April 27, 2014
Everywhere you go, Jesus goes with you to make disciples.
I. The Gathering (Matthew 28:16-17)
II. The Authority (Matthew 28:18)
III. The Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)
IV. The Presence (Matthew 28:20)
Last week we looked at the Matthew 28:1-15 and reviewed the very strong evidence for the resurrection: the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus, and the revolutionary change in the lives of the disciples and their beliefs. This week we’ll finish the Gospel of Matthew by looking at what we call ‘the great commission.’ And it is a great call, to make disciples. But these five verses put the commission into context: because he has risen Jesus is now reigning as king. And because he is risen Jesus is now with us always. Therefore, under his authority, and in his presence, everywhere we go we are to make disciples.
One of my wife’s favorite books, or at least sayings, illustrates this quite well. The book is called ‘Bruchko’ and it’s the story of Bruce Olson who, as a nineteen year old in 1961 walked into the jungles of Columbia, South America and began to live with, care for and evangelize an Indian tribe called the Motilones. In 1988, nearly 28 years later, he was taken captive by communist guerillas and held for nine months, constantly threatened with death.
He says “It may seem bizarre to some people, but the truth is that it never once occurred to me that it was God's responsibility to rescue me miraculously from this situation. Instead, I believed it was my responsibility to serve Him where I was. What I said to God from day to day was very simple: Father, I'm alive, and I want to use this time constructively. How can I be useful to You today?
This was to be my prayer throughout the long months of my captivity. . . I knew that God was subtly orchestrating His plan in the jungles, not only among the Motilones and the other tribes we'd been working with, but also among the guerrillas. I've always felt that I could serve God in any situation, and this one was full of intriguing possibilities. As a result, I wasn't terrified or even particularly anxious about my fate. I knew it was God -- not my captors -- who would control the outcome of the situation.
That’s a good prayer: “Father, I’m alive and I want to use this time constructively. How can I be useful to You today?” The prayer acknowledges by implication both his authority and his presence and seeks to know how to serve him. And in the great commission that we’re studying this morning Jesus has already given us the outline of his answer to that prayer: everywhere you go, every circumstance that you are in, you are to make disciples.
Let’s read this whole, short, text, and then we’ll look at the context, Jesus’ authority, his commission, and the promise of his presence.
Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When we left our story on Easter, the women had gone to Jesus’ tomb, where an angel had rolled away the stone: “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” When Jesus met the women on the road he said “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Matthew devotes a short paragraph to the lie that the body had been stolen; no, the guards had been bribed to say so. Then he moves quickly to the promised meeting in Galilee. Luke and John do not take this approach: Luke records several appearances of Jesus in the Jerusalem area, including the final appearance in which he ascends to heaven. John records appearances both in Judea and Galilee. But only Matthew records the mountain appearance, probably because of the crucial importance of the command Jesus gave.
In verse 16 Matthew only says that eleven disciples went to the mountain. Some scholars say that it was just eleven, and that these verses are primarily directed at them. But Don Carson and others think that while the eleven were the main focus there were many others there as well. In verse 10 Jesus told the women to tell his brothers to go to Galilee, where they would see him. We looked at the word ‘brothers’ and noted that Jesus regularly used this word to indicate a group larger than the disciples. Matthew 12:50 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” So I believe the eleven remaining disciples were the vanguard of a large group that met on this mountain, quite possibly the 500 that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15:6.
What mountain did they meet on? No one knows for sure, but many feel it was the same mountain, near Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee where the Sermon on the Mount was preached. In any event it is the mountain to which Jesus directed them, either the night before he was betrayed or on some unrecorded appearance or occasion before or after the crucifixion. So they gather: eleven certainly, five hundred maybe. And Jesus appears to them.
Verse 17: And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. I love that verse, for two reasons: the worship and the doubt.
First, the worship. Last week, because it was Easter Sunday, we celebrated Jesus wholeheartedly. We remembered at a heart level and with reason and logic that the resurrection was true. And the right response to that truth is worship. And it doesn’t have to stop after Easter. I hope you’ve been worshipping today and I hope you have a personal discipline of worship both individual and corporate, enabled by the music of God’s people and the truths of God’s word.
