Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matt. 28:19, 20 (NIV)
Although there are four commands in the Great Commission, one is emphasized more than the others. We are told to go first. Making disciples of all nations is the key command. We are to be found baptizing them and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. In other words, we are to stress the making disciples portion of the verse, but we are to be going, we are to be baptizing, and we are to be teaching. The stress here is laid upon the command to make disciples.
But what are we to make of this commission? I do note that Jesus made time to give this commission just to his eleven disciples. Thus, with twelve people (counting Jesus), the world was to be turned upside down. Most of this eleven were to suffer martyrdom for expressing their faith, but express it most wonderfully they did!
Before going into all the world, the disciples were bade to tarry in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is after the coming of the Holy Spirit that boldness was given to these men—under-educated though they were, and this boldness resulted in the gospel being plainly given to many multitudes who were visiting Jerusalem to observe the holy day of Pentecost. Thus, the Jews who heard the gospel, and believed, could now return to their other cities and begin sharing the message. Within a short time, Christianity became a world religion.
Peter, the one who had been frightened nearly out of his mind, and the one who denied his Lord, whom he had sworn never to deny, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and delivers the first sermon of a spirit filled body of believers. The result was that there were thousands of people who heard the message and believed.
It has been suggested that the book of Acts should be properly termed Acts of the Holy Spirit, and it is indeed a story of God building his church through his gifting of the Holy Spirit. I have done studies on the filling of the Holy Spirit, and nearly every time a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, it is in an environment of proclamation. What might God be teaching us through this? I would think that if you expect to be filled with the Spirit often, then you ought to be found in an environment of proclamation. God does seem to honor the terms of the Great Commission with the direct filling of his Holy Spirit.
If you are at all like me, you probably recognize that I have given a pretty standard book definition of the Great Commission, and that should be a starting place to understand it. But after defining it, I realize there are lots of questions left to answer. The first question is concerning the duty on individuals to carry out the Great Commission, namely I am concerned about what I have to do. It is certainly true that the means of evangelism is through the witness of his poor vessels—of which I am one of the poorest. Does God really mean to use my lips to draw others to Christ? If so, suppose I do not do what I am supposed to do? Am I then sending people to hell who otherwise might not go? The scripture does indeed say that God intends to use the “foolishness of preaching”, and it also asks the question, how can they hear without a preacher? Here is where I read quotes like this and feel guilty for not doing more. “Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you DAMNED?”1
The answer to these concerns is perhaps not easily available—partly because I do feel we always should leave room for the Spirit to convict us of our need to be concerned over the lost. The verse before the Great Commission is predicated with a new fact, that Jesus has been given all power, and because of that power, he now charges us to go out into the world. Interestingly, this power, at least part of it is now endued upon we believers. “ But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our power is not in ourselves; rather it is to be vested in the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to do things we could not do in ourselves. Yes, God has chosen the foolishness of preaching, but he has also put his own very Spirit inside us, and wonder of wonders, we see the will of man and the sovereignty of God being blended together to make the perfect “milkshake” for the presentation of the gospel. No one has successfully explained how this sovereignty of God and the will of man works, but as the plan of God has unfolded, we have seen millions, and perhaps billions, of people reached through this blending.
What about the guilt? Let me answer as I feel, and have felt throughout my Christian life. I think it is altogether appropriate for me to feel some guilt. I need to be answerable to God for getting the message out to the lost around me, especially those whom God has made a part of my world. I need that guilt, that I might examine myself, and see, not whether I am talking about the gospel enough, but rather whether I am filled with the Spirit enough, that when opportunities are offered, I am ready to share through the power of his Spirit, not in my own power. The gospel message is quite often capable of doing far more damage, even to the point of pushing people away, when it is proclaimed in the power of men, rather than the power of the Spirit. “It is not altogether due to personal diffidence that true believers often find it difficult to speak to the unsaved about their need of Christ. There may be a restraint upon such service; for if the unsaved are not prepared by the Spirit, any attempt to force a decision may be a violation of the plan of God.”2 Walking carefully in the Spirit may be the only correct answer in sharing the gospel, and that I need to seek to do above all else.
Chafer regards intercessory prayer for the lost as being a primary tool to reach them effectively. “It is true, however, that intercessory prayer is the first and most important service. As has been stated, the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God.”3 With this quote, I think we are forced back to the idea that true evangelism must come from “revived” hearts, and revived hearts, in turn, comes from effectual intercessory prayer, both for our sleepy hearts, and for those who are perishing without the message of salvation.
I have lived long enough to see revivals in my life. They do always seem to start with the fires of God put within the souls of two or three, who begin meeting together, offering effectual prayers, first to their brothers and sisters in Christ, that they might be awakened from their proverbial sleepiness, but also to their communities, that the word of God might be given voice and power. It begins with me, when I begin to realize the absolute high place God has lifted me to, as one of his sheep. The second step is in looking at the people whom God has placed in my life, and realizing their utter need without the gospel. That should motivate me to intercessory prayer—and God’s empowerment to preach the Great Commission faithfully. I know of no other way.
How might a church be given this burden? First, they should have a small battery of prayer warriors as I previously outlined. The spiritual kindling must be strategically laid if the fires of revival are to burn brightly. Any who attempt evangelism, must recognize the great need of the church is to awaken her from her sleepy state, that she may recognize both her solemn charge and her great power available through the Spirit.
1. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (p. 92). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 940-942). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition.
3. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2011-10-21). True Evangelism (Kindle Locations 935-937). Primedia eLaunch. Kindle Edition