“Is it a promise? Or a threat?”
That was the comment a fellow pastor shared after attending a seminar where Will Willimon asked the question following a reading of the Great Commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
What exactly does Jesus intend for us to hear when he says, “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age" (The Message)? When Jesus says he will be with us always, "day after day after day,” is that a promise or a threat?
Is it possible that we’ve mistakenly understood it only as a promise? Is that why materialism, sex, money, promotions, recreation, and personal fulfillment all rank higher in our priorities than disciple making?
Remember, to be a disciple is to be a learner; a life-long learner. The task is never finished in this life; the course cannot be completed; no certificate of achievement is awarded. Obviously, before we can make disciples we must be in the process of becoming disciples ourselves. Attending church doesn’t make a person a disciple any more than standing in a garage turns someone into a Volkswagen.
What does a disciple look like? Disciples are: Learners – both from teachers and from being self-feeders; Participants – fully engaged in the public worship of God; Givers – generously presenting resources to God in recognition that it already all belongs to Him; Outwardly focused – recognizing the people around us and around the world who have great physical and spiritual needs and putting on our boots, rolling up our sleeves and doing something about it.
How would our time and resource allocation change if we understand “lo, I am with you always” (NKJV), as Jesus holding us accountable, minute-by-minute, every hour, to making disciples by teaching them everything He taught?
Undoubtedly we would spend far less time in our efforts to maintain buildings, institutions, or traditions. If we could visualize Jesus demanding a daily account for how the breath he gave us was expended, we would most certainly give ourselves to prayer, studying God’s Word, and sharing the life-changing message with those who are far from God.
Jesus gave us a clear, uncomplicated, unmistakable command: “Go and make disciples.” He concluded the command with a statement, “I am with you always.”
Is that a promise? Or a threat?