TEXT: Matthew 28:16-20
Last Sunday – Easter Sunday – we talked about the significance of the resurrection. Like a tuned instrument ready to play, we have been saved in order to LIVE in newness of life, following and serving Jesus Christ in the world. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at different examples and explanations of how we are to live this new life in Christ. Today we are looking at our “mission” as given in what is known as the “Great Commission” at the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Gathering to Worship (v. 16)
Jump down to verse 16. The eleven disciples (remember, Judas is gone) proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had designated. Listen to what comes next: “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him…” I want to note two things there. First as much as you may hear me talk about mission and neighbors and the world; it can’t happen without gathering for worship. In order to share Christ, we must know Christ; and in order to know him, we must recognize him for who he is and worship God the Father through Jesus the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So just before the most famous mission passage in the Bible, we see the disciples gathered around Jesus to worship him.
But also note this: they went to where Jesus had directed them and worshiped him there! That is not to say that we cannot worship God right here in this room; it is also not to say that we must go find Jesus out in the woods somewhere. It is to say that we must always have before us the question, “What is God doing and where is He doing it?” In our case, I believe God is doing much right here in our neighborhood and there is every reason in the world to expect and hope to meet God as we gather here as well as to expect and hope God to lead us out of here as we go. Let me also note that this is the more positive gathering-where-Jesus-is story in the Bible. Apparently the disciples were, at first, hiding out in a room because they feared those who had killed Jesus. And so in the Gospel of John you also can read of Jesus coming to them where they were. That is a huge part of the Good News story of Jesus. He does come to us where we are. But he also goes before us and invites us to meet him there. The danger is in not looking and listening for what God is doing and demanding that Jesus always meet us on our own terms.
And those of you who are observant and read ahead will have noticed one other fascinating thing in this verse. Yes, when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But keep reading in verse 17: “…but some were doubtful.” There, on a mountain with the no-longer-dead Jesus right with them, some were doubtful! And Matthew doesn’t linger there or go into any other detail. Maybe that’s his nod to the story of Thomas, which is described more in the Gospel of John. Or maybe he is just being honest that it took a while for some to be convinced. But I appreciate Matthew including that detail. It is okay to be gathered for worship among followers of Jesus and still have doubts. It doesn’t say that they didn’t worship or that they didn’t hear or follow the Great Commission; it’s just an acknowledgement that some struggled in the midst of it all. I find that comforting and hope you do as well.
Sent to Make Disciples (v. 19)
There are whole sermons waiting to be preached just on the Great Commission itself, which technically is contained in verses 19-20. I’ve even preached a few of those before. But I’ll just focus on one particular thing today and that is making disciples. All of what is there is super-important. We must go; we must make disciples; baptizing stands in for a number of things including training, repentance, incorporation into the faith community; and teaching obedience is also key and relates to teaching God’s Word. But here’s something you may not know: the only command in the Great Commission is to make disciples. I don’t want to get lost in Greek with you, but the only imperative verb is the word for “make disciples” – everything else, in Greek, relates to that. Literally, it’s something like this: “As you are going, MAKE DISCIPLES, by baptizing and teaching. Going is assumed and the methods are outlined. But the mission is to make disciples, and to make disciples of the nations.
What’s a disciple? Simply put, it is a student. But we have such a modern definition for that. A better description might be a life-long learner who follows a teacher. There are elements of learning, obedience, and commitment which all focus on the master-teacher, Jesus. In other words, you aren’t ever done being a disciple and following Jesus isn’t a one-time thing; it’s a life-long commitment. And those kinds of disciples are what we are to replicate, with God’s help.
I add that last part, especially, because it seems like such a daunting challenge. How can I make a disciple when I don’t have my own act together? Part one of that answer is that we don’t have to become the master-teacher, just invite folks to join us as fellow disciples! Part two of that answer is where Jesus ends the Commission…
“I am with you always” (v. 20)
Jesus’ last statement after giving this mission to his followers is, “…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We don’t have to do it alone. In fact, taken in context, the whole point is that we are following Jesus in what He is doing. And when the promised Holy Spirit comes, we will be following God’s leading through the Spirit. We will have success making disciples because Jesus is with us. That’s why this isn’t called the “Great Mission,” but the “Great Commission.” Because co- means ‘with.’ Jesus is charging us with following, meeting up with, and joining with him in his mission. We are co-workers; it’s a co-mission.
His promise, “I am with you always” is kept at Pentecost through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascends to be with God the Father, but he leaves the Spirit, also called Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, and Helper. In the coming weeks we will see that Jesus left us everything we need to join him in the work that God has been doing since the beginning of creation. Just as God blessed Abraham for the sake of the world He loved, through Jesus God has acted on behalf of the world He loves. God gathers and sends us in the power of the Holy Spirit for this work.
We rightly gather each week to worship God in Spirit and Truth. But the Word we hear and the Spirit of God that we encounter calls us outward to where God is at work – making disciples in the communities and world around us.
May Mission Challenge
Do you remember the “Christmas Challenge?” I want to give you a mission challenge through the end of May: how about the “May Mission!” There are two big ones in today’s scripture and sermon.
- Worship! Prioritize worship, whether it is here or wherever Jesus calls you to be. But take time, set aside time, prioritize time to be with the Lord, in the scriptures, and with the people of God. It is the absolute foundational, bottom-line, fueling and re-fueling station for the mission. If you can’t be with us here, worship where you are or watch online. Did you know you can even listen to the sermon as a podcast? Just search “Good Shepherd Presbyterian Charlotte” on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app or site.
- When you go back out into the world – and you have to; you can’t sleep here – make disciples! Now making disciples is an all-in kind of thing that involves connecting with people, living out faith, sharing Jesus, and more. But don’t let that put you off. Here’s the May Mission: between now and the end of May, connect with one person or household in a meaningful way – a faith-driven way. It might be asking about and listening to their story about faith, struggles, or no faith. It may be asking someone (in addition to each other at church) how you might be praying for them. It might involve being ready to answer if they ask you back about your faith or church or story. It could be as simple as inviting someone to church – Bluegrass service, Wings night, or anything else we have going on. It could even be committing to pray for someone outside the church… for whatever they have going on and that God would give you a good opportunity to connect. That’s it; May mission! But don’t just say, “Nice, that would be great if a few people did that.” You commit yourself; I will, too! It’s the Great Commission after all. It’s the last thing Jesus charged us with doing, not just showing up for worship, but making disciples out in the world, loving and serving as he did. Mission given!
Loose translation of ‘Amen’: mission accepted! Amen!
Some Music Used
- Build My Life
- Death Was Arrested
- Here I Am, Lord – Rick Bean, jazz piano
- Open Up the Heavens
- For the Cause (Gettys)
- Hear the Call of the Kingdom (Gettys)