Mark Batterson - Disciple, Commissioned
Well, hello. In the second century AD, a theologian named Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Tertullian was looking back at the first century of church history, and it was a blood bath. It was blood sport. Christians were fed to lions and coliseums. Christians were crucified on Roman crosses. Now, I don't do this for many messages, but the first two minutes of this message is rated R for violence. But it's a reality check. If we don't understand the sacrifices that the OG disciples made 20 centuries ago, then we will devalue and distort and diminish what it means to be a disciple right here right now.
So, here's the down and dirty of church history. In AD 44, the Apostle James, as in Peter, James, and John, one third of the inner circle, one of Jesus' closest confidants was beheaded by King Herod. In AD 54, the pro council of Hierapolis had Philip tortured and crucified because his wife had converted to Christianity while listening to Philip preach. In AD 67, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down and his brother, Andrew, was crucified on an X-shape cross a few years later. In 69 AD, James the Just was thrown out the southeast pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. He survived the 100-foot hall fall, but he was clubbed to death by an angry mob. Bartholomew was skinned to death. Doubting Thomas was burned alive in India.
Matthew was stabbed in the back in Ethiopia, Thaddeus was crucified in Asia Minor. Simon the Zealot was crucified in Gaul in AD 74. And Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot was stoned to death. That leaves John the Beloved, who was dropped into a cauldron of boiling oil, but somehow survived. His own execution was exiled to the isle of Patmos. The only apostle to die natural causes. Question. When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things at convenient times, with nice people? News flash, we were born on a battlefield between good and evil. Jesus didn't die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. The will of God is not an insurance plan. It's a dangerous plan. And the complete surrender of your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not radical. It's normal. Here's the problem. Our normal is so sub-normal, that the normal of the Bible seems abnormal. Jesus made no bones about it. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me". Welcome to National Community Church. This weekend, we wrap a series called "Disciple, You Can Meet Me" in Matthew 28.
Let me set the scene. A few weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his disciples rendezvous with Jesus in Galilee. This is days before the ascension. So you know what he says is mission critical. God gives them a game plan called the Great Commission, but I wanna share the context. Verse 16, "Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go". Now, we're not sure which mountain. But I have a hunch. During the peak of his popularity, Jesus was drawing huge crowds. He taught with so much authority. He did so many miracles. You couldn't keep people away. The feeding of the 5,000 was not an anomaly.
So, there are huge crowds in the thousands, but there's this core group of 72 that are dubbed disciples. Now, one night, Jesus climbs a mountain-free solo and pulls an all nighter. Why? Because he's about to make a difficult decision. It's draft day. He's gonna choose 12 out of those 72 disciples to become his apostles. And so, here's my hunch and I can't prove it, but I wonder if Jesus calls them back to the mountain where they were first called and chosen and commissioned. Two observations up front. One, change of pace plus change of place equals change of perspective. And two, the way forward is backward. If you find yourself in a funk, that little formula, change of place plus change of pace equals change of perspective has helped me 100 times. Jesus calls them to Galilee. And we read right over the change in geography and the change in topography.
So, let me show you a map. The distance between Jerusalem and Galilee, it depends on the route you take. But the shortest route was 62 miles, and it was tricky terrain. You see, the Sea of Galilee is 700 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level. One way or the other, that's a tremendous change in elevation. And the hike would have taken four days. And so, you have a change of place, but you also have a change of pace. Three miles an hour for four days. Stick with me. St. Jerome said, "Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books". We call them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. "And one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open up to you".
If you been to Israel, you know where of I speak. We read over this, but please hear me, there is a geography of spirituality. And there is a spirituality of geography. Sometimes you gotta climb a mountain. You gotta walk a beach. You gotta sail a lake. Jesus does these things with great regularity and great intentionality. Why? Because geography and spirituality are interconnected. This goes all the way back to Genesis 12:5. God calls Abraham outside his tent. And so, picture of it, right? I mean, it's not that far. Boom, outside, inside, out, in, right? Right? I mean, it's not that far. Calls him outside the tent and says, "Look up. Just look up". Unless you're online and you're driving right now. Okay? Look up. He says, "Look up and count the stars".
