Confessing, professing, commissioned: Simplicity of gospel

Convention Sermon
“From Confession to Commission” Matthew 16:13–18, Acts 1:6–8

By Rick Marshall
Longtime Alabama Baptist pastor

Toward the latter days of His ministry Jesus took His disciples on a retreat to a northern city in Galilee called Caesarea Philippi. This was a Roman city built on the side of a huge rock mountain. It was known for pagan worship including a temple dedicated to the half-man, half-goat god named Pan. A spring gushed from a cave in the side of a massive mountain and a temple was built over it which was known as the Gates of Hades. No doubt Jesus pointed toward it when He spoke to them about the power of the church He would build. 

Against this backdrop Jesus asked His disciples who people thought He was. Various answers were given. Then He inquired more directly, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”   Jesus was not asking the disciples for information. He was interested in transforming men who had been followers into those who would soon take the gospel to the world. Without the truth firmly instilled in their hearts and minds about who He was, the disciples would not have been prepared to face what was ahead for Jesus or to effectively take the gospel to the world. 

From that day until now discipleship is first and foremost dependent upon a confession of who Jesus is and receiving Him as the anointed of God who died for our sins. We are a convention of messengers from churches where people are asked week after week to make a profession of faith as a sign of their becoming a Christian. It is essential we help them understand who Jesus is and why they are following Him. 

If the confession is not based on possession of the truth, their decision will be about as valid as putting a Band-Aid on cancer and expecting healing.

Work of the Holy Spirit

The faith we profess is not about an accomplishment we have achieved but something which has happened to us, not of our doing, rather the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The result is an abiding presence of Christ in our life which touches every fiber of our being and every relationship we have. 

From the confession of Peter move with me to the commission of our Lord. In the Acts passage Jesus gave a command which must find a home in the heart of every believer. The gospel is not ours to keep but to share with the world. As Dr. (Rick) Lance reminds us, “We have one mission, the Great Commission.”  

When the disciples heard this they may have understood they should reach their own kind in Jerusalem or perhaps the Jews across Judea. But Jesus surprisingly added Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. These people were different. They were considered enemies, unclean and a threat to their culture. In other words the commission of our Lord means we don’t get to choose our witness location or people group, only what kind of witnesses we will be. Let us never forget that the word commission means “co-mission,” something done together. 

The truth is the world is becoming more lost around us. The enemies of the gospel are not over there somewhere but are right here among us. We live in an increasingly anti-Christian culture. Christianity was born into a counter culture of opposition 2,000 years ago. Those early disciples expressing the gospel did not “turn the world upside down” through compromise or fear. 

‘To live is Christ’

Our need is not for new programs but a return to the simplicity of Paul’s statement, “To live is Christ.” If that is not the theme of every sermon, the heart of every lesson and the reason for every budget or building we shortchange the gospel with pseudo-discipleship. As leaders of the church we must pay attention to what we are paying attention to. The only thing which justifies the church is our passion for Christ for the world. We are not only a confessing people and a professing people, we are a commissioned people. Jesus did not send us out to recruit volunteers but to build His church with “sold-out and sent-out servant believers.”

Let us look to those who launched the church in the book of Acts to find our way in fulfilling the Great Commission. They were pioneers taking the name of Jesus with them in spite of cultural boundaries or community location. They were proclaimers unashamed of the gospel and unafraid to share it. They were patterns, examples of how the Spirit of God operates through men, how God penetrates a community, how He moves to change His people and transform them. They connected people from their decision to follow Christ to become commissioned witnesses. 

May God bless you and all Alabama Baptists as you go forth and do the same.