“Therefore go make disciples of all nations. . .” — Matthew 28:19a
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” — Mark 16:15
“You are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24:48
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” — John 20:21 (All quotations NIV)
Whether “all the world” means going across the ocean, across the country, or across the street, many people find this commandment, in whatever form, the scariest thing Jesus ever said. Learning to lead a holy life is hard enough, but go talk to someone else about it?
I’m confessing my own greatest weakness here. While the country in general fears public speaking more than death, I would much rather give a speech than initiate a conversation. So far, speaking opportunities have turned up only within my own congregation.
The disciples had their own reasons to be uncomfortable at this commandment. Jesus had sent them out before, but they always had explicit instructions and an assignment limited in both time and geography. The world is much bigger than Galilee and Judea, and Jesus said nothing about reporting back to him in a week or so.
The earlier words Jesus had spoken since his resurrection dealt with the disciples’ own insecurities. Before they had had time to process those words and get over their insecurities, he changed his emphasis from their feelings to their ultimate purpose. (Notice that one of the earlier words prefaces John’s statement of the Great Commission.)
They must have had the sense that, having returned from death, he would not stay long with them in bodily form. And now he’s saying to go. Their previous mission trips had been rehearsals. They were about to embark on the real thing. Excitement and apprehension must have jostled within the minds of each man.
How did they respond? Starting not immediately but on the day of Pentecost, they felt their way along. Individually and corporately, they faced up to what they didn’t understand and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, figured things out. After a while, they fanned out and went their separate ways.
The world has not yet seen what will happen when everyone on the face of the earth has personally heard the gospel, but that little band of people who first heard the Great Commission started a good work, insecurities and all. God will finish it, but he expects us to go and tell someone else, insecurities and all.
Some people have a special calling to leave home and go across the world to minister where no one has ever heard the gospel before. For most of us, the commission means listening carefully for an opportunity to minister to people around town.