“Win one for the Gipper,” Ronald Reagan famously said in his on-screen portrayal of football legend George Gipp. Johnny Ace was an R&B singer that died tragically in 1954 while playing with a pistol. His last words were “I’ll show you that it won’t shoot.” Others chose their last words more carefully. Perhaps the most famous last words, at least in our culture, are Nathan Hale’s from the American Revolution: I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country. Sometimes we ascribe special meaning to the final thoughts a person shares before leaving this world, and the final words Jesus had for his disciples is no different.
The Great Commission, recorded by Matthew and Mark, is a call to carry the Gospel to entire world. Jesus had spent his earthly ministry preaching to multitudes and healing the sick, but all the while he was training a group of hand-picked Apostles to carry on the work of ministry. The Jesus Movement did not end with the crucifixion of Jesus, it was just getting starting.
What is a disciple? Simply put, a disciple is a student. A rabbi was a Jewish teacher and their pupils were disciples of their teaching. It was more of a master/apprentice relationship than a teacher with a classroom full of students. Recall that Jesus called the 12 Apostles from a much larger group of disciples. A multitude of people followed Jesus around everywhere he went. Some of that crowd were merely curious, and others were the critics or even enemies of Jesus. But there were many that loved his message and desired to learn more about the coming Kingdom of God. The Apostles were given authority, not only to heal the sick and cast out demons, but to preach the Gospel, teach and give instructions. Jesus final words to the Apostles was to make disciples out of all the nations. All Jewish rabbis had disciples, even John the Baptist had disciples. But Jesus wasn’t telling the Apostles to make disciples of their own; they were calling people to also be disciples of Jesus. Their commission was to share the gospel message and turn people into students – not of their words and teaching, but of Jesus Christ.
Luke’s Gospel does not have a Great Commission passage as such but he was also the author of Acts. Acts 1:8 is the final words Jesus spoke before his ascension and is often our basis for sending missionaries into the world: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Notice the natural progression of the list of instructions Jesus is giving. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem.” They were already in Jerusalem. The Christian church began in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 2, and very quickly spread to Asia, Africa and Europe. Judea was the larger territory, the region they were in, and Samaria was a similar region beyond that. Bearing witness to Jesus – to his life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection – was to begin right where they were and then spread. Some of us are called to be teachers, pastors, etc, each gifted with different spiritual gifts, but all Christians are called to do the work of evangelism. Any born again believer should be able to tell another person, even if it’s one a time over a cup of coffee or at the end of the driveway by your mailbox, what God has done. In our zeal to share the Gospel with nations we cannot overlook beginning where we are.
This is the first Sunday in September and we are beginning a month-long focus on missions in general and on the state of Georgia in particular. Missionaries are not just people that sell their house and move to some far away land. We must not neglect Jesus instructions to begin at home and then branch out. Christianity begun long before any of us were born and, if Christ tarries his coming, will continue after our particular work is done. There are missionaries in hundreds of nations and support networks in place to provide for them. We don’t have to start anything new in order to join in the work that God is already doing. But missions always starts with your neighbor. There are Bibles being smuggled into China and wells being dug in African villages that have no electricity. But don’t neglect the family next door with the yard full of children’s toys nor the senior citizen that needs a ride to the grocery store. Recall Jesus’ words to the Pharisees about how they kept commandments and neglected the love of God; “These things you ought to have done without leaving the other undone.” Missions begins at home.
Peace and God bless.