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Still the Doubts – Fill the Order – Fulfill the Mission
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Today’s Scripture passage is one of my favorites, when I’m feeling good about myself; and one of my least favorites when I’m not. Usually, it seems, we walk away from this story just feeling guilty for not being a “good enough” Christian. I hope to turn that tide today.
There’s a story about a pastor who honestly wanted to make “evangelism” easier for his church members – so he scheduled a Christian music group called The Resurrection to come and perform at their church, and all the church members had to do was invite their friends and families to come and hear them.
But, as luck would have it, a big snowstorm delayed the performance, so the pastor changed the outside sign to read, “The Resurrection is postponed.”
As you can imagine, now even the Pastor felt guilty for not being a good enough Christian.
So let’s hear today’s guilt-producing passage from the Gospel According to Matthew. The story-line is:
- Jesus was crucified on Friday afternoon, He died, and was buried in a borrowed tomb
- Before sun-up on Sunday, the women came to anoint His body for a proper burial
- But they found the tomb empty, and met angels and the risen Lord
- They went to tell the Apostles this Good News
- The Roman Guards went to tell the Chief Priests the same news, and were paid to lie about it
- And then we come to today’s passage; we’re not told how much later this happened (hours? Days? Weeks?). Listen to the Word of God from Matthew 28:16-20; I’m reading from the NIV…. —-
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Somebody give me a shout-out about why we usually feel guilty (or defensive) after a sermon on this passage: [because we’re not very good at evangelizing – sharing our faith – making converts; maybe we don’t even think that that’s what we should be about!]
Let me start today by affirming those fears of a guilt-producing sermon. Frankly, I am glad that this Great Commission is not principally a commission about evangelism! I’ll come back to that in a minute.
First, let’s look at this paragraph and see what’s going on. Why did the “eleven disciples” go to Galilee? They went because “Jesus told them to go” there. Remember the angel’s words to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning? “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’”
Notice which disciples actually obeyed Jesus and went to Galilee: All eleven disciples OBEYED Jesus even though “some DOUBTED”.
Isn’t that an interesting piece of the story. These weary, grieving, followers of Jesus were not of perfect faith – but they all obeyed their Lord even when some had serious doubts. There’s a lesson there for us, isn’t there? When life is hard, when our world is dark, when bad news pounds against our souls, when we wonder if God even exists, or if He does, does He even care – who here has ever been in that state of mind? Who is there right now? You are not alone. These disciples, this story, reminds us of the potential fruit that is borne when we are obedient even when we are full of doubts and we wonder if this whole Christian-faith thing is full of baloney! Obey anyway.
Is it like when we’re on a diet, or in physical therapy – keep on track even when you don’t see results today! Stay focused even when the scale tips in the wrong direction. Keep on keepin’ on even when your ligaments are tighter today than they were yesterday.
In faith, what are the kinds of things that cause us to doubt? Is it when a prayer doesn’t get answered the way we wanted it answered? Is it when we wonder how much more we are expected to take? Is it when a family member asks a question we have no hard and fast answer to? What kinds of things cause you to doubt?
How do we get back to that place of confident faith?
Last week, and on Easter Sunday, we saw that simply remembering what we used to believe can be a helpful first step to rediscovering hope.
Today I want to say that this paragraph in Matthew 28 suggests obedience – pray again, go back to reading God’s Word, find someone who needs your help. Listen for God’s voice … and obey.
In this paragraph Jesus gives His disciples one very specific order – and He uses one very strong verb which is surrounded by dependent verbs: What is the strong verb? (What do you think? Frankly, I’ll admit that it is super hard to see in any English translation, but in the Greek language in which Matthew was originally written it is super obvious. Any guesses?)
MAKE DISCIPLES – maqhtesath. The helper verbs are: going, baptizing and teaching. The sentence might awkwardly read: “Being gone, then, make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
To whom does Jesus give this command? Obviously, He is talking to the eleven disciples. But, and I think this is significant, Matthew uses the word “disciples” here – not “apostles”. So the “disciples” are to MAKE DISCIPLES.
So, we have to define the word “disciples”. Does anyone know? I think Matthew purposely uses the word “disciples” so that all disciples would hear this order as if it were given to them.
A disciple is “one who learns, one who follows, one who is being trained up by a Master”. So, to whom does Jesus give this command? He really is talking to you and me, anyone who calls himself a Christian, a follower of Jesus. It’s more than simply saying we believe in Him, accepting Jesus into our hearts, being saved. Being a Christian means listening for God’s daily call on our lives, and learning from Him, following Him, being trained by Him as our Master.
And the ORDER is not simply to be an evangelist. That word never shows up here. He says, “MAKE DISCIPLES.”
This is where the guilt should be relieved. What are some steps one might take to achieve this goal of DISCIPLE-MAKING?
Look at the definition of the word again: invite someone to walk alongside you in your faith. That could be our husband or our wife. Our children. Our grandchildren. Our neighbors, or co-workers, our friends. Just honestly show them what your faith means. Honestly living like we believe what we say we believe.
How do we go about fulfilling this MISSION in our daily lives?
The Great Commission, to MAKE DISCIPLES, is the call of Christ for His disciples, you and me, to extend His authority over the whole world. To share the Gospel, to speak of our faith, and to invite our life-mates to walk with us in our faith to MAKE DISCIPLES … of all nations!
Jesus tells the Apostles in Acts 1:8 to do this in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Jerusalem is home – in our households, our families, our neighborhoods, our work-places; Judea and Samaria spreads out a little further; and the ends of the earth covers all seven continents. Jesus does not say to do one, then go a little farther, then after that go a little farther still.
So how do we do this. We cannot all actually travel beyond our own city limits. Not everyone is a Billy Graham or a Luis Palau. But we all have our corners of the earth, our own spheres of influence. And we can support the Gospel by supporting others who do go beyond our own grasp.
But it is always Christ’s agenda with which we “being gone, then, MAKE DISCIPLES”. It is never our own agenda. What does God require of us – but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8), to be disciples who make disciples, who worship God and follow Jesus passionately.
You know the Story. You have the authority of your call and Christ’s Great Commission. You have the power of the Holy Spirit to stare down Death itself… “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Guilt-free, except for the ways we decide to hide from God’s call, let’s MAKE DISCIPLES by living our faith out loud.
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s live like we believe Jesus is victorious over death – His death and ours; that Jesus offers us all the truth the Gospel tells and all the hope to overcome any desperation and all the calm over every fear.
Happy Easter Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Detterman, Paul; Staring Down Death Itself; The Fellowship Community; March 2016.
Sproul, R.C.; Christ’s Call to Make Disciples; TableTalk; May 2016; Pp. 4-5.