“Make Disciples of All Nations, Baptizing Them”
For the past three weeks we’ve been studying the gospel of Matthew, and we’ve looked at the first two times that the word “church” is used in the New Testament. And today and next week we’re making two more stops in Matthew’s gospel before we move on to some other passages.
And so today brings us to chapter 28 in Matthew’s gospel, which is actually the end of the book. Jesus has been tried and crucified and resurrected, and He and His disciples have returned to Galilee to meet Jesus on a mountain.
And in verse 18, Jesus comes to his disciples and gives them His final instructions. And what He tells them is called the Great Commission. These words are likely very familiar words to many of you. And as we study them, we’re going to learn at least two more important lessons about the nature of the church and our place in it.
Before we get there, however, we should notice that Jesus doesn’t just drop the Great Commission on them cold. The Great Commission, the thing they need to do, is sandwiched in between two statements of fact. Statements of truth, where Jesus tells them about the way things are and the way that things will be.
The first is in verse 18, where He says that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to” Him. Jesus is the king, and on the basis of His death and resurrection, the Father has given Him total, absolute, supreme authority over all things in the universe.
And this truth makes the Great Commission necessary and possible. It makes it necessary, because if Jesus is the king everywhere, then people need to find out so that they can surrender to Him and be reconciled to Him through His death and resurrection.
This truth makes the Great Commission possible, because anywhere Jesus’ followers go on planet earth, Jesus is king. No matter what local governments exist or don’t exist, no matter what the people there understand or believe or don’t understand or don’t believe, Jesus is the king. He has absolute authority over all things at all times.
The second truth Jesus tells them is at the end of our passage, in the second half of verse 20. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). The authority of Jesus over all things is not just a distant reality. It’s a very present truth, because wherever we go as we obey His call, He is with us. All day, every day, until the last day.
So these two truths on either side of the Great Commission make the Great Commission necessary, they make it possible, and they encourage Jesus’ followers to obey what He’s telling them to do.
So now let’s look at the Great Commission itself. What did Jesus tell His disciples in verses 19-20? Or, let’s ask that a slightly different way. How many things did Jesus tell His disciples to do in these verses?
As we read these two verses in English, we might think that we see four different instructions here. Four commands Jesus’ disciples are to fulfill: Go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.
And that’s somewhat true. There are four elements are there. But if we read really carefully, we’ll see that these are actually not four separate instructions, like a checklist. Rather, there’s really one main instruction here, with three others filling in that main instruction.
Think of it this way. Pretend it’s a few years from now, and I said to one of my boys, “I’d like you to go outside and paint the fence, priming it first and making sure to sand in between coats.” I’ve told him to do four things—go outside, paint the fence, prime it, and sand in between coats—but those aren’t all different things. There’s really one big thing I’ve told him to do, which his paint the fence. In order to do that, he’s going to need to go outside, and in order to do that well, he’s going to need to prime and sand in between coats. But it’s really all about painting the fence.
So it is with the Great Commission here. There are four instructions here, but it’s all built around the one main command which is to make disciples of all nations. In order to make disciples of all nations, His disciples are going to have to go to those nations, and they’re going to have to baptize them and teach them. And we’ll talk about those three elements in turn. But let’s start by considering the heart of this commission, which is to make disciples.
What does it mean to make a disciple, or to disciple someone? What is a disciple? What comes to your mind when you hear the word “discipleship”?
Maybe you picture an older believer meeting with one or more younger believers to help them read and memorize Scripture and work on their spiritual growth. Maybe you think about certain types of Bible colleges that use a “discipleship” model. Maybe you think about the basic idea of following Jesus.
How would Jesus’ first followers have understood this word? If we study that question, we find out that discipleship was actually a fairly common idea in the ancient world. Much of the time discipleship had to do with the relationship between a teacher and a pupil. If you were a disciple of someone, that meant you had totally attached yourself to them to follow them and learn from them in as deep of a way as possible.
Commentator John Broadus wrote that “To disciple a person to Christ is to bring him into the relation of pupil to teacher, ‘taking his yoke’ of authoritative instruction (11:29), accepting what he says as true because he says it, and submitting to his requirements as right because he makes them.”
That’s a part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’re the pupil, He’s our teacher, and we are devoted to Him. In other words, we’re not just taking information and moving on. One of my seminary professors defines discipleship as “total attachment to a person.” In other words, Jesus is the centre of our lives and we obey Him without reservation.
