As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” The more accustomed we are to someone or something, the easier it is for us to be unimpressed. We can even become cynical.

This can even happen for Christians when we think about the Great Commission. Most people who have been following Jesus for more than 5 minutes know about this passage in Matthew 28:19–21. Jesus deputizes his disciples to make disciples of all nations and teaching them to obey everything he commanded them. This is why churches prioritize missions, equipping, church planting, and revitalization work.

But an honest conversation reveals degrees of discouragement, apathy, and inactivity in this area. Why? I think part of the reason is, we’re so familiar with the Great Commission that we may be overlooking something massively important about it.

The Context of the Great Commission is a Miracle

When Jesus stood before his followers to commission them, he did so as the resurrected King. Think about how this would’ve affected them. Just days before, they witnessed Jesus’s arrest leading to this crucifixion, death, and burial. Their hope seemed to be buried in the ground.

But now, Christ has risen from the dead. Standing before them is the man who defeated death and defanged the Devil. Their sin-conquering Savior was not only alive but now deputizing them to go and tell everyone about it.

The context of the Great Commission is a miracle. And this has to inform how we read the passage. Our victorious Lord commands his followers to proclaim the victory. The fact that he has defeated the greatest enemies possible means that his mission is unstoppable. When facing opposition and discouragement, the believer would do well to remember the context of the Great Commission. Christ is unstoppable.

The Content of the Great Commission Expects a Miracle

Jesus tells his followers to proclaim the gospel and then teach them to obey the Scriptures. Let’s be honest: this isn’t an easy sell. Humility goes against our natural grain. People aren’t willing to admit that they’ve sinned, let alone say they are a sinner. Many others would rather die than say there’s a God they are accountable to. The gospel message says we are guilty, unrighteous, and unable to do anything about it ourselves. But God, being rich in mercy and love, provided salvation in Jesus Christ. If we believe in him, trusting and treasuring him above all, then we will be saved from our sin. This begins the new life of obedience where we submit to the Bible and gather together with other believers who believe the same things. It’s not an easy sell.

The fact that Christ defeated the greatest enemies possible means that his mission is unstoppable. 

But what about the context? The message is hard to believe, but the One who calls us to his mission can do the impossible. He charges us to do the hard work promising to faithfully be with us (Matt. 28:20) and powerfully build his church (Matt. 16:18). The context informs the seemingly impossible task. He has done the miraculous, and his mission expects further otherwise unexplainable results.

The Cynics of the Great Commission Don’t Believe in Miracles

Sometimes we get discouraged about the mission. We don’t see the results we’d like. The sting of rejection lingers. The footsteps of apostasy haunt us. The seemingly unanswered prayers fatigue us. Looking through natural lenses, we could conclude the gospel is not working. Thinking like entrepreneurs or fishermen, we might conclude it’s better to pack up and go home. Maybe we should do something else.

But this is thinking naturally, not supernaturally. Remember the context of the Great Commission. Everyone was ready to go home after Good Friday. That’s the point. Christ rose from the dead and surprised everyone. He changed the whole narrative. He’s alive, ruling, reigning, and unstoppable.

Doubting and discouragement are natural. Even the original disciples experienced this when they stood face-to-face with resurrected Christ (Matt. 28:17). But we can’t stay here. Run back to the Great Commission and revisit the context. The whole thing comes to us with an accent mark on the miraculous. This has to inform how we pray and participate in Christ’s mission. And it certainly will keep us from the unhealthy familiarity that breeds cynicism and discouragement.

Eric Raymond; June 15, 2021