After reading the first chapter of a great book by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg*—and you know it will be profound with those two authors—I was musing about Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20: Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” This is commonly called the Great Commission although Willard wryly comments that it perhaps should be called The Great Omission.
Most Bible scholars agree that the intent of verse 19 is “Going…” or “As you go…make disciples of all nations…” A simple, stated fact that will be—or should be—true of Christ followers. “You will be going throughout the world, so have this as a goal: make disciples…” After these words spoken by Jesus, after the apostles’ preaching and the followers’ obedient lifestyle began making inroads into all of society, after Stephen’s bold sermon and subsequent martyrdom, tragic events began: …a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. As they went they were making disciples.
What would it look like if we took seriously this as you go commission in our day? When a new job necessitates a move to another part of the country, what if the family took this as a “commission” to make disciples in the new community? When a student is accepted at a university in another city, she assumes this is a “commission” to make disciples in that place. When retirement allows a move to a warmer climate, the primary “commission” is to eagerly seek out opportunities to make disciples. When age and infirmity dictates that a couple move into an assisted living facility, their “commission” is to be part of discipling—as health and energy allows—in that building.
I observed this last scenario several years ago while living in Abbotsford, British Columbia. A once vibrant and energetic couple began experiencing physical frailty in older age. They could no longer manage living in their home and moved into a wonderful community with care for their needs. One afternoon I met “John” in the grocery store and inquired into how they were settling into this new lifestyle. This man who had been founding pastor of several small churches throughout Western Canada responded sadly, “I think my days of ministry are over.”
Several weeks later we again met and I repeated my question. This time his face lit up with a beaming smile. “I guess God’s not finished with me yet. I’ve discovered lots of the people around me may be old in physical age, but they know so little of what it means to be a disciple. I’ve started a small study in our unit…”
As you go, make disciples.
*Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, Living in Christ’s Presence, (InterVarsity Press, 2014)