And that means discipleship isn’t just one or two small activities we do. Discipleship is not just a small group meeting to memorize Scripture together. It might include that, but discipleship is a big word that talks about the whole process of getting completely connected to Jesus, being totally submitted to Him, learning from Him, and building our whole lives around His instruction.
And that means it includes our small groups and it includes this sermon right now and it includes everything we heard in Titus about good works. It includes the conversations we used to have in the foyer here, and the conversations that many of you are having with one another these days over the phone or by Zoom or as you go for a walk 6 feet apart from each other. Discipleship is anything we do to get close to Jesus and help others do the same.
And what that means is that discipleship should be just another word for the normal Christian life. It’s just who we are, and it’s just what we do.
But sadly, it often isn’t. Many church-goers in North America like having Jesus be a part of their life. But they are not all that interested in Jesus being their whole life, in being totally attached to Jesus, totally submitted to His leadership, totally surrendered to His word.
But that’s what a disciple is. That’s what this group of disciples hearing Jesus were. I hope you notice that verse 16 says that the eleven disciples went to Galilee. It does not say eleven apostles. This instruction was given to them as disciples, as the people who had followed Him around for three years and had built their whole lives around Him. And now He is telling them to go and make disciples of others.
In other words, this is what disciples of Jesus do. They disciple others to Jesus. And therefore, this is what the Great Commission is all about: disciples making disciples.
Now we’re going to come back to that idea, but we want to take a look at these three other words that Jesus uses to flesh out what it looks like, what it means, to make disciples. These three words are going, baptizing, and teaching. And we’re going to consider now how each of these three words is connected to making disciples.
The word “going” comes first in verse 19. “Go, therefore,” or, “going, therefore.” And the reason why disciples need to go is because Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations. If you’re going to disciple the nations, you need to go to the nations.
Back in the “You Are Here” series we talked about this phrase “all nations” and how it’s connected to God’s promise to Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18). That offspring is Jesus, and that blessing is the gospel—the good news that King Jesus has come and lived and died and risen again to save His people, and we can be reconciled to Him by faith.
And this blessing comes to the nations as His disciples go and make disciples of all nations.
We should recognize that this emphasis on “going” marks a significant shift in redemptive history. In the Old Covenant, God gave His people a piece of land along the world’s major trade route, and the expectation was that the nations would pass through the land and see how blessed they were and be drawn to worship and follow their God.
But in the New Covenant, God’s people do not have a land they are to hang on to. Instead, King Jesus tells his disciples to go to all of the nations to bring people into a relationship of total commitment and submission to Jesus.
And you’ve heard me say many times that we need to take very seriously this call to go. Some of you hearing me today need to go to the nations who haven’t heard. And if we are a true disciple of Jesus—if our whole life is built around Him, if we’re totally attached to Him as a person, living in full submission to Him—then the idea of packing up and going somewhere to make other disciples of Him is not a stretch. If Jesus says to do it, then that’s what we’ll do.
So that’s the first of these three words—going, we make disciples. The second of three is baptizing. “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is the ground zero of all true discipleship. This is where it starts. To be a follower of Jesus is to be baptized.
In Acts 2, Peter finishes his sermon and the people say, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37b-38).
In Acts 8, Philip goes to Samaria and preaches the gospel. “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). All throughout the New Testament, we see that baptism is the very first step in a life of discipleship to Jesus.
Here in North America there’s this common idea that baptism is something you do after you’ve followed Jesus for a while and kind of “proven” yourself as a disciple. I’m not sure where we got that idea from, but I don’t think it’s from the Bible. Because in Scripture we see that baptism is the very first step in being a disciple of Jesus.
Baptism is our public pledge of loyalty and allegiance to God. We see that here in verse 19, where Jesus says that His disciples are to be baptized “in the name of” the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
To be baptized in the name of the Triune God means coming into relationship with Him and coming under His Lordship. And so baptism is the public sign that you’ve entered into the kingdom of God. It’s like your citizenship ceremony in the Kingdom of Heaven, as you pledge your loyalty to heaven’s crown.
And that’s why there’s such a tight connection in the New Testament between believing in Jesus and getting baptized. The connection is so tight that some people throughout history have said that you can’t be a Christian unless you are baptized.
And we don’t believe that. We understand that we are justified by faith, not by baptism. But as you read the New Testament, you’ll see that it’s impossible to find an unbaptized Christian. Being a disciple of Jesus begins with publicly pledging our allegiance to Him through baptism.
