Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:16-20
Good morning, Friends!
Every year after Easter, the question always comes up, “OK, what’s next?” We’ve had Palm Sunday, we’ve had Easter and the Resurrection. So, now what happens?
That question is both, “What happened next for the disciples?” and also, “What’s next for us? What are we supposed to do? Where do we go from here?”
Before Easter, the focus is all about the Last Supper, about Jesus arrest and trial. On Easter Sunday, it’s all about the Resurrection. After Easter, people spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it all meant. And it really took them quite a while to agree about what were going to be the next steps.
Matthew’s gospel is the one we read this morning. In Matthew, Jesus told them all to rendezvous up on a certain mountain. Most of them bowed down and worshiped, but it also says that “some doubted”.
That sounds pretty human. Believing in Easter is a tall order for a lot of people. It’s a comfort to know that people back then had trouble believing, even though they’d been there and seen it all for themselves.
Then Jesus told them, “Go and make disciples of all nations. . .”
That is a really important statement. The first word is go. That means don’t sit around. Don’t wait for things to happen. Don’t expect it all to be handed to you. GO is something we do, not something which God does.
God’s kingdom may come here on earth – in fact, as Jesus often says, it’s already here! But we need to get up off our butts and go find it. There’s a huge difference between a passive church, one which expects God to do all the work, and an active church, where we share the responsibility for getting out there and inviting people to discover the kingdom.
I’m not going to point any fingers or say anything to make us feel bad. I just want to ask whether we are a passive church, or an active church. You think about it, and you tell me the answer next time we’re sitting down together.
What did Jesus say? And are we doing it? Do we go out, or do we just sit here? Are we active, or are we passive? The first word is go.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says, “Go, and make disciples. . .”
I think that a lot of the problem with the church today – not just Springfield, but a lot of churches, and the church as a whole – is that we don’t really know what Jesus means here.
What is a disciple? What do disciples do? How do you make disciples? If we could answer those questions, we would change the whole church.
The word for disciple, in the Bible, literally means a student. It means someone who studies and learns. The “disciples” were Jesus’ students. The listened to him every day. They tried to figure out what he was saying. They watched what he was doing, because Jesus didn’t just teach with words – he taught by example.
Jesus told stories. He healed people. He forgave people. He set people free, from the spirits and addictions and whatever had people chained down and enslaved. He shared what he had, and he fed people. He went to their parties and weddings. He played with their children. He comforted people. He blessed people.
Jesus was very explicit, that his disciples should do all these same things. And again, I’m not trying to point fingers or make anyone feel bad. I’m just asking, “Are these the things we’re doing?”
Are we listening to Jesus, every day? Are we trying to figure out his message? Are we reading and re-reading the stories of what he did and who he met with? Are we experimenting with grace and healing and forgiveness? Are we trying out what Jesus did?
Do we try to feed the hungry and thirsty? Do we ever ask someone else to sit down and share a meal with us? Every day, do we try to find some way to help another person’s life be just a little better? These are all things Jesus did.
Do we bless people? Do we help them feel God’s peace? Do we notice how beautiful the world is that God made, and do we point out that beauty to people near us? Disciples do these things. Jesus did these things. If we want to get back on track, this would be a great start.
Church means a lot of different things to different people. I hope we spend a lot of time praying, and thanking God, and praising God in all kinds of ways. Prayer and thanks and praise are certainly at the heart of our worship.
But worship is only a part of being Christian. In today’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t say, “Get together for an hour once a week at 11:00 on Sunday morning.”
He says, “Go, and make disciples. . .” That means that the church has a much deeper goal than just gathering here the way we do.
The real measure of a church is whether people are learning to follow Jesus. That’s the question we really ought to be asking ourselves at every opportunity. What are we learning? How can we learn more? Where can we find out more about Christ? What exciting examples have we seen this week?
How did our minds grow? Where did we have to change our mind? That’s important, because if you never change your mind, you never learn anything.
How did your spirit grow? How did your heart get larger? What were the tough things you learned? What were the dumb, simple things you forgot and had to re-learn again?
Learning isn’t a checklist of things you pass for an exam. It’s an attitude, a way of life. It’s saying, “I want to follow this guy Jesus around, and see what he’s doing. I want to be like him. I want to walk beside him for the rest of my life.”
We need to be disciples. And we need to make disciples. The primary purpose of the church, wherever we are, is to invite more people to hear these questions and to make their own decision to follow Jesus and learn his way of life.
If we get away from that, we lose our reason for being here. Being and making disciples is what Jesus told us to do.
There’s a third part of the story, which I haven’t got to yet. Jesus said, “Go, and make disciples of all nations. . .”
See, we have this idea that everybody in the Bible was the same. You’ve got all these guys going around in beards and bathrobes. You’ve got all these women wearing long dresses and head scarves. But they’re basically all the same. Right?
Actually, the world Jesus lived in – and the world he sent his disciples out into – was just as diverse as the world we live in today.
People spoke dozens of different languages. There were people who worshiped other gods. There were people who had darker skin, and lighter skin. The world Jesus lived in was a melting pot, a hodge-podge of people of every nation and ethnicity.
They belonged to different tribes. They had different loyalties. Just within the immediate group of Jesus’ disciples, there were fishermen and doctors and tax collectors. There may have been street women as well as respectable women. There were educated people as well as people who probably couldn’t read.
In the society Jesus lived in, there were ultra-conservatives and ultra-radicals. There were Jews and Samaritans, who were deadly enemies of each other. There were revolutionaries and slaves.
Do you see what I’m saying? It was a mixed-up world then, not that different from the mixed-up world we live in now.
And Jesus said, “Go, and make disciples of all nations. . .”
I think Jesus expected us to start with our own families, with the people we know in our neighborhood, the people we know at work and in the community. That’s always where we start. And again, if we don’t try to be disciples with those people, and if we never invite them to join us as followers of Jesus, then we’re missing out on what Jesus explicitly told us to do.
But Jesus also told us not to be limited. Don’t just limit yourself to the people who are just like you. It’s a big world out there! It’s a huge world. There are people who are going to seem really different when you start. Go – get out there, don’t be afraid! – and share with them as well.
We could spend the rest of the day talking about what it means to go to all nations. Reaching out across cultures and all kinds of other barriers is a serious discussion.
What isn’t negotiable is that Jesus told us to do it. “Go and make disciples of all nations. . .” is still at the heart of what Jesus told us, right after that first Easter.
This is the commandment of the Risen Lord, who rose from the dead and still lives today. This is the commandment of Christ, who came to save us and to save the whole world. This is the commandment of Jesus, who has the authority which God, the maker of all things, implicit in his words. “Go and make disciples of all nations. . .”
I’ve got a lot more I want to say about this, and maybe over the next couple of weeks we can take a closer look at what Jesus said. But as we settle back into prayer, and when we go home today, I want you to think deeply about the commandment in today’s gospel.
We are not here to be passive. Jesus says, “Go. . .”
Jesus says, “make disciples. . .” That’s the #1 reason we’re supposed to be organized. There’s a whole bunch of wonderful things that can fit into that category. But being disciples, and making disciples, is what it’s all about. Follow Jesus, and invite other people to follow him, too.
And Jesus says, “Go, and make disciples of all nations. . .” We aren’t just a local church. We’re not a national church. We’re a world-wide church. And our focus and our outreach and our understanding need to be as wide as Jesus himself.
Let’s take all this into our quiet time together.