by Dr. Eugene W. Bunkowske
We ‘make and multiply’ disciples by positively and naturally introducing our good friend Jesus to other people in our everyday life.
Lots of Christians are uncomfortable with the words “go and make disciples of all nations.” Why? Because we have, at times, caught, thought, and taught the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18–20 incompletely and even inaccurately. We have torn it out of its beautiful biblical context and given it a heavy Law orientation rather than understanding it as a noble appointment to live and serve as Jesus lived and served (2 Cor. 5:14–20).
The Great Commission is not “go and make,” two demanding commands. Rather it is an integrated five-part placement into privileged ambassadorship. The idea of a privileged ambassadorship is unpacked by Peter as being “chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Let us think of this five-part placement as the fingers on an outstretched hand of lifesaving love:
- (thumb) All authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and earth
- (index finger) so while you are going about in everyday life
- (middle finger) disciple people of all languages and cultures
- (ring finger) by baptizing and teaching them everything Jesus has told us
- 1. (pinky finger) and recalling that Jesus is always with you until the end of time
The index finger (2) illustrates our going about in everyday relationships. In these associations, we are supported by Jesus, who has all authority (1, thumb) and is with us in every situation of life (5, pinky). The thumb of authority and power and the pinky of Jesus’ stabilizing, comforting, and encouraging partnership bookend the Great Commission palm into a secure place of peace, harmony, safety, and support. In this secure place, believers grow into disciplined-followers.
Radiating out of this secure place, disciples, individually and as a group, confess Jesus the Christ and Son of God and make more disciplined-followers from among all the world’s people (3, middle finger). Baptizing and teaching everything that Jesus has told us (4, ring finger) is our equipment for carrying out this ministry of discipling people of all languages and cultures.
Isaiah 49 and 51 fill in the New Testament Great Commission hand by telling us that God has put His words in our mouth and sheltered us in the palm of His hand. Thus out of the palm of God’s hand Jesus commissioned you and me (John 20:21) to follow His example of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10). What a beautiful picture this is of each gathered group of disciplined-followers “gossiping the Gospel” of undeserved love, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to make and multiply more disciples! Is this picture reflected in you and your congregation? If not, what needs to happen so that it will be more fully reflected?
Before answering that, we ought to pose this question: What exactly does discipling mean, and how is it done? In Matt. 4:19 Jesus started the process by saying, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” With these words Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, and then others into a relationship with Himself. He invited them to become disciplined-followers.
The heart of “disciplined following” is accurately identifying and confessing with Peter and the other disciples that Jesus is the “promised Savior, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). For the first disciples it took 15-and-one-half chapters of trudging, watching, listening, miraculous signs, learning, interacting, evaluating, being sent, testifying, obeying, and disobeying in the Gospel of Matthew. In Acts 2 and Romans 8, this process is described as being baptized into Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and being raised to new life in Jesus the Christ by the glorious power of God the Father (Rom. 6:4). It happens for babies in their baptism and for adults in their Spirit-inspired confession. Basically, it is rescue from the powers of darkness and placement into the kingdom of the Son of God (Col. 1:13). Theologians call this justification.
The ongoing process involved in becoming more fully disciplined-followers of Jesus takes place through regularly confessing “You are my promised Savior, the Son of the living God and my Lord” in word and deed. Theologians call this sanctification. First Peter 1:3–4 calls it the new life in Christ. This new life is a tug-of-war between the Kingdom of Darkness (Matt. 8:12) and the Kingdom of Light (John 8:12). It is through this daily tug-of-war that the active new-life Christian is used by God to expand the Kingdom of Light and shrink the Kingdom of Darkness by making and multiplying disciples.
The Gospel of Matthew shows us that Jesus initiates this discipling of people into the Kingdom of Light by personally spreading the Good News (Matt. 4:23–25), in order to show His “forming followers” how they could also do it. He also taught them the appropriate attitudes and loyalty of a disciplined-follower (Matthew 5–7) and the actions of godly messengers (Matthew 8–9). In Matthew 10, Jesus gives His followers instructions about how to spread the message that the Kingdom is near. It is interesting to note that “after Jesus finished giving His disciples these instructions, He also actively participated in teaching the message” (Matt. 11:1). He not only taught His disciples about disciple-making in the abstract but also concretely taught it in His own Good News— spreading words and actions.
On the basis of their fledgling kingdom-building efforts (Matthew 10; Luke 10:1–24), the followers of Jesus were ready to learn more about how to confess Jesus as their promised Savior and Lord. Jesus pursued the process by using several “the Kingdom is like” illustrations. He taught His followers to live in the light (Ps. 56:13) on a daily basis by intentionally, unconditionally, and systematically sharing the Good News with those around them.
Unconditional trust is a basic mark of discipleship in the Kingdom of Light. This kind of discipleship blazes up in us, among us, and through us as we enter and engage the Kingdom like children. The vigorous discipling energy of trust is exposed in the words, “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom.” And again, “The greatest in the Kingdom is the one who humbles himself and becomes like a trusting child” (Matt. 18:3–4). The underlying idea here is that ultimate allegiance to Jesus is the necessary heart for a disciplined-follower living in the Kingdom of Light.
When trust flourishes in disciples, the yeast factor of the Kingdom is released. The yeast factor is the working of trust and faithful witnessing and its multiplying effects through the whole of the individual disciple’s life, the communal life of a congregation of disciples, and out into the community of people who are yet-to-become disciples. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 13 and Luke 13: “To what can I compare the Kingdom? It’s like yeast that a woman mixed into a large amount of flour until the yeast worked its way through all the flour.” This Kingdom truth is further clarified in Gal. 5:9, where it says, “It only takes a little yeast to spread through the whole batch of flour.”
‘O YOU OF WEAK FAITH’
The first disciples heard this evaluation—“O you of weak faith”—often from Jesus, seven times in the Gospel of Matthew alone. We also often find that our faith seems weak. However, be encouraged.
“The Kingdom is like” illustration of the mustard seed (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 13) shows us that even with a small amount of faith much can happen. In this parable Jesus asks, “How can we show what the Kingdom is like? To what can we compare it? It’s like a mustard seed planted in the ground. Notice the mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds on earth. However, when planted it comes up and becomes taller than all the garden plants. It grows such large branches that birds can nest in its shade.”
The many birds in the mustard-tree branches stand for the congregations of existing disciples, and also the yet-to-become disciples that the Spirit of God draws into the Kingdom of Light as you and I openly share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Romans 10:14–15 tells us that it is this process of “gossiping the Gospel” in the course of our everyday life that God uses to make disciples and multiply congregations of disciples.
Matthew ends his gospel by exploding discipling into the future as he extends to each of us the Great Commission hand (Matt. 28:18–20). Matthew extends this gracious hand to motivate and guide us in openly introducing our good friend Jesus to others. He encourages you and me to intentionally and positively gossip the Gospel, baptize, and systematically hear and obey the words and works of Jesus our Savior and Lord, thus forming disciplined-followers who disciple others into being disciplined-followers (2 Tim. 2:2), so that God’s mission of expanding the Kingdom of Light and shrinking the Kingdom of Darkness in this world may flourish.