"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" - Matthew 28:18-20
It's a well-worn passage that any regular churchgoer has come across. Jesus' call to the apostles to take His message to the ends of the earth, to baptize and make disciples of any and all they come across so that they may come to faith and obedience in Christ is echoed during many a Sunday service and missions conference. The Great Commission, as we call it, carries great weight in giving believers a clear command to hold in their heart as they think about what following Jesus means.
Yet what often gets lost in our singular focus on this central verse are the two verses before and after it. One of the chief lessons you see in Scripture is that imperatives are always preceded by indicatives. Another way to put it is that God commands only after after God first comforts. All too often, the temptation for believers is to have the mindset that now that we're saved by grace and trust in Jesus by faith, let's go back to living by the law, checking off commands as we fulfill them one deed at a time. A slave that is set free but then chooses to have chains placed back on himself was never truly set free in the first place.
The danger of the Great Commission is divorcing it's command from it's surrounding comfort. We live in a context where evangelicals regularly leverage their version of Christianity in cultural wars that influence the parts of the country they inhabit. The disciples didn't exactly have that kind of power. Jesus was telling a ragtag collection of twelve outcasts to go and share a completely counter-cultural message that would put them at risk of suffering, pain, and death. Even if Christians today went door-to-door doing evangelism, we generally don't have to worry about those repercussions.
This is why the comfort Jesus provides around this command matters and why we should meditate and delight in it as we think about it. To have the resurrected Christ, with fresh wounds in his wrists and feet, proclaim that He has authority over heaven and earth means something. There's proof behind that statement, an undeniable power that then feeds into His command. Likewise, when Jesus, who hundreds, if not thousands, saw crucified, comes back from the dead and says He will be with them, always, to the end of the age, you have a statement that can be taken to the bank. It's as sure and real as you can possibly get. This is the reality that empowered the disciples to be the first church planters. It wasn't techniques or four spiritual laws or charisma or rhetorical ability or sheer will that became the fuel for their fire. It was the truth that Jesus was King and would reign forever.
Indicatives before imperatives. Comforts before commands. As you read the Word and come across inspiring and motivating commands from God, just remember there is always an underlying truth about who God is or what He's done as seen and accomplished in Jesus Christ that forms the foundation for what He fills us up to do by the Spirit. We live not out of those commands but out of those comforts, knowing that as we rest and are restored by grace through faith, the more we actually become like Him and live like Him and naturally obey Him in what think, say, and do.