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Gospel of Matthew 28: 16-20 (NIV)
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The Church of God speaks to more than one audience and, when it does speak, it needs to realise which audience it is setting out to address.
This is not to say that the Church is at liberty to present a conflicted message. The message needs to be consistent so that the people of God truly represent Him whom they seek to serve. The way that the message is presented and the points of emphasis within it can be shaped, however, to ensure the message is relevant to and comprehensible to the specific audience for which it is intended. This is particularly the case when the Church is trying to reach those who are still outside it with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we read these last five verses of Matthew’s Gospel, we can recognise two audiences (at least): those represented by “all nations” and those who, having been baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, are to be taught to obey everything commanded by Jesus.
“Make disciples of all nations” refers to people outside the Church. Possibly not everybody in “all nations” will respond positively and become a disciple. The “Great Commission” could be seen to exhort Jesus’ followers to make disciples from all of the nations, to go out to all the nations with the Gospel and to accept the fact that some in “the world” will reject the invitation and the teaching of Jesus.
“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” refers to those from “all nations” who have become disciples and consequently have been baptised. The message for this audience, people who now wish to live lives that are pleasing to Jesus and that bring him joy, will take a different form from the message to those who remain in “the world”. We all know of situations where those in “the world” have heard, without understanding it, the message intended for those in the Church and have become even more resolved to reject God as a consequence.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to guide us daily in our encounters with others, to show us the lives to live and the words to employ so that we present to them an attractive Gospel message. As a consequence, we pray, they will become open to responding to Jesus and then learning to obey everything Jesus has commanded. We pray that they will come to know the joy of Jesus’ presence with them always, to the very end of the age.