The Lord's Day Evening
September 11, 2011
“The Mission of the Church: Discipleship”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 28. I know that most of you can say these verses by heart, but I want you to keep your Bibles in hand because we're going to look at a number of passages together tonight as we focus like a laser beam on one of the great themes in Jesus’ Great Commission. We’re used to going to this passage at Missions Conference time, and appropriately so. We’re used to going to this passage when we are thinking about the work of evangelism, and appropriately so, but I want you to see that as Jesus gives the Great Commission to His disciples as He describes to them the mission of the church, what it is that He wants them to do, what it is that He expects the church to continue to do, the mission that He gives to them fundamentally is discipleship. The elders, for many years here at First Presbyterian Church, have described the ministry of our congregation in three words — worship, discipleship, outreach. Three very Biblical ideas, clearly rooted in the Scriptures, for the ministry of the church. But each of those three things relates to discipleship. Worship relates to discipleship, outreach relates to discipleship, and you’ll see why in this passage and in the logic that underlies it. So I want to look with you at Matthew chapter 28. We’re going to focus especially on verses 19 and 20 and especially on the first sentence or the first phrase of verse 19 and then the first phrase of verse 20 to see where Jesus is going.
Before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Father, thank You for the privilege of hearing Your Word. Grant that we would hear not only with ears but with hearts. Heavenly Father, thank You for the privilege of having a minister join the work of this congregation to promote precisely what Jesus told the disciples that He wanted them to do. We pray, heavenly Father, that You would bless Billy Dempsey richly as he does this, and that You would bless us with an understand of what he has come to do and an understanding of what You call us to do and be. We pray that as we do so we would understand the Gospel clearly and that we would understand the purposes of the Gospel for us and in us. In Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“’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.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
These are the last words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew. We speak of them as the Great Commission and they are a great commission. In this passage, Jesus stakes out for us what the mission of the church is, and not especially He says here for His disciples, first phrase of verse 19, to “make disciples.” He tells them to make disciples of all nations, thus necessitating the work of missions. He tells us to make disciples, thus necessitating the work of evangelism. He tells them to make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, thus necessitating the ministry of the local church which is the nursery where disciples are made. We could look at all three of those things and spend time profitably, but I want to focus specifically on what it is that Jesus is asking His disciples to make when He tells them to make disciples. Notice the answer to it in verse 20 — “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Now that is a description of a disciple, that's what a disciple is — someone who does all that I have commanded.
Oswald Chambers once said, “Our Lord Jesus had only one desire and that desire was to do the will of His Father and to have that desire is the characteristic of a disciple.” Do you understand what he's saying there? He's saying that a disciple wants to do what his master wants him to do. That's what a disciple wants to do. A disciple longs to do the will of his master. And listen to Jesus talk about that over the course of His life and ministry. He's said things like this — “It is My meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.” “It is food to do the will of My heavenly Father.” Or as we've just seen on Sunday mornings in the Garden of Gethsemane, He's on His knees sweating His drops of blood praying, “Not My will but Your will be done.” Jesus loved to do the will of His heavenly Father. He wanted to do the will of Him who sent Him, even when it was going to cost Him torture and life, He wanted to do the will of His heavenly Father, and that is the characteristic of a disciple. A disciple wants to be like his master.
And just as the Son was like the Father — do you remember the famous exchange in the Upper Room when one on of the disciples says, “Well Lord, show us the Father and it will be enough.” And Jesus’ response is, “You mean you've been with Me for this long and you still don't know what the Father is like, because if you've seen Me, you've seen the Father.” The point being that Jesus, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus because He loves to do His Father's will. He loves what His Father loves; He hates what His Father hates. He wants to be like the Father. He reveals; He shows the Father to us, and if we've seen Him, we've seen the Father. That's why one theologian at the beginning of the 20th century said that “In God there is no un-Christ-likeness at all.” Because when you get to glory and you see God in all His beauty you will say, “I saw this in Jesus. I saw it dimly. I saw it dimly through my sinful human eyes and my weak understanding, but this is just like Jesus because the Son is like His Father. And what the Son is saying to His disciples is, “I want you to make disciples who are like Me — they love to do the will of My Father and they love to do My commands.” So again, look at that phrase in verse 20 — “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Notice it's not just “teaching them,” it's not just “teaching them all that I have commanded you,” but “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” This language, my friends, reflects all of the teaching that you find in the Gospel that Jesus gives about our being hearers and doers of God's Word.
Remember — turn with me all the way back to Matthew chapter 7 as Jesus is concluding the Sermon on the Mount and look at what He says. Verse 24 — “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” So there is this stress on hearing His Word and doing it. Why? Because a disciple wants to do the will of his master, and Jesus’ language about our being hearers and doers, and James’ language in James chapter 1 about our being hearers and doers is drawn from this point. A disciple wants to do the will of his master. A disciple wants to obey the commands of his master. And Jesus tells His disciples, “Go make disciples and teach them to do all that I have commanded you. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Now you understand that this goes all the way back to the garden. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve's joy and their continued experience of blessing was tied up with what? Their doing the command of their Father. And when Satan convinced them that the way for them to experience joy and satisfaction and fulfillment and Godlikeness was to disobey what God had said, to not obey what God had commanded, they plunged themselves and this entire human race down to us into sin and misery because joy and blessing is tied up with doing the will of our heavenly Father. And Satan convinced them that joy was not related to doing the will of their heavenly Father. And when they sought joy by disobeying the will of their heavenly Father, they lost all joy and satisfaction and were plunged into sin and misery. But Satan has been saying to people ever since, “It's drudgery to obey God's commands. If you want to live it up, you've got to break some rules. If you want to have life, you've got to do it your way. If you want to experience joy and pleasure, you can't do the will of God, it's got to be my way.” And along comes Jesus and He says to His disciples, “I have come here so that your joy may be made complete, and it is My meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.” And you see what Jesus is doing? He's putting those two things back together again and He's saying that it's in doing the will of our Father that we find joy.
