Archive for the ‘Gospel of Matthew’ Category

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 8)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Perfect ending. Perfect summation. Jesus’ last words, the last words, of the Gospel of Matthew are like the perfect ending to a movie. We all have our favorite movies of all time. I have mine.

 

As I may have mentioned before here, my favorite movie of all time is The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Wantanabe. My favorite last lines spoken by the two actors in their last scene together in the film, Tom and Ken, as their characters, Captain Algren and Katsumoto, as they both lay together wounded on the battlefield. Algren’s wounds are not life-threatening but Katsumoto’s are. As they lay there on the ground bleeding, they say their final words to one another. Captain Algren says to Katsumoto, “I will MISS our conversations!” and Katsumoto says as he looks at Algren and the cherry blossom trees behind him, “Perfect… They are all… perfect…” The words each speak are references to earlier parts of the movie and act to sum up the relationship that the two characters had developed. At the beginning of their relationship, when Algren confronts Katsumoto about being in captivity, Katsumoto abruptly ends their first meeting because of the lack of respect that Algren has shown him when he says, “I have introduced myself. You have introduced yourself. This has been a good conversation.” Later, when Algren, is about to leave Katsumoto and return to his life in the West, they stand in this beautiful garden of cherry trees in full bloom, Katsumoto says, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” At the end of the movie, the lines spoken sum up the relationship that has developed between the two. For Algren, the conversations that they had over the length of the movie and being exposed to the honorable ways of the Samurai people have led Algren to re-examine his life and to find peace and purpose to it. For Katsumoto, the friendship with Algren has taught him that his way of life has not been wasted, that a way of life of honor, duty, dignity, devotion has not been wasted. It was a perfect life. It was not a wasted life. With that final battle the rebellion was over and the way of the Samurai would disappear. However, living a life of honor, duty, dignity, and integrity is not a wasted life. It is a perfect life like searching for the perfect cherry blossom – the search is not a wasted life. The pursuit of perfection is not a wasted life. The values of the Samurai as Algren said in a scene earlier, “Necessary? What could be more necessary?” Ah, I love that movie. So many memorable lines. I have seen it a million times but as I watch it each time, I am awestruck by the words of the movie and the cinematography. One of the best of all time. Well written, superbly acted, beautifully directed, and awesomely filmed. And those closing lines between the main characters, perfect!

 

That perfectly wrapped up ending is what I think about when I read the last half of v. 20 of Matthew 28, the ending of Matthew’s Gospel. There could be no better words spoken at the end of this book. With that in mind, Let’s re-read, Matthew 28:16-20, with special attention once again to vv. 20b:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

In today’s blog, as we end our 9 month study of the Gospel of Matthew that we began back in early August 2015. Jesus has given his disciples a great charge to carry out, the Great Commission as we call it. But he reminds them that though the task is great, He will be with them always – to the very end of the age. It is the perfect ending. As a movie director, you could not have a better scripted ending. Powerful words spoken by the main character to his closest friends just before he rides off into the sunset, or as the screen fades to black.

 

The words of Jesus are profound to us through the ages here in the 21st century, as the disciples of disciples of disciples, etc. who can trace our way back through history to these first disciples. Jesus tells us that He will be with us as we go through our trials and tribulations of being a Christ follower in a world that is antagonistic to His message. He will be with us as we suffer. He will be with us as we stand up for Him. He will be with us when the world treats us badly. He will be with us no matter what. No matter how bad things get in our lives, when we have accepted Christ as our Savior, He will be with us. That gives us joy in the midst of strife. That gives of happiness in the midst of trouble. We know that Jesus has our back. We know He is there. Through His resurrection we know that He is bigger than anything that we face.

 

That is kind of the point of Matthew. He is the Messiah. He spent the whole gospel proving the point that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan promised to His people. Jesus is not just some prophet. He is divine. He is of one and the same essence as God. He is the Messiah. Everything He did was fulfillment of prophecy. It is from this proof text. This research paper written by Matthew that we come to understand the deity of Jesus Christ. He is the One! He is the Messiah! And He will be with us no matter what! He is God in the flesh. He is worth living for and dying for. He is the Messiah! When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our faith will give us eternal life. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we have put our faith in the right place, the Messiah.

