The New Testament Portrait of the Minister (2)

minister and message

To say that a minister preaches the Gospel means that he proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ. He preaches the message of salvation. Originally, the Good News of Jesus Christ comprised the glad tidings which Jesus preached as he walked the countryside of Palestine and said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom by calling everyone to faith and obedience.

in the early church

When a period of instruction had passed, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to preach the Gospel. He gave the twelve apostles this commission: “As you go, preach saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This commission implies that the message of the Gospel had to be the same as that which Jesus himself proclaimed.

A new period of preaching was ushered in when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on Pentecost. When Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit descended, the Apostles went forth to tell the people what Jesus had said and done. Peter preached his Pentecost sermon that same day, telling his audience about the life, work, and position of Jesus Christ. Some time later Peter preached the Gospel in the home of Cornelius at Caesarea. There he briefly sketched the word and work of Jesus beginning from Galilee to his resurrection and appearances (see Acts 10:34ff.). He told the household of Cornelius about the death and resurrection of Jesus; he informed them about the command which Jesus had given the Apostles to preach to the people that Jesus was ordained by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead; he testified to them that through the name of Jesus, everyone that believed on him would receive remission of sins.

Paul brought the same Gospel wherever he went. He preached to the church at Corinth that Jesus died for their sins, according to the Scriptures. He preached to them that Jesus was buried and rose again, according to the Scriptures, and that then Jesus appeared to Peter as well as the other Apostles.

A new stage of the Gospel began when some of the Apostles were killed or persecuted—to think only of James, the son of Zebedee, and Peter. When the eyewitnesses gradually passed away, the Gospel entered into its last and final phase: the oral tradition was recorded and preserved for the Church. The Gospel was written by men filled with the Holy Spirit, so that the record of the words and deeds of Jesus might truly be the inspired Word of God.

the ambassador of Christ

When a minister preaches the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, he brings that Gospel in his own words. Of course this docs not mean that his words are in fallible but that he brings the message of salvation. He preaches the Gospel. Actually, the word Gospel in this context should be understood in a much broader sense than the preaching of the oral Gospel by the Apostles. That oral Gospel was eventually written down, and in its written form has been accepted as the inspired Scriptures. The message of the minister of the Word has no claim to such inspiration and infallibility.

Yet the minister does not come with a message which originated in himself—he comes as an ambassador of Christ. Paul puts it this way: “We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, he ye reconciled to God” (Il Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is an official representative of a government. For example, the Canadian ambassador to Mexico works here as a representative of the Canadian government. He lives here to explain the policies of his government. The people do not have to ask questions from his government in Ottawa, Canada; they can go directly to the ambassador and obtain the answers from him. Certainly, the ambassador does not have the right to make policies for his government. As a representative, he must convey the information which he has received from his government in Ottawa. He may never go beyond the decisions of his government.

Paul uses the word “ambassador” in his letter to the church at Corinth. He saw the office of the minister as that of the representative of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Thus the minister of the Word may never say that he comes with his own message, for then he is no longer an ambassador of Christ. The minister must tell the people what Christ told him to say. He must preach the Word. Of course he may bring the message in his own words, but the message as such remains the same. He brings the Word, because he is the servant of the Word.

The minister is commissioned by no one less than the King of the Church. The Lord Jesus sends his servant into the world according to his word: “as the Father has sent Me, so send I you” (John 20:21). The minister commissioned by the Lord goes forth preaching the Word he has received. In obedience to his Sender he proclaims the Good News.

human opinions will not do

If the minister goes forth proclaiming his own ideas, setting forth his own opinions, and expounding his own theories, people soon turn a deaf ear. They are not interested in human opinions for they know that these are subject to change. However people gladly listen to the preacher who faithfully proclaims the Word of God in all humility. They will return to receive the living Word of God, for that Word docs not change. They gladly hear the simple truth of God’s Word; they listen attentively to the minister who says: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Human opinions can never take the place of the Word of God. A minister may try to deliver his sermon most pleasingly; he may even seek to persuade his audience to act in accordance with his words. But human words simply do not have the authority of Holy Scripture. Human words do not become divine when the minister suddenly raises his voice in the midst of his sermon. The words may be pleasing, the delivery of the sermon may be perfect, but if the minister fails to preach the Word of God, his words are powerless.

Obviously, a minister who preaches his own theories instead of the Word of God is not only disobedient to his Sender, but he cannot expect any blessings on his work either. If the preacher proclaims his own message, he is no longer an ambassador of the King of the Church. He stands before his audience on his own authority, not on the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will fail.

