The Great Commission is a little bit like football. It’s about passion, learning, and immersion in the game.
Peyton Manning will go down in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the National Football League. That’s because he has always been a student of the game. He’s not a student simply because he shows up for class and does his homework well enough to advance to the next grade level. He’s a student because he’s passionate about the subject matter and he’s always trying to learn more and trying to improve his skills.
Peyton is a disciple of the game of football. (Here’s a good article about Peyton Manning’s Five Leadership Lessons that could be developed into a sermon.)
Jesus told his disciples that they were to go out to all peoples/nations and “make disciples.” How do you “make” a Peyton Manning? How can you make someone passionate about a particular subject?
Actually, it’s fairly easy. There’s a story about a young salesman who was disappointed about losing a big sale, and he was complaining to his sales manager, saying, “I did everything perfectly. I did it by the book, the way it’s supposed to be done. I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
The manager answered, “Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”
Our job as Christians is to make the nations crave what we have to offer.
Isn’t that what advertising on television and radio is all about? Getting people to thirst for what you have in your possession. Poor salesmanship demands that people must buy into what you are offering under threat of eternal punishment. Discipleship is showing them the benefits of being a student of Jesus and making them thirsty to have it for themselves.
What do we have to offer that people are thirsting for? Peace, love, joy, hope, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, self-control. We are secure. We know a God who is good ALL the time. And after all, that is the true name of God. Jesus said, “Only God is good.”
In bible times, a person was known by his/her name, which was a reference to his/her nature or character. The name of God we know in Christ is love. The name of God is goodness. Or as I described in my book about Heaven, the name of God is unity, oneness, and harmony.
But it seems like the vendors of religion always concretize and ritualize the commands of Jesus. Jesus said, “Make students of all nations, baptizing them…” There are many churches in my area that promote how many people they saved by baptizing them. They immerse them in water in the name of the Trinity and think they have fulfilled the Great Commission.
Yet “baptize” can mean more than a ritualistic immersion in water in this setting. If you look it up in the Greek concordance, to baptize can be understood metaphorically as “to overwhelm.” That’s why I think the Great Commission could be rephrased in this way:
“Go, therefore and make passionate students of all people, overwhelming them in the goodness of the Creator (Father) and the one who is the image of the Creator (the Son) and the Holy Spirit.”
Overwhelm them in the goodness of God. Not in preaching but in practice. Overwhelm them in the love of God. Overwhelm them in the harmony/unity that is God.
I think this understanding follows the practice of the early church – a practice that the church rarely follows today (because people fear giving up their stuff). Let’s look at three words – disciple, baptize, and name.
It’s not easy to BE a disciple of Jesus, much less to try to convince others to be his disciple. Let’s look at the qualifications for be a student: (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
26“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
33“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
The early church understood “giving up all your possessions” to mean calling nothing your own, not actually giving away everything so that you’re without possessions. All your possessions must be turned over to Christ and available for the use of his Gospel, his people, and the poor.
Early writers talked about this repeatedly. A tract called “The Way of Light and the Way of Darkness” made its way into The Letter of Barnabasand The Didache, both early 2nd century documents: “You shall share in all things with your neighbor; you shall not call anything your own.”
Justin Martyr’s First Apology 14, c. 155: “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common treasury and share with everyone in need.”
Tertullian’s Apology 39, c. 210: “The family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly possessions with one another. We have all things in common except our wives.”
How many of you still want to be “disciples”? And do you think you can convince anyone else to be a disciple by the standards of Luke and the early church? Not by preaching.
This is how we are going to “make disciples.” By overwhelming them in the goodness of the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Oneness of the Trinity is the image of oneness in the church. We share what we have with others, and they share with us.
People will be overwhelmed with our unity, with our harmony.
Justin Martyr’s First Apology, written in A.D. 155 or so mentions some ways that Romans were converted to Christ. Note the three examples he gives (from ch. 16):
They were] overcome …
“by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbors’ lives.”
“by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow travelers when defrauded.”
“by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business.”
None of these things mention preaching or the Great Commission at all. Apparently, the majority of those converted in the 2nd century were converted by the lives of the Christians, not by doctrinal preaching.
Amazing. They will know we are Christians by our love, love that is great enough to let go of our excesses to supply the shortages of others.
The new Great Commission: Make of the nations, students who are passionate about unity by overwhelming them in the goodness of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit……We won’t have enough seats in our sanctuaries to house them.
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 Illustrations, Sermons.com
 Paul F. Pavao, http://www.christian-history.org/the-great-commission.html