Make Disciples of All Nations

by LA UBF   05/31/2009     0 reads


Make disciples of all nations��

 Make Disciples of All Nations

Matthew 1:1-28:20

Key Verses 28:19, 20

“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.”

Welcome to the study of Matthew's gospel, the first book of the New Testament Scriptures. 

As we come to the first book of the New Testament, one question that arises first in our minds is, "What is the purpose of this book?" The New Testament Scriptures consist of 27 books. In addition to the other 26 books why did the Lord find it necessary to have Matthew's gospel written? Furthermore, there are four gospels in the New Testament. Obviously, the four gospels all talk about one thing: the gospel. Then again we know that the Lord is the God of economy. He does not do what is not needed. Why then did the Lord find it necessary to have Matthew's gospel written in addition to the other gospels? What is the unique message Matthew intends to convey?

Surprisingly, we can find the answer to this question outside of Matthew's gospel, that is, Malachi. The compilers of the Bible organized the Bible in such a way that the New Testament Scriptures follow immediately after the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament Scriptures. This organization is not without reason. One reason is that since the time the prophet Malachi spoke to the people of Israel, no prophet arose. It was only after a long break (about four centuries) that John the Baptist (called the last prophet that arose before the Christ) came. Breaking the silence Matthew records the Messiah coming to the Promised Land. 

Where in the book of Malachi can we find the reason why Matthew chose to write his gospel? Malachi 3:3 stands out to answer the question: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness..." Here "He" refers to the Savior to come. As Malachi prophesied God sent the Savior to the land of the Jews. 

When we compare Malachi, especially the prophecy in Malachi 3:3, with the contents of Matthew’s gospel, we can see that Matthew’s description of Jesus’ work matches what Malachi prophesied, that is, God sent Jesus to "purify and refine the Levites like gold and silver." 

This is evidenced in the name Matthew, for prior to receiving Jesus' call Matthew went by the name "Levi" (Mark 2:14). Was it merely coincidence that Jesus, who came to purify Levites, called a man named Levi and used him to write a gospel known as Matthew's gospel? No. There are no accidents in God's dictionary. God is the God of providence. 

Supporting the same truth is what Jesus said about the class of people to whom he was sent, for in Matthew 15:24 Jesus says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Why "only" to the lost sheep of Israel? Isn't Jesus the Savior of all? Why did Jesus not visit a vaster land such as mainland China of the first century or the people living in the Far East, such as Korea or Japan? Again we find the answer to these questions in Malachi 3:3. Jesus came to purify and refine the Levites. With this purpose in mind, let us think about the message Matthew conveys in two parts:


I. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

The people Jesus came to purify and refine consisted of the Levites. The Levites refer to the priestly family. The Levites were called to stand between God and men and perform priestly duties. They are the intermediaries, so to speak, so that on the one hand they represent God to the people, on the other hand they represent people to God. Speaking of the Levites’ status as the representatives of God’s people, the Lord says in Numbers 3:12, "I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine..." The Levites were the "tithing" of men so to speak. They were the staff shepherds called to serve the Lord full time. For this purpose the Lord God did not assign them any land. The Lord did not allow them to be involved in money making businesses. Rather the Lord commanded them to curb their human pride and live on the money earned by others. 

In order to ensure that all twelve tribes of Israel have the Levites as their shepherds, God spread the Levites evenly across the nation. After helping Joshua to conquer the Promised Land, the Lord instructed Joshua to allot 48 cities throughout the land. These 48 levitical cities were made up of four cities from each territory assigned to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Lord issued these instructions in order to ensure that the Israelites be taught the word of God and bring offerings to the Lord as the Lord commanded, so they would have an ongoing relationship with the Lord. 

Their integrity (or purity) as a holy people was critical to the Israelites maintaining and fulfilling the purpose of God's calling for the Israelites. When the Levites lost their integrity and the sense of calling, the whole of Israel as a community of people went down hill. (Refer to Judges 19-21 for a glimpse of this in action.) By the same token when a spiritual man named Samuel (who is not a descendant of Ephraim, but Levi; he is called an Ephramite only because he was a Levite living in the territory of Ephraim) elevated the spiritual level of the Israelites.