Yet the faithful servant of the Word proclaims the Good News of salvation in Jesus; in his work he will experience the Lord’s richest blessings. The seed which he sows—to use the parable of the Sower by way of example—falls into good soil and brings faith an abundant harvest. That seed sown by the faithful minister of the Word effects within the recipients the growth in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

the great commission

Jesus sends his servants into the world with this commission: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20). This familiar text has suffered much abuse and has been the cause of much misunderstanding. Perhaps the reason lies in the mistranslation of the original Greek. Too often, the first few words of the text are used to stress the basic intent of the Great Commission. These words: “Go ye therefore.” No greater injustice can be done to this beautiful charge given by Jesus.

What Jesus told the Apostles can be rendered in the following paraphrase: “When you have gone out into the world, make disciples of all the nations. Do this, first, by baptizing these disciples, and, second, by teaching them to keep my Word as I have commanded you.” Jesus does not say: “Go ye therefore.” He expects that his commissioned servants go. It is as simple as that. When the minister has entered the field, then his duties begin: make disciples. Making followers of the Lord Jesus is his task. To put it in grammatical terms for the moment, the clause “when you have gone,” is subordinate to the verb “make disciples.” And in time the clause “when you have gone” logically precedes the verb “make disciples.” First the servant of the Word goes out, and then he goes to work.

How does the minister make disciples? Jesus tells him exactly how to do this. Step by step. First, by baptizing them, and second, by teaching them. The order is not accidental, but purposely so designated. As it were, Jesus looks ahead and sees the task of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and thereafter. He sees the task of the minister working in the midst of a congregation. His servants must baptize followers of the Lord in the name of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then they must continue their work by teaching the followers of the Lord everything he had commanded them. That is, they must instruct believers so that they set their lives in harmony with the will of God, so that they may truly bear the name: children of God. Then people from every nation, every tongue, and every tribe unitedly pay homage to the Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

Jesus tells the minister of the Word to make disciples, by baptizing and by teaching them. This is the way the minister must go. He may not merely baptize people, for then he has performed only the first part of his assignment. If he merely baptizes, he has neglected to instruct the believers i.n the teachings of Jesus. After he has baptized believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he must faithfully teach them to understand the teachings of the Old and the New Testament. If he does this faithfully, he fulfills Jesus’ mandate given in the Great Commission.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon

Perhaps you have heard the remark that if a minister today should deliver a sermon as Peter did on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, he world soon hear some complaints from his consistory or from the members of his congregation. The sermon of Peter is an address more than a sermon. It is rather brief. One can read the sermon in about four minutes. Besides, the sermon is made up of lengthy quotations from the prophecy of Joel and from the Psalms. Even if the sermon is presented in the second chapter of Acts in abbreviated form, many people find this Pentecost sermon of Peter utterly simplistic.

This type of reasoning, however, is superficial and betrays a lack of understanding and a carelessness in reading the account in Acts 2. Because a careful reading of this great chapter in the book of Acts shows that Peter and the other Apostles did their work in accordance with the word of Jesus: “Go ye therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.”

The first part of Acts 2 after the account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit consists of a list of names mentioning every nation under heaven where the people in dispersion lived. In Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, these people became Peter’s audience. All these people listened to the sermon of Peter, as well as the preaching of the other Apostles. In a sense, all the nations stood before Peter and his fellow Apostles.

Even in abbreviated form, the sermon of Peter delivered on Pentecost shows that it is well-constructed. The sermon is divided into three parts. Each part begins with a personal address. For the introductory part Peter uses this address: “You men of Judea and all who dwell at Jerusalem.” In the second part he addresses his audience as follows: “You men of Israel.” And in the third part he draws his listeners close to himself by means of a common spiritual bond; he calls them: “Brethren.” Furthermore, every part of the sermon ends with a quotation from the Old Testament: (he first part with a lengthy citation from the prophecy of Joel, the second with a quote from Psalm 16, and the third with the first verse of Psalm 110. The sermon ends with a most powerful appeal to the whole house of Israel. These words: “Know that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

To begin with, Peter uses the circumstance and setting of the very Pentecost morning as an excellent introduction to his sermon. He rejects as totally unfounded the accusation that the Apostles are filled with new wine. After all, he says, look at the time of day: it is only nine o’clock in the morning and at this hour people do not drink wine. Then how do we explain our behavior which you mistakenly attribute to drunkenness? Simply this, the prophecy of Joel is fulfilled today. Joel prophesied that in the last days God would pour out his Spirit upon his servants and handmaidens. That, says Peter, is fulfilled before your eyes today. The people whom you see are not filled with wine but with the Holy Spirit.

