As we end this year and start looking ahead to 2021, I can’t think of a more fitting way also to end this series of meditations on the life of Jesus—how he lived and the instructions he has given us in the Bible. In the last chapter of each of the three synoptic gospels, Jesus’s parting command to his disciples was to preach the gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). What is “the gospel?” In Luke’s account, Jesus gives a simple explanation of what “the gospel” is: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24: 4 6-47).
The account in Matthew, often known as “The Great Commission,” states it this way, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This last passage, where Jesus tells us to teach others to observe “all that I have commanded you,” is what first inspired me to meditate through “The Commands of Christ” on my blog.
Finally, in the book of John, Jesus’s last command (given specifically to Peter) is very much the same, “Follow me!” (John 21:22). “Do as I do and teach others.” If you are part of a church that has any other agenda greater than that of sharing the gospel, may I encourage you to consider finding a different church for your spiritual fellowship in 2021? Why? Because even though healing the sick and feeding the poor are crucially important ministries, they are only secondary to reaching people with the spiritually life-giving message of the need for repentance for our sins and salvation through faith in Christ! There is no social, physical, or political agenda on earth that can compare in value to reaching people with the gospel.
How do I know? Because first and foremost, Jesus preached the gospel, lived the gospel, died for the sake of the gospel (for our salvation), and commissioned us to share this good news with the world around us. Not only did Christ command us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, but this is also exactly what he did! At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) . . . “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) . . . “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he has anointed Me to preach the gospel” (Luke 4:18, NKJV). In the book of John, Jesus’s first command (invitation really) was to “Come and see” (John 1:39), but his first clear command is exactly the same as what Jesus told Peter at the very end of his earthly ministry, “Follow me!” (John 1:43).
If we believe that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the world . . . if we have personally repented of our sins and asked Jesus to be our Lord and Savior . . . then our first and foremost commission is to follow him . . . to do as he did . . . to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Are we doing this? How can we do this?
God’s calling to discipleship and to proclaim the gospel is universal, but He helps us fulfill our calling in unique ways. He calls some to follow him across cultural boundaries, learn new languages, and struggle to understand people very different from themselves. However, all of us are called to be witnesses to those around us of what we have experienced of the love, grace, mercy, and power of God. What has He done for you? What is He doing for you? Can we share what we’ve experienced in our walk with God with those around us? Our family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and neighbors?
I heard one minister explain the Great Commission this way: “AS you are going . . .” Even if we aren’t called to go to another country, we all go here and there as the normal part of our lives, and wherever we go, Jesus wants us to share the Good News with those we meet. Jesus actually prohibited the healed mentally ill man from following Jesus across the sea, instructing him instead to “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19).
As 2021 approaches, let’s spend a little time reflecting on what great things God has done for us this year. Has He provided for you and been faithful to you for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health? Has He loved and cherished you? God has never left me and has carried me through every trial. His mercies have indeed been new every day, and His compassion has never failed. Jesus is the “friend that sticks closer than a brother.” God has never turned me away when I prayed for grace and strength. He has been my rock. His Word has been a lamp to my feet. His Holy Spirit has been my guide and wise counselor. God is more wonderful than I can begin to explain . . . but I’ll keep trying, and I hope you do too!
Texts for this meditation (all from the English Standard Version): Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mark 16:15, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Luke 24:46-49, “And said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
(Painting of Jesus with a sheep in the winter used by permission of Yongsung Kim, https://www.foundationarts.com/yongsung-kim )