 

He will be with us to the end of the age, also means that He will return one day to end the age. He will return to establish His kingdom on earth and put an end to this world as we know it. He will judge all nations, because He is God in the flesh. He will be the righteous judge. He will cast out those who do not believe in Him. He will judge us for how we reacted to Him. He will judge those who rebel against Him. At the end of the age, He will vindicate all those who have believed on His name. At the end of the age, it will be finished and we will have victory as children of Jesus Christ. That gives us joy. That gives us peace. Perfect ending to a perfect movie. Perfect…they are ALL…perfect.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Fade to black…

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Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 7)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

When we have played sports in our pasts or if you are still playing an organized sport today, one of the things that is common to all organized sports is the need for team practices. In team practices, you repeat plays that you are going to run, defenses that you are going to put into place to defend against the tendencies of your opponent that you will next play. You repeat these activities over and over again all week or for just a few days depending on frequencies of games in your particular sport. You go over these things over and over again. In team sports, these repetitions of plays both offensively and defensively are done to ensure that you know what your individual responsibilities are as part of overall team’s action on a given play. You repeat and repeat it until it becomes second nature. When a given play is called, you know what you are to do and you understand, too, what your teammates are supposed to do as well. Additionally, you spend a good deal of time on physical conditioning such as agility drills, endurance drills, flexibility drills, strength drills, and a host of other drills to make sure that your body is operating at peak efficiency. All of it, the conditioning drills and the repetitions of plays can be grueling and exhausting and, yes, boring, at times. After practices, you are often worn out from pushing your body to its physical limits. Especially grueling are those preseason practices where you practice and condition for weeks on end long before you play any games. Preseason practices often separate the guys that really want play the game from those who simply want the game day glory. If you are one who truly wants to play, you will put up with the grueling nature of the preseason practices because you love the game and are willing to go through anything to play the game and be on the team. The coaches put us through these grueling preseason and in-season practices so that we will be prepared physically and mentally for anything that will be thrown at us by our opponents during the games, when the pressure is on.

 

With that in mind, Let’s re-read, Matthew 28:16-20, with special attention once again to vv. 19b-20:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

In today’s blog, we will tak about baptizing them in the name of the trinity and teaching them everything that Jesus has commanded us. Baptizing and teaching. These are the things that make disciples. Baptism is the understanding of our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior and then being willing to profess that fact publicly to all. Teaching them is to mentor them in the ways of Jesus Christ, to becoming a more mature Christian, to having a deeper relationship with God.

 

We are to baptize new disciples of Jesus Christ in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is comparable to the teaching of plays to participants in organized sports. We must understand the nature of what we have given our hearts and minds to when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. We must learn that Jesus is part of the three aspects of God. We must understand that we have given ourselves to more than just some great man. We must understand that Jesus is God in the flesh and that He is part of the trinity of God that expresses itself in Jesus Christ, the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We must understand that Jesus died for not some revolutionary political purpose but for the fact that we are completely and utterly destroyed by our sin nature and are in need of intervention. We must understand the need for salvation before we can be saved. It is through the Son that we are forgiven, it is through the Holy Spirit that we are sanctified daily, and it is through the actions of the Son and the Holy Spirit that we can emerge from salvation as a new being that can exist in the presence of the Father in heaven. Baptism signifies our understanding of these things. In order for us to be baptized we must be able to understand these things. We must understand that we go down into the water as sin-filled beings and are immersed into the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and are cleansed of the penalty of our sins and arise as new beings fit to exist in the presence of God. We are covered in Christ’s water so that the Father sees the Son when we emerge from the water. At the same time, the Holy Spirit begins His work in us from that point forward to cleanse us of our sin nature and convict us of our need to grow and mature as a Christ follower. We are progressively made anew within by the Holy Spirit while at the same time we are permanently covered in the waters of grace granted us by Jesus Christ. We must understand these things to be baptized just as a football player must understand his function during a play along with those of his teammates. Understanding why we are baptized is essential to becoming a disciple. We do not understand why we are baptized if we are doing it because it is the thing to do or because our friends or our spouse is doing it. That is like a player not participating in the conditioning drills that are necessary for them to be in shape on game day when the pressure is on. We must understand what has happened to us when we truly accept Christ as our Savior. We must recognize our need for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We must have the humble understanding of what the divine Christ did for us on the cross, why the Father felt it was necessary, and how the Holy Spirit brings us this understanding of our sin nature.

 

We must teach them to obey the things that Jesus commanded us. The gospels are filled with Jesus’ instruction. It is the purpose of Jesus’ disciples, you and I who have experience at this Christ following, to teach others of Jesus’ instructions to us. It boils down to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others more than we love ourselves. We have His example on the cross how much He loved the Father and the Holy Spirit, His co-equals in the Holy Trinity, God, that He was willing to lay His life down to please the Father. He also loved us so much and wanted us to be reconciled to God so much that He willingly put our needs ahead of His own. We are to live as Jesus lived and loved as He loved. Jesus taught us to seek righteousness and purity and humility. He taught us to give and not be slaves to our earthly possessions for they are temporary and the things that matter in eternity are love, sacrifice, generosity, caring, and standing on the truth of God’s Word and obeying God no matter the cost. When we willingly accept the teachings of Jesus Christ and obey them we can become more and more like Him through the action of the Holy Spirit. This part is the comparison to a sports team player understanding the plays. We must practice the plays daily to understand our role in the body of Christ. We must study the ways of Jesus Christ as expressed in God’s Word. We must understand the plays of Jesus. In order for us to know how to handle the plays of life, we must understand the playbook, the Bible.

