Do you know the “Great Commission” – those words Jesus said to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel?
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
I have often heard preachers and teachers comment on that pesky word “go,” as in, “go and make disciples.” In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “go” is a participle, like our English words “going” or “walking” or “reading.” A participle indicates some kind of action, but it is not the main verb of the sentence. In the quote above, “make disciples” is the main verb, and it is an imperative, a command. The general feel of this sentence, then, shouldn’t be the two-fold command “go and make disciples,” but rather something more like “as you are going, make disciples.”
The reason people explain it this way is to suggest that making disciples is the most important work that we have as followers of Jesus. I think that’s true. And it’s to emphasize that you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere – to an overseas mission field, for instance – in order to make disciples. The danger, though, is that we can separate the intentionality of “going” from the activity of “making disciples.” That is, we can relax and lay back, waiting for the next opportunity to show up for us to make a new disciple. “As you are going,” you know, when you get around to it.
Today, I’m studying next Sunday’s sermon text, Luke 17:11-19. When Jesus heals ten lepers, who have been ostracized from their community because of their skin disease, he tells them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (In their culture, in order to be admitted back into the community, they had to pass a medical inspection.)
Here’s the thing: the Greek text behind this instruction has exactly the same structure as the Great Commission. In fact, in both places, Jesus uses the exact same participle, which we translate “go.” One of my commentaries (NET) makes this note about the language in Luke 17:14: “The participle πορευθέντες (poreuthentes) is a good example of an adverbial participle of attendant circumstance. As such, it picks up the force of an imperative from the verb to which it is related.”
In other words, Jesus is really commanding the ten ex-lepers to “go.” They will have to move themselves to where the priests are in order to present themselves for inspection. Jesus is certainly not saying to them, “as you are going, you know, whenever you get around to it, whenever it is natural, whenever the opportunity presents itself, show yourselves to the priests.” No, he says, “GO!”
So let’s read these two sentences side by side:
Go, show yourselves to the priests. (Luke 17:14)
Go and make disciples of all nations… (Matthew 28:19)
Perhaps we need to be more intentional about our going as well as our making of disciples of Jesus.