So making disciples requires going and baptizing. The third and final of these three words is teaching. Making disciples of all nations includes going, baptizing them, and, in verse 20, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Discipleship describes a relationship of learning. A disciple is a student, who learns from and then obeys the one they are disciples of. And so being a disciple of Jesus requires learning everything He’s commanded us. And yet it means more than this. Because Jesus didn’t just say, “teach them all that I have commanded you.”
He said, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We need to do more than just transfer information. We need to get close to people at the level of their real life and help them learn what it looks like to actually keep the commandments of Jesus. Discipleship is about a whole-life transformation, helping people completely re-build their lives upon the foundation of Jesus and what He taught.
What About the Church?
So let’s pause and review what we’ve seen. We’ve seen the layout of this passage. Two truths surrounding a main command: to go and make disciples of all nations. And making disciples includes these three aspects of going, baptizing, and teaching.
Now at this point we’re going to ask an important question. What does all of this have to do with the church? Because we are in a series on the church, right? For the past three weeks we’ve been studying passages in Matthew which directly mention the church. Why did we come here this morning and spend time in this passage if it doesn’t directly mention the church?
I ask the question, and yet I hope you can answer it. I hope we can all see that this passage has everything to do with the church. Because what is the church? The church is the assembly of the citizens of the kingdom. The church is the New Covenant community of God’s people.
And that means that Jesus’ disciples and Jesus’ church are not two separate groups. If you’re a disciple, believing in and following King Jesus, then you’re a part of the church.
So that’s one reason why we should understand this passage in connection to the passages on the church we studied earlier. But there’s other reasons, other connections. Back in chapter 18 verse 18, we were told that the church had authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth, because Jesus was with them. Here we’re told that Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth. There’s a connection there between those ideas.
In Matthew 18:20 he talked about the church gathering in His name. Here he speaks about baptizing in His name. Baptism and gathering are both activities that visibly represent Jesus here on this earth.
And in Matthew 18:20 Jesus spoke about being with those who were gathered in His name. And here in 28:20 He speaks about continuing to be with His disciples until the end of the age.
So these links reinforce the obvious point that the disciples of Jesus are the ones who assemble as the church. And those disciples are to use the keys of the kingdom as they go out and make disciples, inviting people from every nation to walk through the open door of the kingdom of heaven.
So this passage is all about the church. And if that’s true, then there’s two big ideas I want us to think about as we connect this passage up to our series on the church.
#1: Baptism Is the Doorway to the Church
If baptism is where discipleship starts, and if being a disciple and being a part of the church just go together, than we can say that baptism is the port of entry into to the church.
That’s why the bylaws of this church state that “any person professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, giving evidence of regeneration, and adopting the views of faith and practice held by this church, may, upon water baptism as a believer, be received into the membership.” We didn’t add that part about baptism just because we’re a Baptist church and it felt like an “on brand” thing to do. No, it’s because this is what we see in Scripture. This is how it works.
Last week we heard about the keys of the kingdom, and that Jesus has given His church the authority to affirm or deny confessions and confessors of Jesus. And a very important part of that process is baptism. Baptism is when someone officially becomes a confessor of Jesus. And baptism visibly marks out a person as a citizen of the kingdom and therefore a part of the church—the assembly of the citizens.
Baptism is where discipleship starts, which means that baptism is where our full participation in the church starts.
So I want to extend an invitation. If you have believed in Jesus and are following Him as your Lord, and you have not been baptized, let’s make that happen as soon as possible. We’re already making plans for the first Sunday that we’re able to gather again, whenever that will be, and one of the suggestions is that it would be so great to have some baptisms that day.
If you have believed in Jesus and have not been baptized, please send me a text or an email and we can begin to plan for the big celebration that day. Let’s make it happen. Publicly pledge your allegiance to the King and take your place among the citizens of His kingdom.
#2: The Great Commission Belongs to the Church
There’s a second big idea as we think about how this passage connects to the church. And it’s that the Great Commission belongs to the church. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries. The command to make disciples is not just for pastors. The church of Jesus Christ has been given this commission.
Because, like we’ve seen, disciples make disciples. And if the church is a group of disciples, then the church is a group of disciples who are making disciples. That’s what we are. That’s what our mission is.
Many churches have a mission statement, and it’s actually a great idea. But we don’t need to think too long and hard about what our mission should be. Because it’s right here. Our mission, given to us directly from the Lord Jesus, is to make disciples.
And the more this mission is clarified in our minds and hearts, the more clarity we will have for our vision as a church. The more understanding we’ll have of what our life together should look like. Decisions about programming and activities will be easier to make. Because if we have a mission to fulfill, then the only reason we would ever do anything as a church is because it helps us with that mission of making disciples. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction.
