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“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’ ” (Matthew 28:18–20).

JESUS’ FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS APOSTLES SHOULD BE OF MORE THAN PASSING INTEREST. If we wanted to know how Jesus viewed His own mission, we would need to look at the entire body of His teaching, of course, but His last words would be pertinent in a special way. What were the marching orders He gave to those whom He had selected to carry forward His work in the world?

“Disciple” is not a word we use much today, but it is a crucial word. The basic meaning is “pupil” or “learner,” but the extended meaning involves something deeper. A disciple is not merely under the instruction of a teacher; he or she is a follower of that person, one who emulates the life and character of the teacher. And that is what Jesus sought: not just students but disciples. His command to “make disciples” was a charge to proclaim the gospel to all who would listen and then to baptize those who sought the forgiveness of their sins. But while baptism was essential (there could be no discipleship without having “died with Christ”), baptism was just the beginning. Now forgiven and restored to God’s fellowship — and with the hope of heaven in their hearts — those baptized were to be taught “to observe all that I have commanded you.”

So the mission assigned to the apostles was disciple-making, and that could only be done through evangelism, the proclamation of the gospel itself. Whatever the apostles might have thought was more relevant, Jesus’ command never changed: make disciples.

We need to keep coming back to the central concern of Jesus. Yes, He helped people physically and emotionally, but His greater concern was always with their spiritual needs. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). If we follow Jesus, our concern must be for the eternal welfare of people’s souls. So let’s not lose our focus. By God’s grace, let’s do what Jesus told His apostles: teach people how they can be with God when their broken lives in this world are done.

“The church has many tasks but only one mission” (Arthur Preston).

Gary Henry — +

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