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Spreading the Word – January/February 2014

By Micah Bales – Web & Communications Specialist

The friends of Jesus must have been in shock: He died in misery and shame, yet Jesus was back again — alive and present in an entirely new way. Not only had he returned, but he was actively guiding them. Jesus had come back to be their teacher, friend and leader.

One of the final instructions that came from him was what the church now refers to as the Great Commission. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus is quoted:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

If the words of the great commission are of any relevance, one of the central elements of a new life in Jesus is the commission to make disciples, proactively inviting others into the same relationship of love and forgiveness that — thanks to the faithful disciple-making of others – we have experienced.

But what does it really mean, in practical terms, to make disciples?

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…

The work of making disciples has nothing to do with our own personal goodness, spiritual maturity or merit; instead, it’s all about the living authority of Jesus working through us. Any ideas we have about making disciples that stoke our own pride rather than giving God the glory, is almost certainly not real discipleship. Given our weakness and need for Christ, the process of making disciples should be a deeply humbling one.

Go therefore and make disciples…

It’s no coincidence that Jesus told his first disciples that they were to go. While many of us are never called to leave home in a literal, geographical sense, all of us are called to surrender our tendency to value comfort over challenge. As we begin to live into the great commission, we are called out of our usual routines and safe social circles. Walking with Jesus, brings us into relationship with people and communities that we never would have chosen for ourselves. Most amazing of all, we find that the Holy Spirit has gone ahead of us, preparing the way.

Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

Whether or not we literally wash people in water, the spiritual cleansing that the Holy Spirit brings is at the heart of what it means to make disciples. We cannot cause anyone to be baptized in this sense, of course; that’s up to God. Yet Jesus offers us the opportunity to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. When his life fills and changes us, we can help bring about transformation in the lives of others. Our spirit-filled lives can become a doorway through which the Father of lights enters the lives of others.

And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…

The early communities of believers gave us the Bible as a guide, and subsequent generations — the early Quaker movement, for example — have left their example and writings to teach us about what it means to follow Jesus’ radical teachings and experience his Holy Spirit as the present-day body of Christ. To continue this process of teaching is an incredible charge given to is. In cooperation with the Holy Spirit, drawing on the example and writings of earlier generations, Jesus commissions us to teach others how to live as his friends.

I am with you always…

It should be clear that this work of going, baptizing and teaching is far too much for any of us to carry under our own strength. Thank God, Jesus is faithful in his promise to always be with us. We don’t have to live as his friends — much less invite others into friendship with him — in his absence! As we seek to live into this great commission of disciple-making, we can rest in the knowledge that our role is to direct others to Jesus himself. He goes with us into those strange and challenging places. He baptizes all of us in his Holy Spirit. With the authority that the Father has given him, he unites us into a loving family, welcoming all who seek the truth.