Now, we have a few astrophysicists at NCC. You appreciate this because if you interpret this literally, this would be the hardest command in the entire Bible. It would take you forever times two. What is happening here? Why does God take Abraham on a two-foot field trip? I'll tell you why. Because the change of place, even two feet, is a change of perspective. As long as Abraham is inside the tent, he's staring at an eight-foot ceiling. But once you step outside, now the sky is the limit and it changes everything. Change of pace plus change of place equals change of perspective. Two, the way forward is backward.
Now, I love praying on top of Ebenezers Coffeehouse. I pray with more authority. I pray with more audacity 'cause I'm praying on top of an answered prayer. I have more faith up there. I get better reception up there. It's like five bars. I pray 5G prayers when I'm on top of Ebenezers. Why? Because our future tense faith is a function of God's past tense faithfulness. You look back, look at what the Lord has done, and now, okay, now I have the faith to face the future. In August of 1996, I felt prompted to pray 4.7 mile prayer walk. You've heard this story 100 times. I'll show you a picture of that 4.7 mile prayer walk. Last week on the 25th anniversary of that, I just thought I need to retrace my steps.
Can I tell you something? My faith is on fire. My faith is on fire because if God did it before, he can do it again. I'm believing God for even bigger and better miracles because I'm looking back at what God has done and it gives me faith for the future he has planned for us. If you're Abraham, come on, you gotta go back to Mount Moriah, where God provided a ram in the thicket. If you're Moses, you gotta go back to the burning bush. If you're David, you gotta go back to the Cave of Adullam, where God gave you a song. If you're Peter, you gotta row, row, row your boat out to the spot on the Sea of Galilee, where you walked on water. The way forward is backward. So, if you feel like you've lost your way, if you feel like you don't know where to go from here, here's an idea.
Go back to the mountain where Jesus called you, where Jesus chose you, where Jesus commissioned you. Come on, put yourself in their sandals. They've been locked in an upper room, staring at that eight-foot ceiling, scared for their lives. Jesus said, "We better mix this up a little bit. Why don't you take a four-day hike and meet me at the mountain"? Hmm, hmm, hmm. I'm getting a little worked up. I haven't preached in a couple of weeks. Verse 18, "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 ethnos, every nation, tribe, people, language, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I've commanded you. And surely, I am. I am. I am with you always to the very end of the age.'"
You know what? I think we're so familiar with the Great Commission, that it loses its full effectiveness. I mean, this is a crazy vision cast, given the context. This is BHAG, right? Big, hairy, audacious goal. In the first century, average person never traveled outside a 30-mile radius of their birthplace. Juxtapose that with this. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles. If my math is correct, Jesus is calling them 24,871 miles outside of their comfort zone. I mean, come on, this is long before planes, trains, and automobiles. This is long before GPS, Airbnb, or a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. This is a moonshot mission. Let me show you another map. It's a map of the apostles' travels.
According to Eusebius, second century church historian, Philip went as far north as Gaul, what we would call England. Matthew went as far south as Ethiopia. James went as far west as Spain. And doubting Thomas went as far east as India. Here's the question. What was the catalyst for this kind of movement, this kind of impact? I mean, it's not complicated. It's called the Great Commission. Jesus' last command was their first concern. Couple that with the fact that they were eye witnesses to an empty tomb. Okay. When you follow someone who was dead and comes back to life, you will follow them to the ends of the earth and back. And that is what they do. So, let me break this down. In the Greek language, there is an emphasis that's placed on authority. And it doesn't show up when you translate it to English. It gets lost in translation.
There are three kinds of emphasis, focus, contrast, and intensity. And so, it's almost like all authority here is highlighted and underlined. Why? Because it's the key to the Commission. If you don't understand the authority that is yours in Christ, there is no way you can exercise that authority. You will operate at less than full power, at less than full potential. And that, my friends, is called a sin of omission. Jesus says all authority. How much authority? All authority. And then he adds this little agenda, in heaven and on earth. Jesus is asserting his authority by virtue of creation and by virtue of redemption. It belongs to him twice.
