The Great Commission
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:15-18)
These words are given to us by Inspiration as our Lord’s final words to his church, his final words to you and me, as he was leaving this world. Here he tells us what our privileges and responsibilities are as his servants in this world. These are not the privileges and responsibilities of the apostles alone, or of gospel preachers alone. These are the privileges and responsibilities of all God’s people, his servants, in this world.
It is the great privilege and responsibility of every child of God to do what he can for the furtherance of the gospel in his generation, to preach the gospel (and see to it that the gospel is preached) to all the world in the generation in which we live for the glory of Christ and the salvation of God’s elect.
The Great Commission
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (v. 15). — It is utterly impossible for me to state emphatically enough the importance, the comprehensiveness, and the depth of meaning there is in these words. Our Lord’s charge to us in this one sentence is generally called “The Great Commission.” This is our commission from our God as long as we live in this world; and it is great!
It is called “the great commission,” because there is a great need. Our Lord commands us to go into all the world preaching the gospel, because all are lost without the gospel. In every corner of the earth the sons and daughters of Adam are the same. All are fallen, lost, without Christ, without God, without hope, and utterly ignorant of God, his grace, his Son and his salvation. Civilized or uncivilized, in Africa, China, or Great Britain, Mexico, California, or Kentucky, all who are ignorant of the gospel are in a state of wrath and condemnation.
It is called “the great commission,” because we have a great message. Our Lord here commands us to preach the gospel. This is the work of God’s church in this world. We must not neglect charity: feeding, clothing and educating the poor. But that is not our commission. Our commission is far more important than that. Our Lord commands us to preach the gospel. To preach the gospel is to declare the redemption accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are to proclaim to eternity bound sinners the full glorious tidings of salvation by Christ’s blood and righteousness (Isaiah 49:1-6). The message we are sent to preach is Christ himself, God’s Salvation. Christ crucified is all the counsel of God, the whole gospel. He is the one in and by whom all the blessings of redemption and grace flow to his elect (Numbers 6:22-26; Acts 20:27; 2 Corinthians 2:2; 13:14).
Gospel preaching is God’s ordained means of grace for chosen sinners. All men and women have a God consciousness. God’s wisdom and power are revealed to all in the splendor of his creation. His law is written upon the hearts of all. Yet, Romans chapters one and two plainly tell us that these things are insufficient for man’s salvation. All men know something about God by creation. They are responsible to be holy, because God tells them in their consciences that he demands holiness. Yet, they have no ability to comply with the demands of their own consciences. The light of nature and creation can never convert anyone.
God has ordained the salvation of chosen sinners by the means of gospel preaching. Without the gospel none can ever be saved. This is not my opinion. This is exactly what the Scriptures say. The Holy Spirit’s exact words are these: It is the gospel preached unto us, “By which also ye are saved” (1 Corinthians 15:2). The preaching of the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation,” because it is the revelation of “the righteousness of God” (Romans 1:15-17). It is by the foolishness of preaching that God saves his chosen (1 Corinthians 1:21; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). — “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). The Word of God, preached to sinners by the gospel, is the instrument by which sinners are born again by the Spirit of God (1 Peter 1:23-25).
“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” — God will save his elect. There is no question about that. The redeemed of the Lord shall be converted by his grace. That is a matter of absolute certainty. Every chosen redeemed sinner shall, at the appointed time of love, be born again by the Holy Spirit’s irresistible grace and power. The elect of God, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, shall all be granted the gift of life eternal and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But not one shall be saved without the preaching of the gospel.
Without question, our God could have saved his elect without us. He could send angels, or frogs, or rocks to preach to them, or he could regenerate them without the use of means altogether; but he has ordained the salvation of chosen sinners through the use and instrumentality of other chosen sinners! What a privilege he has bestowed upon us!
I’ve often thought I would love to have Dick Clark and Ed McMaan’s job. I don’t have any money of my own; but I would sure like to be the man who carried a ten million dollar check to someone’s house! Wouldn’t you? That would be a great job to have. But you and I have one that is indescribably better. We are the people commissioned of God to carry his salvation to perishing sinners!
“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:8-11)
Let the redeemed of the Lord, sinners saved by God’s free grace in Christ, tell sinners everywhere about the Redeemer and about God’s free grace to sinners in him. Let us give ourselves relentlessly to this glorious work of preaching the gospel. Let us all do whatever we can to fulfil our commission in this age for the glory of Christ.
The General Call
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (v. 16). — The effectual, irresistible call of the Spirit always produces faith in Christ. No man can do that. It is the work of God alone. Yet, the effectual call and irresistible grace of God the Holy Spirit comes to elect, redeemed sinners through the general call that is issued to all men in the preaching of the gospel.
This general call is neither more nor less than the preaching of the gospel to all men. We preach the gospel to all people indiscriminately, because we do not know who God’s elect are and because our Lord commands us to do so. Our responsibility is determined by the Word of God, not the decree of God. I repeat myself deliberately. This is the means by which God saves his elect. Richard Sibbes once stated, “All good things come by preaching,” because he understood that all God’s elect have salvation and all its blessings conveyed to them by the gospel.
The gospel we preach carries the promise of grace, salvation and eternal life to all who trust the Lord Jesus Christ. – “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The only way any sinner can ever be saved is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. And every sinner in the world who believes on the Son of God is saved.
