Matthew 28:16-20New International Version - UK (NIVUK) 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Let me introduce you to a new term which I think in time we’ll find very helpful.
That term is Frontline
And I guess that to use such an image as a ‘frontline’ might need some justifying. If we use the word ‘frontline’ in ordinary speech, we might think of a war zone. And while it is true that Christian mission is involved in a spiritual war, that conflict is not with human beings but with spiritual forces. We have no desire to be aggressive towards those who do not share our faith, and those models of evangelism that contain elements of that are things we shouldn’t go anywhere near.
But we do come to a frontline in the sense of a boundary or an interface. Our spiritual frontlines are the places where we connect with other people, including those who do not follow Jesus Christ. I’m calling this talk ‘The Frontline Call.’ And we get down to some basics about that call using this famous passage that is often called ‘The Great Commission’. There are four questions, in fact, about the frontline call: who, where, what and how?
The first question, then, is who?
That is, who receives the frontline call? Verse 16 tells us it is ‘the eleven disciples’. And they’re not even called ‘apostles’ here. They are simply ‘disciples’. They don’t come here with special status, but as representatives of all Jesus’ followers. Disciples, all Christians, receive the frontline call. Therefore the call echoes down the centuries to you and me as Jesus’ followers today. Disciples are the ones who learn from the master, and that’s us. We have so much more to absorb about the way of Jesus. The Greek word for disciple –be paraphrased as ‘apprentice’. We are learning the trade. We are not master craftsmen. In short, the frontline call, in coming to disciples, comes to a group of people who don’t have it all together. We do not have the spiritual life sussed, we just know that Jesus is the way to go, and we are imperfect followers of his Way. You might think that Jesus would only call fully trained people to the frontline of his kingdom mission, somewhat in the way that a doctor or solicitor has to study for several years before qualifying and practicing. But Jesus has not called a professional élite. He has called ordinary people. While there is a place for certain Christians to be specially trained in understanding other views of life and responding with Christian answers, this is not what Jesus asks of most followers.
He simply calls his everyday followers to witness to him in what we say and what we do. We bear witness through our actions, and we bear witness through our words when we describe what it is like to follow Jesus. So let no-one here rule themselves out of this high calling. It is for every Christian. It is the privilege of every disciple to let the world see their allegiance to Jesus through their lives.
The second question is where? What is the location of our frontline? let’s look closely at this passage. Verse 16 again:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee …
The resurrection appearances of Jesus (of which this is one) happen in both Galilee and Jerusalem. When in Jerusalem, they are at the centre of religious and political power. But here, the meeting is in Galilee, far from those corridors of power, far from the sort of place that features in the title sequences of news bulletins. And it is in our ‘Galilee’, our familiar surroundings, that we find our frontlines. Yes, the Gospel will go to ‘all nations’ (verse 19), but it starts in our daily territories. For some of us who share households with those who do not share our allegiance to Christ, it begins in our homes. For many of us, it is our place of work. It may well also be the school gate or the place where we spend our leisure time – the gym, the pub, the coffee shop,. the ground where our favourite sports team plays, and so on. Our Galilee may be in our relationships with our neighbours, next door, down the street, and in our community. It may be in our involvement with local affairs, as we get involved with residents’ associations or in lobbying local councillors. It may be the library, the hospital, or even the dentist’s waiting room. I think you get the idea. We tend to think of missionaries as special people who go overseas for a specific reason, but the fact is that Jesus commissions missionaries for Galilee and the Holme Valley and west Yorkshire – even deepest darkest parts of Lancashire.
It’s not about being door-to-door types who thump the Bible like a percussion instrument. But we are called to people who live out publicly our apprenticing in the Jesus way, and who give a reason for the hope we have in us.
The third question is what? That is, what are we meant to be doing on our frontlines? Jesus says, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Verses 18b-20a)
We have something to do, due to Jesus’ authority. But what? The normal order in which our English translations put these words lead us to think that the key idea is ‘go’. But what the text actually says, ‘as you go; make disciples – as you go through life make disciples. It’s about daily life! We are placed on our frontlines in order to make disciples, to draw others into living the way of Jesus It doesn’t happen overnight. We usually find that God has been on the case for a long time, at work in people’s lives in ways we often don’t see or understand at the time. We are in this disciple-making enterprise for the long haul. We know it will take time for our witness to have an effect. People may not be interested. We won’t always know at first when some people have been set thinking by our lifestyle or our words. Only after a while may tentative questions surface. But we stay at our post. What does this boil down to? Simply this: that disciples make disciples. There are those who have a special gift in this area, and sometimes we call them evangelists. But even though very few of us are evangelists, all of us are witnesses. Wherever you are this time tomorrow, it is a place where God has put you to live before others as a disciple of Jesus, not only for the sake of your own personal growth but also for the sake of those you meet.
The fourth and final question is how?
Exactly how do we set out making disciples? Well, it’s not rocket science. As we go we live lives which work with God as he builds his Kingdom, his rule, in the world – so as we grow as apprentices of Jesus we learn bit by bit to live lives of peace, mercy, forgiveness, honesty and integrity. We point people to Jesus as we go about our daily lives living in tune with God. The book of Galatians calls these characteristics of a Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit – as it’s something God himself brings about in us as we grow closer to him: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
And in time, just as we are learners and apprentices of Christ, so we invite others to learn his ways. Of course we have to ‘go’ to those frontlines in order to do that – it’s a delusion to think people will come to us. And when we do, we ‘[teach] them to obey everything [Jesus] has commanded [us]’.
We can learn to say, “I believe Jesus taught us to approach life this way. Why don’t you try it and see what happens?” So why not think of all the life issues that we might discuss with our friends – how we cope with family matters, finances, major decisions, moral crises, conflicts at work, relationship breakdowns, and so on. Did Jesus have any wisdom to offer on any of these? Of course he did.
When someone is sharing their life with you, isn’t it possible to say, “What helps me in these difficult circumstances is the teaching of Jesus, when he said …” This is conversational and drawn from our own experience rather than preachy. Try to see it in the way that you can go into a clothes shop and try on the clothes you’re thinking of buying in the fitting rooms. Somewhere down the line, we can invite people into by suggesting they try on the teaching and way of Jesus for size. So, it’s about how we live our lives on our frontlines, living as people of forgiveness, compassion and integrity and it’s about learning to share how following Jesus makes a difference to our lives personally.
Watch the short video below from LICC which sums up the whole idea of our frontlines and how God is present in our whole lives day by day. What are YOUR Frontlines? Who and what can you be praying for in the week ahead?