This is the seventh part in a series about the Great Commission. Read last week’s blog about teaching.
“‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” -Matthew 28:20b
On New Year’s Day in 1861, John Paton once again faced a brush with death. Working to take the gospel to unreached peoples in the New Hebrides islands, Paton often had dangerous encounters with the violent natives. On this particular day, two men with black face paint and clubs visited his home. The men swung their clubs at Paton and his friend, barely missing both of them. Paton’s dogs eventually managed to scare the men away, and Paton only realized after the attack how close he was to being killed.
In his autobiography, Paton reflected on this incident and God’s promises, which he held on to dearly during his years as a missionary:
“During the crisis, I felt generally calm, and firm of soul, standing erect and with my whole weight on the promise, ‘Lo! I am with you alway [sic].’ Precious promise! How often I adore Jesus for it, and rejoice in it! Blessed be His name.”
What Jesus said before this precious promise makes the Great Commission seem like an impossible task. His followers are called to not just share the gospel but make disciples. It involves reaching those who have never heard the gospel, often those who are hostile toward the good news; leading them to publicly declare their faith in Jesus through baptism, a symbol of death and resurrection; and teaching them to obediently follow all of Jesus’ teachings.
The commission is weighty in and of itself. Pair it with people who attempt to kill you and the mission seems unbearable. How can one expect to fulfill the Great Commission? It is through the promise Jesus ended with: “… I am with you always … .”
God with Us
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” -Matthew 1:23
Matthew opens his gospel account with words from Isaiah, prophesying that Jesus would be called Immanuel, a Hebrew name meaning “God with us.”
God came down to Earth as a human. He breathed and ate and drank among other people. He slept like other people. He bled like other people. He was tempted like other people.
Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of God being with us through His birth and life. Then Matthew closes his book with Jesus’ promise to continue to be with us, even while His physical body is no longer on Earth. “God with us” is still with us today.
Knowing that the Son of God is by our side in the midst of the challenges and hurdles gives Jesus’ followers the strength to carry out the great task.
When believers share the gospel and face rejection, He is with us.
When His followers fear going to new places to reach unreached peoples, He is with us.
When disciples feel unqualified to teach God’s Word, He is with us.
When missionaries face persecution, death threats, and assaults, He is with us.
When the Great Commission seems impossible, He is with us.
In every success and failure, God is with us. Each believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, who is promised to never leave us (John 14:16). And with the Holy Spirit as the Divine Helper, believers are promised guidance and intercession throughout life.
Until the End
Christ’s words “to the very end of the age” have a twofold meaning. First, it shows how long Jesus promises to be with us. His commitment to His followers is constant and never-ending.
Second, it shows that the Church’s commitment to the Great Commission should also be “to the very end of the age.” The task is not complete until people “from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9)” acknowledge Jesus as their Savior.
“‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’” -Matthew 24:14
More than 3 billion people in the world today have never heard the name of Jesus. The end will not come until the gospel has been preached to all nations.
Therefore, the Great Commission is relevant to every believer today and in the days to come until the end.
The presence of Jesus always with us may offer us protection as it did for Paul and Peter on numerous occasions. Sometimes, it may not.
But as Paton knew, the scariest encounters in life can be filled when peace when believers cling to Jesus’ promise.
Paton once spent the night in a tree to flee a murderous mob of natives. For hours, he heard muskets being fired and shouts from his assailants, knowing at any moment he could be discovered.
“Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus! Never, in all my sorrows did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly to my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Saviour’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.”
Disciples of Christ are never alone. Jesus is with us always and forever. That truth should embolden believers to take the gospel to the ends of the Earth, proclaiming the name of Jesus until the end has come.
Therefore go and make disciples.