Consider it: according to Matthew, Jesus was crucified, and then 3 days later the tomb was found empty, and the angel gave the disciples instructions on where to find Jesus. And when they showed up there, Jesus was there. But while they worshipped him, some of them doubted. The context of the Great Commission, in Matthew’s account, is Jesus addressing his followers who, after the greatest miracle of all time, doubted.
These people were looking at the resurrected Christ who just defeated death, and they doubted. And that’s actually our problem, right? The death of death in the resurrection of Christ somehow is not enough. The idea that the problem is diagnosed by God, and then the solution is decreed by God, and then worked out by God – and then all we have to do is repent of our diagnoses and our solutions and turn to Him and worship Him – that seems somehow anticlimactic.
But Christ’s solution to that doubt is plain: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The first thing this means for us is that what we are supposed to do is not by our own authority. You know: in Revelation, John says this by having all manner of created beings cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb!” This is the Jesus for whom the scroll in the hand of the Father – the deed to all creation – has been given, and he’s the only one who is worthy to take it. So when Jesus begins to address doubt about this plan, he starts by saying that confidence in this plan is not a matter of tactics, or of our star power: it is a matter of authority. He is saying something that is important for those of us who feel impressed with the work of evangelism to remember: we do not go to this task because we think it’s just a good idea.
You don’t become an evangelist, or declare the Gospel, because you’re convinced it’s true.
You don’t do this simply because you like Jesus, or you like other people.
You do this because this message is God’s message, and it only makes sense if it comes from God. You see: Jesus is not saying, “in order to renew all things, and to renovate culture, and to give people their best life now, here is my suggestion.” He is instead saying, “Look: a few days ago, you thought I was defeated by human priests and human empires, and left for dead in the grave. You thought that human authorities could overcome me and my purpose in this world because I was dead. But now? I’m alive. Because I am alive, you should see that there are no authorities greater than me. All authority in Heaven belongs to me – so you have a source of hope. But look: all authority on Earth belongs to me. You have nothing to fear.”
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.