My father and I were in the driveway working on a car. Two well-dressed men approached, each carrying a briefcase. They engaged us in conversation about our religious beliefs, concentrating especially on what was going to happen at the end of the world. The conversation eventually was between my father and one of the men, focusing on how one knows he will be saved. This man took a decidedly works-righteous approach, stating that he could get to heaven via his good life and what he did for God. My father told him that he knew he himself would be saved because of Jesus’ work in his place. “Why should I trade what I have for what you have?” my father asked the man. He had no good answer. After a few more attempts at trying to convince my father of the correctness of his position, the man was visibly frustrated. I finally took pity on the man and said, “We’re both Lutheran pastors.” A wave of relief swept over the man. “Oh,” he exhaled. “Are you happy with your beliefs?” After we assured him we were, he said, “OK. We’ll leave you alone. Have a good day.”
Why were these two men out going door-to-door and witnessing to their faith? It was fairly obvious that they were witnessing because they felt they had to. They may have thought they were obeying the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:19-20. But were they?
“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 observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20; ESV). A few words of these verses might jump out at us: “Go.” “Make disciples.” Of course, other commands follow: baptize and teach. But there is one word we may overlook: “therefore.” “Therefore, go and make disciples….”
“Therefore” means that what follows is based on something that was just stated. We have to look at the last part of verse 18 of Matthew 28 to see the basis for Jesus’ commands: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (ESV). That’s a powerful statement. How can Jesus say that?
You might think that Jesus had that authority anyway since He is God. But when Jesus came to this earth to serve as our Savior, he didn’t always make use of all His divine authority or power. When He speaks the words of the Great Commission, He is the resurrected Jesus. He is the Lord who is now in His state of exaltation instead of humiliation. Because He had completed all the work He was sent to do—accomplishing the salvation of all people—He had the right to make use of all His authority again. Our exalted Lord gives us the command to do mission work. By His authority, we tell others about Him.
It’s more precise to say, “By His authority we get to tell others about Him.” Lutherans do mission work because we are free to do mission work. We have been freed by our Savior from slavery to sin and been made His people, His people who want to tell others the true message of eternal salvation.
Professor Michael K. Smith
Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mankato, MN
* Chair, ELS Board for Home Outreach