Matthew 28 : 16 – 20
Jesus commissions his disciples
We hear today of the final words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew and we find the “marching orders” from Jesus that we know as the Great Commission. The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus was a deeply disorienting experience for his followers, ruthlessly dashing in a matter of hours the great hopes and dreams they all shared. They had lost the one they loved and admired to a brutal execution. To see Jesus alive after his death, which they naturally assumed had ended everything, must have been utterly astonishing. Nothing in their history or Jewish faith had prepared them for what was occurring. To say they struggled with understanding would be an understatement. But Jesus had been raised from the dead and he is now commissioning his disciples to shift their focus from what it has been announcing the Kingdom of God to now going out and telling everyone that Jesus is the risen King and he is summoning all people to follow him.
When Jesus died on the cross he made a way that we can follow him and so we can be in heaven with him someday. To be a disciple who makes disciples, the first step has to be that we live as disciples and come to the father through Jesus’ call to follow him. If you put your faith in him you become a disciple.
V16 – “the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.”
“Eleven” reminds us of Judas’ and his betrayal of Jesus. The original number of apostles correlates with twelve sons of Judah and the twelve tribes of Israel. Now there are eleven disciples, although later on Luke tells us the original number returning with Matthias becoming the 12th disciple. Directed to return to Galilee where Jesus would meet up with them, the disciples followed yet again, not knowing what they would encounter. Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in Galilee, and he returns there after his resurrection to commission his disciples. Galilee was where it all began and Galilee, it seems, would mark the new beginning. It is difficult to imagine what their journey was like, but it had to have been a memorable one. It was the ultimate road trip, filled with long conversations that focused upon making sense of the mind-bending events that had just happened, wondering aloud what would happen next. This moment with Jesus would be an important time for them. They had lost everything in the catastrophic events that preceded this, and they were on their way now to discover what, if anything would be next. The disciples go to the mountain where Jesus had sent them. In this Gospel, important things happen on mountains: The Sermon on the Mount; the last temptation; the Transfiguration. We don’t know the name of this mountain, and its’ location is irrelevant. Its’ significance is more theological than geographical, signalling the importance of this commissioning. It is a leap of faith for the men to set out on the journey to Galilee.
V17. “When they saw him they worshipped Him, but some doubted.”
This is the first time in this Gospel that we find the disciples together since Jesus was arrested and the disciples deserted him. Only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have seen the risen Christ. We can only guess at the disciples’ state of mind as they proceed toward the mountain, but we know what happens when they finally see Jesus “they bowed down to him and worshipped, but some doubted, they hesitated!” We all struggle sometimes to understand the astonishing work of God. Having reunited with Jesus in Galilee, the disciples’ response is somewhat peculiar. Upon seeing Jesus they worship. This part we understand; it makes sense given the circumstances of Jesus’ resurrection and the preceding events. But they also doubt. Nothing in their experience has prepared them for what they are seeing, except possibly the resurrection of Lazarus. Now Jesus’ own disciples experience a tinge of doubt as they see Jesus who was raised from the dead. The picture that comes to mind is Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In this poem, a traveller comes to a fork in the road, and hesitates, knowing that his choice will make all the difference, but not knowing which fork would be the better choice. That is the experience of these eleven disciples when they see Jesus. They want to believe and they do believe, but they are torn. Knowing that Jesus died, they hesitate to believe their eyes when see him alive again. We may be tempted to criticize the disciples for doubting, but we should not imagine that we would have done any better. Jesus understands their doubt, but speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work. How wonderful is that! Jesus chose to do his work through the original less-than-perfect disciples, so we can be confident that he can do the same through us and it doesn’t matter if we are young or older. The disciples will grow into the role that Jesus gives them. While their conduct in the book of Acts is hardly flawless, they will press ahead in the face of great opposition. They will sow seeds that will take root, multiply and waft across oceans on winds of faith.
V18. Jesus Said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.
Normally a disciple comes to the teacher, the sick person comes to the healer, but here Jesus reverses the roles, perhaps to overcome their doubt and hesitancy or perhaps to demonstrate his own approachability and he comes to the 11 disciples and He claims, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” But Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only’”. Now, Jesus receives from the Father what the devil promised (earthly kingdoms) and more (heaven and earth). Nothing the devil could have given him but God has done exactly that! Jesus exercises authority now as well as in the final judgment and His authority spans heaven and earth. There is no time or place where it does not apply. This authority clearly establishes Jesus’ right to command obedience from his disciples and his ability to empower them.