 

Let us not be mistaken though, we must have salvation to truly become like Christ. We can easily obey Jesus Christ’s teachings in and of themselves and make ourselves a better person. However, without the understanding of what Christ did for us on the cross. We must have the humble understanding of our sin nature and our need for salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We must understand who we are and what we are destined for in the absence of Christ before we can grow in Christ through understanding His teachings. We must have the understanding of the whole picture. We are sinners in need of salvation and it is only then that we in thanksgiving strive to be more and more like the One who died for us on a daiy basis. It is through this understanding that we submit to the convicting sword of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is only then that the teachings of Jesus Christ take on their full meaning and not just some self-improvement course where we can pick and choose what we want to implement. Thank God for those who baptize us and teach us and lead us in the ways of Jesus Christ so that we can in turn baptize and teach others about this wonderful thing called salvation and the subsequent life in Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 6)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

One of my favorite things to do in life is travel to new and different places or just to get away to different places that I have already been and to continue exploring those places. I have been lucky in my life to have had the privilege of having jobs that have me around the country and sometimes round the globe. I have been to 44 of the 50 United States through personal travel or through work-related travel. Through work-related travel, I have been to Mexico, Canada, Grand Cayman Island, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, England (twice), Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Personal travel has taken me to some of the countries I have already mention and also to Haiti. I have been a business traveler since I was 23 years old and it continues to this day. Personal travel may even lead me to India at the beginning of 2017. So, to say I have traveled a lot is true, but not as much as some. However, I guess growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid made me into a traveling heart. I enjoy seeing new places and observing how they are different from my home. Even England, basically our mother country, is different from the USA as they have evolved separately these past 400 years or so (and 230 as a separate country). Each place is unique even though we share the same language and heritage. Asia is far different from the West and visiting those places could be intimidating at times. Different base culture that the Western world. Different religious development as well. Visiting different parts of my own country is eye-opening as well. The South is my home. Although the South is becoming more and more like the rest of the country as time progresses, it is still distinctly different in worldview than say in California, where I have to visit quite frequently now in my current job. California is highly liberal compared to the South and believes in heavy government compared to the South. People are just different out here (I am currently on a work & personal trip to California at the moment).

 

That’s the world we live in. Different people. Different cultures. Different worldviews. Different customs. All amazingly complexly different. At the same time, we are all human. We all have heart that beat in same way. We all have hopes and desires for our own lives. We all have hopes and desires for our children. We all fall in love. We all get married in some way or another. We all need food and shelter. We all have emotions. We all have a sense of something greater than ourselves although we variously define it differently. We all share a portion of the same planet. And, according to Scripture, we all know of God whether we want to admit or not when Paul says in Romans 1:19-20,

 

“19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

 

With that in mind, Let’s re-read, Matthew 28:16-20, with special attention once again to vv. 19-20a:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

In my last blogs we have talked about going and making disciples. Today, we will talk about making disciples of all nations. How to we do that?

 

We are commanded to make disciples of all nations. That includes different people groups within our world, and even within our nation. How do you make a disciple of Jesus Christ of someone who has different religious backgrounds and different cultures both at home and abroad? Let’s first look at how we are not to do it. There is a tendency of Christians today to take on an “us against the world” mentality and I emphasize the “against” part. We do not make disciples by standing in our ivory towers and looking down upon this transgender, same sex marriage, anything goes world in which we find ourselves and show disdain for it. We cannot withdraw and judge the world for its failure to honor God and failure to value God’s Word. We cannot make disciples by condemning the world and writing it off. In my accounting job, when we exhaust all our efforts to collect a past due invoice from a customer, we end up writing it off the books. We cannot do that when it comes to souls. We have a tendency as Christians to say “you don’t get it so I will write you off!” We cannot make disciples of people that we write-off. We cannot make disciples of peoples whose ideas are polar opposites to ours. We cannot withdraw into our Christian cocoons and wait for the world to end. We are commanded to make disciples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. We cannot obey Jesus’ command with a write-off, ivory tower, you don’t get it mentality. That’s the easy way out. To withdraw and to build walls. We are being disobedient to God when we take this easy way out route.