Worship is a recognition and celebration of God. I suspect the crowd spontaneously burst into acclamation of Jesus from Scripture and in their own words: Hosanna! Blessed is he who has come in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel! Thank you Jesus for coming back to us. Thank you for saving us. I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Lord Jesus, you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.” I don’ know if they said these things but it was real worship, for he was revealed to them as Messiah, King and God.
But some doubted. How can this be? They weren’t sure even in the presence of the risen Savior. Jesus had said that even if someone came back from death people wouldn’t believe – and some didn’t. But we shouldn’t be too hard on them; it’s not easy to believe in a resurrection. Some may have thought they were seeing a ghost. Some may have believed an early version of the swoon theory. Some may have thought he was just an imitator. Others may well have known it was he, that this was the truth, but been unwilling to bow the knee: they would rather doubt and by doing so cling to self and sin than believe and embrace repentance. Some may have been so tied to their vision of the Messiah that they preferred it to the reality staring them in the face.
And all the same things are true today. Many of us doubt for many reasons. In fact I doubt there are many of us who don’t doubt, at least at times. Some doubt because God doesn’t seem to be at work in us. Some doubt because God doesn’t seem to be at work around us. Some doubt because life is hard, change is hard or relationships are hard or circumstances are hard. We know the truth of a good and loving God but we focus on evil and suffering.
So doubt is not unusual, nor unexpected. But you need to let your doubt bow the knee to the risen Christ. As we said last week, the obstacles to disbelieving in the resurrection are almost greater than the obstacles to believing it. It’s not at all intellectually dishonest to affirm the truth that Jesus really and bodily rose from death. And if that’s true than his claims and his promises are true; his demands and his commands are true. It is intellectually and spiritually and emotionally dishonest to believe in the resurrection and doubt all the rest.
I believe in the resurrection, but I don’t believe Jesus is with me. I believe in the resurrection, but I don’t believe he can change my sinful habits. I believe in the resurrection, but I don’t believe God can heal my body or my marriage. I believe in the resurrection but I don’t see any value in the word or prayer. You know, you may not really believe the resurrection. Doubt has to bow to faith in these practical daily areas. Because Jesus does claim authority over us.
Verse 18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is, first of all, the culmination of Matthew’s book-long pursuit of the Messiah King – of all the times Jesus talked about the kingdom and identified himself as the king. But this authority, delegated to him by his Father, is not limited to Israel or a few nations. This authority extends to all of creation, to heaven and earth. And the context tells us that he has this authority as the risen Savior. He had authority before, but now he has won the victory that overcomes the world. He has defeated sin, death and Satan; nothing left is powerful enough to defy him. As a conqueror has authority over conquered nations, so Jesus has authority over men and angels, creation and cultures, life and death.
As Risen Savior, Jesus has the authority to tell us what to do. We may try to avoid this truth because it invades our personal space ‘I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.’ Well, that turns out not to be the case. Someone else has all authority. To begin with Jesus has authority by right of creation; we are his because he made us. And now he has authority by right of redemption; we are his because he saved us. But we don’t like being told what to do. We make ourselves busy doing what we want and hope that if we ignore it what he wants will go away. But it won’t.
He makes what he wants very clear in the command he gives, this great commission, verse 19: 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, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Don’t miss the ‘therefore:’ ‘Because I am the risen savior, Messiah King, Son of God, I have been given all authority, therefore, I can now tell you what you are to do.’
And there is just one command here, though this is not clear in translation. In Greek, as in English, there are participles, formed by adding ‘ing’ to a verb. In English we often use these as adjectives – a burning house, a working man. In Greek these are more often helping verbs; they describe action that takes place along with the action of the main verb, accompanying the action: while you are going make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them to obey. One main command: make disciples. Three ‘ing’ verbs: going, baptizing, teaching; each is an action that accompanies the process of making disciples.
Going, whether across the hall or across the world brings you to the place where disciples need to be made. Baptizing signifies that people have crossed the line to faith and are identified with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Teaching brings these new disciples into a maturing walk of faith. Notice that it is teaching them to observe or obey all that Jesus has commanded: all that he taught in his earthly life, all that he will teach through the Apostles by his Holy Spirit, and all that he taught in the past in the Old Testament. This is not to say that the Christian life is about works that save. But it is about obedience to the one in authority, our Risen Savior.
