Series: We Are Citylight
It’s easy for any community to lose a sense of why it’s here. What have we been sent into the world to do as a church? Our mission is to go and make disciples of Jesus.
We’re in the last week of our series of sermons on who we are as a church, what we do, why we do it. Next week will be our last week gathering for worship in this building, and I plan to preach on dealing with change from Psalm 103. The week after we’ll be at Highway beginning a series of sermons through the Gospel of John. But for this week we’re on our last core value as a church: mission. Mission doesn’t cover everything we do: We talked about worship and community the past 3 weeks. We’ll also see it doesn’t cover everything Christians can or should do. When we talk about our mission at Citylight, we’re talking about what have we as a church been sent into the world to do? Have we even been sent? And as I’ve been saying the last 3 weeks, no real creativity here: We are a church, and so our mission is the same as every other church’s, found in Scripture and summarized nicely for us in the text Yohance just read. Our mission is to go and make disciples of Jesus, because Jesus is Lord, by baptizing, by teaching, and because Jesus is with us.
Because Jesus is Lord
Jesus’ speech begins with a proclamation: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is not meant to imply that Jesus did not have authority prior to now. As true God, all of God’s authority has been eternally His. But at a point in time, God the Son became man, and took on a vocation, a job, that was at that time, still to be fulfilled. It was the vocation given to humanity in the beginning: To exercise dominion over all the earth. The first humans and we all since have failed in this vocation; rather than bringing the creation into service to God and our neighbor, we have worshiped and serve the creation itself. But God through the prophet Daniel promised that one would come who would exercise dominion over all things. And throughout his telling of the story of Christ’s life, Matthew gives us hints that Christ is that one. Matthew tells us He spoke as one with authority. When tempted by the lies of Satan, He responded with the truth of God’s Word and resisted the temptation. He exercised authority over demonic forces when he cast out demons, he exercised authority over sickness when he healed the sick, he exercised authority over death when He rose the dead. Matthew tells us He even had authority on earth to forgive sins. And in His death on the cross, He willingly suffered so that our sins could be forgiven. We disobeyed and incurred death; Jesus obeyed to the point of going through death on our behalf.
And because He did, God raised Him from the dead and gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth. God the Son always had all authority in heaven and on earth, but Jesus Christ, the God-man, received all authority in heaven and on earth when He rose from the dead, having accomplished the work the Father sent Him to do. He is the rightful Lord over all of creation. As the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper has said it, “There is no square inch in all of creation over which Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’” The “therefore” of verse 19 makes sense, then. There he commands His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, and a disciple is learner who seeks to become like his or her teacher. All nations though? Really? What if those nations wish to be disciples of someone else? Isn’t that their right? Shouldn’t they be free to do so? In a sense, yes; violence and coercion are not the methods by which Jesus has authorized us to make disciples of Him. But in another important sense, no. Jesus is Lord of all nations, so He has the right to be obeyed by every nation, and people of every nation owe Him obedience.
But how are they to obey the one of whom they have never heard? So Jesus commands His disciples to go. At the point of history in which these words were spoken, Jesus’ ministry only took place in Jewish territory. There were disciples of Jesus from one nation primarily; He was the Jewish Messiah, their long-awaited king, after all. But now all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him, so He commissions His disciples to go and makes disciples of all nations. And when you hear nations, don’t hear “USA,” “Sweden,” “Kenya”. A nation in this context is more like a people-group, united by a common language and culture: Arab, Sundanese, Berber, African-American, Anglo-American, etc.
As this command was originally given to His disciples, it now comes to every one of us who are His disciples today: Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations. We’ve talked the last couple weeks about worship: We gather to proclaim God’s excellencies. We talked about community: We gather to speak the truth in love to one another, we admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak. Jesus’ disciples were gathered with Him when He spoke these words; that’s good and necessary. But then He sent them out, and so also does He send us out. For us as a church, this means we pray for, support, and send members of our church to go to other parts of the world to make disciples among people groups with very few, if any, existing disciples of Jesus. We have a missions team that oversees it. It is our earnest hope, prayer, and expectation, that some of you in the room today will go. And all of us give our money to make that work possible. It also means we go to the nations God has brought to the city of Philadelphia: Our neighbors, our co-workers, our family and friends, proclaim to them the Lordship of Christ, and call them to the obedience of faith. We are often nervous to do so; I know I am. We struggle with our own doubts, but recall that some of Jesus’ disciples doubted, and He still gave them this commission. Why? Because the ground of this commission is not our confidence or our certainty; it’s His authority. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ. You don’t have to be great to tell someone about Him. You aren’t calling people to yourself; you’re calling people to Him, and He is Lord.
So that’s why our mission is to go and make disciples of Jesus: He is Lord, and He deserves the obedience of all the nations. Let’s turn next, then, to consider how we do it, and the first way Jesus says we do it is through baptism.
