Three weeks ago, I spoke about abiding in Christ. My message about discipleship then was simple: You watch what Jesus does, you listen to what he says, and you do what he tells you. Today, I want to get a little bit more into the details about discipleship.
Our primary text is the Great Commission, Matthew 28-18-20.
We’ll see three things:
1) Why discipleship matters.
2) What discipleship means.
3) What it takes to disciple others.
You are probably familiar with this passage, but I want to show you the root words and grammar so you can see what’s really there, behind the translations.
“Till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until all be fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18
This means we can pay attention to the smallest detail of the text in the original language and learn from it.
“…Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matthew 22:31-32
This means that the grammar matters. Jesus’ whole point here is that the words were written in the present tense. God didn’t say He “was” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He said He IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And on that verb tense, an entire theology was built—those three men live on and therefore there is a resurrection.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27
Let’s read the verses:
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore[a] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. –Matthew 28-18-20
I. Why discipleship matters.
Here is Jesus, having died for the sins of the world. Having been raised from the dead. Soon he will ascend bodily into heaven. And this is the charge he gives his disciples—what they are to do.
Let’s look at the words.
- Def: All power of choice, all ability to do as He pleases. The power of human authority, of rule of government, of judicial decisions. (exousia)
In other words, “all power of law, all authority of government, to do with as I choose”
“Has been given to me”
- Passive. He didn’t win it. He didn’t take it. God granted Jesus all this authority to do with as he pleases.
“In heaven and on earth”
Not just human but spiritual, divine authority as well. All the authority of God. That’s a lot of authority.
- Def: accordingly, consequently (oun)
In other words, “With sll that authority, I tell you…”
Now if you were to look at your English translation and say, what part of speech is this? You’d say, if you remember your basic grammar, that it’s a verb. The subject is understood, it’s “you,” and the verb is in the imperative voice—it’s a command. It’s present tense. Simple. Go. But look at the Greek and you find nothing of the sort. I mean, nothing like that.
- Poreuomai = Go
- Def: 1) To lead over, to carry over. To transfer. 2) To continue on the journey on which one has already begun. 3) To follow one, that is: become his adherent
This is not your standard word for “go forth.” It specifically means to lead or carry from one place to another, and carries with it the idea of following as a disciple.
- Mood: Participle (“going”) NOT imperative.
- Voice: Passive Deponent. (Verb does not have an active form.) “In almost all cases [these] are translated as being in the passive voice.” NOT active
- Tense: Aorist (without time constraints). NOT present. Corresponds best to the English perfect tense: “I have loosed…”
“Having been led, and being led, on your journey with me.”
- Modifying: “make disciples”
What do we make of this? If Jesus had wanted to command his disciples to “go,” he could have done it. He did it in Matthew 5:41
Compare Matthew 5:41. “Whoever compels you to go a mile, go with him two.” (hupago: “Go, depart.” Active voice, Imperative mood)..
But he says, “Having been led and being led, having journeyed with me, and journeying with me… make disciples.”
This is significant. It means that the command is not to go, but rather to make disciples. And to be completely accurate, it’s not even to make disciples, but to disciple. “Make” is an English word added for clarity.
- Def: To be a disciple. To teach. To instruct. (matheteuo)
- Voice: Imperative.
- Mood: Active.
- Tense: Aorist (with imperative, no time constraints). Same as Mt 6:10ff, “Give us this day our daily bread…” “Forgive us our trespasses…”
“Lord, bless this group.” That’s the sense of this command. “Give.” “Bless.” “Disciple.”
This is the command, the only command of the Great Commission. It is timeless. It is central.
- Def: A multitude that associates together. A company, troop, swarm, tribe, herd, nation, people-group (ethnos)
In other words: “all nations, tribes, and groups”
As you are being led among the ethnos, make disciples. Jesus is telling his disciples that he will call many more, in every different kind of group of people, cut any way you like. He is leading us, sending us, and he is calling His followers, everywhere. He is doing it.
So here’s what the verses actually say… “All authority of every kind has been given to me to do with as I please. Because of that, having been and being led by me, disciple all people in every kind of group.