The central command is ‘make disciples.’ Therefore when Trinity wanted to fashion our vision statement more than twenty years ago we centered it around being and making disciples: ‘Trinity Fellowship is a body of believers whose goal is to glorify God by growing toward maturity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ - through faith.” Our vision is to become mature disciples. How? “We commit ourselves to learn and obey His word, to depend on Him in prayer, to exalt Him through worship, to love and care for one another, and to share His love with others in order to make new disciples in our community and around the world.” These are the ways and means, the mechanics of the Christian life; by doing these things together we make disciples, whether in Friendswood, or in Galveston or in Slovakia – in our community and around the world.
One of the great models of this for me, as many of you know, has been the ministry of the Navigators. Their disciple-making vision has two key components: one on one disciple-making, building into people one at a time, and generational disciple-making: having those people teach others who teach others in a pattern that repeats and multiplies, as these people go into all nations.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus says that through the power of the Holy Spirit his disciples will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So what is our Jerusalem, where we witness and disciple? It may be our own home, our own family. Sometimes it’s hard to go there, emotionally and relationally. The people we’re closest to know us so well that we can’t fake our relationship with Jesus – to disciple there it has to be real.
Our Samaria may be our neighborhood, our workplace or even our church. Again, the issue is going, across cultural and social barriers, to bring good news, to model caring, teach what Jesus taught, to make disciples. It’s easier to stay home and watch youtube, or to go after money or pleasure than to engage with people for the long haul so they start to be like Jesus. Discipleship is messy. People are broken. Change is hard. It’s easy to give up, close relational doors, declare yourself uncomfortable or unskilled or uninterested and drop out.
The ends of the earth may be the ends of the earth: ‘all nations,’ Jesus said. This may mean going to a guerrilla prison in Columbia, to an orphanage in Zambia, a cultural center in Slovakia, to a leper colony in Manila, to a coffee shop in Kathmandu. But it can also mean the far end of the world culturally: the third ward in Houston, 43rd street in Galveston, a Huntsville prison, a Friendswood crisis pregnancy center. We are to invest in the lives of the different and the distant so that the good news of a Risen Savior can be built into those lives.
Jerusalem, Samaria, the ends of the earth, baptizing, teaching, making disciples; it’s a matrix of possibilities for obedience. It’s not just evangelism, though it starts there. It’s not just compassion or justice, though those things show the love of Jesus. It’s not just teaching Sunday School or a home group or devotions at your dining room table. It’s all of these and more; it’s ‘all of life is God’s’ Do you remember that theme? When Jesus was challenged about paying taxes he said ‘Give to Caesar what bears Caesar’s image and to God what bears God’s image: you, your very self, your whole life.’ In the parable of the talents he said put all that you have to work for God and you’ll hear ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ This is the culmination of that thread: anywhere you go, under Jesus’ authority, make disciples: generation after generation, one-on-one, people learn of Jesus, they cross the line of faith, and you help them grow.
Before we go on to the last verse I want to make two practical observations. First, you can’t make disciples without being a disciple. You have to start with yourself. In practice what this means is ‘we commit ourselves to learn and obey His word, to depend on Him in prayer, to exalt Him through worship, to love and care for one another, and to share His love with others.’ These simple disciplines of the Christian life are the foundation of discipleship. So if you are in the word, studying and applying it to your own life; if you are relating to Jesus daily and hour by hour and moment by moment through listening prayer, if you are interacting with other believers often, not just at church, if you are seeking to serve and care and show Jesus’s love to lost people, you are probably also making disciples. It starts with being a disciple.
Second observation: disciple-making is not glamorous; it is a day by day drudgery of serving. That’s why this year’s ministry plan calls us to be devoted; it takes perseverance to make disciples. And the disciple-making ministry of this church has no one whose job title is ‘disciple-maker.’ It has job titles like Awana listener; nursery worker; powerpoint operator; small group host; Sunday School teacher; greeter; coffee brewer; van driver; old folks home smiler; starbucks hanger outer; HEB employee; tutor; mom and so on. These tasks are not glamorous, but these one-on-one ministries together make up the disciple-making ministry not just of this church but of The Church.
