Moving On Up
Scripture: Matthew 28:18–28:20
Synopsis: This sermon, entitled Moving On Up is the second in a 2 part series on the purpose statement of our church (ECC). Using Matthew 28:18-20 we try to get at the heart of the “Great Commission” and find out how it sets the agenda for all of our church activities and programs.
Today is the second of two messages on the purpose statement of our church as we prepare for our Annual Congregational Meeting this coming Thursday night.
Last week we looked at the first half of the statement which reads: The purpose of ECC is to glorify God in word and deed and to serve Him in the power of the Holy Spirit...
In that message we looked at the big picture of what God is doing in and through the church and its place in his plan. We found that we are each living stones, being built around Jesus Christ the Cornerstone into a spiritual temple in which God dwells. We found that we are all called to be priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices to the glory and worship of God. And we found that we are God's people, the new Israel, called to make known God's excellencies in the world.
That is the big picture, God's grand scheme for the church. Ultimately the church is not about you and me. The church is not for you and me. The church is you and me together being built together for the glory of God.
From that big picture, then, we are able to move forward. The first half of our purpose statement tells us who we are and why we do what we do. But it still leaves open the question: "What do we do?" What are we seeking to accomplish? If ECC were a company, what would we be seeking to produce? What is our product?
To answer that question, we will turn once again to the Scripture. This time we are going to a very familiar passage. It is a passage known as "The Great Commission."
This commission is actually given several times in Scripture, but one of the clearest is found in Matthew 28:18-20.
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.”
These were the last words Jesus spoke to his followers before he returned to heaven after his resurrection. He is returning to his Father, leaving his disciples behind. And before he left he gave them this commission.
First, we find that this commission is based on his authority. "All authority has been given to me, in heaven and on earth..." In other words, there is no greater authority that can countermand his command. The very highest authority in the universe is giving his followers this commission.
What exactly is the task? The first verb that we encounter in the text is the verb for going. But in the grammar of the original, this is not the main verb in the sentence. It is, in fact, a participle. We are not actually commanded to go. It is assumed that we are going. We could translate this "As you go..." or "Since you're going..." or even better, "Wherever you go..." We all go through life, to different places, into different arenas, into different relationships. Wherever we go, this is our task, our mission, our purpose.
So, if going is not the main verb, what is? It is the next one; "Make disciples..." It is a single word in the original. It is the verb form of the noun "disciple" with a causative ending. So, if this is the heart of our commission, we need to have a clear idea of what a disciple is, as Jesus used the term.
In the simplest use of the term, a disciple was a learner or follower who had attached himself to a teacher. In this case, the teacher is Jesus. A disciple is one who has declared himself to be a follower of Jesus. It is helpful to trace the use of the word "disciple" in the Book of Acts.
If we survey the use of the term “disciple” in Acts, we find that it is used over 25 times. And it is used without exception to refer to people who have put their trust in Jesus as Savior and become followers of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at a few examples:
In Acts 9:26, speaking about the Apostle Paul immediately after his conversion, we read: And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believer that he was a disciple….
In Acts 14:21-22, we read: When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples…
I especially like this one in Acts 11:26. At the end of that verse we read these words: And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
In light of this usage in the Book of Acts, and the way the early church used the term, every follower of Jesus is a disciple. So we could very accurately translate this command, "Recruit followers of Jesus Christ from every nation."
This is the fundamental command and commission given to the church and to each of us as followers of Christ; recruit more followers of Jesus. This is the basic work of evangelism; Telling people about Jesus and inviting them to join us in following him. "You are now my followers. As you go, recruit more followers, more disciples."
That is how the church grows. That is how God's temple grows. Each living stone recruits and invites others to become living stones in God's temple. As the people of God, we are called to declare his excellencies and invite others to come out of the darkness into God's marvellous light.
This, as I said, is the driving verb in this text. Everything else grows out of and flows from this primary mission. So, when we have shared Christ with another person and proclaimed the good news of the Gospel with him/her, and that person has chosen to believe and become a follower or disciple of Jesus, is our task done?
No, we are not finished yet. There is another verb, another participle, indicating another activity that grows out of and accompanies the main verb. When someone becomes a disciple, we are to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We are actually going to devote an entire message to the subject of baptism in two weeks’ time, so I am not going to say much about it today. I will only point out that baptism is a kind of "initiation ritual" signalling a person's entry into the church, and identifying that person publicly as a disciple or follower of Christ. So in terms of our mission or commission, baptism is an important step of discipleship. If you want to use academic terminology, it is not a graduation ceremony, but a matriculation ritual, by which we say, "This person is now enrolled in Christ's school and is a follower of Christ."
So, when a person has put their faith in Jesus Christ and become a follower, a disciple of Jesus, and then he/she has been baptized as a symbol of initiation into the "school of Jesus" is our task complete?
