The Great Commission
Have you ever marveled at how, 2000 years later, the words and deeds of a humble carpenter from a backwoods region of a small, unimportant country in the Roman Empire, are treasured and celebrated by billions all over the world?
The Gospel spreads today the same way today as it did back then: when you and I share the Good News with someone else.
I recently heard a time management expert refer to everything we do with our time as being motivated by one of two issues:
We’re either motivated for gain in our lives.
Or we’re motivated to prevent pain in our lives.
Do you agree or disagree with that?
It’s kind of interesting when you think about it. Everything you do — you are either motivated for gain or motivated to prevent pain.
On April 15th, will you pay your taxes for gain or to prevent pain?
To prevent pain, right?
You don’t want Mr. IRS man knocking your door down.
Some of you are hikers. You like to hike tall mountains.
For you, going to Yosemite and hiking Half Dome — would that be for gain or to prevent pain?
There might be some pain involved, but it would be for gain… because you feel alive when you’re climbing a mountain.
We get our trash picked up at our house early every Thursday morning.
So every Wednesday night, I put the trash can on the curb.
Is it for gain or to prevent pain?
We like to keep things like odor semi-tolerable at our house, so we’re trying to prevent pain.
If you send your child to camp where they’re sleep deprived and overdosed on sugar — do they do that for gain or to prevent pain?
While they may have the pain of headaches and upset stomachs, they’re going to have gain because they’re going to talk about those experiences for the rest of their lives.
The gains are what we remember.
The gains are what we’re going to remember when we’re one day sitting in the corner of a nursing home in our wheelchair with our Pampers on.
We’re not going to think back to the times we took out the trash.
We’re not going to think back to the times we prevented pain by all those hundreds of things we had on our to-do list everyday.
The majority of our life is spent doing those kinds of things, but the things we’ll remember are the things that led to gain.
Those things are never urgent, but they’re the most significant.
If you have your bible or bible app, and want to follow along, open it to Matthew 28. We’ll begin at verse 16.
This passage begins with some words that on the surface seem very innocuous.
Matthew 28:16 simply says:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
Notice that number — 11.
What’s wrong with that number?
Too small, isn’t it? It used to be 12. Now it’s 11.
These guys are hurting and disillusioned because they had a friend who betrayed them.
They had a friend who sold them out.
They had a friend who has now likely gone ahead and taken his life by suicide.
And if you’ve ever lost someone that you love to suicide, you know how complex that death is to grieve… and the questions that last for years.
On top of that, Jesus, who has risen from the dead, is about to leave the earth.
And I’m convinced these 11 guys are in pain-avoidance mode right now.
I’m convinced they’re tempted to pull back, play it safe, spend their evenings watching Netflix… with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other.
But Jesus comes along. And on this mountain, he gives them a far greater challenge that day.
These words are the final words of Jesus that are recorded for us before he ascended into heaven. They’re his parting instructions before he ascended into heaven.
This was what was on his heart most.
This was what he considered most important.
This is what Jesus said to these 11 guys… and to all of his followers for all time and all places.
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
With those words right there, Jesus sent out these guys — most of whom had no formal education, no cultural standing — he sent them to go and spread his love, and his grace, and his hope, and his purposes to people who are far from him.
They seemed like such unlikely candidates to go change the world.
But you know what? They did it.
They went and they changed the world.
They simply loved people in the most incredible ways.
They turned the world upside down.
And 2,000 years later, we’re still talking about these guys.
In fact, we wouldn’t be here sitting in this room if it were not for the 11 guys who gave their lives to a cause for great gain.
And the reality is… Jesus is calling us today to go make disciples the same way he called his followers over 2,000 years ago.
And the Gospel spreads today the same way it did over 2,000 years ago.
When one follower of Jesus gets so convinced that the life Jesus offers really is the pearl of great price, that he or she goes to tell someone else — the Gospel spreads one life at a time.
That’s how it’s been happening for over 2,000 years, from the New Testament right to our day.
Those words of Jesus, known as the Great Commission, are really at the heart of what those of us who started Blue Oaks sensed God saying to us a little over 12 years ago.
We sensed him saying: I want you to raise the level of risk associated with reaching people far from God in the Bay Area.
Deep in the DNA of Blue Oaks is a conviction that introducing spiritually unconnected people to the God who gave his only Son for them and leading them into Christ-centered living is the highest calling on planet Earth.
It is the cause that will outlive us all.
It is the one thing that has been in the heart and soul of Blue Oaks from its very beginning.
