Pastoral ministry can be complicated. In this day in which methods, views, speculations, and perspectives run amok, what Jesus Christ truly expects from His servants might seem hopelessly lost to us. That is, at the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, to what will He hold pastors and elders accountable? Is there a succinct passage that might summarize His instructions for us so that we might focus our entire efforts to this one thing? Yes, there is. It is found in Matthew 28:18-20.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore an 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 (Matthew 28:18-20).
In this passage, the singular focus for the pastor is clear. In addition to this, the singular focus for the child of God is clear as well. In the obscurity of such a monumental set of instructions as this passage, the pastor’s marching orders, his “one thing he does,” is made clear by the Lord Himself:
- CHRIST’S AUTHORITY GIVES THE PASTOR BOLDNESS
- THE FATHER’S ETERNAL PLAN GIVES THE PASTOR CONTENT
- THE LORD’S SUMMARY INSTRUCTIONS GIVE THE PASTOR METHODOLOGY
1. Christ’s Authority Gives The Pastor Boldness
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
The fact that Jesus Christ is given all authority is essentially the expression of Lordship over all existence. What is in view here is what is summarized in Psalm 110:1-2:
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
According to Mark 12:36, this Psalm was written by David, king of Israel. In addition to that, the superscription also attributes this Psalm to David as well. David, being the king of Israel, is here announcing that there is another King that was spoken to by YHWH. What YHWH said to Adonai, the King, who was David’s Lord, was tremendous. He said, “Sit down at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
In short, YHWH is saying to a Lord that He will subdue all things under the feet of that Lord. The Lord will be given dominion by the One who has all dominion, YHWH. That is what is being said by the Lord in Matthew 28:18. All authority, by God’s plan and design, is given to Jesus Christ by virtue of the promise of the Father.
As we consider the next phrase, this fact of sovereignty is crucial. Since all authority is given to Jesus Christ, and since Jesus Christ gave the command to the disciples to go into the nations and make disciples, the apostles then, and by extension every church leader, is given great boldness in their preaching. They have been commanded by the King. He is the Lord and made such by the Father, YHWH (Acts 2:36). This Lordship, declared by the highest court, YHWH, is fixed, permanent, and eternal.
Therefore, the message of the church is truly a powerful message of Lordship. The announcement from the Lord is that He is Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Power, authority, and right with absolute dominion is given to Him. We announce this with all that it entails. And, since we are under commission by the One who now dominates all others, we have great boldness (Acts 4:31; 2 Corinthians 3:12).
2. The Father’s Eternal Plan Gives the Pastor Content
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..”
In John 6, Jesus speaks of the Father’s eternal plan to the people. He said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me” (vv. 37, 39). It is the will of the Father to give to Jesus Christ brethren (Romans 8:28-30). This plan, spoken of by Paul as the mystery of the will of the Father (Ephesians 1:9-11; 3:7-11), is the content of our message. The reality of God’s plan in Christ is the starting point, foundation, of all true preaching.
The expression of this mystery, for example, is seen in the work of the pastor to work in the life of God’s people for holiness. Why? Because, since God’s eternal purpose is to bring to Christ those whom He has determined from eternity, and since God is holy and demands/deserves to have only that which is holy around Him, therefore, we must be holy. The eternal plan of God reaches all the way down to our families, our vocation, our future, and our ambitions.
This Lordship of Jesus Christ, that Jesus is given a kingdom by the Father, is the message of all who preach His Word. This eternal purpose of God is the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). It is the explanation of the heart and mind of the Father and must dominate the foundations of our entire theology. Therefore, we go, announcing this message.
In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus began His work in the plan of God. There He called His disciples who would later become the apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus called to them saying, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The entire process, therefore, of time spent with Christ was focused upon the work of making these men useful to the Master.
Every teaching, every trial, every mistake, and every triumph, was a woven tapestry constructed by the Lord in order to qualify these men for ministry. By the end of Matthew, these men had been through a most unique and fantastic effort by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shaped by the Scripture, in order to go from worldly men to kingdom-messengers.
