The second command of The Great Commission is to “Make Disciples.” It should probably go without saying that this seemingly small command is absolutely loaded with potential! Let’s get started.
Here is the complete command in context.
“Make disciples of all nations.” Short sentence, right?
The verb is “make.” The direct object… or what to make… is “disciples.” Make disciples. But we’re missing a subject. A complete sentence must have a noun which makes up the subject of the sentence. And believe it or not, “Make disciples,” is technically a complete sentence. So, where’s the noun? What is the subject of the sentence? Think back to 7th grade English. Remember, this was a fun one. The subject is the implied, “You.” If we were going to say the complete and full sentence it would be, “You make disciples.” The purpose of the sentence is an imperative. It is a command.
The plural “you,” Jesus is referring to, are the remaining eleven disciples… the apostles. It is to them exclusively he is saying, “You make.” We have no indication there is anyone else present. The commands are given to a very select group of men; the men he has been training for the last three years. The men who have walked closely with him daily. So, “You make,” would be the command in its simplest form. Let’s talk about this part of the full sentence before we get to the “what…” of the sentence.
The definition of “make”
Jesus command is directed to the apostles and he tells them to “make” something. Making something implies effort, it requires an activity. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, offers over 60 definitions for the word, “make.” Here are just a few.
To compel; to constrain. To create; to cause to exist; to form from nothing. To bring into any state or condition; to constitute.
The word “make” means the act of creating something new which did not previously exist. It also implies a deliberate effort is activated toward that goal. In order for this to happen, the person performing the effort must have a goal in mind and we should understand they have some sort of motivation to achieve the goal for which they are producing the effort. There is some driving force behind their desire to be productive.
Welcome to A Faith that Obeys where we are rethinking the traditional plan of salvation. This traditional plan, which is also called the Modern Plan, is a fairly new invention and has tragically replaced the Biblical Plan of Salvation. When we study the Bible and see how people were “Born Again” in the first century, then compare that to how people become Christians today, there are some stark differences. Things have changed. Our goal is to identify the Biblical “steps to salvation” and support you in your efforts to learn what God desires in order to correctly follow them so you may have full assurance that you are walking on the correct path in your relationship with God.
Our series about biblical obedience in water baptism is now complete but obedience does not begin or end with that event. There are other things to consider. As we begin this next phase of our studies, I suspect you are about to hear something you have never heard before and it may be a little shocking. Let’s dive in!
The Four Crisp Commands of The Great Commission
There are four crisp commands contained in The Great Commission. They provide the final marching orders for the eleven apostles given by Jesus at the time of his ascension into heaven, over 2000 years ago. These commands are clear, unambiguous, simple, yet potent. They embody the culmination of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. They are designed to launch and propel a movement destined to last for generations to come. Let’s read this amazing mandate.
Wow! It’s hard to believe but we are finally finished with our long series on baptism. I wanted to take some time to reflect and review what we have learned and speak a little bit about the series in general.
If you recall, we began this extremely detailed series of lessons about Christian water baptism, way back in “Podcast 012 – The Proponents.” In that podcast we identified two groups involved in the argument about whether or not water baptism is a necessary part of the conversion process. This is a really old and sometimes contentious debate. My goal was to approach this topic from a different perspective offering a paradigm shift which, I think, is long overdue.
A Paradigm Shift on the Baptism Argument
My argument is pretty simple. Baptism is a command of God and we must obey God’s commands… if we want to be his child. Isn’t that what “Jesus is Lord,” means? If we will not have a Lord, can we have a savior?. We must obey what Jesus has asked us to do in The Great Commission. And, water baptism is part of the Great Commission.
Welcome to A Faith that Obeys Podcast. This is the last scripture in our lengthy series about baptism and, it is quite a scripture. This story is found in the Old Testament, so you might wonder how an Old Testament scripture could be related to a New Testament baptism. Surprisingly, this scripture is very popular for the pro-baptism proponent and is used to prove that water baptism is connected to the washing away of sin. Let’s read it and see what we can discover.
2 Kings 5:1-14 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
A Foreshadow of Baptism
Well, I don’t really suppose there is much to discuss here. It is pretty obvious that Naaman washes himself and the leprosy goes away. This appears to be a foreshadowing of what will happen in baptism and it seems, on the surface, like a pretty good scripture to use in support of the claim that baptism washes away sin. I can certainly understand the “foreshadowing” nature of the claim but, I also see some problems.
In our last Podcast, we met Apollos, an amazing preacher of Christ who had not quite obeyed the Gospel until Priscilla and Aquila were able to identify a doctrinal error which they heard when Apollos preached in the Synagogue at Ephesus. Paul was not with Priscilla and Aquila when this happened. But eventually, he arrives back at Ephesus and apparently, soon after his arrival, we are graced with another fascinating conversion story. It’s in Acts 19.
Acts 19:1-7 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
So, Paul meets some “disciples.” At first, we might assume these are disciples of Christ but as we read further, we come to understand that, like Apollos, these are actually disciples of John the Baptist, who knew only the baptism of John. They state that explicitly.