Not at all. Is school over when a student enrolls in class? No! School has just begun. This is what we find when we look at the final verb in this text. Once again it is a participle, describing an assumed accompanying activity to that of the main verb. When a person becomes a disciple, we now have a very important responsibility. "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
It is all perfectly logical. Now that this learner/disciple has enrolled in Jesus' school, teach him what Jesus taught you; not just some of it. All of it. And don't just teach him in order to fill his head with facts. Teach him "to observe"; in other words to keep or obey. The goal is not academic, but life application and obedience. This teaching can take place in a variety of ways and venues. It happens in the large gatherings of the church. It can happen in the smaller class-room settings, and in life groups and Bible studies. It happens often best one on one, in intentional teaching/mentoring/coaching relationships. But whatever the setting, the ultimate goal must always be "to observe". As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become like Jesus. And we do that by following his teaching.
So this is our task. As we go and wherever we go, we are to recruit followers of Jesus by sharing the Gospel and calling people to faith. When they respond to the call, we are to initiate them through baptism and then teach them to follow the teachings of Jesus in all spheres and arenas of life.
This is our mission, our purpose here at ECC. How have we captured that in our purpose statement?
The purpose of ECC is to glorify God in word and deed and to serve him in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and believers to maturity in Christ.
Can you see Christ's great commission contained in that statement? "Bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ." That is the essence of what it means to make disciples; to recruit new followers of Christ who follow him by faith. But that is not the end result, but only the beginning of the second part of our mission.
"Bringing believers to maturity in Christ." Someone who is mature in Christ is someone who is consistently observing Christ's commands and teachings.
I have found it helpful to visualize our mission by utilizing this chart.
Download Spiritual Growth Chart.
You've seen this before and if you stay around ECC very long, you will see it again. This is our mission statement in visual form. Everyone whom we meet; everyone who enters the doors here at the Center, falls somewhere on this chart.
At the heart and center of this chart is the heart and center of our purpose and our purpose statement. This is the line which a person crosses to become a follower of Jesus Christ. It is the line that Jesus identified as being "born again". It is the point in time when an individual places his/her faith in Jesus Christ and is justified by that faith. They pass from death to life, they move out of the darkness into the light. This is conversion, the gateway to eternal life.
This line is all important. But our task is larger than that. There is work to be done below the line, in drawing people step by step closer to faith and a decision to become a follower of Christ. For some that may be a long and arduous journey and we may only be able to accompany them one step in that journey. But this is still important and necessary kingdom work.
There is also important work to be done above the line. When a person becomes a follower of Jesus, he/she is now a disciple, a believer. But he starts out as a mere baby in Christ and in matters of faith. Everyone starts out in kindergarten, spiritually. Our task is to teach them and bring them into maturity in Christ.
Simply put, everyone we meet and everyone who comes to ECC falls somewhere on this chart. Our mission is to help them move on up. I like this chart, because it shows that the two parts of our mission statement are not really separate, but one great task. The task that Jesus gave his church, recruiting additional living stones and being part of the process of adding them to the great temple that he is building for his glory.
This what we are all about here at ECC. This is what we are seeking to accomplish. And we invite you to be part of that with us. It is a complex and multi-faceted task with many challenges. As a church board and a church staff, we are always seeking ways to be more effective in accomplishing our mission. And the challenges grow and become more complex as the church grows in size.
One of things that is more difficult in a growing church is the challenge of monitoring the pulse of the church. Who are we? Where are we on this chart? What strategies should we continue and what new strategies should we devise to meet the needs of this congregation and help us all "move on up"?
In order to do help us in this process, we are asking for your help today. We want to take a "snap-shot in time" of our congregation....
At this point in the sermon, the congregation was given a survey to complete.
Thank you so much for your help. We will be assimilating the results of this survey as we seek to increase our effectiveness in accomplishing the mission and purpose of our church in the days ahead.
I do want to conclude by bringing us back to the text in Matthew 28. The task Jesus left us is an immense one. It incorporates the entire world and every nation in the world. It is a task that is far beyond our reach. But the good news is that he has not left us to struggle on our own.
The final sentence of the text is a promise: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. We are not alone. Jesus is with us, in the midst of his church, building his church. It was Jesus who said to his followers in Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church…” And that is exactly what he is doing around the world. He invites us to be a part of that great work. Will we accept his invitation?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Why is Jesus’ authority (verse 18) an important preamble to the “Great Commission”?
- According to the grammar of the original text, what is the main verb in this passage? Why is this significant? Discuss your understanding of what it means to “make disciples”. Use a concordance to look up some uses of the word “disciple” from the book of Acts. What are some synonyms in Scripture? What are some synonyms in current word usage (in the church and in common usage)?
- What are the “accompanying activities” that supplement and complete the main verb?
- The second half of ECC’s purpose statement reads: “with the goal of bringing unbelievers to faith in Christ and believers to maturity in Christ.” Is this one goal or two goals? Explain your answer.
- Look at the spiritual progress chart Pastor Cam used in the sermon. How does this affect the answer to the previous question?
- Where would you place yourself on this chart? What are you doing to help others “move on up”? What can your “life group” or small group do to help fulfill the mission of the church?
More in ECC's Purpose Statement
January 18, 2013Like Living Stones