V 19. “Go, and make disciples of all nations”
What does it mean when we see a green light – Yes, Go! Get going, move forward, do something! And that is exactly what God wanted his disciples to do. He now solemnly commissioned the apostles to go forth among all nations. He told them that they were to go and make disciples. That meant that Jesus was telling his disciples to go and tell others about him. This way the world would begin to hear about Jesus, and they would then tell others and so on. And it wasn’t just for the original disciples they are for every follower of Jesus Christ. If we are His disciples, then we are commanded to go and make disciples of others. The Great sending out doesn’t necessarily mean we need to cross the sea. But certainly a good start would be crossing the street to talk to a neighbour – to go and tell others about Jesus. And Jesus wants everybody to be a disciple so it is up to us to tell others and help him. We should tell them that Jesus loves them and he died on the cross for us and pray they will become a disciple. Once they put their faith in God they are saved and there is nothing else they have to do – Jesus has done everything for them!
The primary mission is to “make disciples” but we aren’t just told to tell others, but are told to teach them and baptise them! In ancient times both Greek philosophers and Jewish Rabbi had disciples who identified themselves with them and their teachings of their master. In the same way disciples of Jesus need to be identified with him by being baptised in the name of the father and of the son and the holy spirit, so that our life is now at one with him and where he died and was raised on our behalf.
It is interesting to see what Jesus includes and does not include in this commissioning. He doesn’t command the disciples to preach, to evangelise, to win the world. He charges them with the responsibility of replicating their own kind by creating new disciples—new people of faith. And to “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” Simply put, it means that you demonstrate discipleship for them by the way that you live. And of course, you verbally communicate God’s Word. There are two things we should also remember about it. First, these words are a command. That is why we call it the Great Commission and not the Great Suggestion. Jesus did not say, “Look, if you are in the mood, if it works into your busy schedule, as a personal favour to me, would you consider going into the world and making disciples?” No. In the original language, this is a command.
And you could say that to fail to do this actually could be a sin. “A sin?” you might say. “Well, maybe we should do more, but it is not a sin if I don’t share the gospel.” But I think it could be, because James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This is called the sin of omission, which is not doing what we are supposed to do. Jesus clearly says he wants us to go and tell others, so as Nike says – we need to “just do it!” A few years ago the Church used to go to Romania on Mission trips and a number of the congregation went on these trips. One that Mandy and myself were on – we all just went out into the streets with a football, a parachute and various crafts and we just talked to the children there, played football and told them about Jesus. I am sure none of us had thought that we would be able to just go out and do that but with God we did! And if it is the wrong time to go and tell others then God will let us know. He may want us to stop and pray! Maybe it is not the right time but that doesn’t mean it never will be. We need to listen and pray to get the green light again! The disciples knew that they were going to face hard times but they still went. They could have told God it was too difficult, too costly but they all went! Each of the 11! It meant that they could have been killed, crucified like Jesus or thrown into prison but they went! Will you go too?
V 20. “Surely I am with you always to the very end” And the most important thing about the Great Commission is that we don’t go alone! Matthew closes with what is perhaps one of the most comforting statements in Scripture. Jesus, as Lord of all, promises to be with us, the church and individually, always. Sometimes Christians can feel that the whole Great Commission depends on us alone. It is a command to ‘make disciples of all nations’ but it is much more than something God wants us to do. It is something he wants us to live – to be ‘all in’ following him. It is a call to partner with him, in the work he wants to accomplish – a call paired with equipping and we don’t go alone – the authority and power to reach the whole world is his! So we have our marching orders. We are to take the good news to all nations, baptizing those who believe the good news, and teaching them “to obey everything that I have commanded you”. As we look back over these twenty-eight chapters of Matthew, we see many commands that touch us. These teachings are for us and for those who come after us. Do not let the Great Commission weigh on you like a heavy burden. It is an invitation to join Jesus in the work of people into his companionship. We do so in the midst of everyday life – when things are good, when things are challenging – but keeping in mind that people are watching our lives and seeing how we live the Jesus life. For many, the Great Commission has instead become the Great Omission. The question is how are we doing with our part in fulfilling the Great Commission? Are we going into all of our world?
Father God, as the apostle John reminds us, You loved the world so much that you sent your son, Jesus to die on the cross to set us free from all sin. Help us to grow as a follower and be committed to your word, prayer, and fully follow Jesus. May we be used by you to help others do the same. In Your name Amen.
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