11. THE GREAT COMMISSION
By Felix Ngunjiri Gichuri
“While Jesus was together with His disciples, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said, “is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5 [HCSB])
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 [HCSB])
Jesus Commissioned His Disciples and His Followers to Witness His Gospel to the World
The main reason Jesus came down to earth was to restore the kingdom of God here on earth and destroy the kingdom of darkness. The divine plan was to destroy works of the devil, pull down the kingdom of the devil together with its wickedness, evil, sicknesses, captivity, darkness that had burdened the people and deliver man from bondage of sin and restore him to a life of heaven on earth.
After Jesus overcame all the temptations of the devil in the wilderness, the devil had no option but to depart from him and wait for another opportunity. Jesus then returned to His Nazareth His home town full of the Holy Spirit to start preaching the Kingdom of God here on earth. “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” (Matt 4:17-25 [KJV])
Before Jesus went back to heaven after establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth, He had to commission His disciples as fishers of men and make disciples of all nations. He told them how to continue preaching the good news of the Kingdom of heaven here on earth.
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” [Mk. 16:15-20]
God is reminding us that we all have a divine mandate to evangelize our world. Christianity by its very nature is evangelistic. The whole world is perishing due to the ravaging disease of sin, and we have the only cure – Jesus! Every believer is therefore a missionary, called to witness, and testify that Jesus Christ is Lord of their lives and to proclaim the gospel that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. And the world is aching (due to the ravaging effects of sin), waiting for someone like you to give them hope. Behold the “harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;” (Matt 9:37 [KJV])
Before Jesus was airlifted back to heaven by a cloud, He had told His disciples that they “should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Acts 1:4-5).
Jesus had planned that He would not leave His disciples and followers like orphans but would leave them with another Companion and Helper the Holy Spirit so that they would have the power to continue establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth on His behalf by saving the lost, healing the sick, setting at liberty them that are held in bondage by the evil one and even raising the dead. He expected them to start that assignment in Jerusalem, then go to Judaea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth to preach to all the nations of the earth the good news (gospel) that when one is in Christ, he or she can live a new life of experiencing what is done in heaven. And all these goodies would be available to them who believe not because they deserve but by His mercies and grace (the unmerited favour of God upon us even when we do not deserve) “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of his grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Eph 2:4-8 [KJV])
Jesus went further to explain to the apostles that the power He was to give them was to empower them to continue His work of establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth by wrenching it from the hands of the devil by force. After disabling the devil and his demonic agents, the work of witnessing Christ to all nations would be easy. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem (your home), and in all Judaea (immediate neighbours), and in Samaria (those who do not subscribe to your faith), and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) (Acts 1:9-15 [KJV]) Then they waited for the Holy Ghost to come upon them to empower them for that great commission of witnessing Christ to everyone.
The Holy Spirit then Descended on Earth
After waiting for a while, when celebrating the day of Pentecost, the unthinkable happened. “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:2-8). What followed after that was too marvellous for them to imagine. Speaking in tongues, witnessing boldly that Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ to thousands who believed and repented for remission of their sins, having hilarious fellowships with other believers and laying hands on the sick and they would get healed in Jesus’ name. Peter, who had previously been intimidated by a young maid and chickened out then denied knowledge of Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to a man, lame from birth, at the gate of the temple called Beautiful. The man left his lifetime mat, leaped to his feet, jumped and bounced with joy on realizing that he had been saved from lameness that had threatened to accompany him to his grave. He could not believe that he had actually been healed and held them and almost refused to let go of Peter and John, fearing that if he let them go, maybe the healing would stop. They then used the healed man as a testimony of the miracle that had happened to preach Christ to the priests and Sadducees. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it” (Acts 4:14).
Church Complacency and Loss of Mission
The new experience of living Holy Ghost filled life was the best the apostles had ever lived since they were born. It was too good to be true for some of them. The new spiritual life had turned the apostles into instant crowd pulling heroes, being followed by miracle seeking multitudes. Some of the sick people were sitting on the side of the road where the shadows would be cast so that they would be healed by the shadow of Peter if it fell on them. “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:12-16 [ESV2011])
But God was not happy with the way the apostles were enjoying themselves with the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them. Daily fellowships from house to house, crusades, long testimonies, getting healed, casting out demons, drunk with the Holy Spirit, hugs and praises and encouraging one another to continue in the Word. They had all things in common. They sold their property and goods and distributed them to all as any had need. None was hungry. They did not have needy people amongst them. They were busy distributing food amongst themselves. They had a good time, feeling good to have been saved. Their numbers increased as more and more people got saved. The apostles and disciples had gotten carried away by being recognized as celebrities at home, preaching and speaking healing to their brothers, sisters, parents and cousins with signs and wonders following them. Jesus in heaven looked down and noted that they had become so spiritual that they had forgotten the commission that He had given them to be His witnesses in Judaea, Samaria and in the whole world.