Is this important? He’s been given all authority to do with whatever he will, and this is what he chooses. He chooses to use that authority not to set up governments or take down governments, not to change laws or dig canals. He may have specific instructions to those ends for individuals or groups. But he is using this enormous authority to lead us into discipling his followers in all nations.
And notice the emphasis on groups. “Disciple all people groups” is the literal translation. Groups can be discipled. This does not have to be a one-on-one process; in fact, why should we ever think it ought to be, when Jesus worked with 12 at a time?
Important? I think so. And this is why it’s one of our pillars. This is why it matters.
So what does discipleship really mean?
II. What discipleship means.
You know how an entire theology of resurrection hung on the present tense in Hebrew… I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Well I think an entire theology of following Jesus, of being his disciple, hangs on this passive participle:. “Having been led, and being led…” I want to look at that a little deeper.
You can’t just go make disciples. You have to already be going, and be following Jesus, who is leading you around.
You must know before you go that God is in it. God is carrying you. That’s one of the literal meanings of the word.
Don’t just go. Don’t just do it. Wait on him, pray, abide, journey with him, and he will do it.
God gave him all authority. He didn’t take it. Nor should we. We should never assume that we have the authority to go… unless he gives us that command directly. We do have the authority, however, to make disciples… assuming we are journeying with him.
How important is this passive participle? This “being led” instead of “Go!”? It’s critical. I know this because it is everywhere in scripture. I challenge you. Anywhere you look in scripture you will find the idea that you must yield to God to have any power at all in the kingdom. You cannot do it yourself. You cannot just go make it happen. You must allow yourself to be led, in order to be, or make, a disciple.
Let me share some critical verses that shed light on this. Turn there if you like, or just make notes, but these are well-known verses.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3. Ptochos is the word for poor. Beggars. Hands out. The desperately poor, and the desperately humble. This is not optional. This is not once in a while. The kingdom of heaven is made of such people as this. Why? Because they have no illusion that they can do anything good in their own power.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5. You don’t win the earth. You don’t conquer it. We are not going to win the world for Jesus. We are not even going to win Cockeysville for Christ. That is entirely unbilblical thinking. We are going to be given the world, for humbly submitting. We might even be given Cockeysville, if we can yield. If we can submit. If we can be meek. Meekness is not a nice trait for some, or a good thing once in a while. It’s not optional.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
You will not find a different approach anywhere in the New Testament.
It’s a theology of yielding.
What’s your theology? What do you think God wants of you, as a disciple? More bible reading? More witnessing? More activity in church? Do you, when it comes right down to it, have a theology of doing?
But wait, you say. Those are unique verses. We are told to go do. You’re making this complicated. There’s all those other verses, like go be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. And what about the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, so go get out there? How about, Go into all the world and preach the gospel?
Let’s just see.
You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts 1:8. You shall be. Look it up: Future tense. Indicative. Not imperative. It’s a statement of future fact. That’s a prophecy
Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Luke 10:2-3
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15 “Go” is guess what? Same word as the Great Commission. Lead over. Aorist. Passive deponent. Participle. It’s the same exact construction. Having been led, and being led, preach the gospel. You must be led.
You can’t just do it. “Just do it” is not the voice of God. It’s the voice of someone trying to sell you sneakers. “Abide in me and let my words abide in you,” that’s the voice of God.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. John 15:7. Not by you. For you.
You want to know what it means to be a disciple? It means you yield to Him. You pray. You listen. Then you do what He says. He may tell you to build a bridge or cure cancer. He may. But you will only hear him if you are obeying his commands to abide. What he always commands is, abide in me. Pray. Listen. Yield.
Here’s Paul’s theology of yielding. Oh yes, Paul is in on this.
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2
Present = paristemi
- Def: Stand by, show, yield, provide
- Tense: Aorist – no time limits
- Voice: Active
- Mood: Infinitive
“Be transformed” metamorphoo
- Def: transfigure, transform, change
- Tense: Present
- Voice: Passive
- Mood: Imperative
Give up. Give in.
Yes, but we’re supposed to struggle against sin. Paul says so. He does say that, but how do we do that?
13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13.
You know what this is? This is the prescription, the instruction book for how to yield to God. How to access His power and not your own. When you do this, THEN you can follow his other commands. All of them. Without this, you can’t follow any of them.
