1 O LORD, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Can you tell where we are in the story of Jesus?
What hints help you figure that out?
Jesus has spent maybe three years with his disciples. He’s now giving them some last instruction before he goes up to heaven. He’s giving them their mission for the rest of their lives. This mission, this great commission gave shape to the church’s life in those first years and continues to guide us in our ministry.
It’s a short passage but there’s a lot going on in it. First Jesus makes a bold claim. He says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. That sounds outrageous after the disciples had seen Jesus surrender to the authority of the chief priests and Roman governor. It sounds outrageous coming from a guy who was whipped and beaten and mocked by soldiers. It sounds outrageous from a man who was crucified not many days before this. It sounds like an outrageous claim.
But then again Jesus is standing in front of them alive and risen from the grave. Maybe there is an authority greater than the obvious powers of the world at work in Jesus. Something made the disciples believe Jesus’ outrageous claim and by believing it they offered more evidence for its truth. In the power of Jesus they took an unlikely message across the region and soon, around the world. The power of God’s love in the disciples’ message proved stronger than disease, stronger than political and religious tyranny, stronger even than death. Maybe Jesus wasn’t making such an outrageous claim after all, but each generation, each Christian has to see that for him or herself.
Jesus isn’t just claiming authority for its own sake; he’s not just flaunting his power to feel big as human authorities so often do. He is telling the disciples something they need to know for the mission he is giving them. Jesus is sending the disciples out on a challenging mission, a mission in which they will often feel overwhelmed and out of their depth. They need to know that the situation is not as it seems. There are many powers that seem strong, but at the end of history Jesus will prove to be stronger.
Love will eventually win out over fear and jealousy and tyranny. The message of love will prove more powerful than the claims of religious leaders and Caesar himself. Jesus holds all authority and he sends the disciples out with his message. They seem weak, but they have all the power in the universe in their corner.
So we know what power lies behind the mission and we know why the disciples will need that power, but what is Jesus sending them to do? He tells them to “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 that I have commanded you.”
Like many of Jesus’ commands this is short and to the point, and yet challenges us to a lifetime of ministry. The command to go to all nations reminds us that the gospel, the good news of God’s amazing love in Jesus Christ is for everyone. No one is left out of the kingdom and calling of God, no nation, no group, no color or language. We are called to share the word with all kinds of folks, not just those who look and act like us.
And the disciples are called not to recruit members or build institutions; they are called to make disciples. A disciple is someone whose life is centered around following, in this case following Jesus. The eleven disciples Jesus is talking to have left everything they have to follow Jesus. Now, even though Jesus has gone up to heaven they are still following him. They do other things; Peter fishes from time to time, Paul will make tents, maybe Luke continues to work as a physician some of the time. But the commitment that shapes their life, the foundation of their identity is following Jesus.
Jesus sends those eleven disciples to make other disciples. They aren’t building a club; they are changing lives. They are meeting people and inviting them to make a fundamental change. They’re inviting others to build their lives not around careers or wealth or family, but around a vibrant commitment to Christ. The other pieces of their lives will fall into place around that central commitment.
Part of Jesus’ instruction for making disciples is baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus that to see the kingdom of God one has to be born again by water and the Spirit. Paul says that baptism is being joined with Christ in his death, which will also mean being joined to his resurrection. He also says that in baptism we become one body, that all human divisions are overcome by the unity of baptism.
Baptism is about a new beginning, a new family, a new life. It’s about leaving behind our old selves and becoming part of Jesus’ family, part of Christ’s body, Christ’s new life. It marks and cements the radical decision of discipleship and sends us on our journey to follow Jesus wherever he leads.
The other thing Jesus mentions in terms of making disciples is teaching them to obey everything he commands. Obey is a word that makes me a little uneasy, and I’ll bet I’m not alone in that. Religious leaders have often used the language of obedience to hold inappropriate power over people. Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “Teach them to obey you;” he says, “Teach them to obey all that I have commanded.”
We are not called to establish power over others or tell them what to do. We are called to teach people the message of Jesus so they can obey his commands. We are not masters of a flock, but disciples teaching other disciples so we can obey Jesus together. In our teaching we are learning as well; learning to follow Jesus and to obey his voice.
Learning is wonderful in itself, but Jesus is not calling his disciples to abstract philosophy or head-in-the-clouds knowledge. He calls his disciples to practical learning, to learning with a purpose. He calls his disciples to teach so that we can obey his life-giving commands.
With those first disciples, we inherit Jesus’ radical call to follow, to be disciples. We inherit the calling to make disciples today. A lot of the time we think about evangelism and outreach in terms of finding new members of the church. Sometimes we think about new members in financial terms: “We need new members to strengthen the church.” It makes sense that we think that way because we love the church we are a part of; we love the community at Laurelton and we want to make sure our ministry is strong.
But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about and it’s not really our calling. Our calling is to make disciples. Our calling is to connect people with the love of Jesus. There are so many people in the world, so many people in our neighborhood, who don’t know Jesus. There are so many people who feel hopeless, many people who feel they aren’t welcome in church, people who feel distant and even rejected by God.
There are so many people who feel like their life has no meaning beyond working to put food on the table or striving for material wealth. People need purpose in their lives and people need to know that they are loved and accepted unconditionally. Our message of hope and love can give people the comfort and assurance they need. Our calling to discipleship gives us and others the purpose they need to have a meaningful life. If the message to discipleship leads others into membership here, that’s great, but membership is not the point.
Finally Jesus completes his mission with a promise. It’s a fitting close because it echoes to his opening words that all authority had been given to him. He closes by reminding the disciples that he is with them always, to the end of the age. We claim the promise as we claim the mission. We are not alone. Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth is with us as we go out to make disciples. Jesus is with us as we share the good news and teach people what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus is with us in everything we do to tell and show the good news and invite others into the amazing story of discipleship.
Those first eleven disciples trusted Jesus to be with them and their powerful witness proved that he was with them. As we grow in our trust and discipleship, we will notice more clearly that Jesus is with us too. So let us follow Christ’s calling to be disciples and make disciples. Jesus is with us and there is joy in the journey.
Thanks be to God.