This Great Commission

Youngest’s baptism, c. 2002

Today Youngest was confirmed, making a public profession of faith as he reaffirmed the baptismal covenant.  This is my charge to the confirmands.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” – Matthew 28:16-20 (CEB)

These are Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel. These words, this great commission, especially verse 19, are the basis for many missions, churches, and Christian efforts of outreach to the world. But honestly, I don’t like this great commission.

It’s not what Jesus says but how we’ve sometimes done it.

You see, when I hear this passage, I think of all the violence that has been done in the name of Jesus – evangelizing by making baptism not an invitation but an ultimatum to avoid death or the colonization done in the name of Jesus but really more about power and money. But despite how well the Church has (or has not) lived out this great commission, we have this command from Jesus. Today, I don’t want to focus on the familiar verse 19 but the other significant aspects of this great commission, starting at the end and going backward.

 

“…teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

We aren’t called simply to baptize – we are called to baptize and teach the ways of Jesus. We are not baptized unto our self but in the name of the Triune God into a community. It is as a community that we nurture those seeking to profess their faith; as a community that we support parents as they disciple their children; and as a community that we continue to walk together as we worship and serve the Lord.

Baptizing and teaching – baptizing and community – go together. And this is certainly the more difficult way. It is not hard to sprinkle, dip or submerge someone in water. The commitment and love come in the promise to continue to teach and tend to one another’s faith. Therefore in Jesus’ command to baptize, we don’t just get baptized or baptize others: This great commission is to our shared discipleship as a community of faith.

We can also forget that Jesus is with us in this commission. He may have ascended into heaven but the Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ incarnate ministry. This promise of Jesus’ presence leads us to verse 18 and something we can forget in all of our baptizing:

Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Jesus is the one who has authority, which he shares with us – just as he did with the disciples when he sent them out during his lifetime.[1] This authority doesn’t belong to us. We are stewards of Jesus’ authority and power, called to use them in the way that Jesus did. Jesus used his authority to teach, come alongside, forgive, and love. Therefore, Jesus’ great commission is inclusive of these as well.

 

When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.

They all worshipped Jesus when they saw him. I’m not sure how else we could respond in the presence of the Risen Christ. But some doubted.  And to this, I say, “Amen!’ This is the kind of statement that makes me love God and believe Scripture because within this great commission is the permission to doubt. If we were to sit down and read Matthew’s Gospel from start to finish, we would see that it is all about accepting and believing the authority of Jesus and our choice of faithful and obedient discipleship. But Matthew also keeps it real, because sometimes faithful and obedient disciples doubt.

Maybe the disciples doubted Jesus – but I think they may have doubted their own ability to be apostles. They may have doubted that the resurrection really had power in their lives. These are doubts I definitely understand. But whatever their doubts, Jesus still included them in this great commission.

And this is Good News.

My doubts, your doubts, do not disqualify us from being disciples or apostles – ones sent out to share the Good News. Instead, we are invited to do as the disciples did and bring our doubts to Jesus. I encourage you to bring them as part of your worship and to your community of faith because teaching and nurturing do not end at baptism or confirmation. Today is only the beginning.

 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go.

At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Judas’ death has already been reported. It is only the eleven that receive this great commission because there are only eleven of them left to hear it. But if Judas would have come, I don’t have any doubts that Jesus would have included him as well.

If I were one of the eleven, I would have felt a little less whole with Judas gone. He would have been a part of everything the disciples had experienced with Jesus over the last three years. I often wonder if the eleven realized that it could have been any one of them: any one of them could have been the one who was missing; the one who was unable to worship and doubt in the presence of the Risen Lord. Any one of them could have been the one who missed out on the invitation to the greatest transfer of power in history.

And so what I hear in story of the eleven is a call to humility – and maybe this is part of the reason they all worshipped Jesus. Each of us is capable of betrayal.   Therefore, even with the authority given to us by Jesus and the power of the resurrection, we are called to be aware of the brokenness of our own humanity.

This recognition of our fallibility and embrace of our humility should lead us to compassion for one another: compassion for our brother and sister in Christ, and compassion for our fellow human beings who do not yet know the Risen Lord. We always come as the eleven, reminded that our fellowship is never complete. There is always someone who is yet to be a part of our worship, share our doubts, and join us in this great commission.

Wearing the authority, love, and compassion of Jesus, we glorify God with our lives. It is in this way, that we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us[2]. And it is in this way that we receive and live out this great commission.

I pray that it might be so for you. Amen.

 

[1] c.f. Luke 9

[2] Romans 15:7

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