Maybe it’s happened to you. You’ve read a particular passage of Scripture time and time again, but this time something sunk in and changed you. It’s happened to me. I’ve been changed. Funny thing is, it’s a passage I’ve read hundreds of times, the Great Commission. As I reflect, a lot of things came together to bring this about. I’m sure it represents a deepening in my own faith, but I also see similar shift of thinking within American Christianity. It’s best represented by what the Father says of Jesus at His transfiguration. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Jesus is God. I’m not. I need to listen. So, what does He say? Am I really listening? If I listen, does it turn into action? When I listened to Jesus again with that kind of openness, I heard something new. Here is Matthew 28:18-20 from the ESV.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Well, duh! After Jesus’ death and resurrection the disciples better have this one figured out! This isn’t new information. Jesus is speaking of His authority because He’s about to authorize them to be His official ambassadors in the world!
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,”
A disciple is one who follows a teacher and adopts the teachings as their lifestyle. Jesus is commissioning his disciples to make disciples. Not their own disciples, but more followers of Jesus. We can then assume that these new disciples will also be making disciples who then make disciples. You get the point. Keep this up and you’ll eventually reach the nations… all of them.
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
As Lutherans, we love to make distinctions. One of our favorites is justification (being made right in God’s sight) and sanctification (being set apart for God’s service). This statement is all justification. Baptism is God’s gift of grace to us. We are purified of our sins and adopted into the Kingdom of God. Whose kingdom? The Kingdom of the Triune God. As baptized children of God, we are now authorized to represent Him to the world around us. That’s what it means to speak in the name of God. By our baptism we are made His official purified representatives in this world and the rightful heirs of the new world when Jesus comes back. Awesome!
“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
This is the part that threw me. Before, I’ve always explained this one away. We teach. Of course we teach! There’s a lot to know… like, Luther’s Small Catechism! Wait a second. Nothing against the Small Catechism, but I just stopped listening to Jesus. What does He say? As baptized disciples, we teach each other to observe what Jesus has commanded us. Well, what has Jesus commanded us? This is where my jaw dropped. I didn’t know. And if I didn’t know enough to list the commands right then and there, you can just imagine how well I’ve been doing at actually “observing” them. So, deeply humbled, I looked it up. I read all of Matthew and looked for the commands of Jesus… all of them. Love God, your neighbor, your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Take up your cross. Acknowledge Jesus. Be last. He’s not joking, folks. If “baptizing in the Triune name of God” is about justification, being made right by Jesus’ death and resurrection, then “teaching them to observe Jesus’ commands” is about sanctification, intentionally setting ourselves apart as those who truly believe in Jesus, not just in what we say, but in every choice we make.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Nobody can live up to these expectations, but that’s no excuse. We go for it anyway and lean on God’s grace to pick us up when we fail. In the process, Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. He’s with us even now. He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts and gathers us as believers. His words penetrate into our hearts and guide us. Even as the end nears and it gets tougher and tougher to follow Jesus, He’s always out in front, urging His redeemed disciples to follow.
During the bulk of 2013 Bethel Lutheran Church is going to dive into what it means to be a disciple (noun) and disciple (verb) others. We’ll do that by following a similar track as the one I described here. We’ll spend 5 weeks in the Great Commission, and then dive into the book of Matthew. There we’ll watch Jesus fulfill the prophets words and save us (justification). We’ll also hear his commands, as He teaches us what it looks like to truly be a part of the Kingdom of God (sanctification). Come along. Seriously. It will change you.