Monday, April 01, 2013



This week I want to revisit what it means to follow through with what Jesus commanded us to do. It has been called the "great commission." Don't get sidetracked from the primary command here. The only command is to "make disciples of all the nations." He offers three participles on how we are to make disciples-(1) by going, (2) by baptizing and (3) by teaching. Today I want to only deal with the command and tomorrow with the three participles.  
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Who is the target on which we are to focus for making disciples? Who are we to disciple? Note that Jesus makes it clear that we are to disciple "all of the nations." Nations would be better to translate as "cultures." We are to make disciples of people from all of the cultures of the world who are not now disciples. Disciples of what? A certain religion? A specific theological system? No, we are to make disciples of Jesus-followers of Jesus. Our audience is made up of all people everywhere who are not now followers of Jesus.

The initial exposure to the nations of the world happened on one day at the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 2:4-6: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. So, instantly the seed of the message of Jesus was planted in the hearts of men and women from the nations of the world.

Peter, trying to stick to his cultural traditions and religious Law was confounded by God to realize that God was willing and able to work with every nation or culture of the world. Check this out: Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus the Christ (He is Lord of all)-you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:34-43)

NOTE Peter realized quickly that "in every nation or culture the man who fears God and does what is right is welcome to Him." By the way, that means from every religion as well. God is already at work in people's hearts all over the world in every culture, not to join our culture and religious expression, but they are welcome to God for themselves!

Paul and Barnabas entered the city of Lystra, healed a man and the people believed they were gods-Zeus and Hermes, who had come to the city. Then after hearing them speak and reject their worshipping of them, the Jews attacked them. The crowds were stirred up to attack Paul and they actually stoned him, leaving him for dead. With the disciples there in Lystra, he amazingly had the strength to get up, went back into the city with the disciples and moved on with Barnabas the next day to another city, Derbe. NOTE that their end game was to make disciples of Jesus there: After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith. (Acts 14:21-22)

When Paul spoke to the people in the marketplace of Athens, he said, "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

NOTE God gave all people life and breath, making every nation or culture of the world. He determined each culture's boundaries and activities in order that they might seek God-by groping and finding Him, since God is not far from anyone. Then Paul says, since all created people are the children of God, we ought to be able to discover and connect with God through His further revelation. This revelation is not through some image or idol, but is in fact a man who was raised from the dead. His name? Jesus.

On several occasions in the book of Revelation the message of Jesus is said to have gone out to "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues." This can only happen if we are focused on making disciples of Jesus everywhere, not converting people to become a member of one of our religious systems. Jesus is above all of man's religious systems. Jesus, the incomparable and irresistible Jesus!



Growing up in a very strict Baptist background, I was thoroughly indoctrinated into being a Baptist. Baptist was our identity. We weren't just any kind of Baptist; we were a certain kind of Baptist. We were more rigid in our set of rules than most of the Baptists and we were proud of it. We took a definite stand against a list of sins and sinners to be our kind of Baptist.
I never chose to be a Baptist, but grew up in a home where my parents were Baptists and they had me in some sort of Church experience several times per week. We went to Sunday School, then the main Sunday morning worship service, Sunday night service, Wednesday night prayer meeting and quite a few potluck dinners that were attached to some fellowship group within the Church. Thursday night was Visitation, where a few people went out door to door to invite people to come to Church on Sunday. And, if you were in one of the choirs or youth groups, you were required to be at more meetings at the Church.

It was clear to me as I grew older that the strategy was to keep you in as many Church meetings as possible, so you had no time to misbehave. That was exactly the strategy! Welcome to the strategy of indoctrination. Indoctrination is directing people into a system of programs. The idea is to get each person to follow the program and fit into the mold. It's all about molding a person's behavior so that he or she is a good Baptist or whatever religious persuasion.

This, then, is presented to the world. In my small hometown we had made it clear that we Baptists didn't go to movies. So, whenever a Baptist was seen in line at the movies, he was criticized for not being a good Baptist. These non-Baptists weren't criticizing Baptists for doing something wrong; they were criticizing them for violating their own Baptist standards. These weren't biblical standards; these were Baptist standards. These weren't God's rules; they were man's rules. This is the essence of being indoctrinated by the man-made traditions and Baptist way of life looked like.

Indoctrination is strong. When I went to Dallas to attend a graduate seminary, I encountered all sorts of groups that were doing very good work for God.

Whenever I shared what I was doing, my mother would pose the same question every time. It was, "Is this group Baptist?" Instead of trying to explain it or argue with her, I would say, "It's not strictly Baptist, but it is Baptistic!" I don't know why, but my mother was comforted by my answer.

A few years ago I accompanied a Muslim friend of mine to speak before a group of staff and volunteers at a mega-Church. He shared his story of how he had come to know, love and follow Jesus. He explained how he was a follower of Jesus within his Muslim cultural background. His love for Jesus was presented so passionately that this Baptist group was obviously impressed. Then, one of the pastoral leaders asked this question: "When you share Jesus with others, do you baptize others as Jesus commanded?" My friend was shocked by this question and looked at me. He said, "Did Jesus command us to baptize people?"