Do you know how to yield yourself to God? Sure you do. Because you know how to yield yourself to sin. Have any experience with that, do you? Giving in to temptation? Well, yielding to God works exactly the same way. You do the same thing: You give up. You cave in. Yield to God, and present yourself to him. Yielding to the spirit is to be overwhelmed by God and his goodness, rather than by sin and its ugliness and cruelty and deception.
Okay, but Bryan, what you’re saying is so passive! We’re to fight the good fight! The whole armor of God and all that in Ephesians 6.
I’m telling you. Go look anywhere you want. The armor of God is entirely defensive. Every article, shield, helmet, breastplate… Except for the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It’s not even your word… it’s His. It even says have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. He won’t even say go preach the gospel.
I have to say that you will find the authors of the New Testament, and the Old, to be extremely careful on this point. They know.
You wonder what we’ve been doing for a year with the Vine Church? Well, you can’t just go start a church, either. God has to do it. And you know what? He still hasn’t done it. And he may not. And I’m fine with that. And I think all these brothers are as well. We’d be surprised, but we’d be fine with it. We want to wait on him. We want to yield to him.
And now a warning.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. John 15:6
There is no other way to be a disciple. The other way is not just ignorant. It’s dangerous. It’s wrong. It’s wrong to just go do kingdom work. It’s wrong to get an idea, hey, there should be a different church, a better church. We should start one. God forbid that I ever be involved in something like that. If God’s not doing it, I want no part of it.
And there’s this:
21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:21-23
It’s not just wrong-headed, not just ignorant, and it’s not just dangerous to go do what you think God wants, without waiting on him. Hearing from him. Yielding to him. It’s evil. It’s evil to think you know what God wants done and go do it. The idea that Christianity, that the church, must be defended, and built up, and made strong by us in order to keep the forces of darkness at bay… that’s not from God. That’s being mindful of the things of men. God’s way often leads the church, and Christians, to be crushed. It leads to pain and suffering, and sacrifice, and being alone and small in a very big, cruel world. It leads to the cross. In fact, here’s the very next verse:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” Matthew 16:24.
You want to know what a theology of yielding looks like? Look at the cross. We all know the cross was Jesus’ great work on earth. It’s what he came to do. The greatest work anyone ever did on earth. So think about this… what did Jesus actually do, in order to accomplish that great work? What were his actions? He did… nothing. It was all done to him. What he did was, he let it happen to him, as God had planned it out. He yielded. That was his great work… he was better at yielding than any other person in history.
How good are you at yielding? Do you aspire to yield? Or to do?
And here’s an even stronger warning:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does [“makes, produces”] the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done [“makes, produces”] many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice [“work, labor at”] lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23
These folks did things. They did a lot that we would call very good. But they did not have a theology of yielding. That’s the only theology of the New Testament. Everything else is lawlessness. Everything else is wicked
There are people who think they are Christians, but they are not.
9 “ The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
10 I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9-10
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6
Every one of us has consciously, purposely, knowing exactly the price we would pay, rebelled. We have rebellion in our hearts. “No! I’m not doing that, God.” “I will not trust you with that.” And that, is usually what’s closest to our hearts.
We have all told God we’d rather die than do what He wants. We’d rather go to hell than do what He wants. Each of us in our own way. At one time or another. Since we were yea high.
And God, because He is perfect in righteousness, and a gentleman beside, has reluctantly accepted the offer. We gave him no choice. We have defied him, and deified us. And ever since we’ve been hiding. Running. Pretending.
That’s sin. That’s what puts us in the crosshairs of God’s judgment. He cannot have our cruelty and our debauchery and our self-deceptions unleashed in heaven. We don’t fit in.
So what does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? It means that we were in the crosshairs of God’s wrath, but Jesus took the bullet for us. He stepped in front of the firing squad. And he literally, physically, died and went to hell. So now you have a perfect man, who never sinned, the only one who ever lived on this earth who didn’t deserve to die and go to hell… dying and going to hell. So he’s paying the price for someone. Right? There’s an opening here. And in God’s mercy and grace, that opening is for anyone who will claim it.
