Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 10:13-17 (texts); Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-13
Canons of Dort III/IV Articles 12-17
© February 2, 2014 (ZCRC Pasig and Imus) • Download this sermon (PDF)
Beloved congregation of Christ: Last Lord’s Day, we learned from John 6 that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. This is so because all human beings are unable and unwilling to come to Christ in faith and repentance on their own. The Holy Spirit must give him a new heart and a new mind, so that his rebellious and hostile mind will be enabled and be made willing to come to Christ. But what does God use turn the human heart to him?
Our present culture is a culture obsessed with the spectacular, miraculous, awesome, new, great, and extraordinary. Anything ordinary does not command any attention except for a quick glance and a short “Oh.”
Our text is the basis of what is commonly known as “The Great Commission.” But this commission was never called “great” by our Lord. In fact, this command to his disciples is very ordinary: going, discipling, baptizing, teaching. These are as ordinary as our regular Lord’s Day services. But because our culture is obsessed with the extraordinary, most churches depend on all kinds of innovations, even signs and wonders, to get extraordinary results and numbers.
Nevertheless, Jesus prefaces his command with a declaration of his extraordinary authority: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Because he is the risen Lord, he has conquered Satan, sin and death forever. He would soon ascend into heaven and sit at his Father’s right hand of authority. He has complete and universal authority over all things.
Even during his earthly ministry as a man, people marveled at this divine authority he sometimes showed: the manner of His teaching (7:29), granting forgiveness of sins (Mt 9:6), power over the wind and the sea (8:26), healing all manner of diseases (9:35), power over demons (12:22), and power over death itself (John 11:43).
Since he has universal authority, Jesus had authority to command his disciples to go, disciple, baptize and teach. And this authority also meant that they would surely be able to accomplish this commission. So the disciples obeyed his command, and all the elect given by the Father to Jesus have since been drawn to him by the Holy Spirit. This calling and discipling are still being accomplished and will continue to be accomplished in the church by those ministers who were in turn given authority by the apostles. They are to preach the true gospel, administer the sacraments, and disciple those who believe.
And these are the ordinary means authorized by our Lord to call and disciple his elect.
So this Lord’s Day, our theme is, Calling and Discipling Joined to Ordinary Means, which we will study under three points: (1) Calling Through Preaching; (2) Discipling Through Teaching and Sacraments; and (3) The Outcome of Using Ordinary Means.
Calling Through Preaching
Our text mentions four tasks that the disciples have to accomplish: going, discipling, baptizing, teaching. First, where do they go? Jesus answers this in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So Peter and John started from their homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem. When persecution against them broke out in the city, Stephen, Philip and Peter went into the other cities in Judea and Samaria. Finally, Paul, Silas, Barnabbas and the other apostles traveled to “the end of the earth” preaching to the Gentiles.
Therefore, they obeyed Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations.” The Greek word translated “disciple” means “learner,” “trainee,” or “pupil of a teacher.” Jesus’ “disciples” are his followers, even if they were not true believers, as those in the crowd who “no longer walked with him” after his hard teachings (Jn 6:66). But true believers, such as the apostles and many others, were also called “disciples” (Ac 6:1-2). They were described as “obedient to the faith” (Ac 6:7), “full of good works and acts of charity” (Ac 9:36), and called “Christians” (Ac 11:26).
How did they become disciples? The apostles preached the gospel of Christ to them, calling them to come to Christ in faith and repentance. After Peter preached on Pentecost Sunday, “they were cut to the heart” and he called upon them to repent of their sin (Ac 2:37-38). The Philippian jailer and his whole household became disciples after Paul and Silas preached to him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Ac 16:31).
Our text in Romans 10 teaches that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rm 10:13). All, whether Jews or Gentiles, who believe in and call on the name of Christ will be saved. As we learned last week, Jesus assures us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn 6:37). They will all be received into his kingdom.
Paul then embarks on explaining a series of events required for a person to be called out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light. Christ sends a minister to the church. The minister preaches the true gospel. A person hears the Word of Christ. He believes in Christ and calls upon him in faith and repentance. This is the sure process of calling and discipling those whom God has elected to be saved (Rm 10:14-15).
Saving grace is not only a certainty for the elect. It is also totally the work of the Triune God. Man has no part in it because he is totally unable and unwilling to come to Christ on his own (1 Co 2:14). Jesus himself tells us this certainty, “Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3: 3, 5). It is absolutely impossible for a person to be saved without the invincible grace worked by the Holy Spirit in him. Canons of Dort III/IV Article 12 says that in regeneration, “God works in us without our aid.”