It is the value in this church that says we will invest in and invite unchurched people to Blue Oaks where they can hear about and start a relationship with Jesus.
And my concern is not that Blue Oaks Church is not going to raise the level of risk associated with reaching people far from God. Of course, we’re going to do that, because that’s who we are.
But here’s my concern, and it’s at the heart of what I really want to talk to you about today.
My biggest concern isn’t whether or not Blue Oaks will raise the level of risk associated with reaching people far from God; my biggest concern is whether or not Matt VanCleave will raise the level of risk associated with reaching people far from God in his life.
I’m just trying to be as transparent with you as I can.
My biggest concern is that I can be so busy doing spiritual things, church-related things, that I can go right by my neighbor’s door and, without any guilt at all, go do my church work where I can spent 50 hours or more a week planning, praying, studying, meeting, connecting, doing pastoral work.
I can spend my week doing that and not give a thought and not feel bad that I’ve never knocked on the door, not feel bad that I’ve never extended a hand, not feel bad that I’ve not entered into some kind of significant conversation with someone far from God.
And as a result, Matt VanCleave can end up being the chief hypocrite in the church.
I can stand up here and tell people that Jesus says we need to raise the level of risk and go, and yet personally I may not be investing in anyone’s life… or overflowing with God’s love for them.
That’s the risk I run every single day of my life.
And you know what? So do you.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if Blue Oaks Church is raising the risk-factor to reach people far from God near as much as it matters if I am personally… and you are personally raising the risk-factor to reach people far from God.
It doesn’t matter how much our church believes “Everyone matters to God.”
What matters is, do they matter to me? Do they matter to you?
The problem in our day is far too many churches are filled with Christians who spend virtually all their time with other Christians.
They’re not significantly connected with people who are far from God.
And in too many cases, they try to design their lives that way.
They try to arrange things so that in their work, their neighborhood, recreation, wherever, they’re just surrounded by Christians.
That’s not a good thing. That is not a victory for the kingdom of God.
Joe Aldrich, who has written a lot on this, wrote: “After being a Christian for two years, the average Christian no longer has a single significant relationship with a non-Christian.”
And what’s really sad about this is that sometimes churches learn to accept this.
I want to be very, very clear on this point because I’ve heard leaders from other churches say things like, “We’re not going to pander to non-Christians around here. We’re not going to try to be accessible or relevant to them. We’re into depth. We’re into maturity around this church, not non-Christians.”
They have a very churchy culture and very churchy music, and they’re very inaccessible to people who are far from God.
And far from producing people of true depth — people that are characterized by the love and joy and peace of Christ.
Some of these churches produce some of the most arrogant, self righteous, legalistic people in the world.
And that’s not God’s plan.
Who was the most spiritually mature person that ever lived?
This wasn’t supposed to be a trick question.
The teacher of a Sunday school class asked a group of little kids, “What’s brown and furry, climbs trees and eats nuts?”
And the kids look at each other with a kind of confused look on their face and no one answers.
Finally a kid raises his hand and says, “Well, I guess the answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
It wasn’t a trick question — Jesus was the most spiritually mature person who ever lived.
And at the same time, Jesus was the most approachable person who ever lived. He loved people who were far from God.
And he didn’t just love them because it was his job to love them. He actually liked them. He liked being with them. He sought them out, and they sought him out.
You just couldn’t keep Jesus and those far from God apart. He was a magnet to them.
And that was his plan for his followers.
It’s just about this simple — if you love Jesus, you’ll love the people he died for.
And conversely, any time you see a church or an individual that claims spiritual maturity but gives no evidence of love or passion for people far from God, it’s not spiritual maturity.
Authentic spiritual growth always leads to great passion and concern for people far from God.
And what we need to do is we need to learn to develop relationships with unchurched people — people who are far from God.
And primarily this just involves learning to be with people who don’t know God the way that Jesus would be with them.
That, really, is all there is to it.
And that’s what I want to walk us through today. I want to talk about what it’s like to be like Jesus with people who are far from God.
Now I know right away when I say — raise the level of risk personally, go and be with people who are far from God — go knock on a door and extend a hand… all of a sudden your weird-o-meter goes up and you think — I don’t want to look like a spiritual crazy person.
Kind of like this guy —
Awkward Invites: Say Anything
It can be intimidating to go next door. Don’t do it like that.
I have to show you another one.
Awkward Invites: Cat Funeral
Every time I’ve taken a risk to knock on a door or extend a hand… I’ve found behind every door is a story. Behind every door is someone who matters to God and behind every door is a story to be told.