I turned around and faced the pastor saying, "You know Jesus never commanded us to baptize anyone. He commanded us to make disciples of all nations. Then he offered three participles with this command-by going, by baptizing and by teaching. Our problem is that we don't make disciples of Jesus very well, so we tend to go, baptize and teach really well, instead." The pastor got the point, but it was a bit uncomfortable in the room. Then, my Muslim friend shared with them that he had been baptized in the Jordan just a few months earlier. When he made it clear that he asked to be baptized and was baptized while on a trip to Jordan, the room nearly broke into applause! At first my friend didn't quite fit into their box-their indoctrinated mold, so there was some hesitancy and tension in the room. But when they discovered this Muslim follower of Jesus had been baptized, he finally fit into their mold as a Baptist.

Indoctrination has little to do with Jesus; it has a lot to do with shaping people to conform to a certain standard of living. This occurs when the well-meaning faithful spend more time cussing and discussing more about the Scriptures than they do seeking the One to Whom the Scriptures refer. Jesus speaks to this when He says, "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)

When Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples, He was speaking of making disciples or followers of Jesus, Himself. He was referring to making disciples who were just like Jesus in every way possible-to walk, talk, think and love like Jesus. He was not into indoctrinating anyone in order to fit a person into a mold or box. Jesus was all about incarnation. Incarnation is fleshing out Jesus in your life. It's being Jesus to others. Hearing what Jesus says and watching what He does and do the same!

You don't want to be indoctrinated--to be like some man-made system of do's and don'ts. You want to make it your focus to be into incarnation--to be like Jesus Himself.



Jesus always stood with the common, disenfranchised, non-religious people in His world. He never castigated the sinners in any way. This brought on all kinds of criticism and anger from the religious community. He embarrassed the super-religious community, challenged them, criticized them and was relentless in pointing them in a different direction and emphasis. 

Jesus made them very uncomfortable. He even warned His disciples that the world will hate them as much as they hated Him. Then Jesus described their actions of hate, which included disagreeing with the followers of Jesus to the point of throwing them out of their religious assemblies. When followers of Jesus genuinely follow Jesus-doing what He says and does, they will also make the super-religious uncomfortable.

Jesus was so upset with the super-religious that He gave an extensive denunciation of them in Matthew 23. Matthew records eight woes or warnings against them. They are not nice or super-sensitive. Jesus was ticked off and He didn't hide His feelings. A couple of the woes are of interest to me, when it comes to the urge to convert others into your religious system or experience.
Jesus says, "For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and then you make that convert twice as much a child of hell as you are."

As I've shared earlier, in the past I have participated in the acts of shutting the door of the Kingdom on a few of my friends and many others. I've also participated in traveling far and wide to win converts-to convert people to my particular religious system or way of thinking about God.

I grew up in a Baptist Church and our goal was to convert everyone into becoming a Christian, not only a Christian but a Baptist Christian, and not only a Baptist Christian but our kind of Baptist Christian. We sent people all over the world to convert people into our faith. We believed that's what God wanted us to do. That was our end game in life-to convert or change the world.

If you think you must change the world, you will create an agenda for every person you approach. If a person is from a different religious persuasion, then your agenda is to talk them out of their religion and into yours. If a person believes in evolution, then your agenda is to argue with him about creation. If a person is doing something you want him to change, then your agenda is to figure out a way to change him. If you think you must change the world, you believe you are "right" and disrespect all others from different backgrounds. If you think you must change the world, then you may not include the only one who can change those in your world of influence-Jesus. If you think you must change the world, then you tend to think you are in charge of the results and actually making the changes happen.

When we observe the life and teachings of Jesus, we see a very different approach. Note this vital interaction between Jesus and His disciples: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:13-18) NOTE no one taught Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but the Father revealed this to him.

NOTE who it is who supernaturally draws people to Jesus: "Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me." (John 6:43-45)

If the Father is the one who reveals to people who Jesus is and actually draws them to Jesus, then it is the Father who is doing any converting work. And, if the Father is the only one who can do the converting of a person's life, then what role do we play in the process? It seems the end game of the Father is to draw to Jesus and reveal Jesus to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

As followers of Jesus, what ought our end game be? Two observations come to mind. FIRST-The role of converting people has already been taken by the Father, therefore we are not to be into the conversion business. NOTE the Father has no interest in converting anyone to become a part of any religious system or theological set of beliefs. His end game is converting-transforming their lives-to be related to Jesus. The Father's end game is all about Jesus.

SECOND-Since we can't function in the conversion business, we are to be about introducing Jesus to all who are interested in Him. Followers of Jesus need to focus on advancing the conversation of Jesus in every way we can. We are not to concern ourselves whether someone is a Baptist, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic or Muslim; the end game for all followers of Jesus is to introduce people to Jesus. We are to make this our total and only agenda.