What About the Great Commission?November 6, 2016
I’ve always had a heart for missions. As a young kid, I always wanted to become a missionary when I grew up. I guess I came by it honestly; my grandparents were missionaries to India for 20 years, and my mom was born and raised there. Our church was a missions-oriented denomination that frequently had visiting missionaries as guest speakers. I remember one missionary who spoke with our large Sunday-school class and tried to encourage us to join the mission-field as she spoke about the need in other countries. She said that many people decide as a kid that they want to be a missionary when they grow up, but when they get older they get busy and their childhood dream is pushed aside and forgotten. I told myself that I would never let that happen to me. I would never be one of those people who forgot.
Years later, as a teenager, my family and I had the life-changing experience of encountering Torah. We began to see how all of God’s commandments applied to our lives and how Scripture was unified and relevant from cover to cover. Joining the Messianic movement and delving into the Hebraic Roots of our faith was a huge awakening. We felt like we had been starving for this. And as we devoured whatever teachings and resources we could get, and focussed on learning and studying these things that our church background had neglected, my heart for missions was put temporarily on the back burner. It was a couple years before I felt the Father lighting that fire in my heart again.
Living in Canada or the United States, it is easy to assume that the Messianic Torah movement is a primarily North American phenomenon. Aside from the Land of Israel, and aside from the Hebrew language, Messianic resources are almost exclusively English-based and North America-based. But that is only a perception. In reality, the Messianic Torah movement is huge worldwide. In fact, there are places where the Spirit is moving in bringing people back to a knowledge of both Messiah and Torah in such a way that it makes North America pale in comparison. The need, however, is still great. Due to the grass-roots nature of this movement, there is also a huge need for workers in other countries and resources in other languages.
This is not to deny in any way the need here in North America as well. Indeed, when Yeshua exhorted His disciples to go into “all nations” and bear witness of Him, that category most undoubtedly includes both Canada and the U.S.A. We must be His witnesses wherever He places us. But that should not discourage those who are called to go elsewhere.
Growing up sheltered in a pro-missions denomination, it was a shock to me when, after entering the Messianic Torah movement, I encountered for the first time believers who were actually against overseas mission-work. They argued that it was wrong to send workers to other countries when there was work to do here in our own communities. They looked down on conventional Christian missions which emphasised the need in other places. Perhaps they had a point, in that expanding God’s Kingdom doesn’t just take place in a foreign setting. “You don’t have to go to Africa to serve God!” they would say. And while I consented that those words were undeniably true, something about their tone seemed condescending. I couldn’t help but think, What’s so bad about Africa? The thought of serving Yeshua in a foreign land excited me, and I couldn’t figure out why these people seemed to dread the thought of being called to another country.
When I first met my wife, I discovered that she too had a childhood dream to become a missionary. Throughout high school she spent time studying other languages with the hopes of being used one day for God’s service outside Canada. Since we were married, the Father has gradually been increasing the burden on our hearts for missions and outreach. We have always felt drawn towards people of other ethnicities and languages, even in our own city. Of course, our desire to go elsewhere must always be tempered by a willingness to be content with wherever the Father places us, even if He tells us to stay here, and to bear fruit for His Kingdom wherever we are. Yet our search for missionary efforts from a Messianic Torah perspective has shown us that there is a general lack of awareness among believers here in North America. Missions is something that our movement definitely has room to grow in.
My experience in the Messianic Torah movement has indicated a general tendency to avoid evangelism, outreach, and missions. (Of course, I’m not talking about Jewish evangelism, which is how the Messianic movement got started in the first place. Jewish evangelism is an important subject that deserves its own discussion.) I’m sure that not all communities are this way, and that there are many exceptions, but often it seems that “evangelism” in Torah circles comprises stealing sheep from churches. It is rare to find someone in this movement who did not first sojourn in conventional Christian circles. But actually “winning the lost” is almost seen as something of the past, and not the responsibility of Messianic congregations. Being caught up in the “wow factor” of this new Torah observance, combined with negative reactions from our Christian family and friends, can turn us away from sharing with others and cause us to focus just on our own personal growth. As a result, the tasks of preaching the gospel, being witnesses for Yeshua, and raising up new disciples for our Master are often neglected.
