Go means to both make disciples (see Matthew 28:19) and to be witnesses (check out Acts 1:8). The first passage, recorded by the apostle Matthew and the second, penned by the physician Luke, lay out clear directions for going to the world. The passage in Acts emphasizes being a witness, which involves telling someone what you’ve seen and heard. Matthew directs us to the priority of making disciples, which involves baptizing and teaching new followers of Jesus. These are not separate or mutually exclusive activities, but rather represent two sides of the same coin.
First, going means that you talk about, promote, discuss, chat, either out loud or in a whisper or in the written word, the name of Jesus. As you go, you are witnesses for Jesus. Jesus is quite clear when he says, “you will be my witnesses.” Those who go are involved in lots of good things, but always in the name of Jesus. Mother Teresa of Calcutta ministered to the poorest of the world’s poor among the Hindus and Muslims of India. She and her Sisters of Charity worked with people who literally lived in holes in the ground and died on the streets. They were among the few Jesus followers in a city teeming with millions of adherents of another faith. Yet they always offered their services “in the name of Jesus.”
The second side of the coin is this, you go with a plan to help these newest followers of Jesus to grow in their faith. You go with the idea that it will take time and work and energy to teach people to obey everything Jesus has commanded. It’s not a one and done proposition. Jesus tells us that that greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s quite a teaching to drop on someone that’s new to the Christian faith and then leave them by themselves to ponder. This is quite a teaching for all of us to wrestle with on a daily basis. We have to help new followers of Jesus understand some of the depth and breadth of what Jesus was saying and we have to help them apply it to their lives.
We have to make disciples. This is the hope of the world. Both sides of the coin. Just as it’s impossible to just spend one side of a coin and keep the other half in your pocket, it’s also impossible to be true to Jesus’s words without speaking to what you’ve experienced and teaching people to be true followers of Jesus.