Saturday, May 17, 2008

Commission Commencement (Matthew 28:16-20)

We learn two very interesting things when Jesus speaks to his disciples for the last time.

One, we learn there are doubters, even now. And two, we learn what Jesus says in response to them, which is maybe not what we might have thought of as the convincer.

We don’t know exactly what the doubting disciples doubted. They might have doubted something about Jesus – was he the Messiah, was he speaking God’s message, etc. Or they might have doubted that he was leaving them and this was the last time they would see him. Or they might have doubted something else or a combination of things.

I know I’ve heard people say things like how hard it sometimes is to follow Jesus or to know God’s will because we don’t have Jesus with us like the disciples did. If we don’t measure up to what they were able to do, it’s because they had that advantage. If you want to think of it in school terms, they had the AP Jesus and the rest of us are in the regular class, so we can’t be expected to live up to what they did.

But we see here that even though these people had seen and heard Jesus teach, even though they had watched the soldiers nail him to a cross and seen him walk among them again, even though they had seen miracles and signs, they still doubted. So we’re not off any hook about the expectations of what we need to do for the Kingdom of God.

It’s also possible they believed he was really everything he said he was, so they didn’t believe he was leaving for good. He’d just showed them God at work among them and how God was going to be working in the world – why would he leave them now?

Although it may not seem like an answer to their doubts, I firmly believe Jesus intended his words to reassure his followers when they doubted. Parents reassure children when they worry: “No, Mommy’s not going to leave you.” Would Jesus do less for his followers, especially since he was about to leave them? Would he leave them wondering about who he was or about what he wanted them to do?

So one last time, he tells them who he is, reassuring them they can trust his words about himself and about God. And then he does something a little bit different.

He gives them a job to do. “Go and make disciples.” We call it the Great Commission, and we take it as our main task in the church.

With that commission, he lets them know he’s really going away. After all, if he weren’t, then he wouldn’t have them do what he had been doing. No need for them to teach people to obey what Jesus commanded if Jesus himself is around to do it, right?

But he really is leaving, only to return at the last judgment he told them about earlier, and in the meantime if he is to be known among the people and the nations, there’s only one group of people that can do it. They have been his students and his followers, and now it’s time for them to be his witnesses and messengers.

You could almost see this as the disciples’ graduation, and call the Great Commission the Great Commencement instead. Jesus lets them know he remains with them, and the presence of the Holy Spirit reminds them he hasn’t abandoned them. But he’s not there the same way anymore, and now it’s their turn, and no tag backs.

It fascinates me that Jesus addresses their doubts by telling them they’ve got a task of their own now. He seems to lay out that if they throw themselves into the work of creating disciples in other nations and among other people, their doubts will fade. Not sure I am who I say I am? Well, get to work telling people about me and you’ll find out, trust me. School’s out, kiddos, and this hurtin’ world needs you to get to work on helping set it right.

I’ve found it often works that way for me. I may not be sure about what God has told me, for whatever reason. But if I believe that he told me, and I begin to share it as he wants me to, I find my faith strengthened.

So if I want the gospel message strengthened in my life, so that it fuels me, lifts me up and moves me closer to God, all I have to do is start spreading it around.

I’ll hope that sounds like good news to you.

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