Theologian, Prime Minister of the Netherlands about a century ago, Abraham Kuyper said it this way, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine.'" It's all from him. It's all for him. That's a theology of sovereignty in one sentence. The earliest Christian creed would say it this way, Jesus is Lord. And it sounds so simple. But those three words were absolutely revolutionary. And I mean that literally. You see, in 12 AD, Caesar Augustus, the same Caesar who declared that a census should be taken, declared himself, Pontifex Maximus, or Chief Priest of Rome. He would renovate 82 Roman temples. He would start sacrificing animals to Roman gods. And upon his death, Augustus was declared the son of god. Roman coins were inscribed with three words, Caesar is lord.
Do you see where this is heading? Jesus is Lord was treason against Rome. It was a coup d'etat against the Roman empire. It could get you crucified. And it did. See, here's the bottom line. The only appropriate response to the sovereignty of God is the complete submission of my life, my time and talent and treasure, my hopes and my dreams, my fears, and my faults, my past, my present, and my future to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That's all I've got. But you have to flip that Roman coin. When we submit to his authority, Jesus gives his authority, all authority to us.
And then we have to exercise that authority. What authority? I think three-dimensional here. One, is spiritual authority, right? The weapons we fight with are not carnal. Second Corinthians 10. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We have authority over powers and principalities. Two, it's relational authority. If you are a child of God, quit acting like an orphan. You need to know who you are and you need to know whose you are. You are the image of God. Genesis 1:26. You are the apple of God's eyes, Psalm 17:8. You are God's workmanship, Ephesians 2:10. I'm gonna add one more to the mix. You are his signet ring, Haggai 2:23. I love this. "I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you," declares the Lord Almighty.
In ancient empires, the highest level of authority was symbolized by this signet ring. And there are these moments, amazing moments, right? Where in Genesis 41, Pharaoh takes his signet ring and puts it on Joseph's finger. What a moment! And then there's this moment in Esther eight, where King Xerxes takes his ring and puts it on Mordecai's finger. Unbelievable. That signet ring symbolized the full authority of a king and his kingdom. Now, this word for authority in Greek is exousia. And it's one of these words that it carries so much weight. It's almost like power of attorney. It's delegated authority. Well, what kind of authority? Well, this goes from spiritual authority to relational authority. And now I'm talking about positional authority. The authority that you have in Christ.
In Christ, in Christ, in Christ, you have this positional authority to do what? To cast out demons. Woo, now we're not playing, church, are we? To heal diseases. Woo, game on. To bind things and to lose things in the spiritual realm, Matthew 18:18. The authority to pronounce blessing. The authority to rebuke the wind in the ways. The authority to move mountains. How? With mustard seed's faith. I wanna tell you what God's doing in my spirit and where I believe God is taking us as a church. You watch this in the weeks and months to come as we exercise this authority, we're gonna see a supernatural demonstration of his love and power through science and miracles and wonders, through healing.
Now, stick with me. When we exercise that authority, it has to meet a twofold litmus test. It has to be in the will of God and for the glory of God. And if it's not, it's a non-starter. If it is, it's game on. But this is important. So, I want you to dial in right here. Lora and I just listened to a podcast about the rise and fall of Mars Hill. It's a cautionary tale. It's a reminder that when you exercise authority, you better do it in keeping with God's character. Two equations, humility minus authority equals incapacity. I mean, let's just call it what it is. It's false humility. If living below your God-given potential. It's living below who you really are in Christ. And that doesn't honor God at all. But I wanna flip that coin because this one's important. Authority minus humility equals catastrophe. Why? Because pride cometh before a fall.