Maybe you’ve never heard that call before. Not really. Maybe you’ve prayed the prayer, lived in the church. Done good works. But deep down, you operate in your own power. Maybe you’re worn out. Wearing out. Because it’s hard work having a theology of working. Jesus says, just open up. Give up. Give in.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28
So what is discipleship? First and foremost, it’s yielding to God. It’s being led. You cannot be a disciple otherwise. You must be led. You must be leadable. And you cannot make a disciple otherwise, unless you want to turn him into twice the son of hell you are.
That’s what discipleship means. Responding to the call, following Jesus, and learning to yield. Learning to be led.
III. What it takes to disciple others.
First, it takes a theology of yielding. You have to know how to do that, how to hear from God, how to do what He says in His power.
Now, he gives us the two-pronged approach to discipling. Baptizing, and teaching.
Disciple the nations. How?
Baptizing and Teaching
- Tense: Present
- Voice: Imperative.
- Mood: Participle (“baptizing”)
- Modifies: “Make disciples”
How do we make disciples? First, we baptize. God calls people through our faithful proclamation of the gospel, or not… He calls them. We baptize. What is baptism? It’s a public declaration. Jesus says to make disciples. So once he’s called them, help them cross that line. We can celebrate that call with them. You can dunk them in the presence of witnesses as they proclaim themselves to be disciples.
“In the name of”
Def: Proper name and all that the name covers, everything aroused in the mind or feelings by mentioning, hearing, remembering the name including rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, etc. (onoma)
In other words: “in the full and present knowledge of, and full the authority of”
“The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Def: To hold discourse in order to instruct. To deliver didactic discourses. To impart instruction. (didasko, from which we get the word “didactic”).
- Tense: Present
- Voice: Imperative
- Mood: Participle
- Modifies: “Make disciples”
Teaching is just as much a command as baptizing. And Jesus is just as specific about what to teach.
- Def: To attend to carefully. To take care of. To keep. (tereo)
There are six words for “obey” in the New Testament, and this is not one of them. The word includes obedience, but it’s so much more.
Obedience can be compelled. It can be done grudgingly or bitterly. You can’t observe, keep commands, without highly valuing and honoring them. Like the old concept of “keeping Christmas.” You do it because you love it. And we are to teach others this.
- Def: As long as, as great as, as far as, whatsoever, whatsoever things (pas)
In other words, “The whole of, leaving out nothing.”
“I have commanded”
- Def: To order, to command. (entellomai)
- Tense: Aorist. (Independent of time)
- Voice: Middle deponent (reflective of self)
- Mood: Indicative (a statement of fact)
In other words, “I have commanded and I continue to command and I will command.”
Def: Look, listen, think, see, remember, now (idou)
In other words, “Grasp this now”
As Jeff so clearly showed us, this is one of the great commandments of scripture. Behold Christ. It is part and parcel with abiding. Watch what he does. Listen to what he says. Do what he tells you.
“I am with you”
- Def: To be, to exist, to be present.
First person singular present indicative. (As simple as it gets!)
This is why we can abide! This is why we can yield. He is with us. He is not some distant figure like the founding fathers, who we can read about and honor and even give our lives in pursuit of their teachings. He is with us. Now, here. Right now. Right here.
- Literally: “All the days.” (Three words: pas, ho, hemera)
In other words: “Every single day”
“Even to the end”
- Literally: “Until the completion/consummation” (sunteleia)
“Of the age.”
Def: forever, an unbroken age, perpetuity, eternity, the worlds, the universe, a period of time. (aion)
In other words, “of time and of the world and of the universe.”
So, to expand and paraphrase, based on the meanings and tenses:
All power of law and all authority of government, in heaven and earth
Has been given to me
To do with as I choose.
With that authority, I tell you:
Having been led by me and journeying with me,
Disciple all people groups,
Baptizing them in the full and present knowledge of, and full the authority of,
The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Instructing them to attend carefully, to observe, and to keep
The whole of what I have commanded
Leaving out nothing.
And look to me…
I am with you every single day
Until the completion and consummation
Of time and the world and the universe.
- Why does discipleship matter? It’s commanded of us.
- What does discipleship mean? It’s yielding to God, to Jesus, as our way of life.
- What does it take to disciple others? A theology, and a practice, of yielding. And then, in that yielded state, baptizing and teaching others to observe all that Jesus has commanded.
I leave you with this command of Christ:
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:11-12