 

We are commanded to make disciples of all nations. How do we obey our Lord and Savior in this regard? We see people as different from ourselves as the same at the core. We see that they have similar hopes, dreams, and aspirations as we have ourselves. We see them as having the same struggles as ourselves. We see them as just not really knowing the one true God. We see them as having substituted other things as their gods. We do this not in a disdainful way but in a way of looking at ourselves in the mirror before we came to Christ. We are just sinners saved by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ. That and the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls is the only difference between us and someone who does not know Christ as their Savior. We are to have a burden for those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Regardless of whether they believe in a religion that is not of the Son or whether they shake their fist directly in the face of God, we are to make disciples of these. We should care so deeply about the eternity of those that do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior that we cry over their path that they have chosen. Some, it’s because the gospel has not been shared with them. Some, know of the gospel, but it has been presented so poorly to them that they have run in the opposite direction of it. There are those who believe in religions of separate, hate and destruction that will spend eternity in hell if we do not do our job as Christ followers. There are those who believe in their ownselves as god and those that define morality and justice through supposed tolerance of all things that will spend eternity in hell if we do not do our job as Christ followers. How do we assist our Father in heaven in changing these hearts that blatantly see Jesus Christ as the enemy or at least as simply an option of many options to get to heaven?

 

We get to know these people. The main ingredient to discipleship is relationship. Jesus spent three years intensively training the men who would change the world. He lived with them. He ate with them. He understood them. He figured out what made them tick and tailor-made his discipleship of each one to fit their personalities. We have to get to know the world around us. Make relationships with them. We must find the common ground where we can start conversations. We must understand the backgrounds of people of different religions. We must understand their belief systems. We must understand how their cultural background has affected their mindset. We must be willing to get to know people on a personal level. That includes people from different religions and cultures and even people from our own country that do not believe in anything at all but their right to express themselves in ways that are against Scripture. We do not change hearts by making enemies of those who are different from us. We learn. We get to know. We understand what make them tick. We understand what motivates them. But first and foremost we must see them as worth the effort. We must see them as worth loving. We must love them. As I saw last night on Morgan Freeman’s “The Story of God”, we must not see others different belief systems as a threat. We must see the person as a child of God worth liking, worth knowing, and worth loving. You and I were once far from God and still would be if it were not for our salvation experience. We must not see a Buddhist as a threat. We must see him as an opportuinity to get to know a Buddhist and develop a relationship with him to the point of being able to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must not see a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon, an agnostic, an atheist as a threat. We must see them as an equal child of God who just does not know the real Truth of Jesus Christ. We were once there my friends! We owe it to our Savior to not write these people off as misguided. We must accept the challenge of Jesus Christ in the Great Commission. We do not make disciples by writing people off. We make disciples by getting to know them and loving them to the cross.

 

God has chosen us to be his witnesses to our world. So, we have a job to do to fulfill the commission given us so that at the end of all things, we shall see the prophecy of Revelation 7:9-10 fulfilled:

 

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

 

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.”

 

We are commanded to not withdraw from the world but embrace it. We are to get to know every nation, tribe and tongue. We are to show them love in ways that draw them to the cross. We are to make disciples that will one day stand before the throne celebrating the Savior. We do not do that by writing people off because they are different and “don’t get it!” We were once sinners destined for eternity separated from God ourselves. That fact should fill us with thanksgiving and the earnest love for others to love what in our flesh makes our blood boil. We must love those who hate us. We must love those who believe differently than ourselves. We must love them like Jesus. Jesus died for them too. All they have to do is come to the cross and Jesus commanded us to assist Him in this effort. The work has been done at the cross for us AND for them. Now, go. Get out of the ivory tower. Get out from behind our fences. Go. And make disciples of those who are different from you, those who currently shake their fist at God, or make something other than God their god. Go. Go. Go. Make disciples!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 5)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

When I was young kid back in vacation Bible school days back in summers when I was like early elementary school years, we would have arts and crafts time. Back in those days, late 60s-early 70s, America had not yet fully embraced its phobia against smoking. Therefore, in vacation Bible school, it was uncommon for us, during arts and crafts time, that were not talented in the arts to make clay ashtrays for our parents. We would mold them one day and let them set up overnight and then we would paint them the next day. Ashtrays are not hard to make so being less than Van Gogh-esque in my artistic talents, that was right up my alley. We would mold the clay by giving a flat bottomed surface and then build up the sides. Then we would make an impression in the middle to form the tray for the ashes and then we would fashion little indentations on the sides for the place that a smoker would put a cigarette down in the ashtray. Then, the next day, with what little artistic talent that I had at the time (which is not too much better now these 45-50 years later), I would paint the ashtray with a base color for the whole thing and then make designs or whatever on top of the basic color to give it flair. As you may remember from those days, ashtrays were often decorative coffee table pieces. I was aiming for placement on the family coffee table. But those ashtrays always ended up in my room for some reason. I guess Mom didn’t see my ashtrays as the artistic centerpieces of the family coffee table as I did. Those were the days! Molding clay into some kind of art work at vacation Bible school! Taking a raw clump of clay and turning it into something artistic and useful was a way to keep us kids busy and it allowed us to be creative with what artistic talents we might have had. It was to teach us how we can be transformed from something raw into something usable. It was kind of like how we are in the hands of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of more mature Christians.