One of the prayers that I prayed since we had the privilege of pastoring this church is that is this, "Lord never let my gifts take me further than my character can sustain me". 'Cause you're in trouble. That's the moment you're about ready to take a fall. And that's probably the moment you need to call it quits. This is a scary thought, but you can be doing the will of God and God can oppose it. What are you talking about? Well, the Bible says that God opposes the proud. And so, if you want God's full favor, if you're functioning with pride, he can't give it. But if you humble yourself, now that full authority of the king and the kingdom is behind you because God knows he's gonna get the glory for it. And I think Jesus sets the standard here, John 13. He puts a towel around his waist and he washes the feet of the disciples. You remember this?
But you really have to exegete this story, because it's what happens right before this, that I think is the key. It says, Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything. Ooh! And so, there's this moment where even Jesus has to come to this revelation, that the full authority of God has been given to him, but he doesn't use that privilege. He doesn't use that power to Lord it over others. He uses that authority, coupled with humility, put a towel around his waist and wash feet. That's what exercising your authority looks like. It's washing other people's feet. Verse 19. Jesus says, "Go and make disciples". We've been asking two questions during this series. One, will you commit to being a disciple of Jesus? And two, will you commit to being a disciple maker?
"Pastor Mark, what do I do with this message?" Here's the application. This is exactly what I want you to do. On September 19th, we launched a 10-week discipleship opportunity called Commissioned. I wanna say thanks to our discipleship team and incredible effort at putting together this experience. And I wanna challenge you to consider leading a group or joining a group and recruiting a friend to come with you. Ncc.re/commissioned.
Now, I know the number one excuse. I already know it. Not ready. And you never will be. We have a mantra at NCC. Go, set, ready, right? If you wait until you're ready, you'll be waiting for the rest of your life. Wasn't ready to get married. Lora and I weren't ready to have kids. I wasn't ready to pastor a church. I wasn't ready to read. I'd never been ready for anything that God's called me to. You'll never be ready. Here's the good news. You don't have to cross an ocean. All you have to do to fulfill the Great Commission is cross the street, is cross the room. If you work on Capitol Hill, cross the aisle. You don't have to go out of your way. All you have to do is recognize the divine opportunities that God puts in your path, and then be sensitive to those promptings of the Holy Spirit.
I was on the phone with my mom a few weeks ago. And she told me about a recent doctor's visit. And the thing you need to know about my mom, she's never met a stranger. And so, she's in the waiting room and she has this peripheral vision. And she notices a woman waiting, and can just tell that the emotional equilibrium is off. And come to find out, she had just lost her daughter. She was grieving. And my mom, of course, spoke words of life and words of encouragement. And then my mom and dad go to Cracker Barrel and it starts raining and amen. And she sees these biker's about to get on their Harley-Davidson and she's incredibly empathetic. And so, she's like just goes over to them and says, "Hey, would it be all right if I just prayed for you"?
I think that's what the Great Commission looks like. It's less about going somewhere, and it's more about just being fully present. Right here, right now. It's less about ability and it's more about availability. Stop and think about this. Jesus never planted a church, never wrote a book, never held a public office, never gave a TED Talk. Didn't even have a YouTube channel, right? Not even on TikTok. All he did was make disciples. Few things I've learned about disciple-making. Everyone is someone's disciple. You are being discipled, whether you know it or not. See, God has created us with these things called mirror neurons. I wish I could preach an entire sermon on it. The bottom line is this, monkey see, monkey do. Discipleship is more caught than taught. It's hacking other people's habits. It's reverse engineering the way they make decisions, the way they treat people, the way that they practice spiritual disciplines. Here's what I know for sure.
Over time, you're gonna become the average of the 12 people you spend the most time with. Discipleship is a team sport. And that's why we're creating Commissioned, right? 'Cause it's a team sport. Now, none of these disciples were first-round draft picks. How in the world did they turn the world upside down? I'll tell you how. Even the Sanhedrin figured it out in Acts four, "They were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were unschooled ordinary men". Then it says this, "But they took note that they had been with Jesus". Come on, you go hiking and camping and fishing for three years with someone. You listen to all of the parables, you watch all, you drink the water that was turned into wine, right? You eat the miraculous catch of fish. At some point, you're gonna pick up what he's throwing down. And now you're being discipled by Jesus Christ.
