MEMPHIS, Tenn. – With little prompting from Speaker Don Elliott, those gathered at the World Outreach Encounter of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) recited Jesus’ Great Commission to His disciples from Matthew’s gospel: “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 obey everything I have commanded you. Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).
Then Elliott said, “But that is not the only version of the Great Commission,” acknowledging that all four gospels contain a version of the Great Commission, as does the book of Acts.
Elliott asked and then answered, “What does it mean to have several statements of the one Great Commission? It says to me that the primary teaching Jesus did in His last days on earth with the disciples had to do with their mission, and He stated it multiple ways, at multiple times, in and with multiple facets for emphasis.”
Then Elliott read the Great Commission as contained in John’s gospel:
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” John 20:19-23
The pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Corinth, Miss., and author of the comprehensive Bible study, The Journey, then walked his listeners through the passage, inviting them to both understand the Lord’s command and follow it.
Prepared for mission
Elliott said, “The disciples needed peace and Jesus knew it. Twice He said, ‘Peace be with you.” That shalom is God’s personal assurance as preparation for mission.”
“Jesus had promised a special peace that the world could not give. It was for those who had a troubled heart. He showed them His hands and side. They saw the Lord in a new way. All this was preparatory for mission. The disciples had to be assured of their stand before the Lord before they could go on mission to the world,” Elliott said.
Propelled into mission
Elliott then focused on the sent and sending nature of Christ: “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
He said, “We think too little of our mission as God-like. We are being like Jesus when we are faithful in mission.”
Adding that “none of the other Great Commissions propel us like this,” Elliott encouraged the missionaries and those preparing for mission service with the EPC, “what we get here is that we are like Jesus — the Father sent Him and He sends us — and He does so with His power, the Holy Spirit.”
Promise for mission
Jesus “provides the actual power for mission,” Elliott acknowledged.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” is, Elliott said, “a pledge from Jesus that the Spirit will come,” but “the fullness they had to wait for. It was a sure thing, and it was just a matter of time.”
“Jesus breathed … He blew … and later would come a mighty wind accompanied by fire and tongues that would propel the Church into mission,” Elliott observed, making reference to the account of Pentecost in Acts 1.
Proclamation in mission
Then, Elliott said, Jesus makes the connection between the Great Commission of the church and the proclamation of the saving Gospel.
“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“This is a promise connected to the only way people are forgiven: the proclamation of the Gospel,” Elliott concluded.
He asked, “How is someone forgiven?” and then answered, “by hearing, receiving and responding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then, restating the Q&A, he said, “How is a person not forgiven? They do not hear or they do not receive or they do not respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is their destiny? They are still in their sin. We must never lose the heart of what is at stake: Souls. They will either have eternal life or eternal condemnation.”
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church World Outreach Encounter was held at Second Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tenn., Nov. 12-14, 2013.