Following the command to make disciples in verse 19 is this description of how: “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It could also be translated, “baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” So what is baptism? It’s a naming ceremony. It names you publicly and visibly as a disciple of Jesus, belonging now to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And as the one with all authority, Jesus here authorizes His disciples to administer this naming ceremony. In the book of Acts, we see how they did that: They would go to a people group, proclaim the Lordship of Christ and the forgiveness of sins available to all who turn to Him, and then they would baptize those who turned.
Before exploring what that means for us, let me just take a moment to note the use of this formula: Baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The “name” there is singular; there is one name, but then three different titles follow: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And no more titles follow. There is something unique about this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that sets them apart from other beings, and that entitles them to share in one name, and it is that they are one being, one nature, one essence. Scripture is clear from beginning to end: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. There is one God, and he does not give His glory to another. Yet here is God the Father, sharing a name with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, and there is only one God, who exists eternally in three persons. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. We don’t have three persons who happen to agree a lot of the time; God is not a society of beings. God is one being eternally existing in three persons, and it is into His name that disciples are baptized.
And this does mean that every disciple ought to be baptized. Baptism’s inclusion in this commission shows us that Jesus intends for it to be an ordinary part of discipleship. One way to think of discipleship is as identity formation; it’s learning to live as who God made you to be, and a naming ceremony is an important part of identity formation. Other communities get this: Medical professionals have the white coat ceremony; why? It’s a way of visibly and publicly declaring, “You’re in.” And Christians for millennia have gotten this; the assumption through almost all of church history was that those who are baptized are Christians, and those who haven’t been, aren’t. But today in America it’s not uncommon to meet people who have made a profession of faith in Christ, but who don’t see any reason to get baptized. And if that’s you today, I’m not here to guilt you over it; it’s more of a culture than your individual fault alone. But I do want you to see that’s coming from your culture, not from Jesus. If you’re a disciple, Jesus wants you to get baptized.
And it means part of our mission as a church is to baptize people. It’s worth noticing in general that Jesus gives this commission to His disciples when gathered, not as mere individuals. And it makes sense if you think about it; no one individual disciple can even go to every nation in their lifetime, let alone make disciples of every nation. This commission is given to the whole church, and we each have a role to play in it. So also baptism is not something every individual disciple is meant to administer. In the book of Acts, we see it is ordinarily the apostles or those they commission administering it, and that also makes sense: Baptism isn’t just a word from one individual to another: “Hey, you’re my friend.” It’s a word from a community to an individual: “Hey, we recognize you as a disciple of the same Lord we follow,” and therefore it’s ordinarily administered by those with authority in that community. That’s one reason why in our context, elders ordinarily administer baptism. And finally, this text shows us why we only baptize those who make a credible profession of faith in Christ: Baptism is meant to communicate to someone that they are a disciple, and we would never want to communicate that to someone who gives no evidence of being one.
Baptism is the rite of initiation for disciples, but once initiated, the disciple making process continues through teaching.
The next way Jesus tells us to make disciples is in verse 20: “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I mentioned already that a disciple is most fundamentally a learner, a student. In Matthew 10:24 Jesus says a disciple is not above his teacher, neither a servant above his master. So disciple is to teacher as servant is to master; it’s a word meaning student. But in Jesus’ context, a student didn’t just show up to class or hop on zoom for 50 minutes then go home. Disciples lived with their teachers and devoted their lives to becoming like their teachers, and throughout their time together, their teacher would, you guessed it…teach them.
Jesus taught His disciples this way during his 3 years on earth, but now preparing to ascend into heaven, He sends them out to teach others. And they are not to develop any new teaching, but teach all that Jesus commanded. We make disciples of Jesus, not of ourselves, and so we teach disciples to observe the same commands that Jesus gave 2000 years ago, recorded for us now in the Bible. We are not to be selective about it; teaching only the commands that are most popular or the least demanding. We are to teach disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded. And we are to teach disciples not only what Jesus commanded; we are to teach them to observe it. The letters of the New Testament provide for us a powerful example of how this is done: The commands of Christ must be taught and applied to the situations disciples are facing. But for disciples to observe them, they must also be taught the truth of who God is, what Christ has done for them, and what He promises to be and do in the present and future, not so they would rest content with knowing these things, but so that they would be empowered by the knowledge of these things to do all that Jesus commands. It means admonishing the idle, encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak, being patient with them all, as we saw last week.
