The Great Commission apparently isn’t so great anymore. I feel like that must make God cry. And yet, it doesn’t seem to bother many Christians these days. And why should it? Apparently, they don’t even know what it is. And way too many Christians have never even heard of the Great Commission! So sad.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Great Commission. For Christians, it’s important. Important to know. Important to do. It’s Jesus’ last command to His followers after His resurrection that Matthew records in his Gospel.
I’ll get into what the Great Commission is shortly. But in the meantime, to set the stage for it, try to imagine what’s happening. Jesus was crucified. Died on the cross. Was buried. On the third day (not three days later) He was resurrected. And spoke the words recorded by Matthew that are given to Christians as the Great Commission.
They are a command from the One who we trust for our salvation. And yet, too many of us don’t even know what that Commission is! Looking at the image, how can we make any day great, let alone this day, if we don’t know the Great Commission? Jesus weptHow can Christianity even survive, let alone spread around the world and become known to all people, unless we actually perform the Great Commission?
If you're a regular reader, you know it's been a while since I've written anything. Honestly, I just haven't felt like it. Too many things going on. Our 15 year old dog, Donnie, succumbed to kidney failure after a really good ten-month battle. No pain through it all. I had surgery for prostate cancer. It wasn't successful. Didn't get all the cancer cells. I must say though, this was probably the least of the things that made me feel down. I couldn't drive for two weeks. Just cooped up in the house except for walking. But even then, I didn't feel like talking to people about Donnie so I pretty much walked a half mile at a time around the backyard. Wore a pathway of dead grass back there. While the recovery from surgery went well, I did end up in the ER one night because of a side effect from the surgery. Still have some issues that are more mental than physical because of that. And sometimes I still check to see where Donnie is. That little guy got to me in a way I never expected. He was more attached to my wife initially. Then when he was diagnosed with kidney failure, we spent so much time together. Walking. Trying to get him to eat when nothing tasted good. Going to the vet, six days a week for the last few months, to get fluids to clean out the toxins his kidneys couldn't process. He was happy right up to the end when the seizures couldn't be controlled without too many side effects from the meds. The bond we developed was unreal. I've tried to write about all that, but haven't been able to. It will come, eventually. But this topic. This got me to write. It's just so sad. For those Christians who don't know the Great Commission. But also for those people who will never hear about Jesus, or learn about Jesus, never be saved by Him - because too many of us don't perform the Great Commission.
Some of you may recognize “Jesus wept“. They make up the shortest verse in the Bible. That verse is in a passage the NIV titles “Jesus Comforts the Sisters“. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (the sisters), was sick and died. Jesus arrives too late to heal Lazarus. The sisters aren’t happy. Jesus speaks about the resurrection. The sisters know, in their heads, what He’s saying. But not in their hearts. They don’t truly get it.
Towards the end of the passage, we read those two words – Jesus wept. My question is, why did Jesus cry? There are various explanations by different commentators. People who take the time to study this passage tend to gravitate to the one they like the best. People who don’t take the time to study choose whatever they happen to feel just by reading it.
I try to go by the original words, Greek in this case, the culture of the time, the context within which the given words – Jesus wept – are spoken. This is all done with the belief that the Holy Spirit will guide me through the passage and word studies. After that, then I look at commentaries to see what others think. I don’t want to influence my feelings in any way ahead of time.
So let’s look at the passage, then get into how I see it.
Jn 11:17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
Jn 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jn 11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Jn 11:24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
This is part of that “head knowledge” that hasn’t quite made it to the heart. Knowing the words doesn’t mean understanding them. And even with understanding, there are various levels to the depth of understanding. One of the reasons why it’s so important to do more than just show up for church, and especially showing up only for Easter and Christmas, is to understand that.
It’s only through the help of the Holy Spirit that we can truly understand, in our hearts, what Jesus said. And for most of us, attending church but not studying the Bible isn’t going to bring that depth of understanding.
I’ve written so many times about whether we’re supposed to just say some words to indicate our belief in Jesus, or does He ask for much more than that. Hint – it’s much more than a so-called sinner’s prayer. I invite you to check out Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God? for much more on that thought.
Jn 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jn 11:27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Realizing that Martha didn’t really understand, Jesus clarifies and expands on His statement about resurrection. Notice, Martha says she got it, but then her reply clearly shows she didn’t. It’s far too simple and says nothing about resurrection. It’s like she just repeated back some words.
