I remember an interesting skit on TV from years ago, I think it was probably on Saturday Night Live. OK, believing you can find anything online, I just looked and found it from 1984, featuring Ed Asner. Asner was the retiring manager from a nuclear power plant. His final, parting words of wisdom to the remaining employees were, “Just remember one thing, you can’t put too much water into a nuclear reactor.” After he is gone, the skit shows the remaining staff arguing over his final words. Did he mean that you have to be careful to NOT ever dare put too much water into the reactor, or did he mean that there is no way you could ever put too much water in, so just keep it flowing? The skit ends with people on the other side of the world seeing a bright flash of lightning on the horizon.
Final words from someone: They are important. The final words of instruction from Christ to the disciples about their mission were really not unclear at all. The gospel of Matthew ends with these words from Jesus in chapter 28 …
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.”
Our third of four statements about our topic of “Why Mission?” is this: Mission means cultivating a culture of discipleship.
We tend to think of the word “discipleship” as merely encompassing the process of teaching and learning the Scriptures in an applicational way. But the word is used here in Matthew 28 more broadly of both evangelism (making new disciples, or new followers) and instructional discipleship (growing disciples).
Everything in this passage is what we call “durative” in language studies, speaking of an ongoing aspect of action, not something that is done, finished, packaged up and put away.
We could read the phrases this way: “As you are going … be making disciples … be baptizing them (identifying them with the faith) … continuously teaching them (never ends) … knowing always that Jesus is with you ALL THE WAY. In other words, Jesus is telling them, “This is your mission; it is a mission possible; nothing is going to blow up and disappear; I will not disavow knowing you but will be with you the whole way.”
It is instructive for us to also note that these words are given to individuals … yes, to those who would form the new institution of the church. Yet again, this is not a passage that is instructional specifically for how to run a church organization, but rather, how the people who are the church are to conduct their lives. As we’ve said in this series in our intro paragraphs that “Church” isn’t a program you attend; it’s a community you embody. Following Jesus means being a part of a larger network of believers who gather to celebrate this new society through the worship of God. What if we thought of Church like that? What if we were just crazy enough to do Church the way the Bible says?
When we are living this way and doing this individually, in a group with mutual support, we can see the cumulative effects over time. All of this takes time – to share the gospel and bring people along; but we can enjoy seeing the fruits of being on mission as we live out a culture of discipleship.