Theme: All Nations
In this week’s lessons on the Great Commission, we are promised that Jesus is with us to the very end as we obey his command to go into all the world to make other disciples.
Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20
The second of these is “all nations.” It refers, as I indicated in the last section, to the universal authority of Jesus and the worldwide character of Christianity. It is surprising that Matthew, of all the Gospels, should end on this note. Each of the Gospels has its unique character, as commentators have long noted. John’s is most universal; it presents Jesus as “the Savior of the world” (5:42). Luke is a Gentile or Greek book; it is usual to think of Luke presenting Jesus to Greeks as the perfect or ideal man (as well as God incarnate). Mark seems to have been written for a Roman audience; it stresses Jesus as a miracle worker, giving less attention to His discourses than the others.
By general consent Matthew is the pre-eminently Jewish Gospel. It is written to show Jesus as the son of David and the fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. No other Gospel is so limited to the immediate historical and ethnic climate into which Jesus was born and in which He ministered. Yet surprisingly, as I said, it is this Gospel which ends on the most universal note. In the Great Commission we learn that those few Jewish disciples who had followed Jesus through the days of His ministry and who were now being commissioned formally to His service were not to limit their operations to Judaism, but were rather to go to all the people and nations of the world with His gospel.
The third universal, which is particularly important in our superficial age, is the command to teach those we have discipled. We are to teach them “to obey everything” Christ commanded. This is important today, because we see what seems to be the opposite. Instead of striving to teach all Christ commanded, many seem to be trying to eliminate as much of His teaching as possible, concentrating on an easily comprehended, unobjectionable “core” or teaching. It is a core of grace without judgment, love without justice, salvation without obedience, and triumph without suffering. I am willing to concede that the motivation of some of this reductionism may be good: to win as many persons to Christ as possible. But the method is the world’s, and the results (as a natural consequence) are the world’s results. Disciples are not made by defective teaching. The world is not subjected to Christ’s rule by demi-gospels.
What should our teaching include? Obviously, any brief listing of doctrines is inadequate. We must teach the entire Bible. Nevertheless, faithfulness to Christ must involve at least the following:
1. A high view of Scripture. In our day liberal teachers are trying to undercut the church’s traditionally high view of the Bible, saying that it is only a human book, that it contains errors, and that it is therefore at best only relatively trustworthy or authoritative. This has produced a weak, vacillating church. It is significant that with only a few exceptions even these liberal detractors of Scripture acknowledge that Jesus Himself regarded the Bible (in His case, the Old Testament) as entirely authoritative. Kirsopp Lake was no friend of historic Bible-believing Christianity, but he wrote, “The fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he; and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the church are on the fundamentalist side.”3 If we are to be faithful to all Christ’s teachings, we must teach His high view of the Bible as a fundamental part of our theology.
2. The sovereignty of God. The English Bible translator J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small. That title, which is also a statement, might well be spoken of the great majority of professing Christians who, in their ignorance of Scripture, inevitably scale God down to their own limited and fallible perspectives. We need to capture a new, elevated sense of who God is, particularly in regard to His sovereignty. Sovereignty refers to rightful rule. So to say that God is sovereign, as the Bible does, is to say that He rules in His universe. This means that nothing is an accident, that nothing catches God off guard.
What is the second universal?
What are some characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel? In light of these, what is interesting about the Great Commission?
What is the third universal?
Reflection: From the study, what are the first two doctrines faithful teaching must include? Can you think of any ways that these two doctrines are being minimized or denied?
3Kirsopp Lake, The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow (Boston: Houghton Press, 1926), p. 61.