Sorry I missed posting yesterday. It was a beautiful day and so I didn't spend any time at my desk. But with this being Trinity Sunday, I have to post something today....
Survivor, Eva Hart, remembers the night, April 15, 1912, on which the Titanic plunged 12,000 feet to the Atlantic floor, some two hours and forty minutes after an iceberg tore a 300-foot gash in the starboard side. “I saw all the horror of its sinking, and I heard, even more dreadful, the cries of drowning people.”
Although twenty life-boats and rafts were launched—too few and only partly filled—most of the passengers ended up struggling in the icy seas while those in the boats waited a safe distance away.
Lifeboat number 14 did row back to the scene after the “unsinkable” ship slipped from sight at 2:20 am. Alone, it chased cries in the darkness, seeking and saving a precious few. Incredibly, no other boat joined it. Some were already overloaded, but in virtually every other boat, those already saved rowed their half-filled boats aimlessly in the night, listening to the cries of the lost. Each feared a crush of unknown swimmers would cling to their craft, eventually swamping it.
In Matthew 20:28 we read that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Unfortunately, we, Jesus’ followers, do not always follow our Master’s example in this regard. He came to die in the place of sinners. He rose again from the dead. Then he commissioned us to make disciples for him, to help others get into the life-boat. However, while people drown in the treacherous waters around us, we are tempted to stay dry and make certain no one rocks the boat.
That is why we need to constantly hear Jesus’ clarion call to us from Matthew 28:16-20. We have a constant need to be stirred out of our lethargy, our complacency and our fear so that we will reach out and help others get into the life-boat of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once again, hear Jesus’ call to action from Matthew 28....
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.”
Jesus here invites us to embark on a great adventure. It is a lifetime adventure of making disciples for him. As we begin that adventure Jesus does three things for us.
First of all, Jesus assures us of his authority.
Throughout this Gospel, Matthew has stressed Jesus’ authority. He shows us Jesus’ authority in teaching in 7:28, his authority to heal in 8:1-13, his authority to forgive in 9:6, and his authority to conquer Satan in 10:1. Matthew has focused, throughout his Gospel, on Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as authoritative king.
Jesus had authority before the resurrection, but now he claims unrestricted, universal authority. This universal authority was accorded to Jesus as a reward for his obedience unto death, as Paul notes in Philippians 2:8-11 and Ephesians 1:20-21.
But what is authority? The Greek word used in this passage means absolute power, warrant. Our English word authority has within it the word author. Jesus has been granted authority from the author of all that is, God, his heavenly father.
Many people today react against the concept of authority. We don’t like being told what to do. But when we see the way Jesus exercised his authority, by being a servant and laying down his life for us: that makes us want to obey him. His love is the incentive for us to follow.
Jesus assured his first disciples, and he assures us, of his authority so we will know without a doubt that we can lean on him. And when we call others to follow him, we do so under the powerful banner of his own authority.
What does that look like in practice? A number of years ago there was a man working with an organization trying to reach street children with the good news of Christ in Mexico City. There were a couple of boys who lived on one particular street whom no one was able to talk to successfully. This man I speak of saw another Christian go up and try to talk to these boys only to have them spit in his face. These boys didn’t want to have anything to do with Christians; they didn’t trust in the attention they were being given. But this man I speak of thought he would give it a try. At first he got the same reaction—total disrespect. But then he unbuttoned his shirt and let the boys touch the pacemaker implanted in his chest.
“What’s that?” they asked in Spanish.
He told them. Then the man let them touch the colostomy bag that he had attached to his side.
The boys were fascinated.
Then the man proceeded to tell the boys his story of how he had cancer and was supposed to die, but that God had spared his life so that he could come and tell them that God loves them.
The boys were hooked. Here was a man who approached them in the gentle, serving, loving authority of Jesus, and that made all the difference.
We are called by Christ to share the same good news about him with others. We can speak with the same gentle, loving, serving authority. We may not speak to street kids in Mexico, but we can speak to a neighbor, or co-worker, or fellow student over a Coke or a cup of coffee and share the love of Jesus with them. We can do that because Jesus has authority and he invites us to walk in that authority.
Secondly, we need to see in this passage that Jesus gives us an appointment. That appointment, that command, is to make disciples.
