Go into all the world
16th September 2016
The end of Matthew's gospel describes the time Jesus gave his disciples what we call the Great Commission:
Jesus healed the sick, befriended the lonely, and taught us the truth about man, and about God, and about forgiveness. The civil authorities and the religious leaders hated Him for it. They had Him arrested, tortured, and executed by crucifixion. Three days later, He rose from the dead and for 40 days He stayed in the land of Israel, and appeared several times to his followers.
This is one of the last appearances He made. He'd arranged to meet the eleven disciples (Judas was already dead) on a mountain in Galilee. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some of them had doubts. And some of us probably have doubts about Jesus.
Some of the 11 disciples may not have been sure that it really was Jesus. They'd seen him before, after He'd risen from the dead, so they should have recognised Him, and they should have known by now that He really did rise from the dead. But it takes a while to process big stuff like that. They didn't fully understand how Jesus could be alive again, and perhaps they wavered between believing what they saw, and doubting what they saw.
Perhaps some of us have a vague understanding that Jesus is alive, but we don't really understand it yet.
Some of the 11 disciples may have been uneasy about worshipping Jesus because they knew he was a man, but they weren't absolutely sure He was God.
Some of us may doubt that it's OK to worship Jesus, because we know we should only ever worship God, and we're not sure that Jesus is God.
Some of the 11 disciples may have doubted that worshipping Jesus was a good idea because they knew they'd let him down. Perhaps they were worried that he might be angry with them, rather than welcoming.
And some of us, aware that we're sinners too, may be nervous of approaching Jesus, or even of coming to church, because we know we've let God down, done unkind things, been selfish or dishonest. But the very reason why Jesus died on the cross was to pay for our sins, so we can approach God. He's done everything necessary for God to forgive us, so we don't need to be nervous in God's presence.
Jesus told them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." That's quite a claim, isn't it? Jesus was claiming to be ruler of the universe. Now either He's right, or He's wrong. We all need to make our mind up about that. But if, like me, you've come to the conclusion that Jesus is no liar - we can trust every word He speaks - then you must conclude, as I have, that Jesus is indeed the Lord of all, ruler of heaven and earth. And that means we'd better listen to what He has to say.
Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations". What do you think he meant when he said, "Therefore"? Jesus was saying His followers should go out into the world and make disciples, because Jesus is the King of Kings. Partly, He meant we should obey Him because He's the king. And that's fair enough, isn't it? But I think He also meant this: It's an extremely good thing for a person to be friends with the ruler of the universe, so go and tell people how to find Him, and get to know Him. I know with every fibre of my being that the best thing in my life is Jesus Christ. I have no doubt about it whatsoever. And if I'm right about Jesus being the Lord of Lords, then of course He's the best, most important thing in anybody's life. And if that's right, then of course we should tell people about Him.
But how? How are we supposed to make disciples? In this passage, Jesus doesn't tell the 11 disciples how to make more disciples. But He'd set them an example when they'd travelled together for three and a half years. He showed them how to make disciples. We should make disciples the same way Jesus made disciples.
Jesus healed the sick, befriended the lonely, and spoke the truth. So should we. That's how you make disciples.
Firstly, Jesus was motivated by compassion:
Jesus loved people. People who don't know Jesus, don't understand the Bible, haven't received the Holy Spirit, are lost. They don't know how to live. They don't know what God is like, or how to approach him. Jesus cared about them and tried to help, and so should we.
Secondly, Jesus made disciples by being gentle and humble. He said:
The way Christians make disciples should be the exact opposite of the way Islamic terrorists make disciples. We don't try to bomb people into submission, either literally or verbally. We try to love people, and serve them, and pray for them.
And we respect those who see things differently. Peter wrote this:
1 Peter 3:15-16
Peter teaches us to keep Jesus holy in our hearts - to have true reverence for him. And he teaches us to be honest about what we believe, but to always talk to others with gentleness and respect.
That's how Christians make disciples: love, compassion, humility, gentleness and reverence. Following Jesus's example.
Some people won't like it. Some people will hate us or laugh at us because we love Jesus and we want them to find the same love, joy and peace that we've found. But even if they don't realise it, or won't admit it, they need Jesus, just like we need Jesus.
Jesus told his 11 disciples to make disciples of all nations, and today there are Christians in every country in the world, even in Saudi Arabia, even in North Korea, although they have to keep very quiet about it. And the world-wide church continues to grow; people of every age, race and background continue to find Jesus, continue to find love, joy and peace, and find the same desire to help others to find Jesus, too.
Jesus told us to do two things when a new person becomes a disciple of Jesus.
Firstly, He told us to baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - because God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This command must be important, because it's one of just two things Jesus tells us about here. And here's why it's important: The Bible says that when you first believe, and accept the forgiveness that comes through Jesus, you become a new person. The old person you were is dead, and the new person you've become will live forever, becoming more and more like Jesus. Since the old person you were is dead, the sensible thing to do is to bury that person. And that's what baptism is. It's a burial of who you were, and as you come out of the water of baptism, it's a celebration that you share in the new life that Jesus gives.
Secondly, Jesus told us to teach a new Christian to obey everything He's commanded us.
Jesus is perfect. He knows what's best. He knows the best way to live so we can be happy and the people around us can be happy. And Jesus loves us enough to tell us what we need to do so our lives work, and other people's lives can work better, because they know us.
We get baptised once. But we learn about what Jesus taught for the rest of our lives. And as we learn - if we learn - we become better people. And the people around us become happier people. And, maybe, they find the same wonderful, loving, powerful, forgiving, wise, faithful, patient Saviour that we know.
And Jesus promises us, "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." If you've found Jesus, and if you've put your trust in His forgiveness, and decided to be his disciple too, then He will always be with you. He will never leave you. You can depend on it.