Jesus says in our text in verse 19 to go and make disciples of all nations.
A more literal translation of that word ‘go’ would be as you’re going — as you’re living your life, as you’re in your neighborhood — in the park, on the plane, riding the train, on the golf course, in the marketplace.
As you go, live your life in such a way that people eventually want to know more about the one you follow.
And one day, maybe some of them will even become followers of Jesus Christ, too.
Because behind every door is a story.
And did you notice Jesus talks about making disciples of “all nations”?
The Greek word is literally ‘all ethnos.’
What English word do we get from the word ‘ethnos’?
Jesus is saying to raise the level of risk to reach people of all ethnic groups, all skin colors.
One thing that’s true is we are living in an area of increasing diversity.
And a vision I have that I think is really close to the heart of God is to truly reflect in our church the ethnic diversity in our community.
Would anyone get behind that vision?
If so, we’re going to have to raise the level of personal risk.
We’re each going to have to have the courage to knock on a door; and we’re going to have to have the courage to extend a hand, to be a friend, to build a relationship, and to love.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. The key to opening the door is acceptance.
Jesus just exuded a spirit of acceptance every day of his life. Anybody who came along, even if Jesus disagreed with them, even if he had problems with their lifestyles, with their moral choices, he still accepted them.
Why? Because acceptance opens the door for influence.
All of us are drawn to environments and relationships of acceptance. Conversely, we move away from relationships where we feel rejection.
Kind of like the elderly lady who never married; and shortly before her death, she requested that no male pallbearers be at her funeral. She said, “They wouldn’t take me out when I was alive, and I don’t want them to take me out when I’m dead.”
We are acceptance magnets. We gravitate toward environments where we feel accepted, and we move away from relationships and environments where we don’t.
Jesus was the most accepting and approachable person who ever lived.
Jesus went to parties at tax collector’s houses.
Jesus went to dinners attended by prostitutes.
Jesus went to the country of Samaria where a respectable religious leader would never go.
Jesus went to every kind of people.
You know, I think a problem is we’ve heard these stories so long about Jesus and sinners, that they lose their impact.
And we forget the prostitutes that he was with — they really did sell their bodies for sex, lowering the moral standards of a nation.
The tax collectors that Jesus hung out with really were corrupt traders who sold out their own people for money.
Jesus was with and loved people who were far from God.
You and I have got to do this. We’ve got to agree to not make our primary aim in life to socialize only with other Christians.
Now let me say this. For most of us, this does not mean so much that you have to start going to new places.
For most of us, this means that we need to start forming relationships in circles where you already find yourself. Do this in a way that fits your world.
For example, my son Ezra plays soccer, so we spend a lot of time with the families of the boys on his team.
You can find out a lot about the spiritual condition of someone’s heart just by watching how they respond when their kid plays soccer.
And I’ve cultivated friendships and struck up meaningful conversations about family and parenting all by just caring for people while I’m doing what I would be doing anyway.
Maybe it’s going to the gym. Go not just with the purpose of getting into shape. Get to know some people who desperately need what you have to offer them.
Have neighbors over for dinner.
It’ll look different for everyone, but it really is possible. Spend time where people are far from God because they’re all over the place.
And we all need to be reminded that the highest risk we take is not when we invite someone to attend a Blue Oaks service.
The highest risk we take is when we knock on a neighbor’s door… or we reach out a hand of friendship for the first time.
Let me ask you: Why do you think we hesitate to do that?
The most consistent thing we hear people say — it doesn’t sound very spiritual; it’s just the truth — more often than not, people say they don’t have time.
And you know what? They really don’t.
In research on Bay Area people we’re finding there is a waning number of us who really know our neighbors.
It’s not that we don’t want to know our neighbors. People do. And we want to have conversations of substance. It’s not that we lack courage; it really isn’t. It’s not that we lack the heart. It’s that we don’t have time.
We see it all the time. Take an average Blue Oaks family.
Dad is working.
Mom is working.
They’ve got three kids involved in three or four activities each — soccer and dance and basketball and band and honors classes.
And you throw in a few hobbies and family gatherings and workouts, and life just gets harder and harder and exponentially more complex.
And then you throw in a church.
My concern for you and my concern for me is that we would be so inundated with activity that we wouldn’t be investing in anybody’s lives outside these walls — because we don’t have the time.
Sometimes the church can be guilty, with all the activities and ministries that go on, of pulling you away from the very people God wants you to influence.
I need more time among my neighbors.
You need more time among your neighbors.