It is our faith in Christ that makes our calling and election sure (Hebrews 11:1-6). Faith in Christ is the one thing needful. — “He that believeth not shall be damned.”
This is the matter of great concern. – Do we have this gift of faith in Christ? Multiplied thousands are washed in the waters of baptism, who are not washed in the blood of Christ! Multiplied thousands attend church every Sunday, who have never yet worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ! Multiplied thousands eat at the Lord’s Table, who have never yet tasted the grace of God in Christ. It is not doctrinal orthodoxy that unites our souls with the Son of God, but faith in him.
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:10-13)
The gospel gives the promise of grace, salvation and eternal life to all who believe on the Son of God. But in preaching the gospel we also set before eternity bound sinners the warning of certain and eternal wrath for all who refuse to bow to the Son of God, trusting him alone as their Lord and Savior. –”But he that believeth not shall be damned.”
How fearful the thought! How awful the words! Yet, they are true and faithful, and must be proclaimed by those who would be true and faithful to the souls of men. God must and will punish sin. He will send you to hell forever, if you refuse to be saved by the merits of his dear Son. — “O that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!”
The Gospel Confession
Look at verse sixteen again, and learn that baptism, the believer’s confession of the gospel, the believer’s confession of faith in Christ, is not an insignificant matter, but rather a matter of tremendous importance. — “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Let me be crystal clear. Baptism does not save anyone. Baptism does not wash away sin. Baptism does not convey grace. Baptism does not regenerate. Baptism does not contribute anything to the saving of our souls.
However, believer’s baptism and faith in Christ are intimately connected. True, saving faith in Christ and obedience to Christ go hand in hand. Where there is no obedience to Christ, there is no faith in Christ. — “Faith without works is dead!”
There are several things which need to be understood about this blessed ordinance of the gospel.
1st — Baptism follows faith in Christ; it cannot precede faith. Without faith in Christ, baptism is nothing but an empty, meaningless religious ritual. It serves no purpose, except to make the unbelieving ritualist twofold more the child of hell than he was before.
Infant baptism not only does not help children, it positively hurts them. It gives them hope without faith, as they grow up believing they are Christians, rather than being faithfully taught that they must be born again.
2nd — Believer’s baptism is an act of obedience to Christ our Lord. As such, it is the answer of a good conscience toward God.
3rd — Baptism is the means by which believers first confess their faith in Christ publicly. It is a picture of the gospel, a picture of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and our death, burial and resurrection with him representatively. It is a public identification with Christ, his gospel and his people. Believer’s baptism is a line of separation from the world and its religion. It is a pledge of commitment to Christ. It is a confession of our hope of resurrection with Christ at the last day.
The Gracious Confirmation
Look at the great, gracious, encouraging promises given in verses 17 and 18. Our Lord Jesus knew what great obstacles we would have to overcome, what tremendous difficulties we would have to endure, what battles we would have to fight, and how easily we would be inclined to give up the effort. Therefore, he cheers and encourages us with the promise of divine, supernatural, omnipotent power to attend our labors, power that will be unceasingly confirmed to us.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
It must be stated emphatically, in this day of charismatic chaos and confusion, that the age of signs, and tongues, and miracles ended with the apostolic age and the completion of the Scriptures.
These things were literally fulfilled in the book of Acts, in the apostolic age, the formation years of the church. But no one has these apostolic gifts today. They were gifts by which the apostles were confirmed as God’s messengers, as his inspired spokesmen in the writing of Holy Scripture (Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:3-4).
Having the complete Word of God, God no longer speaks by dreams, and visions, and signs, and wonders. There is no need for me to speak in tongues or perform a miracle to convince anyone that my message is of God. All you need to do is compare what I say with God’s Word. Since that which is perfect has come (The Book of God!), then that which was in part has been put away. If miracles were every day events, if they were common things, they would not be miracles!
However, just because the age of physical miracles has past, that does not mean that this text has nothing for us. In fact, its spiritual implications are even more delightful and blessed than the physical miracles performed in apostolic times. Our Lord here promises us that, as we go into all the world preaching the gospel, his presence and power will be with us incessantly, and will be manifestly confirmed to us.
It is a great pity that our faith is so weak that we need for our God to confirm his Word to us; but it is a great mercy that our God condescends to our weakness. His eye is always upon us. His arm is always stretched out for us. His power is manifestly confirmed to us (Isaiah 59:19).
The next time you go to the house of God, the next time you are gathered to worship the Lord Jesus, look around and behold “men wondered at.” The household of faith is a house of miracles, divine miracles, by which our God confirms the saving power of his grace revealed in the gospel we preach. His people are a people out of whom the Lord has cast seven devils, by the power of his grace. We are a people who speak with new tongues. Mouths once filled with cursing and bitterness are now filled with mercy and grace! His are a people who are forced every day to take up the serpents of this world and drink the deadly concoctions of the wicked. Yet, we are unhurt by the serpents’ bites and the poisons of the ungodly!
We are a people who were sick with the deadly palsy of sin, who have been restored to health by the grace of God, a people who, like Lazarus, have been raised from the dead. God’s saints are a people who are literally going through the world, preaching the gospel, and thereby laying hands upon multitudes of sin-sick, impotent folk, dead in trespasses and sins, who are recovered by the grace of God!
Let us take this great commission to heart. Let each believer take it as the Word of God to him personally. Let every gospel church take this as the great commission given by the Son of God to it, as though it were given to that one assembly exclusively.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
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