Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-49
"Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned." – Mark 16:15-16 NLT
The Great Commission. These are the last words spoken by Jesus to His disciples. So they carry a significant amount of weight. After three and half years of ministry together, a gruesome death and His miraculous resurrection, Jesus is now leaving His disciples, but He had one last thing to tell them before He departed. It was a commission or charge. He told them to "Go!" He was sending them out as His ambassadors and emissaries with the message of the Good News of salvation through belief in Him. And they weren't just to go to their neighbor, they were to take this vital message to the ends of the earth. They were to preach to all the nations. Think about what Jesus said. Give some thought as to just whom He is speaking to. These are the same 11 men who He had chosen three and a half years earlier. They were common men. They were uneducated for the most part. They were slow to learn and had missed out on so many of His important messages to them. Even after His resurrection, they still struggled with belief. But He was giving them a commission to act as His spokesmen and to take His message of salvation to the world. I can't help but think that they felt overwhelmed at His words. They could not have been brimming with confidence at the thought of pulling off His command, especially in light of all that had just happened to Him. But Jesus was giving them authority – His authority – and they had seen what they could do with that kind of authority. He had sent them out before with authority to heal diseases and cast out demons, and they had returned reporting, "Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!" (Luke 10:17 NLT). So they had first-hand experience regarding His authority and what they could accomplish with it. Jesus even suggests that their efforts on His behalf will be accompanied by miraculous signs, including the casting out of demons and speaking in new languages they didn't know. Then He gave them two other "signs" that were a bit more spectacular or odd. He told them that anyone who believes will be able to handle poisonous snakes with safety and drink poison without ill effect. They will be able to place their hands on the sick and see them healed. Now we know that many of these signs took place shortly after Jesus ascended back into heaven and after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples proclaimed the Gospel in languages they didn't know to the multi-cultural crowd who had gathered. Later on, they healed the sick. Paul, on one of His missionary journeys, was bitten by a poisonous snake and shook it off with no harm coming to him.
While there are those who want to use this verse as a proof-text to justify their believes in sign gifts and tongues, I believe Jesus is addressing two kind of belief in this passage. He said, "Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16 NLT). At that point, Jesus is talking about anyone who responds to the Good News and believes. Their belief in the Gospel message would result in their salvation, and should be followed by water baptism. Refusal to believe the Good News would result in condemnation and eternal separation from God. Then I think Jesus addresses a different kind of belief. He looks at the disciples and says, "These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe" (Mark 16:17 NLT). At this point He is addressing the disbelief of the disciples. They can't believe what He is asking them to do. They can't comprehend how they are going to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. It all sounds impossible and inconceivable. So Jesus reminds them that if they will believe in Him and His promise of authority, their going will be accompanied by miraculous signs, just as they had experienced before. Jesus is not necessarily telling them that these are the specific signs they will see, but the kinds of signs that will accompany their efforts. Speaking in foreign tongues makes sense because they are going to be going to all the nations, attempting to minister in languages they don't know. They will need to cast out demons just as Jesus had done, because spiritual warfare was going to increase, not decrease. They would find themselves in situations, like Paul, where they were in remote places and exposed to dangerous circumstances, facing everything from poisonous snakes to enemies who might try to poison them. Whatever happened, they were not to worry, but believe. They would have the authority of Jesus on their side.
These words of encouragement were needed. Jesus was leaving and He knew that things were going to get difficult for the disciples. He wanted them to know that just as belief precedes salvation, belief would have to precede their efforts at global proclamation. What He was asking them to do was impossible. They were ill-equipped and under-educated for the task. But they simply needed to believe, then go. He would take care of the rest.
Father, it almost seems easier to believe in order to be saved, then it is to believe and obey Your Son's command to go and tell. We find it so easy to justify our inaction due to inability or lack of training. But Jesus didn't tell the disciples to go when they were ready or equipped. He simply said believe and go. He would take care of what they needed. He would be with them. We are to believe what Jesus told us to do and go and do it. Obedience requires faith. We have been given authority to go, so we must take Him at His word and do what He has called us to do. Faithfully. Amen.