It means if you are a disciple of Jesus, not a single command of His is optional. We are to observe all that He commanded us. Are there commands of Jesus you’re trying not to think about? Commands that you don’t want to learn because you fear then you’d have to make changes to your life? Commands you’re wanting someone else to obey for you? This text helps us see what we as a church can and can’t do. Your church can’t observe all that Jesus has commanded for you. Your church is there to teach you to observe all that Jesus commanded. Your church can’t love your neighbor for you. Your church is there to teach you to love your neighbor. And I’m not saying that in any attempt to get myself or any other pastor off the hook either; we’re disciples too, and we’re just as responsible to obey all Jesus commands as anyone else. We’re even supposed to be examples of what obedience looks like.
What I am trying to say is that the church must focus its mission, or after a while, it will lose its mission. Jesus didn’t send His church into the world to end world hunger. He sent His church to make disciples, and part of that is teaching those disciples to feed the hungry. Jesus didn’t send His church into the world to get the laws of the land changed into a “Christian” nation. He sent His church into the world to teach those with the power to make laws or vote to observe all His commands, so that when they make laws or vote, they are seeking to do so out of obedience to Him. That’s why you don’t see us endorsing candidates here or making definitive proclamations on policy issues. And there are a host of other things we could mention: Hold social events, provide people with friends, start schools, run hospitals, etc., all good things by the way, all things at least some disciples should do and throughout history things many disciples have rightly done, some things churches may even do from time to time if it helps them make disciples, but none of which are the church’s mission. Just because something ought to be done doesn’t mean the church ought to do it.
John Onwuchekwa, a pastor in Atlanta, posted a video online once of driving to Chick-Fil-A and seeing members of his church along the side of the road setting up a table giving away free donuts and coffee and offering to pray for people. He had no idea it was happening. They didn’t have a “Cornerstone Church” sign up; It wasn’t something his church did; he’d just been teaching the people of his church all that Jesus commanded, and those people went and did it. Jess Morgan at our church is a member here who we’ve been teaching to obey all Jesus commands her for a few years now. She’s also a dental hygienist who saw a need for kids in her neighborhood to have access to dental supplies. She told me about it, she asked me to pray for her, she asked if there were any ways Citygroups might want to be involved, but she didn’t put it on the church or try to call it “Citylight dental outreach”. She just started a non-profit with her husband, Zach, called Jess’ Kind Little Smiles, another member here is on the board, but so are some non-Christians, and it’s humming along today. The mission of her organization isn’t making disciples, though of course they’re looking for opportunities along the way; the mission is to provide kids in Philly with dental supplies. She’s obeying Jesus’ command to love her neighbor, and our church can stay focused on our mission of making disciples. And we can do it because He is with us.
Because Jesus is with us
Jesus’ commission to His church ends with a promise there in verse 20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This commission is scary, right? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, but when we look around, it doesn’t seem like people are very eager to obey His commands. There are parts of the world that don’t even know His commands. And in some of those parts, there are powerful leaders who want to keep it that way, where there are laws against speaking the good news of Jesus, and/or a threat of violence to any who do. The disciples who first received this commission were sent out into a world like that. In America, many have a surface familiarity with Jesus’ commands, but don’t seem interested in observing all that Jesus commanded. So there are some nations, people groups, here where you can teach them to observe all Jesus commanded about sexuality, but not so much what He commanded about our responsibility to do justice to the poor and marginalized. And there are other people groups, probably more common in Philadelphia, that love what Jesus commanded about justice for the poor and marginalized, but don’t want to hear what He commanded about sexuality. There are many who want Jesus as a supporter of their cause, who want Him to submit to their authority, but here is Jesus, and He says all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Go therefore and make disciples of all those nations. Baptize all those who turn, teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.
How glamorous is that? Who in the world will applaud us if we carry out this mission? The world likes it when the church gives its resources to the world’s mission, but we’ve been commissioned by a higher authority. How will we faithfully carry out this mission when the world not only doesn’t applaud it, but opposes it? How will we when we’re so scared? When the world seems so powerful and we look at ourselves and just know that we aren’t? When it feels like nobody I know is really going to get baptized and begin observing all Jesus commands us? When it feels like I could never live overseas? “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The one with all authority in heaven and on earth is with us, until the end of the age. Has the age ended yet? Nope. We’re still here. Then so is He. By his Holy Spirit who lives in us, the same Jesus through whom all things were made, the same Jesus who spoke as one with authority, who cast our demons, healed the sick, rose the dead, forgave sins, so loved you that He died for your sins, overcame the grave, received all authority in heaven and on earth, who is named right along with the Father and the Holy Spirit…That Jesus, is with you now, and will be with you forever. He is with you to give you words to speak of Him. He is with you when you take that risk to invite that friend to church. He is with you when you ask them if you could share with them the message of Jesus. He is with you when all the questions and objections come at you. He is with you to comfort you when you fail. He is with you to take whatever is said and done against you and work it for good. Come to Him. Submit to His authority; trust Him as your Lord and Savior, be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; observe all that He commands you. And may we, Citylight Church, go, and make disciples of all nations.