But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
Our pastor had us read The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken (pseudonym) as a church, and this Sunday (the day of this posting), we will come together as a church and view the movie by the same title.
In the book, Nik Ripken tells of how he and his family served as missionaries in war-torn Somalia during the time of that country’s civil war from which it has yet to recover. Nik and his wife spent about twenty years serving in that place, and due to the oppressive Muslim influence, and the death of their 16-year-old son, they returned to the United States defeated with nothing to show for the effort they poured into that place. Sharing Christ openly invited the death penalty, and the Muslims would immediately kill anyone who converted to Christianity. The small minority of Christians that managed to survive fled the country because remaining there meant sure death.
One wonders why anyone would risk his life and the wellbeing of his family to serve in a God-forsaken place like Somalia. In that place, those that assume power are unconcerned about the welfare of their own people. They have no regard for the sanctity of life. They have no compassion for their own people. When help comes from outside their borders, they view the relief workers with suspicion, often taking the help meant for suffering people for themselves. Why would anyone put himself or herself in that position knowing that they cannot share their faith with the people and knowing that the “help” they provide might only extend someone’s life for maybe just another week or so? It seems a hopeless and pointless enterprise.
Nik took Matthew 28:19 as a personal calling from God to “Go!” “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19, emphasis mine). This verse known as the “Great Commission,” was given by the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples—not just the twelve apostles, but to ALL of His disciples. It applies equally to every individual that names the Name of Christ. Albert Barns in his commentary on this verse says:
“Because” all power is mine [referring to v. 18], go! I [Jesus] can defend you. The world is placed under my control. It is redeemed. It is given me in promise by my Father, as the purchase of my death. Though you are weak, yet I am strong! Though you will encounter many troubles and dangers, yet I can defend you! Though you die, yet I live, and the work shall be accomplished!”
Nik and his wife took this commission to heart, and gave up all their worldly goods to go minister to people who showed little appreciation for their sacrifice and would just as soon kill them except for the fact that they were meeting real needs. I deeply admire their courage and their willingness to obey what I believe, at least for them, was a real call of God. However, in reading their story, one might mistakenly conclude that Jesus’ Great Commission means that we are all to pull up stakes and “go” to all nations. In other words, we are all obligated to be foreign missionaries. That is not at all what Jesus said.
The imperative in Jesus’ command is to “make disciples” not to “go.” Poreuthétes (go) is an aorist, passive, participle, masculine, plural, nominative verb. (I apologize for the Greek parsing, but this is important.) The fact that it is an aorist verb is not too special; it only means that it is a definite action. However, the fact that the verb is in the passive voice indicates that it is a consequence of something else. That it is participle indicates a continuing action (“going”). The verb is a plural nominative meaning that Jesus addressed all disciples, not just certain individuals. If Jesus spoke Texan, He might have said, “all y’all.” Therefore, the intended meaning here is, “As you (plural) are going, make disciples…” The command, i.e. the imperative, is to “make disciples,” and it applies to all followers of Jesus, not just missionaries.
The Ripkens felt God’s call to “go” to Somalia based on this verse, but the verse is not a call to all Christians to “go” somewhere to make disciples. All Christians are called to make disciples “as you are going”—at school, at work, at the supermarket, in your neighborhood. In your everyday walk of life, you are to “make disciples.”
If you claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have no choice in the matter, unless you choose to rebel against Christ. Before He ascending unto heaven, Jesus said, “…ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis mine). That is a declarative statement; it is not a matter of choice. If we say we are followers of Jesus, we are witnesses, for better or worse. Our lives testify to Christ. Do our actions match our words? Perhaps we withhold our words because we know our actions betray them.
No doubt, one of the tactics Satan uses to silence us is to make us feel unworthy. Let’s face it, no one of us has lived or lives a perfectly sinless life, although, that is certainly a worthy goal for which to strive (and it can be achieved by relying daily on the Holy Spirit). The point is that we are witnesses for Christ. Satan is a conquered adversary, and besides, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, emphasis mine). Satan has no power over us, unless we let him.
In the last half of The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken interviews hundreds of persecuted Christians in Russia, Ukraine, China and the Middle East. These Christians suffer horrific persecution—beatings, imprisonment, economic deprivation, etc. Through it all, they only ask of us that we pray for them, not that they should be kept from persecution, but that they remain faithful witnesses in persecution. What persecution do we, here in America, suffer because of our faith? Is being laughed at too horrible? Would losing a relationship be too much to take? What about being fired for sharing your faith with a coworker? Is that too great a risk? Nik noted that perhaps the reason we do not see persecution here in America is that Satan does not need to silence us. We do a good job of that on our own.
“As you are going, make disciples.” We are witnesses for Christ. We are either good witnesses, or we are poor witnesses; but we are witnesses nonetheless. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis mine).