How do we know what passages of Scripture are most important? We know that our favorites are not necessarily the most important because we tend to leave out the demanding and challenging passages. We choose those we simply like. So, how do we know what is most important? How do we know which passages of Scripture are "What is CORE"?
For our focus, we are using two guiding principles. CORE Scriptures must center on Jesus did and on what Jesus taught as essential. While John 3:16-17 are certainly key verses, they also point us to Jesus. Jesus is our center. Jesus is the foundation of "What is CORE"! After all, God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to save us. God did not send a book or a committee or an idea. He came in human flesh and lived among us. The Son of God showed us God's truth and demonstrated God's grace to us as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14-18).
Jesus is God's ultimate and most unmistakable message (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-3). So, when Paul set out to teach the embattled, selfish, and immature Christians of Corinth, what was "of first importance," he pointed them to Jesus. He specifically emphasized what the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the stories of Jesus' life — spent the most time emphasizing: Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-7).
For our series of messages on "What is CORE," we began with Jesus! He is the center of everything that is CORE. He is the center of everything vital, meaningful, lasting, central, essential, and saving. What Jesus did for us and how we connect to those saving events in faith also have to be considered CORE. They enable us to experience the saving work of Jesus personally and as a family of Jesus' brothers and sisters.
When asked, Jesus pointed to two love commands as the most important commands of Scripture. We must love God with everything we are and must love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus emphasized a specific category of neighbor: other disciples, those who are our brothers and sisters in faith (John 13:24-25). The apostle John emphasized this theme repeatedly as he talked about our life as disciples (1 John 3:16-18, 4:7-12). The apostle Paul also stressed how central, how CORE, love must be in our lives as Jesus' followers (Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:14). Loving God, each other, and our neighbors are part of "What is CORE" to our faith as followers of Jesus.
Last week, we looked at how communing — sharing the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist — is also a part of "What is CORE." We emphasized how The Supper invites us to participate in Jesus' body and blood while remembering what he did for us through the cross, burial, and resurrection. However, the early church often focused on The Supper on the day of resurrection, Sunday the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). They remembered his victory and recounted his first appearances to his disciples on consecutive Sundays (John 20:1, 19-22, 26-28). We share The Supper anticipating Jesus' return when we will be fully united with him and all who are his (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Supper not only declares the central CORE message of Jesus, disciples actually participate in those saving events.
As Jesus disciples share in this simple feast, they are formed into Jesus' bodily presence in the world, committing to a life of sacrificial love like Jesus lived (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). As they shared The Supper, they also remembered and proclaimed the Lord's central saving work on the cross, and committed to doing so until the Lord returned (1 Corinthians 11:26)). The Supper was both personal and communal. Disciples believed they participated in the events of first importance. They share The Supper as a community of disciples — people committed to loving each other as well as the lost people of our world. As they shared in The Supper, they also pledged to follow the way of the cross in their relationships with each other and their neighbors (Luke 22:20).
This where we have been in our focus on "What is CORE" but what is ahead? Is there anything else that should lie at the CORE of our faith?
Because of timing and because of Jesus' claim to all authority, Jesus gave a set of related CORE principles in his Great Commission. He emphasized his right to give these commands because he had all authority (Matthew 28:18). He emphasized the importance of this command because it was his final command to them before ascending to the Father.
The Lord also tied his Great Commission to the things of first importance that Paul later emphasized — Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-7). The principles of the Great Commission were also integral to loving God, each other, and our neighbors (1 John 3:16-18). The commands came with the powerful promise that Jesus, our Lord, would be with his disciples always, to the end of this age, as the Spirit empowered them to be witnesses to the world.
We can find the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Luke complements it with Acts 1:8. These passages focus on disciple-making as the central command of the Lord's Great Commission. Jesus defined true disciple-making as going, baptizing, and teaching others to obey him. He promised his presence and the power of the Holy Spirit as they obeyed him.
Next week, we will begin focusing on the main verb in the Great Commission — "make disciples." In subsequent weeks, we will see how going, baptizing, teaching to obey, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are also a part of "What is CORE." We will also see how each element of this Commission is tied to our first two elements of "What is CORE" — Jesus' death, burial, and ressurection, and loving God, each other, and our neighbors.