And what was it that they were made to become, once the Spirit of God came upon them at Pentecost? They were made to become disciple-makers. All that the Lord did in their hearts and minds was not only to prepare them for kingdom work, but was also meant to instruct them as to how they, in turn, can make others “fishers of men.” Thus, as Jesus gives this instruction in Matthew 28:19, “Go disciple the nations,” He is saying to the apostles to replicate His own work in the lives of others.
The same goes for pastors and elders. Paul thrusts Timothy into this responsibility as a foundational aspect of His ministry. He instructed Timothy, “These things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The instructions of the Scripture and the commandments of the Lord, the Son of God, are to provide the content of all that a disciple-maker entrusts to his disciple.
This process begins with the message, or sermon, on Sunday. The gathering of the church for the purpose of worship is en-mass discipleship from the Lord to His disciples by means of the preaching. The expositional preaching, which is the result of hard work in the text, is the only means fit for this work. However, this preaching is not the end of discipleship, but only the beginning. Once the information is in the minds of the saints, the work begins.
3. The Lord’s Summary Instructions Give the Pastor Methodology
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”
Jesus’ summary to the disciples of the context in which discipleship is to be done — baptism and teaching — is listed here. Baptism includes the purpose for it as well as the act of it. The purpose of baptism is to identify with this command by Christ for the sake of submission to Him. That is, baptism is a command from the Father to John the Baptist (John 1:33), carried on by Jesus Christ through His disciples (John 3:22-23). To do it, and have it done to you once believing in Him, is righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Therefore, Jesus instructs His disciples to continue that baptism work begun by John as commanded by the Father.
In addition to that (and this is the focus of our consideration), the context in which all of this is done is summarized here by the very wonderful mandate given by Christ to the disciples in the first half of verse 20. Jesus said, “…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” No doubt, the men heard what the Master said. I am not so sure, however, that we hear it as clearly.
In the Greek of this verse, there is a clear instruction given. He said, “…teaching them to keep all things whatever I have commanded to you all.” At the outset, notice He did not simply say, “…teaching them all things I have commanded…”. Rather, Jesus stresses that disciples should be taught “to keep all things” which are commanded. The term”to keep” is an Infinitive of Purpose used often in the New Testament; it means to “keep, guard, hold to,” and, by extension, “to obey.” This Infinitive gives a purpose which rises above the act of baptism and takes a bit of a center-stage. It seems to designate that there is a purpose inherent in disciple-making.
There is a goal. And this goal demands a method. That is to say, unless you are doing this, you are not making a disciple for Jesus Christ. What is it that Christ ultimately expects out of a disciple? It is obedience. Jesus Christ, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, expects obedience out of Jesus’ disciples. After all, Jesus exemplified that perfectly, didn’t He?
- “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18).
- “…but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here” (John 14.31).
- “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12.49-50).
- “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me” (John 17.7-8).
- Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).
- “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation…” (Hebrews 5:8–9)
If a person were to peruse the four gospels, he would have to conclude that the entirety of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ was nothing less than absolute loving obedience to all the Father commanded Him. In a very true sense, the Son was a disciple of the Father. The perfections of Jesus Christ are on every page, even in His youth (Luke 2:40-52). Thankfully, we have this as a picture of our discipleship to the Son.
But, we are not the Son, right? Not even close. We are not perfect, mature, loving, nor adequate. If the saints are called to perfect obedience, and pastors are called to teach them how to obey, then we might as well give up now and admit defeat! How can Jesus expect such a life of obedience from us as this? Because, this inability gives place to the power of God to perform obedience in us for His glory.
The Apostle Paul said it best. He wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves..” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The treasure of the gospel of the kingdom is inside of the preacher in the same way that pure gold might be kept in a shoebox. We are nothing. We are not fantastic preachers. We are not mature in love.
In fact, Jesus taught the apostles that apart from Him nothing could be accomplished in ministry (John 15:5). Whatever applause or commendations we might gain is strictly because the person saw Christ in our message and does not really know us. If the person did know us, he would probably not be so quick to commend us. Our struggles are the same, possibly even deeper, than every other born-from-above believer. And yet, we are called to teach others how to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ.
Our methodology is dependent upon our content. Our content gives us boldness. Our boldness reflects Christ’s authority by means of His Word. As leaders in the church, it simply is not enough to make God’s people hearers of the Word, but to teach them how to become doers of the Word (James 1:21-25). That is ministry!