Indeed the spiritual well being of a nation [and certainly all peoples of all nations living on the whole surface of the world] depends on the well being of the Levites. By the time Jesus came, those who were supposed to serve the priestly duties became corrupt. They turned the Lord's temple into a den of robbers. In order to restore Israel back to the original purpose of calling, that is, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, the Lord had to restore the Levites first. 

But reformation is not easy. It requires a martyrdom spirit. In order to conduct the reformation from the core, God sent Jesus to the land. In the course of conducting the reformation of the nation Israel, Jesus ran into one opposition after another. Those who filled the leadership positions, such as the priests, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, plotted to kill Jesus. Eventually, Jesus suffered martyrdom at their hands. 

But Jesus did not die in vain. From the outset of his ministry, Jesus anticipated the oppositions that would arise down the road. In preparation for the day of his departure, Jesus called a new batch of people so they would function as “shepherds” (or new “Levites” if you will), so that through their services God’s original purpose for the nation Israel would continue to stand.


Now let us stop for a moment and think about Jesus’ efforts to raise disciples. The disciples, such as Peter, James and John, were all Jews. They were descendants of Jacob. Of course not all of the twelve disciples were Levites by virtue of a bloodline. But they were all spiritual Levites, for as used in the Bible (especially in Malachi 3:3) the title Levite applies more for the "mission" assigned to the Levites than the ancestral connection to Levi (Jacob's third son born of Leah). 

What did Jesus do in order to establish his disciples as spiritual leaders? Again, according to Malachi 3:3 two words stand out: purify and refine. Now, let us think about what it is to purify or refine something or someone. One of the first things one should consider is the standard by which to purify and refine. You must have an ideal image of a person or a thing. Then you work on the object until that person or thing would be brought up to that standard. 

What then was Jesus’ standard(s) (or goal) of purification and refinement? We find the answer to this question when we think about the original purpose God had in calling his people Israel. In Exodus 19:5-6, for example, we see that God called them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The word "holy" (in “a holy nation”) refers to God's essential character. In order to train them to be as holy as God is, the Lord gave them his standards such as Moses' Ten Commandments. 

By the time Jesus came to the land of Israel, the Israelites had lost the holy standards of life. [Recall how even the priests adopted all the evil practices such as breaking faith with their wives, divorcing, and marriage with unbelieving women, to name a few.] In order to restore them back to the holy standards as a holy nation, one of the first things Jesus did according to Matthew's gospel was to call several disciples, take them up a mountain side, and give them God's holy standards of life. And we find God's holy standards for his people in Jesus' sermon on the mountain. In his sermon Jesus did not elaborate word by word on the Old Testament laws, such as the Moses' Ten Commandments. But at the same time Jesus did not deviate from Moses' law. Rather, he gave his followers the holy standards of life as God's people by referring his audience to the law of Moses saying, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." In his sermon he even went to the point of saying, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

“He will purify and refine them like gold and silver.” Here the level of purity or refinement is not relative in degree but absolute. The level (or goal) of purity Jesus came to restore among the Levites is the same as that of God. God is holy. God cannot tolerate any hint of evil. One of his chief characteristics is absolute purity (or holiness). 

How did Jesus purify and refine them? We find an answer to the question in Matthew 4:23, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." According to Matthew 4:23 we can say that Jesus purified and refined his people by devoting himself to three categories of work: teaching, preaching, and healing. Matthew's gospel consists of 28 chapters. What Matthew describes in these chapters can be classifiable into these three categories. These works however have one common purpose, that is, to purify and refine the members of the royal priesthood, beginning with the Twelve. 