 

With that in mind, Let’s re-read, Matthew 28:16-20, with special attention to vv. 19-20a:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

In my last blog, we spent time talking about going. About how the verbs used in this passage are in the active tense. As a result, we are to be actively going into the world and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. As we enter this new age of church that we find ourselves in during the 21st century where we are now entering 2nd and 3rd generations of completely unchurched families, we must go. We cannot stand still and wait for people to come to our churches. In past generations, it was simply culturally expected that you chose a church and you went each Sunday. No longer is that the case in our society. Therefore, we must go! We must meet folks where they are but doing unusual things at times to draw them into our modern style of worship. Just as the first century disciples were breaking hard ground in every place they went, so too are we in 21st century America. We must be unique in the ways that we get out into the community. We must be unique in the way that we show our communities love and compassion. We must be unique in the ways that show them about the saving grace of Jesus Christ in a world that either does not know Him at all or does not think that they need Him anymore.

 

And it seems that the new wave of modern churches are doing a decent enough job of that. Modern churches pride themselves on being attractional. We pride ourselves in tailoring our message to the modern sensibilities of the generally unchurched world in which we live. And, yes, we NEED to be attractional. We need to be unique. We need to take the timeless message of the gospel and present it in ways that connect with those who have run away from the church for generations now. And, yes, while the church as a whole is declining in total membership, it is the modern new wave of churches that are actually growing. You look at the fastest growing churches in America, virtually all of them are less than 30 years old. Some are less 20 years old. These churches are the ones that are getting people in the doors through unique outreach activities and through modern worship styles and yes that is needed in this generation. The church cannot change the message that we have in God’s Word but we have to continually reinvent the way that we present that message.

 

But, Jesus tells us here that the finish line is not simply getting people in the door and letting the Holy Spirit do his thing (salvation). We must make disciples. We must do more than simply get them to the cross. We must teach them life after the cross. We must make disciples. Many of our new wave churches have failed in the making disciples part. We have been good at getting people in the doors with our attractional style and attractional actions, but we have done poorly at making disciples. We are to make more than converts. We are to make disciples. We are to teach and educate and lead and mold these lumps of clay, new baby Christians into mature Christians. We are to teach them about being more and more like Christ each day. We are to teach them to understand why we believe what we believe. We are to mentor them to examine the sins in their lives and help them move beyond them. We are help them grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to encourage them to read God’s Word and teach them to meditate on how to apply it to their lives. We are to teach them about prayer and how it should be not only an ongoing conversation with God but it should also be times of intense “alone time” with God. We should teach them about all the various disciplines of the faith that help us grow and mature. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ. “Salvation”, as one of the elders/pastors at our church, Hayden says, “is not the finish line. Salvation is really just the beginning of the race!” The only way to create more than baby Christians is to disciple them. This is not only the church staff’s responsibility, it is also the responsibility of each one of us a Christ followers. We should be seeking to shepherd along new Christians that we know. We should be leading and teaching and challenging new baby Christians. We must mentor them one on one. We must disciple not only other baby Christians that we know but we must also disciple our families well. We must make discipling the heartbeat of who we are. Jesus did not say go and make converts. He said go and make disciples. We must not only lead people to the cross of Jesus Christ but we must lead them beyond the cross. Leading beyond the cross is often much harder that simply getting people to the cross (which is often very difficult itself). Leading people after their salvation requires commitment and investment in their lives. It requires us to live by example. It requires us to teach. It requires us to be all-in all the time. It requires us to be a part of people’s lives. It requires intentionality.

 

Help us, oh Father in Heaven, to make disciples of your glorious Son. Help us to not leave people sitting at the foot of the cross and wondering what comes next. Help us to make disciples not just converts. Help us to help them run the race to which You have appointed for them. Help us to challenge and teach. Help us to help them grow! Amen and Amen.