And this mission goes so far beyond programming. It tells us that each one of us is a disciple who makes disciples. That means that every single one of us has a vital role in the life of this church as we help one another build our lives around Jesus. And this work of making disciples can be helped by programs and activities, but it can’t be contained by them. It’s so much bigger than what happens in this building.
In their excellent book “The Trellis and the Vine,” Colin Marshall and Tony Payne write about a church whose culture is shaped by disciple-making. They write this:
Imagine a reasonably solid Christian said to you after church one Sunday morning, “Look, I’d like to get more involved here and make a contribution, but I just feel like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m not on the ‘inside’; I don’t get asked to be on committees or lead Bible studies. What can I do?”
What would you immediately think or say? Would you start thinking of some event or program about to start that they could help you with? Some job that needed doing? Some ministry that they could join or support?
This is how we are used to thinking about the involvement of church members in congregational life—in terms of jobs and roles: usher, Bible study leader, Sunday School teacher, treasurer, elder, musician, song leader, money counter, and so on. The implication of this way of thinking for congregation members is clear: if all the jobs and roles are taken, then there’s really nothing for me to do in this church. I’m reduced to being a passenger. I’ll just wait until I’m asked to ‘do something’…
However, if the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless.
So you could pause, and reply to your friend, “See that guy sitting over there on his own? That’s Julie’s husband. He’s on the fringe of things here; in fact, I’m not really sure whether he’s crossed the line yet and become a Christian. How about I introduce you to him, and you arrange to have breakfast with him once a fortnight and read the Bible together? Or see that couple over there? They are both fairly recently converted, and really in need of encouragement and mentoring. Why don’t you and your wife have them over, get to know them, and read and pray together once a month? And if you still have time, and want to contribute some more, start praying for the people on your street, and then invite them all to a barbecue at your place. That’s the first step towards talking with them about the gospel, or inviting them along to something.”
Of course, there’s every chance that the person will then say, “But I don’t know how to do those things! I’m not sure I’d know what to say or where to start.”
To which you reply, “Oh, that’s okay. Let’s start meeting together, and I can train you.”1Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine, pp. 26-27.
I don’t know about you, but that excites me. That helps clarify my vision for our church, because that’s Jesus’ mission for our church. To be a team of disciple-making disciples. No spectators, no sidelines.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15–16).
“Until the End of the Age”
That’s our mission, and our mission isn’t over yet. Jesus said He’d be with us until the end of the age, because that’s how long the mission was going to take. This age hasn’t ended yet, and that means that our work of making disciples isn’t over yet.
And COVID-19 hasn’t put it on pause. If you’re stuck at home, this is an amazing time to dig in to learning and growing. That’s why I put that post on the website—“Don’t Waste Your Quarantine”—full of resources to help you.
And maybe your situation is different. Maybe you’re not stuck at home. But what would happen if you looked around your situation and asked the Lord to help you see what being a disciple and what making disciples looks like now?
It’s very sad to me that in this season where we should be focusing on this mission, many Christians are getting distracted with petty disagreements. I know there’s all kinds of opinions out there about the pandemic, and what’s really going on, and how our governments have been responding to it. And I’ve got some of those opinions myself.
But those opinions don’t really matter compared to the work of the Great Commission. And as I was thinking about how to best communicate this today, I remembered 2 Timothy 2:4, which says “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”
Soldiers have a specific mission and they don’t have time to get caught up in distractions, even if those distractions—those “civilian pursuits”—are legitimate and valuable for some people.
Other people might be able to afford to argue and debate their theories about the virus, but we can’t. We’re soldiers, folks, and we’ve got a mission to fulfill. A mission to be totally devoted to Jesus and to help others be the same. And if we allow our chatter and our theories about a virus to divide us or distract us from this mission, we’re blowing it, big time.
So, what will it look like for you to use your time and your energies and your communication to be a disciple who makes disciples in this time? Who are you going to invest in? Read the Bible and pray with? Mentor? Encourage?
Maybe you need to stop and think about that for a bit. Maybe you want to give me a call or email or come have coffee with me in my office and talk about that. (Don’t worry—we’ll stay 2m apart!) I’d love to help you think about and figure out what discipleship looks like here and now today.
Because this is our mission. And it’s not over yet. The coronavirus has not caused the Great Commission to go into a lockdown. Jesus still has all authority, He is still with His people, and so let’s ask Him for the wisdom and the strength to be His disciple-making disciples in this season.