After quoting the prophecy of Joel in explanation of what happened to the Apostles that Pentecost morning, Peter is ready to preach the resurrection of Jesus. He addresses his audience with the words: “You men of Israel.” Many of the listeners had witnessed the miracles performed by Jesus. Perhaps many of them had shouted in chorus: “Crucify Him.” Now, says Peter, this Jesus whom you have killed God has raised from the dead. The grave could not hold him. His body was raised up by God. Jesus is alive. Again Peter cites the Old Testament. He takes a few verses of Psalm 16, and he applies the words to Jesus of Nazareth. David in Psalm 16 prophesied of Jesus’ resurrection. Obviously then, God had made known to Jesus the ways of eternal life and he considered Jesus as the Holy One of God.

Peter anticipates that at this point the people will ask questions concerning the Old Testament prophecies. He is just as much interested in the fulfillment of prophecy as they are, and on that common ground he calls his listeners “Brethren.” He points out to them that David could not have applied the psalm to himself, for the evidence of his grave is right there. But seeing that David was a prophet, he prophesied about another person, namely Christ. It is Christ whom God has raised from the dead, and of this fact we are witnesses. Not David was raised, but Christ. Not David ascended, hut Christ. Peter emphasizes this last point by quoting the well-known psalm of David, Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit Thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.” Then with a direct appeal to all people belonging to the house of Israel to come to know this Jesus as Lord and Christ, Peter concludes his sermon.

The result of Peter’s sermon is overwhelming: the people come to him in great numbers and ask what they should do. The answer which Peter gives them is entirely in harmony with the command of the Lord: make disciples of all nations by baptizing them. Peter answers: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus unto the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter sowed the seed of the Word on Pentecost and the harvest proved to be a thousand-fold. We read, “and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.”

Peter and the other Apostles did not forget the second step in making followers of the Lord Jesus. The very next verse in thc wonderful Pentecost account of Acts 2 reveals the work of the Apostles. Three thousand people came to the Apostles. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). Here is the second step. The Apostles undoubtedly divided the work, but that means that each one was responsible for teaching some three hundred believers. This work of teaching went on continuously. The people did not merely hear what the Apostles taught; they also applied the apostolic teaching to their daily life.

observations and implications

When Jesus uttered the words known as the Great Commission, he did not merely speak them to the elevcn Apostles. Jesus spoke these words with the implication that every servant of the Word must abide by them. No one may take them lightly by saying that they apply only to missionaries. Every servant of the Word must abide by the word of the so-called Great Commission.

The implication of Jesus’ mandate is to make followers of Jesus by baptizing and by teaching the people. No one may reverse this order by saying that teaching precedes baptism. No one may reconstruct the mandate by saying: make disciples, first by teaching them, and second, by baptizing them. Christ has set the order, Christ has given the method, Christ has shown the manner. Make disciples by baptizing them and by teaching them.

Of course this does not mean that the very first thing a minister does is to baptize people. Let us look at Acts 2 once more. Peter and the other Apostles preach the Word in all the languages of the people present in Jerusalem; every one heard about the mighty works of God. Moreover, the audience on that day of Pentecost was made up of devout men, Jews from every nation under heaven. These Jews knew the Old Testament so that Peter was much to the point in quoting to them prophecies which were familiar to them. Peter instructed them by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in the light of Old Testament prophecy. Then when they came to a knowledge of the truth and asked what they should do, Peter informed them to repent and to be baptized. After they were baptized, the actual work of continuous instruction faithfully performed by the Apostles began. Teaching, then, refers to the work of the servant of the Word who is in the process of making disciples by leading them constantly along the path of truth. Teaching means to make disciples by building them up in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord commissions his servants to preach the Word faithfully. When people are gripped by that Word and acknowledge Jesus as their personal Savior, nothing prevents them from being baptized: they and their children. After baptism the work of instruction commences for the perfecting of the saints and the building up of the body of Christ.

At times the mistake has been made to read the Great Commission mandate as consisting of four steps: go, make disciples, baptize, teach. We have already seen that the first step is subordinate to the second. To be precise, the verbal form “go” is a participle in the past tense and is subordinate to the imperative verb form “make disciples.” The reading is: “When you have gone, make disciples.” But the third and fourth steps are also subordinate to the second. That is, the steps of baptizing and teaching constitute the why of making disciples. Christ tells his servants to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them.

Perhaps it is somewhat simplistic to say that in the work of making disciples the emphasis falls on the second step. Of course, no one wishes to minimize the importance of baptism as well as the work which leads up to it, hilt the work of teaching believers who have been baptized takes time, calls for patience, and demands endurance on the part of the minister of the Word. The task of the minister of the Word is to perfect that which is lacking in the faith of the believer. It is the minister’s duty “to feed the church of the Lord, which lie purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). To quote the words Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter, “Be thou an example to them that believe, in word. in manner of life, in love, in faith , in purity….Give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching….Continue in these things; in doing this thol1 shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee” (4:12, 13, 16).

Dr. Simon Kistemaker is a professor of Bible at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.