Make disciples is the only imperative verb in this sentence. Jesus doesn’t command us to go. The verb, go, is actually a participle. Rendered literally, the sentence is: “Going therefore: make disciples.” Jesus assumes that we are going places. We go to work. We go to school. We go to the store. We go on a trip. We are always going somewhere and Jesus wants us to make disciples as we go about our everyday lives.
But what is a disciple? A disciple simply means a learner. We are to make learners for Jesus. We are to lead others to learn of him and from him and through him.
Our appointment is unrestricted in its scope. We are to make disciples of all nations. As Christians we each ought to have a world vision. Certainly we can’t literally all preach around the world like a Billy Graham. We must send others where we can’t go ourselves. But as R. C. Foster once wrote, just “because we can’t go across the world does not excuse us for refusing to go across the street.” “Make disciples” is a great command, not a great suggestion.
There was once a poor scrubwoman who became a Christian and she lost no opportunity to tell others about Christ. One day a person who did not share her enthusiasm said to her: “Don’t you think you are going a bit too far with your religion?” The scrubwoman responded, “Maybe I am, but you aren’t carrying yours far enough.” “But yesterday I saw you witnessing to a wooden Indian in front of a drugstore!” countered her critic. Without missing a beat the scrubwoman responded, “Maybe so, maybe so. My eyes are getting poor, and I take no chances; but talking to a wooden Indian about Christ isn’t half as bad as being a wooden Indian who never talks about him.”
The big question is: how? John Greenlee has written, “Apparently it did not occur to the earliest Christians that instructions in techniques of evangelism were necessary. They had all received the good news of salvation in Christ . . . and they went about the business of telling non-Christians about God’s mighty act.”
By contrast I probably have over twenty books on my shelf dealing with various techniques of evangelism. It’s all great stuff. But I think what the Lord is interested in is what we do with it. We need to be like the early Christians as described by Richard Halverson. He once wrote that the New Testament Christians “had encountered Jesus Christ and it simply could not be concealed. They witnessed not because they had to, but because they could not help it.”
Still, we do need to know something of how to make disciples. Thankfully, Jesus tells us how. He uses two key words: baptizing and teaching.
Now, we can’t simply splash water on a bunch of people and expect that this will make them into Christians. Baptism is symbolic of the whole process of evangelism, sharing the good news with others in word and deed. The first step in making disciples is to tell them the good news about Christ. And what is that good news? It’s simple: Christ died on the cross in the place of sinners, rose again from the dead, and we can have forgiveness of sins when we repent and put our trust in Jesus.
Once a person has come to Christ in repentance and faith they become part of the body of Christ. And baptism, washing with water, is the act by which people are publicly identified with that body, the Church.
Notice that Jesus says we are to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. One name—three persons but one God. There is great mystery here.
It is said that Saint Augustine, one of the great articulators of the doctrine of the Trinity, was walking along the shore of the ocean one day pondering this mystery. He came upon a little boy who was playing with a sea-shell. The youngster would scoop a hole in the sand, then go down to the waves and get his shell full of water and pour it into the hole he had made.
Augustine asked, “What are you doing?”
And the boy answered, “I am going to pour the sea into that hole.”
“Ah,” said Augustine, “That is what I have been trying to do. Standing at the ocean of infinity, I have attempted to grasp it with my finite mind.”
Evangelism (and baptism) is a matter of leading people to the ocean of God’s infinite, mysterious being, giving them as big a shell as we can find and then inviting them to drink and quench their spiritual thirst.
You say, “Well I never thought of myself as one who would baptize others or even evangelize.”
That’s ok. You don’t have to be a great preacher or teacher to be an excellent evangelist. My wife Becky would never consider herself a teacher or an evangelist. But I can think of specific people in each place where we have lived across the country whose lives she has touched and led closer to the ocean of God’s infinite love.
How did she do it? Not by preaching, teaching, or sharing a tract. She did it simply by befriending others and allowing them to see the love, joy and peace of Christ in her life. One neighbor Becky got to know in South Carolina called Becky up one day long after we had moved from there. She wanted Becky to know that she was joining a local church on Easter. She had come to faith in Christ and she wanted Becky to know that it was a result of seeing the peace of Christ in her life.
Leading people to the point of baptism and commitment to Christ is a lot about building relationships and allowing people to get close enough to us to see Christ operating in our lives.
