I’m sure most people have heard of the Titanic. But I don’t think many people have heard of John Harper.
John Harper was a pastor of Moody Church in the early 1900s, a passenger on the Titanic. In 1921, 4 years after the Titanic sunk, at a meeting in Canada, a Scotsman stood up and said this:
“I am a survivor of the Titanic.” When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow , also on a piece of wreck near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’.
“The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am John Harper’s last convert.”
I love the faith of John Harper. I can just imagine the scene. John’s floating around on his piece of wreck, with hundreds of terrified, freezing people also holding onto other pieces of wreck, wishing for nothing more than to be saved and go home. John’s asking them, “are you saved?” Of course, they say no, and he preaches to them! I love that! I think he took what Jesus said at the end of Matthew quite seriously.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)
This passage encapsulates the primary thrust of the whole book. This is why Jesus came to Earth – to establish the Kingdom of God.
The language reflects the Messianic language of Daniel 7:13-14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
That is a pretty awesome image!
The fact that this command was issued in Galilee is significant. Galilee is previously associated with Gentiles (Matt. 4:15 and Isaiah 9:1 “Galilee of the Gentiles,”) so it is fitting that it is here where Jesus issues the command to go to all the other nations.
1. Discipleship is not an option.
Jesus did not say, “if you ever get a spare second, do you reckon, maybe, if you don’t mind, could you tell someone about me? I would really appreciate it if you told someone I died for them.” Nor did he say, “I know you’re really busy, you got promoted, you’ve just bought a house, maybe you’ve just started uni and you’re trying friends, I get that, I understand if you don’t have any spare time, but if there happens to be a pause sometime between lectures, do you reckon you could teach someone about my commandments?”
Jesus is saying DO IT.
Mathēteusate – Imperative. Jesus is commanding us to make disciples.
Elsewhere he even says, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus is so very serious about our devotion to him. Jesus tells us to love one another and to be willing to die for one another, even our enemies, so in this case he is not literally telling us to forsake our family, but is telling us to always prioritize him, above all else.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” When we prioritize Jesus, we follow him and become his disciples, and as in this passage, this is not optional. We absolutely must follow him, be his disciples and make disciples.
Think of it this way: when you go to a restaurant and order food, what do you expect the waiter to do? Let’s say you order noodles. The waiter goes off, ten minutes later comes back and says, “check this out I memorized what you said! You said: I want some noodles! Are you happy?”
Obviously not. So you ask again. Another 10 minutes passes and the waiter comes back and tells you they’ve organized a worship band to sing songs about how they promise to always get you noodles. The chef comes out with a guitar and they start singing. Are you happy now?
Of course not! You’re still hungry, the waiter has not brought you your noodles.
Now let’s say we are the waiters and Jesus orders noodles. What are you going to do? You’re going to get him noodles! Jesus doesn’t ask, but commands us to make disciples. What are we going to do?
We’d better go and make disciples! This is not an option. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we cannot just laze around, come to church once a week and think we’ll be right. Maybe we were christened and confirmed and come to church once a year and avoid meat on Good Friday. Is this enough? Absolutely not.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). James says that faith without works is dead.
Does this mean that if we do enough good works, sponsor enough children with World Vision, give enough money to the church that we’ll get into heaven? No. But it means that from true faith comes action. True faith is not true faith unless it has an action. It’s like your rock climbing and you don’t where to put your foot. So the person below you tells you, put your foot here in this hole. And you say, “Cool, thanks! I trust you!” And then you do nothing. Is this really truly faith? I don’t think so.
We must make disciples.
2. Jesus tells us what this discipleship looks like.
“Go,” “baptizing,” “teaching” – words that give us more information about the main verb which is “make disciples.”
These are characteristics of discipleship – you have to go to them, you have to baptize them – which implies evangelism and they believing in their heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus is their Lord – and then you have to teach them. You have to counsel them, you have to get them to learn Jesus’ teachings and his commandments, basically you have to be their mentor.
This shows that there are different areas involved in discipleship. Jesus has appointed apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets. Each of us have a role to play, but we must do it!
Jesus isn’t telling us to go and be Christians; he’s telling us to go and make disciples. This shows us that these characteristics of discipleship are inherent of being a Christian. When people see us going to other people, telling them about Jesus, loving them and teaching them, they will see disciples, they will see people who are wanting to be like their master.
It’s like when you see a professional basketball team. There will be certain things that characterize them as a basketball team. They will have good basketball shoes, or if they are really serious they’ll be wearing sandals or thongs to protect their good shoes until they’re on the court. They will probably have bags over their shoulders, water bottle in hand, matching uniforms, a few of them holding basketballs. You will know when you look at them that they are a basketball team.
People should know who Christians are by looking at them and seeing how they live. Jesus said, “your love for one another will prove that you are my disciples.” Loving one another should be a characteristic element of Christians. So should being willing to go and make disciples, to evangelize, to baptize, to teach, to counsel.
One of the things Jesus tells us to do is teach them everything he has commanded of us. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my command: that you love one another as I have loved you.” That word “command” is singular, so Jesus’ commandments collapse into that one commandment. Jesus is the ultimate interpreter and teacher of the Torah, which is the Old Testament Law, particularly the first five books, but his focus was never on following the 613 Pharisaic commandments to the letter, but was more concerned with why, what is the point of the law. For him, it always came down to ethics and the reason for the law, which was love. It might sound clichéd, but everything comes down to love. Paul says, “I may give up my whole life for another, but if I have not love, I gain nothing.”
The behaviour that is the most characteristic element of a Christian is love. Love that is self-sacrificial, as Christ’s love for us is; love that is totally self-less; love that is hard and often painful. Jesus has commanded us to make disciples and has commanded us to love.
3. Jesus does not leave us to do it alone.
Why has he commanded us to make disciples and to love one another? The passage says all authority has been given to Jesus, THEREFORE, go make disciples. Therefore in the bible is never accidental. It is saying, “Go make disciples BECAUSE Jesus has authority.” How do they connect? Because Jesus is with us. He is with us always. Jesus has authority to save and to forgive, to make disciples and to build his church. It is up to us, his hands and feet on this earth, to spread the Good News.
In John 15, Jesus says that persecution will come, it is inevitable. Tough times are ahead. But he sends another like him to help us. John calls this other person Paracletos. Which means a range of things, such as helper, advocate and comforter. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, and it is better for us that we have the Spirit than for Jesus to remain on the Earth. Why? Because the Spirit can live in each of us.
Matt. 10:19-20: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
The one Jesus sends, the Holy Spirit, is with us, helping us, guiding us. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is present, helping us to make disciples and to love one another.
The fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, Chrysostom:
“Observe the excellence of those who were sent out into the whole world. Others who were called found ways of excusing themselves. But these did not beg off…With Jesus’ resurrection his own proper glory is again restored, following his humiliation. Jesus reminded his disciples of the consummation of all things, so that they would not look at the present dangers only but also at the good things to come that last forever. He promised to be not only with these disciples but also with who would subsequently believe after them…So let us not fear and shudder. Let us repent while there is opportunity. Let us arise out of our sins. We can by grace, if we are willing.”
I whole-heartedly believe with Chrysostom that now is the time, if we have not yet, to confess that Christ is Lord, to believe in him as John Harper did and to be willing to sacrifice all to follow Christ, to make disciples of ourselves, to love one another, to go, to spread the Gospel, to make disciples, to baptize and to teach. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in us and by the authority of Jesus Christ who is with us, in the words of Chrysostom, “Let us arise out of our sins. We can by grace, if we are willing.”