In the Bible, God has provided for us what I like to call his “three greats”. An understanding of these “greats” helps us to think through the relationship between the law, the gospel, and the Church’s mission. So, let us look briefly at these “greats”.
1. The Great Commandment
We find this “great” in Matthew 22:34-40:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is the great commandment, with a close second commandment being to love your neighbor as yourself. The order is, of course, important here. God is of first priority, as he is God, the Creator, and the Lawgiver. Love expressed to fellow man should flow from love for God. Additionally, these two commandments serve as a summation of the Ten Commandments, the moral law (Ex. 20:3-17). Jesus essentially says these moral commandments undergird the entire Old Testament; the message of the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) and the Prophets communicate to us God’s moral standard for his creatures. This is easily understood when we recognize that the moral law is a reflection of the holy character of God. Therefore, we would expect to find in the self-revelation of God the law of God. But this brings us to the second “great,” for we have loved neither God nor neighbor as we ought, therefore finding ourselves under the condemnation of the law (1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:23; 6:23a).
2. The Great Exchange
We find this “great” in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The good news spoken in this verse has often been dubbed “the great exchange” by pastors and theologians. It is an exchange because Christ stands in our place so that we may stand in his. It is great because it pertains to sin and salvation. Christ is the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14) and is without sin (Heb. 4:15). As the Holy and Righteous One, he took our sins and the punishment for those sins upon himself, so that we might be reckoned as righteous in God’s site through him. This is also known as substitution. So, what logically follows this great exchange?
3. The Great Commission
We find this “great” in Matthew 28:17-20:
And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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.’
Jesus has risen from the grave in victory, defeating sin, death, and the work of Satan (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 15:54-57; Heb. 2:14-15). Because of his person – the Son of God incarnate – and his redemptive work, he is worthy of worship (Matt. 28:17). Additionally, he has all authority in heaven and on earth – he is Lord of all (Acts 10:36). The lordship of Christ and his worthiness to be worshipped are, together, the driving force of the Great Commission. His authority is not only the guarantee of the success of gospel missions, it is also the backbone of our calling on men and women to repent of their sins and to believe in the gospel. We go out into the world as his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). This is a commission because it is a charge from our Lord. It is great because it is an endeavor that seeks to make disciples of all nations in the name of the Triune God.
Our God is indeed great! “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Ps. 147:5).