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 4)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

Remember back in school, whether it be college or high school, where your English teacher or teacher of a subject where you had to write a term paper would critique your writing for how you used the English language as much as for what you actually said in the paper. It was frustrating at times to get bogged down in proper usage of the language when you to get to what they thought about what you wrote. I am not sure of the technical term now but one of the things they stayed on me about was having an active tense of writing vs. a passive tense. What teachers want to see is the subject of the sentence to be the one controlling the action of the verb not some noun in the predicate of the sentence. When the subject noun is the one doing the action of the verb sentences tend to be in the present and active tense. The subject is acting upon instead of being acted upon. Writing in the present tense seems to be more imminent and more engaging. Since I tend to write in this blog in a free-flowing style, where I sometimes break grammatical rules just for effect and to personalize my writing, it is often difficult for me to switch gears back to academic writing. I do remember the rules though. It is that passive vs. active thing as a writing rule that has stuck with me more than a lot of the rules of writing in the English language. I may have broken several grammatical rules already without realizing it as I have written this introductory paragraph to my blog this morning. Oh the irony! However, that passive vs. active thing is one rule that has stuck with me over the years and I remember it even if I do not always observe it. What does active vs. passive have to do with our passage this morning? Mark, how are you going to transition from an illustration about grammatical rules into a nugget of meaning from the last passage in the Gospel of Matthew?

 

It is that idea of active vs. passage, present tense vs. past tense and so on that immediately came to mind when I re-read this passage this morning concentrating on the Great Commission command itself. With that in mind, Let’s re-read, Matthew 28:16-20, with special attention to vv. 19-20a:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

In my illustration about writing style (active vs. passive writing), the preferred style of writing is the active tense. In the active tense, the writing comes alive because the subjects of sentences are the ones performing the action of the verb of the sentence. It just makes for bolder writing. It makes for lively writing. It creates action or sense of action. That is what comes through loud and clear in the Great Commission command. Let’s look at the present tense, active, current nature of the Great Commission. There is action required – Go! Make! Baptize! Teach! Action Jackson Christians are required. The Great Commission requires present tense action. It is active not passive.

 

Go is the first verb. Inherent in going is that we must leave where we are. Inherent in going is not standing still. It seems that many churches today take the Field of Dreams approach to church growth and evangelism. They say build it and they will come. Many churches spend money on their buildings and making them better, bigger and more appealing. Even us “new wave” churches can fall victim to that. We give traditional churches a hard time for all their brick and mortar and steeples and all that traditional looking churchy stuff. But we can be just as bad in the new wave of church style – what we call modern church. Man, I have been to churches of the modern variety who have buildings that are just the coolest looking things you will ever see. Also, at modern style churches, you see light and audio systems that rival some music studios or touring pop singers. We have our golden gooses too where we load up on spending money to please our church-goers of the modern worship preference. I am not saying that church buildings and expensive sound and light equipment are not necessary to get the message of the gospel across to the people within our doors, but we cannot forget to demonstrate “going” to our people and teach them to “go”. In order to make new disciples, we must go where those who need salvation are. We need to go. We need to have more friends that just the friends we have at church. We must be out there actively engaged in the lives of people around us, both as individual Christians and corporately. We cannot sit still. We must engage our neighbors, our co-workers, and the people we just hang out with. We must engage. We must go!

 

One of the dangers of church is that it can become inwardly focused and when that happens it can begin the long decaying process of church death. It has happened to many traditional churches over the past 30-40 years.  There are more churches closing their doors today than there are new churches opening. It happens when church becomes about us and we forget to “go”. When we remember that we are here to spread the gospel and not just entertain ourselves, When we remember that we are here to be the bright light on the hill and not just have programs to keep our kids busy, we find out that we have to “go”. We have to get out of our buildings and serve the community as a church. We must get out there and show the love of Christ in ways that are unexpected these days. We must give ourselves away without expectation of payback. When we give it away, they will come. When we show love without expectation of return, they will come. When we help in ways that others won’t, they will come. When we are more interested in investing our money in our community that we are about how big our investment balances are, then, we are going. I am not saying that churches should not set aside money for the future of the church, but when we spend more more internally on ourselves than we do investing in the community then the balance is off. We begin standing stil instead of going when we do that.

 

Jesus commanded us to go. He did not command us to stand still and wait. This is a command to us individually and in the corporate sense of us collectively as churches. We have a duty to Jesus to do what He commands. He is our Savior and Lord. He saved us from the depths of hell separated for all eternity from God and for the great thing He has done in us, we desire to give him our obedience. We must as individuals “go” and engage the world around us. We must share the gospel when the opportunities come up. We must share what Christ has done in our lives. We must live lives that reflect Him. We must be in Christ-like mode all the time not just on Sunday morning. We must be in go mode all the time. We must go and share the gospel. As churches, we must do that collectively. We must show the world that Christians are all about Jesus and not about hating everything. We must serve our communities and show people love in uncommon ways. We must be out in the community showing people who Jesus Christ really is. We must be willing to love the unlovable. We must be willing to be different from the culture. We must be willing to go! We must not sit still and complain about how the world is going to hell around us and get out there and go! We must go! We must! Go!

 

Amen and Amen.