Therefore, from sending to preaching to hearing to calling and to believing, preaching is the means that God uses to call and disciple his chosen ones. This is why Article 12 again says that calling the elect involves not only “the external preaching of the gospel, by moral persuasion,” but also by God’s “supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable.”
Regenerating a person’s heart, calling him to come to Christ, “requires the use of means by which God in His infinite mercy and goodness has chosen to exert His influence… the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration and food of the soul …”
How tragic is it that today, many churches “presume to tempt God by separating what He of His good pleasure has most intimately joined together”? (Article 17) Instead of the gospel, they think that gimmicks, entertainment, altar calls, threats, and manipulation will cause a person to come to Christ on his own free will. Most evangelicals think that rock concerts with testimonies are better than preaching the true gospel. Many promise that Christ will give them health and wealth, and they would “live happily ever after.”
A person is regenerated or called by God through the preaching of the gospel of Christ and the subsequent work of the Spirit in bringing to life his dead heart and mind. He repents of his sin and believes in Christ. And after he is effectually called by the Triune God, he is discipled through teaching and the sacraments.
Discipling Through Teaching and Sacraments
The two other aspects of “making disciples” are baptizing and teaching. The sequence of words in the Great Commission do not really matter. In the early church, they taught new converts two to three years before they were baptized. Today, we teach, then baptize, then continue to teach disciples. We train them in holiness and righteousness in Christ.
The church makes disciples by preaching and teaching all that Christ has revealed in his Word. They are exhorted to obey all that the has commanded, so that they are transformed more and more into his image. God has given the church the extraordinary gifts of apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers. The offices of apostles and prophets ceased with the end of the apostolic age, but we still have pastors and teachers in the churches today (Eph 4:11). They are God’s instruments in helping disciples grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18). They “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:1-213; cf 2 Pet 3:18).
The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also mentioned together with teaching and fellowship in Acts 2:42. The Word of God then is primary, and the sacraments are secondary. This is why Augustine said that the sacraments are the “visible Word.” Therefore, sacraments are administered only after the Word is preached. They are also visible “signs and seals” of God’s covenant of grace. In the Old Testament, the sign and seal of being a member of God’s covenant people Israel is circumcision (Gen 17:11). In the New Testament, it is water baptism (Rom 4:11). These signs and seals are the confirmation of the salvation of disciples through the death of Christ. They also signify their union with Christ by faith.
The Outcome of Using Ordinary Means
When the eleven disciples saw the resurrected Jesus in Galilee, “they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Mt 28:17). Then Jesus gave them his command to disciple all the nations. All the three years that they had heard Jesus preach and teach the gospel and perform signs and wonders had come to fruition in the sign of resurrection.
They believed. And even though some doubted, they believed afterwards. Article 12 says: “so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.” “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17).
In His grace and wisdom, God has provided ways by which we can regularly have our faith in His promises fortified, called “the means of grace.” The preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer are not fancy but ordinary methods of giving us what we need to confirm our trust in Christ. After all, they make use of rather common things such as human speech, bread, wine, and water. But by faith and the work of the Spirit, these common elements are used to do an uncommon work—the confirmation of our trust in Jesus and the strengthening of our wills to flee from sin and rest in Christ alone.
Preaching is not a powerless human explanation of the biblical text, for the Spirit accompanies it so that God’s Word achieves its purposes (Isa. 55:10–11). Prayer is more than empty words; it establishes communion between us and the Creator, thereby empowering us for belief and faithful, effective service (James 5:16b–18). Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not mere memorials that we do simply because Jesus tells us to do them; rather, we participate mysteriously in Christ Himself when by faith we take part in these ordinances (1 Cor. 10:16).
Question and answer 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism emphasize the role of the sacraments in confirming our faith. They bless us as we receive them in faith, and if we neglect them, we weaken our trust in God’s work.
Beloved Friends, Christ’s command still stands today. The mission of the church is still not accomplished. Your mission is still not accomplished. Christ commanded the apostles to disciple by going, baptizing and teaching. The apostles handed down Christ’s command to us, beginning from our homes, workplace, school, church, and even to other nations, wherever God brings us. But not only must the church preach the gospel. The church must also defend and guard the gospel (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:14) and proclaim the sound doctrine of the gospel (Tit 2:1). When we do, we will hear God’s commendation:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isa 52:7).