I believe it is time for us to reconsider the Great Commission that Yeshua gave to His disciples, and consider the role that He wants us to play in it. It is time for us to take another look at Messiah’s command just prior to His ascension. The following are some of the most pertinent passages to examine:
And Yeshua came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and 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)
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8, all Scripture quotes from ESV)
In these passages, Messiah was commissioning His disciples to carry out God’s great plan of reaping a harvest from all nations, which was previously a passive work on the part of God’s people. Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles, but never until now were they commanded to take an active role in proclaiming God’s Word to the nations. The disciples were now to be partners in God’s great work. The time of ingathering had come. And as followers of the risen Messiah, we are the inheritors of this commission. We likewise are called to be disciples of Yeshua, and carry on this task.
It is important to point out what the Great Commission was not. The Great Commission was not a mandate to make converts. Neither was it a mandate to stand on a soapbox downtown and preach, to hand out tracts, or to try to convince everyone you’re right by using clever logic or punchy sales-pitches. Rather, the Great Commission was a mandate primarily for two things: (1) To be His witnesses and preach the Gospel, and (2) to make disciples (not converts). These two tasks are worth a closer look.
The first task (to be witnesses, to preach the Gospel) automatically implies a very important principle: we are not the ones who bring someone to accept Yeshua. Our responsibility is only to proclaim His Word, and bear witness of Him. The results are up to the Holy Spirit. This is at the same time both relieving and sobering. It is relieving because it takes the pressure off of us and our manner of presenting Yeshua to others. We simply do our best, and God will do the rest. It is also sobering because it leaves us without any excuse. We have nothing to lose in sharing about Him with others, and we cannot excuse ourselves based on lack of eloquence or fear of rejection. I will be the first to admit that I have failed many opportunities to bear witness of my Saviour. I pray that He will strengthen me in that area.
The second task is just as important, and it involves the areas where modern Evangelicalism has sometimes fallen short of the Great Commission. There is a difference between a disciple and a convert. We could say that a convert is merely one who has been persuaded to ascribe to a certain belief or principle. Discipleship, on the other hand, involves continued training and mentoring. All too often in conventional outreach the discipleship process has been cut short, leaving the new believer without any foundation or support to continue in the faith. And the task of discipling others is not confined to newbies; training up other believers is also part of the job. We should always strive to be a positive influence in the lives of others, even to those who have already accepted Yeshua. It is important to remember that believing in Yeshua is only the first step. After that comes the continual process of sanctification, becoming more and more like Yeshua. Discipleship is an ongoing process for all of us, and we should endeavour to make a difference in our own spheres of influence.
Particularly germane to our movement is Yeshua’s exhortation to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We should ask ourselves the question: what did Yeshua command us? What are His commandments? Are they different from or opposed to the commandments of God contained elsewhere in Scripture (i.e. the Torah)? The answer will be obvious to us as Messianic believers. In other words, part of the Great Commission is not only to teach others about Messiah, but also to teach them Torah! This is one aspect of Matthew 28 that conventional Christian missions have missed, naturally. And the point is not to bash Christian missions. We need to respect those of the past (and present) who have paved the way and even given their lives to carry the message of salvation through Yeshua to other countries. Rather, the point is that we still have a job to do. There is a part of the Great Commission that has been left largely undone.
In this way, one can see that we in the Messianic Torah movement are uniquely positioned to be able to carry out the Great Commission. We should consider it our responsibility to carry on these tasks. I believe it is time for the Messianic Torah movement to take seriously Yeshua’s charge to go and make disciples, to be His witnesses. We have a job to do. It is time for us to take our focus off of the controversies and debates that prevail amongst us and actually do what it is that Messiah has called us to do. We cannot continue to assume that these tasks will be accomplished on their own.
Not everyone is called to go to another country, it is true. But we are all called to be involved. We are all called to play a part in Yeshua’s Great Commission. How? Allow me to suggest the following: supporting missionary efforts through prayer and financial aid, encouraging Messianic communities in other countries, and especially being a light to those around us in our own circles of influence. I hope and pray that we would all be encouraged to bear witness of our Saviour to those around us. May the Father use us to help further His Kingdom on this earth!
Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven! (Matthew 6:10)
(This article was originally featured in the Spring 2013 issue of Messiah to the Nations newsletter. To learn more about this organization, and to read other articles from past issues, please visit www.messiahtothenations.org.)