This is a post is by Devin Maddox, who serves as the Christian living and Christian leadership trade book publisher at B&H Publishing Group. He is also a PhD student in Applied Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, focusing his research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s early life and writing. He and his wife, Cara, and two boys live in Nashville, Tennessee.
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The God who sends, is the God who was sent, and the God who calls us to send others. God’s people are a disciple-making people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lecturing from the safety of a Berlin university classroom—likely in his typical, reserved, German tone—calmly addressed his New Testament students, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The same lecture would later be converted into what American readers know as The Cost of Discipleship. Years later, Bonhoeffer was brutally executed for his commitment to German resistance to Nazi control of the church.
Bonhoeffer’s comments about discipleship warrant special interest, because Bonhoeffer was, evidently, speaking both metaphorically and literally about the cost of discipleship. He not only died because he was a disciple, but so that the church in Germany could go on carrying out the mission assigned to her—namely to make disciples until the return of Christ.
Matthew 28:19-20, most commonly referred to as the Great Commission, is Jesus’ final instructions to His followers for the time between his departure from earth and His return:
19 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, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That time “between the times,” the time between Christ’s departure from earth and His return, is the time in which we now live. The instructions to “make disciples of all nations,” to teach, and to baptize is our mission. We are, in other words, to be disciple-making disciples. How does this work?
- Go – First, we are to be obedient to obey Jesus’ command to go. We will never make disciples if we are unwilling to go (both across the street and across the globe).
- Make Disciple-Making Disciples – We have received the gospel, not because we were present at the issuance of the Great Commission, but because those who were present were faithful to obey Christ’s command to make disciples who make disciples. We are to do likewise. That means baptism and that means teaching—we are to make disciples, who make disciples. This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
- Be a Disciple – We will never make disciple-making disciples if we are not first disciples ourselves. This is how we obey Christ’s command to “remember” He is with us. Pastor, you are a disciple before you are a pastor. Mother, you are a disciple before you are a mother. Husband, you are a disciple before you are a husband. We will never persevere in the Great Commission of Christ without obedience to God’s command to remember who we are in Christ, that Christ is always with us, even until the end.
For Bonhoeffer, the Matthew 28:19-20 was based on Matthew 28:18, “all authority” has been given to Christ. So Jesus’ command to make disciples was worth giving his own life. When faced with the opportunity to accept asylum in the United States, Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter, “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of the Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” Bonhoeffer desired to see the mission survive, even if it meant he would not.
Like Bonhoeffer, we must be ready to give everything for our role in the Great Commission. We must be ready, because Jesus has been given “all authority.” (Matt 28:18; Luke 9:23) But we also must be ready because we are imitators of God (Eph 5:1), a God who is, as Bonhoeffer said, a God “for others.”
God is the God who sends—since Adam sinned in the Garden, He has pursued the redemption of man, as far as Golgotha.
God is the God who was sent—God became man in Jesus Christ, who was sent from the Father for the redemption of man.
God is the God who calls us to send others—After Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected, He returned to His disciples to give final instructions for the rescue mission begun in the Garden. God’s people are a disciple-making people, because God is a sending God.
The only way to imitate the God who sends, is for us to become senders—to be disciple-making disciples.