The Great Persecution
God was fed up with their complacency, contentment and procrastination and had to look for an arrangement that would get them out of Jerusalem to go and preach to the outside world. God’s judgement was instant and it came fast and furious upon them in form of whippings, stoning, jailings and persecutions to force them to move out of Jerusalem. They were all scattered throughout the region of Judaea, Samaria and Asia. “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.”(Acts 8:1-8 [KJV])
Jesus had in mind His followers being Holy Spirit filled so that they would establish the Kingdom of God everywhere on earth by saving the lost and setting at liberty them that are held in bondage by the devil. He expected them to start that assignment in Jerusalem, then go to Judaea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth to preach to all the nations of the earth.
Power over All the Power of the Enemy
Jesus had to empower them with power from on high so that those Spirit filled Christians would continue His work of destroying all works of the devil in the whole world. He wanted them to be so full of the Holy Spirit of God that He would equip them with “power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt them” (Luke 10:19). Even if they were attacked by serpents, scorpions, diseases, enemies, demons, poverty, disasters and calamities, they would not hurt them because the Holy Spirit anointing would have covered them giving them divine protection. “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18 [ESV2011])
The Christians so equipped with the power to destroy all works of the devil saw the fulfillment of Christ’s promises upon them at work as they found themselves performing miracles greater than the ones He used to perform: being airlifted from one place to another, healing the sick and raising the dead. The testimony of how Philip was told by the Holy Spirit to go south to Gaza to preach to the Ethiopian and how he was airlifted by the Holy Spirit back to the city of Azotus after baptizing the eunuch drew many to accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour (Acts 8:26-40). Peter raised to life Dorcas in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:38-39). Dorcas bounced back to life the way a bouncing ball would rebound over obstacles. “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people praised them highly. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.” (Acts 5:12-16 [KJV])
Paul raised sleepy Eutychus to life and the young man bounced back to life (Acts 20:9-10). God’s good plan for humanity was to enable those who have God’s anointing rubbed into them to bounce off diseases like the way the Lystran cripple got healed by Paul and leaped to his feet, bouncing and dancing after the healing (Acts 14:8-10). The kingdom of heaven was now firmly established in Judea, Samaria and was being preached in faraway cities on its way to the Gentile world. The mandate for each one of us is to preach the gospel to every creature. “And Jesus said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) so that people who are sitting in darkness of sin, diseases, curses, condemnation, demon possessed and the ones in bondage may see a great light of the glory and power of God in their lives. Let everyone know that God Himself is calling all and sundry to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of their lives, and preach to others locally that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the power of God in our daily lives, that He is the Anointed One of God prophesied by prophet Isaiah over 700 years before Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his (the devil’s) burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.” (Isaiah 10:27, KJV. To fully appreciate just how good that news is, you must realize that Isaiah does not say that the yoke shall be broken because of the anointing. Many people read it that way, but that is not what it says. The verse says that the yoke shall be destroyed. When you look it up in the Hebrew text, you will find that the word destroyed when translated means rendered absolutely useless. It is possible that a broken yoke can be repaired and put back where it was. But Isaiah said that this anointing would annihilate the devil’s yoke so completely that there would no longer be any evidence that it was ever around your neck.
The message of the anointing was the message Jesus taught everywhere He went. He intended it to be the cornerstone message of the church. Jesus said so in Matthew 16. There He asks His disciples, “Whom do people say that I am?” and Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Now translate and meditate: “You are the Anointed One, the one with the burden-removing, yoke destroying power, the Son of the Living God.”
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17-18) What rock was Jesus referring to there? The rock of the revelation that Jesus is the Anointed! Indeed, the early church was built upon that revelation. That was the basic message they preached. We can see that in Acts 10. There we find Peter preaching in the house of Cornelius, bringing the news about Jesus to Gentiles for the very first time. Let me ask you, what would you preach if you were speaking to a group who did not know anything about God? You would preach the most basic, foundational truth, wouldn’t you? You would preach the cornerstone message. That is exactly what Peter did. He preached to them Christ, teaching them “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good, healing all those who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up on the third day.” (Acts 10:38-40)
Let all of us go boldly out there and preach Christ to the unreached personally and we have God’s assurance that He shall be in every believer (“Christ in us our hope of glory” Col. 1:27) empowering us to preach Christ everywhere according to the great Commission given to every Christian, going out there in the unreached areas of the world preaching Christ to the nations. While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, He told His disciples that “this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.” KJV, Matthew 24:14) Christ’s mandate is to save the whole world from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light, for He is the light of the world. The word light has the same meaning in Hebrew as knowledge. His mandate is to save people from darkness (ignorance) to the knowledge of God through the Word so that we may obtain the grace and peace of God. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge,” (2Pet 1:2-5 [HCSB])