But Jesus also mentions teaching as a means to making disciples. This suggests that we are not simply to get decisions for Christ, but rather “make disciples”. And that is a lifelong process. It is ongoing. The Lord doesn’t want us to lead people to Jesus and then dump them. He wants us to help others grow in Christ just as we are growing.
How do we do that? Again you say, “I’m not a teacher. That’s your job pastor!”
It is true, not everyone in the body of Christ has the gift of teaching. But Paul instructed all the believers at Colosse to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” We each can be little teachers to one another as we allow the Word of Christ to live in us richly. If we spend time reading and meditating on Scripture for ourselves then we will be well equipped to teach others.
Your opportunities to pass on to others the wisdom you are gaining from Christ through the Bible will probably not come where my opportunities do. I am trying to use the gifts of teaching, preaching and writing which the Lord has given me. The Lord may use your gift of mercy, or hospitality or encouragement to help others grow in him. Again, the key is relationship.
A number of years ago I met a young man who was for some time a football coach at a university in Wyoming. He told me how he started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club on campus and how he had the privilege of leading one particular football player to accept Christ. He then went on to say how this football player took over the leadership of the club after he left. In subsequent years the club grew from 30 members to over 90 members, mainly through the work of that one football player. “But the key was that I spent a year teaching that football player about Christ before he ever made a commitment to follow Christ,” explained my acquaintance John.
Your opportunity may not be with football players. It may be with a neighbor or a co-worker, a fellow student or a family member. Even if you reach just one other person for Christ in your lifetime, think what the Lord might do through that one, just like he did through that football player.
“But,” you say, “I’m still scared. I don’t think I can do this evangelism and teaching stuff.”
You are right. You can’t do it on your own.
But Jesus has promised you the ability. He says to you, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The great British pastor and evangelist of yesteryear, G. Campbell Morgan, when he first started in the ministry, was teaching through the Gospel of Matthew to a small group of elderly women. In the last week of the study he came to this verse and made reference to Jesus’ promise—“I am with you always.” Suddenly, one of the women stopped Rev. Morgan and said, “Son, that’s not a promise, it’s a fact!”
Jesus has not only promised to be with all believers as we carry out his Great Commission. He has fulfilled that promise down through the ages. He has been with his people, thrusting them out in mission, enabling them to declare the Good News with power. He will do the same for you and me. It is not an empty promise; it’s a fact.
What this verse means is that Jesus will be with you and with me, living in us by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to make disciples.
Notice that Jesus promises to be with us day in and day out. David Livingstone, the famous missionary to Africa, said that this was the verse that helped him keep going as he faced many trials throughout the course of his ministry. Just knowing the Lord was with him made all the difference.
H. K. Downie tells about a large newspaper that offered a substantial amount of money for the best answer to the question: “What is the shortest way to London?” The winning answer was: “The shortest way to London is good company!”
The journey from here to eternity can seem long and tiresome until you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and he becomes your traveling companion. But once you have that relationship through the Spirit, the journey becomes an adventure. And he empowers us to invite others along on the journey.
Jesus assures us of his authority, he gives us an appointment, and he promises us the ability to carry out a lifetime adventure of helping others become learners of him. If you have ever had the privilege of leading someone into a relationship with Christ and helping them grow in Christ then you know what a joy it is. Once you have experienced that joy there isn’t much that can hold you back. But if you haven’t yet tasted that joy it is easy to let fear stop you from making disciples for Christ. It’s all too easy to become comfortable in the holy huddle of church and keep your knowledge of Christ all to yourself.
An elderly man, Luigi Tarisio, was found dead one morning in his home. He had scarcely a comfort or a luxury, but stored in his attic were 246 valuable violins. The very best of the collection, fashioned by a master craftsman, was hidden in the bottom drawer of a rickety old chest. It was an exquisite 147 year old Stradivarius. Obviously, Tarisio cherished the instruments greatly, but his love for them was not complete, for he withheld from the world the beautiful music they might have produced.
The story is told that before the opening night of The Sound of Music on Broadway Oscar Hammerstein, who was dying, said the following words to Mary Martin, who played Maria:
A bell is no bell ‘til you ring it,
A song is no song ‘til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn’t put there to stay—
Love isn’t love
‘Til you give it away.
Don’t hold on to the love of Christ; give it away to someone else. And enjoy the adventure of doing so.