you actively and frequently have Bible studies with that new believer you know? Why should you face the probability of some awkward conversations or even awkward silences? Why should you risk comfort, reputation, time, and money for the sake of the cross?
Because Jesus is Lord. He is reigning. He is returning. He is with you. It’s high time we realize this and get to work!
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.