You know: Jesus could have said, “Go and make subjects of all nations,” or “go and conquer all the nations,” or “go and drive out all the nations,” or “go and make a footstool of my enemies,” and sound very Old Testament and New Testament at the same time. “Go claim the promise to Abraham,” he could have said, I guess. All of those could be misinterpreted to mean, “go and make war on all things,” or worse “go and set people aside until I can come back and finish up here.”
But Jesus says, “Go and make Disciples.” The blessed King James translation says, “go and teach all nations.” That word doesn’t mean you cause people to wear a t-shirt, or get a plastic fish on their cars, or hand them a card to fill out, or to write a date down in the front cover of their Bible. It means you cause them to sit under the teaching. In the days of Christ, it meant that you gave up something in order to follow your teacher around – or at least to be available when he is in town to teach.
When you go and make disciples, what are you doing? That is: what ought you to do? Listen: without question, you are telling them the definition of the authority of Christ: Christ died for our sins, in accordance to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scripture. Christ has the authority over all life and even over death. In that, because of Christ’s authority, they must repent: they must go – depart from the life of this world into the life of Christ’s kingdom. But to say that and gain the first act of obedience is a one-time event. Evangelism is not merely a call to a one-time event.
This would be like saying buying a house is a one-time event: I signed the papers, but I don’t have to move in. I am the owner of the property, but you can’t expect me to live there, can you? Cut the grass? Know my neighbors? Pay the utilities and keep up the building? That sounds like you’re asking a lot of me – I just want to buy the house so I could claim the fancy address.
But that is exactly the paradigm we have to avoid in evangelism: merely getting people to volunteer or somehow agree. We have to get them to move into the household of God – because that’s where the Kingdom is. That’s where the Holy Spirit is. That’s where Salvation is. We are not looking for them to agree that we have won an argument with them: we are ambassadors for Christ, with God making his appeal through us. And we implore them on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made Jesus to be sin even though he knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And in that, we are not asking them simply to say they need help: we are making them disciples. We are teaching them what Christ has taught us. In fact, Christ says that explicitly, doesn’t he? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
If we see evangelism as something more than this, or less than this, we have utterly missed the point. On the one hand, we cannot see evangelism as the highest moment in the life of the evangelist or the person being evangelized. While we can rightly say that it is in some way the goal of the church, it is not a sacrament. It is not the only requirement of the life of the believer, and it is not something that stands by itself. On the other hand, Christ has in no way asked us to sort of dabble in Jesus trivia. He hasn’t asked us to put his name on bumper stickers, or on hats and t-shirts, or on giant foam fingers that say “Jesus is #1!” That’s not evangelism – it’s far too little to be a plea from God to be reconciled. It is also far too little to say to someone that they are a car wreck of sins and faults. Most people are well aware of their own shortcomings and they strive mightily to be better than what they are naturally prone to do. It is too little to simply name and expose sin. Equally, it is far too little to simply say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” – a statement which is, at it root, true enough but utterly lacking in anything that requires Jesus Christ to die on a cross.
This is what Peter was thinking about when he tumbles out into the street, full of the Holy Spirit, to make the first post-resurrection attempt at street preaching. The great commission wasn’t lost on him: it was clear to him now. Peter was declaring something rooted in the authority of God.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”
He means: God knew what he was doing. God has the power to do what he is doing. Peter is speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem explicitly about what God has planned for them in the person and work of Christ. Jesus was given to them with the power of God through sign and wonders and mighty works – but more importantly, Jesus was delivered to his death also by the power of God, and the authority of God, and the foreknowledge and willingness of God, to be put to death.
See: the question of God’s authority in the story of Jesus, as far as Peter was concerned, was critical – it was the basis for saying anything else. Because consider what had happened: the Romans and the leaders of Jerusalem put Jesus to death just like they put so many other troublemakers to death. There is nothing remarkable about crucifixion to these people – except that it was a vile death. But it wasn’t a unique or somehow novel way to put someone to death. In many ways, it made Jesus look rather mundane to the world.
But as Peter tells it, there is nothing mundane about Christ. He came in God’s authority – and this, he says, was well known to everyone. The way Jesus lived, and the signs he performed, were a testimony to everyone that he was sent by God. But it was not only that God sent Jesus to live: God sent Jesus to die. Jesus was not merely an example of how to obey the law of Moses: Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses – concluding with his death on a cross.
“This Jesus God raised up,” Peter continues, “and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
You see: Peter gets it about Jesus. It is not just Jesus’ death that comes under God’s authority: it is Jesus resurrection that presents us with the crucial truth about God’s authority. Peter cites the Psalmist here to point this out: Jesus lives because God is making a footstool out of his enemies. The authority of God over death is demonstrated in the new life of Christ, and it shows us something about Christ, which, it seems to me, the Jews in Jerusalem understood immediately.
Peter tells them: “Know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now look: we’re about half-way finished now, and for most of you there are no surprises so far. This is where most of us are satisfied to know what we think we ought to know about evangelism. As long as we declare the right list of truths, we are doing what we read the Bible to tell us to do, and the rest is up to God. The problem is that this is only half-right, and not at all serious enough about what happens next in the text.
Now when they [The people in Jerusalem] heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
That’s pretty good, right? God moves, people are convicted by the preaching of the Gospel, and they ask for the solution to their problem. So what we might expect Peter to do next is something like this:
And Peter said to them: “Since you know you are a sinner, confess with your tongue and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, and you will be saved.” or maybe this: “Repent and sin no more.” All perfectly-sound, specifically-biblical words and phrases.
But look: if the point of Peter’s evangelism was to simply get the people listening only to admit they need a savior from sin, he could have said anything next – except what he actually said. But his response to the question “what shall we do?” tells us about what he knows the Holy Spirit was intent on doing.
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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
Consider it: when Peter carried out the great commission for the first time, he doesn’t get people to simply say, “I’m a sinner, and I need help.” He tells them: God has made a promise today, in Christ, and is calling people to himself. He tells them that repentance looks like something other than a private, internal admission. And most importantly, something happens to people when they hear this message.
Luke tells us what then happened:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
What is most interesting about this sentence is not the act of baptism – which, it seems to me, is pretty interesting. I mean: that act is the thing Jesus told these guys to do in the Great commission, right? Teach all nations and baptize them.
The most interesting phrase here is this: “there were added that day.” There were added that day. The greek word there means “added to a group,” or “joined together.” And we might take it for granted that Luke here meant that these people confessed their sins are were added to the invisible church – to total number of people who are saved for all time. Amen?
The problem is that the text won’t let us get away with such a general reading of what happened at Pentecost.