‘Make disciples,’ says Jesus. It is the second of the three commands the Lord gives us before His ascension, ‘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 things I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Lord is very direct. He is easy to understand, when we want to understand Him. ‘Go’ needs no explanation. ‘Therefore’ implies that we know who it is we have put our trust in, and why. That needs no explanation either. It just is His way of letting us know that He knows everything about us, and that He has told us everything about Himself that we need to know.
‘And make disciples of all nations,’ packs a lot of meaning in its few words. Christ knows that we will want to excuse ourselves if we find the plain meaning of His words too much of a challenge. Before we have a chance to do that, He follows up with an explanation, but only after He utters the third command, ‘baptizing them,’ a very concrete action that should be obvious to anyone who has been with Him. Though Jesus never baptized anyone, His disciples did, because He had commanded it.
But ‘make disciples,’ what do we make of that? What should we make of it? The baptizing is something we do while we’re making disciples, but what does it take, to actually ‘make disciples’? Again, Jesus is easy to understand, when we want to understand Him, but when we don’t, well, He just calls someone else who does, and He tells them that making disciples means ‘teaching them to observe all things’ that He commands us. He always expects us to ‘just do it’ when He commands. He doesn’t wait. In the gospels we don’t see Him going back and giving anyone ‘a second chance,’ but I don’t think it’s out of character for Him to do so. Remember, He’s the same Lord who tells us to forgive not just seven, but seventy times seven times, and He’s no hypocrite.
‘Teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you’ seems intimidating at first, if you want to be intimidated. But stop and take stock. What did He command, really? What did He tell us to do? What did He call ‘the first and greatest commandment’ and what ‘the second which is like it’? And did His sayings fall on deaf ears, was He planting good seed in bad, stony soil, when He told us who are the ‘blessèd’? Don’t we want to be the good soil, the humus that nurtures the seed—that is, His words—so that they produce a hundred-fold in us? ‘How blessed are the merciful! for they shall have mercy shown them! How blessed are the peacemakers! God shall call them His sons!’
‘Make disciples,’ says Jesus, and, yes, this is a command. He always gives us things to do that push us beyond our limits, proving to us that they are only imaginary lines. If we want to obey His commands, He makes it possible. If we do not want to obey, we make it impossible. The Lord is very direct. He is easy to understand, when we want to understand Him. He even tells us, ‘Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light’ (Matthew 11:29-30). ‘Rest for your souls’ may seem a contradiction to what He describes as taking His yoke upon us. We think, ‘It’s bad enough we have to deny ourselves, and take up our cross, to follow Him. But now we’ve got to be yoked to a burden as well? And He calls the yoke easy and the burden light? He can’t be serious! He must mean something else…’
Since I have been rubbing it in, let me apply one more salve to soothe our seething flesh. He says, ‘Make disciples’ and tells us who they are, ‘all nations.’ Yes, that includes everyone. Like I have been saying till I was hoarse, ‘the Church is a pan-human reality.’ Nobody, absolutely no one, is to be excluded, considered untouchable, unredeemable, garbage. ‘All nations’ means people whom we don’t like, even people we hate, not just the ones we love, because ‘even sinners and tax collectors love those who love them.’ A horrid saying that we keep at arm’s length, even though Jesus says it, as we busy ourselves with anything that might make Him happy, but which doesn’t.
He knows we have heard Him clearly. He knows He has called each of us ‘to come out from among them’ by name. Out from among whom? No, not from the pigs. We are the pigs He is calling to come out from the mire. He doesn’t flinch from washing us, thoroughly, and He expects us to follow His example. No one starts out clean, but when He’s done with us, and with them, we are as clean as He is, we shine as a thousand suns, whiter, brighter even than a fuller could make a soiled garment.
‘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 things I have commanded you.’
We have called these words ‘the Great Commission’ yet we neglect committing it. But they are far greater than we think. They are, as Jesus says, ‘the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open’ (Revelation 3:7), and ‘the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6:63).
This is the preparation of the good news, of the gospel, and it can only begin when we go and ‘make disciples.’