These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of His ascension into Heaven:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-20
This is the Great Commission as recorded at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Yet, it is to my amazement that so few professing Christians, much less non-Christians, even know of the Great Commission or can recognize these words. The following comes from the March 27, 2018 report from Barna.
In partnership with Seed Company, Barna conducted a study of the U.S. Church’s ideas about missions, social justice, Bible translation and other aspects of spreading the gospel around the world, available now in the new report Translating the Great Commission. When asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” half of U.S. churchgoers (51%) say they do not know this term. It would be reassuring to assume that the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%). Meanwhile, “the Great Commission” does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term “the Great Commission” before.https://www.barna.com/research/half-churchgoers-not-heard-great-commission/
What strikes me is not that 51% of churchgoers do not know this term, but that only a mere 17% know it!
It is difficult for me to accept this because I grew up as a Missionary Kid (“MK” for short). I grew up in the vibrant city of Hong Kong in the late ‘80s and through the ‘90s. I attended local schools and local churches. I ate rice and noodles, and drank soy milk and lemon tea, all courtesy of the Vita brand. My mother is Chinese from Taiwan and had to learn Cantonese, a language that I was as simply soaked within as any other Hong Kong kid.
However, whenever some American holiday came around, the missionaries in Hong Kong would gather and share a meal and an evening of festivities, and this was when I would learn of my heritage of my father’s culture. From turkeys and hams to casseroles and pies, these were the most special foods I would not see at home. We would gather and speak fondly of a far-off country that I only visited once every 4 years, and always only for the summer. America was a magical place where Christians lived, and they all understood the same as my missionary “uncles” and “aunts” believed and were living out, that as Christians, we have all been commissioned in being missionaries and to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.
How naive of me.
America is not a Christian nation, at least not the one in the 21st century. People who do attend church rarely know the Great Commission and far fewer act upon it. What to me is the clear command of Christ Himself of what we are to do is simply not on the hearts and minds of the people who attend church.
I am reminded of a story of a son who for years struggled with sharing the Gospel with his dad. He knew his dad to be a hard and stubborn man, someone who did not easily accept his son’s faith. Ten years go by, and a chance encounter brought an evangelist’s message to the father, and the dad went to his son, hit him over the head and said, “I’m not saying I believe any of this Christianity stuff, but I know you do; if you believe any of this, then that means you’ve been condemning me to hell for the last ten years!”
Do we realize this? Do we understand our claimed beliefs? If we truly believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus the Christ, then we have no choice in our commissioning as missionaries to bring the Gospel to all we can.
Are we doing our part? Singer-Songwriter Bruce Carroll once wrote a song, Who Will Be Jesus, in which the chorus and bridge asks,
Who will be Jesus to him?Who Will Be Jesus by Bruce Carroll
Who’ll show the love that restores him again?
He doesn’t need a judge, he needs a friend
Who will be Jesus to him?
Who will be Jesus to her?
Who’ll show the love that’s commanded in His word?
Will she see in us the mighty God we serve?
Who will be Jesus to her?
Wounded people everywhere
And when they look at us, do they see Jesus there?
Who will be Jesus to them?
Who’ll show the love that restores them again?
Oh, they do not need a judge, they need a friend
Who will be Jesus to Them?
I understand that many well-meaning people will see these words and point towards some social work that needs to be done. Yet when we look to the Jesus of the Bible, we see someone who not only cared for the physical well-being of the people he dealt with, but consistently was far more concerned with their spiritual restoration as first and foremost. In the account of the Healing of a Paralytic in Luke 5:17-26, we see that Jesus’ first concern is spiritual, and physical second. Look again at those lyrics, and notice that we are called out to represent and be Jesus to them – the Jesus who cared foremost for their spiritual restoration and well-being.
Jesus promised that we do not do any of this alone, that He is “with us always, to the end of the age.” What is holding you back from grasping hold of the Great Commission and living out your faith by bringing the Gospel to those of whom God has placed you in the midst?
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!James 2:18-19
We are called to much more than just acknowledging the truth of God, or even the recognition of Jesus as God; we are called to bring the message of the Gospel to the nations. Who will be Jesus to them?