 

 

PS>Tomorrow we will look at the verb, to make!

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 3)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

When Meghan and Taylor were little girls, they were the cutest things ever. It was hard for me to stay mad at my little girls. They always had a way (and to a certain extent still do) to melt me into a pile of goo with their cuteness. And, when my girls put like 4 a’s in Daddy and it comes out of sweet little girl’s mouth as “Daaaady”. You know you’re done and finished and washed up at that point. Awwww! So cuuuute! But there were times where their behavior went beyond cuteness and punishment was required. And I would have to bring out “The Black Spirit of Power”, otherwise known as my belt. They know they had violated the rules at that point. The Black Spirit of Power (BSOP) was the ultimate authority on the boundaries of behavior beyond which they could not traverse. Over the years of growing up, the girls learned what a BSOP invokable offense was and did their best to steer clear of those behaviors. As parents, we do not really grasp that it is from us that our kids learn the difference between right and wrong, between no consequences and consequences. We are our children’s ultimate authority when they are growing up. As parents, often, we do not see the forest for the trees in this area because we are so busy just trying to get through life with small children which can be downright challenging at times. But when you sit back and think about it, the responsibility that we have as parents can boggle your mind. It is the environment that we provide to our kids, the things that we teach them (both intentionally and unintentionally), and the use of our authority over them that molds them into the people they will be as a adults and for the rest of their lives. It’s scary to think about. I am thankful to the Lord indeed that I did not screw my kids up too badly and that they have grown up into well-adjusted young women. Someone once said, “If your kids grow up and have not murdered anyone and are reasonably well-adjusted, then you did a pretty good job as a parent!” That is a rather extreme or hyperbolic statement, but there is truth in that if you have raised kids into adulthood that are well adjusted considering all the mistakes we make as parents through our own shortcomings, then, we have indeed done a good job. So, when you look upon your small children that you may have right now, soak in the fact that you are their ultimately authority on everything at this point in their lives. You have an awesome responsibility but yet an awesome opportunity. Always have an eye to the future with your kids of the man or woman that you want them to be – not just see the moment of anger or frustration.

 

It is that idea of being the ultimate authority that I think of when we again read today, Matthew 28:16-20. Let’s read this passage again today and look closely at v. 18:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Yesterday, we talked about how Jesus will come closer to us when are open to who He is. Even in our doubts, He will come closer to us. Today, let’s take that a step further. The reason we can worship Jesus as Lord and Savior is because He has all the authority of heaven in His hands. He is of the same essence of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one. Jesus is God in the flesh. When he says something we can trust it. When He guides us in a certain direction we can trust it. When He goes on ahead of us to blaze the trail for us, we can follow it with trust. He is God. He is the ultimate authority in our lives. Just as He desired here in this scene to give His disciples all confidence in the commission He was about to give them, He can do that for us. We can trust Jesus to lead us because He has authority. He is God. He is trustworthy and true. Even in the tough times of our lives where God is chiseling our impurities away as part of our sanctification through the Holy Spirit, we can trust that there is a point to it all. We may not always like it, but He is our Parent, our perfect Parent. He knows what is best for us.

 

Just as we as earthly parents have full authority over our children and to them we know everything under the sun and they depend us on for their survival. We are the same way with the Lord. As we pass through this life, He will lead us to what He wants us to do for the kingdom. We can trust everything that the Lord is teaching us and in that is making us ready for what He has prepared for us. When He thinks we are ready for what He has ready for us, He will give us our own great commission. May we all learn to trust in the Lord for He has the full authority of Heaven. He is our ultimate authority in whom we place our trust.

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 28:16-20 (Part 2)

Jesus Gives the Great Commission

 

Have you ever met someone that you had not seen in a while, like maybe a friend from high school that you have not seen since graduation? You can hardly believe your eyes and then as they draw closer, you become convinced and you speak to them and, yes, it is that person. You then proceed to speak to each other about what all has happened since high school and relive some of the good times and then discuss how you ended up losing touch with each other. Friendships can be restored in such ways. Life happens and people drift apart and never see each other again. Sometimes, in these situations, it can be a friendship rekindled. In others, there are promises to stay in touch, but the chance meeting becomes a blip on the radar because there are no natural connections between the two people anymore. With old friendships like this, you have to be intentional about making the renewed friendship last beyond the chance meeting. Seeing an old friend for the first time in years is kind of how I picture this meeting. The disciples are probably of the mind, ok, these crazy women from our group say that Jesus wants to meet us in Galilee and we will go just to shut them up but we aren’t expecting to see Jesus for real, but are shocked to find out that the girls aren’t crazy. That feeling you get when you see that old friend. You can believe your eyes and you sheepishly call out their name. Let’s read this passage again today and look closely at v. 17:

 

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Although this was no chance meeting between Jesus and the disciples, in Matthew’s version of the post-resurrection events, this passage reflects his only mention of Jesus meeting with the disciples. From the other gospels, we know that there were more than just this one meeting and that there were many doubters among the disciples when they first heard the news of the resurrection. It was not until they see their old friend, Jesus, that the story of the resurrection begins to germinate in their minds. Some struggle believing that it is actually Him while some immediately bow down and worship because they are just so incredibly blown away. Let’s think about what they must have been feeling.