What Baptism Did You Receive?
Now, this whole event begs the question, “Why does Paul make this radical jump in the discussion from “What Spirit did you receive?” to, “Then what baptism did you receive?” And, why did he ask this initial question to begin with; it feels a little out of the blue! Let’s think this through. How can we reconcile these two questions? What in the world was Paul thinking?
The next conversions in the book of Acts are the conversions of Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian Jailer. All three of these were discussed in previous podcasts. Let’s quickly mention them and then move on to the next full blown narrative which deserves full discussion, the conversion of Apollos.
A Quick Review
As a reminder, we are in the middle of the last section of our study about baptism and unlike the anti-baptism arguments which rarely use scriptures that mention baptism, we are focused almost solely on scriptures which use that word. It is difficult to craft a good argument if we avoid the very scriptures which mention the word we are trying to explain.
Our first quick review is the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. We studied this conversion story, in great detail, back in Podcast 031 – Pagans with Spirit. Please go back to that podcast or blog post where the issue of baptism is dealt with thoroughly.
The next conversion in the book of Acts is the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16. There is not much to say about this conversion other than to note that baptism is involved but infants are not. After this, in the same chapter, we read about the conversion of the Philippian Jailer. This is another major conversion story and we dealt with this in Podcast 017 – Anti Baptism Scriptures Part 3. Please review the details of that conversion in that blog post or podcast.
The Conversion of Apollos
Now, we come to the conversion of Apollos. There are two very distinct and separate parts to this story. Let’s dive in.
Acts 18:24-28 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Analysis of the story.
This is quite a story. Apollos is probably a Grecian Jew; the name gives that away. He was very intelligent and had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. These of course, would have been the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament. At some point in time, Apollos learned about Jesus. He had been given enough information about Christ to come to a belief that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Apparently, this fired him up enough to begin speaking to people about his discovery. But how do you think that happened? What might have happened to bring Apollos to a point where he became a preacher of Christ?
I suspect the case of Apollos is not an unusual case. John the Baptist preached for quite a while in Judea and the surrounding area. We know he had a pretty good following. All of the people who followed John believed the Christ was eminent and were baptized by John in preparation for that event. Many of these folks would have been around when John declared Jesus as the Christ, “the one who’s sandals he was not worthy to untie.” Some of those same people left John and began following Jesus.
But, not everyone who was a part of John’s ministry was able to stick around and see the complete fulfillment as Christ suffered, died and was resurrected. Apollos may have been one of these transients who did not know the rest of the story. In essence, these people got all fired up and went off half cocked! John proclaimed the Messiah had arrived and that is exactly what they continued doing after they left Judea but before the conclusion of Jesus ministry..
Eventually they would learn the rest of the story. This is the case with Apollos. He is a disciple of John and is about to see the bigger picture.
Regardless of how Apollos came to be in the position he is in, it does leave him with an interesting problem. Apollos is not a Christian! Apollos has not yet obeyed the Gospel. He knew “only” the baptism of John. He did not know about baptism into Christ.
As we move forward in the Book of Acts, the next conversion we encounter is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. For a time, Saul was the number one persecutor of the church; then God has a little impromptu meeting with him on a dusty Damascus road. As a result, Saul becomes the number one supporter of the church and goes on to write three quarters of the New Testament as the Apostle Paul! If there is any conversion crafted to convince us that even the worst of sinners can repent and become a follower of Jesus, the conversion of Saul should stand as a colossal encouragement. It is possible for anyone to become a Christian.
Saul’s Conversion Cubed
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, from a Biblical perspective, is unique, in that we hear the story of his conversion presented three times. This is helpful when we knit all three of these stories together in order to get a complete composite of the entire event. We can’t read all three rehearsals, that would take too long. Acts 9 is the most complete presentation of the three so we will focus on that, then add anything missing using the other two accounts.
For reference, let me show you where all three of these stories are located in the Bible.
The first time we learn of Saul’s conversion is in Acts Chapter 9, Verses 1-23. In this narrative, Luke, the writer of Acts, tells the story from a third person perspective. He reports things which happened to Paul. Luke spent years with Paul on the various missionary journeys so undoubtedly, he would have been very well acquainted with Paul’s story.
Next, in the book of Acts again, Luke retells the story but this time, it is from Paul’s perspective. Paul is telling the story to other people. This happens in Acts 22 after an aggressive mob is stirred to action in Jerusalem. Paul is arrested but permitted to address the crowd. In this Acts 22 version of the story, Paul recounts almost the entire event of his conversion again but, with some critical variations.
Saul’s third and final conversion story is reported in Acts 26:12-23. During this presentation of his conversion, Paul is, once again, under arrest and is being extradited, eventually to Rome, but has a brief audience with a curious king named, Agrippa. Paul is given complete freedom to speak whatever he wants to Agrippa so he uses his conversion story as a springboard for presenting the Gospel. This version also includes some minor additions to the story which we will review as well.
