Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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The Great Commission

Matthew 28:16-20

Some time after the resurrection, the disciples return to Galilee, according to Jesus’ instructions, and he meets them there. We don’t know the exact place, but it’s said to be on a mountain. I wonder if it’s the Mount of the Transfiguration. That would be a rather poetic way to bookend the experience of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, his death, resurrection, and the return to Galilee. But I guess we’ll never know.

Jesus appears to his disciples, and I think that we should understand this to be all his disciples, not just the Eleven Apostles. And some still doubted that he had risen. That seems kind of surprising, right? How do you doubt when he’s there? Well, there was no expectation in first century Judaism of a Messiah who would die and rise again. Most Jews believed in a resurrection, but only at the end of days. Perhaps those obstacles were not easily overcome. Remember Jesus’ words in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: Some will not believe even if a person rises from the dead.

The resurrection can’t be proven with evidence. There certainly is evidence, but if evidence is all it took, then the chief priests and the soldiers who guarded the tomb would be believers. Resurrection faith comes from the testimony of the faithful and from experiencing the presence of the risen Christ for oneself. Evidence can be argued away. A personal experience of Christ’s presence in one’s life is harder to argue away!

We should notice that Jesus gives the same words to the doubters as the rest. Doubts will creep into our lives. When they do, we should act in faith to experience the presence and power of the risen Christ, even if we suffer doubts.

We call Jesus’ words here the Great Commission. And I see in them three universal ideas.

First, there is a universal claim: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” We serve a Master who has conquered death. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. And we act on his authority. We are his heralds. A herald is an appointed representative of a king, who speaks with the authority of the king. So when we speak for Christ, we should speak boldly.

Second, there is a universal mandate: “Go to all nations and make disciples.” This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of Israel witnessing to all the nations of the world, such as in Isaiah 42:6, “You will be a light to guide all nations to me.”

We make disciples by baptizing people in the name of the Triune God. Baptism was a rite of initiation and conversion in first century Judaism. This is about making new disciples, evangelism. And then we teach them to obey all the teachings of Jesus. This is

the process of discipleship, making mature disciples. Both are necessary. You can’t have mature disciples without having new disciples, and immature disciples often do not last when the journey becomes difficult. Remember the words of Jesus in the parable of the sower. Only seeds that grow in fertile ground endure difficult times.

And finally, there is a universal promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Holy Spirit communicates the presence and power of Jesus to every believer at all times.

The disciples probably didn’t feel like the kind of people who would change the world. But they weren’t going at it alone. And neither are we. We go in the presence and the power of the risen Christ.

One last word: This is the Great Commission. Some have lamented that the Church has allowed it to become the Great Omission. In other words, we’re not doing it like we should. The Church got awful used to that idea called “Christendom,” where being a Christian and going to Church were “normal” parts of life. Well, they aren’t anymore. Christendom is gone, and we shouldn’t expect it to come back. And it seems that the Church has forgotten how to make disciples, or maybe even forgotten that we should make disciples. Instead, too often, we sit inside our buildings and wish the world would come. But as many have pointed out, Jesus didn’t tell the world to go to the church. He told the Church to go to the world. Jesus’ words are no less true today: He still has all authority. He still intends his message for all people. He still wants us to make disciples. And he is still with us till the end.

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