 

First, there must have been a great deal of embarrassment on their part. They completely threw Jesus under the bus the last time they were together. All of them had denied either in words or by their actions that they even knew Jesus. They all bolted. Maybe, it’s like seeing that old friend from high school and the reason that you have not spoken over the years is because of something that went wrong between you two your senior year, some type of betrayal, some type of conflict. Then after years you run into them and you feel embarrassed for having hurt this other person and even more embarrassed for not having spoken to them over the years. I bet the disciples had been feeling a lot of self-loathing for all their bravado about saying they would die for Jesus but each one had abandoned Him when it counted. Then, they have to face Jesus now. Face to face with the man they betrayed. I am sure that they were wondering how their Master was going to deal with them. But we see from the first half of the next verse that Jesus came to them. Jesus could have condemned them from a distance but He choses to come closer. I think that the first half of the next verse is significant when it says, “then Jesus came to them…” Jesus can righteously judge us all but He choses to continue to love us despite our mistakes, despite the ways that we throw Him under the bus at times. He desires our worship. He desires us to see and be embarrassed by the fact that we have not honored Him and bow down before Him and worship Him with a contrite heart and just throw ourselves down before Him. He will come to us ready to restore us. Repentance is key. We must bow down before Christ in an act of a contrite request for mercy. We must be able to realize that we have no explanation, no justification before Jesus for our sins, nothing other than to throw ourselves down before Him, begging for mercy. He will come to us.

 

Second, they must have had doubts! Was this really Jesus? Can it really be Him? This would circumvent all laws of nature. Were they collectively having some vision of a ghost? They could not believe their eyes. Those women were not crazy. We are seeing Jesus too. But they cannot believe their eyes. For us it is like seeing that person we have not seen for many years from a distance or it was like me several years ago at the Firehouse Subs restaurant here in my town. There was this guy who walks in with his boys and he looks exactly like Dabo Swinney, the head coach of my favorite college football team, the Clemson Tigers. Naw! That can’t be him! For real, it was him and I got pictures to prove it. He was in town for a baseball tournament. His boys were on a summer league team that was playing in a tournament at the major baseball/softball complex that we have here in town. At first, there was incredulity and then there was acceptance. The disciples were like us. Even though Jesus had told them that He was going to be raised from the dead, they did not really believe it and even with Jesus standing in front of them in the distance it was still hard to believe that it was actually Jesus! They had doubts, but they were there. They could not believe it but they were there. They wanted to believe it so they came. We are that way sometimes when we are on our way to Christ. We want to believe, but it’s hard. We want to believe that He is the Son of God but it is hard to get past all our earthly understandings of the laws of nature and all this miracle and resurrection stuff. Jesus will come to you. He will break down your doubts. He will come closer to you. All you have to consider is the possibility that there is a God that loves us so much that He entered human history so that He could reconcile us to Him. Can you consider the possibility that there is something far greater than ourselves, that there is something far greater than this temporal plain on which we exist. If you can grasp that, then can you consider that He is an active God that cares for His creation and is willing to break into human history and participate in it. Then you can consider Jesus Christ. He will come to you and show you that you are a sinner by nature and that it is a not a weight and measures game of good deeds vs. bad deeds and that you are eternally lost without His sacrifice on the cross. When you consider that truth, then this Jesus before that has alluded your grasp before, will come to you. This Jesus desires to cut through your pride that leads you to disbelief in the necessity of the Jesus before you. He will come to you when you are ready to see Him. He will come closer and become more real as you drop your pride of your self-determined destiny. He will come closer. When you realize that you need Him. He will come closer. He will come into greater focus and you will no longer see him as legend but as the real resurrected Lord and Savior.

 

My prayer is that if you do not know Jesus, if you have doubts about Jesus, remember that His own disciples doubted Him on more than one occasion but He still came to them. He still loved them. When we take a chance on believing that there is really a God out there and that He really cared enough to send His Son. When we consider the reasons that He would send His Son and we realize that we are completely tainted by our sins and there is no amount of good deeds that we can do to make up for our sins, then Jesus will come into clearer focus for you. He is waiting for you to get beyond the blindness of your pride and doubt and see Him. He will come closer. He is waiting for you to see Him. Amen and Amen.