This is a fun lesson which I use often to help people see the Biblical Plan of Salvation. So, not only are we studying this out together, I wanted to show you how to lead this lesson in the hope you might use it and find it effective. I always begin by saying, “Let’s play a little game!”
Simon the Sorcerer stands as a classic example of a person who fails to truly convert because of the unrepentant pride and arrogance in his heart. Immediately after we witness the washout of Simon, we discover the determination of the Ethiopian Eunuch. God serves up a picture perfect example of how a humble, hungry heart accepts the word of God and obeys it. These two conversion stories stand in immediate succession and in stark contrast. Here’s what happened.
After Philip the Deacon finishes his work in Samaria he is called by an Angel of the Lord and told to head south and find a road which winds through the desert connecting Jerusalem to Gaza. This was a pretty good distance from where he had been working but off he goes in obedience to the angel’s command.
Acts 8:26-31 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Why Such Great Detail about One Man?
Why do we have so much detail about who this man was, where he was from and what he was doing? For some reason, God thought it important to make sure these tidbits of information made it into the Bible.
Sometimes, I think we read a passage of Scripture, like this one, and skim over it far too quickly. When we don’t spend some time contemplating the details, the story becomes fixed or wooden. Ask some questions and the scripture comes alive!
Did you notice that the man was not going to Jerusalem, he was leaving? He had been to Jerusalem to worship. Does this mean he is a Jew? Not necessarily! Why did he go? Was it a Passover or some other special feast? Is he alone? Would that be safe? Philip is invited to sit with him. Did you know a chariot had seats? I didn’t. What was the day like? Was it hot? Was it cold? What is the attitude of this man? He is quite powerful. Why would he have a complete stranger join him in his chariot? He must have been impressed with Philip’s knowledge of word of God. He seems to be pretty humble.
In our last seven lessons, we studied a variety of scriptures speaking specifically about baptism; scriptures which present an accurate doctrinal picture of the purpose, practice and execution of this Biblical command. These scriptures are rich in information and fairly direct in their presentation and claims. Now, let’s begin looking at a number of scriptures which again, directly mention and use the word baptism, but this time, our revelations unfold in narratives. These are Biblical stories where baptisms occur. We begin with the baptism of Simon the Sorcerer.
Acts 8:9-25 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.”
This is quite a story! When we first meet Simon, he is in Samaria and in business for himself… literally. He is an arrogant, blustering carnival barker, charlatan; amazing people with what many people suspect was sleight of hand magic and grand illusions. Simon is the David Copperfield of his time… albeit sans the Copperfield class! Some people speculate that since Simon was doing such great and amazing things, he may have had some kind of demonic power. All this is to say… “Simon ain’t a great guy.” At the top of his sin list are greed and self promotion.
One day, Philip, one of the first church deacons, shows up in Samaria and preaches the good news about Jesus. How do we know this is Philip the Deacon and not Philip the Apostle and why is that even important?
We know this is Philip the Deacon because of what we learn in Acts 8:1-5. A great persecution had broken out against the church after the stoning of Stephen. It was a tumultuous time and caused the church to scatter far and wide.
Acts 8:1-5 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
So, persecution hits and everyone is scattered…. EXCEPT the Apostles. The Apostles stay in Jerusalem. This would have included Philip, the Apostle. So, what we see happening in Samaria cannot be about him!
Philip, the deacon who had been appointed to that office in Acts 6:1-6, is the man who goes down to Samaria. As to why this is important, we’ll see that in a minute.
Phillip’s preaching is powerful and effective. As a result, people obey the Gospel in water baptism. Even Simon the Sorcerer believes and is baptized! He follows Phillip everywhere and is astonished by the great signs and miracles Philip is doing. Whatever was happening must have been truly amazing.
Let’s pause for a moment and recall the purpose of Philip’s miracles. Remember, miracles, signs and wonders were done by Jesus, the Apostles and a limited number of other disciples for one express purpose – confirming the word of God.
The Pro-Baptism proponents often point to a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus as one of their favorite proof texts supporting the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. I have to admit, I have not been completely comfortable with this conclusion, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why until now. After carefully researching this issue for this podcast, I am now confident this passage is not about baptism. By the end of this podcast, I suspect even the most ardent supporter of this view will change their mind too. Here are a couple of thoughts, just to whet your appetite.
First of all, the conversation happens long before Christian baptism ever exists and second, Jesus’ commands are directed specifically to Nicodemus. Let’s see if we can dissect the details and uncover the truth.
Nicodemus Meets Jesus
John 3:1-12 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is Born Again.’”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be Born Again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony I have spoken to you about earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
Who is Nicodemus?
Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He is a religious leader for the Jewish people. We are first introduced to him here, in John 3. Later we meet him again in John 7, where he defends Jesus before some furious Pharisees. Next, we meet him again when he and Joseph of Arimathaea recover the body of Jesus from the cross and bury him in Joseph’s tomb. It is probably safe to say; most people believe Nicodemus is a pretty decent guy. He always seems to be trying to do the right thing.