It’s in the neighborhood where your neighbors slept last night.
It’s in the neighborhood where families are trying to figure out life.
It’s in a neighborhood where singles are looking for relational connection and belonging.
It’s in a neighborhood where people eat their meals.
It’s in a neighborhood where the early church gathered in homes.
It’s in a neighborhood where the early church broke bread and ate together.
It’s in a neighborhood where the church became so magnetic that people wanted the joy and the love and the strength that the followers of Jesus overflowed with, and the neighbors couldn’t stay away from it.
I’m convinced that the more we get out in our neighborhoods, the more risks we will take and the more doors we will knock on and the more conversations of substance will happen and the more stories will be told.
Many of you remember the day you first walked through the door of Blue Oaks.
Some of you came kicking and screaming, didn’t you? You lost a bet or something and you had to come to church.
But here your soul softened.
And here your heart melted.
And here God got your attention.
And here many of you stepped across the line of faith.
And here maybe you were baptized.
Here you were taught.
Here you discovered you had a spiritual gift that God could use.
Here you were moved to respond to a world in need.
And here you became a follower, a disciple of Jesus.
It’s not an understatement for many of you to say: God changed my life in this church.
What if one day in our future, hundreds of thousands of people all over the Tri-Valley could make that statement?
And it all began on the day someone took a risk and knocked on the door, put out their hand, and said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor.”
I really believe that can happen if we will raise the level of risk to personally knock on a door and extend a hand and if we will really believe that behind every door is a story.
I’ll tell you what I think is the biggest illusion about a church like Blue Oaks. The biggest illusion is that you start a service like this and it will just draw people to it by itself.
The Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” mentality. And a lot of people have that idea about church, “If you build it, they will come.” It doesn’t work that way.
They will not come if a friend doesn’t invite them.
Most people who are far from God don’t wake up on a Sunday morning saying, “Man, I just wish there was a church service someplace I could go to. I think I’ll drive around until I find one.” That’s not on their mind.
Next week we’re starting a new teaching series — “I Have a Question.”
We live in a world where answers are easy to find. Ask Alexa or Siri about the weather or sports and you’ll get a quick reply. Questions about God, however, aren’t as simple — and often prevent people from stepping into a church.
So we’re going to look at questions like:
Is the Bible anti-women?
Is the Bible pro-slavery?
Is God against science?
Is Christianity against other faiths?
Is Christianity irrational?
Does suffering disprove God?
Are all religions the same?
Now, this series starting next Sunday in our new facility will only be effective if it’s a tool in the hands of those of you who are cultivating relationships with people who are far from God.
And it’s crucial for us to understand that.
Almost every person who comes to church next week will be because someone invited them.
We are an invitation-dependent community. That’s just the truth about us.
Not only that, but Christianity is an invitation-dependent faith. It always has been.
Go back to the beginning in the Gospel of John, chapter one. Andrew meets Jesus and his world is turned upside down. The next thing he does is go to Peter. The text says, “And he brought him to Jesus.”
He brought Peter to a place where Peter could find out about Jesus.
And then we read about Philip, and Philip meets Jesus, and his life is changed.
He goes to Nathaniel and says to Nathaniel, “Come and see. I want you to come to a place where you can learn about Jesus.”
That’s what Christians do. Christ-followers for over 2,000 years have been going after people and bringing them to a place where they can learn about Jesus, “Come and see, just come and see.” And when they do amazing things happen.
Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 to go and make disciples of all nations, all peoples, all ethnic groups, all your neighbors.
And then he said,
baptizing them in the name of the Father — because they have a God who loves them far more than they’re aware.
and of the Son — because Jesus went through an incredible extent to give grace to them.
and of the Holy Spirit — because they have a God who longs to walk with them through their lives.
I long for you to have the experience at least one time in your life of seeing a person you took a risk with, of seeing a person whose door you knocked on, who you became a friend with… and who you loved… and who you influenced… and who you accepted.
I long for you to have the experience of watching this person be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
That’s living a life that’s motivated for great gain.
And in that moment you will know that you took a risk that was worth it… and that it’s a great gain.
This is why God made you; it is aligned with his purposes for your life.
I hope when you see people being baptized in weeks ahead, it will dare you to raise the level of risk in your life in order to hear more life changing stories.
There is nothing in the world like that joy we see on people’s faces when they rise from the waters of Baptism. There is nothing you can do in your life more important than that.
You cut business deals; you’ve got more dollars in a bank account.
You go on some great trips; they’re merely pictures on a page in a scrapbook.