Now, how do you become a disciple? If a disciple is one who “loves to do the will of Him who sent Me,” how do you become a disciple? Here you have to understand what a disciple does and is and how one becomes a disciple and you have to be very careful not to mix those up because if one becomes a disciple by doing the Father's will, guess what? We’re all in trouble because none of us do the Father's will and no one has ever been able to do enough to have the privilege of being one who was a bearer of the image of God. It can't be done. You can't do enough to have the privilege of being a bearer of the image of God. That is something that God gifts you.
And so the apostle Paul, if you’d turn with me to Ephesians chapter 2, he explains this very, very carefully and clearly. In Ephesians chapter 2 he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Now in this passage, Paul explains the relationship between God's grace and our works, between God's grace and our obedience to God's Word, between God's grace and our obedience to God's command, between God's grace and our wanting “to do the will of Him who sent Me,” wanting to be like Jesus.
And the relationship is like this — it is not, “If you will want to be like Jesus, if you will do the will of God, if you will do that long enough, hard enough, consistent enough, then God will give you grace and you will be saved.” That is not what Paul says. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of itself; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.” But then he goes on and says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” So notice we weren't saved by our good works; we were saved for good works. We didn't become disciples by our good works; we became disciples for good works. By God's grace, we were saved and by that grace we were saved into discipleship. We were saved into a life where we, like Jesus, we can say, finally, again, because we've been brought out of our rebellion, out of darkness and into His marvelous light, “It is my meat to do the will of Him who sent me,” or to borrow the language of the psalmist, “How I love Your Law, O Lord.”
JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION IN THE LIFE OF A DISCIPLE
Now that means if we are going to understand discipleship we have to understand at least two things — justification and sanctification — how a person is declared right before God, how a person is transformed in their life by God. And that means we have to understand what the Gospel does for us and what the Gospel does in us. And let me say, Billy Dempsey is going to be on that over and over and over and over again. Now look, RUF campus ministers are talking about that all the time anyway. Bebo, you ever give a lecture on that subject before? I think probably ten million of them! They’re on that all the time. Billy Joseph is on that all the time. All your ministers are on that all the time, but Billy Dempsey is going to be zeroed-in on that in our lives. Men, he's going to want us to understand what the Gospel does for us and what the Gospel does in us. He's going to befriend you, he's going to come alongside of you, he's going to want to see that working out in your marriages, in your parenting, in your friendships, in your vocations, in every aspect of your life. He’ll want to bear your burdens, he’ll want to hold you accountable, he’ll want you to open up your heart to one another and develop deep Gospel friendships, and he’ll want you to begin to have a heart for seeing other people become disciples as well. And he's going to be doing that over and over and over in the congregation, person after person, family after family, group after group in the church. And in doing so, he will be fulfilling this commission that God gave to His disciples, that Jesus said, “Make disciples teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus delighted to “do the will of Him who sent Me.” A person who has been saved by grace and who understands the Gospel and who understands not only the forgiveness that the Gospel gains for us but the transformation that the Gospel intends in us, can say with the psalmist, “How I love Your Law, O Lord,” and with Jesus, “It is my meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.” And we want to be a congregation of men and women characterized by that kind of discipleship. We want to be a congregation of disciples, and not only disciples, but disciple-making disciples, Gospel people who are at all times thinking about the mission that Jesus gave His church to make disciples, not just converts, not just numbers, not just church members, but disciples, people who want to do what Jesus has commanded. They not only know it, they want to do it.
And isn't that the great battle of life? Because what happens is you find yourselves in places where in your head you know you’re supposed to do God's will, but there is a temptation before you and the temptation says, “You will be happy if you don't do God's will.” And the great challenge of life in that moment is to say, “Oh no, the only joy and lasting treasure are the ones that Zion's children know. The only joy and lasting treasure are for those who say, ‘It is my meat to do the will of Him who sent me.’” That's the rub, that's the rub of discipleship. And Satan still, just like he did in the garden, throws out these promises to us that if we’ll just abandon the way of the Lord, if we’ll just abandon God's command, there's satisfaction to be had, and he pulls the rug out from under us every time we fall for that. And discipleship is about equipping us so we can say, “It is our meat to do the will of Him who sent me” and to do what Jesus has commanded.
May God bless His Word. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of sitting under Your Word. And we know that we sit under Your Word not just so that we know more stuff but so that we understand the Gospel more clearly, we understand that we contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation. Our salvation is based upon Jesus’ work; it's based upon Your grace to us; it's received by faith. We do not add an iota do it, but our salvation is unto good works, unto a life of loving to do Your Word where our life is increasingly transformed and conformed into the image of our Savior. And so we want to be able to say with the psalmist, “It is my delight and we love Your Law, O Lord,” and we want to say with Jesus, “It is my meat to do the will of Him who sent me,” but it will take the work of Your Holy Spirit in us for us to experience that and to live that. Bless the means of grace in this church to those ends, that people will be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone into a discipleship in which we are transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the will of God to Your praise and glory. And bless Billy Dempsey's ministry to that end. We ask in Jesus' name, amen.