Remember the young woman on the 16th Street Mall on that snowy night in December? The one who approached me with the million dollar bill with a million dollar question? If she was actually adhering to what Jesus teaches in the Great Commission, what would her disciple making look like?
We established yesterday she would not have gone to a street corner in the city where “the lost” wander by. The would be no cajoling people into saying a prayer. Rather she would have been living out her everyday life and that would naturally created opportunities for baptism and teaching. But how?
The idea of baptism only shows up twice in Matthew. First in chapter 3 with John the Baptist. Then at the end when Jesus tells his followers to make disciples by baptizing and teaching.
For our present discussion, there are a couple things about John the Baptist that jump out. Specifically where he preached and the content of his message.
Baptizing and Teaching on the Fringe
First, he’s preaching out in the wild. He’s not going where people are let alone approaching them. Unlike the Apostle Paul in future years, he did not enter the spaces of public discourse and debate. Rather, Matthew makes it clear that John removed himself from the public eye. He forced the people to seek him out.
What might be most shocking in our age, is that crowds of people did just that. John’s message was so profound and radical, people had to find out more.
At one end of the spectrum stood the Roman magistrates and the Jewish religious leadership. They came to see John because they quickly recognized that his message was a threat. They knew if too many people responded to it, it would usurp their power.
On the other side stood the often overlooked and ignored masses. They sought out John because they desperately needed something to change. First they suffered at the hands of Roman oppressors. Then the Jewish religious elites made their suffering even worse. Under the brunt of marginalization and stigmatization, they would follow almost anyone who offered them a different path forward. They simply ached for hope. In years past, they listened to an array of radical voices. They even started revolts, only to have the oppressive Roman fist crush the uprising. Would listening to John lead them down a different path?
Imagine living in a world where there’s that kind of tension between the masses and the ruling class.
A Radical Message and Lifestyle
The second thing that jumps out is the simple content of John’s radical message. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
To repent quite literally means to change your mind or your purpose. Repentance is about shifting from one way of life to another. Those who heard and positively responded to John’s message understood this. That is why they committed themselves to baptism. They, as Jewish people, embraced for themselves a rite that was typically part of a Gentile’s conversion to Judaism. It was a declaration that they misunderstood their own faith. They saw a need to convert from error to truth.
Back to the Great Commission
So what does John the Baptist teach us about the Great Commission?
Jesus invites his disciples to go live their ordinary, everyday lives. But he also invites them to do it in a way prompts a reaction from others. Some will see them as an absolute threat to the status quo. Others will with a desire to give up everything to learn a radical new way of existing in the world. That is exactly what happens when we abandon the way of power and seek to live by soul in a spirit of love.
For those who want to be baptized into this new way of being, for those who want to repent and completely transform the way they do life, all of life becomes about learning to obey the teachings of Jesus. But this prompts two questions. First, what kind of obedience is Jesus calling for and second, what exactly did Jesus teach?
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.