Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on the blog of Reaching and Teaching International Ministries. Check out the resources on the site, especially the newly launched podcast, and while you’re at it, sign up to go on a training trip with us.
And Jesus came and said to them, “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” (Matt. 28:16-20).
When most Christians consider the words of the Great Commission, their minds go straight to what they are called to do. Our mission is important, but it is actually secondary in this passage. What is primary is Jesus’ declaration about himself. Our commission to make disciples of all nations cannot be carried out apart from who Jesus is.
Christians go to all the nations because Christ rules all the nations, as well as all the heavens. While it’s great to desire to be an active messenger for Jesus, it’s vital for us to understand why we go. Jesus’ charge to his disciples is rooted in his announcement that he possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. His perfect life, his death on the cross, and his resurrection declare that he is the God-man who rules over everything, including sin and death. Before we jump into action for Christ, it’s important to consider how his authority drives our mission. As we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 28, consider the effects of his all-encompassing authority on our mission.
Boldness in Mission
Striving to take the gospel to the nations is a dangerous task. We labor in a world filled with violence, disease, political turmoil, hatred, and famine. A glance at the latest headlines is all the evidence we need to see that we live in a sin-wrecked universe. An understandable response to the sin and its effects that surround us is to isolate ourselves from the world. But Christians are not called to cloister themselves inside the church walls until Christ returns.
Rather, since Jesus possesses all authority, Christians are emboldened to live as faithful heralds wherever the Lord might lead them. We go out as sheep among wolves because we have a Shepherd-King who faced the enemy and sits victoriously at the Father’s right hand. Boldness is rooted in Christ’s authority, not in youthful zeal or confidence in our intricately planned missions strategy. The nations may rage at our risen Lord, but we still march forward with the gospel, trusting that no harm may come to us outside of the sovereign authority of King Jesus.
If you are paralyzed by the fear of man each day or if you find yourself anxious over the safety of a loved one serving in a hostile environment, rest in the sovereign power of our Lord, who has crushed the head of the Enemy. Walk in boldness because none can stand against him.
Zeal for the Worship of Christ
A second effect of Christ’s possessing all authority in heaven and on earth is that we should be zealous for Jesus to receive all of the worship and obedience that is due him. To use the oft-repeated words of John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Billions of people on this earth bow their knee, whether figuratively or literally, to false gods. These men and women look to these saviors for satisfaction, protection, sustainment, and hope. As Christians, we know this is not a new phenomenon. But it is one that should grieve our souls.
There is only one true and living God who deserves the nations’ honor, praise, and obedience. Because Jesus is the God-man who has all authority, we go everywhere to tell others about this King who died to reclaim those who were rebels against his rule. This message is for those who are bowing to carved idols in the most remote village, as well as our neighbor across the street whose heart is mastered by the god of materialism. We relentlessly pursue the lost with the gospel because he is the only One who can bring true peace, forgiveness, satisfaction, and hope. Only King Jesus deserves their worship.
Obedience to Christ’s Methodology
Third, since Jesus possesses all authority, he not only dictates the message of our mission, but also the method. Churches and missions agencies have all sorts of ideas about how to create disciples, not to mention how to plant and grow churches. Some of these ideas are wise and biblically informed, but others are founded more on the wisdom of the world than the methods depicted in the pages of Scripture.
Jesus has given us clear directions in how to carry out his disciple-making mission. Yet, churches and agencies are prone to miss vital aspects of a biblical missions strategy. Take, for instance, the directives that follow Jesus’ statement about having all authority. He tells his followers that disciples are made by being baptized into the life of a church and being taught the whole counsel of Scripture. Many well-intentioned missionaries and churches focus on preaching the gospel and seeing new converts, but they ignore the second part of the Great Commission by hurrying along to the next unreached village.
What has happened is that we have traded Jesus’ method for missions, along with his definition of success, for our own. Jesus, the sovereign Ruler of the universe, cares more deeply than us about the lostness in the world, and he knows far better than us about the way to establish his kingdom here. Therefore, Christians and churches must examine their missions efforts and see if they line up with Christ’s prescribed methods.
As you consider the authority of Christ, I pray that it encourages you and your church to be bold, Christ-exalting messengers of the gospel.