So be intentional about growing as a disciple and be intentional about serving. Be devoted. Because this command is not for a few but for all and this command is not for your spare time or your part time or your some-time-down-the-road but for now and all the time and all of life. As you are going, make disciples.
And do this in your own strength, by your own wisdom and for your own glory. Oh wait, that’s not right. The last verse of Matthew and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. I’m so glad Matthew, through the Holy Spirit, decided not to condense here. Without this the great commission would be for each of us the great, unbearable burden. But here Jesus promises he’ll be with us to bear that burden; to give strength and wisdom and to receive the glory.
I’ve said often before that one of God’s key promises to his people is his presence. We see it in Genesis where he says to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ‘you will be my people and I will be your God.’ In Leviticus he says to Moses “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.” In the prophets “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” In Isaiah’s promise of Immanuel, God with us, and in its fulfillment in Matthew. This is God’s heart, to be with us. In Revelation 21 we see the final fulfillment “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
But Jesus promises his disciples he will not leave them lonely in the meantime. The promise made in the Old Testament and finalized in the age to come is not left empty in these days between his resurrection and his return. Jesus says “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you,” and in those same chapters he promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever; to comfort, to strengthen, to empower, to give words of wisdom and deeds of compassion.
In fact without Jesus, without His Spirit, we cannot begin to hope to have the slightest chance of fulfilling his commands. But in Christ, and only in Christ, we can. Some of you know that lately I’ve been fascinated by the verses where Jesus tells us we are ‘in him’ and the many many times that Paul says that we are ‘in Christ’ ‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.’
It’s not just that he is with us and dwells in us to empower us for these great commission commands. It’s also that in a very real sense we are hidden in him, and when we act and obey in him, people see Jesus, which is what makes disciple-making work. He is with us to strengthen, he is with us by his Holy Spirit to comfort and we are in Him to work and will his good pleasure. It’s only in him that we can make disciples, evangelize, baptize, teach. He is with us always and everywhere.
I want to close with brief video clip from the Navigators that I think shows the one-on-one generational nature of obedience to this great commission. This is just one of many examples the Navigators could give, and it’s just one of many ways this command can be carried out – but I think it captures the practical outworking of our calling:
“My name is Ginny Elmore and I got involved with the Navigators with my husband many years ago. I decided I would have a morning Bible study up in my living room while the kids were down running around in the basement. But I needed a sitter and this young woman named Julie Schneider said I have that time available.” “And I began babysitting in her basement while she had a Bible Study up in her family room. As time went on I found myself standing at the doorway and I’d be listening up above to hear what they were saying, and eventually I would come upstairs and I just loved these women; I'm so drawn to them and I was learning about Jesus and I had a million question, because that's not how I was raised. That is how my relationship with Julie started.”
“I’m DG Elmore, and I’ve been involved with doing Navigator type ministries since back around 1980. Randy and I got to know each other when he was in undergraduate school. Julie was a babysitter/nanny in our home and so they would come over and we started looking at the Bible together.” “DG invited me to see if I would be interested in looking at the Bible, and just who Christ was, and even though we didn't know it at the time that was a huge part of our foundation. I wanted to learn what DG does and how he did it and how he ran these companies and he basically extended the invitation if I wanted to be a partner with him here. I look back, that was 8 years ago to just really see God’s fingerprints all over that.”
“We have just developed an incredibly deep friendship. Just watching them desire to follow Jesus has just been a huge blessing to me.” I began to meet in my own home with a group of women and we started having somebody downstairs babysitting for our kids and it was kind of a full circle thing for me, because I thought ‘that’s how I came to this faith in the first place.’”
“We would spend time just hanging out together and quiet times together, praying together; we were just in life together, Randy and I. And Randy does that with a whole bunch of guys now.” “One day it hit me what he was doing and I remember calling him on the phone and saying ‘I get it; I finally get it what you are doing to, that you are truly discipling me.”
Go, therefore, and as you are going, make disciples. Get ‘em baptized into this faith and then teach them what Jesus has been teaching you. And He’s with you in that, always.