Jesus Gives the Great Commission to His Disciples and to Us
Journeying Through John (chapters 20:19-21)
When Jesus was crucified most of His disciples ran away and hid together in a house behind locked doors. Scripture says that they were all afraid. (John 20:19) The frenzied crowd that murdered Jesus could turn on them too, couldn’t they?
The day Jesus rose from the grave, He found His nervous disciples on lock down. He showed up with them around their table and their fears instantly turned to ecstatic joy! He smiled and greeted them warmly. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He showed them His pierced hands and side and then He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed life into His disciples and He breathes life into us too. His death and resurrection marked the transition from the Old Covenant of Law to the New Covenant of Grace. After His resurrection He would freely baptize all believers with His Holy Spirit and His power.
Thomas hadn’t been there with the others when Jesus had appeared to them. When the disciples told him that Jesus was alive and had been there, Thomas closed his heart and refused to believe them. “Unless I see in His hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” he fussed stubbornly! (John 20:25b)
Eight days later Thomas was with the others when Jesus came by to be with them again. Jesus turned to Thomas and said: “Put your fingers here into My nail prints, and look at My hands; and put your hand into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (John 20:27) Thomas knelt before Jesus and proclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus told him. (John 20:28-29)
We must be the blessed ones who Jesus was speaking about - the ones who believe in Him even though we haven’t seen Him physically like Thomas! Jesus says that we are “blessed” when we believe without demanding physical proofs! Since we have the Holy Spirit we see with spiritual eyes. And that is really better.
But we are all so human and sometimes our faith wavers when we can’t touch and see with our physical senses. Let’s not be like doubting Thomas and refuse to believe without these props! Jesus asked Thomas not to be unbelieving but to believe. And He asks that of us too. He will give us the help we need to believe if we open our hearts and want it. Our faith is everything to our Lord.
Jesus spent forty days with His followers after His resurrection. (Acts 1:3) But the day finally came for Him to go back up into heaven. Jesus gathered His disciples together one last time and left them (and us) with a work to do. Just before He ascended to heaven He gave them a divine mission. (Mark 16:19) Jesus’ parting command to the disciples then and to all of His followers down through the ages has been called “The Great Commission”.
Jesus was sending the disciples out to share the good news that He forgives sin and gives eternal life. But the Great Commission is also given to all believers in every generation. Here is His command to all of us: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creatures. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany them who believe in My name. They will drive out demons; they will speak with new tongues, they will pick up serpents with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-17)
Jesus is commanding His followers in every generation to tell every person in every nation that He died for them. He promises that His Spirit and power will go with us. (Matthew 24:14) His Word, the Bible, is like seed and has life giving power. It will grow into a harvest when it is planted in a human heart. Obeying Jesus’ commission to go and spread the good news brings the believer a great amount of joy and fulfillment.
Jesus not only promises in His commission that whoever believes the good news we are sharing will be saved, but He also warns that whoever does not believe our message will be condemned. Rejecting Jesus who is the Light does have consequences. We are sent to preach the warnings as well as the good news.
Some believers have taken Jesus’ words literally when the Great Commission states that we can pick up serpents and drink deadly poison and not be hurt. Perhaps these words may mean that we can look for Gods’ protection over our lives even through deadly dire circumstances. It was a figure of speech in Jesus’ day to refer to living through a situation as “drinking the cup”. Before He was crucified Jesus asked the Father to take the “cup” or drink from Him, if it was His will. (Luke 22:42) The “cup” in this passage represented the soon to be experience of His death. Life has its’ share of “deadly poisons” and when believers must live through (or drink) them our Lord will give us help and protection. We know that if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil for God will be with us. (Psalm 23)
Jesus also says that His followers can pick up serpents and not be hurt. Possibly the serpent mentioned here represents sin. Jesus did often teach with parables. The snake that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden definitely personified evil in the form of Satan. When a believer sins or gets tied up with evil things, God will forgive him and deliver him if he asks. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus is asking us to do more than just go out and tell the good news. He also commands us to “make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19a-20a) We need to teach new believers the importance of obeying the ten commandments. They need to be encouraged to fellowship with other believers. New converts need small groups for support, prayer and Bible study. We mustn’t forget to teach them Christ’s command to give to the poor and needy.
There is so much to do in moving ahead with this grand commission that Christ has given us. But I think the most important thing we need to remember is to do everything and go everywhere with love and forgiveness. We must put the anger and the critical spirit away. Christ is commanding us to go out and spread the good news of His love and forgiveness and surely we need to do that in the spirit of love and forgiveness. After all, “If I have the faith that can move mountains, but I don’t have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2b)