Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
So I was in Toronto last week for my annual clergy conference. As always it was an incredible opportunity to spend time with some very good colleagues and friends and to make new friends. This is an important gathering for all of us. It’s a time to refresh ourselves, to worship together and to just relax after a busy time in the church year. We had some excellent speakers this year who shared with us how they see the world at work, but also how changes in the world impact how we act as Christians and as churches, and how we might respond to these changes. I think we can all agree the world is very different than it was 50 years ago.
The choices we now get to make on Sunday morning is just one example of the changing world. Do we go to church? Do we go shopping? Do we go to the rink or the gym or the court? Do we just plain sleep in because the rest of the week is so busy? It’s no wonder church attendance has fallen over the last 50 years. There are just too many choices, some of which are just more interesting.
In our Gospel reading today, we are looking at the final meeting between Jesus and his disciples as recorded by Matthew. Remember on Easter morning we looked at the instructions to the Marys about what to tell the disciples. They were to tell the others to go to Galilee and Jesus would meet them there. Well, here we are just a few verses later, the disciples went to Galilee and there’s Jesus waiting for them.
And on the top of this mountain Jesus gives them some instructions, we call it the “Great Commission.” The instructions Jesus gave his followers about how to live as he himself showed them to live.
The instructions are short, but full. Jesus says,
“… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20)
From those instructions, the disciples went off and created the global Christian church.
Let’s take a moment to consider what Jesus is asking of his friends. Let’s remember that the disciples were hand chosen by Jesus to join him in his 3 years of ministry. They all had jobs before they received the life changing invitation. Jobs they had been training for and in some cases were preparing to take over the family business.
So after Jesus died, what might they be planning to do? I suppose they were getting ready to head back to their homes and work they had left behind. And now Jesus has told them what he expects of them as they continue in his absence.
What’s interesting in this passage are three words. “… but some doubted.” The disciples have been reconnected to Jesus but not everyone believed. Some of the disciples doubted. It’s rather astonishing don’t you think? Those words really kind of stick out. You’ve followed Jesus for 3 years, you’ve seen him killed and buried, and now he’s standing right in front of you, but you aren’t sure, you doubt?
Actually, it does make some sense though. It makes sense because we know people die. Everyone gets their turn at some point. They saw him die. They saw him put into the tomb. So how is it this dead man is now standing in front of them? Could it be an imposter? Could it be someone who looks just like Jesus trying to pull the wool over their eyes, to deceive the people?
This is not how things are supposed to work. People die and they don’t come back. We are hard wired in our brains to know this. Our mortality is something we face pretty much every day. So 3 days after someone we love has passed away, to see them standing there on top of a mountain is not a logical expectation. Doubt would be a natural response to some people, if not many.
I don’t think it’s any kind of sign as to the faithfulness of some disciples over the others. I think it’s an sign of how having a Saviour of the world who rose from the dead is unexpected in the natural order of the world God created.
All people die. Yet here is Jesus standing on top of a mountain seemingly alive. That’s not what we have learned to be the way the world works. So for some to doubt, sure I can believe that. Who’s to say we wouldn’t have doubted ourselves in that same moment?
Back to the instruction Jesus gave to his followers.
“… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
This sounds like a pretty big job. Notice Jesus didn’t preface it with anything else, like “when you go back to being fishermen…”
Jesus didn’t tell them they were free to go back to their old lives and do whatever they wish. He gave them instructions which were to keep doing what he started. He didn’t say, “If you have time could you go and make a couple more disciples.” They have been asked to continue his work, which for Jesus was a 24×7 job. There wasn’t a lot of time for much else.
Maybe that’s why we call it the Great Commission. Because it is important work which causes those who choose to live it to make important life choices. It’s not called, “Some suggestions for life if you have time.”
One of our speakers at the conference last week was Dr. John Stackhouse, and he challenged us on what it means to be Christians in a busy world, a world where we are forced to make decisions pretty much every day as to how we are choosing to spend our time.
I think the Great Commission is something we need to consider when we are choosing how to spend our time. For the disciples, to follow Jesus required a dramatic change in their lives. They left everything behind to follow. And when Jesus died, and then when Jesus gave them their instructions of what to do in his absence, they still didn’t go back to their old lives. Even though they easily could have.
The disciples, when they saw Jesus on that mountain, after they had seen his lifeless body placed in a tomb, we are told that some of them doubted. They doubted because a risen Christ is not something we are programmed to understand because it works contrary to the natural rhythms of the earth. They had, in that moment, a choice to make. Believe what their brains were telling them, that this is impossible, or embrace a new way of thinking which would impact their lives in incredible ways. But not only their lives, this choice would impact the entire world.