Today, however, we have reviewed and previewed our journey. Let's conclude by looking at why the commands and promise of the Great Commission are so essential, by highlighting three truths:
Truth 1: Jesus Commanded His Followers to Make Disciples:
Jesus — as the resurrected Son of God, Savior, and Messiah — claims that he has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). God had previously demonstrated his approval and authority over the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) to Jesus' inner three apostles — Peter, James, and John. Jesus' superiority and authority were God's message to the inner three apostles at Jesus' Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). God had previously declared something simnilar from the heavens when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17).
Jesus had also previously claimed that he was the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. He then demonstrated this authority by repeating a similar formula, "You have heard that our ancestors were told… But I say…" (Matthew 5:17-48). In his ministry and through his miracles, Jesus demonstrated his authority to liberate people from the power of demons, death, disease, and disasters (Acts 10:36-38; cf. Mark 5:35-43). Jesus' prediction of his rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection, before they happened, also emphasized his authority. The Lord then endured crucifixion and burial before triumphing through his resurrection from the dead, proving his identity and demonstrating his right to use his power as Lord (Romans 1:1-4).
We shouldn't be surprised that Jesus rightly claimed his authority before ascended back to the Father. He gave his last command to the disciples exercising this authority. His final words sizzled with significance as well as revealed what he wanted most from his disciples. Jesus authoritatively commanded them:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "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).
Truth Two: They Were to Make Disciples by Going, Baptizing, and Training:
Three connected actions — going, baptizing, and teaching to obey (training) — were essential to obey Jesus' central command to make disciples. They were to go to all people. Just as the Father had been Jesus, Jesus was now sending them (John 20:19-21). God had sent Jesus because he loved lost people (John 3:16-17). In the Great Commission, Jesus sent his disciples to reach lost people with the good news of God's love and grace (Acts 2:33-41).
He commanded his disciples to baptize people as they called on Jesus' as Savior and Lord wanting to be saved (Acts 22:16; Romans 9:9-13). They shared with Jesus in his saving death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7). By faith, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, they were born of God (John 1:10-12, 3:3-7). They received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39) as Jesus poured out the Spirit upon them (Titus 3:3-7). The Spirit made each new believer a part of Jesus' bodily presence on the earth, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
Jesus' goal for early believers wasn't to get them to make a decision about him but to become a disciple of him. The command had been to make disciples. That meant that more than teaching people facts about Jesus, they were to train people to obey what Jesus had taught them both by his words and his example. Jesus had taught that the goal of every disciple was to become like his or her teacher (Luke 6:40). Paul emphasized that all believers needed to grow into the likeness of Jesus. He expended his energy to help each person he led to Jesus to become mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29). He also stressed that the Holy Spirit would help them gradually transform to become increasingly like Jesus as they focused upon their Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Paul then taught those he led to Christ to help others grow to maturity as disciples as well (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Truth Three: The Power to Do and Become Mature Disciples Is the Holy Spirit:
From the beginning, when people believed in Jesus as Christ and Lord, turned their lives around to follow him, and submitted to baptism, they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-41). Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would empower his followers to make disciples of all nations as they were witnesses to all that they had heard and seen (Acts 1:8). The Spirit within them empowered them to be able to do more than they could ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Paul prayed that new disciples would be strengthened and enlightened in their inner being so that they could know the power available to them from the Holy Spirit within them (Ephesians 1:16-19, 3:14-16). The Spirit grew them together to become a living temple where God lived through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). The Holy Spirit interceded for them (Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 2:18), making their prayers powerful and effective (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20). The Holy Spirit made each follower of Jesus a holy place, bought by Jesus' sacrifice and filled by God's presence (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The Spirit gave them the power to persevere under challenging circumstances and poured God's love into their hearts to help them endure (Romans 5:1-5). The Spirit was the promised reservoir of Jesus' strength and presence, alive in his disciples in response to their prayers (Luke 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:8).
Now that we have reviewed our previous weeks' teaching and pointed to the upcoming teaching, let's summarize "What is CORE":
Jesus taught us that loving God, each other, and our neighbor were the most important commandments.
Jesus gave one clear command to his followers before he ascended back to the Father. He told them to make disciples:
- Going to all nations.
- Baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Training new disciples to obey all that Jesus had taught.
Jesus promised to provide the power for them to do all of this, and more. Their power would come from the Holy Spirit, who was alive inside them and would work to transform them to become like Christ.
Which brings us back to the questions we are asking each week:
- Do I believe this?
- Do I let this change who I am?
- Do I let this guide me to what is important in life, in fellowship, in worship, and in doctrine?
How can I not, when I've been loved so graciously forgiven and adopted by God?