Let me close with this. Gotta close. A few weeks ago, Lora and I had breakfast with Dick and Ruth Foth. Dick's been a spiritual father to me since the day we planted this church. And they had just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary. And they're just so cute. They're just so cute. And I couldn't help, but take a little picture. You love them, don't you? Now, part of why I'm showing you this picture is because I wanna demystify discipleship. You know what? I've been to seminary and I loved it, but that isn't discipleship. That's scholarship. Discipleship doesn't happen in classrooms. It happens in family rooms, board rooms, locker rooms. It's ordinary people like you and me, who study the words of Jesus, who imitate the ways of Jesus, and who partner in the mission of Jesus.
You know what? It looks like our DC Dream Center this week celebrated fourth anniversary. It's a place where hope becomes habit. It looks like homes, not borders. And I wanna take just a quick moment right here, because on Thursday of this week in Kabul, 12 US service members were killed. 15 were injured. Dozens of civilians in Afghanistan killed and injured by explosion. Lord, have mercy. I wanna say thank you to those who not just serve this country as members of the military, but so many halfway around the world, serving those who are in danger from this Taliban regime. And so, we lament, we pray, but you know what? We also step up and step in. We do things that are just gonna make a difference. I just wanna say thank you. Because last weekend, we talked about the earthquake in Haiti, we talked about what's happening in Afghanistan. Do you know that last weekend you gave $32,000, just like that for us to invest in our partners who are on the ground?
And Lora and I were at the storage facility homes, not borders on Monday, and it was full. I mean, you sent packages. And they're setting up apartments. Look at that. And so, as those who are fleeing Afghanistan come here, listen, we wanna give them a home where they can live and be safe. I just think that's a picture of what discipleship looks like. So, we're sitting at the table and Dick tells a story. And with this, I'm done. In 1919, a couple named Robert and Mary Craig were leading an inner city ministry in San Francisco and they got a vision to start a school for pastors and missionaries. And that vision would turn into Bethany College.
In 1950, they would buy a 60-acre campus in Santa Cruz county. And from 1978 to 1992, Dr. Dick Foth would serve as the president of that college. In 2011, Bethany would close its doors and would sell its campus. And it was a day for alumni. And in many ways, it felt like failure. But over breakfast, Foth gave a little bit of perspective. He said the goal wasn't brick and mortar. The goal was pastors and missionaries. The goal wasn't degrees. The original vision of the original founders, Robert and Mary Craig, was 100,000 souls. That dream set forth was fulfilled times 10. Can I just say, God has blessed this church in so many ways. And every blessing is to be stewarded.
And we flip the blessing for others. And we're so excited about our Lincoln campus gathering in the Lincoln Theatre. It's such a, it's holy ground. It's such a wonderful, wonderful place. We're so grateful for the city block that God's given us. We're gonna steward it to the third and fourth generation. We're praying for that piece of promised land. And Nova as our combined Nova campus gets ready to gather again. But the dream has never been brick and mortar. The dream is disciples. It's you. It's you. It's you. It's you. Finding faith with your fingerprint on it and then submitting your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And I just think here am I, send me, use me. So, I wanna invite you to stand. And you're online. Maybe you're in your family room.
I'm gonna ask you to do something right now. And I wanna be careful. We don't do this very often. I'm gonna ask you to make a commitment to discipleship. And if it's something that if you have felt the Lord stirring, I don't want you to feel any external pressure. And I know that's hard because I'm asking you to do it. And I don't want you to feel awkward not doing it, but I just feel like it's one of those moments where you just kinda, you almost put a hand on a Bible and you raise that right hand, right? If you feel comfortable, just kinda put your hand over your heart right now. Just put your hand over your heart. Just as a way of saying, "God, I'm willing. I'm willing". And here it is. I wanna commission you with an ancient command, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me," Jesus said. Go and make disciples. In Jesus name. Amen.