The Great Commissions - Part 2 (Preach the Gospel)

We begin with Mark 16:9-20. Mark's emphasis is mission as "Preaching the Gospel to all Creation.

Most versions of the Bible will have a variation on the following sentence just before Mark 16:9. "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20." This is true and it does seem that these verses seem to be a mish mash of the other commissions, however, because it is in harmony with the rest of Mark's gospel I think we can take this as Scripture and learn from it.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

There are some important elements to highlight here. Firstly, the mission in Mark is described as "preaching the Gospel". Mark begins his Gospel with these words, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Clearly for Mark the Gospel or the Good News (grk euanggelion) is very important. Jesus comes preaching good news.


Being and making disciples - some myths 3

The third myth I want to highlight is that the purpose of discipleship is to teach the new believer how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to fast, and to do all the "religious" elements of the faith. These are most certainly important but are a means to an end. I will come back to what I mean by that in a moment.

According to Matthew 28:20 the disciples were to teach the nations to obey everything Jesus commanded them. This is the purpose of discipleship, to teach us and our fellow believers together to obey Jesus' commands.

A good interpreter of the Bible will then ask the question, "what did Jesus command us to do"; first in Matthew's gospel and then in the other gospels and subsequently in the rest of the New Testament. Having studied Matthew's gospel in detail, I can tell you that there is enough to be getting on with in this gospel! The Sermon on the Mount alone gives enough grist for this particular mill!

So why do we do those "religious" elements I mentioned earlier? In the light of the previous paragraph, Bible reading is an obvious one: to find out how to obey. Prayer is important because in prayer we speak to God about our lives and struggles to obey Him. We articulate our care, fears, hopes and failures. In confession we renew our fellowship with God and others when we have failed to obey. Confession is cathartic in exposing what would otherwise remain hidden. Fasting focuses our minds and helps us to listen to God's voice. As we take time to reflection and meditate we remove other distractions and hear that still, small voice. The "religious" elements of our faith facilitate our obedience.

So, in conclusion the purpose of discipleship is to obey God. In that obedience we demonstrate to those around what it is to be in relationship to the living God, and is an invitation to those others to that same relationship. In that sense, discipleship ultimately is a missional concept.


Being and making disciples - some myths 1

In the mission world, Matthew 28:18-20 has become the "go-to" passage to promote missions. William Carey used it in his snappily titled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

I do think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about discipleship. Over the next few days I would like to explore and dispel some of these myths.

Myth 1

Discipleship, for a lot of Christians is a course that a new Christian does for a few weeks after conversion. It is perhaps a good idea for new believers to have an intensive time of learning and growing at the beginning of their spiritual journey but discipleship does not stop there. Matthew 28 seems to suggest it is more of a life-long journey. We continue to be disciples our whole life. As we encounter each new situation we learn what it is to "obey everything He commanded us". So even people who consider themselves "disciplers" are also still on that discipleship road.

Tomorrow: evangelism and discipleship