NEW MISSION: MAKE DISCIPLES
Matthew 28:18-20 is what Christians call the Great Commission, the dominant marching orders for all who have faith in resurrection. It can sound a bit militant: Take God’s authority and make disciples.” But remember, these orders are from the one who has laid down his life to save his enemies. Ironically, our orders are to invite through imitation. Our mission is to make disciples through our words and actions. Or, as Jesus said, “teach and obey.” In fact, it is when we experience the riches of renewal through Christ that we become, as Eugene Peterson says, “God’s advertisement to the world.”1 We make disciples by living resurrected lives and telling people about the resurrected Christ.
“There’s not a hint of coercion here. It’s a life of love. Jesus wants us to spread the gospel throughout the world by spending our lives for the sake of others. The power of the resurrection doesn’t end with us; it travels through us. Our commission is invitation. We invite others to join God’s redemptive agenda to restore human flourishing and remake the world. We are sent into the world to share the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection. Jesus is making all things new, and he calls his followers to participate in his work of renewal.
Part of what makes this command such a “great” mission is its scope—all nations. When Jesus spoke these words, he was reorienting a primarily Jewish audience to a distinctly multiethnic mission. The Greek word used here is the same word that gives us the English word “ethnic.” It refers to the nations, not modernist geopolitical states, but non-Jewish people groups (Gentiles) with distinct cultures and languages. Our commission is not to Christianize nation-states, but to share the good news of what Jesus has done with all ethnic groups. Christ does not advocate what is commonly called Christendom, a top-down political Christianity. Instead, he calls his followers to transmit a bottom-up, indigenous Christianity, to all peoples in all cultures.
We should also note that this command is to make disciples of all nations, not from all nations. The goal of Christian missions is not to replace the rich diversity of human culture for a cheap consumer, Christian knock-off culture. Dr. Andrew Walls puts it well:
Conversion to Christ does not produce a bland universal citizenship: it produces distinctive discipleship, as diverse and variegated as human life itself. Christ in redeeming humanity brings, by the process of discipleship, all the richness of humanity’s infinitude of cultures and subcultures into the variegated splendor of the Full Grown Humanity to which the apostolic literature points (Eph 4.8 – 13).2
What we should strive for is distinctive discipleship, discipleship that uniquely expresses personal faith in our cultural context. Disciples in urban Manhattan will look different than disciples in rural Maehongson. These differences allow for a flourishing of the gospel that contributes to the many-splendored new humanity of Christ. Simply put, the message of Jesus is for the flourishing of all humanity in all cultures.
Jesus informs our resurrected life. He gives us a new and gracious authority, a new identity, and a new mission. With that in view, what does it look like to participate in this task of renewing the world? Where do we begin? Jesus has painted for us a great picture of the new life. Let’s turn now to the daily implications of resurrection life.
IMPLICATIONS: RISKING FOR HUMANITY
If Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead, we have nothing to fear and everything we need. All that we strive for is fulfilled in Jesus. All that we seek to avoid has been resolved by him. For example, if Jesus rose from the dead, we no longer need to strive for acceptance because we are now accepted by him. If Jesus rose from the dead, we don’t need to fear death, because it has been defeated. This means that we are free to smuggle medical supplies into Burma, even at the risk of death, knowing that our eternal fate is already sealed. We can move to distant countries to invest in development and renewal because Christ did the same for the world. Like the early Christians, we can care for the poor and marginalized in our cities. If we have resurrection life, we will have courage to take risks in the name of love. . . .
This is the power of the resurrected life. Serving others is a sacrifice, yes. But that sacrifice is filled with joy. You won’t be able to imagine living any other way.
Jesus tells those who follow him to leave all they have behind, to give their lives to the poor, to love their enemies, and to be a blessing to the world. Let’s not pretend this is easy to do. Following Jesus will require your whole life. Not just part of it. Not just your leisure time. Not just some of your budget. No, it requires your whole life. It will feel like death and suffering at times. It will feel that way because you are laying your life down. That’s what the resurrection looks like in daily life. We do not hold anything back—our talents, possessions, or time—because we live with the certainty that death and sin have been defeated.
There is no sugarcoating it. You will lose your life. In its place you will find a vibrant, full, and eternal life. By dying to ourselves we become alive to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead empowers us to live a life for Jesus. His death and resurrection have become our death and resurrection. Our old life is gone, and we now experience a new authority, identity, and mission. This is why we give, celebrate, and serve: we have died and have been raised again to experience new and abundant life.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Unbelievable Gospel, and Raised? He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter: @Jonathan_Dodson
Brad Watson serves as a pastor of Bread & Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon. He is a board member of GCDiscipleship.com and co-author of Raised? His greatest passion is to encourage and equip leaders for the mission of making disciples. Twitter: @BradAWatson
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson available from Zondervan. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher. For free resources and preorders, visit raisedbook.com.)