They had to make a choice. It was there’s to make. Follow the risen Saviour and change the world, or reject it and go back to their old lives. There was no in between. They could not go back to their old lives and change the world at the same time. It was one or the other.
When we have the choice to follow Jesus as our risen Saviour, it is going to impact our lives in very big ways. It means things will need to change, and usually in pretty big ways. It means we need to consider the instructions to “make disciples of all nations” against the demands of the world which wants us to conform to other priorities. Priorities which contradict the plans God has for the world.
Now does that mean you need to give up your job? It depends. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But it will mean you need to change the way you think about your job. As well as what you watch, what you read, your hobbies, it will impact every inch of your life.
You might be thinking, “Woah, hold on there now Phillips, let’s slow down here. That’s maybe a little more than I can handle!”
I get it, I really do. I thought I had my life figured out in 2003. I had a good job, a comfortable bungalow in the suburbs, what more did I need? But then the risen Saviour turned all that upside down. And my life changed drastically. And continues to change even still today.
To be a Christian, to be one who makes disciples of every nation teaching them about Jesus, it means our priorities must change. It means that when we have a choice about doing something for the church versus something else, then maybe the something else can wait. It means that instead of watching TV we need to pick up our Bibles. It means that instead of cursing someone we need to pray for them.
Being a Christian means to sacrifice things, maybe even things we love in order to grow in our faith and to help others do the same.
Which may mean we need to make the deliberate choice to forgo all other things which take us away from church on Sunday morning. Maybe it means we’ll miss little Timmy’s hockey game. Or maybe it even means Timmy will miss his hockey game. Maybe it means shopping can wait until later. Maybe it means we’ll need to get to bed earlier on Saturday night to fight the urge to sleep in on Sunday, which then implies another whole host of choices to make.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that following Jesus and being part of a church is not a hobby. It is a lifestyle. It is a conscious decision to make following Jesus a priority each and every day.
Sadly for some people that’s too hard of a commitment to make.
It’s my job, I guess, I reassure you this is a commitment worth making. Following Jesus as Lord and Saviour, following his command to share our faith with the world, it is worth it.
It’s worth it for a number of reasons.
The first is simply the joy of serving the Lord. When we draw close to God and do His work as exampled by Jesus Christ, our attitudes change. There is a greater sense of fulfillment, a sense of knowing you are doing “good things” and a greater joy in knowing God is near and he is pleased.
A second reason is that you simply see the results, which kind of ties into the joy. When you see God doing things around you, when you see God impacting the lives of others, it just helps reassure the work is not in vain. This is God’s work, this is God at work, and you revel in seeing others experience the joy of knowing him as well.
Another reason is the reward. Joy and fulfillment are great rewards, but there’s even more. There’s the joy of knowing the Lord for all of eternity. Our life here on this earth is but a tiny dot in the line of all eternity. And the reward of doing God’s work, the reward of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour impacts not just this little moment of life on this earth, it impacts our eternity. Eternity means no beginning and no end. It is the life that extends beyond time, and what better way to spend it than in the presence of our God. Now that is a great reward! There is none greater.
These are just a few examples of the benefits of knowing Jesus Christ in our lives and in our hearts, and sharing this knowledge with others so they may also receive these rewards.
Rewards we receive when we make a simple, life changing decision. The decision to follow Jesus and do his work in this world.
From there, our priorities change, our lifestyle changes, the church changes, the world changes, and our eternity changes. All because we are sharing the love of God we receive through Jesus Christ with others who need the same.
Won’t you join Jesus on this journey, by accepting the invitation he offers you this day. Know him and receive the gift of life, life here on this earth, and life for all eternity with him.
Let us pray.
You extend the invitation to come and meet with you. An invitation which not only changes our lives, but the lives of those we love and the lives of this world. What a gracious gift it is to know you.
When those doubts creep in, when we just aren’t quite certain how to respond, show us. Give us a glimpse of the rewards. Give us a glimpse of the future you have for us. Reassure us we are never alone, for you are always near.
And give us courage. Give us courage to take that next step with you as you call us forward into the joy of serving our most gracious and merciful God, just as you have shown us in your own life.
Help us to lay down our struggles, our doubts and our fears, and pick up your call to serve alongside you. Giving hope and joy to those around us, as we serve in your glorious name.
All of this we pray to our Father in heaven, in your powerful name. Amen and amen.