And if that’s all we can do, I don’t believe we truly understand either. I mean, this is the greatest news ever for God’s creation! Merely saying “I believe” just doesn’t seem like enough to show that we get it.
Jn 11:28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
Jn 11:32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Mary’s in the same place spiritually as Martha was. Remember, these were friends of Jesus. And they didn’t understand His message.
Jn 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the 0Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jn 11:35 Jesus wept.
And now for the big question. Why did Jesus weep? But before I give my answer, let’s see how this scene plays out.
Jn 11:36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jn 11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Do you see where the people are here? They are crying and mourning because Lazarus was dead. Another thing to note here, in that time, the culture included hiring “professional” mourners” to weep when someone died.
There’s absolutely no concept here that the people, Martha and Mary included, truly understood what Jesus taught about resurrection after death. About eternal life. None of it.
Yes, we will grieve when someone dies. But knowing about the resurrection, understanding what it means, should have some impact on how we mourn. The depth of it. The length of it. Why? Because there should be some rejoicing in there as well. Rejoicing over the reality that this person is now with God. No more sadness. No more tears. An eternity of joy. I, for one, want people to be happy for me when I die.
What does the Great Commission have to do with Jesus wept?
In a word, I believe the Great Commission has everything to do with Jesus wept.
I also believe there’s a really big problem here. The problem is contained in the title – Great Commission apparently isn’t so great anymore. If Jesus wept really is tied to the Great Commission, then the fact that so many Christians don’t even know what the Great Commission is about – that’s very troubling!
What is the Great Commission?
So what is the Great Commission? It’s another one of those things I’ve written about many times. But before I get into that, let’s just read it. See if it sounds even a little bit familiar.
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
Have you heard that before?
No, I don’t mean have you heard verse 19, the command to baptize people. So many times, baptism statistics are given as proof that a church, or a person, is successful in their ministry. But that’s not what this says!
Baptism is just the beginning. A certain amount of knowledge is needed to make an informed commitment to God. Before someone should be baptized. But even that initial knowledge is still part of the beginning. After baptism, we are to, in Jesus’ own words, teach(ing) them to obey everything I have commanded you.
If we baptize people, but don’t teach them, what have we accomplished?
Worse yet, if we baptize someone without teaching them anything at all, have we accomplished anything?
There are at least three parts to the Great Commission. More if we break it down into little pieces. But let’s stay with three, realizing that some things are grouped together.
- Teach someone enough to know what baptism is about. I know – that’s not trivial – but like I said, let’s keep it simple.
- Baptize them. Somewhat different now, in that not all believers baptize people like Jesus’ initial followers did.
- Either stay in contact with them, or be sure they are transitioned to an environment where they can continue to grow. Part of that growth involves going out and doing these same three steps with other people.
If we do only the second item, get someone to be baptized, are they really even saved? Is a commitment to a God whom someone knows nothing about really saving them? Honestly, I don’t see how that could be. If we teach someone nothing about God, we don’t have a clue what they believe. They could equate God to the tooth fairy for all we know. And given just how awesome God is, it’s hard to imagine someone would be on the right track with no instruction at all.
Even if we do the first and second items, maybe we saved someone, but Jesus asked for more. Commanded more! Each of us is left to be Jesus’ representative here on earth. Each of us is to do our part to spread the news of the Gospel. If we don’t do that, who will? How many people won’t be saved because not enough people chose to commit to performing the Great Commission? And how many people won’t be saved because we chose not to let others know that the Great Commission is an essential part of what Jesus taught?
The Great Omission from the Great Commission
Dallas Willard coined the term The Great Omission from the Great Commission. No – not me. But I really like it. Unfortunately, it’s all too appropriate. You can read more of what I have to say about it in my article of the same title – The Great Omission from The Great Commission.
Is the Great Commission really that unknown?
Maybe you know the Great Commission. And carry it out on a regular basis. But apparently that’s not very common among Christians. A just-published Barna Group survey asks, How are U.S. Christians currently thinking about “making disciples of all nations?”
One of the questions has an especially sad response. That question – Have you heard of the Great Commission? Respondents, all claiming to be people who went to church, were asked to choose from four answers:
- Yes, and it means …
- Yes, but I can’t recall the exact meaning
- I’m not sure
Here are the results:
Conclusion – Great Commission apparently isn’t so great anymore
Only 17% of churchgoers even claim to know what the Great Commission means!
Doesn’t that make you want to cry?
Do you think it makes Jesus want to cry?
Come on people. We say Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Can’t we do better?