Teaching refers to the teaching of God's word. God's word is characterized as the sword of God's spirit (Ephesians 6:17). As such, God's word makes an otherwise unclean person to be clean (inside out) (John 15:3). Preaching refers to the preaching of the good news. Another name for the good news is the "gospel" which consists of Jesus' death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification, and his ascension for his work among the believers through the Spirit (1Co 15:3,4; John 16:7). By virtue of sinning, the Israelites of Jesus' day lost their purity and fine status as a chosen people. God sent Jesus to atone for their sins so they could be established again as a holy nation. 

Healing secures the soundness of man in spirit, soul, and body. God's people must be healthy. If anyone is sick, he cannot come near to God much less doing the work God calls him to do. Sickness, illnesses, diseases, and all other types of physical ailments which eventually lead man to death when left uncured are foreign to God. Therefore in order to restore his children back to the priestly duties, Jesus gave his disciples the power to heal the sick. 

"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver." The expression "purify...and refine them like gold and silver" is an idiom for the soundness of a man who can perform well so they can become effective and productive. The walkway at the Downey UBF Children's center was built with decorative cinder blocks. Each block was close to two inches in thickness. In order to have them custom cut, we needed to use a special saw: with 10 inches (in diameter) diamond tipped blades. In Matthew's gospel we see Jesus working on the disciples until they would become fine instruments as fine as a diamond tipped saw. Jesus was able to forge out of a bunch of Galilean hillbillies the finest products such as Simon Peter. [Let us rise and read 2 Peter 1:1-15.]

II. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.

In Part I we saw that Jesus’ “immediate” purpose was to purify and refine the Levites. Why then did Jesus purify and refine the Levites? Why did Jesus train his disciples? What is Jesus’ “ultimate” purpose in serving the immediate purpose? Malachi 3:3b answers the question. "Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness." "Men who bring offerings in righteousness" refer to the children of God who bring offerings to the Lord worshiping God and serving God's kingdom purpose. 

In Matthew's gospel we see that Jesus revealed his ultimate purpose. After rising from the dead, Jesus came to his disciples and commanded them to make disciples of all nations. Because Jesus purified and refined a few good people, they in turn worked to produce disciples, not just among the Israelites but among all peoples of all nations. And that was Jesus’ purpose of purposes.

For this reason we can say that Jesus came to restore God's purpose for God's people. No wonder that Matthew begins with the record of Jesus' genealogy leading up to Abraham, and Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus' world mission command. What is the connection between Abraham and the Lord’s world mission command? We can easily find the answer to the question when we think about God’s purpose in calling Abraham. Speaking of God's purpose for Abraham, Genesis 12:3 reads, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Did the descendants of Abraham live up to this purpose? Skim through the Old Testament Scriptures and answer the question. By the time Jesus came they long forgot this purpose. But did God give up on this purpose? Not at all! Although Gods’ people forgot this purpose, God kept working on the purpose. At God’s right time then God sent Jesus who in turn trained a few good people, so they would again be commissioned back to the original purpose, that is, to live as a source of blessing for all peoples on earth. 

Again it is interesting to note that the given name of Matthew, the author of the Matthew's gospel, is Levi. According to Luke, Matthew used to live as a tax collector (Luke 5:27). Luke also bothered to remind us that it was not Matthew but Levi who was sitting at the tax collector's booth. God did not call the Levites to go after that which is perishable. God called them to serve God and lead people to God by praying for them, teaching them God’s word. So Jesus visited Levi's office and invited him to follow him. Levi obeyed. Jesus then forged out of a tax collector a godly man called Matthew who in turn concludes his gospel by highlighting the Risen Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations. 

In conclusion, we have learned that in fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy Jesus built the twelve disciples as the new Levites so that through their services there would be remnants worshiping God and obeying God. 

One word: Make disciples of all nations

Class Exercise:

Matthew’s gospel begins with the lineage of Jesus linking up to Abraham and ends with Jesus’ world mission command. What do Abraham and the world mission command have in common? _________________________________________

Matthew’s given name is: __________

Matthew’s occupation before he met Jesus was a tax collector. What was wrong with Matthew making  a living out of the career (tax collecting)? 

The end