But when you sense God used you to raise risk and knock on a door and extend a hand and lead someone into a relationship with the God who made them, you’re going to get emotional about it every time you tell that story for the rest of your life.
There’s nothing like it in the world, and I long for you to have that experience at least one time in your life.
But we’ve got to raise risk, and we’ve got to really believe that behind every door there is a story.
And the last thing I want to encourage you with is this — be persistent!
In one of the stories Jesus told about the growth of the kingdom, he said:
“This is like a sower who goes out and sows seeds? Some of it falls on real hard ground, on the path, and gets eaten by birds. Some of it falls on real shallow soil where there’s rock underneath it, and nothing much happens. Some of it falls on real cluttered soil and it tries to grow, but it gets choked out–no fruit.”
And you think by this time the sower might give up. But the sower doesn’t give up. He just keeps sowing, and sooner or later some of it falls on good soil.
“And when that happens,” Jesus says, “watch out.”
This week is a great opportunity to extend an invitation.
I know many of you have been inviting people to Blue Oaks. I’m so proud that you sow the way you sow.
And I know what happens. I know for some of you, you invest, you pray, you invite, you get someone to come, but then results don’t happen the way you hoped.
Maybe they’re resistant to coming back. Maybe it feels like the door to their heart is not opened one inch wider, and you’re tempted to get discouraged.
Maybe it’s someone you really love, and you’re tempted to think, “I must have done something wrong or said something wrong. Or I didn’t pray enough. Or God just didn’t come through like he’s supposed to.”
Here’s the deal from Jesus’ story. Your job is to sow the seed. Your job is not to make growth happen.
You think about the failure, all the failure that Jesus experienced. You know, he drew huge crowds and most of them faded away.
John 6 says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him, and he watched them leave.”
The religious leaders of his day were such bad sowers they had him crucified.
His own disciples deserted him.
His own family questioned him.
The whole crowd taunted him.
And you’d think, on the cross, Jesus would be wondering if any of the seeds really took. Would there ever be any fruit?
He’s on the cross, and one thief next to him says to him, “Why don’t you save yourself and us?” And he just mocks him.
And on the other side of him, there’s a thief — a criminal — who rebuked the first thief and turned to Jesus and said, “Would you remember me?” And Jesus sows one more seed. Jesus says, “This day, you’ll be with me in Paradise.”
He’s hanging on a cross, and he finds some good soil on the cross next to him.
With his last breath, he throws one more seed. He just couldn’t stop sowing. So don’t get discouraged.
We need to just expect that there’s going to be failure. You’re going to spread a lot of seed on a lot of bad soil. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Just expect it. Jesus’ story is like three examples of bad soil to one good one. And that ratio may be about right.
But you don’t quit sowing seed because maybe the next one, maybe that next one is going to take root.
And you know what? You’re not alone when you do that. Jesus promised he’d be involved when we take these risks.
I like the last verse of this passage. Jesus just says,
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. — Matthew 28: 20
He says: I will be with you; I will give you power. I’ll give you words that are not your own as God uses you to touch one life at a time, one neighbor at a time, one changed family at a time — but you’ve got to raise the level of risk and you’ve got to trust me.
I’m challenging you, Blue Oaks. Raise risk. Knock on a door. Sit on a lawn chair in the front yard and drink lemonade. See what God does.
And trust that the Holy Spirit that Jesus said would be with you will be with you. Watch God work in your midst to reach people who are far from him.
Let me just say one word to some of you.
Some of you, you’re the neighbor. And now you’re saying: Aha, now I know what you’re all about at Blue Oaks.
Sometimes people think, “Isn’t this really a form of using people? For I just pretend to be a friend so I can get a spiritual commitment out of someone.”
That’s not the idea.
The idea is not, “I’ll pretend to be nicer than I really am to make a sale.” And, “I hope this person converts soon so I can go back to being my normal nasty self because it’s a pain being nice for so long.”
The idea is to just love people.
And if I really, genuinely care for someone, or I really want to, and if I really do believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price that I’ve staked my whole life on, well then, of course, my deepest prayer will be for that person to receive the greatest gift any person can receive.
Jesus said, No one comes to the Father but by me.
It’s not just us knocking at your door. Jesus also said one time, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in.
We just want you to know he’s available and he’s ready to come in whenever you’re ready to ask him.
There’s a huge difference between genuinely loving someone and sharing with them what authentically matters most to me, versus using people to score brownie points as a way to demonstrate my spiritual passion.
I pray that God keeps us from that. People know when they’re being used.
Let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church